Bloodline (Cradle #9) by Will Wight


Iteration 246: Commandment

From far away, Suriel watched a rain of orange lightning fall across the eastern hemisphere of the planet, scorching it to bare rock in seconds. Dull gray vessels drifted away, bearing most of the people and objects of any significance.

Around the planet, war raged.

Vroshir defended their ships’ retreat with protective workings, barriers, guardian beasts the size of moons, and shields that could block exploding stars.

Abidan attacked to seize the ships, lances of blue as they drew on the Way to reinforce their attacks with absolute authority. But it was too late; millions had died in the planetary barrage, and the Iteration’s relationship to the Way was weak.

Color-swirling portals bloomed in front of the ships as they prepared to leave through the Void.

Drifting in endless sapphire light outside the Iteration, Suriel tapped into her mantle and reverted the world towards a state of order.

A dozen Abidan blinked back to life from where they had been struck down. A hundred others found their armor repaired, their minds restored, their weapons returned.

The charred planet blossomed to blue and green once again, the dead population finding themselves whole and alive. Commandment’s relation to the Way strengthened again, so the Abidan attacks punched through Vroshir defenses.

The ships carrying the captives lost their connection to the Void, their portals fading.

Suriel felt the exultation from her people like a wave of cheers. Their morale surged, a warm heat inside her, as the tide of power turned.

But she couldn’t bask in the sensation.

Half her attention was elsewhere.

Iteration 247: Jester

Six Silverlords, platinum-crowned men and women, coordinated a barrage of attacks against Jester’s primary planet.

Positioned in orbit all around the globe, they unleashed a synchronized bombardment, each attack entirely different from the others. One released a storm of razor-sharp rose petals to scour a continent, another sang a song that drifted all through that reality, eating away at opposing workings. Yet a third summoned titanic spires of dense metal, hurling them into the planet.

The four remaining Abidan of Sector Twenty-Four Control held the world. They maintained a triple-layered shell around the atmosphere, a shield of blue Way-power that wouldn’t falter even if the planet beneath it exploded.

But the Silverlords were elites, powerful figures even by the standards of Judges. Their combined wills eroded the barrier like moths eating away fabric.

Suriel added her power to the Abidan, and the shell restored itself.

The Silverlords redoubled their efforts, pushing back against her…

…and Suriel found herself stretched to her limit.

The instant she released her attention from Commandment, the Vroshir ships would re-open gateways to the Void and escape with the captured population.

But if she took an ounce of focus from Jester, the Silverlords would crack the barrier like an egg.

In one world, time was on her side. The longer she stalled in Commandment, the more likely her forces would defeat their opponents and reclaim the enemy transports.

In the other world, time was against her. The longer the siege of Jester lasted, the more opportunities the Silverlords would have to break open the shield.

And there were a dozen other worlds calling for a Judge. She didn’t have time.

[All forces halt,] her Presence called to the Abidan in Commandment. [Secure the remaining population of the planet. Allow the enemy to withdraw.]

In Commandment, the Abidan halted their assault. Multi-colored portals swirled in front of the blocky spacecraft, which vanished one by one into the Void, soon followed by their Vroshir guardians.

Only a handful of millions were left on the planet, but at least it was whole. She had protected as much of the Iteration as she could.

Now it was time to focus on Jester.

With a brief effort of will, Suriel passed through the Way and into the Iteration.

The instant she manifested in reality, the Silverlords cut off their attack and retreated. They stepped through portals of their own, several of them looking toward her and touching their silver crowns in mocking salute.

They knew better than to fight a Judge directly, but that meant only that they were cautious. Not afraid.

She couldn’t hunt them down, and they knew it. If she chased them too far, eventually they’d overwhelm her with numbers.

A saying passed down among Judges: “There are always more Silverlords.”