Sunday, January 3, 2016

Memory of Starlight: Near To The Darkness

(Originally thought of as a kind of ghost story.  And a literal deus ex machina. -D)

1015 AS

The city was so massive that it had slowly crumbled away to ruin after the Machinists had decimated the planet's population.  Centuries later the world of Ashan still bore marks of their peculiar magic; a permanent fog of bruise-colored ash filled the air, through which filtered the blue-white rays of Harridan, the system's star.  That the Machinists had struck this far into the Lonely Galaxy was a testament to the awesome stellar energies the extra-galactic invaders had harnessed.  Here was one of planets that had almost been scoured clean by unrestrained beams of celestial energy.  Many had died suddenly, souls full of unresolved emotions and desires.

It was no wonder then, Yanis reflected, that the ruins of Olander were full of ghosts.  So much work for her fellows in the Mortuary Sciences to do, to assist these restless souls into the river of reincarnation.  She knew that there was a regular rotation of master-apprentices sent to Ashan for training, and only a handful of permanently stationed morticians.  But for a mortician with her particular knowledge and skill set to be called meant that there were more dangerous predators at work than needy and grieving ghosts.

She watched the hazy vistas march past as the auto-horse and its driver guided the carriage down the crudely restored cobblestone road.  She was amazed at how overgrown with the native life the remains of Olander had become.  Some buildings were only the fuzzy suggestions of man-made spires now, broken down further by time and life into the slumped remains that greeted her today.

One of the things that grabbed her attention was the slumped wreckage of a Machinist Colossus, those peculiar versions of Titans the invaders had used, each of which were larger than many of the voidships she had been on and as large as many of the behemoths she had read about.  The histories said the Colossi strode across planetary surfaces and laid waste to entire cities, and that they were manned by the fearsome Immortals who comprised the Machinist ruling class.  The relic of the galactic war lay sprawled across the ruined towers and buildings of this city district, head and chest sundered with holes from capital-class voidship weaponry.  The war machine was disturbingly human in form, lacking the massive armor plates and magical symbols of the more familiar Titans used by the Concordat Navy.

"Nearly there, ma'am."  The driver said to her, breaking her away from her thoughts.

---

Yanis picked at the sleeves of her robes, the black cuffs and hem contrasting against the bright white of the main body.  She didn't wear the robes of the Purifier Sect very often; demons were exceedingly rare and poorly understood.  More often than not, she wore the trappings of the Sin-Eater Sect of morticians, assisting the restless dead by metaphorically taking on their sins and burdens so they could pass into the next life.  She was waiting for the local patriarch to be briefed on the situation.

This was a humble mortuary college, built primarily with wood and roughly cut stone, lit by flickering candles ensconced in tiny alcoves everywhere.  Yanis reflected on the layout and what it might mean for the local funeral customs.  She thought cremation was likely, given the number of small shrines to local death spirits with urns along the hall here.  The end of a human life was seen as an offering to the death spirits, likely ritually burnt with prized possessions to appease these spirits to bless any newborn with a long and fruitful life.  Whether it worked or not, Yanis thought, was unknown because of how mercurial some of the more powerful spirits could be.  Especially death spirits.  The battle on Ashan must have really upset the people and the spirits if these were the local customs.

The man entered, wearing the black and yellow robes of the Eulogist Sect and wearing the simple  necklace with stone beads that served as the trappings of office for morticians.  She herself had a simple hemp necklace with five quartz beads.  The man was old, perhaps five hundred years compared to Yanis' more youthful two hundred fifty, with stark white hair combed carefully.

Yanis and the man shook hands and bowed to each other.

"Father Oren, thank you for receiving me." Yanis said as she bowed.

"Sister Yanis, so glad you could come.  I understand Mother Naia's health prevented her from coming.  Please, give her my heartfelt best wishes when you return."  The older man said with a thin smile. "You should take it as a compliment that she sent you in her stead.  I've known Mother Naia since we were apprentice morticians and she rarely trusts others to do as good a job as her."

Yanis felt herself blush, not that anyone would notice under her deep brown skin, something she was always grateful for. "Thank you sir.  Mother Naia did oversee my training as a Purifier, so I know most of what she knows."

Oren nodded. "Not that demons are as well understood as ghosts, but you know that."  He then ushered her into the small living area the college offered. "Come come, you should eat before we discuss graver matters."

---

After a meal of stewed meat and vegetables with a side of bread, Yanis and Oren had gone to Oren's office, which as as austere as the rest of the campus.  A small pot-belly heater took the edge off the cold and a light sphere lit it with warm golden light, the only examples of advanced technology Yanis had seen on the campus so far.  The patriarch lit his pipe, gave it a few puffs, and passed a sheaf of carefully written parchments to Yanis.

Yanis glanced over them, picking up the big details first. "Some of these statements seem unrelated.  Are you certain it's a demon?" She began, a hint of confusion mixed with doubt edging into her voice.

"No." Father Oren stated flatly. "That's why I sent for a Purifier.  I'm not versed well in such matters.  I oversee funeral rites and remember the dead to the living, and have done so since the Invasion ended.  A demon is well beyond my abilities to handle, Sister."

Silence passed between them as Yanis reviewed the statements made by witnesses.  Finally she shook her head and blew air between her lips, and took a breath before speaking. "You're very thorough with these, Father Oren, and I appreciate that.  It will make things a bit easier to sort out."

Father Oren puffed on his pipe thoughtfully. "What do you think it is, Yanis?" his tone was more informal, with an undercurrent of trepidation.

Yanis frowned. "The most consistent thread among the witnesses and the evidence is incredible violence.  The ghost probably felt its death was unfair and became consumed by anger at the living.  Now it's a demon of wrath."

Oren sighed and leaned back in his chair. "So it was probably a ghost from the war."

Yanis glanced out the window behind Father Oren, where the immense foot of the ruined Colossus could be seen in the moonlight. "Probably."

---

Yanis reflected as she unpacked the crate of tools she would need.  The work of serial killers often looked like the work of a demon, with the ritual-like execution of the murders and void-black darkness clinging to the soul.  There were other similarities in observed behavior as well, and some among the Purifiers argued that a serial killer was merely a soul that became consumed by the blacker emotions in life.  A 'living' demon, the theory went.  Just in case, she pulled the fire pistol and its belt holster from the crate and set it among the other accoutrements she had already placed on the cot.

She looked at the esoteric items on the cot, trying to determine if she had left anything out.  Warded light breastplate with iron boots to protect Yanis against the deathly touch of ghosts.  A short sword with a blade forged in a celestial fire, so she could rend the demon's immaterial body.  There was a helm as well, faceless and mask-like.  These were all forged in an artificer's workshop using celestial aspect energy, giving the metal parts an almost perfectly reflective surface that would not scratch or collect dust.

The light breastplate dated back to shortly after the Sundering, when the Outsider Incursion had happened.  The softer leather and cloth portions had been replaced many times over the last thousand some odd years, but the metal portions retained the same wards and protections against the immaterial and spirit-like on the inside as then.  She donned the armor, and the belt holding the largish fire pistol as well across her torso.  The sword's scabbard and belt was fastened across her waist, snugged up to keep it tight and at the ready.

Morticians were unsure if the dead who passed on to the next life retained any prejudices or faint memories of their old lives, so the standard doctrine of the Purifiers was to wear celestially forged helms with featureless faces.  Yanis put the helm on, becoming anonymous and unidentifiable.  A satchel with pencils and paper hung on the hip opposite the sword.  All of this had gone over her Purifier robes, the soft cloth of the robes muting the clanging jangle of the metal boots she now wore.

All things in place, Yanis took a very deep breath and walked out of her temporary chambers to be greeted by Father Oren and a youth, also wearing the robes of the Eulogist sect.

"Well, you certainly cut an impressive figure with all that equipment.  Allow me to introduce you to my apprentice, Sister Yanis." Oren gestured at the youth. "This is Brother Arryn.  While only an apprentice he has a rather clever mind."  Oren nudged Arryn.

Arryn blushed, embarrassed, and bowed. "P-pleased to meet you, Purifier Yanis.  I hope I can be of assistance to you.  Father Oren has instructed me to accompany you while you investigate the town for the demon's trail.  He feels that if a more familiar face was with you that the townspeople would be less likely to panic."

Yanis supposed the young boy had never seen a Purifier in full battle dress before and had been staring at the incredible mirror surface of the armor.  She smiled under her anonymous helmet.

"Nice to meet you as well, Brother Arryn.  But there is a rule I need you to follow.  You have to address me as Purifier while I'm dressed like this; we believe that ghosts as disturbed as demons are should not be able to identify us."  Her voice was changed by the helm's enchantments into a neutral genderless tone, and it always unnerved her to hear herself speaking with that voice.

---

Yanis and Arryn sat at the worn wooden table in the kitchen of the little mortuary college, joined by

Father Oren for the morning meal.  Yanis liked the little red fruits and had seen the twisted shrubs they grew on; but after several mornings of fogbrush apples and oatmeal the taste had worn thin for her.  She made a mental note to take some of the seeds back with her to plant in the gardens at the citadel;  Father Hioki always liked new plants.

Oren passed Yanis a bowl of oatmeal, then passed another bowl to Arryn.  He settled in his own chair and mixed in the slices of fogbrush apples and ate a spoonful.  While Yanis hated to ruin breakfast, there were important things to discuss this morning.

Yanis sighed. "I'm very certain there is more than one demon."  She looked at Father Oren with a distressed look on her face.  The news shook Father Oren and his spoon clattered into his bowl, overturning it onto the table.  Arryn looked confused by Yanis' statement.

So he spoke up. "What does that mean, Purifier?" Arryn had gotten into the habit of addressing Yanis only by that title over the past few days.

Father Oren was cleaning up the spattered oatmeal while Yanis answered the young acolyte. "It means that somebody is creating demons, Arryn."

"Why would any..." Arryn began.

"Because some people are damn fools." Father Oren interrupted, face red with anger as he wiped up the remains of his breakfast from the table "They think they can control ghosts and demons to be used for their own ends.  These fucking Goetics." The man practically hissed the last two words, and Father Oren was not one to casually use such a word.

Yanis turned to Arryn to explain. "Goetics are a heretic sect of Morticians, Arryn, like the Necromongers.  They want to understand demons by determining how they come to be and discovering how to control them."  She didn't tell Arryn that Goetic heresy had its roots in Purifier doctrines; that would only inspire distrust.

Father Oren had finished cleaning his place at the table. "This whole business has put me off my appetite.  What's next, Sister Yanis?"

---

Yanis was preparing the the binding diagram out in the rubble of the old city, in the shadow of the fallen Machinist Colossus.  Above loomed the foot of the great machine, casting an eerie shadow through the hazy murk.  Arryn helped her, passing the components needed for the binding circle.  She thought this was one of the more morbid duties she carried out, between the unreal nature of actually summoning ghosts and the components that made up the binding circle.  Human ashes, knuckle bones, grave dirt...

Arryn said nothing while they built it, but she knew from the anxious look on his face that the apprentice was wondering if the summoning and binding of ghosts was a part of the heretical Necromonger doctrines.  Yanis knew from her own studies that humanity had developed ritual magics to commune with the dead long before there was an Order of the Mortuary Arts.  It was a fundamental aspect of dealing with ghosts, but the rituals were not taught to apprentices.  Arryn's presence was an anomaly, so clearly Father Oren felt Arryn was ready to graduate to a novice mortician.

Finally Arryn said something. "Isn't this... heresy?"

"No.  We train all morticians how to summon and bind the dead."  Preempting the obligatory follow-up question, Yanis continued. "If a ghost is particularly hard to communicate with or is very uncooperative, we need to have the tools to bind them.  Because then we can figure out the best way to sever their ties to the material realm."  She was setting the small onyx gems inside the binding circle in the shape of a human's spiritual gates, what some philosophies called chakra points.  She then pulled a small candle no more than three inches long and made of a greasy black wax and set it in where the ribcage of the figurative human would be.

"Stand back." she cautioned Arryn as she struck the flint and steel to light the corpse candle.  The wick fizzled as it caught the sparks, adding a sickening rotten smell to the air and a cold gray-green light cast across the broken courtyard they found themselves in.  Arryn's eyes widened as he realized that he could see vague misty human-like shapes by the candle-light, the ruins filled with them.

One of those shapes passed through a half wall and stepped into the binding circle, seemingly attracted by the light and smoke.  The glimpse into the realm of the dead stopped as the sickening candle smoke coalesced into the shape of a person, with blurred features as wisps of smoke escaped.

There was a voice, distracted and barely there, laboring to form words as the mouth of the apparition mimicked the motions of a living person. "Did the colossus fall?"  Of course the ghosts would be most concerned about the anchors that kept it tied to the material.

Yanis answered. "It did fall, ancestor.  We're in in the shadow of its corpse." She gestured upwards towards the fog-shrouded foot of the thing. "With whom do I have the honor of speaking with, ancestor?"

The ghost replied distractedly, smoky form trying to reach beyond the circle towards Arryn. "This one reminds me my grandson.  What is your name?"  The unquiet dead were not known for staying focused.

Arryn was sheet white and terrified.  It was clearly the boy's first time dealing with a restless soul.  Yanis nudged him.  The candle would only last so long and they needed answers.  Arryn stuttered out his answer. "I'm Arryn Deltana, ancestor.  Who might you be?" Well, at least he had enough wit about him to ask that.

It might be smiling, Yanis could never tell given how insubstantial the smoke forms always were. "I was Sofia Langellon of Omphalos, Captain of 9th Lancer Platoon of the 4077th Titan Legion.  I remember we were ordered to hold down the Colossus.  There was a light and then... wandering, endless wandering.  And wondering..." The ghost of Captain Langellon trailed off distractedly.

Yanis tried to take control of the conversation again. "Captain Langellon, we need to know if you have seen the ghosts around here... change."

"Oh..." the ghost said languidly. "There were a few... they turned black as the outer void and shrieked curses.  Purple malevolence and vorpal talons.  There were awful faces and wicked men.  Shades from the void came for them.  Some refused to go along and howled as they ate the living."  The ghost became distracted again as it glanced up. "Is that the colossus?  How did it come to be as such?"

Yanis took a deep breath, trying to hide her growing anger.  Dealing with the dead in this way was frustrating and tiresome, but it was necessary at times. "The histories say it was laid low by an orbital strike from the Sol Aet's etheric batteries.  The strike also cost the lives of many of the 3rd Scarlet Dragon battalion, including yours." She had read the history of the battles here this morning in preparation for such questions.

"And... did the Machinists...?" The captain's ghost trailed off mid-question.

Yanis stated "The star remains shining and free, Captain."

"... I think I can rest easy then...  Maybe one more question?" There was a hint of joy in the soft languid voice of the ghost.

Yanis frowned under her helmet's mask. "Certainly, but I have one last question to ask of you, ancestor."

The ghostly form in the smoke shrugged, or seemed to.  "That is fair.  Ask your question, morticians."

Yanis breathed a sigh of relief. "Captain Langellon, can you tell me where the darkened ghosts went when they were taken?"

"There was a path; a road so dark.  Into the distant void it went along a dragon's tail.  The shades were not men, not outsiders, not ghosts.  I may have imagined them as stars of blackest night.  They were cold and terrible to see.  They stilled the world about them.  I think they may never have been men." The ghost was infuriatingly vague.

Yanis thought a moment. "What is your last question, ancestor?"

"How long has it been since the battle?"

---

Yanis had long sent Arryn back to the mortuary college.  The younger mortician was too much of a distraction for the ghosts she interviewed with the corpse candles.  She stoked the campfire and glanced upward.  The omnipresent fog obscured the familiar ribbon of stars, revealing just a wall of grey at the edge of the firelight.

Five ghosts, and she had managed to resolve their ties in the process of getting information.  There was that at least.  But the ghosts had been typically cryptic with regard to how they conveyed that information.  She didn't know what to make of this 'dark road into the void' they kept talking about, or the 'blacker than black' cold figures.  She suspected that she might have been entirely wrong; there may be no goetics here, just old ghosts that are transforming into demons.  But what forces were gathering these demons and to what end?

She adjusted the fit of her purifier armor, the long period spent sitting by the campfire having caused some of the pieces to feel wrong when she stood up.  Yanis supposed she wouldn't get anything done here in the shadow of the dead war machine, so put out the fire and began her hike back to Father Oren's mortuary college.

---

She sensed something was wrong when she arrived.  It was a subtle wrongness that tugged at her senses.  And she cursed herself for forgetting that the corpse candles were great flaring beacons to the dead.  Yanis was not sure what she might find inside the stone building, but she would need to check anyway.  She drew her sword, just in case.

The candles that lit the hallways at night had been snuffed out, leaving Yanis to fumble blindly in the claustrophobic darkness.  A chilly hand gripped her heart when she heard Father Oren's voice.

"Sister Yanis! Welcome home!" The voice was wrong; forced, lacking any of the warmth of humankind.  Worse still, no human she knew of could see in darkness like this.  She reached for her satchel but in this darkness she couldn't see the thing she needed and the armored gloves made it impossible for her to accurately feel for the banishment seal.

What used to be Father Oren was on her before she could raise the sword in a last ditch defense.  She was hurled down the hallway with ease and she could hear the clatter of all the trinkets and tools hit the floor as they spilled from her open satchel.  Her impromptu flight was stopped when she slammed into one of the stone walls and felt something give.  She heard a hideous screech as she got up and tried to orient herself, bringing a bitter smile to her face.  It seems somebody stepped on shattered remains of a holy water vial.  Getting to her feet, Yanis barreled towards the entry doors, grunting as her shoulder slammed them open.  At least out here the diffuse light of the moon, even in the fog, allowed her to see.

She turned around, her heart trying to burst from her chest and her limbs shaking from the shock of the attack.  Yanis was expecting Father Oren or Arryn to emerge from the black depths of the building, and prepared to strike them down.  Instead, a rock struck her from behind.  And then more rocks.  She turned and realized that there were more humanlike shapes coming from out of the fog.  They were closing fast too.  More possessed?

There was no way she could deal with a mob of demon-possessed people.  So Yanis ran, back up towards the ruins and the remains of the colossus, away from the unfortunate people.

---

Demon possessed humans were chasing her, and they would push their hosts until they died.  Yanis couldn't stop, couldn't rest, despite the fatigue setting in.  Who knew how long the forces behind the demons had been gathering them.  The family members of the possessed likely had joined them or were killed.  They wanted Yanis dead and they wanted to make sure nobody uncovered what was going on here.  Yanis knew these master specters did not care if they created more ghosts in the process of ensuring her death.

Yanis climbed upwards through the rubble of the old city, hoping that the scavengers had left some relic of the galactic war that she could use to fight off the demons.  She heard them below her, pieces of rubble pulled loose carelessly clattering down the slope as they climbed after her.

The conclusion of the chase seemed inevitable, really.

Finally Yanis reached the plaza she had lit the corpse candles in, the scattered remains of her camp fire greeting her.  She glanced about, looking in some slim hope that there was an obvious solution.  Her armor would ward against any incorporeal attacks, which she guessed was why the demons hadn't possessed her directly.  As the chilly grip of despair slowly squeezed her heart, she looked at the fallen colossus.

"Is this what it felt like for you?" Yanis said aloud, eyes stinging with tears behind the faceplate of her helm.  She did not want to die yet.  She had centuries ahead of her.  But maybe the scavenger families hadn't stripped the colossus or had avoided it out of superstition, she finally thought.  Taking a deep breath as she heard the first of the possessed catching up with her, she ran through the rubble-strewn streets towards the torso of the fallen colossus.  The possessed would catch up to her if she didn't push herself.  Adrenaline and fear gave her a much needed surge of energy, her armor feeling lighter on her than it had moments ago.

---

The colossus had plenty of damage and hand-holds from the massive amounts of fire it had taken before the etheric cannons had struck.  Yanis pulled herself up by deep scratches, impact craters, and chipped edges, reflecting at how there were no signs of aging or corrosion.  Not even the odd weed growing in crevices.  Here and there she saw disturbing things in the rent places, things that looked eerily like muscles and veins rendered within magical alloys by cunning artifice.

Finally she reached the top, where the pectoral muscles would be on a human being, and she saw a great vista open before her, the wind howling and clearing the fog here.  She could see that the colossus was missing its head and arm, as well as a great rent across the chest.  She knew the possessed were closing on her, and that she was fading fast with the fatigue of the last sixteen hours of wakefulness.  She had little left in her, and she guessed that if the Machinists built the Colossus like the Concordia built Titans, the pilot's harness would be in the center of the chest.  She forced herself that way, seeing the chasmic gash across the chest corresponded where she thought the harness would be.

She heard the clatter of heavy footsteps approaching as she reached the precipice and saw a mangled human-like machine in what she assumed was the pilot harness.  She stared for a moment, shocked at seeing the corpse of a Machinist Immortal.  Like their Colossi, the Immortals were disturbingly human in shape and form, more like the somatons of the Old Empire than the Concordia's mass-produced servant somatons.  It was so fundamentally alien compared to anything Yanis had encountered in her life, and she was overcome with a sense of awe.

She was awoken from her sense of wonder when she was tackled by a possessed woman, the two of them falling into the pilot's harness.  Yanis fought back, punching and grappling with her armor-clad arms, grasping for the small knife across her chest.  She could hear things and lights began to flicker on around her as the colossus responded to her presence.  As she got her knife free and plunged it into the neck of the hissing and screeching possessed, a calm androgynous voice spoke in a language she hadn't heard since her Purifier training.  Two more possessed lept onto her, making her struggle all the more desperate.  Blows rained down upon her with demoniac strength.

"Power core started.  System check initialized.  Primary Sensors offline.  Right arm offline.  Internal repair programs initiated.  Structural integrity at 55% and rising." The voice was speaking in the language of the Old Empire.  Yanis felt the world shift and move around her as the colossus began to move.  A hand belonging to her grasped onto something as the whole thing lifted itself up out of its reclining position and stood, shaking off many of the possessed that had started clambering down into the cockpit.

Those few that remained clinging to the edge, Yanis obligingly severed their hands with her sword now that the war machine was upright and not moving.  She could see floating displays come on around the spherical cockpit, showing what she assumed was some kind of threat assessment or motion tracking.  When Yanis had finished dispatching the lingering possessed, she climbed over to the harness, vision spattered with starbursts from the pain in her ribs and sheer exhaustion.

She laboriously undid the harness around the Immortal's corpse, saying a prayer for the departed as she did so, trying to make sure she wasn't angering any possible ghost that might be attached to the alien machine.  She knew this was a waste of breath, but the habit had been drilled into her during her apprentice mortician days.  It was something she could not help but do.  As much as she wished to treat a possible corpse with dignity and respect, she was in too much pain and too tired, and ended up managing to only get it half-way over behind the harness seat into what she presumed was a storage compartment of some kind.  It was very undignified, but Yanis could take care of that later.

She prayed that there would be a later, though.  Even with this alien weapon at her disposal, she felt death could still claim her.  She sank deeply into the couch/harness and the machine seemed to know she was there, the straps and buckles fastening themselves securely around her.  Her attention was caught and she waved her head in the direction she saw a glowing face in.  Some kind of... spirit?  It was hard to hear, but she thought it was asking what it should do.  The only thing that she could think of, as she started to slide into the depths of unconsciousness, was a handful of words.

"I-I don't want to die." She gasped as her vision faded.

---

The great machine stood tall among the city ruins, bright lines of multi-colored light standing out against the deep black of the colossus' armored skin.  The possessed that swarmed among the alleyways and cracked streets stared at the resurrected Machinist weapon, dim memories of terror trickling back.  The lines of light cut through the fog like beacons, the machine motionless for an interminable moment.

The possessed scattered as it took only five steps, collapsing the dying buildings around it and sending great shuddering tremors through the earth.  Millions of psudeo-metal muscles creaked and groaned as it stooped to retrieve its severed arm.  It held the severed limb to its mangled shoulder and the machinery began to reconnect and repair the damage.

The possessed recovered from the shock of seeing the ancient machine reanimated and now left their hosts to try and attack the colossus with their more potent immaterial forms, but the machine was proofed against them.  Worse still, their ghostly vision revealed countless little gods bound to the mechanisms of the Machinist Colossus, and these spirits fought back.  Lightning crackled around the colossus as the spirits and demonic ghosts battled.  Winds began to rush the cloying mist away from the titanic form as it began moving yet again, the arm re-affixed to the chassis..  The great spirit within it saw humans fleeing the ruins, and saw these were not the enemy.

It stooped again, this time amidst lightning and clouds of dust, both hands plunging into the remains of a cathedral.  From beneath, the colossus extracted its own head, its face a stern statuesque half-melted mask, and replaced it on its sheared neck.  The hands adjusted the head as it reknit itself.  The eyes opened, flooding with an eye-searing light.

With most of its systems restored, the great spirit known in an age past as Nara took stock of the situation.  With the new pilot-captain stowed safely away and weapons being restored, Nara decided that the enemy were the wraiths attempting to breach the shell.  The subsidiary spirits were doing well, but this quintessence starved world meant they would falter eventually for lack of energy.  The etheric cannon would cause what Nara sensed would be unacceptable collateral damage according to the pilot-captain.  Too many non-combatants would die.

With a flourish of an outstretched hand, a thousand points of sky-blue light emerged from the hand and rained down in arcing paths, tracing through the invisible corpses of the demons.  They were outlined and illuminated when struck, their malevolent and twisted forms writhing in pain and terror.  The howling of the demons would be enough to test the steel of the bravest human soul, but the face of the gargantuan golem remained unmoved.

Impassively, Nara systematically exterminated the demons that continued to fight it.  The great spirit noted that many of them fled into some kind of immaterial singularity, but the task at hand did not require Nara to pursue them.  Only the pilot-captain's continued survival mattered.

---

Yanis blinked her eyes a few times, unsure of where she was, aching everywhere.  Bursts of light swam in her vision as she tried to take a deep breath and only got incredible pain for her efforts.  That was probably a broken rib or two, she thought.

The voice spoke again, in Old Empire, it was subtly different, definitely feminine-sounding despite the hammering of her own heartbeat in her ears. "Good morning, Pilot-Captain.  My name is Nara, and I am the Great Spirit that controls and coordinates the spirits inhabiting Titan 42001000.  The prior Pilot-Captain called it Fist of The North Galaxy.  What is your name, Pilot-Captain?"

Yanis was too tired to be scared, too tired to feel much of anything.  It was an automatic response she gave. "Yanis Anstera, Fifth Degree Purfier Paladin of the Mortician's Guild."