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from Progenies of the Great Apocalypse by Justin Thoby

Prologue: Sleeping Stars

The road was composed of ribbons of starlight. It rose up away from the world into the vast emptiness beyond, ancient as the distant suns that cast it, winding out of sight in every direction through the darkness. The horse raced across the plane of the star system, sure of its direction, heading outward, away from the warmth and the light. There was only a single world in this system worth mentioning. Further out were dead worlds, small and frozen and dark, hidden from the sun's blessed light by a massive cloud of gas and minute particles, things that the small star's gravity kept in place but failed to condense into something more substantial. The light refracted off ice and rock, glittering like billions of tiny diamonds in the dark, they twinkled in every color imaginable.

The horse followed the road up and over the cloud, its massive hooves momentarily disturbing the gas and sending thousands of swirling eddies through the cloud. Perhaps it's passing would start what the sun's birth could not. Perhaps someday the world, Eridonta, would have a twin. The horse, huge and black as pitch, gave a shake of its enormous head. It pushed ahead, soundless in the great vacuum, though the sheer weight of its steps would crack the sky in any given world.

The rider, a colossal figure in silver plate armor, watched as the frozen worlds, dwarf planets with hardly a claim to the name, passed them by on their trip out of the system. Eridon, the star rapidly fading away behind him, was a small system, largely isolated from the others in the area by its size and the difficulty of reaching it by conventional means. Several black holes and star nurseries in its galactic neighborhood kept Eridon and its lone inhabited world safe. He sighed as they left the system behind and spilled into the inky black of interstellar space. The road here was brighter by nature of being the only thing for hundreds of thousands of kilometers. The sigh produced no sound, but he felt it all the same.

She will be there, he thought. Seven hundred years of searching and she'd been in the same place all along. How must she have suffered? Don't think of that now, he told himself. She lives, that is the only thing that matters.

Gravity tugged at horse and rider, the enormity of it drew the starlight road toward utter nothing. The black hole yawned against the backdrop of space, invisible except by its total lack of visibility. The rider steered his mount away from it. As they were, black holes were of minimal concern, but he had places to be and contending with Gravity would only slow them down. Light blazed in the distance, a cloud of gas and dust that looked vaguely like a winged creature half a lightyear long, striped with hues of blue, red and green, brilliant teal blending into deep violet and swirling into a maelstrom of orange and yellow. Its huge beak emerged from an amorphous mass to glare balefully into the void. The rider kept his distance again, giving the nebula a wide berth. There were an unusual number of stars being born lately, another sign that the Balance was changed. Light struggled against the rising tide of Darkness.

Another star came into view, much further ahead. It was tiny in the vast nothing, a cold white point in the black, larger than the background stars but only slightly, although it was much closer. The rider made his way toward it, sweeping around a pocket of small black holes and riding over a band of small, icy meteorites. The star's gravity pulled his mount inward, away from interstellar space and into the system. The worlds here showed signs of the distant conflict. A large, rocky world wobbled erratically in its orbit. Flung outward by a battle centuries before, it was still settling into its new place. Several gas giants were blown apart, their atmospheres and upper layers still swirling around small, dense cores that were slowing while they drew their planetary bodies back to them like a freezing man desperately reaching for a blanket. The inner asteroid belt was a graveyard of blasted rock, shards of ice and derelict ships. The rider headed for the second world fro...

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