Written by Chuckg
The skies of Phase World were never dark.
Although nowhere near as all-encompassing as the Free City of Khazan, Phase World was a dimensional nexus, albeit a minor one, in its own right. Connecting the various worlds of the Rifts cosmos with the Anvil Galaxy, this stronghold of the mysterious blue-skinned Promethean race was a focal point for trade and commerce across six galaxies and at least three universes. With shimmering ley lines crossing the sky and massive Phase Gates in orbit to welcome travellers from all across their little corner of the Multiverse, with powers and glories unmatched in the Anvil Galaxy, the world-sized city-state had never known serious threat or danger.
But then again, until now it had never known the coming of the Overlord.
Orbital Phase Gate #1 exploded with a roar as the Sphere-Ship Death's Head violently forced its way through the starget with its own Dimensional Drive. A thousand kilometers in diameter, sheathed with hundreds of meters of Vanguard mana-proof alloy and armed and armored to Culture-tech standards and beyond, holding thousands of lesser ships and millions of troopers, the Sphere-Ships were the Dominion's rarest and most precious capital fleet unit, the infinitely versatile and incomprehensibly powerful projections of the Overlord's might.
As the inhabitants and visitors of Phase World looked fearfully upward at the blazing explosion, the hangar bay doors of the sphere opened and the armada issued forth.
Due to the local warping of space produced by the multiple dozens of ley line nexi and the phase-technology shields of the Prometheans, the normal wormhole displacers of Culture technology would not function here. Therefore, the Overlord's troopers would have to land the hard way, by landing craft. Ten million Legion troopers, soulless machines all, made up the first wave, riding in ten thousand assault boats. Escorted by starfighters and covered by mile-long battleships, energy bolts warred vs force fields, missiles vied against counter-missiles, as the doomed inhabitants of the planet below strove to kill the troopers before they could land and kill them.
A Consortium of Civilized Worlds battle flotilla maneuevered around a Kreeghor Dreadnaught, as the two sworn enemies made truce in the face of superior might. Desperately, the hundred fighting starships, each one capable of sterilizing a continent, charged forward against the lead wave of attacking Dominion ships.
The Death's Head needed only .004 seconds to destroy them all with a contemptuous twitch of one of its Gridfire impulsers, tearing open the very fabric of space beneath them to let the matter and anti-matter universes meet as one. Only one cruiser, at the very edge of the effect, was swift enough to maneuver clear of the roiling wave of death in time... and a thousand-unit salvo of Reflex Missiles from an advancing starfighter wing blew it into pieces too small for an electron microscope to see.
From the surface of the planet below came small glittering specks, shining silver in the sun. Cosmo-Knights, they were... empowered by the mysterious Cosmic Forge with unaging, perfect bodies and energy manipulation powers that made their personal might a rival with a star cruiser's. Flying untouched through the hail of energy and the ripping cataclysms of Gridfire, their total immunity to energy attacks shielded them as their cosmic bolts lanced out again and again, each shot striking like an Imperial turbolaser and atomizing a landing craft at a shot.
But the Overlord's wisdom equals his might, and the threat had been foreseen. A Cosmo-Knight's immunity does not apply vs magic... and a hundred battleships of the lead wave had been specifically refitted, their spinal mount gridfire impulsers replaced with with techno-mystical Necro-Lasers. Using spirit vapor and ectoplasm in the lasing chamber instead of normal ionized gas, the horrible weapons vomited forth an enervating effect of pure black mana, draining the life force from all they touched.
The gleaming defenders of the Cosmic Forge died, flickering out like candles in a hurricane.
On the surface of the world below, the soldiers and warriors and headhunters and Juicers and wizards and warlocks and normal folk of a thousand separate worlds looked up at the burning sky and saw their deaths written. As the first of the landing craft touched down and the thousands upon thousands of Legion troopers emerged, moving with preternatural swiftness and firing with perfect accuracy, the Phase Worlders and the prometheans fought back with everything they had. A million stories of bravery were told that day, a million more of brilliant tactical improvisations. Spells, swords, guns and blasters spoke. Energies and effects of almost infinite variety were thrown and compromised. Godlings and generals schemed and plotted, and entire libraries' worth of the history of warfare were written in a single afternoon.
And by the end of the day, no life survived anywhere on Phase World save for the forces of the Dominion.
Back on Ultimus, the Dyson Sphere world-palace of the Overlord, Chuckg sat in his private study awaiting the news from the front.
Grand Vizier Locke entered the door, followed by the Inner Circle. "Sire, Imperial Commander Thrawn has contacted us from the Death's Head. Phase World and the local area of space around it is fully secure."
"Excellent. Inform Thrawn that subduing the Anvil Galaxy is his next mission. I want the greater area of space around Phase World, not merely the local area, to be inviolate from attack. Tell him to forward-deploy the Death's Head and the additional fleets I shall detail to him for this venture."
"And Phase World itself, my lord?"
"After Baron Kagato finishes his examination of the Phase Gates and their technological remnants, and the libraries of the prometheans have been incorporated into our databases, inform the construction battalions to begin building as planned. Phase World shall be the forward staging area for the upcoming campaign vs the disputed territories."
MunchKING broke in, smiling. "As well as the jump-off point for the invasion of Khazan."
"Of course. A minor dimensional nexus with which to reach a major one. Elegant and effective."
Lieutenant Yeoman spoke for the first time. "We shall still need the navigational data for Khazan itself. Even with the newly retooled Phase Gates, Khazan is unreachable save for those who have been invited."
The Overlord smiled.
"And their reliance upon that safeguard shall be their undoing."
Written by Locke
The Fleet Mobilizes.
Grand Vizier Locke stood quietly in the mere slip of a runabout that flew silently through the vastness of the Overlord's Primary Fleet Facility.
None but himself and the Overlord would ever know the true location of that base for in this matter as the Chinese gentleman had stated...in war,deception is all.
To approach this place was no easy task for that required knowledge of Phase gates scattered throughout the worlds... and for every gate and ley line that offered access....a thousand did not..
A simple task for the Vizier to arrange...none could access the gates without surrendering over command of his ships entirely to the secret and confidential instructions hidden in her navvigational computers.
One does not conquer and hold a multi-verse without taking a few precautions after all....
And for the billions who labored here in a Gulag vast beyond the dreams of Beria himself..a certain death sentence.None had ever returned from the base labour force.None ever would.
One who had leave to watch beside the Vizier might have thought himself trapped in a sea of stars.
The runabout came about to the nearest of those *stars*
A Sphere. Bagatur the Victorious she was named.One of many.Although the Vizier knew the true number even he thought it mere statistics.Who can fathom zeroes without apparent end?
A Fleet that threatened to blacken the skies and blot out the sun of any world she chance upon.
Locke stood upon the Flag bridge and nodded to the one who would serve as his Chief of Staff in the coming battles...
Of course she was not who one might have thought her for that one was long since dead yet in this form still she served....
And it pleased the Vizier as it did his Master to let it be known once sworn foes served him loyally until eternity..
*Good morning Honor.Situation report?*
*Good morning my Lord....
The Fleet is mobilized .
Task Force One the Joint Expeditionary Force is per your instructions commanded by the Bull ..are you quite certain he is fit for command?
He will do Honor he will do...he will have you as a check upon his judgement.
Very well sir...Task force Two the Assault Support Force has completed deployment into formation...the Prince Gerard is most effecient...
Task Force Three the Gunfire Covering Force under Horatio is forming up...I do wish he'd stop sending out those self serving signals.
*The Overlord expects every man shall do his duty,young lady.Continue.*
Task Force Four the Screening Force is marginally behind schedule...Sir Francis reports the time can be made up
Yes...sometimes I think he has never *quite*made the transition to modern standards..
TasK Force Five the Mobile Strike Force is as expected chomping at the bit...of course the Lord Caine has never tolerated failure...
*And the assault troops?*
Subotai is emphatic all is in readiness....he reports that Tamberlane is a little enthusiatic for the sack of Khazan...May I remind him our objectives extend beyond mere catastrophic looting and pillaging?
*By all means...Subotai will keep him in line.
Very well Lord...observe the view screen if you will...I'll update you on re-enforcements later...and yes...expect ISS Laventia Beria to join us soon...
*Very well...summon the Vulcan from his tasks...*
And so our Grand Vizier did as Lady Honor requested...
Each sphere was the work of a generation...the statiscians calculated that each single Sphere had consumed on average a dozen worlds worth of resources to construct....
The vast majority of those worlds of course had been populated by sentients...
And each Task force numbered a dozen Task Groups...themselves each furthur sudivided into a dozen squadrons each and those squadrons had a baker's dozen of task units themselves...each comprising on average ten ships
Yes this force of Spheres ought to be enough for the job at hand...and this was the merest fragment of the Overlord's force....
And each and every vessel was commanded by one who might have been mistaken for a figure out of legend...