Explosions echoed through the woods, followed by the crack of centuries-old trees snapped in two. Plumes of dark smoke soared over the forests of Arboria. Arwick Redleaf stood beside his queen, as the massive Dominion machine rumbled closer. The size of it was almost impossible to believe. It had landed weeks ago, along with thousands of Dominion troops, and had immediately started consuming wide swaths of forests through its gaping metal maw.
A Planet Reaper.
Arwick clenched his fists, his claws digging painfully into his palms. Every instinct told him he should run forward and fight but as the First Consort his duty was to protect Queen Myala.
"We need to go," he said. "You're not safe here."
"That's sweet," said the queen, "But we have to wait here. The Exiles will be here soon."
"They're more than three hours late," he growled. "And they're the ones that got us into this mess in the first place."
"Arwick," she said, gently but firmly. "Not now."
Arwick held his tongue, but they both knew he was right. The Exiles had discovered their world while running from the Dominion, and despite his protestations, the queen had welcomed them in. They were likeable enough, and they had left within a few days, but their visit led the empire to Arboria. Soon afterwards, the Planet Reapers had come.
The Aurin began their next assault. A boulder tumbled through the air, launched from one of their few remaining catapults. It majestically deflected off what looked like a communications antenna on the mile-long machine, leaving a small dent.
Arwick heard the echo of faint cheers. Somewhere in the woods, a crew started the laborious process of reloading another.
To the east a number of Aurin warriors had managed to climb the side of the Planet Reaper. explosive charges strapped to their backs. Almost immediately, bright flashes of weapons fire erupted from the forest below, as scattered Dominion soldiers methodically shot at them. An Aurin warrior fell to the forest floor, followed by another.
Suddenly, the sound of starship engines complicated the cacophony. Arwick look up and saw dozens of Exile transport ships descending from orbit They fired at the Dominion troops as they approached the extraction point offering cover for those few Aurin who were still alive.
Queen Myala turned to Arwick.
"You have to go," she said. "But I'm staying. I can't leave Arboria behind."
"No, Myala!" Arwick replied. "We need you to lead us. If you stay here, you'll die. But l swear to you by all that I am, we will come back and finish this."
Myala looked out at the devastation that the Planet Reaper had wrought. On the distant horizon, she could see the others approaching.
The Exile transports landed in the clearing beyond, kicking up grass and leaves. Arwick held out his hand. With a resigned sigh, she took it and they both started running.