Mopus Argent wiggled his fingers and toes. Temperate air washed over his skin, stirred his robes. The whisper of silk caressed his pointed ears and his flesh prickled. Holding his breath, he opened his eyes. White mist obscured his vision.
The Fog of Judgment.
So, this is death. Mopus’s heart thudded in his chest. He could practically see the gold thread on his turquoise robes flutter from the beats. His last days of existence scrolled down his vision: the final battle against the vermin Humans, the betrayal by the Scraptor army, and the surrender of his home world of Municia.
He died to protect his way of life.
But his sacrifice amounted to nothing. He had failed.
Bitterness flooded his mouth. Manicured nails bit into his pale green palms. He preferred death to seeing his beloved empire fall under the rule of the vermin and their alliance with lesser sentients.
Would he now languish in the Fog of Judgment instead of taking his rightful place in the Pantheon of Arca? He didn’t deserve such mercy. The gods should smite him and hurl his remains into the Eternal Torment of Gehen. It would be what he deserved.
Sitting, he peered into the mist and drummed his fingers on the nothingness supporting him. How long had passed since his demise? How long must he wait?
He stood, placing his embroidered slippers on a firm surface. The fog parted showing nothing under his soles. The great philosophers had said the world beyond would be created from their minds. Mopus raised his hand, wishing for a goblet of froce nectar. Nothing materialized in his hand, and his tongue stuck to the roof of his dry mouth.
If he still lived, he would have the philosophers drawn and quartered.
Holding his breath, he stepped forward. One step. Two. Three. White clouds swirled around him, thinning then thickening. The view never changed. Was he even moving? He walked and walked. Never meeting anyone. Never hearing anything other than his own thoughts.
This was beyond insulting. He was Mopus Argent, of the Argents of Municia. He could have saved his people, if they had listened to him, if the ruling council had eliminated the Scraptors when they had the chance.
He should not have to wait on anyone. Not even the Eternal Judges.
“Hello?” His voice sounded thready to his ears. Clearing his throat, he tried again. “Is anyone there?”
He waited. And waited. His heartbeat and the rasp of his breathing his only answer.
Mopus raised his chin. Did they expect him to cower, to grovel? He would spend two eternities before that happened. “I am Mopus Argent, of the Argents of Municia. I am ready for you to pass judgment upon my eternal essence.”
“Oh, good. You are awake.” A gravelly voice rumbled from the mists, sending small puffs of white across Mopus’s cheek.
“I have been for quite some time.” Mopus snapped his attention to the right. A lock of green hair dropped a curtain over his vision. He pushed it aside, then stopped. His lanky fingers had turned dark green. He couldn’t let the judges see his irritation. Taking a few deep breaths, he prayed the color would lighten before his judge showed himself.
If the judge showed himself. The gods obeyed a different set of rules.
“Time.” The rumbling stirred the fog on the left. “Time is a meaningless construct here.”
Mopus ground his teeth, refusing to turn again. If the eternal judge wanted to face him, he could appear in front of Mopus. “I thought our meeting was about judgment, not a lecture on time.”
“You do not care what has occurred since your shuttle exploded? What has become of your wife and unborn child under the yoke of Human oppression?”
“Unless you can show me that bastard Beijing York’s horrible death, I don’t wish to see anything.” Whipping around, Mopus flinched as his long hair pelted his back. The Human-machine hybrid deserved to choke on his victory and watch as his wife, Nell Stafford, was cut into pieces and fed to the rapacious predators of Ernes prime.
The familiar sound prickled the flesh on Mopus’s arms. He swallowed the lump in his throat. That sounded like… but it couldn’t be… this was the Fog of Judgment. Humans, even those clad in Scraptor armor, wouldn’t be allowed in.
“I see your thirst for vengeance is as unquenchable as ever.” The mist thinned then cleared. A Scraptor appeared. Light glowed on the red segmented armor. The pair of claws snapped restlessly above a set of humanoid arms and hands. Stabbing appendages pinned clouds of white to the nothingness. The stinger topping the swaying tail dripped with lethal poison.
Mopus stumbled back a step. “Groat. You should be dead.”
Mopus had witnessed the Scraptor’s death before his own. It had given him solace to know the Scraptors would be exterminated by the hands of their fellow Humans. He had not expected to be judged by the vermin. The scum of Earth had no right to judge him!
Groat tipped his bullet-shaped head, mandibles parted to reveal sharp pointy teeth, and his eyestalks twitched. “The one you know as Groat is most certainly dead.”
The hair on the back of Mopus’s neck stood on end. Then he caught it—the flash of red between the fangs and the gaps in the armor. The suit was empty. The being before him wasn’t a Scraptor. Humans hadn’t sullied the afterworld.
An Erwarian stood before him. An ancient race whose power had rivaled the gods until their ascension.
“What trickery is this?” Mopus inched forward on supple limbs. No pain, no creaking joints that betrayed his age of over a thousand cycles. Flattening his palms against his chest, he ran them up and down his body. He wasn’t dead; he had been reborn. He flexed his knee. No pop or creak.
The Erwarian in Groat’s armor clicked his mandibles. “You have been restored to better than your original form.”
Mopus snorted. Nothing was better than the Munician form. His species was the pinnacle of evolution unlike Scraptors. His kind had done their best to elevate the Humans, weeding out the weak through wars and mortal combat, stimulating their immune system with the deadliest plagues, and denying them any comforts so they didn’t grow lazy and soft.
Yet, the Humans had never changed.
Never evolved into a better species.
Even though its flesh was masked, Mopus wanted to rip off the Scraptor armor off the Erwarian, tear out the eyestalks, and batter the breast plate until it caved in. He wouldn’t hesitate to act, but the ancient race was powerful, and it wouldn’t do to anger it. Especially as Mopus lived only because of its power. “Why do you take that form, Erwarian? Are not Humans the vilest creatures in the universe?”
The Erwarian shifted. The white fog thickened around him, bled red.
Crimson radiated out, flicking a scarlet tongue along the back of Mopus’s hand. His skin blistered from the heat. His mouth dried and his gut knotted. Why had he allowed pride to loosen his tongue? He was alive. He could have raised an army. He could have struck back at the Humans, made Beijing York and his kind suffer in their victory.
The red haze deepened to purple, then cleared. A Sylva Munician stood where the armor once did. Purple diaphanous robes fluttered around her lithe form, draped from her voluptuous breasts and over her narrow hips. Precious metals twined with her violet locks, accentuated her lavender skin. Only the crimson glow of her eyes betrayed her Erwarian nature. “Perhaps you are more comfortable dealing with something that looks like you. I’d forgotten how your species prizes the superficial.”
Mopus stiffened. “You certainly have the arrogance of a Sylva.”
It was from the violet Munician Gods that all of his people derived their color, and why the putty-colored ones were so reviled.
“Where do you suppose the Sylva originated?” The Sylva smiled. Energy radiated from her in waves.
Riptides swirled and eddied around him tugging him closer, yet holding him at a distance. Mopus refused to be bound by anyone’s will but his own. Especially one who presented as a false god. He stepped forward. The air thickened as if he slogged through mud. “What do you wish from me, Erwarian?”
“I require your help.”
“My help?” If the Sylva spoke the truth, then Mopus now had a means to strike a bargain. One in his favor. He straightened. “What help can I be to a species who died millennia ago?”
And one who brought him back from the Fog of Judgment. His nose twitched, catching a whiff of a trap.
Her scarlet eyes flashed. “The Erwarians did not die. We ascended to a higher plane, higher even than your Arca or the depth of Gehen.”
Mopus snorted. “There is no paradise beside Arca; no torment greater than Gehen.”
The Sylva flicked her fingers. “For the dead, perhaps. But we still live. Eternally, with near limitless power. A gift, I will share with you. For you have proven yourself worthy.”
Of course, he was worthy. He was a Munician. An Argent. Mopus’s heart quickened. His blue blood pulsed hard in his veins. With limitless power, he could destroy Beijing York and his army of Synthetically-Enhanced Humans.
“I feel your thirst for vengeance.” She glided toward him and opened her fist. A microcosm of the universe appeared in the bubble in her violet palm.
The stars zoomed past, focusing on his green home world, then the terrain. The crags of the Alkin Mountains, the spires of the high rises in the capital city, and the penthouse at the heart of the metropolis. Through the window, he spied his wife’s blue hair and skin. Felt her lullaby as she cradled a sleeping babe in her arms. Green streaks in the wisp of hair on the child’s head confirmed Mopus’s paternal link.
“Your son is healthy. For now.” The Sylva whispered. The image shifted. A hailstorm of rockets tore through the city, smashing the spires, drilling holes in the white boulevards, and incinerating his people.
Mopus’s wife hugged their son tightly as she dodged through the debris.
Beijing York’s black clad soldiers swarmed the streets, firing upon defenseless Municians. Blasts felled those around his wife.
Mopus scuttled forward. He had to protect his son. His heir.
An energy burst slammed into his wife’s back. Light punched through her chest, crackled over the babe. She fell, twisting even as death claimed her, trying to protect their offspring.
“No!” Mopus reached for the child. Gray dulled the green of the infant’s pointed ears and the life fled his turquoise eyes.
The Sylva curled her fingers and the image disappeared in a crackle of light. “The events haven’t happened yet. But they will, when the Humans discover your progeny. We’ve managed to shield them, but now you must help us.”
Mopus dug his nails into his palms. “My fortune, my fleet, and my army are at your disposal.”
“You will need all that and more.” The Sylva drifted away.
Sense pounded on Mopus’s thoughts, demanded to be heard. “Why do you need me? To resurrect the Erwarian race?”
If they were a physical species, they would have a weakness. One he might be able to exploit after he seized their power. Mopus’s skin tightened then relaxed as he released pheromones into the fog. Physical species could be bent to his will, even Beijing York’s Syn-Ens weren’t immune.
The Sylva smiled. Rows of sharp incisors flashed against her violet skin. “We have found a means to travel to another universe, to conquer new worlds, to guide new species. But we are unwilling to leave with the Humans in power. Municians were among our favorites, and we fear you will not achieve your divine purpose if we don’t share with you certain knowledge before we depart.”
Mopus jerked his chin. Everyone knew the Municians were the pinnacle of sentience. It was only proper, they be given this gift by the Erwarians. “Why now? Why not before?”
Before the war had ended. Before his son had been threatened?
“We were bound by an oath we swore to the Meek, not realizing they broke their bond with us and helped the Humans overcome our will and your species’ right to rule the universe.” The Sylva’s skin flushed in anger. Static electricity crackled in her hair. “Now, we are no longer bound to our oath. We can help you.”
Mopus blinked as if resetting his thoughts but nodded slightly. This bargain was almost too good to be true. Yet, his race’s holy books often told of divine intervention to win against tremendous odds, of the Municians’ right to rule all the lesser species, and the need for them to implement and keep the natural order.
The Sylva swirled around him in a vapor of purple. Her warmth clung to his skin, invaded his lungs. “We will give you a weapon so powerful it will defeat all your enemies. One that can never be used against you, as it will be a blend of your species’ DNA and our technology.” She opened her hand. A red crystal lay in her palm. “Take it and accept the power you deserve.”
Mopus pinched the crystal between his thumb and index finger. It wiggled then burrowed under his skin. Electricity danced along his nerve endings. Power surged through his veins. Knowledge flooded his thoughts. Weapons and soldiers, destructive enough to reduce whole worlds to rubble.
All of them his to command.
The haze shimmered then cleared. Against a backdrop of stars, the NeoSentient Alliance flagship Nell Stafford floated in space. Mopus smiled. Today Beijing York would die.
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