Preface: As stated in the summary, this is a collection of one-shots and short stories that take place in same universe as my other 'Sovereign' stories. It is intended to be a place for me to write things different from the norm (which in my case would be sprawling multi-chapter stories). But I also intend to shake things up stylistically, writing first-person narratives and utilizing other formats I otherwise wouldn't in 'mainline' stories. I'm starting things off with yet another rewrite of an old work, but I already have plans for other entries. I intend to focus on many different types of characters, in different situations, in different points in time, all the while making sure each entry can stand on its own merits rather than require in-depth knowledge of the setting.
All entries can be assumed to be rated T. Feedback is welcomed and appreciated.
Table of Contents
"Into the Gray": (Ch. 1) - The story of two sides at war. A Sovereign and a Templar meet in the forests of Parathis, and have no choice but to battle.
"Tribunal": (Ch. 2) - The story of an Imperial Officer under investigation for the murder of a Sovereign, an act he fully admits to committing.
"Reach": (Ch. 3,4) - The story of a battle-scarred mystic approached by an enigmatic prosthetist. Lost and without purpose, a double-amputee's life changes when a fellow Sovereign promises to give her new arms.
"Artifice": (Ch. 5,6) - The story of a mundane engineer completely out of his depth. Assigned to service the automatons aboard the Dominion's clandestine Project Leviathan, he soon finds himself by the side of an artificial being unlike any other.
"Into the Gray"
A tale of two warriors...
Ardonia. A continent locked in the throes of a Great War. Across its mountains, forests, and plains, soldiers marched on one another, supported by the might of demigods. With the power to shape the world around them, mystics led their respective Orders, their respective nations in a bid to finally settle centuries-old scores. The modern and the arcane fought side by side in a race for destructive efficacy. Those with the gift of magic called upon the same power they had for centuries—enhancing their bodies, conjuring the elements, moving the unmovable. Meanwhile, the mundane developed tool after tool to cut down their fellows and mystics alike. Across the continent, over a million men and women from the Federation and Dominion found themselves called upon to take up arms. But nowhere was the fighting more intense than Parathis. The 'front lines'. The 'divide'. The 'graylands'.
But whilst armies dug themselves into whatever trenches or city they might occupy, the forests of Parathis proved a constant enticement for strike teams to sneak through. An allure that two commanders simply could not ignore. Led by beings most powerful, opposing squads crept through the forest, boots sinking into the beaten and battered terrain with each step.
From the south, a Templar Knight and their disciples moved with an unwavering duty. Abandoning any sort of armor, the white-clad mystic trudged forth with a saber in hand, flecks and droplets staining their hooded robes. And following the mystic's every step were similarly garbed disciples, mundane men and women who pledged their undying loyalty to the Templar Order. But despite their archaic attire—resembling tunics more than combat dress—the bolt-action rifles in their hands were very much of modern make.
From the north, a Sovereign Lord and their company moved with a rigid determination. Much like the opposition, the dark-clad mystic forwent any protection in the form of plates or mail, trusting in their magics to see them through. Unlike the Templar, however, it was a trust born of confidence rather than faith. And following the self-assured Sovereign was the mystic's personal company, soldiers who traded their Imperial duty for private vassalage. Who traded their ranks for shiny trinkets and pretty pins to decorate their otherwise standard uniforms.
And thus, the two sides—firmly contrasting in both ideology and aesthetics—converged, despite possessing no knowledge of the other's existence. Each sought only to obscure their advance deeper into enemy territory. A desire that nature itself was accomplice to. Mighty wooden pillars rose from the mud by the dozen. A dense fog choked the air in its pale embrace, working alongside the dense canopy to rob the forest of its light. In the end, the very color had been stricken from the world, whites and blacks blending with nary a defined edge. And despite their contrasting nature, both squads found themselves capable of merging with their surroundings, pale fog and dark shadows offering a comforting embrace to those who would care partake.
Despite their paths being intertwined, both mundane parties risked passing each other by, privy to little more than echoes. But the mystics would allow no such fate. Heightened senses picked up one too many footsteps. One too many heartbeats. What amounted to little more than an inkling in the back of their minds alerted them to the presence of an enemy. A presence that could not be allowed to persist.
The Templar and Sovereign rallied their subordinates, urging them forward with a heightened pace. Each and every soldier raised their rifle, struggling to keep their footing as they found themselves ankle-deep in muck and overgrowth. The mystics, however, practically glided over the terrain with fervor and grace, blades at the ready as they drew ever closer. Sharpened steel led the charge through the shadowed haze, the mundane left with no choice but to follow. But as certain as they were of some foe dwelling within the forest, neither mystic could sense what was to come. Simultaneously, they had stepped into a clearing. A scar etched upon the world by way of distant artillery. Any trees that once graced the area had been reduced to fallen logs and scattered splinters. The pocked ground featured a layer of water and mud, disguising the true extent of past destruction. It was a place that had seen conflict. A place that would see it yet again.
Eyes cutting through the fog, Sovereign and Templar set their sights on one another, grips tightening in the presence of their polar opposite. In that moment, neither cared for tactics. Neither paid any mind to their followers. They each had but a single thought. A single, unquestionable motive. Kill.
Leaping into the clearing, the mystics charged one another whilst their support kept their distance. Utilizing the relative bastion of the forestry, the soldiers ducked behind whatever cover they could, firing their rifles across the clearing. Yet as sharp cracks echoed across the rift, as metal slugs soared around them, the Templar and Sovereign proved unshakable in their focus. And as much as the gunfire utterly destroyed the silence that once graced the clearing, no sound could compare to the mighty clash of saber meeting saber. Raising their auras, the mystics channeled their very essence through their hands, putting a piece of themselves into their blades, bolstering them, turning them into something far greater than some mundane piece of steel. Edge met with edge, yet neither sword buckled nor warped, refusing to even chip despite the superhuman strength lurking behind them. Time and time again, the mystics would meet, lock sabers before leaping back, ready to begin the next convergence. Steel cut through the air, each swing creating a gust capable of shifting the surrounding fog. But that would be all it cut. Evenly matched, the Sovereign and Templar shed no blood, yet showed no mercy, their duel unabating as the popping rifles slowly ceased their volleys.
Peeking from behind their cover, the mundane saw only twin blurs within the mist, unable to make out the source of enemy gunfire. Both sides merely watched and waited, placing faith in their patron. Seconds turned to minutes. Minutes to hours. But as dusk approached, neither the mystics nor the fog abated. The world was darkening, and soon enough, those with mundane senses would become utterly blind. Each and every soldier knew the battle depended on their outlasting their rival. The surviving Sovereign or Templar would run over the opposing forces without an equal to content with. Thus, under the cover of foggy darkness, the soldiers began to emerge from behind their cover. And with each step they took, they were guided not by tactics or sensibility, but an undying conviction. For the mystics they served were no mere commanders. They were titans. Gods. Beings worthy of belief. Beings worthy of sacrifice.
With soft steps, the mundane inched ever closer to the center of the clearing, the continuous clangs of metal serving as their guide. They kept their rifles raised, but none were willing to fire the first shot. They could not risk revealing themselves. They could not risk harming their master. Instead, they merely had to get close enough for one clean shot, one clean thrust of a bayonet. But no matter their cautions, the mundane could not surpass the might of the arcane. Each side pulled their triggers, but neither found their mark. The Templar and Sovereign either dodged or deflected the bullets sent their way, diverting the metal slugs with the flat of their blades. But the soldiers would not relent. Hoping to drown their enemy with a continuous volley, the mundane forces planted their sinking feet, staring down what would surely be their death.
The mystics immediately disengaged, focusing on those trying to shoot them down. Through the haze, the Sovereign and Templar glided across the muck, enhanced senses picking up each and every gunner. The mundane, meanwhile, only caught a glimpse of the white and black blurs before being cut down. A scream howled out. Then another. And another. One by one the mystics' allies were felled with a murderous grace. Screams were replaced by plops, lifeless bodies sinking into the unforgiving muck. And soon enough, all was silent.
With not even an echo remaining of the soldiers and their guns, the mystics finally had the clearing to themselves. The duel they had always wanted. Under the cloak of night, the two warriors clashed, metal touching metal for the briefest of moments before separating, a process that repeated countless times as the hours progressed. With a magical fuel coursing through their veins, the two combatants continued on through the night and into morning, unwavering, unceasing, untiring. The last two vestiges of life for miles, and they were utterly dedicated to snuffing the other out.
But as the sun's first light began to filter through the trees, it still found itself hampered. Yet not by fog, for the thick air had long since cleared. Instead, the luminous rays found themselves choked by the dark clouds looming overhead. But as the skies churned, as the echoes of thunder and lightning washed over the clearing, the mystics proved a firm constant.
The Templar in white.
The Sovereign in black.
Light and dark, wholly distinct, incompatible, and discontent with nature's attempts to overshadow their conflict. The sounds of fury and battle began to echo throughout the clearing, the warriors each releasing cries and howls alongside each swing of their blade, more powerful than any errant lightning strike, yet unable to inflict even the slightest change. For the mystics were locked in an unending battle which neither could win, yet neither would accept defeat.
The first droplets began to fall from the sky, splashing against the leaves above before landing on each mystic's shoulders. And yet, the rain seemed almost repelled by the warriors, rebuffed by the invisible auras that protected them. But as the droplets turned into a torrential downpour, finally the scene began to shift. Whilst the Sovereign and Templar—with all their might—could not breach one another's defenses, neither stood a chance of overcoming the falling rain. For each droplet was an impact. A moment of contact against the invisible auras, the protective 'shells' conjured to bolster both body and blade. Defenses that would soon drain the mystics of whatever energy they possessed if not lowered. Thus, simultaneously, both Templar and Sovereign fought every subconscious instinct to shed the protective layer of magics. That which allowed them to endure mortal blows. That which turned mundane steel into something unbreakable. And with nothing to impede the rain, soon both combatants' robes grew heavy, water collecting within their many layers. Yet neither figure broke their focus. For they had yet to be robbed of their strength. They knew the might that still dwelled within. And they were intent on putting it to use.
Feet splashing with each step, Sovereign and Templar charged once more. But without the luxury of their defensive auras, each move was utterly calculated. But no matter their caution, neither could prevent the slurry kicked up by their duel. And as the battle persisted, the duelists found their feet sinking into more than just muddy water. They were ankle-deep in death, the fluids of fallen and bisected soldiers gathering beneath them. Yet it proved no deterrent. The mystics were unwilling to cease so long as the other stood. Even if their intent soon surpassed their means.
The Templar and Sovereign charged yet again, wading through the wet muck. Placing all of their bodily strength behind their next swing, the warriors clashed one last time. But this time, as edge met edge, with no aura bolstering them, the steel had no choice but to finally buckle. The blade of each saber shattered, leaving each mystic with little more than a hilt in their unrelenting grip. Whether it was a build-up of damage or simply one unlucky blow that destroyed their weapons, the pair did not know. But even without their sabers, neither warrior was unarmed.
The Sovereign flashed their palms with a mighty shove, releasing a shockwave of telekinetic energy that washed over the Templar. The target stumbled back, but maintained their footing well enough to reply with a powerful burst of their own. The two mystics began to trade blows once more, trading martial weapons for raw expressions of the arcane. Without laying a single hand on their opponent, the pair continued to fight, battering one another with focused blasts in energy. And as the rain fell, it impacted against the magical exchange, forming outlines of the invisible waves before being promptly batted away. Yet despite the power behind each attack, they could only upset their target's balance, neither mystic losing their foothold. What they could do, however, was lift and carry the slush that surrounded them.
Soon, the combatants were covered head to toe in muck. Gone was the Templar in white. Gone was the Sovereign in black. In their place, two warriors soiled with the stains of death. Through the gray haze of the rainfall, time had lost its meaning. How many minutes or hours the warriors continued to fight, they did not know. Nor did they care. Their focus remained solely on bringing the other down. But as tireless as their spirits might have been, even the most powerful of mystics had their limits. Robbed of their auras, each attack drawing from an ever dwindling pool of energy, the end result was inevitable. Magic was infinite. The warriors were not.
Even as their bodies grew weaker, the kinetic blasts they endured shook them less and less. Their power was leaving them. As was the rain. The last droplet sent its last ripple through the wetland and all had fallen silent. Sovereign and Templar each flashed their palms, but nothing came. They had been completely drained. All that was left standing were mere mundane vessels. Yet the battle was not yet over. Each mystic was unable to affect anything beyond the reach of their hands. Thus, their hands did reach.
Each duelist dove into the muck, sifting through the muddy waters with a ferocious haste. Their fingers fished around the bodies of fallen soldiers, searching for something, anything to use. The Templar was the first to surface, a rifle in hand. Dripping with water and caked in mud, the weapon released only a single slug before refusing to comply any further with its new master. The bullet soared just over the Sovereign's head, sending them deeper into the muck, muddy water invading every fiber of their robes. Seizing the opportunity, the Templar rushed forward, absent any of their previous elegance.
Without their magics, all that remained of the mystics was the paltry strength left in their bodies. The Templar offered a deep jab of the bayonet, only for it to earn a glancing cut. The Sovereign, meanwhile, utilized whatever footing they could to launch themself forward, tackling their foe and bringing the both of them splashing down. Gone was the martial training. Gone was the discipline and art. All that remained was life and death.
The two warriors lashed out with wild fists and kicks, flailing about in the water, neither even taking the time to stand up. Steel and magic had been traded for flesh and bone, each fighter battering one another amidst the splashing muck. Over and over they turned, neither gaining the upper hand for more than a moment. But eventually, one got their hands around the other's neck, plunging their head beneath the water's surface. Yet so soiled they were, so stained, that they had become indistinguishable from their opponent. But as the one below threatened to drown, they found their own purchase around the aggressor's neck and began clenching with all their might. Soon, both warriors struggled to draw breath, growing weaker by the second. Simultaneously, both sets of hands slipped. The aggressor fell to the side whilst the other lifted their head from beneath the water's surface.
The pair writhed and choked, praying each breath would not be their last. Both sat—and sunk—in the soiled wetland. Their hands and feet were buried as they tried to steady themselves. Neither had strength enough to stand. They were immobilized. Spent. But still they remained firmly in one another's sight. Each was battered and bruised, almost broken. Each was stained head to toe in mud and blood. And as they drew their bated breaths, as they stared into one another's eyes, only now did they see the face of their foe. It was swollen and dirty, but it was a face nonetheless. Neither possessed a helm or mask, and the hoods could only obscure so much. Yet before that moment, they were nothing more than another faceless being that stood in their way. But no longer.
All they had cared about was ending the other's life. And only now did they begin to question why.
They were enemies. But why?
They hated each other. But why?
Because they were told to, long ago. Because Sovereigns and Templars had been fighting for centuries, and would continue fighting for centuries still. They knew nothing of each other besides the idea of what they might represent. Someone of light. Someone of dark. Only now, they were neither. All around them was the stew of death, flavored with the bodies of fallen soldiers they had mercilessly marched into battle. They had been given a mission. To seek out their foes and eradicate them. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else warranted thought. Everything was pointless other than their goal. Only now did the two survivors realize that their goal was just as pointless as everything else. They fought, killed, and almost died at the words of another. They were forced to act not of their own wants and desires, but those of others. They were tools to be cast aside the moment they outlived their purpose.
And now, they were alone. Stuck with each other. Tired and at the end of their reach. For the first time, it was up to them to choose what happened next. No superiors looking over their shoulders. No governments giving them orders. They had each survived for this long, unable to kill the other. But not unwilling.
Seeing their opponent soiled and covered with muck, they realized they were all but identical. A thought that brought them no solace. They didn't want to be the same. Their entire identity depending on their being different. That was why they fought. That was why they sacrificed so much. If they were the same, then what was it all for?
They were left with a choice. Use this moment of clarity to end the other, on their own terms rather than because it was expected of them. Or continue to survive. Neither could rightly return to their homes. But there were places beyond the Dominion. Beyond the Federation. Beyond Ardonia. Would they fight, as they always had, as others always would? Would they simply part ways, disregarding every tenet instilled by their upbringing? Or would they walk a completely different path side by side, finding more in common with each other than their respective Orders?
Preserve the dichotomy of the light and the dark? The black and the white? Or take one step further into the gray.