This is it. When the Ground Breaks, book 3 of the Gray Wars Saga, is under way. For real. We’re doing this. There are numerous changes ahead, including some major shifts in the trajectory of the series. For now, have a taste of the prologue, and journey along with one of the villains of the story: A Parasite named Sa’om.’
The Little Death
“At the end of it all, when the gods themselves wage the final war, the Doomhammer will face the immortal beings of the many realms. The great and terrible will meet in a final battle, shattering against sword and spear and arrow. And at the twilight, while the Creators lay dying, the great Plague will consume their children.
The stars will fade. The sky will fall. And the ground will break.”
The Grol Naja
Rite of the Eternum
Chapter 41, Verse 21-27
February 28, 2237
Fire and magma oozed from a thousands of cracks on the surface of New Eden. Lakes of red and orange crawled from the breaches in the tectonic plates, like fingers of a giant hand, tearing open the belly of the world. Shockwaves from the erupting core pushed trillions of tons of molten rock from the mantle. All that was once green and idyllic burned to ash underneath the relentless flow.
In time, the planet called New Eden would cool. The oceans of flame would die in smoke and ash, leaving only the barren ruins. No cities would remain, except underneath mountains of rock. Its mass decimated by Gehnom’s cannon, the planet would never again support life. If it reformed at all, it would be as a monument to the Boxti’s wrath.
None of this mattered to Sa’om, the parasitic Druuma worm. His world was a maelstrom of pain and noise. He writhed in an agony unlike any he’d felt before. Steaming blood pumped from the gaping hole in his chest, and his fragile flesh sizzled and popped. He focused all his efforts in returning to the King, to the God at the center of the galaxy, but he lacked the energy. After a life measured in the turning of stars, Sa’om felt the end approach.
He slipped away from the physical, releasing the tethers on his corporeal body. With each line severed he rose up from the flames and heat. There was no choice left. His death was inevitable. He gripped the final thread, gave a final look to his existence, and snapped the chord.
A lifetime of service, and I die fighting insects.
Instantly, the pain and fire dissipated, replaced with the sensation of viscous liquid swirling about his body. Colors flashed around him, a kaleidoscope of purples and reds and pinks and blacks: The void his kind called Eternum. Twisting shapes flitted near the edge of his vision. He reached out and tried to grab one. It passed through him like smoke. He was limbless, a larva, a neophyte. He reverted further and further from his physical life until he was just a single cell in a primordial puddle. And then he was nothing.
Time slipped away, stretching for hours and years and eons. He saw his birth. Spewed forth atop a pile of identical eggs, his chariot rolled and danced on a floor of mud and bramble. A Jarek collected him in its pincers, skittering away from the chamber on twenty legs. The bristly hairs on its face tickled him even through the hardened membrane of the shell. Sa’om felt the warmth of the creature an inch from his embryonic form.
A jump, and he was hatched, crawling in the Creche with his siblings. Jareks still tended to their needs, bringing them morsels of rotten fruit and decayed flesh. The Drumalettes wriggled on their stomachs, mewling mouths constantly seeking nourishment. Lording over them was an Ajuk, an unturned Boxti. It lectured at them throughout the day, reciting the history of this world. The Boxti were great warriors, not explorers. The only reason Kumarat the Stoneheart ever started his fabled journeys was to seek new lands to conquer. Had it been up to him, the Drovan people would have died slaves. But his brother was wiser…by a fraction. He saw value in the Drovan starships.
They went to their moon seeking answers, and they found their God.
Another jump, and he was in the Throne Room. Kumarat knelt before his brother, his torso bare, the scars of innumerable battles carved into his rocky carapace. Like others in the room, he was an Ajuk, without the gift of the Druuma inside. Before him, the Boxti once called Taroba sat on the great seat, his six arms raised high to the heavens. Taroba—the God King. Taroba—the unconquered.
Taroba, the first to bond with the Druuma. The first Ruall.
The King sat high above the rest, but still subjugate to the Drumakan. The Devourer swelled into every crevice of the massive room. Its breath shook the very stone of the Great Keep. The King barely resembled his brood brother. His six limbs were thick and heavy. His diamond-shaped head grew thorny horns a meter on each side. Bonded with the Drumakan, he was anchored to his world forever, and yet his sight now extended to other stars and planets. Sa’om, now wearing a Hiwalini—a slovenly, five-footed creature—knelt in the presence of his lord.
A final jump. Ferezin the Blessed was dead, buried underneath the ruins of his palace. The Cthanul known as Eruk djun Tolan lay dying only a few paces away. Sa’om watched the warrior struggle. Eruk wasn’t trying to save his own life, but crawling toward another enemy to finish the job. In that moment, Sa’om chose to abandon his host. He knelt down next to the alien and focused on the King. Through the ether, he saw his lord’s countenance.
I beseech you, Creator. He has earned the right of the Ruall.
The booming reply nearly killed Eruk before the ritual could even start. Sa’om was sure that each of his hosts had felt pain during their joining, but Eruk was different. He screamed and cried, just as the others had, but there was another emotion drowning out the rest: Pride. The pain was a cleansing, and he would be greater at the end.
If only I had taken that pride as a threat.
Sa’om drifted in the swirling soup, his consciousness dissipating like a droplet of ink into an ocean. He struggled to pulled himself together. The void beckoned, warm and inviting. If he simply let go, he would become one with Eternum and join his ancestors in the final journey. Yet something kept him bound to this plane of existence. A yearning he couldn’t understand. A need.
I’m not ready to die. No, more than that. A fire burned inside, fueling a rage he could not control. The King has not answered me. Sa’om looked further within, horrified at the echoing thoughts. My God abandoned me.
Sa’om reached out through the veil, searching for a hold. Each effort exhausted him further, leaving him gasping, faint. He felt thin, like a withered branch ready to snap. Just when he was prepared to give up, to accept his fate, he caught the barest of threads.
Instantly, the world went from fluid to solid. The swirling pools of Eternum faded back, revealing the bubbling rock of New Eden. Sa’om floated above the ground by a few hundred feet, looking down through the eyes of a local bird. The creature was infected by the Druumatan, a primitive cousin—but it was a start.
But this one will be dead soon. I need a proper host.
Sa’om rested for a moment, gathering strength, then cast out his mind once again. He touched feathery lines to creatures around the planet, finding nothing but thrall. His mount was already tired from its journey, angling lower and lower toward a fiery end.
He caught another thread and pulled. Sa’om opened his eyes as a dog, hunting human survivors in a melting city. His body screamed in agony, already seared to the bone by the burning planet. The Druuma leapt again and again, each time growing weaker. He had maybe a handful of jumps left, but each effort bought precious seconds.
In the distance, a faint mote of light caught his eye. A glint of sunlight on silver. A ship! Sa’om reached out, willing a connection to appear. Yes. Inside, a creature lay dying. Infected from a thrall’s blow. Yet with a spirit immune system. Only a few Druumatan remained inside. The physical form was nearly beyond repair, but it was a chance worth taking. Sa’om abandoned his final host and forced himself into the microscopic parasites.
First there was nothing. Then a wave of pain and nausea.
Reconstructing organs and regrowing flesh took Sa’om’s last reserves. Until he had time to grow, this creature would have full reign of its body. If it discovered the infection, the Druuma would likely be purged. No sense in worrying, Sa’om had no more threads to pull. If this body was his tomb, then that was the will of the King. He stretched out his tendrils, only to find them mere nubs on his minuscule body.
For now, Sa’om consoled himself by watching the world go by, teeming with excitement.
After all, this was his first time inside a human.