Astral Chapter 5: A Charcoal Grey Pearl

Light-years away from the conflict drifted a charcoal-grey pearl, around a blazing blue sun. The planet had once, long ago, been a bright, sylvan world much like Earth, populated by a fair skinned, peaceful race. That was centuries ago. The cousin race to the fair skinned one had dwelt in the subterranean world below the surface, plotting against the surface dwellers.

After a short, brutal war, the cave dwellers, who called themselves the Sharrel, dominated the surface, and blotted out the sun. They had driven the surface dwelling Faer below ground, and presumably to extinction. That was just over three centuries before, and the Sharrel were on the verge of consuming themselves. They were a beautiful race; human in appearance, with either purple or blue skin. They were divided into to two separate races; the blue skinned warrior caste, the Dama, and the purple skinned scholars, the Baeris (Bye-ree).

They had conquered the surface in a singe assault, flooding from the bowels of their home and massacring the peace-loving Faer with weapons that a human would consider ancient. Eons of living in the creature infested underworld had bred them to be savage and cunning fighters. The war was less than a week long, and when it was finished, piles of the light skinned folk dotted the landscape, and all memory of their existence was erased from history.

The Sharrel had formed a strict, Matriarchal society, with males being little more than slaves and breeding stock. Their hero was the rarest of the rare for their race. Where most couplings of Dama and Baeris resulted in a child that was the mother’s race (part of the reason for the female-leaning sexism), on very rare and exciting occasions, a child called a Zeldrin, or “Great Uniter” was born, with blue-violet hued skin, and the combined strengths of both parents.

Where the Baeris excelled in all things academic, and the Dama were physically powerful and accomplished warriors, the Zeldrin excelled in all things. They were perfect children, and always elevated to high positions quickly, groomed as generals and treated like royalty, no matter how lowly their parent’s position in society.

Thus was the case of the Zeldrin born a scant one hundred and fifty years before the ascension of the Sharrel. Named Shemile De’behray, she had conceived and lead the assault on the Faer. Thousands of them fell before her paired blades, millions to her soldiers.

When the war was done, the hero grew restless.They successfully blocked the eye-stinging sun from view, plunging the world into centuries of darkness. As a result, creatures from the deep sea and caves wandered the surface and shallows, making anywhere that was not civilized dangerous. The Sharrel formed cities, and the Baeris, for a time, embraced science. They developed weapons of war that could fire past the clouds, and launched satellites to view the universe around them.

Their planet drifted, nameless and unknown, for a half a century, until one fateful day, when some lost explorers drifted too close.

The crew of an experimental ship was lost. They were testing an emerging technology, at the time, that allowed objects to be moved into an alternate reality called by many the Astral Plane, a theoretical miasma that held the various parts of the many dimensions of reality together. This crew were some of the earliest pioneers of trying to reach the Astral, and had significant success.

Sadly, the technology was still in its infancy, and while they had perfected moving between the planes, navigating the swirling, brightly colored void of the Astral left a great deal to be desired. So they had been adrift for weeks, their food supply dwindling, and were desperate to find a habitable planet to land on and maybe find some food and water, and to breathe some fresh air. They happened upon the charcoal-gray globe. They studied the atmosphere and determined it was a good fit. One of the men named it Salvatore, Italian for the Savior. It was a name that would stick.

They were amazed when they realized the planet was orbited by satellites, the kind made by intelligent life and not just drifting rocks. Excited and encouraged, they tried to communicate and enter the atmosphere. They received a response, but not the kind they were hoping for. The Sharrel cannons were amazingly accurate, especially for the first time they had ever been fired at a live target. The ship crashed near one of their biggest cities, and the survivors were taken as prisoners. They were experimented upon and questioned, with many efforts made to bridge the language barrier between the species. It was an exciting time on the planet now dubbed Salvatore even by its natives, especially for the intellectual Baeris.

Their greatest “discovery”, however, was the Astral technology discovered on the ship. They wasted no time copying and perfecting it. And none other than Shemile was the first great Astral explorer for the Sharrel. Within years of its discovery, she had become accustomed to Astral travel, and sniffing out new worlds that the Sharrel would then try to conquer.

But her greatest discovery was found on a world called Kraken.

Kraken was a rough planet, covered entirely in vast mountain ranges and oceans, and little else. Kraken was unique as far as every planet discovered for many reasons. One, it was populated by intelligent life, a wide variety of species that called themselves collectively the Gerleth. While all related creatures, the various species varied widely in appearance and abilities. To a one, however, their general look was that of a dragon. They were huge, reptillian creatures, brilliant and cunning.

Each species had a predisposition. Whether that was toward maliciousness, decency, or curiosity typically depended on the species. None were more vicious than what have come to be known as the Death Gerleth, and none was as vicious or manipulative as Chormathor. He was easily one hundred and forty feet long, and wingless, as were others of his ilk. (Most Gerleth have huge wingspans and are accomplished flyers) His flesh was transparent, almost invisible, so what showed was his black reptilian skeleton. He had the mind of a genius, and like all Gerleth of the death breed, could breathe out a cloud of noxious gas that would burst into flame seconds after its release.

The second unique feature of Kraken was its electromagnetic field. While some worlds, erroneously known as “Chemically Dead” had fields that for some reason prevented fusion/fission reactions and internal combustion, Kraken’s was all together different. Any Intelligent being that set foot on Kraken found that their thoughts were suddenly available to any intelligent mind that happened to be aware that it could. So wars and fighting among the various Gerleth were few and rare, those that wanted to fight were easily avoided by those that didn’t, or were met with defenders who had more that fair warning of their arrival.

This led to a certain degree of boredom for the creatures, since there were few mysteries in their lives, so it was with great interest that Chormathor approached the Sharrel Shemile when she happened upon Kraken during one of her explorations. Normally, the great beast would have eaten or tortured something as small as the smaller than human-sized Sharrel, but a century before Shemile, a most interesting woman had also happened upon Kraken and forever changed the world for the Gerleth.

Nearly seven centuries before McCleod launched his assault, living on one of the many ships mankind had used to evacuate their home due to a catastrophe, lived a young woman. She was beautiful, tall and shapely, and came from a privileged family and lived a privileged life. She knew the kind of boredom only those with no worries know. Luckily, in addition to being beautiful, she was brilliant, and her distaste for other people led her to be withdrawn. She studied everything she could get her hands on, especially spiritualism, mysticism, and physics.

She studied for years, becoming obsessed with the belief that there were other forms of energy, and other realities, just out of reach of the normal universe, and that only required the right frame of mind to gather that energy and manipulate it.

She had begun her studies when she was barely twenty one. When she was thirty five, she first made an object move with her mind. By thirty six she could direct wind and conjure electricity from the air. By thirty eight, she became the first human being to step physically on to the Astral Plane.

After several forays back and forth between the new world and her own, the lady decided no one alive was worthy of her secrets. She had already divined the time-lengthening properties of the Astral, and determined that she would perfect her new art-form, alone, where the span of a thousand days only counted for one.

She left her family and life behind, never looking back. She referred to her new science as Mancy, in reference to the splinter disciplines she was developing; Aeromancy for air-based disciplines, Chemomancy for the manipulation of chemicals. The individual processes were called spells for lack of a better term, but she once replied to an associate’s reference of magic when seeing her perform a few tricks with a curt “Magic is illusionism; it’s parlor tricks. Mancy is science and art.”

She dubbed herself Mancer and began walking the various realms of reality armed with her mind. She traveled for centuries, exploring new worlds and new realities. Each year that passed saw her gain in power and knowledge. The portfolio of spells she had developed grew into the hundreds, and ranged from chants that could bind wounds, to those that could change hair color, to some that could flatten a mountain.

It was around this time, after over four centuries of wandering and learning, that she stepped out of a portal on to Kraken. It was not the first world with intelligent life that she had encountered, but the Gerleth were by far the most magnificent.

She stayed for several days, watching some giants soar, others swim. She marked the planet well, deciding that one day she would return to see if she met one that would make a worthy student. With that in mind, she left Kraken, and would not return until after more recent events.

What she did not realize, however, was that her short stay had forever altered the native creatures of Kraken. The days she spent watching and admiring them were ample time for most of the creatures to delve into her thoughts and the treasure trove of knowledge she had attained.

Within days, there were gatherings of several of the more friendly species, conversing in proper English. They combined their thoughts, and successfully extracted and distilled Mancy. Without her even knowing, Mancer’s first students were every thinking being on Kraken.

Chormathor had been the equivalent of an adolescent at the time, and the knowledge-hungry beast absorbed every ounce of Mantic data he could hold, focusing on spells of manipulation and destruction. He began to hunt other gerleth, sometimes for material gain or to expand his domain, but just as often for the sheer joy of slaughter.

Over time, the mindless violence and material things no longer interested the great beast. He desired more subtle machinations, something the English words in his mind would call “delightfully Machiavellian”. Then Shemile stepped into his world. Upon reading her thoughts, he discovered a creature of brilliance, subtlety and malice.

Luck was on his side, because the delicate looking Zeldrin had emerged not far from the caverns that he had claimed for his home. He sought her out with a proposition; He would teach her everything he knew; Mancy, and the encyclopedic knowledge of other worlds that he and the other Gerleth had lifted from Mancer’s mind in exchange for Shemile’s promise that she would use that knowledge to sow chaos.

In that deal, Shemile saw opportunity for further conquest, for new races to subjugate, for a life of excitement and expansion. She was a prodigal student, ingesting every scrap of information the massive Death gerleth imparted, processing it, and writing it down to share with the rest of her race.

She learned to conjure walls of energy and of steel, to evoke balls of fire and bolts of electricity. She learned how to raise structures from the land itself and shape them to her desires. After several years at the Gerleth’s side, Chormathor decided it was time for Shemile to return to her own kind and share what she had learned.

They knew they would miss the other’s company, having found kindred spirits in one another; two beings of pure maliciousness and conquest. It was with surprising reluctance that Shemil De’Behray returned to her own people. She returned to find that in her absence a school had been opened in her memory, Shemile having been presumed lost or dead after her first year away.

Her return was marked with a celebration, held at the school that bore her name, in the largest city on Salvatore, Markilith. She used the auspicious event to announce her discovery; Of other worlds, of the nuances of Astral travel, and of Mancy.

She turned over her volumes of lore to the Baeris that ran the school. IN the span of a few years, they had adjusted the curriculum to encompass, and then focus, on Mancy. They simply called it magic, their language having no equivalent of the former word.

It took no time for the Sharrel to completely embrace the new discipline, eschewing science and technology almost entirely. They spread among the other worlds they found, bringing back with them slaves, pets and other various stock to make their lives more comfortable.

Shemile had grand designs for her race. They had dominated their home world and fashioned it to their liking. Now she wanted to expand their borders beyond their planet.

Shemile died for real a decade after her return. During a raid, her fine armor had been pierced by a ballista bolt, nailing her to the ground. Those in the line of succession behind her had not mourned her loss, and there was quiet suspicion that her armor had been weakened through an insidious spell. The perpetrator, if there was one, was silently applauded for her cunning.

That was the way with the Sharrel, personal gain above everything else.

With Shemile’s death, the expansion of the Sharrel ground to a halt. Without her motivation, they lost all forward momentum, turning to more internal interests. They had managed to infiltrate a handful of human occupied, chemically-dead planets, and chose to hold those rather than explore further.

The Sharrel became more withdrawn, only occasionally making forays to other worlds for slaves, or for the pure delight of causing terror. They became consumed with amassing power and wealth. The wealthiest families broke into their own household kingdoms in the city Markilith, with the pecking order set with the top twenty families.

Infighting, intrigue and power struggles became the driving forces in Sharrel life, with station and gender determining their worth. And so it continued, for centuries; the Sharrel stagnated and eventually began to turn on each other. Wars were breaking out between families, and the council of the top twenty ruling mothers (which shifted as Houses were destroyed and others moved up in rank to replace them) deliberated as to what coarse they should follow to prevent the complete implosion of their society.

The mother of the fifth house, Phalix, gave birth to the answer. her new daughter, Arivice, was born a blend of her mother’s deep blue skin, and her father’s light violet. She had bright red hair and sparkling, intelligent green eyes that scanned everything, even as a newborn.

With the return of the Zeldrin, the ruling mothers’ plans crystallized; they would resume Shemile’s expansion campaign, only this time they would seek allies so that they may attack more advanced cultures. Fate seemed to agree, for a few decades after Arivice’s birth,, a male Zeldrin was born. THough not afforded the opportunities that Arivice enjoyed as a female, the male was given deference that a mere male would not normally find.

As he grew and aged, those around him learned that fear and respect were interchangeable where Jerylys Malchey was concerned.

Bolstered by the hope garnered by two Zeldrin living at once, the chaotic Sharrel found a much needed reprieve from their infighting. they focused on the common goal of finding a common enemy. They also found some most unusual allies on a planet that they unknowingly shared their solar system with.

And through the expansive information network run by the ruler of Markilith’s first house, Mistress Lythe D’elnohr discovered a man as vile, hate filled and ambitious as any Sharrel. His recent war of conquest gave them the incentive the Sharrel needed to make contact, and measures were being taken to enter into an alliance with an Emperor named McCleod.



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