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The old version of the First Bunsen War can be found here.

Nowadays, I don't think you'll find an official history of the war anywhere that doesn't paint it as some sort of romantic struggle of ideals. I mean, it's perfectly set up for that, look at it. Here in the Allied countries you have these brave heroes and soldiers defending the galaxy's freedom from a monstrous threat, and over in the Confederacy you'll hear about a war fought to defend the union from the devious machinations of alien interests. But really, it wasn't such a glorious struggle. I'll bet few of us actually knew what we were doing; and most of us - on each side - probably did something we'd end up later regretting.

- Iliana Serrada, reminiscing about the war

The First Bunsen War was a major war in the Bunsen Galaxy, sparked by the intense rivalry of the Tybusen Intergalactic Allied Federation and the Levisala Confederacy. It had been fifty years of prosperous peace for all sections of the galaxy since the perilous Sunset Wars, but now the fragile peace was unraveling. Between a Federation seeking to keep their galactic rivals out of the emerging intergalactic community, an Alliance still recovering from the Janeau Revolution, a Church and an Empire competing for influence in the Core Rim, and a Confederacy clamoring for revenge for the Caigiancia War, the great galactic network reeked with the stench of war.

Sensing the conflict on the horizon, the Levisala began conducting experiments to revive the Skelewalkers, a demonic race that nearly destroyed galactic civilization tens of thousands of years ago in the Great Cataclysm. In response, the TIAF would call to arms its allies the Argexantine Warrior Alliance and the Grand Spodist Church, to defend the galaxy against the threat. The Levisala, together with their ally the Bunsen Grox Empire, however, were more than ready to answer the challenge. With two powers of near-equal strength supported by their own networks of allies across the galaxy, as well as countless independent interests at play, the once-tranquil Bunsen Galaxy was about to face one of the most devastating wars in its history.

Introduction[]

This is a remake of the original Bunsen War, with the intent of fleshing out the plot much more, improving the layouts, and overall just making it a better fiction story. All fictions and users are welcome to join, but only as long as they reasonably existed in-universe around the time of the war, as this takes place nearly thirty years before the present day of the Fictionverse.

As always, follow these basic rules:

  • No belittling, please. No large fleets and superweapons unless given permission.
  • Make sure you check with a war administrator before you add a section that could significantly affect the plot.

Shadows of the Past[]

The Slumbering Giant[]

The sounds of foliage being cut away by machetes could be heard all morning in that thick jungle. This was the signature of a terrestrial expedition; so distinctive were the marks of the cauterizing machete, the best friend of the modern planetary explorer. Though not visible from above - indeed, the jungle canopy was quite thick - one would be able to easily identify the path these explorers took through the forest, simply by following the inexplicable clear path bordered on all sides by singed bushes and shrubs. Your average treasure hunter would not be so naive as to leave so clear a path for those behind them, but this expedition was not exactly an average treasure hunt. As the explorers came into a clearing in the jungle, one could see that they were wearing the unmistakable fatigues of Levisala Confederacy officers.

???? - Damn. Why does it always end up like this? Why can't we just beam down directly on the target site?
???????? - Well, think of it this way, if you were an ancient civilization who didn't want to share their shit, wouldn't you place a few subspace mines or two around where you kept the good stuff?
???? - Grr, I suppose you're right. But I doubt it's going to be subspace mines. Probably something more fitting for an extinct civilization, like arrows shooting from the walls or a boulder trap that triggers when you steal the ancient artifact.

This intrepid Sky Sword Navy landing party, comprised of only the two explorers and two moderately-armed escorts, were making their way to the ruins of a long-gone civilization in the deepest part of the jungle valley. One might wonder what the Levisala, one of the most advanced powers in the galaxy, were doing investigating prehistoric ruins, but upon closer inspection, one would notice these were a different kind of ruins. The ancient jungle citadel was made not of stone and aqueducts, but of steel and fusion generators. The Levisala were not here for the golden treasures of a classical empire, but the gleaming technology of an old interstellar empire.

???? - The escorts just reported back that the path to the underground section is clear. No sign of any traps yet.
???????? - Good, good. We will have to be careful, however. Whoever was once here obviously didn't want to be disturbed again.
???? - Radar, communications - we'll literally be in the dark down there.
???????? - Heheh, looks like this is gonna be an old-fashioned spelunking. Makes you feel, I don't know, nostalgic?

The two explorers shared a smile (or, at least, the equivalent of one with insectoid mandibles) before being briefed by their escorts.

Escort - Admiral Jaysmoth, Commodore Shen, we are ready to proceed into the underground citadel at your command.
Jaysmoth - Perfect. Onwards to adventure!

The group of four advanced cautiously into the dark tunnel that presumably led into the citadel buried beneath the forest floor. As they stepped further into the void, their navigation and communications systems became unresponsive.

Shen - As was expected.
Jaysmoth - It won't be such a big deal anyways. If nothing else, if they've got some really killer traps in here, that must mean whatever they're hiding must be really valuable!
Shen - I'd prefer not to become a pincushion in this lifetime.
Jaysmoth - Show a little optimism! At the very least we'll be vaporized by a supersonic railgun.
Shen - Sometimes I don't know if you're being sarcastic or if you're actually looking forward to a flashy, explosive death.

The flashlights attached to their exploration gear automatically turned on as the cavern became truly pitch black, illuminating their surroundings. Immediately one could see that the metallic walls were carved with odd geometric patterns, giving off the feeling of something occult. The tunnel continued on a downward slope, presumably to this subterranean citadel that had yet to make its full appearance. It was not out of the ordinary, however, that the ruins should be this far underground - naturally, abandoned or destroyed cities will always be buried under what comes after them, whether it is a new city or a dense rainforest. With enough time and patience, they would arrive (unless this became like one of those cruel jokes in which the tunnel just loops back on itself in a convoluted way).

After many more minutes of carefully walking down the long hallway, taking great care not to pull a stray tripwire or step on a landmine cleverly disguised as a floor tile, it seemed that they had arrived at their destination: a large barrier in an indent in the wall, quite obviously a door of some sort. However, for such an obvious door, there was no obvious way of opening it.

Jaysmoth - Maybe it opens from the inside?
Shen - That doesn't really help us.
Jaysmoth - Hmm... Maybe it has a tactile sensor?
Shen - What, do you mean you're just going to knock- You idiot!! Don't touch it so carelessly!!

Despite Shen's protests, Jaysmoth tapped on the massive barrier with the back of his hand multiple times. However, there was no response.

Jaysmoth - Hm. I guess no one's home-

Suddenly, as Jaysmoth had theorized, the gateway began to react. The door began to give off a blinding light, with the ominous illumination coming from the occult engravings in the door. As if scanning the area in front of the doorway, an oddly colored beam swept down the door, bathing the four officers in its eerie maroon light. This did not seem to be just a scanning beam, however, as the four were struck as if by something non-corporeal, causing the two escort officers to collapse from the sensation.

However, Jaysmoth and Shen, while rattled, were still standing. Seemingly in response to Jaysmoth and Shen withstanding the beam's effects, a booming electronic voice emanated from within the chamber behind the door, speaking at first in what seemed to be garbled nonsense before transitioning into something that the two could understand.

Unknown Voice - KaaazfzweerswrwseoityowqqweRESILIENTafwLIFEFORMadDETECTEDaads

The voice was cut off by the loud creaking of the door as it began to rise. Jaysmoth and Shen were hesitant to continue forward after the odd turn of events.

Shen - Was that... Levisaic? But... that's not right. This place should have been abandoned long before Levisala civilization began!
Jaysmoth - Not only that. But before it spoke. I don't know, didn't it feel... chilling?
Shen - It left those two writhing on the ground. Whatever this is, I don't like it.
Jaysmoth - Still, though... *takes a deep breath* It's our duty to trudge on, right?

With that, the two carefully advanced into the chamber, which was illuminated with light not unlike the maroon beam that had flashed earlier. The two escorts were still holding their heads in pain in the hallway, but Jaysmoth and Shen did not want to be slowed down by them. Even though both of them were nervous and worried, deep down both of them also wanted to find the power that was at the bottom of this.

Past the entrance chamber was another room, much larger than the first. It seemed that this was the room from which the odd maroon light emanated from, though the source of the light could not exactly be explained in words. At the center of the room was a crystal-like structure, bathed in a thick yet seemingly translucent fog. It seemed as if beams of energy were bouncing around the inside of the crystal, yet at the same time it seemed perfectly at rest. For the highly scientific Levisala, this unqualifiable phenomenon was something akin to magic.

Shen - *checking an energy scanner* This... this doesn't make sense. These readings are unlike anything that we've ever encountered. It's as if...
Jaysmoth - Lia. Do you recall the name of that one "pseudoscience" that's apparently become a huge phenomenon abroad?
Shen - It's called Essence, right? But it's supposedly just a bunch of magic masquerading as science, isn't it?
Jaysmoth - If that's so, then I have a feeling we're about to meet one of the magicians.
Shen - What are you- Hey!! Don't run off like that!!

Jaysmoth, seemingly entranced by the enigmatic crystal, began to quickly walk towards it, with Shen trying to keep up behind him. As he was walking, Jaysmoth continued talking to Shen.

Jaysmoth - I thought it was bullshit too, but I decided to read the studies on it anyways. And it still didn't really make any sense after I read it, either. And it still doesn't really make sense to me now! But this crystal, I think, might be our chance to know the truth about it.
Shen - You sound like you're in a trance! Even if this whole Essence bullshit turns out to be real, I still wouldn't go near that spooky thing!
Jaysmoth - This is why we came here, right? To find something that we didn't know about already, right? Perhaps we can give truth to that age-old maxim, "Pakko magensou na-issamagon, kati pakko aenkago-"
Shen - You idiot!! Don't get so close to it...!

As if on cue, the crystal reacted to Jaysmoth getting too close, and the thick translucent fog suddenly moved to envelop him, becoming an opaque violet color. Shen quickly ran at the crystal and drew her saber as if to cut away at the fog and rescue her friend, but before she could make a move, the fog engulfed her as well. Unable to see through the fog, Shen felt as if she was being weakened physically and mentally - as if her very life force was being drained.

Before she was completely drained, however, the fog suddenly dissipated, and she and Jaysmoth were released from its grip. They still had the energy to stand and speak, but they were not capable of much beyond that right now. If this had been any other situation, that might not have been quite so bad, but now the crystal, seemingly empowered by the life force it had sucked from the two explorers, began to spark and convulse. With no energy to run away and no knowledge of what they were facing, they had no choice but to face it head-on.


After convulsing for a few seconds, the crystal suddenly burst into a blinding maroon flash, not unlike that which had assaulted the exploration team at the entrance. In the flash of light, a large silhouette could be seen forming. It resembled, in some ways, the various demons and monsters of mythology, with a spiky, threatening form about it. Indeed, one might not be too far off to describe it as a living demon. As the light began to settle, the demon spoke.

Lord Shu'von'e - Mortals. You are in the presence of Shu'von'e, reigning lord of the Skal'Vokra, chosen children of the Vodra'Ta... Bah, enough with these pleasantries. My first question is, are you two alright?

Jaysmoth and Shen were visibly confused by the sudden change in the demon's tone of voice. Understandably so, as this seeming spawn of Hell had just sincerely asked them if they were alright. Shu'von'e seemed to notice their perplexed expressions and chuckled.

Shu'von'e - Ahaha! I see, you must be confused by my rather casual manner of speaking. Not quite fitting for the lord of demons, you think? That is what my father would always say to me. Nevertheless, do not fear. I am grateful for what you have done for me, and it would be unbecoming of me to will harm upon either of you.
Shen - What we have done for you...?
Shu'von'e - Aha! So you are capable of speech! Yes, I apologize for being so sudden about it, but I did have to take a bit of your life force to break out of this millenia-old prison. But luckily, you jumped in, Miss Shen, as I would have had to drain Sir Jaysmoth completely without you.
Shen - Hold on. First of all, how do you know our names?
Jaysmoth - Yeah, and how are you speaking to us in Levisaic? I imagine you have been stuck in here for much longer than our culture has existed.
Shu'von'e - Ah, ah, you're curious about that. The thing you encountered at the entrance was sort of a mind probe of sorts... Those two that came with you couldn't handle it, but from you two we were able to extract your names and a working knowledge of your language. It is a nice-sounding language, may I add.
Shen - "We"?
Shu'von'e - My, my, that is what you are hung up on? Then I shall explain. As I said, I am Lord Shu'von'e, of the Skal'Vokra, scourge of the galaxy... Though, you may know us better by that less-than-elegant name of "Skelewalkers".

That was a name that was well-known by many throughout the Bunsen Galaxy. Supposedly, eight thousand years ago, a demonic race known as the Skelewalkers had laid waste to much of the civilized world in an event known as the Great Cataclysm. Only by uniting together were the Old Powers capable of sealing the Skelewalkers away, but it had come at the cost of the Old Powers having to leave the galaxy behind. It was a great tale to tell to children about the importance of teamwork and cooperation, but with each passing year, fewer and fewer people actually believed that such a fantastical event could have actually happened as it was described. Yet, in front of Admiral Kavende Jaysmoth and Commodore Liandra Shen, stood the leader of these beings of myth.

Shu'von'e - You must know, that as a Skal'Vokra, it is in my nature to want to instill fear in the hearts of mortals - but I am not quite like the Skal'Vokra of old, who indiscriminately wielded their power against all those who approached them. I am more than willing to serve those who have served me well. In this case, you two.
Jaysmoth - You would serve us, you say...?
Shu'von'e - It is the least I can do for those who have released me from this prison.

Upon hearing this, Jaysmoth's expression grew into a devious smile (or equivalent thereof with insectoid mandibles). In his mind, memories of unsettled grudges flashed through his mind.

Shen - What are you thinking?
Jaysmoth - Think about it, Lia. This might be our chance. A chance for revenge for Caigiancia. A chance to wipe those smug smiles off of those tapir-faced bastards!
Shen - But... this guy is the leader of a race that nearly led the galaxy to ruin! Even if we do get him to help us, how do we know that he won't target us next?

Seemingly hurt by Shen's suspicions, Shu'von'e placed his hand (?) presumably over where his heart (?) was, as if the words had cut a gash into his chest.

Shu'von'e - Ah, ah! You wound me with your words. Did I not say I am a man of my word?
Shen - How do I know that you aren't lying about that either?
Shu'von'e - Ah, I suppose then it can't be helped. After all, it seems natural that a mortal should question the motives of a ethereal such as myself. How sad it is, that mortals and ethereals should be so inherently different?
Jaysmoth - Let's cast aside the issue of trust for a second. Lia, don't you also want to render some payback on those damned Tybusen for all of the humiliation of the past centuries? This is our moment to take the reins of fate. Don't you think we should seize the chance?
Shen - But even if he does help us... How does he intend to make good on that? I don't know what kind of power these Skelewalkers wield that made them so damn powerful back then! For all I know it could just still be total bullshit!
Shu'von'e - Ah, you still doubt the existence of Essence? Allow me to tell you firsthand... it is very real.

Shen was visibly taken aback by Shu'von'e's assertion.

Shen - Hm?
Shu'von'e - All of the unexplainable things you have encountered here? The work of Essence. The light which probed your mind, the fog which sapped your will... Essence. Specifically, the Essence of the void... You might say I have dominion over the concept of fear itself.
Shen - But that...
Shu'von'e - Doesn't make sense? Perhaps not. But that, I think, is the essence of Essence. At once esoteric, but self-evident.

Shen held her hand to her head, as if trying to connect the cognitive dots to make sense of it all. Something so unscientific, so irrational, that couldn't possibly be right, could it? And yet...

Shen - ...I think I'm beginning to see it. Yes... Though I have no reason to trust in your word, nor reason to believe in the power you hold... If trusting in that will bring our people one step closer to the peace and prosperity that we dream of... Yes, I can see it! Then, perhaps I can discard reason just this once!!

It seemed as though a fire had been lit in Shen's eyes, a fire that had not been there for some time - it was the look of someone who had decided to let go of their qualms and just simply hope.

Shen - Lord Shu'von'e, there is so much more to talk about. But I think we need to report back to our superiors before we can proceed.
Jaysmoth - Perhaps we should bring him back with us so that the leaders of our peoples can meet in person?
Shu'von'e - I would not mind journeying off this world. Though many of my friends and compatriots remain sealed here, I cannot do much to free them without outside assistance. And I would not like to have to sacrifice either of you if a better solution can be made.
Jaysmoth - I imagine our scientists would be eager to meet you.
Shu'von'e - Ah, yes! Perhaps your mortal science can devise a way to revive my comrades! Well then, shall we proceed?

The three began to walk out of the chamber, as there was still no way to reestablish contact with their transport from that far underground. The two escort officers, who had just begun to recover, were shocked to see their two superiors walking out with a massive demon.

Escort - Admiral...!
Jaysmoth - Stand down, Captain, this fellow is our new ally.
Shu'von'e - Haha! It is natural that you should fear my imposing form, mortal, but please, be at ease. It shall make me more comfortable to know that you are comfortable.

With that, the reunited exploration team (plus Lord Shu'von'e) returned through the long, dark tunnel (though the two escorts still seemed visibly unnerved by Shu'von'e's presence). Upon reaching the surface, the team began to move back out into the jungle until they were outside of the interference given off by the ancient citadel.

Shu'von'e - Ahh... natural light. I had forgotten its look and feel sitting in that prison of artificial light. How melancholic, I must say, to see my homeland paved over by the beauty of nature...

As Shu'von'e basked in the landscape of his homeworld, Jaysmoth sent the signal to their transport ship.

Jaysmoth - It goes beyond what I would describe as a "breakthrough". There's just simply too much to be said right now in plain words... For now, send word to Mormus that the Corches Expedition was a phenomenal success.

Devil's Advocate[]

Admiral Dresden - The Lord-Empress has granted you audience?! Surely you're joking!

Aboard the CLS Shinigami, Jaysmoth's flagship, Jaysmoth was bickering with his fellow admiral and self-proclaimed adversary, Admiral Dresden, over the video comms. The Shinigami had arrived in orbit of Mormus, the Levisala capital, alongside its sister ship the CLS Tatara, commanded by Commodore Shen. Jaysmoth and Shen were preparing to beam down to the heart of the planet's grand central metropolis to share their discoveries with the Lord-Empress, supreme ruler of the Confederacy.

Jaysmoth - Surely, you're joking, my senile old friend? I trust that you were briefed on today's itinerary long before we arrived in the Issamagon system. That is, unless you already forgot.
Dresden - Grr... You will not speak down to me like that, boy! I have centuries more experience than you green little whelp, and I have had audience with many Lord-Emperors and Lord-Empresses-
Jaysmoth - And yet, here you are, second fiddle to me, mister former First Admiral Nikolai Dresden! Actually, make that third fiddle, I'd say Liandra easily out-fiddles even yourself.

Seemingly set off by that remark, Admiral Dresden raised his voice and brought his face close to the video panel.

Dresden - Caigiancia was but a fluke, boy! Was it you who led the conquest of the Corwell Sector?
Jaysmoth - No, of course; I am not Nikolai Dresden, former Subjugator of the Southland. But, under my lead, the Sky Sword Navy will be going much farther than the Roswell Arm.
Dresden - Speaking of that... What exactly are you planning, boy? Surely the only reason the Lord-Empress will hear you right now is because you found some revolutionary new weapon on Corches that will give us an unbeatable edge. And yet you want it to be a secret until you present it personally to her majesty...

Dresden's expression shifted into a suspicious glare, seemingly trying to pressure Jaysmoth into revealing what Dresden likely thought to be some grand conspiracy with Jaysmoth at the helm. Jaysmoth, however, simply laughed it off.

Jaysmoth - Ah, ah, but if I told you the details now, it wouldn't be a secret, would it? Then where would the fun be?
Dresden - Hmph... Fine. Don't try anything funny with the Lord-Empress, boy... Or I will have your head mounted over my fireplace!
Jaysmoth - My, my, is that insubordination I hear? I might have to write you up, old man.
Dresden - Grr... would you beam down already? I don't want to have to look at your smug shit-eating grin longer than I have to.
Jaysmoth - Aww, I thought we were having a bonding moment here! But, just for you, old man, I'll be on my way.
Dresden - *grunts* Whatever. CLS Shinigami, you are authorized to beam to the Palace Commons.

With that, Dresden cut the communications link and the bridge transporter crew confirmed the authorization. Jaysmoth let out a seemingly satisfied sigh and began preparing for the transport.

Transporter Officer - Admiral, we have confirmed our authorization to beam down to Moru'vare Palace Commons.
Jaysmoth - Alright. Say, has Commodore Shen arrived on board yet? We agreed we'd be going together.
Security Officer - Commodore Shen reportedly arrived in the Upper Starboard Personnel Commons transporter about thirty seconds ago, during your parley with Admiral Dresden, sir. Expected to arrive on the bridge in a few seconds, sir.
Jaysmoth - Excellent. Then begin preparing the bridge transporter for transport.

Due to the way Levisala ships were designed, the transporter on the bridge could send personnel and cargo like a regular beam transporter, but could not receive anyone or anything. It was mostly for the convenience of bridge officers without compromising the security of the bridge. Usually, there were standard transporters in close proximity to the bridge area, but foot access to the bridge area was restricted to authorized personnel only, such as the bridge crew. Shen, however, had special access privileges aboard Jaysmoth’s ship.

Security Officer - Admiral, I have confirmation that Commodore Shen is in the bridge access elevator.

The distinctive sound of the elevator pulling up to the bridge entrance heralded Shen’s arrival.

Jaysmoth - Ah, Lia! You’re finally here. I trust everything is in order for the presentation?
Shen - Yes, our friend is over on my ship. He told me to give him a signal when we want him to show up.
Jaysmoth - Hmm, but how do we go about transporting him to the planet? It would probably be hard to get transport authorization for him. Especially right inside of the Moru’Vare Palace.
Shen - He says he’s capable of teleporting without need of a transporter.
Jaysmoth - Really? From all the way in orbit? Essence is one hell of a drug.

With the two discussing the seemingly fantastical abilities of their so-called “friend” right in front of the transporter, the transporter operator could not help but wonder who this mysterious individual their superiors were talking about.

Transporter Officer - Err... Admiral, if you don’t mind me asking… What’s this about… Essence? And… teleporting without a transporter?
Jaysmoth - Oh my, Lieutenant, it seems I’ve ruined part of the surprise for you. But since you don’t understand a word I’m saying, let’s just say that… you’ll see in due time.
Transporter Officer - Um... I’ll look forward to it, sir.
Jaysmoth - Excellent! Then let’s be off. Lieutenant, if you would do the honors.
Transporter Officer - Right. Entanglement connection stable, transport platform is ready for dispatch.

The transporter operator directed the two commanders onto the transporter platform, and began running the activation sequence for the transporter.

Transporter Officer - Bio-signatures locked on, initiate transport in 3... 2... 1...

With that, the sleek scenery of the Shinigami’s bridge faded out, and was replaced by the regal façade of the Moru’Vare Palace, the seat of the Confederate government. The palace commons was bustling with various officials running to and fro, carrying out the everyday functions of the Confederacy, with the occasional tourist group passing through and taking pictures of the citadel’s majesty. Jaysmoth and Shen were not here to sightsee, however; they had much more important business to attend to. The two began to walk down the hallway leading to their destination, with confidence in their steps. Not long after entering into the main atrium of the palace, the two were stopped by a pair of royal guardsmen.

Royal Guard 1 - No unauthorized entry past this point. Do you two have identification?
Jaysmoth - I would sure hope so! I wouldn’t want anyone to get me confused with that other very important, very handsome First Admiral who has audience with the Lord-Empress today.
Royal Guard 2 - I’m certain no one else but the real Admiral Jaysmoth would introduce himself like that... but, you know, protocol. I need to see IDs.
Shen - *sighs* Kav, if you’re not going to do it, I might as well do it.

Shen pulled out her biometric identification card from her inside coat pocket, handing it to the officer to verify. After checking the ID against the official database and against Shen herself, the guardsman prompted Jaysmoth for his ID, which he promptly handed over. Seeing that both of the admirals were who they said they were, the guardsmen let them through.

Royal Guard 1 - Sorry for the holdup, Admiral Jaysmoth, Commodore Shen. You probably understand that the security of the Lord-Empress is of the highest priority around here.
Jaysmoth - No need to apologize, officer. I’m sure the Royal Guard must have its hands full today.
Royal Guard 2 - Indeed we do, sir! I wish I could see what this great new weapon you’re presenting to the Empress is, but I’m on security check duty for the rest of the day.
Jaysmoth - Well, I wouldn’t worry about that. You’ll all see it soon enough! Haha!

Jaysmoth’s awkward laugh caused the two guardsmen to look at each other in confusion as the two commanders passed into the hallway behind the doors. The hallway ended in a smooth, polished stone staircase leading into the upper floors of the palace. At the top of the staircase was an ornate chamber filled with lavish furniture and paintings of the great historical leaders of the Levisala species – a fitting choice of décor for the entrance to the imperial residence. A lone court official stood in the center, apparently waiting for the two to arrive.

Official - Admiral Jaysmoth and Commodore Shen, I presume?
Shen - Yes, indeed.
Official - Excellent. The Empress awaits you in the throne room. Please follow me.

The official opened one of the imposing doors opposite from the entrance staircase, revealing a set of marble steps leading upwards presumably towards the throne room. The marble stairs ended in a modest parlor, a waiting room for those meeting with the Empress. While many eras ago the parlor would be filled with dignitaries clamoring for audience, in the modern era one could simply correspond electronically to request a conference instead of having to bang on the front door.

Official - You may enter whenever you are ready.

This was the precipice upon which many an important Levisala had stood, both heroes and villains, to meet with the sovereign of the empire and change history. Today, it was Admiral Kavende Jaysmoth and Commodore Liandra Shen who were going to meet with their sovereign.

Shen - Ready?
Jaysmoth - Ready.

With that, the door slowly opened with a noble rumble suited to a door of its majesty. The two officers walked in and bowed their heads respectfully. At the opposite end of the room, a figure stood up from her throne and gave a welcoming gesture.

Empress Kagiykana - At ease.

Empress Kagiykana, the Lord-Empress of the Confederacy and Supreme Empress of the Levisala.


Though the two officers and the empress were the focus of the conference, they were not the only ones present in the throne room. Accompanying the Lord-Empress were, as usual, her personal complement of Royal Guards, and a selection of the Empress' most trusted advisors, namely the Minister of War and the Minister of Intelligence. These were the usual witnesses to Empress Kagiykana's audiences, especially for an audience with two of the top military officers in the Sky Sword Navy, and most especially for a presentation on military matters.

Jaysmoth - We are honored to be in your presence, your majesty. We deeply appreciate your granting us audience today.
Kagiykana - Indeed. But enough with formalities. Let us cut right to the chase. I understand you have much to share with us regarding your discoveries during the Corches Expedition.
Shen - Yes, your majesty. Both Kavende and I agree that it is revolutionary, and it may give us a significant advantage in a conflict with the Federation.
Kagiykana - Hmm. I am interested. The Federation has grown too proud for its own good. They bask in the glory of their accession to the intergalactic community, but they are still mortal. Any advantage that we can get is one step towards knocking them down a peg.
Jaysmoth - May I be so bold as to assert that what we have found could knock them down two pegs, maybe even three? Or even all the pegs?
War Minister Sayama - That is a bold statement even for you, Admiral Jaysmoth! You of all people must know that the Sky Sword Navy's technology is only roughly on par with the Federation's fleets. What could you possibly have that could tilt the balance so far in our favor?
Kagiykana - Sayama, I don’t believe you were given permission to speak.
Sayama - My apologies, your majesty, but I doubt there exists such a thing that boasts such great power.
Shen - Your majesty, Minister, I can attest to Kavende’s claims. Well, most of it. I don’t think it would knock the Federation down "all of the pegs" like he says, but it could definitely give us enough of an advantage to capture and hold even Tropicana.
Kagiykana - I am inclined to play the skeptic in this situation. Your enthusiasm seems to lend credence, but enthusiasm does not substitute for explanation.
Shen - Well... it's difficult to explain. Based on our current understandings, what we found is akin to… well, magic.

War Minister Sayama and Intelligence Minister Cherchen began giggling at Shen’s suggestion, before being silenced by Kagiykana. For the scientifically-minded Levisala, "magic" was not something in the purview of reasonability.

Kagiykana - Sayama, Cherchen, silence. As ridiculous as it sounds at face value, I will allow Jaysmoth and Shen to qualify their "magic."
Jaysmoth - Thank you, your majesty. Now, you probably laugh at the suggestion of using "magic" to defeat the Federation, our oldest and most troublesome foe. Indeed, magic as we know it lies in the realm of fantasy. But what if I told you that it might not? What if, there was a manifestation of "magic" in our "scientific" universe?
Kagiykana - What are you suggesting?
Jaysmoth - Minister Cherchen, as the Minister of Intelligence you must be knowledgeable about the state of galactic and, now, intergalactic affairs, on all levels, is that correct?
Intelligence Minister Cherchen - Yes, thank you for dictating to me the responsibilities of my station, that is certainly necessary knowledge.
Jaysmoth - I assume then, you know of Essence?
Cherchen - That strange mystic philosophy that's popular in the outer galaxies? Sure I do. I would hope that you're not going to suggest that Essence is the key to our problems?
Jaysmoth - Actually, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Sayama scoffed and began laughing again.

Sayama - By the heavens, he’s truly gone mad this time! Perhaps what you found on Corches was in fact some intense psychedelic compound?
Kagiykana - Enough, Minister. Admiral Jaysmoth has been a decorated commander longer than you have been the Minister of War, so I have faith in his counsel. However, Jaysmoth, I cannot in good faith choose to believe these suppositions you spout without substantiation.
Jaysmoth - I was well aware that I would likely not be taken all that seriously by your War Council, specifically Sayama, your war-iness, and Cherchen, your intelligence-ness. That is why... I prepared a, how do you say, "hands-on" example.
Kagiykana - Hm? What do you mean? Your tone of voice greatly troubles me now, Jaysmoth.
Shen - Yes... perhaps they need... a demonstration.

Kagiykana's guards sprung to their feet, wary of Jaysmoth's suspicious behavior, and aimed their stun rifles at the admiral's body. Jaysmoth stood unfazed, with a confident smirk on his face. However, ten seconds passed without any activity, and Jaysmoth looked confused and Shen looked annoyed.

Shen - I said... A DEMONSTRATION!

This time, Shen raised her arms as if trying to summon something, but again nothing happened. The Royal Guards lowered their weapons, seeing the two commanders' behavior as nonsensical rather than threatening at this point. Sayama could hardly stifle his laughter.

Sayama - My, my, Admiral, did you get your girlfriend hooked on that stuff too?
Shen - I am not his girlfriend- I SAID, A DEMONSTRA-

Suddenly, a crimson flash of light emerged from the center of the room, and soon the hall was filled with a strange fog. Thick, yet seemingly translucent, it was a sight frightening to those unfamiliar to it, and a sight all too familiar to Jaysmoth and Shen. The fog slowly dissipated to reveal the towering, imposing figure of Lord Shu'von'e, ruler of the Skal'Vokra.

Shu'von'e - Mortals. You are in the presence of Shu'von'e, reigning lord of the Skal'Vokra, chosen children of the Vodra'Ta, the harbingers of fear and despair. Fear begets fear, and despair begets despair; a dark vortex which not even a ray of light escapes. We, lords of the void...

Shu'von'e suddenly paused, seemingly for dramatic effect. However, the pause continued, and Shu'von'e began scratching his head as if trying to remember something.

Shu'von'e - I, uh... forgot the rest.

The tense, foreboding atmosphere in the room dissipated as Shu'von'e's intimidation factor quickly wore off. Sayama, who had been cowering behind his chair during Shu'von'e's introduction, emerged from his hiding place and began nervously mocking the demonic noble.

Sayama - Ehehe... Ahahaha! Ahh... it was a convincing light show, Jaysmoth, but it seems your sterling actor has forgotten his lines!
Shu'von'e - Hm? Light show? What does he speak of?
Shen - For the love of... Never mind, this was just a theatrical introduction. But I can assure you that this guy is the real deal.
Sayama - What, did you just pick up the first mentalist you found wandering the streets of Nanorns and called it a day? Well then, by all means, let's let this "dark lord" play one of his "fell mind tricks."

Shu'von'e turned to face Shen, as if asking for permission.

Shu'von'e - Should I? It could get ugly even if I give him just a taste of my power. And this is such a nice throne room, too.
Shen - By all means, give him a hefty sample.

Shu'von'e walked over to Sayama, who at first appeared to be standing his ground confidently. However, mystic fog began to faintly emanate from Shu'von'e's body, and Sayama began visibly sweating and grimacing as Shu'von'e towered over him.

Shu'von'e - Well, shall we begin, esteemed War Minister Kazen Sayama? My, my, what heavy shadows hang over your heart, my friend.
Sayama - Heh... heh... you don't... scare... me...
Shu'von'e - Well then, what does scare you? Shall we find out?

Sayama began holding his head as if he had suddenly been struck by a splitting headache. It was not too dissimilar to what had happened to Jaysmoth and Shen's escorts at the entrance to the Skal'Vokra complex on Corches.

Shu'von'e - Hmm... where to start? I could begin at the tip of the iceberg, your worry that you procured the incorrect number of croutons for the salad you will be eating for lunch today, stemming from a compulsive desire to appear infallible in everyday life.
Sayama - Rrrgh... what... are... you... doing...?
Shu'von'e - Or I might dive down a little further, and talk about your concern for the safety of your daughter, who has recently enlisted for combat duty in the Royal Marine Corps – quite touching, I must say... or perhaps I should make mention of your deepest, greatest fear of all, that the weight of your station will crush you, and that you will be the one War Minister who brings ruin upon the Levisala Confederacy...?
Sayama - Nngh...! I... I get it...! I believe you...! Please... get out of my head...
Shu'von'e - Ah, it seems you are easily persuaded. Very well. I won't make this any longer than it has to be. Sweet dreams.

Shu'von'e released his grip on Sayama, and Sayama collapsed onto the floor, unconscious. Kagiykana, who had been watching these events unfold before her eyes, spoke up at last.

Kagiykana - You... you... Jaysmoth, Shen, what have you two brought into my throne room?!
Jaysmoth - He's already introduced himself, but I suppose it bears repeating. He is a Skal'Vokra, you might call them a demonic race of sorts. Tell me, Empress, have you ever read any of those tales of the Old Powers?
Kagiykana - They... they are exaggerated fiction! They are embellished tales of heroes, passed down to us from the ruins of civilizations long gone and what few things the Bunsen Grox tell us of galactic history before our time!
Jaysmoth - Then you are familiar with the "Skelewalkers," yes?
Kagiykana - Do you mean to suggest that the Skelewalkers and the Skal'Vokra are one in the same?
Jaysmoth - Yes! Finally, someone on this council can keep up.

Kagiykana scanned Shu'von'e with a skeptical glance, her initial feelings of terror slowly subsiding into a hesitance to believe her eyes.

Kagiykana - ...Normally, I would dismiss such a claim as absurd. The Skelewalkers as described in the tales of the Old Powers would sit firmly on the other side of the threshold separating reality from fiction. But what I have witnessed here today... makes me question that viewpoint.
Shen - I take it then that you will consider our proposals, then?
Kagiykana - I do have a few more questions to consider. If you will allow me to speak directly to your friend here.
Jaysmoth - By all means, your majesty.

Kagiykana sat upright in her throne and returned to the more dignified stance that she had at the beginning of the meeting.

Kagiykana - First of all, I suppose I must address the elephant in the room. As fearsome as he has demonstrated himself to be, our Skal'Vokra friend here-
Shu'von'e - Please, call me Shu'von'e.
Kagiykana - Yes, yes. Shu'von'e is but one person, and I have doubts as to how one super-powered individual will contribute in a significant way to a modern theater of war. Unless there is some way you can be in two places at once.
Shu'von'e - Ah, I see how that might be a problem. Indeed, of all my ethereal abilities, omnipresence is unfortunately not one of them.
Kagiykana - You don’t suppose you have a solution to that problem, Shu'von'e? Otherwise, you by yourself may not be able to tip the scales in our favor.
Shu’von’e - Ah, ah, but did I say that I was by myself?

Kagiykana tensed up again, as if expecting another surprise to follow those ominous words, but nothing seemed to happen. Shu'von'e, Jaysmoth, and Shen all looked at her with confusion.

Shu'von'e - Er... you can respond now, your Grace.
Shen - Maybe I should just explain it to her without the dramatic dialogue?

Realizing that there was no threat imminent, Kagiykana relaxed her stance again and turned her head slightly away from the trio, a little embarrassed at her faux pas.

Kagiykana - Please forgive me, I am still somewhat on edge from our Skal'Vokra friend's performance from earlier.
Shu'von'e - Ah, have no fear, your Highness, I have no intent to harm. If I didn’t inspire fear in mortals every once in a while, I wouldn’t be a Skal'Vokra! Haha! Oh, and please call me Shu'von'e.
Kagiykana - Er... yes. Moving on. While I'm sure that Shu'von'e can elaborate in great detail as to what he meant by his statement, I would ask Commodore Shen to explain it to me in a way that would make sense to someone without knowledge of the mechanics of Essence.
Shen - Without dramatic dialogue? Got it. Well, your majesty, it, uh, doesn't really have too much to do with Essence. Simply put, there are more Skal'Vokra hibernating in the citadel we explored on Corches. Lord Shu'von'e just happens to be their leader.
Kagiykana - ...Ah. That makes sense.

Kagiykana seemed almost underwhelmed at the fact that the situation was mundane enough for her to understand.

Shu'von'e - Er, Miss Shen, I do believe you're leaving something out.
Shen - Hmm? Oh, yeah, that. But that’s more in your wheelhouse, right?
Kagiykana - If there is more, then please explain. Since this seems to be "in Shu'von'e's wheelhouse," I will defer to Shu'von'e, though please keep in mind that until today I believed Essence to be mystical nonsense.
Shu'von'e - Very well. Now, I must inform you that awakening my brethren requires a… how shall I say, "gift" of energy, so to speak. Sir Jaysmoth and Miss Shen can attest to this. Normally this would involve a draining of psychological energy from a sentient lifeform, but I would hardly desire to have your brethren sacrificed for the sake of mine.
Kagiykana - Indeed. Even if it would produce an army of beings such as yourself, I would not approve of any wholesale sacrifice of my people. Do you have an alternative?
Shu'von'e - I lack the knowledge of any specific alternative myself. However... your people are quite studious and innovative, are they not?
Kagiykana - Indeed we are. What do you propose?
Shu'von'e - The technology of this era seems to be more advanced than that of when my people were put to sleep. With my extensive knowledge on Essence mechanics and your people's scientific resources, we may be able to create a solution that sacrifices only construction materials.

It was a seemingly perfect idea. Though the Levisala lacked any comprehension on how to work with Essence, they were quick learners by nature and could rapidly become proficient with it, especially with the oversight of a true Essential such as Shu'von'e. And after that, it would not be difficult to begin venturing into Essence technology. And it was win-win for everyone: the Skal'Vokra would be revived and could rebuild their civilization, and the Levisala would gain both the Skal'Vokra as a powerful ally and the power of Essence technology. But...

Cherchen - I must raise an objection!
Jaysmoth - Ah, Minister Cherchen, nice of you to finally join us. I was wondering how long you were going to continue cowering under the tablecloth.
Cherchen - Never mind that! Your Majesty, we must also consider the diplomatic implications of undergoing a project such as this.
Kagiykana - Hmm... yes. I did not think of that. If Essence is as powerful as it is advertised, surely the Federation will see our revival project as the first step to the development of Essence superweapons.
Shen - Well, that's not necessarily a bad thing. For us. For them, it's probably really scary.
Cherchen - Exactly. I can tell you that with all of the tension that has been building between us and the Federation as of late, any move from us that looks like a big step towards military escalation will likely encourage them to pre-emptively attack.
Jaysmoth - Well, let's take a step back here. Wasn't this audience granted for the purpose of developing weapons and tools to give us an edge over the Federation? Either way, it's plain to see we’re on the path to war with the Federation already.
Kagiykana - Admiral Jaysmoth raises a good point. The current trajectory of history seems to be going towards another war with the Federation. And we have been making preparations for that, including this audience.
Cherchen - I understand. In that context, perhaps what I mean to say is that the repercussions of this project will likely give us much less time to prepare before the Federation inevitably strikes us first.
Jaysmoth - Well, you're the Minister of Intelligence, are you not? If this is as important as you say it is, isn't it your job to keep a project like this under close wraps? Or are you saying you're just not up to the task?

Cherchen shot Jaysmoth an angry glare in response to Jaysmoth's challenge.

Cherchen - Insult my ability, will you? I hope you know that I only make these suggestions to make sure that the Lord-Empress does not make a decision she will later come to regret.
Kagiykana - Enough! Enough! You are both beginning to sound like children. Your concerns are understandable, Cherchen, but this is an opportunity we cannot afford to squander. I will trust that you will be able to keep a lid on things for as long as you can.
Cherchen - Yes, your Majesty. I apologize for my brash tone, I am still unsettled from today’s events.
Shu'von'e - Ah, ah, no need to worry! We're all friends here. I think.

Kagiykana turned to face Shu'von'e, having remembered that he was still in the room.

Kagiykana - That reminds me of my second point. I would want to have some assurance of fealty from Shu'von'e before we continue our cooperation.
Shu'von'e - My, mortals can be such distrustful beings. And after all that excitement over our project! But rest assured, if I had any intention of betraying your trust, Miss Shen and Sir Jaysmoth would not be standing here in this hall. And if the revival of my brethren is successful, I would assure you that we would be eternally grateful to your people.
Kagiykana - Jaysmoth, Shen, can you attest to his loyalty to our cause?
Jaysmoth - All I'd say is that, if nothing else, if he ended up stabbing me in the back, I'd still applaud him for putting up a convincing act.
Shen - What he means is yes, I'd trust him.
Kagiykana - That is comforting, I suppose. Then I believe that settles that matter. Then I suppose that brings me to the last question on the table, which is...

Kagiykana glanced over at Minister Sayama, who was still crumpled on the floor.

Kagiykana - ...will Sayama be alright?
Shu'von'e - Worry not, he will be fine. I did not use enough of my power to cause serious psychological damage. He will wake up later thinking what he experienced at my hand was all but a strange nightmare. Ah, how plastic mortal minds can be.
Kagiykana - That is also, er, comforting. Sayama certainly did not look like he would be fine.
Shu'von'e - Well, we're all on the same side, aren't we? I wouldn't want to break someone who I consider an ally. I could do much worse to an enemy.

Kagiykana seemed satisfied with the situation, with her normally cautious, inquisitive expression changing into a confident smile. She stood up from her throne and extended her hand to Shu'von'e.

Kagiykana - Heh. Then I will look forward to the fruit of our combined labors. Let it be known then, that starting now, the Levisala Confederacy will commit its resources to restoring the Skal'Vokra civilization, and the Levisala and Skal'Vokra shall stand together in friendship and cooperation!

Shu'von'e, recognizing the gesture, extended his hand to meet Kagiykana's. Taking care not to crush her hand with his enormous grip, Shu'von'e gave Kagiykana a firm handshake, sealing the terms of their agreement.

Shu'von'e - I look forward to a fruitful and bountiful relationship.
Kagiykana - As do I. Kosoda tomai-po naze.

Kagiykana then turned to address the others in the hall.

Kagiykana - This audience is concluded. Let this be the first step to a new golden age of the Confederacy! Mikai Naze!
Everyone - Mikai Naze!


Minister Cherchen was leaving the Palace after the conference, escorted by a trusted lieutenant. It was common for officials to have officers from their organizations attend meetings with them, though such officers had to be thoroughly vetted to ensure they could be trusted with sensitive knowledge. And even so, becoming an escort officer usually meant subjecting one's self to increased scrutiny from the Intelligence Ministry. However, especially within the Intelligence Ministry, it was considered a great honor and sign of respect to be chosen as an escort officer.

Cherchen - Subcommander Selise, it looks like we will be having our hands full at the Intelligence Ministry again. I hope you’re ready for another long counter-intelligence campaign.
Subcommander Selise - Indeed, sir, there's no telling how many Federation rats there are sneaking around in the Ministry, especially with all the heightened tensions. They'll be sniffing for anything they can to get an advantage. We must make sure to catch them before they find out anything about the restoration project.
Cherchen - Hmm, yes, yes. We must keep eyes and ears open. It would be unwise to underestimate the Federation's intelligence services. I doubt there are many Federation spies beyond the lower ranks of the organization, but with as sensitive a project as this, we must be wary of even our top officers.
Selise - I agree entirely, sir. A high-level intrusion would make it extremely difficult to keep this under wraps.
Cherchen - Yes. Be on your guard, Subcommander. Neither you nor I know if anyone else in the top echelon has been compromised. As of now we are the only two in the Intelligence Ministry who know of the project. I want only our top operatives and analysts on this, and make sure that we can trust them. If there is anyone acting even the slightest bit suspicious, we must root them out. Understand?
Selise - Understood, sir.
Cherchen - Excellent. Then I will be on my way to the Ministry. Will you be coming, Selise? The sooner we start the counter-intelligence, the better.
Selise - If you don't mind, sir, I think I need some rest right now. Today's events have been exhausting enough.
Cherchen - ...Understandable. But remember that you didn't get to where you are today by sleeping! I will expect you to be ready for duty in an hour.
Selise - That will be more than enough time, I think, sir.
Cherchen - Then it's settled. I will meet you at the Ministry.

Cherchen and Selise parted ways, Cherchen heading to a transportation platform outside the Palace. Selise waited until Cherchen had left her sight, and cautiously walked into an inconspicuous corner of the Palace grounds out of sight of cameras or sentries.

Selise - Tch. More than enough.

Selise pulled out a handheld long-range communicator, and held it to the side of her face. The interference produced by the communicator created a small, unnoticeable holographic ripple where the communicator was placed. Looking closely at the communicator would reveal it to be a design commonly used by TIAF intelligence officers.

Selise - This is Agent Keradiya, requesting data uplink to Federal Intelligence Commission, Caigiancia center. The deep cover mission was a success. I think Central Defense will want to hear about this...

The Situation Room[]

Nearly a day had passed since the conference on Mormus. The sun was rising over the Moru'Vare Palace on Mormus again, and the capital city of the Confederacy was again alive with the usual hustle and bustle of the metropolis.

Meanwhile, the sun was beginning to sink low in the sky over Tybusen City, the seat of the TIAF government. The towering skyscrapers cast their long shadows over the heart of the city, and even the Central Federal Complex became bathed in the evening shade. But Central Defense, encased in lustrous metallic windows and perched in the foothills overlooking the downtown district and spaceport, continued to gleam in the colors of the sunset, sitting high enough above the city to stand separate from its metropolitan sprawl but close enough to always be visible from everywhere but the deepest parts of the concrete jungle. It was because of this that the Central Defense building was often also called "The Citadel of the Sun" by locals. Or, less flatteringly by local commuters, "The Citadel of Staring at the Sun."

A distinctive shuttlecraft was beginning its landing procedure in front of the shining command center. The common civilian may not have recognized it, but anyone who had been at a military senior staff meeting would have immediately known who it was escorting. Having safely touched down in a parking space at the foot of Central Defense, the door of the shuttle slid open to reveal none other than Commander James Lorrelas, hero of the Federation.

Shuttle Pilot - We're here, sir. About a minute ahead of schedule.
Lorrelas - Well, that's good. Better early than right on the dime.
Shuttle Pilot - Should I keep the shuttle on standby here, sir?
Lorrelas - Based on what the SAC was saying, this seems like it's a very important matter, so you can go ahead and take off. I'll probably be here all night.
Shuttle Pilot - Alright. I'll report back to USS North Star then, sir.

Lorrelas stepped out of the shuttle and began walking to the front door of Central Defense, as the shuttle took off with the characteristic rumbling of a fusion jet engine. The automatic doors slid open to reveal the lobby of Central Defense, decorated in a sleek modernist style. Various military and intelligence officers were running to and fro, ferrying documents and reports to their recipients in the Defense Ministry. However, as Lorrelas entered the building, the commotion instantly came to a halt, with every officer putting down their boxes of paper files or their communicators to give the legendary commander a proper salute.

Lorrelas - At ease. We all have work to do, don't we?

With that, the hubbub picked up right where it left off, and work continued as if the supreme military officer of the Federation were not in the room. Lorrelas quickly made his way to the elevator and ordered the elevator to take him to Floor B21. Floor B21 was the innermost sanctum of Central Defense, the building's most secure area where only the top officers on the Strategic Action Council were granted access. Of course, Lorrelas had the proper security clearance, and it only took one wave of his biometric identification card for the elevator to accept the command.

??????? - Wait wait wait! Hold the elevator!
Lorrelas - Elevator, hold door.
Elevator - Affirmative. Door open.

The elevator doors, which had just begun to close, opened wide yet again to welcome the source of the delay. Hurriedly jogging to the elevator was none other than the esteemed Lieutenant Commander of the Assault Armada, John Samenor.

Lorrelas - *smirking* Hm. You're late.
Samenor - Oh, come off it. I'm on time.
Lorrelas - In the sense that if you had been any later, you'd have to wait for the next elevator to B21.
Samenor - Well, excuse me for only getting the level of service that comes for being Lieutenant Commander.

Samenor waved his biometric identification card, and the elevator doors finally closed.

Lorrelas - Well, having access to B21 is quite a privilege, don't you think?
Samenor - Is it really? Can't imagine considering having the responsibility of the entire Federation on your shoulders being a "privilege."
Lorrelas - Well, of course. But when you're a couple of old veterans like us, that's really kind of your element isn't it?
Samenor - Yeah… What kind of threat do you think we're looking at this time? I imagine the scorpions found some nifty new weapon that we can probably beat with seven days of research.
Lorrelas - It'll probably end up being nothing in the long-run. How many times since the Caigiancia War has the SAC raved about the latest Levisala threat and nothing came of it?
Samenor - Well, nothing came of it because we heard about it and made a countermeasure before the bastards got confident enough to use it on us.
Lorrelas - Still... how bad could it really be? Unless they invented magic or something I'm pretty sure we're fine.

The elevator's humming came to a stop and the elevator interface announced their arrival at Floor B21. The elevator's doors opened to the distinct dimly-lit single empty room that was Floor B21, with four walls and seemingly nothing of note except for a lone desk.

Samenor - Every time I come here, I always think, do we really fool anyone with this? This is straight out of some spy movie or something.
Lorrelas - Well, how many times do you see B21 accurately portrayed in those movies?
Samenor - None, really.
Lorrelas - Then it's doing something right.

Lorrelas and Samenor placed their biometric cards on the desk, and sounds of machinery could be heard starting up. The floor of the room began to descend into an unseen elevator shaft beneath it, going further down into the earth towards what was truly Floor B21. As the platform made its way down, a new platform was inserted at the top of the shaft, to prevent anyone arriving from the main elevator from falling into the secondary shaft, or to keep the shaft hidden from anyone who had somehow gotten to B21 without the proper clearance.

The platform reached the bottom of the shaft, revealing an indentation in the wall with a pair of blast doors and a biometric lock - the final gateway to B21. As before, Lorrelas and Samenor waved their biometric cards, and the blast doors opened surprisingly quickly for something of their mass. Within the blast doors was an elaborate conference room, with all kinds of monitors on the walls used to display document scans or surveillance footage or computer simulations - everything that a military commander would need to plot out grand strategy with their trusted lieutenants. This was the true nature of Floor B21, and the true innermost sanctum of Central Defense: the Master Operations Complex.

Lorrelas and Samenor were greeted by a variety of familiar faces.

Admiral Khoffman - So, you two assholes finally decide to show up!
Admiral Mermus - Aw, Khoffie, don't be such a grump! Like they weren't gonna show up, come on!
Admiral Tanyan - Fashionably punctual, as usual, I see.
Admiral Ylands - As I've said millions of times before, would it kill you two to demonstrate a little decorum and show up early for once?
Admiral Kolva - Ahh, gimme a break, all of you. They're here, right? Let's get this over with already.
Lorrelas - *smiling* Well, it's certainly nice to see all of you, too.

These were Lorrelas and Samenor's oldest comrades, the senior officers who had fought alongside Lorrelas and Samenor in the Erion Wars of centuries past, and were still in service even today. Collectively, they were all considered members of the Master Assault Intelligence Network Strategic Strike Coordination Fleet, often called the MAIN Strike Fleet for short. Because of their veteran status, they all had the special privilege of a seat at the Strategic Action Council's table.

Samenor - Well, since all of you took the initiative to get here before us, you can fill us in on the situation in the conference room.
Kolva - Oi, oi. What's with this? You're expecting me to bring you up to speed, ya slowpoke?
Ylands - Snark aside, it seems like the Central Commissioner's real upset.
Lorrelas - As usual?
Ylands - Er, surprisingly, less blabbering than usual. But we don't know what's got him so disturbed, he wouldn't share until the meeting started.
Samenor - Hmm…

The current Central Commissioner of the Federal Intelligence Commission, Mellion Saris, was known by military senior staff for his tendencies to overhype himself on new military intelligence and lose way too much sleep over new threats. It could be either a little annoying or even endearing in a pitiful way, but either way he made sure that any new threat was taken seriously. Since the Federation hadn't been blindsided by any new military developments from the Levisala or the Bunsen Grox under his watch, most of the top brass had gotten used to Saris' melodramatic personality and learned to translate Saris' at-times hyperbolic assessments into realistic threat levels. A quiet, contemplative Saris could be a sign of a legitimately more grave threat.

With that in mind, Lorrelas and Samenor walked into the conference hall, followed by the other Main Strike Fleet officers. Indeed, Commissioner Saris was seated at his end of the table, staring forward with an anxious expression on his face. Normally, he would be snapping at people to take things seriously and yelling things along the lines of "you don't understand, the Federation is in real danger here, no time for idle chit-chat!" The other intelligence and military officers gathered were bantering as usual, apparently not aware of whatever grave threat Saris had become aware of. Saris had delivered news to the Council this way before, and like every new threat he reported, it was dealt with before it became tangible, but one had to wonder if today was the day that he would deliver a report that actually matched his grandiose perceptions.

Defense Commandant Garnet - Ah, James! Everyone from Domestic Defense is already here. Looks like the Armada's in last place this time!
Lorrelas - Heh. I'll give you that, but you know the real medals will be handed out at the battlefield.
Khoffman - Yeah, I wonder how many commendations of valor they give out on the back lines?
Special Forces Director Lilly - Aah, aah, enough, you big freeze-dried gorillas. Everyone's gathered, so if you'll all take your seats, Commissioner Saris can start.

The officers took their respective seats at the conference table. As the last person took their seat, Saris broke his contemplative stare and stood up.

Saris - Gentlefolks. Believe me when I say that the Federation may be facing the gravest threat it has ever faced in its existence.
Defense Officer - Like every other threat you've brought before the Council?
Saris - ...I understand that I may tend to over-exaggerate or blow out of proportion from time to time. But this is truly, truly a serious threat.

A few groans could be heard from some of the more tactless members of the Council. This was a typical Saris opening.

Saris - Bear with me. Now, the Federation has dealt with perhaps every new technological marvel that the Levisala and the Grox try to throw at us. There isn't a thing in this world, I think, that we can't counteract if we are prudent and act as if any potential threat is a threat to our very livelihood.
Kolva - *whispering to Samenor* "There isn't a thing in this world..." That's seven times now.
Samenor - *whispering* Shh, there's probably a "but" somewhere.
Mermus - *whispering* Heh, butt.
Khoffman - *whispering* Oh my god, are you literally eight?
Saris - But...
Samenor - *whispering to Kolva* Hah, called it. Shh.

Saris paused for dramatic effect and continued.

Saris - But what if, what if this threat... wasn't of our world?

Murmurs of confusion spread through the conference hall. Saris continued as if expecting that exact reaction.

Saris - Yes, yes, that's a rather vague wording on my part isn't it? But the truth is, I can't really say what exactly this new development is, or what sort of technology it runs on. Some might say, it's akin to... magic.

The sounds of confusion only continued to grow louder, with the officers of the SAC expressing the same sort of disbelief and incredulity that Empress Kagiykana's advisors had shown towards Jaysmoth and Shen.

Garnet - Is this some sort of elaborate practical joke, Saris? I know that we don't always take you seriously, but this is a bit much even from you, don't you think?
Lilly - You don't mean to suggest something like an evil sorcerer joining up with the Levisala to rain legions of doom upon our worlds? The Levisala wouldn't place stock in anything as otherworldly as that.
Saris - Yes, yes, hard to believe isn't it? But the evidence does not lie - it is some form of magic or sorcery that the Levisala have awoken unto the universe! Allow me to set the scene. Yesterday morning on Mormus, Saturday night our time - and the spot, the Moru'Vare Palace Throne Room! If you still don't believe me, just watch!

Saris snapped his fingers, prompting one of the intelligence officers at his side to bring up a video recording. The picture was moving around a little bit – it wasn't the stable cinematography from a filmed screenplay, but the characteristic whimsy of a hidden camera, likely concealed in someone's clothing. Admiral Jaysmoth and Commodore Shen could be seen entering from the great doors at the end of the hall, kneeling before the Empress. They explain their new weapon – something akin to "magic" - and are laughed off by Ministers Sayama and Cherchen, who are standing next to whoever is filming.

Suddenly, the laughter is cut short by a crimson flash, and an eerie fog fills the room as a demonic entity appears from the fog, giving a dramatic monologue. The demon confronts Minister Sayama, and with a wave of his palm seems to read his thoughts like an open book and knocks the minister unconscious. The demon and the empress converse, and at the end they are shaking hands, each with confident, proud smiles. Truly, the spectacle is one that would need to be seen to be believed. The Council, after watching the footage, was silent, either mesmerized or disturbed by the otherworldly entity that now shared the same world as them.

Saris - Yes, yes. Terrifying, isn't it? We received this footage from Agent Keradiya, who was performing a deep cover mission in the Levisala intelligence agency. There's been no indication that she's been compromised, so I have reason to believe this footage is fully authentic and has not been doctored or tailored in any way for our viewing.
Lorrelas - Essence... they said something about Essence…

Lorrelas was focused on a single word that was mentioned by Jaysmoth in the footage. That was a word that he had learned a while back – it was one of many things that he had brought back to the Federation when he embarked on an intergalactic expedition to the Milky Way Galaxy. It was that expedition where he had established contact with the Federation and the Seven Starr Alliance and brought the Bunsen Galaxy into the First Gigaquadrant. In learning some of the history of the greater Gigaquadrant, he had heard Essence used many times in the context of the all-too-recent wars with the Xhodocto, and while he had never witnessed it himself in his expedition, the way it was described made it an undeniably real phenomenon, and a terrifying one at that.

Lorrelas - Commissioner Saris, you may not be too far off in describing it as magic. The Essence that they talk about, I can attest to it being a real thing. The greater intergalactic network spoke of its use in devastating recent wars.
Saris - Does the Gigaquadrant offer anything that can counteract this Essence?
Lorrelas - I... don't know. They never talked much about any specific techniques or technologies that they used to survive against those Essence wielders. But even if they did have countermeasures, I feel like it would be trying to use a shield for the first time against a master swordsman.
Garnet - I think Lorrelas' assessment is correct. The way that this Shu'von'e character describes himself, he seems experienced with the stuff. Yet we barely even know what it is, hell, I didn't really believe it was real until now.
Saris - Yes, even if we tried to call upon extragalactic contacts, we can't use technology we don't understand the underlying mechanics of, let alone technology loaned from aliens whose languages we barely know. It would be a nightmare for integration.
Samenor - Hmm... But do we need to look outside our galaxy for answers?

Lorrelas and Saris paused upon hearing Samenor's suggestion. Samenor took this as a cue to continue.

Samenor - That demon... I think he called himself Shu'von'e. He said that he belongs to a race that is one in the same with the Skelewalkers from the legends of the last generation of galactic civilization.
Garnet - So you're saying that these are the same guys who supposedly led to the destruction of galactic civilization tens of thousands of years ago? Do those damned scorpions know who they're consorting with?
Samenor - The key here, though, is that according to the legends, the Skelewalkers were defeated, even at the cost of the decline of civilization. If we can learn what their secret was, I'm sure we can defeat them, too, without us being pushed to the brink of ruin.
Kolva - To be fair, Sammy, I'd rather not rely on oral tradition to be our saving grace in this. For all we know, it'll lead to some bullshit like "the real treasure was friendship" and we'll be up shit creek without a paddle.
Lorrelas - Kavi raises a good point. Even if the legends of the ancient Skelewalkers potentially hold some answer for us, we can't hope that a concrete, usable solution has survived millennia of translation and embellishment. I think more focus would need to be placed on figuring something out with the means we already have.
Saris - Either way, we must immediately get our scientists to work to create that solution. And, we need to immediately confront the Levisala with this! We can't allow them to release a horde of galaxy-destroyers! And hopefully, our friends in the galaxy will think the same!
Khoffman - Hold on. As much as I'd want to go in guns blazing, that might not be wise.

Everyone at the table turned towards Khoffman, surprised that the notorious battle-loving admiral was advising caution with a grave expression.

Khoffman - First of all, we don't know if they have a way of reviving that big guy's buddies. As terrifying as the prospect of facing tens, or even hundreds of people like him is, we can't start accusing the scorpions of awakening a new galactic cataclysm until we get more information on their progress.
Samenor - That's true. As convincing as this footage is, it's not enough to be worth causing civilian panic over. If our spies in the Confederacy can provide irrefutable proof of progress towards the revival of the Skelewalkers, then we should be able to publically confront the Levisala. But until then, we will have to keep things private to avoid jumping the gun, and to avoid the Levisala becoming aware of the intel leak.
Saris - That's true. Very true. Though there are important people that must be informed about this if we are to make progress on our own front. I will need to brief any of my agents involved in Confederacy military or intelligence operations, so that they can keep their ears and eyes open for developments.
Ylands - I think it would also be prudent to make contact with the military leaders of the Pazumiri and the Argexantines, so that we can coordinate a response if the situation escalates, as we fear.
Tanyan - Yes, indeed. And in addition to military support, the Pazumiri and Argexantines may have their own scientific resources that they can contribute to the creation of a Skelewalker countermeasure.
Lilly - I just hope they can cooperate with each other. I don't doubt our abilities to coordinate with the Church and the Alliance individually, but the Core Conflict was not more than 50 years ago and I wouldn't be surprised if there's still bad blood between them.
Lorrelas - That's a question for the Diplomatic Corps to handle. And even so, I'm fairly certain Commandant Serrada and Admiral Jamake will be mature enough to get the Pazu'Mir Navy and Warrior Battleguard to merge ranks once they see what the Levisala are plotting.

Everyone at the table nodded in agreement to the points raised by the various commanders. It was a precarious situation now, and the Federation's response needed to walk a thin line between "don't make a fuss, let it play out" and "disintegrate this threat with interstellar cruise missiles ASAP". Too conservative, and Tropicana could be burning within a month with no one but themselves to blame. Too uproarious, and the populace of not only the Federation, but the entire galaxy, would accuse the Federation government of warmongering over a rumor that the Levisala could easily deny and quickly bury under a hopeless amount of counter-intelligence smokescreening. Which would bring them straight back to Tropicana burning, though maybe a week later this time, which would give them a bit more time to blame themselves, at least.

Lorrelas - So, I think we all have a tentative game plan in our heads now. Are we all in agreement on how to proceed, for now at least?
Saris - I have no objections. The Intelligence Commission will get straight to work on increasing our surveillance of relevant Levisala targets and will begin contacting researchers and industrialists who may be of use to Skelewalker research.
Lilly - No objections. Special Forces will be on alert for any necessary response to potential signs of Levisala aggression.
Garnet - As will the Defense. I'll make sure Caigiancia and Erion are ready for an attack.
Samenor - Though don't make it obvious we're anticipating an invasion. Otherwise it'll be all too obvious that we've learned of their precious secret project.
Garnet - Well, of course. I know how to coordinate a defense. What do you take me for, an Armada commander? Hah hah hah!
Lorrelas - Heh, just what we need, interservice rivalry right before what might be the biggest war of this era. Since we're all on-board with this, then I'll get working on my part as well. I'll need to get in contact with Serrada and Jamake and arrange a secret unified command conference. I'm expecting most of you to be there, if you're not too busy sitting on your asses staring off into space.
Garnet - Haah? You talkin' about me? Heh, well, then I'll just have to show up at that conference so I can kick your ass for that!
Lilly - Eh, whatever. I'll be there.
Saris - If my counterparts in the Church and Alliance intel services will be there, then I'll be there as well. Otherwise, I'll probably arrange a separate meeting for the intelligence side of things.
Lorrelas - Alright, then. I think it's settled then. Meeting adjourned?
All - Federation forever!

The commanders at the table saluted each other, and began to pack up their materials, taking personal copies of the video recording for any personal briefing that they needed to deliver. The elevator out of the Council chambers wouldn't be able to fit every officer present at the conference, so the group of officers split in two. Lorrelas and the MAIN Strike Fleet commanders were caught in the second group.

Garnet - *boarding the elevator* Ah hah! Domestic Defense has boarded the elevator first! Sayonara, Armada slowpokes!
Kolva - Gimme a break... I sometimes don't know why that guy is so insistent on keeping up an Armada-Defense rivalry. I mean, for it to be a rivalry, wouldn't the Defense have to be actually close to matching the Armada?
Samenor - Enmity, friendly or not, can work in strange ways... Say, speaking of which… James, how sure are you actually that Serrada and Jamake are going to get along?
Lorrelas - If I had to say... I'm actually not sure myself. Saris wouldn't shut up if I didn't show any confidence in getting them to work together, anyways. But I think they'll at least be able to agree that we've all got bigger problems than petty politics…

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