Friday, December 11, 2020

The Rebel (Project Stellar-4) by Roman Prokofiev

The Rebel
Project Stellar-4
by Roman Prokofiev

Release - May 10, 2021

Pre-order on Amazon -

“WE’VE ARRIVED,” Arachne said.

The jagged black cliffs outlining the Sanctuary of Spirits – one of the most dangerous A-zones – towered overhead. From what Alice had heard, it used to be an ancient underground fortress owned by some unknown Incarnators which was later consumed by a powerful Outbreak the consequences of which still lingered.

Alice sniffed the air, her shapeshifter instincts on edge. The monotonous pulsation of A-radiation, the sounds, the smells and her own gut feeling all screamed: get out of here now!

Arachne and herself had been traveling on their own for quite a while already. Ordinary people just didn't dare venture into the area. The Convoy had stopped way behind, setting up camp in the foothills. They must have come here for a reason. They were up to something. There was definitely something brewing.

Alice had glimpsed new Possessed Ones in the Convoy: Ether, Kaira and Gremlin. She’d heard their nicknames and watched them come and go while they seemed to ignore her entirely. She was only Arachne’s prisoner, after all.

So it looked like the deaths of both Gnarl and Evil had failed to hinder the Possessed Ones’ designs. Alice had no doubts they had been laboriously working on something. She’d seen weird-looking strangers turn up at the Convoy at the dead of night; she’d watched unknown mechanized caravans being unloaded and smelled the whiffs of steel and fresh gun oil in the air – plus a hint of some other smell, dangerous and painfully familiar which made her hackles stand on end.

Now she was free again. Arachne had even returned part of her confiscated gear. The ex-shapeshifter could have escaped a long time ago – but still she hadn’t done so. Arachne had managed to convince her that their paths had converged, both leading them toward Grey. Alice had agreed to that unhesitantly, even though it meant disabling her cogitor – her newly-found Richie - sacrificing his support for fear of receiving new reprimands from the Stellar system.

So now they were looking for someone capable of repairing the ancient wingsuit.

“We’ve arrived,” Arachne repeated, nervously licking her thin lips.

A flock of transparent Voids hovered languidly in the air around huge lopsided doors. Once hermetic, they now looked as if some unknown force had at some point prized them apart, mangling the metal like a concertina.

Darkness gaped behind the thin crack of the entrance, rife with the presence of creatures much more powerful than the Void phantoms guarding it. Alice’s upper lip twitched and curled without her realizing it.

“Don’t worry, they won’t hurt us,” Arachne murmured, peering into the dark. “He already knows we’re here.”

She didn’t sound too sure, though. After all, they didn’t have an Enchanter with them. Without one, A-monsters could present a serious danger even to seasoned Incarnators. Still, they didn't have any choice. This was the abode of he who could fix Angel’s wingsuit.

Alice and Arachne forced themselves through the mangled doorway. The Voids showed no reaction, carrying on with their silent dance.

A wide corridor carved through the rock led downward. Alice could make out letters and numbers on the walls which seemed to form strange phrases. This place must have been built even before Utopia. Way before.

“This used to be a research facility,” Arachne said under her breath. “One of the many. His den is further on down. Follow me.”

They continued through the damp darkness. Here, the old rocks still bore witness to the old Outbreak. This place was haunted by A-creatures; living ones had no business here. Alice would have never ventured here on her own accord. All such breaches from over the Edge remained lethal for years and decades.

Every few hundred paces, the corridor would fork. As they walked, they’d come across three more hermetic entries, either smashed or jammed, creating the impression that at some point in the past, some giant monsters had tried to force their way out of here, crushing everything in their path.

The irrational, suffocating fear which always accompanied the presence of A-creatures was growing ever stronger. Strangely, the Void showed no aggression: apparently, this place was home to monsters of a much bigger caliber which were getting ever closer with every downward step. The darkness took on a life of its own, casting fantastical shadows on the walls as something intangible but perfectly real began to stir awake in its depths.

“Hang on,” Arachne whispered. “Don’t move. Please don’t attack it.”

She seemed to be scared as well. The thing or things that had been stirring in the darkness seemed to have approached, surrounding them.

The girls froze, watching the distorted shadows cast by the invisible creature. Or creatures? You didn’t have to be an Enchanter to sense the paralyzing horror exuded here.

This was something familiar – very similar to the sensation that the Beast had given her although infinitely stronger. The icy claws of terror constricted Alice’s throat. Her breathing seized.

After a few moments of silently inspecting them, the presence drew back into the shadows, as if it had either discovered some invisible right of passage the girls had, or had received a silent order from someone else.

Now they felt a bit better. The invisible grip had released Alice’s throat, allowing her to breathe again.

“What the hell was that?” she asked hoarsely.

Arachne used her index finger to wipe away a drop of perspiration from her brow and replied in a low voice,

“This is some sort of guard he has. Either a Fiend or an Ahriman, I don’t really know. It makes sure no strangers wander in. There’s lots of them around here. But they won’t touch us.”

“There’re no living creatures here,” Alice murmured, casting nervous looks around. “Never have been. Only monsters. Spirits. They’re everywhere. Why did we come here? Tell me.”

Arachne smiled. “You’re smart. Nobody lives here. This is an entry point. One of the many. We’re almost there.”

After a little while, they finally arrived. The maze of corridors had brought them to a large room with a collapsed ceiling, its floor littered with heaps of junk whose outlines still betrayed some ancient hi tech equipment. A round black  pedestal stood at the center, divided into several sections with strips of old discolored metal. The pedestal appeared to be just as damaged and disused as everything else around – but as soon as Arachne touched her master key to an invisible plate, the black stone began to shimmer, a pale blue Azuric light glowing inside.

Alice had seen these gizmos before.  This was extradimensional stuff: an entrance to a handmade mini-dimension. In the times of Utopia, people had begun to explore the concept of the pseudo Riemannian space and had even learned to make cryptors. Still, their achievements paled into insignificance compared to the mastery of the Shea who could create entire handmade worlds. At the time, Prometheus had mastered the secrets of their xeno technologies which had allowed him to build such masterpieces as the Monoliths, the Cube and the Testing Grounds.

This was something similar: an entry point to a place which could have been located thousands of miles away. Still, the fact that this ancient translocator had been built at this exact location in the abandoned underground fortress could only mean one thing...

Alice didn’t get the chance to finish her ponderings. Arachne must have lost her patience because she gave her a nudge in the back, forcing her to enter.

Bright sunlight assaulted her eyes after the gloom of the underground tunnels. Her shapeshifter’s acute sense of smell immediately picked up the aroma of fresh earth, plants and the odor of a great many living beings mixed with whiffs of metal, plastic and glass. Birds twittered; insects buzzed; giant butterflies fluttered overhead.

Alice looked around. Strange place. It was like a cross between a rainforest, a huge greenhouse and a high tech lab. The deceptively natural lighting was in fact produced by a blindingly white vaulted ceiling.

Vague memories resurfaced in her head. She’d seen something similar before, in her long-forgotten past life where sunlight used to permeate the mirrored domes of ecocities, their glass skyscrapers layered with vegetation, their complex robotic machinery coexisting with all the growth. All of Utopia’s environmentally friendly arcologies resembled this particular place.

Her A-meter kept pulsating, its blue bar filling slowly but surely. Still, she failed to localize the source of A-radiation: it was as if everything around was breathing Azure.

“Here we are,” Arachne said, taking in lungfuls of fresh air.

Vines enveloped everything around them. Lots of unusual plants grew in the many pots that lined the walls. Multi-colored fish swam inside huge transparent bubbles of water that floated weightlessly in mid-air right under the white dome, their movements controlled by invisible force beams.

A large butterfly with red and black velvety wings landed on Alice’s hand. The girl froze, sensing the creature’s strange prickly aura. This was an Azuric insect possessed by a powerful otherworldly being. It was blatantly obvious that someone had placed the monster inside the butterfly on purpose, just as they’d done with Alice once, placing the Beast inside her.

“Don’t touch them and they won’t touch you,” Arachne warned.

All the other inhabitants of this place turned out to be the same. They all possessed the same halo of A-radiation; all of them served as receptacles of various spirits. It was true that some powerful Enchanters of old used to catch A-creatures forcing them to serve their new masters. Some Incas could even converse with Azuric creatures. Still, Alice had never heard about any animaturgists who’d reached such mastery in handling creatures from over the Edge.

Or had she? Once again old memories resurfaced – all those dark hints and whispered names. She had no doubt that there must have been a few renegade Incas among the leadership of the Black Rose sect which had experimented on her all those years back. There’d also been other dissident Incas who didn’t belong to any of the City’s factions or clans nor the Possessed Ones. At the time, the First Legion had gone to great lengths to bring all the loyal Incas under Stellar’s banner. It did its best to eradicate everyone it considered dangerous to the cause – but still new shoots of dissention kept sprouting in the most unexpected places even decades later.

A narrow path brought them to an open space which appeared to be a small recreation zone. Alice watched in amazement as the air quivered, producing a small round table and three chairs. A man materialized sitting on one of them.

A man? When he turned his head and Alice saw his eyes. she began to quake with anger and fear. He was neither human nor Possessed. Although he was undoubtedly an Incarnator, her interface kept playing up, unable to ID him.





Class: Lilith


Finally, Alice’s interface made up its mind. She was looking at a Lilith. That was the name given to humans taken over by an Azuriс entity. That was exactly what they’d tried to do to Alice when they’d inserted the Beast into her. That particular experiment had failed. Real Liliths had full control of their hosts’ bodies; they were often sentient and extremely dangerous. Basically, they were demons from over the Edge who appeared human. By penetrating human communities, they could cause immeasurable damage. Alice had heard of cases when their influence had turned whole societies into hordes of bloodthirsty fanatics.

The man didn’t appear dangerous. He was tal and lanky with sleek black hair and thin delicate fingers. He wore simple dark clothing with no weapons - but still, his incredibly powerful Azuric aura identified him unmistakably as the local boss. This was the creature Arachne had brought her to in order to get the wingsuit fixed.

The corner of the man’s lips curved into a smile. “Alice van der Heiden. I can see that the problem you had with your Beast has been resolved. It was an interesting experiment.”

“Who. Are. You?” the girl croaked.

He'd recognized her. He'd seen her before. He knew about the Beast. He must have had something to do with the Black Rose – or could he be one of those behind the experiment?

A wave of pent-up fury began rising within her chest, heavy and illogical, because Alice knew full well that she was no match for him. It was enough for him to twitch an eyebrow for the local spirits to rip her to shreds.

“I imagine you have a lot of questions to ask, haven’t you? Anger, an old grudge, a yearning for revenge?” the man shook his head. “Who am I? I’ve been known by many names, and a lot of them are already forgotten – or have been erased on purpose. One of them is Leftie.”

Leftie. One of Prometheus’ three students, the most mysterious of the three, he’d disappeared just as unexpectedly as he’d turned up. Alice knew little about that particular Inca apart from the fact that a few of his anomalous inventions had created a lot of furor at the time. Although he didn’t serve the City, he wasn’t in opposition to it either. Still, the Legion offered a hefty sum of money for any information about his whereabouts.

“You’re not human.”

“Neither are you. Calm down now. Take a seat. Your interface has already ID’d me, hasn’t it? It wasn’t wrong. I am indeed a Lilith based on an Azuric entity known as an Ahriman  - but I keep the said Ahriman under my own control. I am the master; I just use his power.”

“That’s! Not! Possible!”

“Oh yes it is. You were one of the less fortunate test subjects while I’m the successful result of the same experiment. Little by little, by scientific trial and error, we managed to achieve almost the impossible.”

“Black Rose? You?” Alice hissed, reluctant to accept his invitation to be seated.

“The Black Rose was eliminated by Castor’s group a long time ago,” Leftie said without batting an eyelid. “Let’s not rake up the past. You heard about the fate of the Black Princess, didn’t you?”

“Why did you have to do that to yourself?”

The man shrugged. “Curiosity, of course. Plenty of new opportunities. The Edge and Azure itself are the original building blocks of this Universe. In order to study them, we’re obliged to use alternative methods. Know what I mean?”

“No. Why did you have to—”  Alice turned to Arachne who pressed a warning finger to her lips and landed gracefully on  the chair opposite the man, fluttering her eyelashes provocatively.

“Arachne, please. Give it a rest. Your little tricks won’t work on me, and you know it,” Leftie said as if  he’d only just noticed her. “Why did you ask for this meeting?”

“You’re the only one who can possibly help us,” Arachne said.

Leftie heaved a sigh. “So let’s get down to business. So? Arachne? I’m all ears.”

By way of answer, Arachne conjured up a hologram of Angel’s Wings over the table. The translucent silhouette of the ancient exosuit glowed crimson, highlighting all the numerous fissures.

“Ala Angelus,” the man drawled languidly. “A modified Icarus, class Alpha plus, Prometheus’ handiwork. It doesn’t differ much at all from the original. Only the material, the A-source and its combat modification known as Wings. The damage is quite serious, I see.”

“You must fix it,” Arachne said.

“Must I? First off, it would require quite some valuable resources,” he changed his position in the chair. Secondly, I don’t think you’d be able to pay me for such a job.”

“The suit is meant for an Incarnator,” Arachne said slowly, “and you’re going to do it for him for free. As a gift... or a ransom, maybe?”

“A ransom? How interesting,” Leftie raised a quizzical eyebrow. “And who is this mysterious Inca, may I ask? The only name that springs to mind is Prometheus himself, my old enemy and my mentor.”

Arachne shook her head. “You’re almost right. But not quite,” she said pensively. ”I’m gonna show you the results of my research now. Then we’ll sit and think how we can get out of this shit.”




THE BATTLE with Raven was finally over. The three Incas of the Sunrise group were looking at me. Or rather, at the Blue Steel gauntlet I was wearing.

The Gauntlet of Prometheus. His legendary Right Hand, the sign of a Grand Legate and a symbol of power which he’d used to govern and punish, destroy and create. You just couldn’t confuse it with anything else. A true work of art, it resembled a part of a medieval suit of armor whose dainty outlines betrayed a hint of advanced technologies. It seemed to have been developed for creatures more refined and developed than human beings, looking quite alien on a human hand.

I’d already checked the item’s functions in its stats. The Gauntlet offered a whole range of new possibilities which all required a thorough examination in a quieter setting.




Translocational Cryptor



The Gauntlet’s most important property was a certain «Key», which allowed the item’s owner to enter the Nucleus  and take control of the Stellar system.

— Значит, это правда, — хрипло произнесла Гелиос. — Ты действительно вернулся.

My activated psi field allowed me to feel what they were feeling. Corvin’s aura glowed brightly and confidently with his determination and thirst for action.  Helios was exuding a mixture of relief and faltering hope while Sentry seemed to experience an almost superstitious fear.

I gave them a curt nod, trying to smile. My last neural seal had just revealed the truth.

My predecessor used to be the leader of the First Legion and the City’s legendary founder. I hated to believe it – because Prometheus’ last words had laid an enormous burden or responsibility upon my shoulders.

“This is the authentic Gauntlet of Prometheus, without any doubt,” Sentry said. “But how is this even possible?”

“He is Prometheus,” Corvin croaked. “It’s just that his memory’s erased. Now you see that I was right, don’t you? Everything comes together now!”

“I still don’t understand,” Sentry murmured. “You can say what you want but Grand Legates are the only ones who can equip  their gear!”

He was absolutely right. Any Incarnator who wasn’t a Grand Legate couldn’t have even touched the Gauntlet. But Prometheus must have modified it, removing system restrictions. He must have foreseen the necessity to reset himself back to zero and wanted to be able to use the item at a lower rank – either for himself or for some third party. When I’d picked up the item, its DNA key must have been reset so now the Gauntlet belonged to me alone.

“You’re right,” I said. “It’s authentic enough. It’s just that Prometheus must have modified it, removing its restrictions.”

“Why do you speak of him in the third person? You are him, aren’t you?”

“No!” I snapped, then hurried to add, “It looks like I might have been him in the past. But he doesn’t exist anymore.”

“So how do we call you these days?” Helios asked softly.

“Grey,” I replied. “I’m Grey now.”

The Incarnators exchanged glances. Corvin gave a short nod. Helios eased her helmet off, ruffling her tousled blond hair. Although she looked totally different from how I remembered her back in the Scilla’s stomach, her brisk movements hadn’t changed.

She dropped to one knee and threw her hand in the air in the familiar salute. Sentry followed suit. After a moment of hesitation, Corvin did so too in what must have been some kind of ritual. Just like Raven had done earlier, the Incarnators knelt to the Legion’s founder.

““Embodied or bodiless, dead or alive,” Helios began, locking her gaze with mine.

Sentry promptly continued, “...regardless of my current shape or guise, I hereby swear to always oppose evil...”

“...and defy fear in protection of humankind,” Corvin concluded in the same tone of voice, leaning against the hilt of his Nothung sword.

I suddenly realized that I’d just heard the ancient oath of the First Legion. It hadn’t been heard for many a long year. Now once again the first three Incarnators were uttering its words chiseled into the pedestals of ancient monuments. This meant a hope for revival whose radiant wave was now spreading its wings within the hearts of these immortal warriors.

For a few brief moments, I managed to see myself through their eyes – and shuddered, realizing the sheer magnitude of the giant shadow which was now destined to always tower behind my back.

“We acknowledge you,” Helios said, “and we’ll keep our oath.”

“Quite honestly, I still have a thousand questions to ask you,” Sentry said, getting up. “How the hell did you survive? Corvin did show us the video but still. How did you end up on the Black Moon? How come none of the Possessed Ones who made it back never mentioned you?”

“And most importantly, what do you intend to do now?” Helios added.

“That’s a long story,” I said. “I need to get to the main terminal and enter Stellar’s nucleus. “Do you know where it is? Can you help me?”

Helios nodded. “Sure. Our questions can wait. Let’s wind this up here first and get out. Have you checked Raven?”

There was precious little left of him: the fabled exterminator of the Possessed had been reduced to bloodied shreds that splattered the rocks and cliffs around. Sentry used his Telekinesis ability to pick up Raven’s rifle which had been flung aside by the explosion. Its barrel was fashioned out of a glowing piece of some translucent crystal; both its stock and its butt were covered in complex carvings.

“There’re also his daggers left back in the Tower,” I added, remembering his silver claws. True, you couldn’t even touch them without them tainting your hands with necrosis – but surely Sentry as a Technomancer could do something to disable the DNA key. “Their names are Decay, Misery...”

“...Woe, Venom and Agony,” Corvin finished for me. “I’ll take them.”

“There isn’t much Azure left. And only three Genomes,” Sentry added, giving me a quizzical look.

I realized that they were awaiting my decision because I was the one whose role in our victory over Raven was the most decisive.

“Take it, it’s all yours,” I said with a dismissive shrug. “Had it not been for your help, Raven would have finished me off for sure.”

“But had it not been for your intervention, he would have killed all of us,” Helios objected. “It doesn’t work like that. You’ve chosen an Enchanter’s path, haven’t you? There’s a very interesting Azuric genome here, take a look.”

All of the genomes dropped by Raven were wonderful but unfortunately, none of them were appropriate for my low rank. Two of them, including Adaptation, were only suitable for Corvin. But the third one was framed in a glowing pale blue.

An excited Miko threw her hands in the air.


Fogler’s Genome

Type: Azuric


Attraction. Allows you to unconsciously attract other biological beings by using your psi activity. The strength of the ability depends on the power of your Source.



Source (15)


Ability type: Active


Psychokinesis. Allows you to manipulate matter using the power of thought. The strength of the ability depends on the power of your Source.


Source (10)

Thalamus Upgrade (5)


Ability type: active. The exact expenditure of Azure depends on the shape, weight and size of the manipulated objects.

Exocytosis of Ectoplasm. Allows your body cells to secret ectoplasm capable of consuming matter and transforming it into A-energy.



Skin Tissue Upgrade (5)

Source (5)

Metabolic Upgrade (5)



“Don’t even think about refusing their offer, Incarnator! This genome is just like the Leader of the Pack in that it directly correlates to the power of one’s Source which is our trump card. They might form a wonderful synergy which might considerably broaden our potential.”


“Do you mean Psychokinesis, Miko? Isn’t it the same as Telekinetics?”


“It’s much better! It has a much broader potential, including elemental control. Don’t overthink it, just take it!”


She persisted with so much urgency that I just nodded, unable to resist her pleas. With a smug smirk, Helios flicked her finger, sending me the genome’s icon. The pale blue image of its DNA spiral tingled as it disappeared into the palm of my hand.

“How do you get out of this place?” I asked.

The exit has to be activated from the outside,” Sentry said. “We wanted to play it safe in case Raven smoked us all. We’ve got someone on the outside who’s gonna help us out.”

“For a price, of course,” Corvin smirked. “You already met him.”

Getting out turned out to be very simple. We just materialized standing on the translocator platforms that encircled the black monolith of the testing grounds.

The entire place was filled with thick black stinking smoke. The entrance to the testing grounds, hacked by Corvin, had been reduced to a lump of molten metal which had then solidified into a spirally knot, looking as if it had been welded solid from the inside with a blow torch. Helios’ work, no doubt. At the moment, someone was banging at it, desperately trying to get in.

Much to my surprise, I saw the familiar figure and the equally familiar smirk of the Cats’ boss standing by the control terminal.

‘Thanks for not denying me,” Corvin said, stepping down from the pedestal.

The man shrugged. “It’s him that you should thank,” he nodded at me. “What wouldn’t you do for another small chunk of Azuride?” He took a closer look at me and added, “I’m happy my gut feeling didn’t let me down. What is it you guys say in the Legion? Ave, Caesar!” he made a gesture which resembled the legionnaires salute.

“Don’t take the piss,” Helios said sternly. “You also took the oath to Prometheus.”

“You’re right. Discipline has never been my thing,” the Cat nodded, pulling his hood on. “By the way, you’ve got a welcoming committee.”

“Who do you mean?” Helios snapped.

The man shrugged. “I didn’t hang around to find out. I think it’s Tallstar. Whatever your plans are, I suggest you get a move on because the Archons are already on their way. So we’d better settle our accounts some other time. You know me, I never say goodbye...”

He stepped toward the wall and disappeared, swallowed up by the surrounding shadows. His psi field simply dissolved into nothing as if he’d just vanished into thin air.

I just couldn’t fathom it out. Did this mean that this smoothie from the Mercada shop was an Incarnator too playing some weird game of cat and mouse with me?

“Who is he?” I asked.

“An old fox,” Corvin said with a grin. “But he can be quite useful from time to time. You watch out for him, Grey. Now step aside, everyone. I’m gonna make us a door.”

He drew his sword and sized up the blocked entrance. After a couple of blows, the molten chunk of metal succumbed to his incredible weapon. He carved out a piece of it which fell clanging to the floor on the other side, very nearly injuring the legionnaires waiting outside.

The corridor was already swarming with Immortals armed to the teeth. We faced a row of gun barrels all pointing at us. They were led by a tall skinny Inca with distinctively Asian eyes. His predatory bionic Achilles exosuit betrayed a Warrior which my interface promptly confirmed:

Oscar “Tallstar” Mikoyami

100% match





A Legate’s silver star glittered bright on his shoulder, clasping the black cape of the Immortal Legion. He stepped forward.

“Stop!” he barked. “Helios, what’s going on in here? Why did you have to unseal the testing grounds? What’s up with Raven?”

“We’ve mopped the place up,” Helios replied, stopping still. “Raven is dead. We’ve smoked him. You can go in and check it out if you want. You can dismiss your assault group, Oscar. They’re not needed here.”

“And free up the way,” Corvin boomed.

“I don’t think so!” Oscar snapped. “I have orders from the Council of Archons and a personal order from Furius. This person,” he was looking at me now, “is under arrest.”

Corvin snortled. “You can shove these orders up the Archons’ asses now!”

“What did you say?”

“You heard! Get out of my way! You know me, I’m no spring chicken anymore! I’m not gonna tell you a second time!”

All of a sudden, the tip of Corvin’s sword stopped within a hair’s breadth of Oscar’s face. Corvin froze in a tense combat stance.

The Immortals surrounding the entrance began to stir while Oscar himself recoiled instinctively.

“What d’you think you’re doing?” he managed. “What’s wrong with you? This man is an enemy of the Legion!”

“That’s a lie. I’m not the Legion’s enemy,” I said, stepping forward.

I laid my left hand on Corvin’s shoulder trying to calm his impulsiveness. Then I freed my hand from under the cape and revealed the Gauntlet of Prometheus.

Release - May 10, 2021

No comments :

Post a Comment