Veminox Arc Three is coming BEFORE CHRISTMAS! Here’s a not-so-little sample from one of the early entries.
If this is completely new to you, don’t forget to try out Veminox yourself. You get 100 chapters of an exciting dark fantasy story starring a woman named Claudia, who seeks justice in her harsh, desert city. Claudia struggles to succeed as a jurist, her world’s version of a lawyer, while being swept into a world of violence and discovering her true potential.
You get a chapter every day, so it becomes something fun you can check up on regularly. If you want to read it all at once, you can do that too by buying the books! 😉
Now, on to the sample. I won’t recall what happened previously in Arc 2, to avoid spoilers.
In their past ventures, Claudia had taken Brinne’s portal spell straight to a moon without entering the space between, and now they were approaching the “traditional” way, via ship. As expected, some sort of illusionary field kept all six Veminox moons appearing as nothing more than white and gray spheres of barren rock. As their enormous destination came closer in view, the false surface vanished, revealing one far more complex, like a crinkled lump of gold leaf.
The surface appeared to be coated in one vast and uneven metropolis of honeycomb towers, in varying shades of gold or orange, following a rough gradient. Their apparent destination was something similar to the honeycomb towers, but the size of a small town, and tinted the thick red of an overripe pomegranate. It appeared more chiseled than constructed, too, and shone in concise, linear reflections, like the largest raw ruby in existence.
They watched this on the monitor, speechless amid the soft groans and sinewy machinations of the ship.
“Is that where we’re headed?” Brinne asked, referring to the giant ruby.
“That’s correct,” Lot said. “The Interspecies Court. Veminox’s location is convenient, in the greater systems, and thus this moon is a common place for matters to be decided between Ven Quari and other species.”
“Wait,” Claudia said, “other species?”
“Of course,” Latalla said for Lot. “You surely know, from Cloverra, that the presence of monsters on various scattered planets eventually inspired them to make Veminox their singular home. But magical beings were special specifically because they were an indecipherable minority among many, many more species. It’s not like the galaxy is empty of life besides what you’ve seen.”
“I guess Cloverra did imply that…”
“We are not visiting for leisure,” Latalla said, “so we will likely not encounter anything unusual.”
“How many other species are there?” Claudia asked.
“The question can’t be answered,” Lot patiently said, “as more are constantly discovered, while others go extinct. This is a common issue among species that are only just beginning to see beyond their home planet.”
“Yes… to be honest, I don’t think I could ever imagine it.” The idea of finding entirely different creatures from inconceivable distances gave her a headache. She focused on the present moment.
“I can’t believe that thing is a building,” Rat said. “It’s like a giant ruby.”
“The planet itself is primarily ruby,” Lot said. “It was settled for that reason. Ruby is essential to common-class lasers and projection technology, although seikens need more concentrative crystals.” She proudly went into more detail. “When the Ven Quari make peaceful agreements with a less-developed civilization, they permit starting technology that uses ruby, and sell the crystal for goods or services. This is a large part of what has made my species the most traveled and powerful in the galaxy. There is profitability in raising up other societies up until they can do business. Never too high, however, so that they ever have equals.”
“That is exactly what we need to achieve,” Latalla said, watching the gigantic hexagonal ruby.
“Dominating other worlds?” Claudia asked.
“No! I meant that we need the Ven Quari to see us as partners worth a deal, and not dangerous animals.”
As they got closer to the Interspecies Court, they saw that the enormous plateau of its ruby’s top served as a landing and departure zone for ships, with some sort of tube-like cannon-trunks for ground-to-air security. Other ships just like theirs were passing the opposite way, leaving the atmosphere, and both traffic directions passed through massive floating rings of golden metal that flashed intense white lights. These were helpful guides for Ven Quari eyes, dull as they were, while the others had to wait until they passed a ring before looking again.
Finally, after some conversations at long distance between Lot and other Ven Quari, they had clearance to land. With the ship powered down, they stepped out, together, onto a rumpled gemstone the size of four Rose Amon Palaces. If they had landed in the center, they would not have been able to see anything underneath in the distance. Instead, they were on one side, and a spiraling mesh bridge led the way down to an entrance rather close to the top.
Walking together, they passed parked ships like theirs, crates with dual retracting lids like those of an eye, and the occasional Ven Quari guard equipped in ruby-studded armor with seiken handles at the ready in both main arms.
“Very little of it is hollow,” Lot explained as they bounced and balanced over the bridge. It was cool and windy here, but not outright cold like Leftivacus, and the sky was fittingly blue, although a little too deep and free of clouds. “There is pressure to preserve such a natural beauty, so most of the court is narrow passages and smaller sub-courts. The main chamber is the largest and in the very center, but still comparatively tiny.”
Claudia found it a bit ridiculous that a species that destroyed planets had a sense of environmental conservation.
“So the Ven Quari are like a very generous tooth cavity,” Cole said.
“I’m not sure what you mean by that,” Lot said. “Most creatures with teeth attain cavities through dietary or hygienic negligence, or, in the case of less intelligent beings, through the inevitability of age —”
They walked into a chasm chiseled out of the side of the ruby, perfectly square and straight, passing groups of Ven Quari or solitary guards. Eventually they reached a passageway with a rounded opening, breaking off this main hallway, and followed Lot inside.
This ruby chamber was filled with wind gusts from Ven Quari that flew up from the ground to a higher level, managing various semi-biological machines and monitors that seemed to show other chambers of this place.
It was fascinating to Claudia what aspects of society were apparently universal. Lot stepped up to what appeared to be a front desk stretching across the width of the place, dividing the visitor’s side and the resident’s side. She half-expected Lot to order a pint of ale.
“Wait, why is there a female working among males?” Claudia asked. “I was getting this sense that all females are upper-class.”
Lot explained. “That isn’t quite accurate. Most non-queen females are spayed at birth, to prevent any mixing of pheromone streams. This one was not considered a worthwhile prospective for queen, so it was spayed. But you are partly right. She functions as a leader, and these males would die for her.”
Lot communicated with the secretary, and explained to her allies. They ‘spoke’ in their clicking, tongueless, cricket-violin language. Suddenly, at something Lot said, everything stopped. The Vens watched Claudia as the female backed up, and warrior drones had their wings cocked upward, ready to defensively blast downward to push back an attack. None of them had weapons to draw, however.
“Do not make any sudden movements,” Lot said, looking back toward Claudia. “I just introduced you as the Tuatara, and they have heard the stories spread by Wisp. Even if you mean to be friendly, they will not understand.”
“All right,” Claudia said, feeling a little dejected. She meant no harm to these…
Do I call them people? She contemplated. Yes, I suppose so.
“Behold,” Latalla said, arms crossed and floating straight in the air, “the reason we have come here. We must make this right.”
“Indeed,” Rat said. “No one could hate you once they get to know you.”
“The wealthy and powerful might,” Claudia said, nervously panning her head around the scene. “And the Ven Quari are certainly that.”
“But not these ones,” Baruch said. “These ones are just getting by.”
“You see it, too?” Brinne said, nodding approval to Baruch.
“What, what do you mean?” Cole asked.
“Thaumaturges,” Brinne explained, “must learn to remain calm in the face of a fearful misunderstanding. Our kind are constantly feared and suspected by others, due to our great magical aptitude. Claudia, this is no different. Keep still, and we’ll be fine.”
“Right…” Claudia did as instructed, her midsection relaxing a bit.
“There will be a wait,” Lot said, recounting the chirps of the the secretary. “She is inviting you, Claudia, to try some kemmals.” With one of her legs, Lot pointed to a curious bowl of brown clusters sunken into the counter, which all the humans had been eying.
“Kemmals?” Claudia asked.
“Veminoxian humanoid-class beings have a ninety-nine-point-nine percent chance to find them greatly enjoyable,” Lot said.
“They’re food,” Lot said. “I suppose I should have led with that.”
Claudia walked up to the bowl. The things had no odor, and appeared to be an explosion-shaped, starchy vegetable fried in oil, a single black core and a dozen pointed finger-width growths.
“They are hoping the kemmals will please you,” Lot said. “It would be a calming gesture, if you were to respond favorably.”
Am I really about to eat food from another planet? She looked back to Rat and the others, who seemed to be waiting for her lead. Eh, I did skip breakfast.
She picked up one by a spike. It was tender and brittle, but layered, like a potato and onion combined. She broke off a leg of the spiky treat and bit down on a piece of it.
In the second after, partly due to relieved nerves, she popped the entire leg in her mouth and crunched it down. It was partly like crispy, battered onions from Mirek, but beyond that layer was a more filling and neutral rice-starch appeal, glutinous, faintly piquant, and naturally spicy.
“This is wonderful! Kemmals, huh?” She continued to chow, breaking other pieces off.
“I’ll try it, too,” Rat said, taking a piece she held out to him.
“Don’t forget me,” Brinne said, and Baruch followed to partake as well.
“I wish I could comprehend the appeal of food,” Latalla said, eyes closed and smiling as it lounged mid-air. “I suppose mortal beings just need to eat. But it looks so fun.”
“Er, it is…” Cole said, shuffling on his feet before hurrying away toward the kemmal party. “I’ll go ahead and try it. Hate to be the only one who didn’t…”
“Right,” Latalla mumbled, too low for anyone to hear. “You go and enjoy that. Don’t need my face spoiling your appetite.”
“Just don’t eat the middle,” Lot said to the group, “it’s hard and inedible.”
It seemed even with a language barrier, the Ven Quari were happy to see the Tuatara enjoyed their visitor’s customary food. The insects didn’t exactly have faces that could show relief or happiness, but they were getting back to work and only shot their party the odd glance.
It was decided, after a few hours of waiting in a separate room in those awkward, open seats, that they would do business in the Main Court, the central and largest space within the ruby. Lot at the head, they followed a group of unsettling albino Ven Quari drones, and reached a cathedral that put the hollow pearl of the Rose Amon Jewel to shame.
In place of pews of seats, to either side of the narrow alley were hundreds of long interconnected bars from a dense foam-like material, in horizontal rows.
“Normally, Ven Quari would be perched on these bars,” Lot explained. “But this is too sudden of a case.”
“Fine by me,” Claudia said, eyes transfixed on the thing waiting up ahead.
“Have the kemmals settled your stomaches?” Lot asked them. When they all made small confirmations, she explained: “Many creatures find the sort you’re about to meet particularly terrifying and unpleasant. On top of their taste, kemmals are also soothing. The meal was prepared to help ward against the shock of this meeting.”
At the end was something that Claudia could piece together just from her experience as a jurist—a flat, installed marble platform with higher sections in the back. This was the stand, and at the middle platform was the arbitrator of this court, and a horror Claudia had never seen.
It was ten times the height of a warrior drone, and with the lower body of a centipede, each leg looking like it belonged to an insect-horse. Curving from there, like a cobra, was its upper body. Instead of the narrow, segmented, chitinous body of a warrior drone, the centipede half-transitioned quickly into a bloated, red-veined white grub, lightest in the front belly and lacking legs except for tiny caterpillar-like foot-pads. In contrast to the lower body and the tall grub body, the top, looking down at them, was the head of a beetle, with one articulating, three-jointed horn and a set of serrated jaws dangling forward, like sharpened antelope horns.
The three-jointed horn went erect and vibrated, first with a clatter like the engines of their ship, but then at a subtly-whining higher speed that remained. From there, a booming voice, translated for their benefit, reached all of them.
“Which one of you is named Claudia?”
“Lucky you,” Brinne said without sarcasm. The research-driven woman had been taking all this in silently until now, but this sight nearly set her into a deranged hoot of scientific fascination.
Claudia stepped forward, although Rat almost reached out to stop her. One harsh look from Latalla confirmed to Rat that they couldn’t show weakness.
“You are Claudia.”
“I am.” Claudia found the certainty with which the insect said her name off-putting.
“Our intelligence suggests you are a shapeshifter class of Veminoxian human. The successful offspring of a traditional mage and Ozarian of similar monster heritage. Is this true?” Looking harder, Claudia finally realized its eyes were little shiny lumps on the sides of its head, crustacean. She wasn’t sure if they were looking at her, but the head was tilted down at least.
“Yes, I am a shapeshifter. May I ask your name?”
After a pause, he replied. “Overfill is the closest approximation to my name in your language. You may call me that. Now, transform. I want to gauge your strength.”
“What does that mean?” Rat asked, starting to step forward. Latalla roughly stopped him with a broadened arm and hopped to Claudia’s side.
“Overfill,” Latalla said, “might we know what exactly you mean?”
“Do not be alarmed,” Overfill said. “I mean what I said. I wish not to fight, if that is what my horn’s translation suggested. You have only encountered Vens thus far, I imagine? I am a Quari, and my species is very sensitive to the intricacies of others.”
Wait, what? Claudia thought. Quari are a separate species? What is that about? She almost looked back to Lot, but kept her focus on the towering beast.
“I would like to analyze the Tuatara. This waiting is not necessary.”
“Very well,” Claudia said, changing in a rush of blood and heat. Her hair stayed lifted above her as snakes, and her bone structure was more exaggerated to a feminine shape, but those were the only things that felt obvious anymore. The talons wrenching out from her fingers, the hardening of her skin into impenetrable scales, were casual at this point. For the sake of sanity, something could only be felt over and over in the same way before the brain considered it mundane.
“Have you transformed completely?” Overfill said.
“Er, yes…” Do these things not see very well?
Overfill paused again, then craned its neck down, bringing its jaws only two arms’ length away from her. One of those might have made a nice club for Juxxa. All that was missing was wings, and then one could mistake it for a Ven Quari dragon.
“You are more threatening than the average human,” Overfill said, withdrawing its head. “That much is certain. But I do not believe that you could have wreaked all the havoc attributed to your name.”
Well, I have mixed feelings hearing that! she thought. Then again, isn’t this exactly the sort of reaction we need?
They took their time explaining the truth. Latalla detailed Wisp’s mad plans to turn his race into Threlna beings, capable of using magic and creating more ‘recipient-friendly’ and powerful laxxars. They explained that it was ultimately Wisp himself who destroyed the Leftivacus Hive. The Band had helped protect the Ven Quari from Wisp. Similar explanations were made for the initial attack in Avivara’s laxxar slave village, which Lot helped to illuminate.
One thing that Claudia felt slightly odd was that Overfull, certainly a powerful leader of sorts in this society, didn’t show any sign of an issue with Lot surrendering to Claudia and joining the Band. Either way, he hadn’t said much of anything during the explanations.
“Tell me,” Overfill said. “Are you aware of why Wisp was given so much leeway?”
“You said that it was Wisp’s presence during Latalla’s sacrifice that actually created the moons in the first place, due to the massive explosion of the spell backfiring. That is what he told me, as well. Back then, I observed the planet through orbital stations, which are far more troublesome. For many years, Wisp was an anomaly of mixed approval between many queens. He was not affected by pheromones, and supposedly was infected with this Threlna matter.” Overfill turned its head toward Brinne. “But he had, by accident, done his collective a great service. However, now it seems that the positives of his continued existence had outweighed the negatives, and that his death stopped such a trend from worsening.”
“Correct. That is why we have appeared before you now, willingly, and early,” Claudia said. “Wisp was able to do what he did because Veminox was a secluded world, away from interactions with his own people. We believe it is time for a more direct relationship between our kinds. The Fey-born could be great partners, should they have a chance to develop with the sort of technology you offer.”
“I believe that you killed Wisp, and if he was attempting the things that you claim, then I would find it agreeable to do just what you ask. Veminox is in my charge, but I would change that from a hidden engagement, with the natives as nothing more than unwitting members of a reserve, and cultivated tribes providing us with laxxars, to something more direct, to better utilize this planet’s resources.”
You mean us. “There’s something else,” Claudia said. “The potential gained from a Threlna laxxar is too inconvenient and grand. Similarly, I believe that if the tribes on Leftivacus serve no purpose, you should allow them to learn the truth and to live freely. If your research on aether is done, then—”
“—It is convenient to have a source of laxxars so near this moon,” Overfill said. “And there is no need to entirely outlaw research on aether beings yet. Leftivacus will stay as it is.”
I am fighting the urge to smash your head into pebbles, you oversized termite. She sighed. Stay calm. You can’t fight your way through this. You’ll just doom everyone else.
“Overfill,” Claudia said, “I am not very well informed on your species. Could you tell me what it is you are, in comparison to a warrior drone or female?”
“I am an emperor class male, also known as a Quari. The greatest class a male can be born into, and technically a distinct species compared to the others. One in every hundred-million larvae becomes a Quari, and they are placed in the most valued positions beneath the Mother Queen.”
Hundred million… that must be near the number of humans on Veminox… and it’s only a sample size for him.
“In that case, I speak to you knowing your influence. I wish what is best for those on my home planet. I am aware that if it seemed prudent to you, my planet could be seared with your ships’ firepower, leaving nothing. Even with that image in my head, I am not afraid to tell the truth and to show you whatever it is you need to see in order to believe it.” She sighed. “Because I know any prudent mind would see the facts and know that Veminox is not a threat to the Ven Quari.” A smile finally crept its way past the nerves. She relished the vigorous, spicy aftertaste of the kemmals and reached the conclusion. “No, indeed, Veminox is a potential ally, and should be treated with appropriate independence and sovereignty.”
After a few breaths, Claudia stilled herself and heard the emperor’s response.
“You certainly do not appear to be the violent, vengeance-crazed brute that our past, dubious intelligence made you out to be. And considering Wisp’s supposed motivations, that would make sense. I have made a decision. In respect to the good faith shown by this visit, there shall be a survey.”
“Survey?” Claudia asked.
“Be silent,” Overfill said. “Perhaps another word would help. An investigation into the veracity of everything you stated. My surveyors will visit your planet. You must accept their requests, adhere to their demands obediently, and answer all inquiries truthfully. Failure to do so will be added to their reports when the survey is finished.”
So it’s like a prosecuting jurist, only they’re a team and they’ll be following us around, Claudia thought, still smiling, although everyone else was just looking to her, the jurist of the room, with concern. That doesn’t sound too bad.
“However,” Overfill said, “it is not in my nature to expend effort for the sake of another species. This is unorthodox, and I expect results to justify the effort. For if that becomes not the case, I will order an emergency military purging of Veminox by fleet bombardment.”
Rat cracked, and started to speak “Wait, are you saying—”
“—the surveyors will be, no doubt, seen by others of your kind as they explore your world. That kind of exposure cannot be undone. For the sake of no troubling variables, I have decided that if I do not find a verdict in your favor, I will order a complete annihilation of all life on Veminox.”
Claudia’s thoughts spiraled in on each other. No, no, no!
“As you say,” Overfill said to Claudia, with a hint of amusement, “despite the risks, you are not afraid to tell the truth, and to show whatever must be seen. Is that still correct, now that you hear such a thing said back to you?”
In her prior days as a jurist, bringing up a dramatic supposition of the other side she argued against would invite the person to lower the stakes, to correct her and say they had nothing of the sort in mind.
Not the case this time.
Rat was close by Claudia’s side, and Brinne was trapped halfway to her other side, but gave up and slid backward. Baruch took one of her hands in his, just the sort of bold contact to stop the Archmage Queen from doing anything foolish.
“Yes.” Claudia said. “If you consider this a good use of your people’s resources.”
“Very well,” Overfill said. If Claudia’s little verbal swipe offended him, he did not show it.
Thus they arbitrated and agreed upon the course the survey would take. As an expression of good faith, they also arranged for the lost Ven Quari from the Leftivacus Hive to be transported from the lower portions of Nimb Vard to the Ruby Court instead, so they could find a new hive and a new queen, whose pheromone stream they could obey.