Prologue The Binding of Chaos

Disclaimer: I do not own the Power Rangers. They belong to whomever owns the copyright. Not profit is made from this piece of writing, it is purely a fanwork.
The Binding of Chaos

The Pragmia Void: a vast area of space that had once been filled with life and hope, now a desolate and expanding sinkhole surrounded by a thick field of dust, asteroids, rock fragments the size of the Earth’s moon and other assorted debris. Over time the destructive power of the void had eroded the surrounding star systems like the waves of the sea eating away at the cliffs. Some liked to dismiss it as just another black hole, a natural phenomenon and therefore nothing to worry about. Those that knew the history of the area though understood that it was in no way natural; magical spells and terrible weapons had been used to create the void in the hope of containing an even greater terror. Their worry was that the void’s continued expansion was proof that that threat still existed.

Perhaps the strangest thing about the void was that not everything in its path had been consumed. Some of the planets that had been in orbit around the collapsed star had survived for millions of years following the formation of the void; one still remained on the very edge of the void, screened from curious eyes by the vast debris field. And if that seemed difficult to believe, it was nothing compared to the knowledge that the second of Pragmia’s suns survived as an incredibly large and extremely cold Red Giant. But despite the impossibility of the star, it was the planet that drew the attention of its current visitors.

The name of the surviving plant had been lost over the centuries. It had not been the largest planet when the system had been intact, but those that had studied it from afar now referred to it as Pragmia Major or just Pragmia if they were so inclined. The planet bore the scars of a war that had taken place in the distant past when the forces of good and evil, and those who stood somewhere in the middle, had united against a common foe; it had been a brutal campaign to end a ritual to gain ultimate power before it could be completed and the universe was destroyed. It had taken the combination of good and evil, magic and technology, and a lot of luck for the combined army to contain the threat.

It was said that before that time, the oldest descendants of the original demons that infested the universe had resided in caverns buried deep inside the planet. Here they had slumbered, waiting for the day when their underlings defeated the forces of light and they could claim their prize. Of course their plan had been flawed since those underlings that had not been destroyed, vanquished or imprisoned, had betrayed their masters. For generations the lesser demons had used the older sleepers as a source of power. But then a newcomer had arrived and things had changed.

He had once been a scholar of learning and dedicated wisdom. During his research he had uncovered hints about the ancient powers that had twisted his mind. Curiosity had given way to obsession as he had chased after any information regarding the Dark One. His research had been deemed inappropriate and he had been warned to cease, but he was too focussed on uncovering the true nature of the ancient evil to listen to reason. His disobedience had led to his removal from his guild, but he had continued anyway. He was convinced that he was right.

At some point he had taken a new name to honour the Dark One. He had started to refer to himself as Ma’erok. Over the decades he convinced himself that he was the embodiment of the ancient evil given mortal form, that his powers had been stripped away when he had descended into the Mortal Realm. He sought to return himself to his former greatness.

He had raised a cult of followers, which had grown to become an army dedicated to his ascension to true godhood. He had recruited warriors, psychics, magic users, scientists and fanatics to his cause. They were totally devoted to his glory, willing to throw away their lives when he gave the word. It made them one of the most dangerous cults to ever emerge.

It had taken a long time to gather the energy needed to begin the ritual. The ceremony required a massive sacrifice of life force and he had provided that energy by destroying whole galaxies. His followers had learnt ways to destroy on his behalf and channel the resulting energy to their master. Doing so had corrupted their souls and twisted their bodies to reflect the darkness they worshipped. Many of his most devoted servants had been granted immortality to serve him until the ceremony completed; his body had long passed the point where he could no longer be considered a mortal.

The final stage of the ritual required a sacrifice of life force, magic and psychic energy from a variety of sources. Destroying his enemies would not be enough since the ceremony called for the lives of innocents, villains and all points in between. On Pragmia he was prepared to use the slumbering demons as part of that sacrifice while his servants gathered energy from elsewhere in the universe. And eventually some of his forces would give their lives to his cause, concluding the ritual and allowing his ascension.

He had managed to hide his plan for a long time, but in the end the actions of himself and his followers had led to their discovery by both the light and the dark sides of the war between good and evil. The light were bound to oppose him given the slaughter of innocents. The dark forces feared how powerful he could become and their continued existence if he decided that they were competition. A temporary truce was agreed as a combined army was raised to fight Ma’erok and end the threat he posed.

In the end it had been a matter of timing that had brought his enemies success. They had attacked when his most powerful servants were actively engaged in transferring the energy they had captured, rendering them unable to engage the enemy at full strength; the nature of the ritual meant that once the transfer had started he had been unable to mount any defence on his own and had been reliant on lesser servants to protect him.

The ritual had been interrupted, leaving the ceremony incomplete. His army was routed and many of his lesser servants were either captured or killed – for it seemed that very few retained their immortality during the ritual. He was unable to resist as they captured him, bound by the requirements of the ritual.

But despite the failure of the ceremony his enemies could not claim total victory. They had only saved some of the worlds earmarked for destruction once the ritual had started. And despite their attempts to undo the earlier transformations, he remained physically invulnerable to their attempts to slaughter him. With the ceremony in progress he was too dangerous to be left alive in case one of his followers somehow managed to complete the spell – for there were some members of his cult that had evaded capture.

In desperation the leaders of the combined army had agreed that if they could not destroy Ma’erok they should take action to make sure the ritual could never be completed. The worlds used to focus the different energies required for the ceremony were destroyed and Pragmia’s star was destroyed in a final attempt to kill Ma’erok. The attempt was unsuccessful, but the villain and his followers were sealed within the boundaries of the Pragmia Void. With Ma’erok’s power broken it was believed that he would remain there until the end of time.

End of Part **THIS IS THE END OF THE FILE**

Chaos Unbound

Disclaimer: I do not own the Power Rangers. They belong to whomever owns the copyright. Not profit is made from this piece of writing, it is purely a fanwork.
Chaos Unbound

It was all over. The multiverse had collapsed; existence had been erased and the universe had been obliterated. For the briefest moment time stopped and the universe vanished. Even as the Great Power restored existence to its previous state it was too late. Time had ended, the locks had been broken and the ceremony that had started so long ago had finally ceased.

On the brink of insanity Minion had broken the chains of order and chaos had been unbound.

====

Ma’erok had been defeated. The enemy had used his plan against him, turning the stars he had been trying to consume into his prison. They had created the Pragmia Void to contain his power contain even his might. His power was already lost to him as it was needed for the ceremony. His mind had been lost in the sudden vastness of the void, so much bigger than he had ever imagined. His body had been secured, but had proven impossible to destroy. Instead it had been secured upon the world that would one day carry the name Pragmia Major along with his bodyguards; his most loyal and capable followers were stripped of their powers the moment his consciousness had slipped from their minds, and had been scattered through the universe to live their lives as the dregs of society.

But there had been a cost for his imprisonment. The void that had been created had expanded out of control, consuming worlds and star systems as the enemy had fled. His prison had become unapproachable from the outside and inescapable from the inside. The thick debris field around the Pragmia Void a reminder of that price and those that thought it worth paying.

The centuries passed. The planet was brutalised by countless meteor impacts and seismic shifts, a result of his failed ceremony. The veil of darkness that never seemed to lift had gradually claimed more and more worlds, yet Pragmia Major had endured although the many impacts had left it barren and lifeless. Incredible levels of raw magic manifesting as radiation and particle storms reached out further and further as the void expanded, leading to worlds being abandoned as new crops failed to grow, and even the toughest cockroach found the atmosphere unbearable.

Still the continued existence of the planet was a mystery. Long ago, when the void had first formed, Pragmia Major’s life expectancy had been a matter of days. Later as the crumbling remains of the other planets had crashed into its surface, scientists had predicted final death within years. But the planet had survived even as the void had expanded, leading to it becoming one of the greatest mysteries in the universe. However, with many of the systems around Pragmia in the hands of rival warlords, such an expedition had been thought impossible. By modern times Pragmia was surrounded by myths and legends.

Time had passed, the void had expanded further and the view had been obscured to the point that at one stage experts had agreed that Pragmia Major had ceased to exist. It had been during the emergence of the Machine Empire in another part of space, that had caused the dust cloud to shift sufficiently for scientists to catch a glimpse of the lone planet, still intact; Some had tried to harvest resources from the debris, but had found that the environment was too hazardous for their machines to handle. Scientists had surmised that something the ancient task force had done had protected Pragmia Major.

But with the warlords fighting amongst themselves, the opportunity had arisen to try and finally learn the truth. With the many villains distracted, exploration vessels had accessed the space lanes needed to reach a safe transfer point. Once within the dead zones they had been able to start the long voyage to Pragmia itself. It was a task that had fallen to the science vessel Enlightenment. On board were Elder Oddus of the Council of Ministers and a team of trainees undergoing their first off-world mission.

Oddus was one of the foremost scholars on the planet’s history. He was also highly positioned on the Council of Ministers. Normally a man of his age and stature did not venture out into a hazardous area; it was his own curiosity that led him to do so now. While Oddus led the mission, Sh’iro was the field commander, Lhee acted as the ship’s science officer and Sley was their technician. Their pilot, Heerc, was a cocky practical joker who had made the journey more difficult by deliberately taking the indirect route, much to Sh’iro’s annoyance. Lamia was the mission’s medic and telepath; Seva, a veteran soldier, had volunteered to babysit the young crew during their journey; Artha, a purple android that acted as the ship’s autopilot, was the final member of the crew.

Oddus had truthfully not expected their journey to have been so easy. They had managed to navigate their way through the debris and despite taking a long time to do so, had emerged unscathed. They had lost sensors at one point, but were using a secondary array to conduct the rest of their mission. Upon emerging they had at first believed that their information was wrong, that Pragmia Major had been destroyed and that experts had merely misinterpreted a compacted rock. However after taking the time to clear their external cameras, they had laid eyes upon the planet.

It was then that one of the crew had reported an unknown energy emission along with an observation that they were already inside the Pragmia Void, which had caused an argument to erupt.

“Impossible, you must be reading it wrong. Check it again!” Sh’iro instructed.

Sh’iro had very little patience for research. He was an Adept of the Red Order, which in the minds of those educated in the ways of such things, marked his as a fine commander, but very hot headed. It was true that Sh’iro even by his own admission would sooner be running an obstacle course than studying theory. For most of the trip he had demonstrated the behaviour exhibited by children during a drive to the seaside. Exactly why the Council had chosen a team of humans to investigate a world where other races would have an easier time surviving was unclear. There was a rumour that one member of the Council had suggested Oddus lead the expedition and he in turn had selected those he felt needed more experience.

“I did,” his blue teammate Lhee told him. “At close range the void gives off a distinct energy pattern. I’m reading the same energy from the planet and the debris field behind us. We are inside the Pragmia Void and have likely been inside since the moment we entered the debris field. Something was shielding it from our sensors before that.”

If asked, Lhee would probably have told them that whatever had fooled their sensors had been the reason their ship’s primary sensor array had failed. But given the tension, he held his tongue.

“There is also a faint energy pulse on the planet. It is extremely potent mix of light and dark energy and it is definitely not natural.”

“Then there must be a sensor fault,” Sh’iro decided, unwilling to concede the possibility that Lhee was right. He had seen the reports on Pragmia Major and they had specified that there were no energy emissions from either the planet or the debris field surrounding it. He had however heard tales of ships vanishing after only venturing a short distance into the debris field and the possibilities Lhee’s discovery raised scared him. “Check the alignment.”

“I have,” Lhee told him patiently, “three times.”

Actually he had tried four different search patterns and run several diagnostic tests. In all cases he had received identical results. He had asked his yellow comrade to run similar tests from her console. She too had detected the strange emissions and had calculated that the actual power levels on the surface – for the radiation that overwhelmed their instruments prevented a true reading – would be incredible.

“It must be a mechanical fault then,” Sh’iro decided. “It’s failed, just like the other one. I’m surprised anything in this heap of junk works.”

“Hey, watch your mouth mate!” Heerc protested. “This ship is a real class act.”

“Sh’iro, there is nothing wrong with the readings, nothing wrong with our interpretation and nothing wrong with the ship,” Lhee told him. “Just because you want to go home doesn’t mean we can ignore the problem. If we are inside the void…”

“We’re not in the void!” Sh’iro retorted angrily.

“Enough!” Oddus snapped. “Sh’iro, there is nothing wrong with the sensors. I know you are on edge, but at least try to keep your aggression in check. A good commander knows that he can trust his team and your behaviour intensifies the volatility of the situation, “

“As for you Lhee, you need to remember that not everybody here is capable of your emotional detachment. Pragmia and the area surrounding it is a source of great tragedy. Do not believe for a moment that either side won the battle here that day. According to the records, the victors prevented a terrible force from being unleashed that could have destroyed all that opposed it, but nothing could stop the darkness and fear that such events create. Sh’iro’s greatest asset is his heart and his ability to feel. This place is filled with emotion; surely you can understand his reason for wanting to get away? And given the severity of what you have suggested, surely you can see why he would not want it to be true.”

And Oddus was sure that Sh’iro was not the only person feeling the effects. He himself was having a hard time shaking the feelings forced to the surface. He had seen first hand the fighting and the loss of life that the war between Good and Evil could bring; the Battle of Pragmia had lasted longer and had cost far more warriors their lives. Many  had fallen in that conflict. And although the area was legendary, every now and then he had heard the whispered speculation that the story was not only true, but the danger had been downplayed by those that had recorded the events.

He suspected those whispers were true. He knew that for the Ancient Shamans there to have sided with some of the greatest villains of that time there had been a great deal at stake; for those villains to willingly aid the Shamans meant it was a threat even they feared.

“Sorry,” Sh’iro and Lhee said.

“That’s better,” he replied, allowing them a slight smile.

His troops were normally well behaved and he attributed the constant bickering between the two as a side effect of their mission. Their companions had been coping as well as could be expected; Heerc who was a newcomer to the team and didn’t have the benefit of their training, looked a nervous wreck.

“How are the surveillance probes progressing?” Sh’iro asked.

When they had exited the debris field they had launched two heavily armoured probes towards the planet. One had been programmed to orbit while the other had descended to check the atmosphere. One would act as a signal booster while the other would carry out more detailed geological surveys. If the environment had not distorted their communications, it would have been possible to use both probes to carry out the scanning and the task would have finished faster.

“Sensors are picking up major land shifts,” Sley, the ship’s communications officer reported. “I’m trying to get a clear pass over the energy source, but something keeps pushing the probe away.”

“Hey Lamia, you alright?” Heerc asked, “Because you don’t look so hot.”

The Empath had been quiet since the ship had started dodging asteroids and had been growing paler since they had emerged. Her eyes were glassy and every now and then she winced.

“How can there be so much… evil in one place?” she asked, not really answering the question.

“This whole area is scarred by the death of so many and how low those heroes that died here had to sink in order to prevent the darkness from spreading,” Oddus told her. “Perhaps you are detecting the foci used to thwart the plans of the Destroyer.”

~Perhaps,~ he thought, ~it was the spells used in the battle to prevent others from coming to finish the ceremony that caused the planet’s survival~

“Of course!” he said, louder than he had intended. “The answer was there all along. But they have endured so long without breaking down… how much power did our ancestors truly wield?”

It seemed unlikely that the Shamans would use such magic in defending the planet and its contents, but there had been others there that day, representatives from the dark armies had no such reservations.

“Transfer all telemetry data to my console,” Oddus ordered. “I need to check our findings before deciding what to do next.”

Not to mention he needed to check Lhee’s findings for himself. Sh’iro had let the matter drop and Lhee had restrained himself from pushing it, but sooner or later they would need to know the answer.

====

Curiosity had killed many an adventurer. And as he walked across the planet’s surface, Oddus somehow knew that he too had failed to heed the warnings. They should have left when they had the opportunity, but instead they had teleported to the surface of a world where it appeared that the energy field had totally collapsed. Still, this was the only way to track down the disturbance they had detected and to see if maybe Pragmia Major held the answers Lexian and his people so desperately needed.

It had been Heerc that had detected the first signs of an unexpected solar shift. The change while small set the process in motion, altering the gravitational force directed toward the planet and forcing the debris field to move. By Lhee’s calculations they had six hours left before they would need to leave, a task made more difficult because the path they had used to fly inward was now a volatile sea of rocks However the longer they spent on the planet’s surface the more he felt that Pragmia Major would not survive the oncoming storm. Solar flare activity made communication with the ship difficult and it had occurred to Oddus that it could also explain the sudden failure of the Mystic Source – for while he rarely used his battle transformation, he was always aware of the Source’s presence; although it was just as likely that the void eroded the energy as easily as it did planets. For now he and his three companions were forced to rely on portable shield generators lest they face having the flesh stripped from their bones by the sharp dust that was blown across the surface.

Protection was of secondary importance. Their first priority was to complete their mission and escape before the star, which had been surprisingly stable since its twin had been turned into the black hole, started to collapse. The sudden change in gravity was making conditions on the planet even more hazardous. Using what little equipment they had brought with them, the four researchers made their way toward the greatest concentration of energy, hoping that whatever it was had nothing to do with the bizarre cosmic activity.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Lamia said. She wasn’t the only one.

====

Two hours had passed and the solar storms had abated. They had been wandering blindly, constantly veering off course when the route became too dangerous for them. At some points it seemed impossible to move due to sudden increase in gravity, while at other times they were practically floating away.

“Amazing,” Lhee commented as the star he believed was hours from death, temporarily relinquished its pull on the lone planet.

Amazing was not the word Oddus would have used; disturbing seemed to be a better term. He worried about how long the planet would survive the extreme conditions? Probably not as long as they had wished.

It had been more luck than skilled navigation that had finally caused them to stumble upon the source of the strange energy. It was amazing that on the surface, battered by the howling winds, acid rain and caustic dust storms, something had survived. Half-buried in the red dust that made up most of the planet’s surface, it sat waiting for the day when it was no longer needed. It was a makeshift coffin, a jail cell made of precious metals and exotically carved crystals, a tomb marking the end of an evil that had been on the brink of gaining absolute power. There was nothing extravagant in the design. Every carving was important, every expensive jewel or precious metal essential to the overall design.

Several statues were scattered around the casket, representing the known followers that had tried to protect their master only to end up frozen in place.

“Great Hannabar!” Sh’iro exclaimed, “They’re…”

“Petrified,” Lhee confirmed.

When they had been frozen in place by what ever spells their enemies had used, they had been left vulnerable to the super nova that had followed. Now they were frozen forever, trapped in a layer of previously molten rock.

“They were aware at the moment the star collapsed and the void formed,” Lamia sensed. “They never had a chance.”

When they looked closely Oddus and his group were forced to revise their earlier assessment of their surroundings. Some of the rocky outcrops that they had been forced to change course to avoid, were on closer inspection revealed to be terrible giants that had been caught in the spells.

The ground beneath their feet shifted, the sudden shift in gravity causing the dry rock to crumble. The last time there had been a solar event of such magnitude had been before the battle had started. Then there had been life and plants, and water to appease the angry cosmos. In the first day of fighting the world had been stripped bare and left for dead, its sister planets having been ripped apart. This time there was no life to sacrifice, nothing to stop the planet from experiencing the full fury of the remaining star’s fury as it appeared to spit balls into the asteroid field.

As Oddus and his team took refuge from the debris that rained down around them, a small chunk struck the casket, breaking one of the numerous golden locks. It was a dent, but it disrupted the magical structure of the coffin just enough for a wisp of magic to escape. It wasn’t enough for the atmosphere inside to escape – for Lhee had determined that the casket was in truth a very crude life support capsule designed to protect a single occupant-, the breach had sealed seconds after the hole had formed. Still the small burst of magic had an effect, breaking the spell on one of the lava covered statues, allowing the creature trapped within to break free.

The planet was pitched into sudden darkness and despite their emergency lights; Sh’iro and his team could not make out what was happening. Lightning flashed, striking one of the statues repeatedly, lighting up the area before pitching it back into darkness. Except now there was something there, a glint of silver that was visible through the thick crust.

Despite the total absence of an atmosphere, despite the shear impossibility of such an act, they could hear an inhuman howl that echoed across the barren world. It was follow followed by the cracking of the solidified rock. For a while it appeared the walls would contain whatever lay inside, but as the solar bombardment ended, the prisoner won its battle, shattering the rock as a large fist emerged. The hand vanished, only to reappear through a new hole, the process repeating itself until the creature had broken itself free. The occupant rose, sniffing the air, snarling at the Adepts. Its head cocked as it seemed to assess them. Then with a growl the silver armoured warrior crouched like a predator waiting to pounce.

“It looks like a knight,” Lhee commented, recognising the armour and the general shape of the creature. He paled as it growled again, its metal covered head swivelling towards them. “I think we should withdraw.”

For once Sh’iro did not argue, stepping away from the red eyes that were staring directly at him.

“Run!” Lamia cried, sensing the sudden bloodlust from the beast.

But it was too late for them to escape; they had been spotted by the freed creature, who did not seem to have any problem with the dust that sparked dangerously against their shields. He pounced at them, striking so fast that Lhee was unconscious before Lamia had a chance to realise the attack had started. Lamia fell next; a powerful elbow thrust shattered her cheekbone in the process. Sh’iro put up a struggle before succumbing to an opponent who could move easily in the harsh conditions. Sh’iro’s eyes widened at the silver gleam before something hit his throat. He blacked out after that, leaving only Oddus to face down their adversary.

Oddus regarded his opponent cautiously. Three trained Adepts in less than a minute was impressive for any foe. He was at a serious disadvantage and he knew it. Regardless he threw himself into battle, his strikes woefully ineffective against the stronger warrior who didn’t seem to feel pain. He attempted to draw power to no avail; the planet completely isolated from the Source. In fact they had been losing their connection since they first entered the debris field and hadn’t noticed until it was too late.

He felt the moment that the armour – for he was not entirely certain that there was something living inside the metal – had had enough of toying with him. It too seemed to sense that the moment had come as it decided to finish the confrontation by mercilessly smashing its shield into the ageing veteran. Oddus recovered from the blow in time to feel the pummel of the sword connect with his head.

The victor stood over its victims, arms raised as it roared its victory to the world. It had felt good to fight again after so much time had passed. It was a creature of living armour, the silver wolf’s head on each shoulder marking it as a bodyguard. The shield it carried allowed it to channel a small amount of its master’s power. Prolonged stasis had left it disorientated, driven by a need to protect and free its master, but not quite able to decide how to do so.

Leaving those it had defeated, it turned back to some of its fellow captives, breaking their hard baked tombs before approaching the casket, perhaps recognising the container from its previous battle. First to emerge was a warrior that could have been considered its twin, except his armour was forged from enchanted bronze. More strange looking beasts emerged, shifting form from hunting dogs to dragons, to great snapping beasts.

The two armoured brutes had already tried to tear the casket’s lid open, and had both failed. That didn’t stop them from continuing to claw at the box. Finally one of them found a chink in the otherwise solid material, not too large, but big enough to use as a lever. As the warriors shattered the locks, the rest of the casket seemed to disintegrate, revealing the occupant.

The figure looked around, taking in the victorious warriors and their fallen foes; he allowed a cold smile to cross his face as he extended his right hand to the heavens.

“MA’EROK!”

End of Part **THIS IS THE END OF THE FILE**

The Destroyer of Worlds

Disclaimer: I do not own the Power Rangers. They belong to whoever owns the copyright. I also do not own Ma’erok. His name is taken from a character created by Hell Fire in his series written back in the late 1990’s.
Author’s note: This might seem to be going a little slow, but there is a good reason. I have seen many stories where an ancient evil has been released and picks up from where it left off. My intention with Ma’erok is to have him unable to simply resume his path of destruction due to unexpected obstacles.

The Destroyer of Worlds

“MA’EROK!”

His voice carried across the planet for all to hear. He was Xanatox, the Lord of Klattu-shaar, the Father of Destruction, Shaper of Oblivion, the Voice of Ma’erok and High Priest of Chaos. Long ago he had been the leader of the nihilist forces stationed on the world that would become known as Pragmia Major and the guide to the the Destroyer’s disciples throughout the universe. He had led the Children of Destruction, the Order of Chaos and the people of Klattu-shaar on behalf of his master. Sometimes he had commanded as himself, often he had served as a conduit for Ma’erok himself. He had been the one of the most feared beings in the cosmos, a threat so great that during the Battle of Pragmia, he had been singled out by the opposing forces. He had protected his master until he was no longer capable of doing so. As the battle had ended and Ma’erok been captured, he had been forced to chose to preserve his own life so that he would one day free his master. He had sealed himself in a casket, expecting to emerge after a few days. It was clear he had been there much longer.

His master had been so powerful that the war between good and evil had ended for a short time in order to contain him – of course that defeat had occurred only because his master had been in the middle of a ritual that rendered him unable to fight back. Xanatox and his forces had done all they could to protect their master, but had failed. Now though the prison he had unwittingly created was gone and he was free once more to worship the Chaos Bringer.

“CHAOS LIVES!”

Those were the words he had spoken, the words that had struck fear into the hearts of the veteran warrior Oddus and the three Adepts under his command. The power, the raw uncontrolled emotion had been overwhelming as all activity around them seemed to cease. The wolf-shaped knight that had attacked them had fallen to its knees before its superior in silent agreement. The air around them seemed to thump with the force of his words, spoken with all the magic he could muster behind them. He looked down and examined his body, seemingly aggrieved to find that some of his clothing had been damaged during his imprisonment.

“I live,” he breathed again, allowing himself to appreciate that revelation. He savoured the sensation as small sparks of energy passed over his body, a remnant of the energy he had used to construct the casket returning to him – for without a connection to the Source, there was nowhere else for it to go. “So much time… how long has it been and what has become of the master?”

He looked up into the ruined sky, searching for something that would give him a clue, but the scene he witnessed was not the same view he had seen before his imprisonment. Was this his lord’s doing or something they had done just to restrain their enemy? He was certain that this was mostly caused by his enemies’ attempts to contain the dark powers rather than something his master had done. And then his eyes fell upon the knight and the intruders it had captured. He nodded approvingly and allowed the knight to move to his side ready to obey. For now he was in command.

“Arise!” he cried and the prisoners trembled as the area around them was saturated with the dark power he wielded. But it wasn’t aimed at them, instead targeting the rest of the petrified army, breaking some of them from their forced slumber. Luckily it seemed the shockwave had not been sufficient to free more than a few of the servants, but those that had emerged moved to his side ready to serve. He was not satisfied though. “How did I become so weak?” Could it be that the ceremony had failed? Had something happened to their master?

His face contorted in anger and he threw his head back, letting loose a defiant cry. He had come so close to seeing his master victorious. He would not be denied after so long. He was the herald of the Chaos Bringer and he would make sure that even if ten years had passed, that nobody would forget that. He opened his fist and unleashed a blast of dark energy into the heavens, somehow managing to target the research ship without being able to see it. There was a flash in the sky followed by the fiery trail of a burning ship as it descended to the planet’s surface.

Fear gripped Oddus as he realised the peril he had left his crew in. Unable to communicate they had likely been completely unaware of the blast until it had connected with their vessel. He worried they had died on impact.

Their captor had no such worries as he watched the vessel descend. “Retrieve the crew and bring them here,” he commanded. “Do not damage them further; they are alive now and I want them alive when they get here.”

The knight he had spoken to appeared to bow before hurrying away while its leader stared at his hand, apparently puzzled.

“Why do I feel so weak after such a small spell?” he wondered aloud. “My master gifted me far more power than this.”

It was not that the energy blast had drained his power that worried him, it was the fact his reserves were diminished to the point where he could sense that his power had been drained. He did not know how long he had been trapped, but it was clear that the strain of maintaining the casket’s power had drained his core.

~Something has happened to the Source,~ he realised. ~Without it I am not connected to my master’s power.~

His powers were not those used by the strangers that had awakened him but they were directed through the same pathways. Clearly something had happened to the Source that had left him isolated enough that he had been forced to use his own personal magic. Still at least that meant that when the connection was restored his reserves would recover. Assuming he could restore the connection. He worried whether his master had been harmed in his absence.

“I need answers,” he declared, turning to his prisoners and selecting one of them. “You shall provide them.”

“No!” Oddus cried as he moved to protect his charge, only to be brought down by a blow from one of the knights. “Please, we can tell you what you want to know. Just ask.”

“Why should I ask, when I can just take?” was the response as he lifted the female into the air and started to pry deep into her mind.

He knew at once that it had been a mistake. He should have chosen the master rather than the student. Her knowledge was useful but extremely limited. Still it told him of their mission and a little of the planet’s long history. It told him enough to understand what had occurred. His master’s enemies had used the Destroyer’s own ceremony to trap him. They had waited until he was powerless and had then snatched his body. Unable to destroy him they had attempted to destroy Pragmia, not realising that it was protected by the ceremony just like those that participated. They had committed unspeakable acts to ensure imprisonment of the Chaos Bringer and his forces. They had sacrificed the Pragmia System, its stars and the many worlds that had been caught when the void had reached out to grab them. And the reason so little about the battle was known was because those that had sacrificed the most had died within hours. They had caused a magical backlash so powerful that it had completely decimated the energy field surrounding Pragmia forcing them to take even more desperate measures using technology to complete the task.

They had created the Pragmia Void to consume his master, not understanding that his master’s power had already claimed the system and that it therefore could not be used as a weapon against him. Perhaps they had hoped that if the Chaos Bringer emerged, he would be trapped inside the void. That idea had some merit and escaping the void was something Xanatox would need to accomplish – for he had no problem accepting the reality that the void extended far into the debris field. Maybe they had hoped that if he did escape, the Destroyer would be so drained that without his servants to aid him he would no longer pose a threat.

Xanatox laughed at the thought. His master was Ma’erok, the Chaos Bringer and Lord of Destruction. Even without Xanatox the Chaos Bringer would triumph.

“They feared him so much they were willing to sacrifice their own morals just to slow him down,” he pondered. “A wise decision. But I would have finished the job to make certain.”

Obviously their plan had been rushed out of concern that either the Chaos Bringer would emerge before they could complete their plan or his forces would act to rescue him. Perhaps they had believed that the ritual could be restarted. They had failed to take into account the nature of his master’s power or the mutating effect it would have; Ma’erok was no longer mortal and his powers came from a place that the mortals could not predict. His master was by nature both chaotic and destructive, and now a part of the void. Anything that approached the Pragmia was altered by that power, preventing them from ever leaving. It corrupted every particle it touched, spreading like a disease. And once infected, existence outside of Pragmia’s damaged aura was impossible; those that tried would turn to dust, a likely reason why so many had disappeared.

He released his mental hold, allowing her to collapse into a sobbing heap. He had touched her mind and while she was strong, she was too pure to handle such a taint. Would she survive or would the exposure to the dark power destroy her? He would be sure to find out. Perhaps she was another being he could turn to his master’s service; the first Child of Destruction born in a new era.

“Once this Universe trembled before my master’s name; as it was so it shall be once more.” As he spoke he closed his eyes and concentrated on his power. In a life time most creatures allowed a vast amount of near magical energy to trickle away. Most died without ever reaching their full potential. Some though had learnt the secrets needed to draw that power from themselves and use it to control the extra-dimensional power of the Universe. He was one of those beings but whereas some used it for defence or to enhance their abilities, he used it to destroy in his master’s name. With his mind he forged the power into a large sword that crackled with excess power as he drove it into the planet’s surface. “In the name of Ma’erok, Lord of Chaos, I bring forth the Apocalypse!”

====

Heerc and Sley had not been caught completely off guard, but the small amount of warning they had received had only allowed them to veer the ship a little out of the way. It had saved their lives, for the ship would have been obliterated by a full blast. Even the indirect shot had been enough to fry some of the ship’s key systems, forcing them to make an emergency landing… controlled crash would have been a better term. There had not been a preferred landing zone. One area of Pragmia was as bad as another it seemed. The hull was ripped open by the rough surface as the two Adepts found themselves on the surface and lacking their powers.

As they stumbled away from the crash they were aware that something was stalking them. When it appeared Heerc had the presence of mind to draw his blaster, a weapon he refused to relinquish despite Oddus’ disapproval. He shot failed to damage the metallic warrior, but it altered its trajectory enough that they were able to move out of the way. Sadly once it landed Heerc realised that the same trick would not work a second time. Still he opened fire, using his side arm to strike the environment in the vain hope that he would somehow slow its attack.

Over seven foot tall, the knight was even more monstrous on the ground. Its armour was black, but Herc believed that was more from corroding in an airless void than by design. It’s large wings, sharp talons and claws gave the impression of an avian warrior. The mace it carried could easily decimate a human body on contact.

Which was why Heerc ducked as soon as the weapons started moving. Years of training allowed him to anticipate where the next blow would come from as he tried to buy Sley time to escape. There were only so many times that he could dodge though and he was aware that he was being backed into a corner as the knight directed him toward a rising wall of rock. With a sigh of resignation, Heerc gave up avoiding the mace and instead charged forward, rolling under the knight’s guard so that he could unleash a volley of shots. A quick backhand from the knight put an end to his valiant effort.

In comparison, Sley didn’t offer much of a challenge to the knight. The winged hunter grabbed Sley with its talons while holding an unconscious Heerc under one arm. With both restrained, it flew back toward its master, not paying attention to the way the ground started to shift.

====

“Stop it,” Oddus begged. “Hasn’t this world suffered enough?”

Oddus was right. Pragmia Major was on the brink of tearing itself apart. And it was becoming clear that instead of healing over the many millions of years, the planet’s wounds had been festering. Whatever had held the planet together had been tied to Xanatox’s casket and by the energy leeched from him. With his freedom, that life support had been severed. Now Pragmia and the space around it was on the verge of collapsing into the void and with each pulse of dark energy that flowed from his sword into the surface, it drifted closer to the brink.

“This world was doomed long before you arrived to plead for it,” came the reply. “The Chaos Bringer claimed this world and everything around it. This planet was to be his first meal when he ascended to his rightful place as the ultimate evil of this universe. Now it is a worthless husk.”

“Then let it go,” Oddus urged. “Let the planet be. Times have changed since that battle.”

“Some things do not change,” Xanatox explained. “This world is destined for destruction so it must fall to the abyss. It dies and Chaos lives!”

Not far away the ground started to break open, crumbling inward towards Pragmia’s rotten core. The landslip caused a shift in the surface and the planet trembled once more.

“If you destroy this world, you’ll kill yourself too,” Lhee argued.

If Xanatox heard the protest he did not show it. Instead he raised his fist to the heavens and opened it. There was a sudden increase in pressure and they watched as the asteroids surrounding the planet separated, forming a channel of empty space large enough for the entire planet to pass.

Oddus’s eyes widened as something appeared on the horizon. He had heard the myths, seen the artistic depictions of the Dark Star of Terminus, but the reality of the living castle, an abomination of twisted sorcery, was something beyond the abilities of the most skilled artist to convey. Although perhaps a mad man would have accomplished the task.

“Behold the Dark Star. They wanted to destroy it, but it was forged to be stronger than mere wishes.” He paused, sensing that the Dark Star had not escaped unscathed. Its walls had been breached and many of his master’s treasures had been lost. Ma’erok it seemed had been placed there and the fortress positioned so that it was caught in the destruction of the star. It appeared Ma’erok had survived the experience but had not emerged unscathed;  there was only a faint echo of his master’s power indicating that he was there. “Damaged but far from broken,” he murmured.

He waved his hand and in an instant transported himself, the warriors and their prisoners to the threshold of the Dark Star. There he faltered, the exertion too much for him after so long without power. One of his knights moved to assist him and he welcomed the support long enough to regain his composure. Despite his earlier confidence, he was surprised not to feel the return of his connection to the Chaos Bringer now they were so close. He wondered if his enemies had managed to strike a bigger blow than he had first believed.

“And now Terminus: feed!”

As he finished speaking, Pragmia exploded into a ball of dust. Its core long since extinguished, the little energy it possessed was eagerly absorbed into the Dark Star. After so long it was nowhere near enough.

He turned and noticed the two extra prisoners that his knight had retrieved. Sley seemed shell shocked, but Heerc had the presence of mind to raise his blaster. There was a moment’s hesitation and then he pulled the trigger, unleashing an energy bolt that vanished on impact.

“You have courage,” he said. “A shame.” He pointed a finger and Sley cried out in pain. “Fear can be overcome; courage has to be vanquished.”

He released Sley and stared challengingly at Heerc. Herc lowered his blaster, shocked by the barbarity of their captor. He smiled cruelly in return and resumed the torture until he was sure they had gotten the message. He stared at them until he was certain they understood the power he held over them. They were all without their connection to the Source, but while they were weak, he remained strong.

“You may play with that one,” he told the knights, “but make sure he is alive when you finish. Since seeing his comrades suffer causes him pain, he shall be the last to die.”

The knights bowed and closed in on their captives while he made his way into the Dark Star. It was time to restore his master.

====

Oddus was not certain how much time had passed, but he was certain Heerc would not last much longer. The knights had followed their instructions and had been careful not to kill their new toy. However the body they had dumped along with the other Adepts and Oddus into a darkened cell had been severely battered. Since that beating the knights had not returned to administer further injuries, instead choosing to let Herc suffer from his wounds, some of which had become infected. Food was delivered twice a day and the cell was sort-of cleaned on a regular basis, but for the most part, they were ignored.

The Shaman had spent most of his time when not watching over his wounded student, contemplating their imprisonment. It was clear that they were of little interest to their captor. Their cell while hardly luxurious was not one of the dreaded dungeons the legends spoke of. It seemed that it was just a place to keep them out of the way.

They had not seen their captor since that day. Oddus still couldn’t believe that something had survived for so long; he was more worried about the possibility of Xanatox unleashing his master. He knew the Source was capable of many things, but to sustain for so long while cut off from the Source, seemed inconceivable. The legends spoke of Terminus as an enormous beast that had moved from planet to planet, star to star, destroying all in its path at the command of the Father of Destruction while the Chaos Bringer looked on. The being that they had unintentionally freed was certainly powerful, but he paled to the legends of Xanatox. Oddus had started to wonder if perhaps Xanatox had very little power of his own and had relied on Ma’erok more than the history texts claimed. However despite his scepticism, Oddus believed that he and his crew had unleashed the great evil on the Universe once more.

And this time, Oddus wasn’t sure they could stop him before the Chaos Bringer reappeared, especially since it was only a matter of time before they reached another world for Terminus to feast upon.

He was roused from his musings as the door vanished, allowing one of the knights to enter. Its head moved until it located Lhee. It never said a word as it lurched across the cell, grabbed Lhee and dragged him away, leaving the others to worry about what was going on now? But they wouldn’t get their answers as the door reappeared, leaving them in the gloom.

====

What Oddus did not realise was that Terminus still rested in the space once occupied by Pragmia Major. The second star had collapsed and Terminus had fed on the energy. But with Pragmia Major gone, the Dark Star now rested in the void. And despite his best attempts, Xanatox had not managed find enough power to make Terminus move; the Dark Star had been heavily damaged following the battle and the isolation from the Source had slowed its recovery. But that was not the real reason Xanatox was reluctant to leave orbit.

As he stared into a mirror, Xanatox realised that something had happened to his master in the aftermath of the battle. His body was within the walls of the castle and the manifestation of his spirit – his power – was clearly evident in the nature of the void. But his mind and his soul… Xanatox was not certain his master had survived the experience intact. Xaanatos knew that his powers were weaker than he had ever known, a result of sustaining the protection of the casket for so long. When Pragmia had crumbled Terminus had fed, but without the Mystic Field, that energy had not been passed on. His strength had failed to return, and maintaining Terminus was still a problem.

His hand slammed into the counter, cracking the surface. He should have realised that Pragmia was a dead world before feeding its power to the Dark Star. Doing so had recharged some of Terminus’ power, but at the cost of corroding its weakened core. That was the reason he had kept the Dark Star where it was; he was not certain in its current state that Terminus could survive the sudden reconnection to the Source. And that was assuming they could exit the void. He was not entirely sure that he could handle such an inrush of untainted energy either without Ma’erok’s aid.

Fortunately Ma’erok had had other servants, beings that Xanatox had corrupted in Ma’erok’s name. He would need to summon those that had survived the purge. If they had survived then the loss of Ma’erok had probably left them just as weak as Xanatox, but there was always the possibility that they could recover. He could sense some of them. They were alive but had been left powerless in his lord’s absence. His eyes shone for a moment as he sent the mental nudge needed to awaken them from their unfortunate lives, before turning his attention to the approaching knight and its cargo.

“I admit the Source has changed a great deal since I was imprisoned,” he told Lhee as the Adept was dumped at his feet. “Its avatars have changed a great deal too from what I saw it your comrade’s mind.”

“What do you want of me?” Lhee asked,

“Your mind is your greatest asset,” Xanatox told him as he reached forward and touched his forehead. “But then you have little else to offer. I can see you are a noble and honourable being so I will not waste your time asking you to serve me willingly; your answer wouldn’t matter anyhow. So, let’s move on to the part where I force you into my master’s service; you’re not the first.”

There was a moment of pain as the mental spike pierced Lhee’s mind, after which he was incapable of feeling anything as the dark power lobotomised him, reshaping his mind and body to his new master’s needs. And when he was finished, the once proud Adept had been turned into a twisted parody of his former self.

Xanatox smiled cruelly. Now the planning could begin.

End of Part

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