Chapter 1: Family
We liked to think that we were unique, that our planet was unique, that nowhere else in the universe were there others like us.
It might be the hubris of humankind but it did make us feel special.
The truth was that Earth and humans were anything but unique. Think of each world as a computer and each species was a program in that computer. The human species was the divine equivalent of Microsoft's Word, a wonderful program but hardly unique to any one computer.
This story concerned a world with humans on it. This particular world could easily be a sibling's to Earth. The planet had oceans and continents, mountains and valleys, forests and deserts, so on and so forth. The humans there called their world Luminous.
Human civilization on Luminous did not follow the path of technology. Due to a genetic quirk, a small percentage of the population possessed the ability to manipulate the elements, and this gift became the driving force of the civilization.
Luminous was not dominated by humans as much as Earth was. Human here struggled for supremacy against the wild beasts of the world whom they had dubbed 'Hellites'. Hellites came in every shape and size, as diverse as animals were on Earth. Strong and faster than humans, the Hellites possessed the same gift to manipulate the element, though their offensive and defensive abilities were simplistic due to their low intelligence. Thank heaven for small favors, because the Hellites' low intelligence had been the only thing that gave the human species on Luminous a fighting chance.
Outnumbered, outgunned, the human banded together to survive, building cities, large and small, huddling behind thick walls of stone for protection. Each city of Luminous was ruled by the various Gifted Families assigned by the royal family of the respective kingdom or empire, the ability to wield the elements being genetic making the chance of it passing from parent to child much higher.
There were problems behind the wall, as there was with any settlement, more so since waste disposal was not very developed and there the existence of Hellites prevented farming of any useful scale which meant a constant shortage of food. Limited resources meant more crimes, more conflict, and the existence of the Gifted created a very elitist culture, along with the problems of such a society.
This particular story actually began six months before this story began. There were details and events, big and small, important and otherwise. Half a year before, within the Forest of Green Sea, a jungle that stretched for five thousand miles from edge to edge, a civilization of unimaginable power had awaken, a race of creatures that grew strong by absorbing the power of the sun. Within a mountain ten mile from the forest's edge, the civilization grew. One grew to ten, then a thousand. Within six months, there were nearly two millions of them occupying the caverns and the network of tunnels in and beneath the mountain. Of course, a civilization of such power did not grow without affecting the environment. However, the woodlands of Luminous belong to the Hellites so no human witnessed the change. As for the Hellites in the area, they possessed neither the intelligence to understand the changes in their environment nor the curiosity necessary to investigate.
The closest human settlement, the city of White Stone, one of three largest cities of the Kingdom of Green Hill, was more concerned with their own problems, of which there were many. Six months after the awakening of the civilization, give or take a few days, the Black Thorn clan, a minor linage of White Stone, was holding their annual tournament.
It was a ritual of the Black Thorn, a coming-of-age ceremony for all that had turned fifteen in the last year, and the place for all members below twenty-five to display their prowess in an environment that wasn't quite as lethal as battles with Hellites.
This year was an exciting, if not auspicious, year for the main branch of the Black Thorn. Six months before, Night Black Thorn, grandson of the current head of the main branch, had turned fifteen.
As far as the Black Thorn's main branch was concern, Night's birth was not an honorable one. Many years ago, his mother was betrothed to the eldest son of the current head of Blue Fire family, another minor family of White Stone. It was a political marriage meant as an alliance between the houses.
The plan was disrupted when Gemma had become pregnant. Gemma had hid the identity of the father, and Night's birth became a disgrace to the Black Thorn. Growing up, he was reviled and abused, physically and mentally. For fifteen years, Night and his mother had been worked harder than any servant, while given barely enough food to survive. Whereas other member of the main branch were given houses and were allowed to live in relative luxury, Gemma had to build a shack for herself and her son. Inexperienced, the shelter she constructed offered them little protection against the bite of nature.
Five years ago, the situation got even worse when Gemma became pregnant for a second time and gave birth to a daughter, Dawn. The main branch gave them enough ration allotment for a child but assigned the infant an amount of labor that many adults would not be able to handle. By then, both of them had learned that protest would do no good. And so, they gritted their teeth and took on the extra workload.
Fate seemed to be disinclined to show them any mercy. Night, as far as anyone knew, was not gifted.
According to an ancient law of the bloodline, any member of the main branch not displaying the gift could be disown when he come of age at the discretion of the head of the main branch. It was a superfluous law. Gifted or not, no member of the main branch had ever been cast out.
Night would be the first. For months, the entire line was all but gleeful at the prospect of expelling Night from the clan, scrubbing their line clean of the stain that was the bastard child of Gemma.
Unbeknownst to anyone, not even his mother, he was not as powerless as everyone believed. Six months ago, he was bestowed an unseemly amount of power. As to who had bestowed upon him his power and why, he did not know. The questions had been scratching at the back of his mind for more than a few days.
Six months ago, he had become the governing will of a species that could potentially numberless, a swarm whose fury could devour the very stars. Already, his power had grown to such that the combined might of all the clans of White Stone could not challenge him.
He was no longer Night, son of Gemma, and not simply because of this power. Along with his power was a set of memories of Nathan Peters, an eighteen-year-old of a distance planet called Earth.
Thought Night did not know how far Luminous was from Earth, he found it slightly disturbing that he and Nathan shared the same face. Deep in his mind, he knew that he did not simply received Nathan's memories, that their souls had merged. He also knew, instinctively, that theirs were two halves of the same whole. How those two halves came to be separated by the stars themselves, he could only guess. He suspected that the answered to the mysteries of his life and soul could only be solved once he got back to Earth.
As much as he wanted answers, it wasn't the main reason for his desire to return to Earth. It was Nathan's parents and now his. Nathan was the only son of Ethan and Sarah Peters. Theirs was an average family, lower middle-class. Nathan's father worked for the government, as a janitor. It's not glamorous, but it was stable. Sarah was a stay at home mom. She was a bit of a curiosity. Her deserts, in her husband's and son's opinion, were among the best in the world. And yet, the woman main courses were so awful that a good number of them were all but inedible. Their son was their brightest star in their night sky. Night knew for a fact that Nathan had disappeared on Earth. He was afraid to imagine how devastated his Earth parents were. He needed to get back to them.
Unfortunately, the stars were out of his reach for the immediately future. There was nothing for him to do except to focus on Luminous for now.
As weird as his life had become, Night had to admit that he was blessed when it came to parents. His Earth parent and Luminous mother were the best anyone could ask for. His Luminous father, on the other hand, was a jack-hole, whoever he was, but three out of four wasn't bad.
His Luminous father, as far as he was concern, was irrelevant. His most immediately problem was his mother's side of the family. From his memories and the six months he had spent with them, it was taking all of his self control not to have the entire linage torn to little pieces and flushed them all down the toilet.
Despite that particular, overwhelming desire, he felt that he should at least give them a chance, for his mother if no one else. And so, he had hid his power, saved for some extra food and clothes for his mother and sister, in an effort to test the Black Thorn.
Unfortunately, they had failed, and they had done so gloriously.
And that was how they came to be at the main courtyard of the Black Thorn's compound. His grandfather, Mason, had just announced his expulsion from their 'illustrious' family, and his mother was in tears, pleading for him to change his mind.
For his part, Night truly believe that they could live a better life as peasants, even if he did not have his power, but living in the Black Thorn family was all his mother ever knew. More than that, there was no shortage of horror stories about peasant life floating around the various Gifted Lineages of the city. Night suspected that it was propaganda designed to inspire gratitude in members of these supposedly higher bloodlines and increased the cohesion of each family. It was the popular belief that the lowest servant of a Gifted Family was better off than the most successful peasant. With his memories from Earth to give him perspective, Night knew that this was a train-load of horse manure, but he could sympathize with his mother's fear.
And so, he stood silent, enduring his mother tears, the coldness of his supposed grandfather, and the snickering mockeries of the Black Thorn. He believed that it was necessary. For some reason, she still had loyalty toward the Black Thorn, and Night couldn't allow that. She was his mother, Queen Mother of the Swarm. For her to have any emotional tie to a clan like Black Thorn was beyond distasteful. Unfortunately, for her to sever her tie with the Black Thorn, any hope she had for this clan had to die; she needed to be free of them.
"Father, please," Gemma begged one final time, and Night could hear the despair in her voice.
"Enough!" his grandfather snapped from the raised dais overlooking them. With his long snowy white beard and hair, the old man almost looked kindly, but Night knew otherwise. "I have tolerated the taints you have brought into our clan long enough."
"Taints?" Night said, catching the inflection. The common tongue of Luminous shared some similarities with English. The spoken syllables were different but grammars and tenses were remarkably alike. "You don't just mean me, do you?"
The old man floundered for a moment at his slip, but his expression immediately hardened. "Your vermin of a sister is no better than you."
Night stiffened and held his breath to keep from lashing out with his power and crushed the old man's bones into paste. As infuriating as his statement was, it did suit his purpose. As much as his mother loved him, his little sister was sacred. Night would be jealous if he didn't feel the same way about the little girl.
In his opinion, she more than deserved their adoration. Six months ago, when his power had come to him, he had been bed ridden for three days, his metamorphosis having not been an easy process. As far as his mother and sister had knew, he had come down with a terrible malady. As his mother scramble to try to find a way to enlist the service of a healer, his little sister had given him all of her ration while hiding it from both of them. After three day, the five-year-old had lost consciousness from hunger. It was one of the reasons that Night couldn't let his sister go hungry, even as he hid his power to test the Black Thorn.
In the last six months, he had beaten several dozen servants for picking on his sister. Yesterday, after the head servant of the clan came upon his sister eating a piece of fruit, he had accused her of theft and struck her. Night had calmly, and promptly, bashed his head in with a rock. He suspected that that particular event had further fueled his expulsion from the clan.
To Night and his mother, Dawn was their own Imperial Fabergé egg: delicate, beautiful, and unimaginably valuable. For his grandfather to say such a thing, it would probably less of blow if the old man had hacked off one of their limbs.
From where he was standing, Night could see despair on his mother's face turned to shock and then fury at the statement. The anger burned away what little warmth she had when she looked toward the members of Black Thorn, and Night knew that the statement was the last straw that broke the camel's back.
Night sighed in relief. He didn't think he could stomach these people anymore. He stepped closer to his mother. "Mother, go get Dawn."
Gemma turned to him. "What?"
"I'll explain later. Just please, go get my sister."
"Hold on," he said as his mother took a step away.
At a gesture from him, the stone courtyard exploded as two dozen creatures burst out of the ground. The creatures were over eight feet tall, their body decorated by carapaces and rows of spikes, with the lower bodies of serpents with forelimbs that ended in scythe-like blade and elongated disk-shaped skulls above demonic façades with bifurcated jaws that opened to revealed rows of gleaming canines.
If any gamer of Earth saw the creatures, they would know them for what they were—Hydralisks, one of the staple units of the Zerg Swarm. This was the power bestowed upon him. Six months ago, he had awakened to find that he had become the Overmind of the Zerg, the monarchic will of the Swarm.
Gemma started when they appeared, and the color drained from her face. She stood frozen in terror when they converged upon them.
Night placed a hand on her shoulder. "It's alright, mother. They're mine."
"Yours?" Gemma breathed. "What do you mean yours?"
Night gave his mother a smile and reached toward the nearest Hydralisk. The creature lowered its head and eased forward until its forehead touched his hand. It made two clicking sounds before cooing softly. It was not the first time a Zerg had made such a sound when he touched them. Night had to admit that it was a little endearing and extremely creepy.
"They served me," Night explained.
Gemma gaped at her son. "You're a Tamer?"
Tamer were a special class of Gifted. Instead of manifesting the elements, Tamer psychically enthralled Hellites to fight for them. While Tamer were physically weaker than other Gifted, fighting a Tamer meant fighting two, maybe three, Hellites of the same level as the Tamer. The most famous Tamer in the history of the kingdom was the ancient head of the Divine Beast, a noble line of the Kingdom, one of the original founders of Green Hill.
Through the years, Luminous had developed a classification system that divided both Hellites and Gifted into numbered level; the higher the number, the more powerful the Hellite or Gifted. Each level was then divided into three increments: low, middle, and high. Night wasn't sure how high the system went; all he knew was that the most powerful gifted in the entire kingdom was a mid level six.
The ancient head of the Divine Beast was a high level five Tamer. At the height of his power, he commanded six level five Hellites. He was a still a legend one hundred and fifty years after his death. Throughout Luminous, Tamers were considered elites even among the Gifted. Gemma had always thought that her son was not gifted. To find out that he was a Tamer, and that he controlled so many creatures, it was beyond shocking.
"I'm not a Tamer mother," Night said. "I am something this world had never seen."
Gemma trembled. His words scared her. She had bore him and raised him. He was her son, and yet in that moment, he felt like a stranger.
"I will explain what I can," Night continued, seeing her uneasiness. "For now, these creatures will go with you to retrieve my sister, and I will take us to our new home."
Gemma fidgeted for a moment before nodding. She turned and left the courtyard with her Hydralisks escort.
Night watched his mother leaved before turning back to the rest of the Black Thorn. All of their snickering, all of their whispered mockeries had stopped when the Hydralisks had appeared. The sheer viciousness of the creatures and stunned them all, and they had stood in frozen silent.
"I could have give wealth and power beyond your greatest dreams; show you wonders beyond your wildest imagining," Night said. "If only you weren't such a disappointment."
His words seemed to shock Mason out of his frozen state. "How dare you—"
"One hundred and seventeen times," Night cut him off. "In the last six months, I have come to you one hundred and seventeen times. I gave you one hundred and seventeen chances to speak up for us, your kins, your blood. You only had to defend us once, show us one act of compassion. I had set the bar ridiculously, hilariously low, and still you fail."
The old man bristled as his words and he sneered, "Do you think a handful of beasts would make me feel regret? You are trash and those creatures changed nothing."
Night smirked at him. "I hope those words give you comfort."
As though on cue, a dozen dark shapes shot through the sky. They looked like a balloons of flesh with carapaces and rows of spikes. Each creature had an insectoid head with six eyes, two large arms, and six legs that hung beneath its rotund body.
They were the air transport of the Swarm, the eyes and ears of the Overmind, dubbed Overlords. Unlike in the game, where their speeds were the slowest among the Zerg, Night's Overlord was able to reach a maximum speed of one thousand miles per hour.
Just as the Black Thorn was sounding the alarm, the twelve Overlords landed in the courtyards. Their sides opened and several hundred Zerg came pouring out. Amish a few dozen Hydralisks, there were winged dog-like insectoid creatures with bladed limbs extended from their shoulders and spiky turtle-like creatures that stood upon six legs. These creatures were the Zerglings and Roaches of the Swarm, respectively.
From the lead Overlord, a woman in a flowing red gown stepped out. Statuesque and curvy, the woman was shockingly, inhumanly beautiful with her flowing black hair and rosy lips. Despite her beauty, the soft crimson hue of her eyes suggested a bloodlust that none of her other feature seemed to.
She gazed around until her eyes came upon Night. Her full lips curved into a warm smile and she swept toward him, moving with a grace and smoothness that would put any noblewoman to shame. All around her, the Zerg chittered and parted to allow her passage.
She stopped in front of Night. She held her right hand up to her waist, placed her left hand in her right, bended her knees, and bowed her head slightly. "Overmind," she said, and the affection in her voice was cleared for all to hear.
"Eve," Night said, unable to keep from smiling himself.
Despite her human appearance, he knew her for what she was. Eve was the first Zerg Queen of his Swarm. Her human form was something he specified when he ordered her birth in order to facilitate her interaction with humans, specifically his mother and sister. Her true form was covered in a suit of carapace scales with a pair of bone wings extending from her back.
When she had first emerged from her cocoon, he had been scared witless. Her appearance was that of the Queen of Blades. Considering the fact that the Zerg-Hybrid Sarah Kerrigan in the original legends murdered the Overmind and took over the Swarm, he was quite nervous around her first week or so.
In Night's version of the Zerg, the Queens were the powerful units of the Swarm, with the exception of Night himself. Among an arsenal of abilities, the Zerg Queens' greatest gift was called Psionic Focus. This ability allowed them to draw psychic power from the telepathic network that connected every member of the Swarm. The more Zerg in existence, the more powerful they were. Night's Swarm was to go through four stages of evolution: planetary, interplanetary, interstellar, and intergalactic. At the planetary stage, each of his Zerg Queens would need three hundred million Zerg to reach the pinnacle of her psionic power.
"So they fail your test," Eve said.
"Don't gloat," Night said.
Even though he was the governing will of the Zerg, the members of the Swarm were not without their independent. Thought he lower Zerg were too simplistic to take advantage of this autonomy, higher Zerg such as the Queens had their own opinions, and sometimes even secrets; if necessary, the Queen could even disobey the Overmind and take any action necessary to keep him safe, but that would only happened in the most drastic of circumstances, like if Night decided to jump into the sun for example.
Eve had always disagreed Night's decision to be away from the Swarm, especially to test a few humans. Still, one of her most ingrained instinct was to serve her Overmind so she had acquiesced to his desire. Even so, the Zerg Queens primary duty was to be the royal guard of the Overmind. To force her to spend six months away from him was really pushing it.
"You seemed a little upset, Overmind," Eve said. "Did you expect otherwise?"
Night sighed. "No, but I had hoped, blood being thicker than water and all."
"Perhaps, but it is also much harder to clean up," Eve said.
Night arched a brow at her. "I didn't know that Zerg can be so philosophical."
Eve huffed. "How could you when you've spent the six months since our birth living with the humans?"
Night tried not to smile. As ferocious and vicious as the Swarm was toward everyone else, when it came to their Overmind, the Zerg was extremely protective, and possessive. It was nice, and disturbing.
Night waited for his mother and sister in silence while the other Zerg chittered and clicked excitedly to each other, many eyeing the humans in the courtyard, seemingly ready and eager to attack. Next to Night, Eve was quiet as her Overmind. Occasionally, she would glance at the Black Thorn in distaste. Of course, this was a bleed through from Night. Emotionally, the Zerg was somewhat simplistic: they hated whoever their Overmind hated and loved whoever he loved.
As for the Black Thorn, they were all frozen in terror. There were only about fifty of them in the courtyard while the Zerg numbered ten times that. To compound their fear, each and every Zerg looked like the most vicious of Hellites. To a one, they were afraid that one wrong move and they would be torn apart.
The pall of silent filled the courtyard, and everyone felt as though time had slowed. For Night, it was impatience, while, for the Black Thorn, it was fear.
The Black Thorn nearly let out an audible sigh of relief when Gemma reappeared with her escort of Hydralisks. Following closely behind her, half hidden, little hands clutching at her Gemma's dress, was a little girl.
She was a delicate little thing, small for her age, but then, until six months ago, she didn't really have that much food. Though the girl had only seen five years, and during those five years her mother and brother had safeguarded her as best they could, her body was beginning to show the wears of time, marks that even her youth could not stave off.
The girl was skin and bones. Even though Night had been bringing her foods, living for five years virtually in a constant state of hunger had ingrained into her the habit of hoarding food, saving in case she didn't get the next meal, so she had only eaten a fraction of what he had brought her.
It wasn't just her size. The girl long blond hair was tangled and dull. Her skin was ashy, and there were the faint shadows of dark circle beneath her dim blue eyes.
Despite all of it, Night would choose her over the greatest of beauty. He had to; she was his sister. Although, Night knew that his sister could grow up to be a heartbreaker. She was simply a smaller version of his mother and Gemma, before he was born, was said to be greatest beauty in the kingdom. At least, that was the whispers he heard from some of the servants. In any case, Night would rejuvenate his mother and sister. Good health and simple matter for the Swarm.
"Dawn," Night said, smiling gently.
"Big brother," the little blond said, her face lighting up. She slid out from behind her mother and ran into his arms.
"I'm beginning to think she likes you better than me," Gemma said, but her voice was light and Night could see the hint of a smile on her lips.
Night picked up his sister. Holding her in one arm, he scrubbed a spot of dirt from her cheek. "In her defense," he said, smiling at his mother, "I did bring her a lot of treats these last few months."
Gemma startled. "So that's where all the food came from," she whispered, glancing at the Zerg surrounding them.
"Enough!" Mason roared from his dais.
Like the rest of the clan, he had been gripped by the terror the Zerg instilled. For him, it was more than just a worry of his personal safety. As the head of the Black Thorn, he realized that the virtually every member of the main branch was here. If they were killed, the Black Thorn would be all but gone.
Despite the fear, the return of Gemma bringing Dawn and their subsequent conversation filled him with an anger that momentarily overcame the fear. He considered Night's entire family an embarrassment of their clan. For them to speak to each other as though he was air was not something he would tolerate.
Of course, his bravery lasted only a moment. Before he could say another world, Eve whirled on him, her eyes glowed dimly and the old man felt an enormous amount of force pressing in from all sides. His muscles stiffened instinctively to resist the force but it was meaningless, and he could almost feel his bones creaking beneath the strain.
Even though her power was effectively halved in her human form, Eve's psionic ability was still considerable with a telepathic network of two millions Zerg to draw her power from, more than enough to crush a level three Gifted like the head of the Black Thorn.
"Careful," Night said, smirking, "or she'll grind your bones to bake her bread."
Next to him, Eve smiled wider. The eyes glowed brighter almost imperceptible. Twenty yards away, the old man felt the force around him intensified and he was lifted a foot into the air. The constricting force forced the breath from his lung and preventing him from drawing any air.
When it seemed as though the old man would either be crushed or suffocated, Gemma placed a hand on her son's shoulder and shook her head.
Night paused for a moment and sighed. "Fine, but you are going to have to get over your softness for this pathetic little clan."
With a glance from him, Eve released the head of the Black Thorn, who collapsed onto the ground.
"Let's go," Night said, carrying his sister into the closest Overlord, followed closely by Eve.
Gemma gave one final class at what once was her clan before following her son into the creature with a touch of trepidation. The rest of the Zerg waited until she entered before filing into the other Overlords. In perfect synchronicity, the Overlords took to the sky, carrying Night and his family to their new life, leaving an old one behind.