Millions of years ago
The planet would come to be known by dozens of names over the course of millennia worth of millennia. For this moment, it was called Tseniya. At one time, it had been a lush, beautiful world of expansive jungles, with trees growing far into the heavens. Their branches had stretched to cover most of what lay below, like the protective arms of a concerned mother. Teeming with life of all kinds, Tseniya was a sanctuary, a garden where no technology had been allowed. It was a place for spiritual reflection.
It was almost fitting, in a way, that this was where a race whose population had once stretched across every star in the visible heavens would make their very last stand. This world had been a garden of life, a preserved refuge against all of the problems and dangers of the universe. Now, it would be the place where the only survivors of that once great, star-spanning Empire made one final play against total extinction.
That once lush and green world would not last much longer. Already, a black, obsidian-like substance encased more than three quarters of the planet. It covered every living thing. Trees, flowers, vines, and every creature that flew, walked, crawled, slithered, or swam. None were spared. None were immune. None could fight. There was no fighting that which had caused this. There was only retreat, only running. And now, at this moment, there were no more places to go, no more planets to flee to. Tseniya was their last hope, their last stand.
Those simple words, spoken in a voice that had been long-resigned to saying them, nonetheless carried the weight of a man announcing the extinction of his species and the eradication of civilization itself.
Two figures stood atop a hovering spaceship, as it floated hundreds of feet above the ground. The ship itself was a thousand feet long, eight hundred feet wide, and shaped roughly like the shell of a turtle. Its heavily armored surface looked silver, with golden lines that glowed with power. Far below, it and others like it had used their remarkable mounted weapons to carve out a flat valley through the jungle so that the survivors, the refugees, that they carried could be disembarked. Those who were left, those who had not yet been lost, had needed the open space in order to try one last, final solution, a desperate play to avoid total extinction.
The pair of figures who stood at its edge, staring off into the distance, were two of only ten thousand. Ten thousand was all that remained of what had, not so long ago, been a civilization numbering in the hundreds of trillions.
They called themselves the Suelesk. Originating from a planet called Elesk, with Su meaning ‘Of’. They were ‘Of Elesk’. The Suelesk stood between six and eight feet in height. They were a reptilian-based species, their skin covered in tiny, incredibly tough scales. Technically, they were four-legged, though they stood upright like any bipedal species. Their main pair of legs were much larger than the second set, shaped somewhat like what would eventually be known as a kangaroo. These heavily muscled limbs allowed the Suelesk to jump extraordinary distances.
Meanwhile, the second pair of legs, much thinner than the first, emerged from the Suelesk’s stomach-area and were mainly used for balancing. When standing at rest, they would lean slightly forward, allowing all four legs to take their considerable weight.
The weight was considerable due to the heavy, reinforced shell that each Suelesk carried on their back. Similar in shape to their ships themselves, the Suelesk shell stretched from near their knees, all the way up over their snapping turtle-like heads. Finally, each possessed two stout, muscular arms that could withdraw almost entirely into their shell, or extend as far as five feet in length. Mostly, they kept their arms at a comfortable two feet for general, minute-to-minute actions, with more than half of their length withdrawn and resting.
The one who had made that terrible, two-word announcement looked toward his companion. “The Last will be here soon.”
The Last. That was what they called one of four beings who would be responsible for the annihilation of their civilization. Only four. Where they had come from, what they wanted, what they called themselves, whether they even had any concept of such things was completely unknown. They didn’t communicate, they didn’t make demands. They simply… destroyed.
Four of them. The Suelesk called them The First, The Next, The Other, and The Last, in order of when they had appeared over the past thirty years. Each was different from the other three in every way save for their destructive capability and the total lack of any response to every attempt to communicate with them. No weapons could kill the entities, or even do enough damage to be noticed. They seemed to only grow stronger when magic was used against them. Nothing had worked. Nothing ever worked.
This one, The Last, was the largest of the quartet. At most estimates, the creature’s main body was almost nine hundred feet in length, and six hundred feet wide. It was nearly impossible to get a decent measurement, however, because the monster spent most of its time with three-quarters of its main body buried underground. Dozens of tentacles that ranged in length from only a couple hundred feet all the way up to twenty miles emerged from both ends of the creature’s roughly pear-shaped body.
Those dozens of tentacles constantly produced a steady cloud of dark red gas. It was contact with that gas which turned every living thing into the hardened shell that now covered so much of this once lush planet (and the entirety of so many planets before this one). The Last was always engulfed in that gas, a fog of total destruction that filled the air for several miles around the creature. Wherever it went, living things were turned to that hardened, obsidian-like state. None survived even the briefest contact with the deadly fog.
“Will they be done before it gets here?” the second of the two Suelesk asked, turning away from the sight of the steadily approaching dark crimson cloud to look toward the figures below. The last of their species, desperately rushing to finish their final attempt at survival.
“They have to be,” the first replied in a quiet, subdued voice. There was no other choice. If the ones below didn’t finish their work, then their civilization, their species, would cease to exist.
A couple of minutes later, The Last had crossed almost half of the remaining distance. Its furthest tentacles were almost close enough to begin affecting the outer edges of their manufactured valley.
“They are ready,” a third Suelesk announced, stepping out onto the top of the ship with the first two. “It is time to begin the departure.”
The first turned to look toward the newcomer, giving a slight nod. “Begin,” he ordered simply. There was nothing else left to say. Nothing to debate. This was their last chance to save their species.
Speaking the same word into his communicator, the third Suelesk stepped over to join the other two. Together, the trio looked down to the group far below. The last of their species, aside from the few hundred on the ship they were standing atop, all devoting everything they had to this final effort.
As the command to begin was sent down, all ten thousand figures on the ground linked their arms, and their voices, in calling upon the single spell that they had been working on for so long. Ten thousand Suelesk, each of them having poured hundreds of hours into this single bit of magic.
And with a rush of power that all could feel as wind upon their faces, an enormous portal opened up ahead of the ship. Extending from the ground itself all the way to the clouds, and thousands of feet wide, the portal seemed to explode into existence.
“They did it,” the first Suelesk murmured, awed by the sight. Not just by the size of the portal, impressive as it was, but by the knowledge of where it led. Because this was no ordinary portal. There were no remaining planets in the known universe to flee to. The four entities had overrun everything.
So, the Suelesk would not flee to a known planet. They would leave the universe entirely. They would step beyond where any being had ever gone, leaving this universe behind. They would abandon everything they had ever known, and move through this portal toward an uncertain universe, an unknown reality. Because an unknown reality was far better than a certain extinction.
Standing there, atop the ship, the trio watched as the last of their species were transported onto the remaining four ships, the last of what had been a great, universe-spanning fleet. Once the passengers were aboard, those ships began to pass through the giant portal. Each carried supplies, weapons, everything that they would need on the other side. Where they would come out was unknown, save for the fact that it was a world vaguely similar to the one they were leaving. Beyond that… well, there was a reason that this was a last ditch effort.
“They’re going to make it,” the second Suelesk announced, watching for another moment before turning back to her companions. “We need to go, before it gets here.”
She was right. Now that the other ships were almost through the portal and on to whatever awaited the rest of their species on the other side, they needed to do their part. Because in the hold of this ship waited the other half of their two-pronged plan to both survive and defeat these monsters. In the hold were fifteen of what would appear to be enormous boulders, forty feet high by thirty feet in width. But they weren’t boulders at all. Instead, each was an egg. Created by a mixture of science and magic, the eggs held potential. Potential which wouldn’t be realized for a very long time.
During their increasingly desperate attempts to find a way of combating the four entities, the Suelesk had experimented upon broken off pieces of the entities themselves. Through those efforts, they had discovered that they could use those pieces as genetic building blocks in order to create an entirely new species. A species which could, theoretically, serve as guardians against what had been their original bodies. Essentially, they were taking what amounted to broken fingernails and discarded hairs and creating whole new lifeforms.
Those new lifeforms would have similar resistance to magic and other damage as the entities had. Yet they would also be given intelligence, compassion, and loyalty to their makers. They would be similar to the creatures they were born from, but far different. They would be guardians, protectors, and warriors. As individuals, they wouldn’t be as strong as that which they had sprung from. But together, and with the aid of the Suelesk themselves, they would defeat their progenitors.
Or they would have. Unfortunately, after the initial exciting news and plans of what could be done with those discarded pieces of the entities, the reality had set in. It would take over one million years of constant energy being pumped into each egg before they would even be close to hatching. The side effect of a being having so much power was that it took a lot of power before it could actually be born.
So, that thought had been cast aside, and other efforts had been pursued. Until now. Until all other efforts had utterly failed. Now, these eggs and the potential they held within was all that remained of any chance there was of actually defeating The First, Next, Other, and Last.
What they needed was time. And so, time was what this was all about. This ship would transport the eggs to the only places within the universe where they could both continually absorb enough energy to eventually hatch and remain safe from the entities who would destroy them: within the hearts of fifteen different stars. In those stars, the eggs would rest for a million years, taking on the power that they needed.
Meanwhile, the Suelesk aboard would take the ship to the deepest recesses of the universe, where they would set their systems to broadcast educational communications that only the eggs, and eventually the guardians themselves, would be able to pick up. The broadcast would teach the guardians of their purpose in the universe, their creators, and the threats which faced them. Then the Suelesk would seal themselves in cryogenic chambers, and sleep away the millennia.
In time, once all fifteen guardians had hatched and gained all the power they needed, the ship would communicate exactly how they could find it, and awaken the crew within. Once they were awakened, the Suelesk crew would work with their empowered guardians to create the same portal that existed here now. At that point, when the new portal was created, the rest of the Suelesk would return. Or rather, their descendants would, having had a million years to replenish themselves and to prepare for that moment.
They would return, and alongside their guardians, the Suelesk would destroy the entities who had so devastated their civilization. With one million years to prepare, and fifteen creatures who, while weaker than the entities themselves, were at least similar in capability, they would have their revenge, their justice.
Hundreds of years ago
“Well? What happened next? Did all of their flying ships make it through the portal? What of the one that was supposed to transport the eggs and then wait? Is it still waiting?”
Arthur Pendragon smiled slightly at the woman beside him as she pressed him for answers. Holding up a hand to forestall more questions, the tall, bearded man winked. “A true bard would make you wait until tomorrow evening to hear how the story ends, Guinevere.”
The blonde woman gave him a long, disgusted scowl. “You are no bard, Arthur. You are my husband, and a terrible tease. You promised to tell me what Nimue explained about the origin of these dragons.”
Nimue, the woman from the stars who had come in her own sky-boat and taught Arthur and the rest of them so much. It was her stories, her instructions, which had led to the formation of Arthur’s knights, his most loyal and steadfast friends.
Now, the king rested a hand on her shoulder, squeezing slightly as his smile broadened. “I did promise, didn’t I?” Taking a moment to tug his wife up against him fondly, he continued. “As I understand it, these are stories that were passed down for many generations before reaching Nimue herself. But according to those tales, the sky-boat managed to deposit each egg before being damaged by something. The specifics are… unclear. What matters is that the ship never ended up broadcasting its instructions. The guardians, what we call dragons, spent a million years as eggs before hatching within the heat of their individual stars… with no idea what their purpose was. They wandered like that. Spread out as they were, it was thousands of years before any even ran into another of their kind. Some fought, some procreated and deposited their own eggs within other stars. But mostly, they kept to themselves, on their own journeys through the universe to seek their purpose, their reason for existing.”
“If the dragons have been searching for their purpose for so long,” Guinevere started, “then how does Nimue know it?”
“As I understand it,” Arthur replied, “her people discovered the remains of the sky-boat crashed on their own world. It was from those remains that they were able to create their own sky-boats, like the one that brought her here to our world. They were able to search its records, and discovered as much as I’ve just told you.”
“But what of these entities?” the woman pushed, looking to her beloved urgently. “If they are still out there–”
“There has been no sign of them since the time of those Suelesk,” Arthur assured her. “Whether they too moved on to another universe, died off when there was nothing more to kill, or were killed by some other force, we don’t know. No one does. But they aren’t here.”
Guinevere’s eyes lowered to look at the blade on her husband’s hip. Excalibur, created from the tooth of the same dragon whose blood had empowered him into the man he had become. “Not now,” she murmured softly.
“But I know a few bard tricks as well. And if I were the one telling this story, it wouldn’t be a matter of if they returned.
“It would be a matter of when.”