The Destarion was a Category 9 Convoy Defence Platform, the family classically known as God-teeth. She was sixty-three miles tall, with two thousand one hundred and six decks, eight heavy freight galleries and old-style nuclear transpersion engines with shielding collars that doubled as emergency bunkers. Commissioned by Arbus Rosedian in the height of the post-Worm resettlement era, when everyone was squabbling over which worlds had been theirs, the Destarion was a thug among thugs, elbowing colonists aside on a racial scale and restoring the sovereign populations of the Pinian Brotherhood to their homes. In the course of her four hundred and eighteen tours, ferrying fleets of citizens from The Centre back out to the worlds from which their ancestors had been driven, she lost only one ship: the Vorontessa, allegedly taken over from within by Worm Cult holdouts, lost navigational control and flew into the Destarion’s forward intake. The Vorontessa vanished with all hands. When later examination turned up only approximately ten percent of the Vorontessa’s hull material and no bodies, the rest was assumed to have been vaporised by the engines although conspiracy theories abounded.
In the Dahbian War, the Destarion led sixteen tours with The Friends of Erokell, although by this stage she was more than slightly outgunned and outclassed – by her allies if not by the opposition. She was single-handedly responsible for wiping out seven colonies and two seed ships, a feat only barely topped by Glorious Erokell itself, flagship of the Friends. The Destarion earned herself the nickname Dahbis’bluo, destroyer of Dahbia.
During the Black Lieutenant Witch-hunts, the old God-tooth neither ran convoy duties nor military tours, but acted as a transport for displaced refugees. On her third run through the Shooga resistance blockade, she was intercepted by agents later tentatively linked to Nnal’s Imp. She was locked down for seventy-eight hours, during which time every living thing on board was systematically mutilated, killed and posed. The Destarion was sent on her way on autopilot, carrying a cargo of over thirty million butchered carcasses.
In the Battle of the Rooftop, the Battle of Castle Void and the Battle of Destilak’s Throne, the Destarion carried payloads of illegal – and highly unstable – sub-spectral resonance bombs into the heart of Darking territory. She was presumed lost in a botched detonation during the Throne, but was later found in a wrecked ur-chamber. She was once again completely depopulated, this time losing the Hands of Madness, a weapons team of infiltration and demolition specialists, engineers and combat architects numbering approximately three hundred thousand. Their bodies were never found.
In the Damorak War the Destarion carried refugees again. She was boarded by the Foemen, an Archon-clone hybrid army churned out by the Darking forces, and her passenger complement of eighty-seven million was slain. The bodies were dismembered and the blood fed to the vampiric soldiers, from the quasi-immortal officer subspecies right down to the breeding tanks where the next generation grunts were gestating. The refugees had been baited with an artificial pan-virus called Vehemence. Vehemence entered the wider Archon food supply before reaching maturity, and the resulting outbreak completely eradicated the Foemen and brought the Archon species itself to the brink of extinction. The Destarion earned herself a new nickname: Dar Suda, the mythical rider of Pestilence borne of warfare and slaughter.
During Vortex’s Peace, the Destarion was decommissioned and once again served as a transport, moving citizens between Heaven, Earth, Hell and Cursèd, and occasionally between the Four Realms and Castle Void itself. Her holds were widely rumoured to be home to defectors on both the Pinian and the Darking sides, but her city-state-sized residential settlements and in particular the shielding collar bunkers – colloquially known as Deeptown – were considered to be a neutral area, a demilitarised zone but for the fact that its residents and passengers were still quite heavily-armed. The Destarion was a notoriously dangerous place, where foul play, disappearance and natural causes were almost perfectly balanced in the residents’ mortality statistics.
A small group of people took up permanent residence. They became known as The Elevator People.
After the lifting of the First Veil and the end of the Exile, when humanity reeled in the truth of its millennia-long separation from the real world and railed against the re-imposition of a divine dictatorship, the Pinian Disciples opted to allow humanity the right to choose. They would not hide the truth, or censor their opponents. They would depend on human intelligence and rationality, let them hear the cases pled by various representatives of the friends and enemies of the Brotherhood, and make up their own minds who to trust, who to believe, who – if anyone – to worship. The humans would have, as they always had, free will and the right to learn on their own terms.
The Pinians knew this was a bad idea, but it looked good on paper and they also knew that whatever happened next would serve as a formative lesson for post-Exile humanity. “Look what happened last time you thought you knew better,” they would be able to tell them. For at least the next ten thousand years.
The Pinians were right.
The Destarion, which had spent the two thousand, three hundred and seventy-eight years of the Exile buried in the ice of one of the solar system’s outer moons, was returned to her shaft of airspace running up and down between the Four Realms and Castle Void. As neutral territory, she served as a home to any humans who wanted to live free of the restrictions of the Pinian Brotherhood, wanted to hear the terms of the Brotherhood’s opposite numbers, and take part in a discourse that could not safely take place on any of the Four Realms due to the Brotherhood’s prejudice. Those who were convinced, the Brotherhood said, were welcome to disembark the Destarion and make a home for themselves in Castle Void.
On Earth, horror stories were often set on ancient, long-buried, desecrated burial grounds, or on the sites of long-ago slaughters of innocents. It was such a prevalent idea that it had embedded itself in the cultural psyche and become a trope, a cliché.
On Heaven, Hell, and a thousand other worlds along every point of the philosophical spectrum, these stories were set on board the Destarion.