Yes, the long-awaited, at least by me, Anthology of Short Stories is here. They do connect in some way with differing timelines in the Urionverse. The Dark Wheel is relatively late in the Timeline, whereas Four Minutes is situated shortly before events in SD Book III. Superbia and Luxuria are around two hundred years before Sudden Dearth.
Having said that there is a common theme throughout. Hope you enjoy them...
“We are leaving,” Lilith watched her Master, as he prowled restlessly around the darkened chamber.
“But, we can still win..” Lilith winced in pain, her altered state causing her to speak without thought.
“I said leaving, not giving up,” snarled Asmode, “we need more troops if we are to face the one who is coming. You are not my only option. In fact, you can stay, can prosecute my orders here. Hold them as best you can, I will be back with an alternate option soon.
It will cost me most of my energy to reach the one I must find, even now she calls me.”
“She?” asked Lilith, jealousy colouring her tone.
“Fear not little one,” he crooned, “she is just a tool. Even now she brings my plans to culmination and I must concentrate on her. You will return to the city and rally our troops. Carry them away from the conflict. Let my brother’s forces think they have won and perhaps they will receive enough damage from our other enemies, that our task will be easier.”
“Where will you go?”
“Nowhere,” he laughed, “and everywhere. Now go!”
Asmode waved his hand and Lilith felt her body surge with his dark power. Then she was transported back to the depths of the city and the awaiting troops. When she was gone, Asmode smiled. Things were going to plan. He had lied when he said that he would use his own power to bring his new forces. That energy was even now being harvested, he could feel it. With only a few more sacrifices he could leave this world and Lilith would be left behind. It was unfortunate, but necessary.
Planet Goldburn 3rd Eclisiarch Protectorate
Sven Larson was young and hung over. He had spent the previous evening drinking away all manner of problems, eventually falling into a drunken stupor in some alleyway. His wife dead, his job gone, what else was there to live for? Now he staggered through dark and unpopulated streets, hoping for someone to end his misery.
Fate had heard him, just not in the way he wanted. On he trudged, becoming more and more disoriented. Where was everybody? Never had he seen the streets so deserted. At last, he heard a noise; someone was singing.
Skipping lightly down the steps, basket half-held over her tiny forearm and red-hooded cape banging restlessly against her knees, Chary sang. Her shrill, piping voice at odds with the large basket and the tattoo, which spiralled down the left side of her face. From the container protruded two knitting needles, their points spearing a large ball of brightly coloured wool. Further down rested a darkness, whose dullness was mirrored in the dead obsidian eyes of the girl.
A grin split her face, giving the manic creature a touch of further insanity, as she bounced her way into the shadowed alley before her. The incongruity of her demeanour was accentuated by her surroundings and the things which waited, skulking there.
Roaring in anger the first of them reached for her, his spittle-covered jaw half-ripped open, displayed sharpened teeth. His arms were long, double-jointed and ended in pincers. Another appeared, an abomination, bent double under the weight of its sins. Cloven hooves clattered against the cobbled floor as it scrabbled forwards, a large rusty knife brandished in its third hand. There were more, many more, yet still Chary skipped, gambolled and sang.
At the last moment, she dropped the basket, hands quickly pulling free her wickedly sharpened tools. Spinning on her back foot, she avoided the clumsily clashing pincers, burying one of her weapons in a weeping and distorted eye. It was a swift movement, well-practiced and Chary was now laughing, no longer displaying any outward sign of innocence.
As the beast crumpled she moved on, her speed and agility superhuman, her laughter cruel and heartless. It did not take long, roars became whimpers, lambent life became cold and dark. There was a moment of silence, a snicking sound and then once more Chary skipped free, her shrill piping voice raised high in praise of her Lord and Master.
A hulking shape moved out of a nearby doorway and Chary crouched, one pointed implement miraculously appearing in her hand.
“You shouldn’t be out here, Miss,” a panicked voice commented, “Not at this hour, not in this place.”
Coalescing as if from nothing, a body; its nature in tune with the worried, high-pitched voice. Relaxing, Chary grinned, displaying a pure white set of sharp teeth, jaggedly filling her mouth.
“In His Name!” said the man involuntarily shrinking backwards.
“Indeed,” responded Chary in her little girl voice, “and for all time!”
“Who are you?” asked Sven, following the girl as she skipped gaily long, still humming contentedly. “Where is everyone?”
“Everyone? Who else do you need?”
Sven watched her, convinced that she was unhinged, her actions had been cold, the killing nonchalant. She seemed human, yet... Without warning she leapt upward, spinning in the air, her laughter ringing out. Sven heard a roar behind him, and crashed to the floor as a crushing blow slammed into him. His face smashed against the hard stone, blood bursting from his nose. A searing pain was followed by the feel of teeth ripping into his neck and he screamed. Faintly he heard the girl’s maniacal laughter fading into the distance and gasped for breath, an oppressive weight falling onto his chest.
He struggled, fought like he had never done before, like a wild animal. Teeth clashed close to his face and his vision swam with the pain from his broken nose. “Frak this!” he swore rearing his head back and then forward again, his skull cracking against his antagonist. His reward was the momentarily lessening of the attack. One heave and he was free, his hand scrabbling along the ground. Something cold. Sharp. Please. There, he had it.
Now he was screaming, pounding the creature with the thing in his hand, time and again. Warm liquid bathed him, splattering his face and arms as each blow fell. At last it was over and he stood trembling. Sound behind him again and he turned. This time he could see them clearly and his knees weakened, causing him to stagger.
Standing in a rough semi-circle were six leathern-winged creatures. Long yellowed fangs pushed out of a wide slit mouth from which emitted an incessant hissing. Blood red eyes stared fixedly at him from white corpse-like skin. Terror took a firm hold, twisting his bowels and he clenched muscles tightly, trying wholeheartedly to retain some dignity.
No words left those horrid lips, as taloned arms were raised. The abhorrent monsters approached slowly and with intent. Sven backed away, raising his bloody weapon in defiance. He would have laughed at the inadequacy of his defence, if any humour remained inside him. The thing he had found and grabbed in his desperation bizarre; a child’s discarded toy, a semi-metallic sword, which was now bent and broken. Useless.
Weaving the object menacingly in front of him, he backed away. A bolt of bright light sizzled past his head, wiping the rictus grin off one of the faces in a welter of blood and brains. More flew by and a rough hand dragged him back, turning and thrusting him through a shimmering window. Sensation disappeared and he fell.
He was sure that he was asleep. This sensation did not belong in the here and now. A cold hand touched his face and a child of almost ethereal beauty beckoned him on. All shimmered; the walls, floor, ceiling, even the child, her grin less than friendship and more than hate. Black eyes; cold, dead eyes in a white corpse face. Then another figure approached, the female monster from his waking dream and she too encouraged his desertion of his fellows. Her method of attraction was direct; fingers hooked into his collar and he was dragged unceremoniously along.
Sven tried to fight, to resist, but her strength was overwhelming. White light announced his exit from the silvery hell, but his new abode was even less inviting than his former. A cordon of soldiers with raised rifles faced him, mirror images of the nasty girl, but male. Mouth after mouth opened in a grin, showing their sharp teeth and they began to laugh.
Still the girl pulled him along, shoving him finally into a circular room, whose centre was dominated by a flat plinth. Its scored surface was stained with a brown and flaking substance and an intricate design drew his eye towards its centre. A dark hole beckoned and disappeared down.Sven was almost sure he could hear a sucking, slurping sound, but he drove the thought away.
Silence and then a smile, “What am I doing here?”
Chary looked at him and sniggered, “We thought you all gone.”
“The harvest was completed to plan. Those that are left are the abominations, those created in the Seeding.”
It was unintelligible, Harvest, Seeding, nothing made sense. Where were all the people and who were the creatures he had seen? Who had attacked him?
He started to speak, but she placed a long, thin finger to his lips.
“We wondered why the ritual could not be completed. Now we know. You were still to be found.”
Reaching to her waist, her fingers closed around one of the needle-like weapons and pulled it free. The metal glinted as it was waved towards him, “There’s no time to waste. If you would be so kind?”
His resistance was nil and as others began to file into the room, he allowed himself to be guided to his place.
Chary continued talking as she tied his hands and feet, “You see, we needed souls, born of vibrant and violent life. Your planet, your people gave us that. Our ships delivered the Seed and the Harvesting began. We are on the cusp of the new beginning and you will deliver us.”
Sven twisted and saw he was now ringed by many of Chary’s sick twins, heads bowed in prayer. A low dirge began, rising in volume with each passing moment. He felt a weight across his thighs and saw Chary straddling him, weapon held high in both hands. Her shrill voice joined in the unholy chorus and with a final scream the knife plunged down.
Blood trickled downwards, filling each line and groove in the intricate pattern. It spilled from Sven’s torn throat and broken body, sucked unerringly down the central hole. Maniacal laughter followed, something stretched and moved. The stone surface shattered, ripping the dead human’s body to pieces as it exploded outwards. Darkness took shape and form and finally, awoke.
The Taurans, as a nation, were feared. They had terrorized their own quadrant of space for millennia, rising to power on the blood and screams of their enemies and servants. Only the Church had stood against them, casting them from one world after another with the power of their Faith. Their belief in the Great One had served as a bulwark against the Demon Pantheon, but lately this faith had been found wanting.
Walters’ discovery of the Artefact had led to an imbalance in the natural order and now the search for the remaining, and thought lost, items of power had become imperative. Of the seven known Artefacts, one remained with the Taurans, their leader wielding its bloodthirsty power viciously in the subjugation of any who tried to usurp his position. His lieutenants now hungrily cast through the vastness of fold space for those remaining. Of them all, Asmode was the only one who had held in his hands the means to challenge his leader. The planned sacrifice, which his priests had assured him was needed to activate the ancient item, had been interrupted with the arrival of Shan and his confederates.
Now he sat in his Throne Room and trembled; not with rage as was customary, but with the beginnings of a fear that Lilith had already noticed. He who now held the Artefact in his hand could eventually become a problem. The one that came though, Asmode could feel his power, was already an equal to Asmode and could well challenge his all powerful Master.
Lilith’s timorous question angered him; she had seen his weakness and that could not go unpunished. She wanted him to destroy Shan? Well, that would be her task. One, in which Asmode was sure she would fail. Whilst she tried, he would find and kill the one who had raised the Artefact’s power, before an even greater threat arrived on the planet.
“Go,” he snarled, “gather my army. Take all of my creatures with you from both above and below and destroy the impertinent servant of my Brother. Spare no-one and nothing.”
Lilith leapt to her feet, her wings snapping to their full extent. Her joy was patently obvious. Whatever had phased her Lord was now forgotten.
“Blood and Death!” she screamed as she took flight, a cry which was taken up all around the groaning citadel *
The Ori had spent much of their existence under the yoke of their Tauran masters. Their mainly agrarian culture was not built to resist their aggressive neighbours and only those steeped in the Way had fought back. They were the Warrior Class and had left their less than war-like cousins behind. Whenever the Taurans attacked, they responded but in most case arriving too late to do much more than extract a minimal retribution.
Cormach had been trained in the Way, but as with many of his generation had yet to be accepted into the strict Brotherhood. There were those, a small faction who followed the Twisted Way, a brutal parody of the Tauran’s demon worship. These were pirates, robbers and murderers who did not place much distinction between the Tauran enemy and their own weak brothers.
The ship which exited silently from fold space, far from the disputed planet belonged to one such as these. Its lines were coldly beautiful, a twisted effigy of hate; an amalgam of all that was Ori, yet with the mark of demon worship. A thin, spear-like craft, it glided towards the dark side of the planet. Rescue was not its goal, rather plunder and a response to the powerful magnet of evil which resonated out into space.
On its bridge stood Sion Ap Marr, his figure clothed in fine black silk. He rested upon the hilt of his sword, made of twisted black metal which seemed to radiate a cold heat. Around him, his men bent to their tasks, oblivious to anything but their undetected insertion into the planet’s atmosphere. Cruel and heartless as their Captain, they lived only for death and pain, the promise of which they could taste.
Lilith was old, yet her nature kept her young. She lived off pain and suffering and the excesses of others. Once she had been normal, human even, but the pull of her Lord had drawn her in. She had been imprisoned by the Church, kept locked in one of their dungeons for centuries. Free now, she took immense pleasure in the particular suffering of humans. When, as in this case, they were not immediately available, she made do with others; Ori, Tauran, it was of no real concern to her.
Her wings snapped closed as she glided the last few feet, using her clawed feet to grasp the adornment atop the tower. To her left she could see the fleeing slaves, and that promised great pleasure in the future. To her right were the diseased followers of Shan and below her, boiling from the tower’s many exits her creations.
They were monsters; tortured effigies of K’ran and Ori. With the powers of her Master she had grown them in the vats and laboratories below and now they answered her call. Mindless, at best, they lived only to kill and today would be a good day for them.
She saw Shan, striding arrogantly in front of his mechanical aides and she smiled. Just a little closer...
Cormach was lost in the beautiful song; he swayed in time to its rhythm, his companion reflexively reaching out a restraining hand. To touch him though would mean death, as the brilliant circle of light shimmered with his tireless movements.
There was no rush of glorious power, it was rather an intoxicating feeling of well-being; nothing could hurt him. His brethren moved away, following K’san from the city and Cormach was pleased. The stench of Shan and his minions offended him and a slow anger began to burn.
He was blind to Lilith, all of his concentration fixed on the obnoxious Tauran. With a roar he leapt from the building, slamming to the ground in a cloud of dust. Righting himself he moved purposefully forward, his gold-armoured companion at his heel.
Before him stretched the twisted and diseased cannon fodder which Shan had brought with him, interspersed with the metallic caricatures of Arshavin. The Artefact span faster as he neared them, glorying in the imminent combat. Cormach swayed away from a bolt of laser fire, but continued on, his weapon now a shimmering oval of light in front of him.
He laughed as he sliced through the first line; rotting arms and legs, spinning away. Cormach grinned as one of the robots was split in two, sparks and cables writhing away, his companion sidestepping the crumbling construct. On he ploughed, leaving a swath of broken bodies and machines behind him. Shan was his target and he would let nothing get in his way.
Lilith held her troops back. This was unexpected. The one her Master was looking for had appeared, and he was clearly doing her job for her. A milling horde of her minions snapped and growled, impatient for the kill, but Lilith had learned much of patience during her incarceration. If she was lucky, her enemies would kill each other and then she could feast over their corpses.
Asmode entered her mind, urging her on, but she ignored him, letting the pain of his anger fill her. There were others she wanted too; the K’ran who had disobeyed her. Surveying the terrain, she saw them amidst the fleeing slaves. One, obviously a warrior led them. He seemed different, but he would do. As she lifted from the roof of the tower, she heard her Master’s wailing cry; perhaps after today, she would no longer have to listen to him.
K’san saw the creature rise from the tower, its leathern wings beating slowly as it took to the air. A stream of creatures followed; crawling, hopping and gibbering they came. Inside he could feel a faint recognition and then he spat. These were abominations! With a growl of his own, he stopped his men; his new pack turning with him.
“Kill!” he roared as he powered back down the hill, “In His name!”
No Ori followed, but his blood hungry companions would be enough. That and K’san could feel Walters’ presence ever closer. He drew on his Lord’s power, transmitting its strength to his followers, and raced on.
Lilith landed amongst the on rushing K’ran, the back draft from her wings bowling over those directly in her way. With a smile, she uncoiled her whip, flicking the trailing edge forward where it caught around the neck of one of her ex-slaves. Another deft movement of her hand caused the serrated edges to tear through the neck of the beast, blood fountaining outwards. She laughed, this indeed was pleasure.
Her free hand buffeted away a snarling maw and she sank her teeth into the exposed neck, drinking deeply. The blood was foul to her taste, but over the centuries she had become less picky of her victims.
A clawed hand hooked into one of her wings, tearing he away from her victim. Snarling she turned and met a fist which smashed into her mouth, breaking one of her fangs in half.
“You are mine!” roared K’san, as he continued punching; he could feel his power growing as Walters drew nearer.
“Master!” pleaded Lilith as she struggled within K’san’s grasp. Dark energy bubbled through her and her wounds began to heal. She thrust K’san away and raised her arm to strike with the butt of her whip. Before she could do so, an explosive round smashed into her arm, vapourising her elbow and part of her ribs.
K’san grinned, showing his teeth and bunched his muscles to leap. The air around him coalesced into a dark orb, the fabric of reality distorting before his eyes. A scaled hand reached through, dragging Lilith away and he screamed in frustrated rage.
It was but for a moment, as the heavy weight of one of Lilith’s beasts crashed into him. With a shake of his enhanced frame he struggled free, twisting to rip into his enemy. There were plenty of other foes here to kill, Lilith could wait.