Aoirtae Valaeris looked around with wonder in her eyes. All around her, the intense light which had permeated her surroundings dimmed, replaced by a verdant forest not unlike those she trained in on Aldár. In front of her, a gentle stream appeared, filling the air with the sound of flowing water. Her eyes became fixed on Apolithanatár, who sat down on a nearby log, contently sighing as he listened to the sounds of the world around him. "Ah, that's better. I trust you haven't come for a little chat, have you, my young friend?"
Aoirtae smiled awkwardly. "N-no, I'm afraid not. I've... heard a lot about you!"
Apolithanatár's eyes twinkled. "Oh, do tell. All good, I hope?" He pat the log for her to sit down. Still somewhat surprised by Apolithanatár's demeanor, Aoirtae sat down with a smile. "Well, my master called you the Lord of Eternal Starlight and that only you can defeat the Dark Lord. That's... pretty good, right?"
Apolithanatár placed his hand on his head in mock frustration. "Bah, the "Lord of Eternal Starlight", what a mouthful! I much prefer Apolithanatár. Do not mistake me, I have the utmost respect for our mutual friend Du'utahrovin, though I am no "Lord". I am a guide and a teacher, my friend." He leaned toward her, with a conspiratorial tone in his voice. "Far more useful titles, if you ask me."
Aoirtae laughed, still somewhat surprised that she could feel so much at ease with an ancient Ultraterrestrial. "I was sent here by the Zevian Skull, apparently I'm supposed to... return you to Aldár to help us in our fight against the Emperor."
Apolithantár sighed. "And so the time has come." With a snap of his fingers, the environment suddenly changed. Where once was the verdant forest, now stood the grand columns of the Aldárae Temple, though to Aoirtae's surprise, it showed no evidence of the devastation caused by the battle, which in her mind, had ended only a few short hours previously. Sunlight bathed her surroundings with golden light, with holographic representations of individuals both ancient and contemporary decorating the walls. To her shock, she saw a hologram of her own profile. "... how long have I been away?"
A familiar voice came from behind. "A-aoirtae? You're alive!" Kara Inviá rushed forward and hugged her tightly. "You've been gone for over two years, everyone thought you were dead!"
Before Aoirtae could have the time to answer, Kara's gaze became fixated on her companion. Apolithanatár, who stood slightly higher than a Miluiel, glanced down at the Libertus and smiled. "The First Elda was wise to see a bright future for your kind, young one."
Kara stared at the new arrival blankly. "... Thank you? I honestly never thought I'd meet a real Oikoumene, least of all, the Lord of Light. Master Ryen will want to hear about this!"
With Kara leading the way, Aoirtae and Apolithanatár walked down the corridors of the Temple. To Aoirtae's surprise, it was inhabited by many dozens of individuals, from a wide range of species from across the Cyrandia Cluster and beyond, some serving as librarians in the local archives, others as doctors and healers and more still as scientists and explorers. The Temple itself, a beacon of learning quite different from the abandoned ruin she had inhabited during her training. When they reached the central chamber, they were welcomed by Ryen, who greeted Aoirtae with a warm hug. Indeed, she was surprised, and somewhat touched, that his attention did not snap to the Oikoumene standing beside her.
"Aoirtae, my dear Aoirtae, I knew that you were safe! I do train them well, after all! I told the others, I told them, I said, "my Aoirtae has the strength of will to survive anything the Skull could throw at her!" But where are my manners? Tea? Caff? Or something stronger! Taracondoran brandy, perhaps!" Ryen began fussing around with nearby mugs, before Aoirtae hugged him tightly.
"... Master, it's good to see you, but you have noticed the big, shiny Oikoumene at the door, right?" Ryen blinked twice before turning his head to the door. Apolithanatár held up his hand in greeting, causing Ryen to almost collapse to his chair.
A look of concern appeared on Apolithanatár's face. "Is the poor fellow alright?"
Ryen managed to compose himself, rising to his feet and bowing his head in respect. "By the stars above! Apolithanatár, the Lord of Light... what a day, what a day! I must gather the others!"
Chapter Two: The Council Meeting
The Chamber of the Ethelnór Aldaráe, the council that oversaw the Order, was a small and humble circular room, the walls of which were covered in vines and flowering plants, while opening up into the sky above, a faint representation of the galaxy circling above them. Looking around at the assembled masters, Aoirtae recognised some, such as Aenaró and Du'utahrovin, who sat perched on the top of the wall, though most were unknown to her, including a particularly dour looking alien holding a spear-like staff. All eyes in the room were focused on Apolithanatár, who regarded each and everyone in turn with fascination in his eyes.
The distinctive laugh of Aenaró was the first to break the silence. "Hehe! Hrm, a joyous day!"
Du'utahrovin outstretched his wings, his voice somewhat lyrical. "From the Dark, arises the Light, defender of knowledge, keeper of life, he who would stand against the night, will find strength through the will of Eternal Starlight. As true now, as it was when it was written. I bid thee, welcome, Lord of Light. May your wisdom guide our Order in the long night to come."
Aoirtae glanced at Apolithanatár, who appeared genuinely rueful. "My wisdom loosed damnation upon the cosmos. A Pyrrhic solution to an eternal problem. All I had in the quiet of my eternal slumber was my dream of those we left behind, those I abandoned should the Vectors of Chaos and Order rise again. The time of the Oikoumene has ended. Ad Infisacyran should belong to you all. I regret that not all of my kin see it that way."
"In my time, our races believed your kind to be divine. Gods among aliens. But millions of years imprisoned by the Children have made me revalue my faith." In his seat, Vanikaimar's tone was cynical and pessimistic. While he joined the Order following the recent defeat of the Neraida Gigamatrix, he was visibly not too impressed by Apolithanatár's presence.
"Oikoumene are not gods. We can be strong, though also weak, foolish. The cosmos must be made whole again. I will rectify my mistake and I will ensure that Ad Infisacyran is free to follow a new path, one free from the machinations of the First Born." Apolithanatár sighed deeply. "I apologise for my sombre demeanor, my friends, though I must learn what I can about this time. To calculate the destruction caused by my adjudication."
The Nagith spoke once again. "You speak of all this as if you were aware it would happen. Yet you have done nothing about it?"
Just as Du'utahrovin was about open his mouth to admonish Vanikaimar's tone before the Lord of Light, Apolithanatár held up his hand. "There are some things that I cannot reveal. Secrets that must remain unknown. My kind walked these stars before the Apotheosis, after which, we did not. We swore we would not interfere. Guide, yes, but not change the natural destiny of species. Did I know the Vectors of Chaos and Order would rise again? Perhaps. An Oikoumene can see much, realities in which events unfold quite differently. Whether or not I was aware of these events is inconsequential. I could not act from my sanctuary. I could not leave, lest someone reach out from the skull, slip the bonds of Aldár and bring me forth."
Du'utahrovin nodded knowingly. "It is through the eye that they will know themselves." Vanikaimar merely crossed his arms in contemplation as he did not question the Oikoumene any further.
Turning to leave the room, Apolithanatár placed a hand on Aoirtae's shoulder. "Thank you, young one. You have granted me the chance for atonement. I shall not forget that." Flashing the group a sorrowful smile, Apolithanatár dematerialised into the orbs of light similar to those Aoirtae encountered during her training, floating up into the sky above.
Kara placed her hands on her hips. "Well, I can honestly say that this wasn't what I was expecting when I woke up this morning."
The Ethelnór Aldaráe discussed Apolithanatár's return at length, with some claiming that the time had finally come to openly challenge Emperor Tyrómairon and his Phaedric Order. After all, the galaxy was clearly marching toward the seemingly inevitable outbreak of galactic war. As they debated the Order's next move, the Ethelnór received an emergency transmission. A holographic image of a Libertus appeared in the centre of the room, to Kara's shock, it was her father, Senator Apollo of the New Republic.
"This is an emergency transmission from the Republic corvette, Redemption, Senator Apollo of Capricaerón here. If you're receiving this transmission, there may be hope. The ship is disabled in orbit over Rihanae. I have discovered that the Imperial Inquisition has destabilized the Rihanaen peace process in an attempt to foment a separatist push in the New Republic's Eastern Borderland Alliance. I don't have long before they discover we're still alive, so please, Master Ryen, a-nyone, you're our only ho-"
The transmission suddenly ended. Kara jumped to her feet, her sarcasm doing little to hide her concern. "I cannot leave that man alone for five minutes... I'll be on the Raptor. Anyone who wants to help out, that'd be great."
Master Aenaró spoke up. "Please, young one, have a care! This could very well be a tra-" Before he could finish, he was interrupted by Vanikaimar, who frowned as he spoke. "You are but a child. Unfit for combat. Should this be dangerous, you will die. Leave such missions for warriors."
Kara narrowed her eyes dangerously. "Why do we let the frozen fossil speak, again?"
Aoirtae groaned. "This isn't the time for insults. I'm coming with you." She interupted Ryen pre-emptively. "I know, I know. I've been gone for, what, two years? For me, it's been a few hours. There'll be time to catch up when I get back." The Nagith, meanwhile, nodded his head disapprovingly. "Two children will not get the job done. Who is this child? I have never even seen her before. I do not know what to expect."
Ryen looked at Aoirtae with pride. "This child defeated Morgandaur, bane of the Quadrants, my Nagith friend. Perhaps you could join them. I am sure that my students will meet even your high standards."
Kara groaned theatrically. "I don't care who comes, so long as we go now!" The Nagith appeared annoyed at the thought of having to 'babysit' the two young women, but he rose from his seat and approached Kara. "If Master Ryen requests it, then I shall do so. Let us get this done."
Chapter Three: Encounter at Rihanae
The Auethnen Raptor exited hyperspace close to Rihanae, the homeworld of the Rihanaen and the former capital of the Rihanae Pact, as well as the Regellis Star Empire in Cyrannus. From what Kara knew about the planet, it was a hub of commercial activity to the lesser known species in this sector of the Unknown Regions, yet it appeared that the entire system was empty of other vessels, including the Consular, the diplomatic vessel utilised by Apollo since his days as Proconsul of the Republic.
Moving her way to the cockpit, Kara sat next to her trusted copilot Munalur, who was fixated on the small viewscreen. "It doesn't make any sense. I visited this world on my last trip from Republic space to Aldár. The system was teeming with ships."
Kara nodded with a raised brow, while Aoirtae and Vanikaimar sat down on the two seats located behind the control consoles. The Nagith decided to voice his opinion on the matter. "If there were ships before and they are gone now, there are only two explanations. They were ordered to another location, or they have evacuated."
"Still, it's damned odd. Kara said, before leaning forward and cocking an eye on the real-time image of the system. The glowing representation of a ship had suddenly appeared. "Where did he come from... cloaking technology?"
Suddenly, the ship unleashed a volley of plasma toward the Auethnen Raptor, which lanced across space. "By the star-river, they're attacking us!" Munalur said.
Aoirtae stared at the ship icon for a moment, before finally speaking, as if to herself. "A warning shot. I thought Rihanae had joined the Republic?"
"Some did, but many didn't. These guys must be those opposed to Republic membership. I believe Senator Apollo was attempting to reach a compromise between the two sides." Munalur replied, turning to face the group, just as the craft decloaked once again. "I am not familiar with these names. But the attacker has revealed themselves." Vanikaimar spoke as he pointed forward, to the decloaked ship. It appeared directly in front of the Raptor, the distinctive green hull identifying it as a warbird utilised by the self-proclaimed Rihanaen Empire, formed in the aftermath of the Sacking of Rihanae during the New Cyrandia Wars. A male voice sounded over the Raptor's intercom.
"You have violated Rihanaen space! We have claimed this system in the name of the glorious Rei'praetore, Xem Tcahlaer. You are unwelcome here. Leave in peace, or we will destroy you."
Aoirtae huffed under her breath. "Reasonable." Kara cleared her voice before replying. "We received a distress call from a high-ranking Republic Senator in this system. We aren't leaving without him."
Another lance of plasma shot across the Raptor's hull. "You will not leave at all, if you fail to acknowledge our warnings." Vanikaimar frowned on his seat. "It appears we have discovered your Senator's captors. These aliens are the culprits."
Blocking the transmission, Kara turned to face the others. "Dad's on board that ship. I know it. We need to board it. Suggestions?"
Aoirtae sighed as she closed her eyes. "Not a suggestion... B-but, in his transmission, Apollo said that he discovered that the Inquisition destabilized the Rihanaen peace process. It sounds crazy, but I think I sense Vandalion there too." She smiled. "The size of his ego must be interfering with the cloaking device." With this being said, Vanikaimar spoke once more. "Then find and eliminate this Vandalion.... Or better yet, take him to Áldar. We may interrogate him over his goals."
Aoirtae nodded, before continuing. "The ship's shields will be weak for a couple of seconds after it decloaks. That could be our opportuinity." She smiled when the ship cloaked again, before decloaking closer still to the Raptor. Squinting close to the viewscreen, Munalur took control of the Raptor's engines, evaded a third plasma lance before hurtling the Raptor full speed toward the Rihanaen ship. After a few moments, the two ships were flying side-by-side, the limited arc of the Rihanaen's weapons preventing them from firing so long as the Raptor maintained its current range. While Munalur remained at the helm, Aoirtae, Kara and Vanikaimar rushed toward the Raptor's sole escape pod, which soon blasted out from its socket and toward the Rihanaen ship. Smashing through into the sole hangar of the vessel, the pod crashed into the far wall before falling to the deck. When the pod door opened, the trio burst free with weapons in hand, preparing for the inevitable resistance.
Chapter Four: An Old Friend
Bright green lances of energy skipped across the hangar floor toward the occupants of the escape pod, who charged forward toward the detention level. The humanoid Rihanaen, clearly unaccustomed to such a brazen attack fell quickly to the superior skill of Aoirtae, Kara and Vanikaimar. The two young women fought off the Rihanaen with the use of the powers they developed from their training in the Order, with the humanoids finding themselves suddenly thrown away or blasted by waves of mysterious energy. Vanikaimar, however, had a much more direct approach as he used his superior strength and his bladed staff to make quick work of the Rihanaen soldiers.
By the time they reached the detention level, they discovered that a single cell was in use. While Vanikaimar opened it using a console at the central control panel, Aoirtae and Kara entered it to find Senator Apollo and Doctor Dané Elenya in the center of the cell, clearly roughed up from the interrogation and the destruction caused to the Consular. Rushing forward to free him, Kara noticed the deactivated chassis of the Adjunct in the corner of the cell, while Gorf laid down next to it, curled in a fetal position while letting out a continuous, high pitched scream.
Hugging her father closely, Kara helped him to his feet. "Dad! You're alright!"
"Ow, that smarts." Apollo said, nursing his injured shoulder. "The Inquisitor boarded the Redemption, killed Senator Tanarr-Nuin and captured us. I'm pretty sure they blew up my damn ship too, not to mention they messed up the Adjunct. Poor little guy was disabled with some weird Inquisitorial dark energy or something."
Aoirtae released Doctor Elenya's restraints and helped her to her feet. Dané looked back at Apollo with a raised eyebrow. "We'll first of all..." She cleared her throat. "I'm sure it wasn't some weird Inquisitorial dark energy."
Apollo blinked. "Looked pretty weird to me." Dané sighed. "No-"
"You didn't think it looked weird?"
Dané placed her hand on her hip, the two speaking almost over one another. "What happened was, is that he managed to interfere with the Adjunct's internal processes."
"But how do you think he did that?"
"Well I don't know how he did it, but you can't explain everything unexplainable by calling it weird energ-"
"-I can't believe you think he disabled the Adjunct, a hyperadvanced AI using anything other than a weird dark energy. He doesn't have a magic turn-off switch."
"I didn't say anything about a magic switch, Aedanius, no, I'm just saying that we don't know that it was dark energ-"
"But you saw it, you saw-"
Dané raised her finger. "Oh, no, no, no. Remember, I was unconscious... and when I woke up, there was no dark energ-"
While Apollo and Dané bickered, Aoirtae approached Gorf. "Are you alright, little guy?" The blue creature immediately stopped screaming as he then stood up. "Better now. No uglies in sight. So ugly they made Gorf scream."
Doctor Elenya sighed before thanking Aoirtae and Kara. "It's a miracle you received our transmission. The Adjunct had just enough power after whatever that Basileus punk did to him to relay it to Aldár."
"Yes", came a sinister voice from the entrance to the cell, causing Aoirtae's skin to crawl. "How fortunate." Inquisitor Vandalion ignited his blade and approached the group menacingly, his gaze fixed on Aoirtae. "Our bout on Vurdon was rudely cut short, girl. Thankfully, the Empire's Rihanaen thralls provided the perfect opportunity for our reunion." The cell door shut behind him as he continued to approach.
Aoirtae ignited her blade. "If I remember correctly, you weren't that much of a challenge."
Aoirtae spun her blade, deflecting a slash from Vandalion, before twirling sideways to avoid another. The Inquisitor suddenly unsheathed a blaster rifle, using it to fire an arc of plasma which Kara managed to dissipate in a wave of energy. Aoirtae stood her ground, her legs planted in an aggressive stance, barely flinching at the Inquisitor's shots as they lanced past her head.
"Why are you doing this?" She demanded, her voice cracked though confident. "What did we ever do to deserve this?"
The Inquisitor smiled sadistically. "With every breath, you defy the Emperor, with every act, your order poisons the galaxy, threatens our hard-fought peace and order. I will not rest until the Republic is dead and gone. Starting with you."
Her eyes narrowed, Aoirtae charged forward, with a ferocity which took all of the Inquisitor's focus to deflect. With grace and fury, she thrusted and clashed at the Inquisitor's defenses, though failed to anticipate his move when he feigned an opening, causing her to stab at his side, only to be met with Vandalion's hand on her weapon's hilt. With a single motion, he flung it and Aoirtae to the ground, before lifting his lanced blade to finish the job. "Ready to die?"
As he was about to downward thrust the blade into his helpless foe, he was thrown off guard by an energised blast from Kara's finger tips. Using his blade to deflect most of the energy, Vandalion sneered toward the young Libertus. "You'll need to be faster than that."
As he raised his weapon once again, he suddenly heard the vibration of heavy footfalls from behind, with his blade's tip stopped in midair by Vanikaimar's lance. "I see the Basileus have survived to this time period. And I also see they retained their infernal hubris."
Vandalion spun to meet the new arrival, firing a volley toward the Nagith with his rifle. They failed to penetrate the ancient's incredibly advanced shielding, and he retaliated by swinging his lance at the Basileus, aiming for his torso as to overwhelm him. Through ragged breaths, Vandalion growled, "You shall not defeat... me."
Vanikaimar's eyes narrowed as, with a swift blow, he disarmed the Basileus and thrust a hand forward, grabbing him by the neck and lifting him up to his eye level. "I already have. You are now under custody."
Kara helped Aoirtae to her feet, before grinning broadly. "Not bad, old man." As he kept the Inquisitor immobilized, a faint smile grew on the Nagith's face. "Those thousands of years of experience had to be useful for something."
Apollo put his arm around Kara. "You always meet the most interesting people." Meanwhile, Gorf ran in circles around them all, screaming again. "Get Gorf off bad ship! Now!"
Chapter Four: Interrogation
Managing to escape the Rihanaen ship, the Auethnen Raptor shot off into hyperspace toward Aldár, with Vandalion restrained in the cargo hold. Upon landing, they were greeted by a trio of the newly recruited Aldárae Guards, beings from a variety of different species garbed in gleaming armour and armed with energy pikes. One of the guards approached the group, and offered to lead Apollo, Dané and Gorf toward one of the wings of the temple specialising in the repair of droids. While Dané was quick to inform him that the Adjunct was no simple droid, they were assured that specialists in Oikoumene technology were readily at hand. Meanwhile, Kara, Aoirtae and Vanikaimar, with Vandalion in tow, ventured toward the cell block of the temple, where the Inquisitor was placed in the centre of a darkened cell surrounded by Masters Ryen, Aenaró and three other individuals that Aoirtae did not recognise.
Standing at the entrance to the cell, the trio watched as the masters outstretched their hands toward the Inquisitor, in an attempt to penetrate deep into the darkest reaches of his mind. One of the masters, an aged male Thanatyrannus known as Nanuq growled deeply, his voice gruff and strongly accented. "Your mind is strong, Inquisitor. Though not strong enough. You will tell us of your business on Rihanae."
Vandalion began struggling. "Never," he spat back. "You dogs will not break me."
Ryen closed his eyes. "We do not intend to break you. That is not our way. You will tell us willingly or we will gleam the information ourselves. It makes little difference."
"Your world... will burn for t-this."
Master Aenaró spoke up. "... an infiltrator. A dead Rihanaen. Their service to the Empire, unwilling. Forced. Interesting."
Nanuq's eyes remained fixed on the Inquisitor. "The Rihanaen government will need to be informed that the Empire infiltrated their civilisation to use them against the Republic, but I sense more, something sinister."
Aoirtae, Kara and Vanikaimar stood forward, watching intently. Vanikaimar had his arms crossed as he watched the interrogation, his eyes narrowing as Nanuq explained what he saw.
"A space station... close to the Neutral Zone."
Vandalion began shaking his head in a vain attempt to expel them from his mind. "Get... out... of my head!"
Aoirtae gasped. "Is it the one that destroyed the Alliance?"
Nanuq flexed his neck, finally closing his eyes as he concentrated on finding the answer. "No. No, this one is new." He opened his eyes. "Tell me, Basileus. Tell me about Ecimaex."
To the surprise of those in the room, Vandalion began laughing. Suddenly, the masters found their concentration on his mind blocked. "What fun. What fun! Ecimaex is your doom, little fools," Vandalion smirked. "My only regret is that I will not be here to witness it."
Ryen, confused by his sudden display of strength arched his brow. "Idle threats aside, you will be transferred to Republic custody. You will stand trial for your role in the murder of Senator Tanarr-Nuin, the destruction of his ship and that of Senator Apollo's, and for destabilising the Rihanaen peace talks."
Vandalion smiled. "No, no, I think not." He touched his arm pad. "Grand Admiral, I'm ready." Suddenly, Vandalion was gone, transported off the planet. Vanikaimar's teeth clenched as he let out an audible growl. "You should have disposed of him altogether when you had the chance."
Everyone in the room looked around in confusion. Aoirtae slamed her fist onto the wall. "That... snake! Gone!"
Holding up his wrist communicator, Ryen warned that the prisoner had escaped, only to be interupted by one of the temple's control room operatives. "Master Ryen, we detected the energy signature of an Imperial Star Destroyer for a mere second before it vanished!"
Ryen grumbled. "Clever. Our Inquisitorial friend planned this from the beginning. He wanted us to learn of this... Ecimaex superweapon. But why?" From where he stood, the Nagith spoke again. "Fearmongering. He believes it will break our morale. In my time, this would not have worked. We would have stripped him of his equipment and shot through his knees to teach him not to provoke us. ... That being said. Your Republic is endangered."
Kara nodded absentmindedly. "I agree. But it's this... Grand Admiral that worries me. We need proper defenses on Aldár, we can't just let any passing Imperial despot to just stroll through the front door whenever he pleases." At this moment, Kara suddenly felt Gorf approach and hold on her hand. "They gonna explode world. Hurry, Living Gianne. Before you become second Dead Gianne."
To the surprise of those in the room, Kara, who had apparently grown used to Gorf's unannounced visits, simply sighed. "We need to work on those nicknames, Gorf. Luckily, I'm sort of a genius in that department."
Aenaró smiled. "Curious! Curious indeed! Somebody I do not need to look up to!"
Nanuq remained somewhat detached from the situation, though his eyes flashed to Master Ryen. "Your student speaks the truth, Ryen. It appears that your proposal to open talks with the Republic is our only choice."
Ryen nodded solemnly. "Admittedly, I hoped it would come under more favourable circumstances, though I suppose we should count ourselves fortunate that one of the Republic's senior Senators is on our very doorstep." Ryen smiled down to Gorf. "Can you lead us to him, my little friend?"
"You want Dad Apollo? Gorf can do. Also, Gorf magical too. Turn Gorf into super magical warrior with shiny sword too." Gorf spoke as he twirled his fingers, causing tiny sparks of light to appear in front of him.
Ryen laughed and glanced at Kara. "Where did you find such a being, Kara?"
Kara smiled before beckoning to the door. "It's a long story, but come on, we should speak to my dad."
Chapter Five: The Order and the Republic
Apollo sat in the Great Library of the Aldárae, an expansive repository of a great deal of information spanning the entire galaxy, similar in many respects to the Library of Apailiana—believed to have been constructed by the First Aldárae Order—and the now-missing Vida'Rranlora archive, which Ryen and Aoirtae had a hand in subverting against the Empire early in their partnership. Apollo's eyes were fixed on the motionless chasis of the Adjunct, who had been deactivated by Vandalion during his attack on the Consular.
He picked up his mug of cafaen, only to discover that it was empty. He sighed theatrically, just as Dané entered the small enclave.
"Oh, hey, Dané, how're you doing?" he said, perking up. Elenya nodded as she sat down. "Feeling fine. How's the Adjunct?"
Apollo placed his hands behind his head and sighed once again. "They tell me he'll wake up in his own good time." He rolled his eyes. "Only problem is that the President isn't exactly known for his patience. He'll expect an update on the missi-"
The Adjunct's sole central eye suddenly illuminated and the spherical AI rose from the table, bobbing erratically. "... Oh, my! I've been attacked! The nerve!"
"You're safe now, Adjunct. We're on Aldár." Apollo said, raising his hands in an attempt to calm the AI. The Adjunct immediately became stationary in the air. "Aldár, Creator-Apollo?! Delightful! We have much to do, much to discuss! Apolithanatár, himself! Awakened!"
Apollo scratched his head. "Apoli-who?"
"Apolithanatár," said Kara, as she entered the room. "Just an Oikoumene that Aoirtae bumped into."
Dané's eyes widened. "... An Oikoumene?! B-but that's impossible."
Aoirtae smiled as she appeared behind Kara, with Ryen and Vanikaimar at her side. "Yeah, that word doesn't have a lot of meaning around her." They had been brought over by Gorf, who quickly left to look at the reactivated Adjunct.
"Nevertheless," Apollo began, standing from his chair. "All three of you have my thanks. You have done a great service to the New Republic, and I won't forget it."
"It was the least we could do, Senator." Aoirtae said, before turning to Ryen. "Didn't you have something to ask, master?"
Ryen nodded his head, his voice clear and concise as he spoke. "Yes, yes, indeed. Senator, our Order has grown considerably since your last visit to Aldár, as I'm sure you have already realised. Now, it is time for us to reveal ourselves to the galaxy at large as the guardians of the New Republic. Should the Senate agree, we will be both the sword and the shield of the Republic, protecting it against the tyranny of the Empire and its dark overlord."
Apollo scratched his chin. "And you'd like me to propose such an alliance to the Senate?"
Vanikaimar, his arms crossed, huffed at the mention of the Senate. "Your "New" Republic still holds to this Senate, it seems. In my time, the opportunity to exterminate it would have been treasured."
"Not now, my friend. Certain formalities must be adhered to if the Aldárae Order is to rise again." Ryen said, his eyes fixed on Apollo's expression. "I would be grateful for anything you could do to help us in this regard, Senator. No doubt my involvement in the Senate Crisis will ingratiate our movement with potential sceptics."
Apollo smiled, remembering Ryen's bravery in saving both his own life, and those of many of his colleagues from a rogue Imperial and her team of vengeful bounty hunters. "You have my support, of course. I can't imagine President Nexarón Valkistair would disapprove either. He expressed his admiration for you in the aftermath of the crisis. And," he said, turning his head toward his daughter with a beaming smile. "I have a personal stake in the success of the order.
Aoirtae stepped forward, a bit shy it seemed but when she looked Apollo in his eyes he saw the determination in her eyes as well. "There's something else as well," she said softly, approaching the Libertus senator. Placing her hand on the senator's hand she smiled. "We want you not only to propose this alliance to the New Republic, but to use your influance and status to propose it to the Lianna Initiative as well. As they can be seen as a successor to the once grand Cyrandia Alliance."
Apollo was impressed by Aoirtae's determination and ambition. "Hmm, well now, isn't that an interesting suggestion? The Cyrandia Cluster has been fractured of late, particularly those who aren't aligned to the Empire. Perhaps the Aldárae are precisely what's needed to restore peace and order."
Other members of the Aldárae entered the room, including Aenaró and Nanuq. Ryen smiled, before ushering the assembled group toward the Chamber of the Ethelnór Aldaráe. As she entered the chamber, Aoirtae caught a glimpse of Apolithanatár materialising from the orbs of light. The Oikoumene stood with his hands clasped behind his back, seemingly amused by a constant stream of affirmations from the Adjunct and questions from Doctor Elenya. The room dimmed slightly as Ryen moved his way to the center, addressing his assembled friends. "The Dark Lord and his forces will never be content to let us live in peace. He aspires to rule over all. They must be stopped and we must triumph. We must reveal ourselves to the universe, to stand against the darkness as the guardians of the New Republic. As of this day, we delcare the Aldárae Order reborn!"
Everyone assembled cheered, with Du'utahrovin stretching his wings and bellowing triumphantly. The day those on Aldár had waited so long for had finally come. Later that evening, when Apollo, Dané, Gorf and the Adjunct departed the planet for their long voyage back to Republic space to relay the Aldárae's message, Aoirtae sat in her favourite perch atop the highest tower of the Aldárae temple, where she had first heard Du'utahrovin's voice calling her for her final trial. As she gazed out over the glistening lake, illuminated by the planet's moons, she heard Apolithanatár's soothing voice. The Oikoumene hovered in the air effortlessly, a smile etched on his face.
"You have come far, young one, though there is still far to go. The Republic will not be alone in hearing your message. Know that, my friend. Know that the Vector of Order felt my return, as I felt his. His weakness has always been hubris—an arrogance which dimishes wisdom. Nevertheless, do not underestimate him. His followers will show no mercy in their march to victory, but never give up, Aoirtae, no matter how dark things seem."
In the dimly lit receiving room in the Imperial Palace on Orbispira, the Phaedric Lord Venatorius stood behind Emperor Tyrómairon, the vast windows opening out onto the endless Orbispiran skyline. The Emperor sat in utter silence, seemingly lost in thought. Venatorius knew better, however. He knew that the Dark Lord was never lost in thought, that each passing moment, his impossibel mind schemed across time and space, planning and preparing for possibiltiies beyond even Venatorius' comprehension. In this instance however, Venatorius was all too aware of the contingencies being formulated by the Empire. He too had felt the return of the ancient enemy, the Lord of Eternal Starlight—the first born of the Oikoumene and the timeless foe of the Emperor. Not even the Primercer posed such a threat to the Empire.
The doors to the room suddenly slid open, revealing the newly promoted Grand Admiral Decimius, garbed in a gleaming white uniform befitting of his new rank. Not one for sycophancy, Decimius bowed his head ever so slightly as he entered, before planting himself with his hands behind his back before the Emperor. "My Lord Emperor. Lord Venatorius," the Grand Admiral said, his voice low and carefully calculated. "Inquisitor Vandalion preformed his task within expected parameters. The Aldárae are now aware of Ecimaex and will no doubt share what they know with the Republic. Our ultimate campaign begins."
The Emperor nodded in acknowledgement. "Very good, Grand Admiral, very good. The day of the Operation approaches." The Emperor templed his talons, his clear voice hiding the deep and alien feeling of uncertainty within. "This is the calm before the storm; a storm that will continue to fester and grow until finally, it can be unleashed."