Aldár was a world present in the mythologies of many cultures in the Cyrannus Galaxy, known by many names from Caelestes by the Libertus to Tolan'on by the Osteola. Though accounts of the planet differed, tales of a bright and shining world teaming with life and bathed in golden light were quite true. For over a year, Aoirtae and Kara have trained under Master Ryen amongst the wilderness of the planet from their base of operations within an ancient temple located on a buff overlooking the vast expanse of forest which covered most of the planet.
"Your mind is clouded, my friend. Breathe calmly and banish troubles from your mind", Ryen said to Aoirtae, as she sat cross-legged in the midst of a clearing in the forest with Kara.
"I'm trying, Ryen, but I keep seeing things... Visions of far-off places and a deep voice telling me to seek him out."
Kara smirked. "Looks like someone finally managed to break into Ryen's stash of Taracondaron brandy."
Aoirtae shot Kara a "shut up" look, before sighing. "I can't explain it."
A silence fell between the trio, interupted by a soft cuckle from Ryen.
"It is time for your second major trial, Aoirtae."
Standing to their feet, Kara and Aoirtae looked thoroughly confused. Aoirtae scratched her head. "Second major trial? Err... when was my first?"
"When you defeated that Basileus jerk on Vurdon, I guess." Kara said with a small huff. Ryen placed a hand on her shoulder.
"We all face our trials when the time is right, Kara, and not always when we expect or desire them. For four years I have trained you both on this world, and yet as I'm sure you are both aware, many secrets lie hidden within the forests, below the waters of the lake and amongst the towering peaks. Your time to face your trial approaches, Kara."
Kara smiled. "I'm not jealous, Master. I know my time will come."
Ryen regarded his student with pride. "Now, come my students. I believe that's enough training for one day."
The walk back to the ancient monastery took the trio through the verdant forests before finally reaching the clearing upon which the temple stood. Ryen once told them that the temple was home to an ancient order of monks which believed that Aldár was the wellspring of all Light in the cosmos. Indeed, Kara and Aoirtae often wondered what became of these monks, as for four years it appeared that the only sentient beings on the planet were Ryen, Aoirtae and Kara, in addition to occassional visits by Munalur, who continued to use the Auethnen Raptor while Kara and Aoirtae trained on the planet. That evening, Aoirtae made her way to the pinnacle of the temple's tallest tower, where she overlooked the nearby lake.
Though it had been four years since she left her home on Andustar, she never failed to appreciate the beauty of the water. Closing her eyes, she was illuminated by the light of Aldár's moons while the sound of distant crashing waves and animal life filled her ears. Suddenly, a deep voice was heard, the same as that which she heard before. "Young one, come to me. Come to me."
Aoirtae rose to her feet and looked around, but saw nobody. "Show yourself!"
"Fear not, young one. I am a friend. Find me atop the Peak of Ages. There, your true test begins..." The voice trailed off into the night wind, leaving Aoirtae with her thoughts.
Chapter Two: The Path to the Peak
The next morning, Aoirtae holstered a sack over her shoulder. Though she was tempted to inform Kara and Ryen of her journey, she knew deep down that this was her task to complete. With the sun slowly rising behind her, she began her trek. Though she was not familiar with the "Peak of Ages", something within her knew that it was the massive mountain situated just south of the temple grounds. As she passed the shores of the lake, she panted deeply.
"And to think, I wanted this to be a big-deal-spirtual-journey kind of trek... I would kill for a starship right about now."
Taking a slug of water from a flash, she stood to her feet once more. Taking one last look at the mountain ahead, she sighed. "Just ten thousand more steps to go..."
By the time she reached the base of the mountain, the sun was already setting. The path before her was steep and fraught with peril, and yet at the summit she could make out what appeared to be an artificial structure of some kind. "I take it this is the right place."
"Hmm, nice, hrmm", a mysterious and elderly voice said from behind her.
Twirling around on her feet, Aoirtae activated her blade and pointed it at the unexpected arrival. He was a small, green figure with large ears and a walking stick. "Jeez! Don't sneak up on me like that, lil guy! I almost took your head off!"
The green creature smiled and gestured with his hand, to Aoirtae's surprise her blade flew out of her hands and into a nearby bush. "Hey!"
The creature leaned with his two arms on his stick. "Hmm, powerful weapon, yes. What brings you to the mountian, young one?"
Aoirtae hesitated. "Err... a voice in my head told me to come here."
The creature looked surprised and beckoned her to follow him while they went up the slope.
"Ah, a voice, ehmm. Sounds a bit strange, hmm?"
Aoirtae laughed as both she and the creature walked together. "Now that you mention it, yup, it certainly does. So, what's your name, little guy?"
The creature chuckled before replying, his voice sounded tired, ancient yet a little bold as well. "Hmm, Aenaró. That is my name, yes, young Aoirtae."
Aoirtae nodded. "Nice to meet you, Aenaró. Know anything about this mountain?" She smiled for a moment. "You don't happen to know if any deep-voiced mind-invaders live here, do you?"
Aenaró laughed at the comment and the two talked for another hour or so, until Aenaró reached a point where he had to sit down and get some rest.
"Hmm, rest I need, not young like you am I."
Aoirtae reached into her bag and pulled out a bar of Virgon chocolate. Handing it over to Aenaró, she smiled sweetly. "Thank you, Aenaró. Have this, on me."
Aenaró smiled at the sweet comment. Leaning on a fallen tree, he ate part of the chocolate and sighed. Pointing his stick further up the mountain, where a natural stair case could be seen, "Now go, I cannot follow. I shall wait for your return."
"If you say so. Take care of yourself, alright?"
Aenaró watched her walk the slope of the mountain until she was out of sight. While focused on Aoirtae he spoke: "Hmm, you think she is the one?"
Chapter Three: The Dragon
When Aoirtae reached the final stair, she overlooked the landscape. She could see for kilometres, making out the speck of the massive Aldárae Temple in the distance below while soft snow-fall began falling around her. She was suddenly reminded of her icy home, though such thoughts were interupted by the sound of a loud flapping noise. Looking above, Aoirtae's sight was obscured by a massive beast descending from the skies.
The beast landed a short distance away, folding his wings along its massive reptilian body. Though it appeared fearsome, at the same time, Aoirtae did not feel threatened. Nevertheless, she reacted with surprise when the beast spoke.
"You have arrived at last. Welcome to my sanctuary," the dragon said, his voice deep and wise. "I am Du'utahrovin, Master of the Aldárae."
Aoirtae was in awe of Du'utahrovin's majesty. "Y-you're not what I expected, Master..."
"No? What is it that you expected, my young friend?"
"Someone less... dragon-y, I suppose..."
Du'utahrovin huffed, though it was clear that he was amused. "A fair point. I am, as my father made me. It is true that many are surprised by my appearance, though I admit that I have not had the pleasure of speaking with another in person for many centuries. I hope that you will forgive me if prolong our speech."
"That's no problem. My master told me I could talk the Emperor to death," Aoirtae said, at ease with the ancient dragon. "Speaking of which, I take it you know Ryen? And Aenar? He mentioned my name before I introduced myself, so I'm assuming someone told him about me."
Du'utahrovin nodded his giant head. "It is true, I have the ability to speak in the minds of others. Aenaró and Ryen are good friends from a time long past, though I have yet to meet Ryen in person."
Aoirtae sat down in the snow, crossing her legs as if to meditate. "So, you asked me to come here and here I am. What would you have me do?"
Du'utahrovin flexed his giant wings. "All in good time, Aoirtae. Tell me, why is it that you walk this path? What is it that you seek to do?"
Aoirtae thought to herself for a moment, her voice suddenly growing hoarse as floods of memories filled her mind, from the death of her parents at the hands of slavers to the treatment of the slaves on Vurdon by the Empire. "I need to stop the Empire. I want to protect those who cannot protect themselves. I want to ensure that the darkness cannot overcome the light."
"A good an answer as any. I must say, I admire your clarity. I envy it in fact." Trailing off for a moment, Du'utahrovin suddenly changed his tone. "Your path is true, young one. You are ready to face your final test. If you look over there," Du'utahrovin indicated to a nearby cave. "You will face your destiny."
"Oh right. Because the dark and scary cave isn't dark and scary enough."
Chapter Five: The Cave
Entering the cave, Aoirtae looked around, scrutinising her surroundings closely for any sign of danger. The only sounds that she could hear were her own footsteps and the distant howling of the wind atop the mountain. Deeper and deeper into the cave, it became far colder than the snow-capped mountain, prompting Aoirtae to reach into her bag of supplies, pull out a heavy coat from her days on Andustar and pull it over her shoulders.
Walking carefully, Aoirtae was sure to keep an eye out for danger in this dark and mysterious abyss. Though she could explain why, she felt herself drawn deeper and deeer within, as if something was compelling her to move along even as the cold grew more and more unbearable.
Suddenly, she had advanced to the point where the light from the outside world had disappeared completely.
Suddenly, she felt a presence in the vicinity. Heavy footsteps approached. Caught up in the irrationality of the moment, Aoirtae called out. "Hello? Aenar? Ryen?"
Drawing a deep breath, she turned back in the direction of the entrance to the cave, though reconsidered and called out again. "Who's there?!"
The footsteps continued to approach, but no response came. Attempting to peer into the darkness, Aoirtae could make out a red haze in the near distance. This aura of crimson energy suddenly coelessed into a terrifying ghostly figure, adorned in long black robes while a haunting mask covered its face. Illuminated by his blade, the Phaedric LordVenatorius held out his hand toward Aoirtae, as if to beckon her to fight.
"Come and face me."
Though terrified, Aoirtae charged forth with her blade in hand. Sidesteeping, Venatorius grabbed Aoirtae by the neck and held her up to his masked face, the crimson glow of his eyes visible through his visor.
"You are unprepared. Undisciplined. It shall be your undoing."
Tossing her to the ground, he approached menacingly. Grabbing her blade, Aoirtae jumped to her feet and over her assailant, though was unable to prevent the counterattack. With one gesture of his hand, Venatorius telekinetically grabbed Aoirtae by the neck.
"Overconfident. Now, die."
Just as Venatorius was about to swipe his blade across Aoirtae, she telekinetically pushed him away. The apparition sped through the air before finally disappearing into the cave wall. Panting as she recovered from the ordeal, Aoirtae suddenly heard a chorus of whispers emanating from a cavern ever deeper within the cave. Though it was clear to the young woman that she was descending, the cave appeared to grow ever brighter until finally she arrived in a large open area which appeared to be a dead end. From the fog emerged two humanoid figures, one male and the other female. As they grew closely, Aoirtae immediately recognised them. They were neither ghost nor flesh, she could see that. As they moved toward her, on each face developed a loving smile.
"Mum!? Dad!? Is that really you?" Rushing forward with a bright smile, Aoirtae attempted to jump into the arms of her parents, who wore warm expressions on their faces. To her horror however, she moved right through them as if they weren't there.
"We're so proud of you, sweetheart." Aoirtae's mother said, her crystal eyes swimming with tears. She searched her face hungrily as though she would never be able to look at her enough.
Wiping a tear from her eye, Aoirtae frantically looked from her mother and her father for some sort of explanation. "W-what is this? How are you here!?"
Aoirtae's father attempted to place a hand on his daughter's shoulder, but due to his incorporeality, could not do so. The man sighed as he regarded his daughter. "We've never left, my little girl."
The apparitions slowly began to fade into nothingness.
"No! No, come back! I-I'm not ready!"
Aoirtae's mother gave one last, encouraging smile, tears falling down her face. "And we never will."
Chapter Six: The Spirit of the Past
Her mind swimming with errant thoughts, Aoirtae began to make her way back to the exit of the cave. As she walked, what appeared to be a swarm of fireflies appeared before her, golden light emanating from the centre of the swarm. Investigating the phenomena, Aoirtae quickly realised that the lights were not insects, from rather orbs of the purest energy imaginable. Approaching the orbs, she attempted to touch one only to be interupted by a voice emanating from the beyond.
"Follow the Light, Aoirtae. The Light. It will be your guide."
"W-what? Wh- Am I losing my mind?!"
"No, my new friend. No." The voice was deep and ethereal. The orbs of light danced around in the air, leading Aoirtae through the cave. "You have faced great trials, young one. Are you ready to face what lies ahead?"
As she walked, Aoirtae closed her eyes. Memories of her encounter with the Inquisitor, her training with Ryen and her experiences in the cave flooded her mind. "I-I don't know."
"The path ahead is yours alone to choose."
Aoirtae stopped and scrutinised the light. "Who are you anyway?"
"A guide, nothing more, nothing less."
"That isn't very specific."
The light continued to guide Aoirtae through the cave. "I exist where there is no future, no present and no past."
"I don't suppose you know what the deal is with this cave, do you?"
"A good question. A nexus, of sorts. If you give power to that which you fear, it presents itself. As it did with the servant of the Dark Lord and your parents."
The lights suddenly stopped dancing in the air. "Now, you must face that which you could not face before. Stay strong, and know that the Light will always be with you."
Just as Aoirtae was about to reply, the lights disappeared, leaving her alone in a dark cavern of the cave. Suddenly, images began flashing before her eyes as a cloud of dark energy began swirling around her.
The Helm of Venatorius. Ryen, smiling. Kara in the cockpit of the Auethnen Raptor, injured. A battle over a city world. A lush planet ripped in half by a unknown force. Apollo slamming his fist on a desk. A familiar voice echoed. "We do not have to be... enemies." Massive destroyers falling from the skies. The very galaxy engulfed by war.
From the fires, the spectral image of Emperor Tyrómairon arose, towering above Aoirtae and glaring down with utter contempt. "The Republic will die... as will your pathetic Aldaráe Order..."
As the images began to fade, Aoirtae, overwhelmed, collapsed to the ground. As her eyes began to close, she heard the comforting voice of the light. "There is always hope... even in the darkest times..."