The dark astral sea of space is cold, lifeless, and silent. On the edge of the Trace System, the black matter of the universe rests undisturbed. Across the vastness of the void, the brilliant jewel of Asgardia is an infinitesimal speck. The light of its opulent urban mass fades across the gulf of the universe. Here at the edge, its light has come to die. In the darkness, there is a ripple. The ripple intensifies, oscillating between dimensions. A pulsating mass bulges and tears like a violent heartbeats. Liquid lightning rips at the fabric of reality around it. As it ruptures, a cascade of colors pours forth onto the black canvas of space. From out of the rend in the galaxy, colored light flows like a bridge arching over a river.
An interdimensional highway within the inner dimensions of the universe.
Riding a wave of the hues of the in-between, a spaceship with a draconic prow emerges out of the Bifrost through the wyrmhole.
Inside the cockpit, Ocean McKenzar’s spine tingles as she holds the helm steady across the cresting waves of color, spilling her out of the in-between and into reality. As the ship emerges from the frothy hues of the Bifrost, the portal shrivels and collapses in on itself. With a final flash of blue, the portal vanishes, leaving only void and blackness.
Where she has come, there is no starlight.
Behind Ocean’s visor, her hair is gathered back in a bun as blue as the skies of Old Downing. Her ivory skin could blend in with the white sands of the Ilora beaches where she played as a child, while her compression suit is black, like the coal her father mined from the floating mountains above the stormy waters of Seaport Kaitra. Emblazoned on her pauldron is sigil of her homeworld, Freyra; two swans on either side of a downward facing sword.
“Remember, when activating the Cortex, watch out for your nerve pulse. Keep calm, and control your heart rate,” a robotic, feminine voice speaks from the central console. A triplet of electric lights flickers on, gleaming with a violet hue. The lights are embedded in the faceplate of a metal cube, no bigger than Ocean’s hand.
“I’m no rookie, Luna.” Ocean adjusts her suit and helmet. Small cords are plugged into her suit, connecting her arms, legs, and torso to the internal network of the ship. Ocean cranes her head forward and plugs in a thick cord into the base of her helmet, connecting her directly to the Cortex, the internal neural network. Ocean winces as the network interfaces. Her body succumbs to a mild numbness for several seconds until she acclimates. A wave of sensation hits her, stretching out her senses across the cosmos. The dread cold of space leaks in through the Cortex and chills her bones.
“Are you sure we didn’t take a wrong turn?”
“If we took a wrong turn, we’d be dead,” Luna says cheerfully.
“Don’t rule out the possibility just yet.” Ocean stares out into space with pupils dilated like saucers.
“Is something the matter?” Luna asks. “You are displaying inconsistencies between your verbal and nonverbal communication. How dare you have second thoughts on me!”
“How dare me? How dare you! I’m fine, you tin box. It’s just so empty out here, that’s all. Probably just another dead end.”
“Well, with that attitude, we might as well just die after all.”
“Eh, there’s a thought.”
“It’s a good thing you have me to keep you company. Any requests for your eulogy? You know, if something were to happen to you, I would be in charge of the mission.” Luna’s light flashes sinisterly.
“Well, aren’t I the luckiest girl at the dance.”
A red sensor bulb flashes.
Ocean furrows her brow. “Are you malfunctioning?”
“Uh, I don’t like that light. It’s not my favorite one.” Luna begins. “Ocean, I don’t think we are alone anymore.”
Ocean shuts her eyes and focuses her awareness out into the void. “I’m not picking up anything. I think your light is busted.”
“How dare you! Do you have any idea how much that offends me? My programming is superior, I will have you know. Maybe your light is busted, how about that? And furthermore—”
A knot of oily dread starts to bubble inside her gut. Suddenly, she tastes a vile venom in the back of her throat. She gags as a sickness overwhelms her.
“—Ocean, are you even listening to me?”
Her vision begins to slow, and spin, as if she has been poisoned. Her cheeks turn sallow and her body lurches in a sudden convulsion. Her vision swims sluggishly, but she can still see. She looks out into the starless abyss.
Before them is darkness, but within it, something else, something darker—a living darkness. A swarm of writhing onyx serpents envelopes the ship in a shadowy cocoon.
“Dragon take us, what is that?” Luna’s light dims in fear. “Ocean, I’m ready to leave when you are.”
The horde of shadow serpents, slithering like molten shadow, erupt in an agitated frenzy. Their eyes glow with infernal flame. Like a great black whip, the head of a viper lashes and strikes the ship.
The force of the blow sends the ship into a tumultuous tailspin. Ocean’s head smashes against the interior wall as they spiral. Her throat seizes as she sees the hungry swarm stalk her with a million crimson eyes. Cruel, barbarous fangs drip with inky jet-black spittle.
Her breathing quickens, each breath bringing in less air than the last. Her vision blurs. Every atom of her being is on fire as the darkness burrows into her brain. Ocean screams.
“Ocean! You’re spiking!” Luna yells.
The darkness will devour her if she stays connected.
She grips the base of the Cortex and yanks. It won’t budge. Her veins on her temple bulge like a spiderweb across her face as she pulls at the cord. She lurches forward again and again, desperately using the entire momentum of her body.
“Please be careful with that. If you pull that out, we’re stuck out here. You’ll die before me, I just want you to know that.”
The lights in the cockpit flicker and die, except for a dim emergency light that bathes Ocean in red luminescence. A klaxon screams out.
“I’ll have you know, that is not a good sound to hear. I am not pleased with your choices, Ocean.”
The Cortex sparks and smokes, sending erratic pulses, shocking her system.
“Do you have a death wish? You are going to burn up into a husk.”
The pain is agonizing, a scalding iron pressed to her skull. With a primal cry of agony, Ocean wrenches her neck forward. The cord’s sinewy strands snap in resistance, trying to keep their grip on her, but she pulls free of it. Black sludge explodes outwards in a surge, then slows to a dribble. She screams as the fire ravages her body.
Within moments, the pain dulls. Her eyes twitch uncontrollably and her vision flickers, but a great, soothing relief washes over her.
Ocean gasps, “I told you we took a wrong turn.”
“Oh, you really want to go there?”
The darkness approaches, continuing its hunt. As it nears, the ebony swarm ripples, like a pebble disturbing tranquil waters. The ripple intensifies and begins to boil into a swirling maelstrom. The swirl of the storm pulls the serpents away as the vortex widens.
A great being of darkness pierces through the vortex like black gossamer, dwarfing anything Ocean had ever seen. It appears in degrees, like some colossal god awakening from a black sea and lumbering onto shore.
It’s no god, but it is close enough.
Luna says, “Ocean, I hope you are proud of yourself.”
Ocean’s icy fear gives way to a strange calm.
“Luna, you better give a damn good eulogy.”
The World Eater, Jormungard, rises from the sea of darkness and swallows Ocean in its cavernous maw.
written by Jace Cookson