Deep in the Outer Rim of the Cyrannus Galaxy hung the planet of Andustar, a frigid world covered in ice caps and jagged peaks, between which blossomed verdant pine forests and glistening blue seas. Above the planet's atmosphere, vivid aurora caused by a nearby nebula lit the night sky in vivid green, blue and purple. Nestled between two mountain peaks was a narrow alpine valley, with a healthy river flowing in the middle. Though Andustar was not uninhabited by sentient life, major settlements on the planet were rare and tended to exist only on the slightly warmer continent to the south. Suddenly, a bolt of energy shot through the air, dissipating as it impacted against the snow.
Holstering her energy bow, the young OrtellaAoirtae sighed deeply. She missed her target, a large gnastor. Large game was rare on Andustar and was the only sustenance available to the young woman. Moving on top of a rocky outcropping, Aoirtae drew her bow again. She had the gnastor in sight, squinting her eyes, she fired. The energy bolt shot through the air, hitting the gnastor and killing it instantly. Pulling her cowl down, she let her brown hair hang free. She smiled.
"Sorry, big guy."
Dragging the carcass back to her camp, Aoirtae prodded the flickering fire with a stick before finally digging in. She did not particularly enjoy eating the flesh of unfortunate beasts, though she knew that her lifestyle demanded it. Reaching into her satchel, Aoirtae pulled out a flask of water and shook a few remaining drops of water into her mouth. Frowning, she hit the side of the flask for any lingering remnants, though none could be found. Groaning, she gazed up into the night sky as she finished the last bite of the gnastor, wasting nothing as if she was a starving child. Attempting to count the gleaming stars in the sky, she began to drift asleep. As she huddled up against a blanket, she finally drifted off.
A starship. An industrial planet. A battle in the void of space! A sinister laugh and a wise, though enigmatic voice echoing in the night.
Aoirtae woke with a start. A dream? She wasn't sure if it was a bad one or not, though the images in her mind were as clear as day. She was troubled.
"That's the last time I eat gnastor before bed."
Andustar's primary began to rise on the horizon, bathing the frozen landscape in golden light. In the far distance, Aoirtae caught a glimpse of a descending blinking light. "A starship?"
Rushing to her feet, she packed up most of her essentials and began sprinting toward the rapidly descending light, hoping to herself that she would not have to spend another day on this frozen rock. As she approached, it soon became clear that it was indeed a starship, a small freighter by the look of it. The ship set down on a hastily built landing pad located outside a small trading post, where three of the native Andustaran awaited the occupants to exit. Panting heavily, Aoirtae joined them, earning her questioning looks by the leader, a woman she knew as Anasera.
The hatch of the freighter opened, revealing three figures of varying species. The first to exit the ship was a male Mon Nahdar, followed by a sagelike old Osteola and finally a much younger female Libertus, who appeared to be the captain of the vessel. The Mon Nahdar, Munalur, bowed his head toward Anasera.
Munalur: "Our thanks, Lady Anasera. The Republic is grateful for any aid in this sector."
Just as Anasera was about to respond, Aoirtae exclamed.
Aoirtae': "You're with the Republic?! With a ship like that I thought..."
In her excitement, she failed to notice the slightly offended expression of both Munalur and the Libertus. Her speech trailed off.
Aoirtae: "... you were smugglers..."
The female Libertus narrowed her eyes dangerously and stepped forward.
"Uhh, nothing at all! My mouth is bigger than my brain sometimes..."
Kara Inviá: "Hmph. Maybe I can sympathise."
Her expression softened considerably as she indicated to her starship proudly.
Kara Inviá: "This is the Auethnen Raptor and I'm her captain. Kara Inviá. What is an Ortella doing on Andustar?"
She glanced at a rather peeved Anasera.
Kara Inviá: "I wasn't aware that anything other than Andustarans lived here."
Aoirtae: "I was kidnapped by the Panthrea when I was a little girl. They killed my parents. I knew what they were capable of, so I stowed away on a transport to the Outer Rim. I got off on Andustar and I've been here ever since."
Aoirtae: "Aoirtae. Err... this is kinda awkward, but I would like to... err... formally request passage on your starship."
If Kara was surprised, she hid it well.
Kara Inviá: "You want to leave Andustar? Can't say I blame you."
She absentmindedly gestured to the Andustarans.
Kara Inviá: "No offence. Munalur, can you handle our gracious hosts while I deal with this?"
The Mon Nahdar nodded his bulbous head and walked off toward a nearby building with Anasera and her aides. Ryen scratched his chin thoughtfully.
Ryen: "You are very welcome to the Auethnen Raptor, young lady."
Kara pulled Ryen aside, her smile mischievous.
Kara Inviá: "Ryen, it's my ship. I'm the one who decides who gets to board."
She turned back to Aoirtae.
Kara Inviá: "Welcome aboard the Auethnen Raptor, Aoirtae! We'll be departing once our friend Munalur returns."
Overcome with joy, Aoirtae rushed forward and hugged Kara. She had very rarely been on the receiving end of kindness and though she would not admit it, her life was one of extreme lonelieness, with the only contact with other sentients being rare encounters with spacers or the inward looking local Andustarans. Kara patted Aoirtae on the back, clearly aware of what passage on the Raptor meant to the young Ortella. Ryen chuckled as he watched, before picking up Aoirtae's bag of supplies and valuables and bringing it into the ship. Stepping up the boarding ramp, Aoirtae took one final look at the towering peaks of Andustar, excited for what this new chapter in her life would bring.
Chapter Three: A Larger World
It was two hours before Munalur returned with good news for Captain Inviá. The Andustaran government had agreed to allow the New Republic establish a top-secret listening post on one of Andustar's peaks, allowing them to spy on Imperial fleet movements in the nearby Ralfian Sector. Once she settled into the crew quarters, Aoirtae made her way to the central portion of the ship, which housed a sofa and a terminal connected to both the Cyrannian HoloDomain and the Quadrantia HoloNet. Ryen was sitting on the sofa, reading a datapad, while Aoirtae could hear Kara and Munalur prep the jump to hyperspace in the nearby cockpit. Aoirtae sat down on the sofa.
Ryen: "So young Aoirtae, tell me about yourself."
Aoirtae: "What's there to tell? I was born, I was kidnapped, life was hard and now here I am."
Ryen: "I sense there is far more to you than meets the eye."
Aoirtae: "You sense?"
Ryen nodded and gazed into the distance, reminiscing fondly.
Ryen: "I have certain gifts, shall we say. In my younger days, I travelled to the Tigris Galaxy, where I trained under Hierarch Kroc himself, the greatest user of Psionic Energy in history. I myself am adept in psionic energy, though the fabrics of this galaxy are such that I am also attune with the unique energies of light unique to this Cluster. I sense in you a certain... attunement to this power."
Aoirtae: "Now I know you're crazy, I'm nothing special. I could barely manage to survive on Andustar."
Ryen: "No mean feat, young Aoirtae. That world seemed incredibly inhospitable. Adaptation is the key to survival. And you are clearly a survivor."
Aoirtae raised an eyebrow.
Aoirtae: "I don't think I've ever met someone quite like you, Ryen."
Ryen: "I do not imagine so. I was asked by Kara's father to accompany her on her missions. As a protector of sorts, though also a teacher. In many respects, she is similar to you. She too is attune to the energies of this galaxy to an extent shared by few."
Aoirtae: "You hardly know me, Ryen."
Ryen: "I am an excellent judge of character. And you I think will go far. Always remember though, where we are going always reflects where we came from. Every life experience — positive and negative — in your life contributes to who you are and the decisions you make. Your life on Andustar may have been hard, but it helped forge you into the young woman sitting before me. Never forget that."
Aoirtae contemplated Ryen's words.
Aoirtae: "Wise words, Ryen. But there is so much to explore beyond Andustar. I can't wait to experience it all."
Ryen smiled broadly.
Ryen: "You remind me of myself when I was your age. Perhaps you'd like to stick with the crew of the Auethnen Raptor? We could certainly use your talents. Indeed, I would be honoured if you would become my student. Not to worry, it won't involve studying or anything or that ilk. Or at least not in the conventional sense. Rather, I hope to train you to understand and control your powers and ultimately, use them to defend the defenceless in this galaxy."
Aoirtae shook her head in disbelief.
Aoirtae: "This is all happening too fast... I'm no one. I'm just Aoirtae, a worthless hunter from the ice plains. Nothing more."
Ryen placed a hand on Aoirtae's shoulder.
Ryen: "You have a kind and humble heart, Aoirtae and more power than you know."
His eyes twinkled.
Ryen: "As I said, I'm an excellent judge of charact-"
Suddenly, the ship was rocked by an explosion, throwing both Aoirtae and Ryen to the floor. Ryen was the first onto his feet, helping Aoirtae regain her footing.
Ryen: "What in blazes?!"
Chapter Four: Imperial Pursuit
Ryen and Aoirtae sprinted to the cockpit, where Kara was struggling to control the ship. Munalur was seated in the co-pilots seat, aiming and firing at the as yet unknown enemy.
Ryen: "Whose firing at us?!"
Kara: "Can't talk. Fancy flying."
The Mon Nahdar did not take his eye off the targeting computer.
Munalur: "It's not good. Two Imperial interceptors and a X-06i Rapax."
Ryen: "A Rapax? Someone important is on our tail it seems."
Flanked by two interceptors, the Rapax gave chase to the Auethnen Raptor, which narrowly escape two beams of energy fired from the Rapax.
Kara: "I need someone in the aft gunner seat! New girl, get on it!"
Aoirtae gave Kara an exaggerated salute. Running to the gunner seat located in the aft of the vessel, Aoirtae strapped herself in. The gunner seat ascended into a pod on the roof of the freighter. As if it had not dawned on her before now, Aoirtae exclaimed loudly. "Whoa... I'm in space!"
Suddenly, the roar of two Imperial Interceptors broke her immersion in the moment. Banking around, one of the interceptors fired on the Raptor, though the shields of the freighter managed to deflect the bolt. Kara's voice came screaming over the com.
Kara - What are you doing back there?! Are you going to fire back?!"
Arching around in the gunner seat, Aoirtae fixed her sights on the second of the Interceptors.
Aoirtae: "Come on... come on..."
Aoirtae fired the laser cannons. One of the bolts missed, through the second one shot right through the cockpit of the interceptor, shattering the craft to pieces. "Boo-yah!"
Kara: "Nice shot! The Rapax is coming around!"
In the distance, Aoirtae could see the Rapax. It resembled a doubled edged blade and was over three times as large as the smaller Imperial starfighters. Suddenly, a haughty, sharply accented voice echoed over the Raptor's com.
Unknown: "This is Inquisitorial Justiciar Vandalion. You are accused of sedition against the Empire and the destruction of Imperial property. Power down your vessel and prepare to be boarded. Failure to comply will result in your immediate destruction."
Aoirtae could hear Kara shout from the cockpit.
Kara: "Guys, I'm about to fail to comply. Get ready!"
Chapter Five: Guest of the Inquisitor
In the cockpit of the Raptor, Kara interacted with the ship's navicomputer.
Kara: "Prepare to make the jump to lightspeed!"
Pulling the throttle, the ship lurched but remained firmly in realspace. Kara slammed on the console.
Kara: "Come on... come on!"
Aoirtae looked around questionably.
Aoirtae: "Eh, was that supposed to happen?"
Suddenly, she heard a faint pop of air followed by a blinding flash of light. Where once she was in the gunner seat of the Raptor, she was now in a completely different location. Looking around, the location was clearly on board a starship, though it had far more clear cut edges and far less clutter. Back on the Raptor, Kara was preoccupied with the navicomputer, interacting with the display before finally detecting the source of the problem. The Imperials managed to damage the hyperdrive with a stray shot during the dockfight. "Munalur, help me with this! Master Ryen, pilot the ship!" Both the Mon Nahdar and the Osteola nodded. After several minutes of evading Imperial fire, Kara and Munalur finally repaired the damage and the Raptor jumped into hyperspace, escaping their Imperial hunters.
Aoirtae frantically searched the room, before finally the door opened, revealing a Basileus garbed in ceremonial robes and armour. The Basileus clasped his hands behind his back as he entered what became apparent was Aoirtae's cell.
Vandalion was not amused. He directed her to sit on a bland nearby bench.
Vandalion: "You have been translocated on board this vessel for questioning. What is your relationship with the occupants of this starship."
Holding up a holographic projector, an image of the Auethnen Raptor appeared. Despite intensely disliking her interrogator, Aoirtae saw no reason to lie.
Aoirtae: "I'm a passenger. They rescued me from a life on my homeworld."
Vandalion ignited an energy sword and held it to Aoirtae's neck.
Vandalion: "Irrelevant. Perhaps I should be more clear..."
Stepping away, Vandalion sat cross-legged on a nearby chair. His sword sheathed, the holographic image changed from the Raptor to one of Ryen.
Vandalion: "What do you know of this Osteola?"
Aoirtae: "I've never seen him before."
Vandalion sighed deeply.
Vandalion: "Simply cooperate and I will not have to resort to more unpleasant forms of interrogation."
Aoirtae: "If you wanted to kill me, I'd be dead already. I'm not telling you anything."
Vandalion: "What a shame. I recommend that you get comfortable, "madam Iovera". You may be here for a while."
The Inquisitor walked out of the cell, leaving Aoirtae alone with her thoughts.
Chapter Six: My Responsibility
Ryen sat on the sofa on the Raptor deep in thought. Munalur watched him carefully with a concerned expression etched on his face while Kara paced the room impatiently.
Kara: "How could she just disappear?!"
Ryen: "Hyperspatial translocation. Their beam bypassed our shields and locked onto the poor girl."
Munalur sank his head into his hands.
Munalur: "It's such a shame, I was really starting to like her. May her soul stay afloat on the river of the cosmos."
Kara, recognising the expression from her knowledge of Mon Nahdar culture, shook her head in disbelief.
Kara: "No, she's not dead! I can... feel her... I don't know. I just know that she's still alive."
Ryen looked up at his student with pride in his eyes.
Ryen: "Very good, Kara. Very good. You sense her continued existence. As do I. Your powers grow daily, my young friend."
Kara dismissed the remark.
Kara: "That's not important. We can't just leave her to Imperial torture and execution. Not on our account. We need to rescue her."
Munalur's large eyes bulged.
Munalur: "That Imperial was an Inquisitor, Kara! A Basileus Justiciar! I don't like it, but Republic Command would never agree to a rescue mission!"
Kara's voice became increasingly harsh.
Kara: "To the Chaos Realm with them, then. Aoirtae was captured on my ship, on my watch. I'm not abandoning her just because a few bureaucrats will be grumpy."
Ryen stood to his feet and placed a reassuring hand on Kara's shoulder.
Ryen: "Atta girl, Kara! I'll set a course now."
Munalur was still clearly uncomfortable with the decision.
Munalur: "I hope you know what you're doing."
He followed Ryen into the cockpit. Kara sighed.
Kara: "So do I."
Chapter Seven: Revelation of Vurdon
The Mines of Vurdon were some of the most feared locations in the Cyrannus Galaxy, used by the Empire to punish political dissidents or criminals working to undermine Imperial stability. The northern hemisphere of the planet housed the mines, while the lush and tropical southern hemisphere housed the Imperial puppet government operating under the Vurdonian Queen. Turning a mind eye to the suffering of those in the north, the Queen managed to turn Vurdon into one of the richest worlds in the sector, though blatantly defying galactic laws imposed by the United Republic of Cyrannus in the process. Fortunately for the Vurdonian government, the Empire saw itself above such moral contraints. The Imperatrix, the Rapax used by Inquisitor Vandalion, dropped out of lightspeed in orbit over the planet before setting down on one of the mining complexes on one of the northern continents. With Aoirtae in energy bindings, Vandalion and a trio of troopers stepped off the boarding ramp, where the full blast of the mine's heat hit Aoirtae.
Aoirtae: "What is this place?!"
Vandalion: "The mines of Vurdon. Your new..."
He adopted a sinister smile.
Vandalion: "... home."
He turned to one of the troopers.
Vandalion: "Take this scum to processing."
One of the troopers grabbed Aoirtae by the upper arm and began leading her away. Growling, she turned her head toward Vandalion.
Aoirtae: "Talk about pot calling the kettle black!"
Vandalion smiled, though without mirth as he turned back toward the Imperatrix. Entering his craft, the Basileus returned to the cockpit where he watched in sinsiter satisfaction as the young Ortella was dragged away. Aoirtae continued to struggle in the trooper's grasp, the sounds of screaming slaves in the mines growing increasingly louder.
Aoirtae: "Let go of me!"
Ignoring her, the trooper tightened his grip as he approached the sinister processing plant. Closing her eyes, Aoirtae suddenly felt a great burst of power flowing through her. Her eyes opened, ferocity and determination reflected in them.
Aoirtae: "-- Let me go! --"
A blast of energy erupted from her, blasting the trooper off of her as well as a dozen of nearby bystanders off their feet. She did not know where this strength came from, trembling slightly as the surrounding troopers and slaves regarded her with fear in their eyes. A nearby trooper managed to recover, raising his blaster at the new threat. Suddenly, the distinctive sound of a laser cannon firing was heard and the trooper became engulfed in a blast of fire. The Auethnen Raptor roared into view, blasting away enemy troopers as it descended toward one of the landing pads. Aoirtae, overwhelmed by the revelation that Ryen's words proved true, had collapsed onto the ground as the entire area was thrown into chaos.
Chapter Eight: Duel of Light and Dark
The Imperial troops took defensive formations in front of the Raptor as the hatch opened, revealing Ryen, Kara and Munalur. Kara was the first to fire, using her new found sharpshooting skills to gun down three troopers in close succession. Munalur employed a defensive shield around the Raptor as the Imperials responded, almost hitting Kara as she ducked for cover. Catching sight of Aoirtae on the ground in front of the processing plant, Ryen charged forth into action, brandishing his energy sword with frightning accuracy.
Ryen: "I'll get her! Stay within cover!"
Using blasts of energy to throw his enemies off their feet, Ryen rushed to Aoirtae's position. He could sense within her something new. Something different. Something powerful. But he placed such thoughts to the back of his mind as he slung her over his shoulder. Turning his head to a nearby group of slave children, he shouted to them.
Ryen: "Follow! But stay behind me!"
Visibly terrified the children did as he commanded, slowly making their way toward the Raptor. Suddenly, the way was blocked by a new arrival. Vandalion unsheathed his doubled edged energy sword, regarding Ryen with clear disdain.
Vandalion: "Your presence here is unexpected, "Master" Ryen. But it is not unwelcome. Your capture will please Lord Venatorius."
Ryen: "On the contrary. He will be disappointed that his lackey has failed."
Vandalion's eyes became filled with cold fury. Growling viciously, he lunged forward with his blade in hand, meeting Ryen's ignited blade in a hail of sparks. With a blast of energy, Ryen pushed Vandalion back slightly, though the wily Justiciar antipated it, and charged forward again, attacking with a primal savagery. At peace with himself, Ryen remained calm, effortlessly deflecting Vandalion's vicious blows with Aoirtae still hanging on his back. Suddenly, Vandalion jumped behind his opponent and began charging the slaves huddled nearby. His eyes widening, Ryen dropped Aoirtae to the ground and rushed to intercept the Basileus. Suddenly, Vandalion whirled on his feet and slashed Ryen across the chest. Though the wound was not fatal, he fell the ground but not before tossing his sword to Aoirtae, who was struggling to stand.
Laughing that his ploy worked, Vandalion was about to deal Ryen a finishing blow when suddenly, his blade was met with another. His eyes widened in surprise as they met with Aoirtae's, her eyes blazing with newfound power. Meeting him blow to blow, Aoirtae used her skills gained hunting on Andustar to her advantage, almost overpowering the Inquisitor with her attacks. In the distance, the Inquisitor managed to catch a glimpse of Kara and Munalur rushing forward, blasters in hand. His attention distracted, he failed to deflect one of Aoirtae's powerful blows, knocking him to the ground and throwing his sword off the edge of the platform.
Aoirtae: "Enough, jerk!"
Though visibly infuriated, Vandalion laughed as he heard a familiar sound approach. On the horizon, three Imperial dropships appeared, all of which packed full of Imperial troopers. Getting to his feet, Ryen clutched his wound and gestured to Kara and Munalur to lead the children to the Raptor. Knowing that she could end his life at any minute, Aoirtae sheathed Ryen's sword and incapacitated the Inquisitor with a stun bolt from her trusty energy bow. As the Imperial dropships began landing, the crew of the Raptor entered the ship and blasted off into space, leaving the inhospitable world far behind them.
Chapter Eight: A New Life Awaits
Throttling through hyperspace, the Raptor finally entered Republic territory. In the med bay, Ryen was recovering well under Munalur's tending, leaving Aoirtae and Kara alone in the mess room.
Kara: "That was incredibly... wow. I'm impressed, Aoirtae."
Aoirtae: "I-I didn't even know I could do that!"
Kara nodded knowingly as she sat on the sofa.
Kara: "I know the feeling. A couple of years back I was involved in an incident in the Royal Palace of Rambo Nation. A friend of mine was hit in the chest. A mortal wound. I just sort of... knew... that I could help her. So I did. I felt some kind of energy pouring through me and I... I healed the wound."
Aoirtae felt a new found affinity for Kara as she told her tale. As she listened, it suddenly occured to her that this was the first true conversation she had with a person her own age.
Kara: "My dad is kinda a big deal, you know, bit of a dweeb, too. Thinks he's cooler than he actually is. Anyway, he knew about Ryen's abilities and asked him to watch over me once I left home. I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm still a little girl. Lets just say he wasn't the biggest fan of my career choice."
Aoirtae: "I never knew my parents. Not really, anyway."
Kara nodded solemnly.
Kara: "You mentioned slavers killed them, right?"
Aoirtae: "Yeah. Consider yourself lucky that your dad is still around... and that he watches over you."
Kara: "Don't worry, I know he does. My mother died when I was a girl too. It seems that we have a lot in common in that regard..."
Ryen entered the room, apparently fully healed.
Ryen: "Bonding are we? Good. You'll be spending a lot of time together over the course of your training."
Kara groaned theatrically.
Kara: "You totally ruined the moment."
Ryen chuckled as he sat beside Kara and Aoirtae.
Ryen: "If our new friend agrees, of course."
Aoirtae smiled emphatically.
Aoirtae: "Are you kidding? Despite all the horrible stuff that has happened to me over the past few days, this is the first time I feel like I truly belong. Of course I'd like to train under you!"
Ryen: "Excellent, excellent! Precisely as my master foresaw. Munalur, set immediate course for Aldár! A new life awaits!"
Epilogue: The Stage is Set
In the cockpit of the Imperatrix, Vandalion activated a hologram. A humanoid figure appeared, adorned in frightning black armour with an equally intimidating dark mask hiding crimson skin. The Inquisitorial Justiciar bowed his head in deference.
Vandalion: "Lord Venatorius, please excuse the intrusion. In the course of my duties in the Outer Rim, I have encountered a Republic vessel no doubt disguised as a smuggling freighter for operations in Imperial space. I gave chase and captured a young Ortella. She proved to be... stronger than I expected. Strong in the manner you mentioned to myself and my fellow Inquisitors. I did not realise her powers unti-"
Venatorius' deep, emotionless voice cut across the Inquisitor.
Venatorius: "Do not waste my time with irrelevant details, Inquisitor."
Vandalion bowed his head quickly, his voice cracked.
Vandalion: "M-my apologies, my Lord. This girl, this "Aoirtae", she was in the company of the individual known as Master Ryen. I utilised his compassion for the slaves of Vurdon to defeat him in a duel, but the girl and her friends prevented me from delieving the killing blow. They escaped in their ship and despite my best efforts to track them, they have disappeared from our scanners."
Venatorius folded his arms across his chest.
Venatorius: "It is as the Dark Lord predicted. Thus begins our first true test."
Venatorius lowered his voice to one of contempt.
Venatorius: "This was but the first act of the play. The stage is set, the pieces in place. All that now remains is who will make the first move."