Six billion years ago, an ancient species that called Andromeda home, known as the Demiurges, vanished from existence among with the rest of the Four Precursors. Why did they disappear? Who - or what - was powerful enough to sweep entire civilisations from from the face of the galaxy? This is not our story.
The story we will hear today is the story of the Demiurges' legacy, of their children and creations. Why were they created? What secrets do they hide in their blood and genetic code? Were their creation an error, a mistake in the Demiurges' quest for the Truth, or were they a part of a grand design of some sort? Now it is time to discover this. Now it is time for revelations to come...
Satyameva: The Universal Truth
I'kt - Faster, faster! There is no time to wait!
Figures clad in black armour dashed through the vermilion jungles of Satyameva, a small world located on the outskirts of Segmentum Crepusculum. They were not the first visitors of that ancient world and they were certainly not the last, for Satayema was no ordinary planet; billions of years ago, it was a Sophiana, one of the most prolific worlds ruled by the Rades. And though the ancient precursors were long gone, the ruins they had left behind drew many explorers to Satyameva, who were attracted to it like moths to flames. And few returned alive.
But those who sought to uncover the mysteries of the ancient ones that day were no ordinary explorers either: they swore allegiance to the Commonwealth's Reclamation Service, one of the most influential organisations in the entire AGC. They were professionals: equipped with the most advanced technology in the entire galaxy, protected by an entire squad of former Dei'Ar and United Confederate Guard marines, led by the brightest minds in the Segmentum, they were meant to get the job done. In charge of the archaeologist team was professor I'kt, a Sader scientist well-known in the Divinarium for his ingenious, brilliant mind... as well as his obsessiveness, paranoia and apparent insanity.
I'kt - It must be here, yes! The Sanctum Sanctorum, the key to all knowledge of the Demiurges, yes... all these years... - I'kt slipped into mad, barely coherent ramblings - Wait, what was that noise?
I'kt twitched and turned his head to one of the larger trees in the jungle, staring at it without blinking. With a gesture, he told the security guard to draw their weapons.
I'kt - Intruders! Attack!
The guard sighed at the professor's paranoid order: but rules were rules, and he was their superior. Without further objections, they aimed their gauss rifles at the tree and made their shots: in a next second, a good portion of the tree was reduced to ashes, along with a small bird-like creature (which was apparently the source of the noise) whose skeleton fell to the ground. I'kt looked at the remains of the tree, appearing content.
I'kt - Perfect. The path is clear.
As if by instinct, I'kt approached a large crag covered in vegetation which jutted from the rest of the jungle and touched it gently. The crag's rock responded by starting to crack and glow; these cracks expanded, grew, and slowly turned into patterns and symbols, which I'kt recognised all too well: it was ancient Radessic. The Sader professor smiled upon seeing the antediluvian language of the precursors and started to whisper in it; as he did, a slate of rock before him retreated into the ground, opening a way to the Rades temple. I'kt let a quiet laughter as he walked into the darkness, driven by insatiable curiosity, but was stopped by the security guard commander, a large Val'kar clad in heavy armour. He had a stern expression on his face, his eyes piercing painfully right into I'kt's soul, and the Sader professor stepped back, unnerved.
Gr'roz - It is too dangerous to go alone! My men will go first.
I'kt - I am the supreme authority here, commander Gr'roz! I have been searching for this place for years, and I am going to be the first to see the revelations it hides!
Gr'roz - Ugh. Fine. Do whatever you want, but we won't be responsible if a Rades biomech kills you or something.
Ignoring the commander's warnings, I'kt turned on his flashlight and entered the Revelation; a shrine and a laboratory in one, it was the place where the Rades studied the primal laws of the multiverse in order to achieve their ultimate goal: the Universal Truth. And that truth was about to be revealed for I'kt, or so he hoped. Observing the shadowy corridor of the Rades temple, the Sader scientist walked slowly, followed by his compatriots. He wanted to see every detail, every message the precursors had left for their descendants, every stone of the Revelation.
I'kt - Ah... look at these... pictures. The Demiurges have saved their history for us using these... frescoes. Just look at them!
I'kt pointed his flashlight at one of the walls and froze in awe; his jaw dropped. A massive picture engraved on the rocks: it depicted a Rades waving his hand, with young Radeons, Saders, Ryketians, Val'kar, Razzit, Colmarians, and many other creatures bowing before him. Radessic hieroglyphics were also engraved, stating: "HERE, THEY WERE CREATED." I'kt couldn't have been more joyous. His theory had been proven. The Revelation he found was indeed the place where all species created by the Rades had been made.
I'kt - ...Yes! YES! It is upon us...
I'kt looked closer at the fresco. He noticed that the creatures were surrounded by a purple aura, with ghostly creatures depicted behind them. Were they the messengers? I'kt was about to find out, for right before him stood his species's cradle. The Sader professor turned his head up, seeing a huge, circular gate made of the same organic rock-like material as the rest of the temple's interior; large, ominous, it appeared to be immovable, implacable, invincible. But it wasn't, and I'kt knew that. All he needed was the right password.
I'kt - Thralemnia? Lamrenathi? Qualathina? Aediremnia?
Scientist - Professor, is it truly a right decision? We have to find out everything about that place, perh-
I'kt - I will not be stopped by cowards.
I'kt kept chanting words in the ancient tongue of the Demiurges, not caring about the rest of the team, about the skeletons of dead explorers that surrounded him... all he wanted was to uncover the secrets of the Ancients. Realising that something horrible was about to happen, Gr'roz stepped back and promptly escaped the temple: the rest of the guards, however, remained, captivated by I'kt aura of obsessive curiosity. The only person that came with Gr'roz was a young Radeon scientist: small and weak even for her age and her species, she was fearful of things that were about to come and as such followed the Val'kar commander. The professor continued rambling, thinking, coming up with theories. And then, a sudden realisation came to his mind. He knew the word.
I'kt - Quaenosophi.
The word I'kt just said meant many things in Old Radessic. Knowledge. Wisdom. Revelation. The ultimate goal of the entire Rades species. Gnosis. What else could open a way to such an important facility? The professor's guess was right: as I'kt finished proclaiming the last letter of the word, the circular gates opened nigh-immediately.
And inside was insanity, nightmares, and the horrifying revelation of all the dark truths that had been hidden before.
It had been a year or two since the Satyameva accident which ended her teacher's life, but for Thessina, it was like it happened yesterday. Professor I'kt's dying screams still echoed in her ears, haunting her like ghosts, coming to her in her dreams and in those rare moments of rest when she was able to take a break from her work in the Reclamation Service. It was as if when the Rades temple was destroyed, a shard of it remained in her heart and continued to torment her since then. Whatever happened there - the last thing she remembered from the expedition was a blinding storm of energy that bursted from the Revelation - changed Thessina forever.
There was one upside in these changes, though; since the expedition, her scientific career had definitely gone uphill. No longet a mere assistant, she was now a full-fledged scientist of the Reclamation Service, respected greatly by her peers despite her young age. Insatiable thirst for knowledge awakened in Thessina's mind, and it demanded answers. Why, why? Why did the Rades create the Radeons and other species of Segmentum Crepusculum? She had to find out.
Pariah Zero - I have finished the analysis, doctor Venoriel.
A circle-shaped drone made of black technorganic material flew into Thessina's laboratory, staring at her with its single white eye which flared in anticipation, waiting for an answer. Although the fact that Pariah used her last name ticked her off a bit, she neverthless smiled at the prospect of further research.
Thessina - Splendid! Any notable results?
Pariah - Yes, doctor Venoriel. We have yet to find a pattern in the locations of Rades Revelations, but I have detected a similarity in the ecosystems of the planets they are located on. To be precise, they are identical.
Thessina - What?! But- how... Well, that can be explained. The Demiurges must have taken measures to protect their perfect creations from unexpected mutations. Everything that is, has a purpose... but what was our purpose, Pariah? Warriors? Caretakers?
Pariah - This question is beyond my programming, doctor Venoriel.
Thessina - Stop calling me that- wait, wait... - Thessina deactivated her research computer and turned to the drone - Pariah, are there any other worlds with similar ecosystems? As in, identical?
Pariah - Yes, doctor Thessina. Xalanque, Tonima system, subsector Traviana.
Thessina - Xalanque... that's where our intergalactic science team is working! I must warn them, professor Sana'kuti at least... ah, to the Cycle with it! - Thessina grabbed her PDA - I am going there myself! I guess I deserve to see the answers with my own eyes...
And then, in a blink of an eye, Thessina was gone. Her destiny awaited her.
Xalanque: the Arrival
Thessina's shuttle landed. A bit exhausted from the trip – as a scientist, she wasn't used to such hasty journeys – she stepped out of it on Xalanque's surface and, after allowing herself a moment of rest, rushed towards the digsite. She cared little about thorns that dug into her hazard suit or the swarms of insects that buzzed around her – she saw all these things on Satyameva... in fact, they were identical, and that distressed her greatly. Somehow – it wasn't just the data her drone gathered - she knew that the similarities between Xalanque and her teacher's grave grew beyond similar ecosystems. She knew that, like on Satyameva, something horrible was about to happen, and she intended to stop this something.
Thessina - Professor Sana'kuti! I have made a discovery about this place, it is-
Thessina was met by a friendly smile of professor Sana'kuti, one of the Reclamation Service's most respected xenologists. Thessina had always found him... strange. Maybe she was just a bit speciesistic, but it was always surprising for her to see an Artharon in a library reading ancient Radessic tomes and mumbling about civilisations long gone. Still, over time she got used to him, and she could hardly imagine the Academy without his eccentric theories.
Sana'kuti - Ah, greetings, doctor Venoriel. You have arrived just in time: we are about to begin excavating. Who knows what mysteries shall this beauteous place reveal!
As Thessina followed the Artharon professor, she took a look at the science team. It was a bit unusual for her; among the archaeologists and soldiers in white uniforms, mostly Radeons, Artharons and Colmar, lithe, draconic figures walked, their clothings bearing the red markings of the Indoctrinate Collective. The captain representing them, a large orange-coloured Dracogodasimer, approached Thessina.
Gavakar - Greetings. I am Captain Gavakar. I need to know exactly what we are looking for, for I was not informed.
Sana'kuti - The Rades relics on this world. We are searching for them... they're beautiful, aren't they?
Gavakar - I see. With our combined efforts, it should be done quickly then.
Thessina - That's what I wanted to tell you about, professor. I have analysed this planet's ecosystem, and it is identical with that of Satyameva and other Rades Revelation worlds. We must exercise caution-
Sana - Of course, Thessina. I still remember what happened to your teacher, and this isn't going to repeat again. Now, activate the elevators! We're going into the complex.
Heeding Sana'kuti's command, one of the scientists activated the Rades construct's gates; responding to his touch, its stone slowly gave way to the rest of the group, allowing it to march into the complex. Thessina, the most cautious of the team, stayed at the back, looking around constantly. Everything in this building – the organic-looking walls, the images of strange, mutated creatures on the walls, feline-looking abstract statues that supported the complex's roof like mythical atlases – had something 'wrong in it... exactly like on Satyameva. The soldiers that guarded the science team were visibly unnerved as well, priming their weapons to protect the others. Thessina recognised one of these soldiers, his stern and wrinkled Val'kar face forever remaining in her memory – it was Gr'roz, the second survivor of the Satyameva accident. Unlike the rest of the marines, he wasn't scared in a slightest. He just continued moving, a scattergun clenched in his palms, a snarl his expression. In a sense, Thessina admired him. She wished she could have his confidence.
Gavakar - I don't feel confortable in this place.
Gr'roz - Neither do I.
Rana - Don't worry, gentlemen! We have taken additional countermeasures to prevent any further accidents like on Satyameva... your presence is mostly a formality.
Gr'roz – Grrh. Don't remind me of it. My entire squad died there.
Gavakar - I will remain vigilant anyway.
Thessina - Captain Gavakar is right. We have to be prepared for anything.
The science team pushed forward until it found itself in what appeared to be a mix of a laboratory and a temple hall. Numerous technorganic machines, rusted but still awe-inspiring, lied there; they seemed to be an exotic form of science equipment, but their shapes were alien, twisted, somewhat unnerving in look but at the same time, surrounded with an aura of... sanctity of some sort. They were clearly made by a species whose only faith was science. And, like in every temple, a sacrament was taking place right now. Everybody just stood, awestruck. There was silence.
And then, there was darkness, then light, then pain. The sanctity of the Temple of Science was violated by the shrieks of railgun blasts, its silence penetrated by the screams of the scientists. Almost by instinct, Gavakar, Thessian and Gr'roz juxtaposed back to back, their weapons primed and ready. They were prepared to face whosoever came for them.
Gr'roz - Seems that we were right. You... what's your name... Venoriel, right?
Thessina - Do not use that name! I'm Thessina!
Gr'roz - Crybaby. Fine, Thessina, can you answer who attacked us? You vermin monks can see in the darkness, don't you?
Thessina - Ugh, it's too dark even for me... these are Artharons, I think. Black and gold armour. Spiky.
Gr'roz- Shadow Blade... - Gr'roz became audibly annoyed when he said these words, his voice seething with anger. It was clear that he had a history with the mysterious assailants. - Now it is time for payback...
The firefight continued as the hall was shaken by the sounds of battle; it was as if the very walls wailed and howled in agony (a given the Rades's penchant for organic technology, it's likely that they really did). Deafened by cacophonic dying screams and thundering howls of gunfire, Gr'roz and Gavakar couldn't see neither their comrades and thus simply fired blindly into darkness, their weapons flashing allowing them to have a glimpse of the battle. They saw corpses; lots of corpses. Many of them belonged to the Shadow Blade, which pleased Gr'roz to no degree, but as many were those of their allies, soldiers and scientists, Indoctinate and Commonwealth. The Val'kar marine and the Dracogodasimer captain didn't care, for they both were soldiers, forged in battle, trained to kill.
Thessina, not so much.
The moment the gunfire began, she was literally destroyed on the inside. She was right. Something happened, and once again her life, and that of all she loved, was at stake. But what could she do now? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. She was a scientist, not a soldier, and all she could do was to run. Using her species' nocturnal predisposition, she rolled from one machine to another, hiding behind them and hoping that her small size would conceal her from the Artharon invaders. Then, something drew her attention; a bright cyan light that shone in a distance from the raging battle, radiated by one of the Rades's biomechanisms. Drawn by this light like a moth to a flame, she approached the machine and saw a figure working it – and was shocked. Although that Sader was scarred, his flesh twisted by cybernetics and his clothings ragged and frayed, she recognised him immediately.
It was her teacher, N'kt.
I'kt - Excellent, yes-yes...
Thessina - ...Professor?
Thessina just didn't understand what was going on. How did I'kt survive Satyameva? What happened to him? What was he doing? Why was he talking with a hologram? She was too scared to approach him any further, and her mind was too clouded by the bloodshed for her to make any conclusion.
I'kt - Why of course will you recieve your payment-payment, yes-yes, ahaha...
Gavakar - Are you responsable for this invasion?
Having dealt with the majority of the Shadow Blade attackers, Gavakar and Gr'roz approached Thessina, looking at I'kt suspiciously but holding their weapons back – after all, he was a Commonwealth scientist once and there was no proof that he was aligned with the invaders. He, however, did not even notice their presence, and simply continued tinkering with the Rades machine while whispering in ancient tongues of civilisations long gone. Finally, the light around the machine poured into him, making I'kt's entire body flow with energy, and he at last managed to detect his former subordinates' presence and turned to them, madness visible in his eyes. Thessina shuddered upon seeing I'kt's corrupted face, while Gavakar and Gr'roz simply smirked.
I'kt - There is no invasion. I merely make things right-right...
Gavakar - Your professor turned traitor. Permission to kill him.
Thessina - What is happening? This is not you, professor...
I'kt - Kill? Me? You cannot kill the angel of Yaldabaoth, no-no... you will not stand in Their way!
Gavakar - Eh?
With an insane grin on his face, I'kt raised his hand and Thessina, Gavakar and Gr'roz were lifted in the air, surrounded by a blue aura. Whatever happened on Satyameve, it seemed that the Sader professor was changed forever, given great power and great revelations... at the expense of his already barely existent sanity.
Gavakar - What the hell?!
I'kt – Nobody shall interfere, noone, not a living soul, no foul spawn, no-no... but I can make it right... I will make it right... yaldaoth'keterabala'quaenosophi...
Rana — Demiurges...
Seemingly out of nowhere, a strange sight appeared... professor Rana'kuti. Or was it him? Thessina wasn't sure. Before her eyes stood the same Artharon, with the same voice... but everything else in him was different. He stood up, with strength unlikely for his age, his gaze no longer directed unto himself but instead shining with determination and willpower. He was clearly a person not out of this world no longer, but something otherworldy still remained in him... thought it now seemed that he came not from the world of theories and fantasies, but instead from... somewhere else.
I'kt - Isio'Nar... no, not them!
Rana's entire body was enkindled in radiant violent light as a bolt of lightning came from his palm, falling upon I'kt. The Sader screeched in pain, his flesh burning, and then vanished in a flash.
Thessina - I do not understand... - Thessina approached her saviour - ...what happened? Who are you? What are you?
Rana – The truth shall be revealed to you, lady Venoriel, all in due course. The world is much more complex than you think. - Rana'kuti grabbed Thessina's hand and he, she, Gr'roz and Gavakar were enveloped in mysterious energy - Come with me. It is time for revelations to come.
And then, they were gone. Their adventure had begun.
Purgatory: The Recruitment
Thessina awakened. She felt a massive headache that gnawed at her brain, or perhaps, somewhere deeper, and clenched her teeth in pain. Then pain was gone, and senses returned to her. Before her stood... something. She couldn't exactly understand it. All she saw was light, purple light, that permeated all things around her... what was it? Was it her fate that was told to her species in the Scrolls of Faith, the fate of all faithful to the Masaari? To be reunited with Spode?
Thessina - Where am I? What is this place? Is anyone here? Answer me!
Gr'roz - We are, lass.
Gavakar - I'm here...but I don't know where we are.
Thessina turned her head and saw Gr'roz and Gavakar standing next to her (or perhaps far away from her, for she could hardly discern distances in that place). A smile appeared on her face; at least she wasn't alone.
??? - You are within and before the Manifestation, mortals. It is an honour.
Thessina - Mani-what?
Gavakar - Who's there?
The purple light in the place coagulated and turned into a gigantic ghostly figure, clothed in purple robes. The figure gazed upon the trio inquisitively from beneath its mask, speaking with a godly, booming tone that seemed to be belong to no species or gender but instead was an amalgamation of thousands upon thousands of voices of beings from all across the universe - and beyond.
Figure - I AM.
Thessina pinched herself to check if she was sleeping, but she didn't wake up. It wasn't a dream.
Gavakar - Grrrh. What is that? Is it hostile?
'Manifestation - I am the Manifestation. We bear no ill will to you, but there are forces that do. We, the Isio'Nar, stand against them.
Gavakar - Isio'Nar...the name is familiar.
Thessina - The Isio'Nar... Supreme Order... - Thessiaa tried to recount the contents of the Scrolls of Faith in her mind - ...so are we dead? Are you some kind of an angel?
Manifestation - Death was not given to you in this universe, Thessina Venoriel. Nor was it to you, Gavakar Khramavur and Gr'roz Eraza.
Thessina - Then who are you? And who was professor Sana'kuti for that matter?
Manifestion - He was... one of the followers. There are many who percieve the omniverse as it is, and Sana'kuti... was one of them.
Gavakar - So the professor was an ally of those you stand against.
The Manifestation bowed silently, making Thessina quiver. Her teacher was indeed an enemy to all existence now.
Manifestion - Indeed. He is the one of those called the Revelation Adepts. They serve the gods of the material plane long gone, those whose work was unfinished aeons ago. They seek to succeed where their gods have failed, and thus, threaten all planes of existence.
Thessina - Gods of the material plane long gone... do you mean the Rades?
Manifestation - This is not incorrect.
Gavakar - Rades?
Gr'roz - These chaps who built the building we were in. Think the lass, but smaller.
Gavakar - Interesting.
Thessina - But... what does that make you then. - Thessina continued speaking with ever-increasing curiosity - Who are you? What are these planes of existence you're speaking of?
The Manifestation remained silent, looking away. Thessina's impatience grew.
Thessina - And please, tell me, what do these Revelation Adepts want? I have dedicated my entire life to studying the Demiurges, and I must know what is their goal... what was the Rades's goal before them. If I'm standing here, I think I... deserve to know.
Gavakar - The girl has a point.
Manifestion - All in due course, mortals. Some secrets are meant to remain unrevealed.
Thessina - Why? If you know so much, then tell us! What revelations could be revealed to us, mortals... to the Holy Empire, to the Commonwealth, to the entire Gigaquadrant!
Manifestation - Your curiousity is admirable. This is one of the reasons we have brought you here... for we have a mission for you.
Gavakar - Mission, eh?
Gr'roz stood up, annoyed greatly, and made a rude gesture to the figure, who seemingly ignored it.
Gr'roz - Hey, hey, shut your gob! You ain't no guv of mine, and I definitely do not take orders from some random glowy chaps from the sky.
The Manifestation's voice became a great deal more discordant and a tone of malevolence emerged in it, yet it still remained calm and confident.
Manifestation - The reason you were chosen for the mission is your tenacity, yes. But in this realm, it is pointless. We are your only way out.
Gr'roz - ...crap.
Gavakar - Hmpf. I guess we have no choice then.
The Manifestation waved its hand and the purple was gone, replaced by black, and once again the trio found themselves in the real world. They appeared to be in a hall of some sort, surrounded by figures in purple robes similar to the being they encountered seconds before but decidedly less godly in look. Gavakar looked around in confusion.
Anointed - They have arrived, great Deutera Arcana. All according to the prophecy.
A female robed figure appeared before the trio, apparently a leader of the cultists. Her face was concealed by her heavy clothing and her voice was warped and strange, but somehow Thessina felt a twinge of deja vu and found it familiar... as if she heard it somewhere.
Deutera - Very well, brothers and sisters. Welcome to the Anointed Society, for you are now its agents and warriors. The war is about to begin...
Mielian: The Infiltration
Thessina' - So what do you want us to do?
Deutera - We want you to infiltrate the ranks of the Revelation Adepts. - the leader of the Isio'Nar followers approached the group - This is an important mission, and it won't be easy... all of the agents we sent have perished there.
Gr'roz - Huh. You know who to cheer people up.
Thessina - Then why do you think we will succeed in the mission?
Gavakar - Infiltration, eh? Not exactly my strongest point but I guess I can do it. You don't usually tell a Dracogodasimer to sneak up on people.
Deutera - Because the Manifest has decided so. You are... different. You, Thessina Venoriel, possess knowledge of the Adept leader; you, Gr'roz Eraza, were here during the Satyameva incident... as of you, Gavakar Khramavur, well, you just happened to be there when the Adepts attacked.
Gavakar - Am I not special enough for you now?
Deutera - All have a purpose in the Manifest. Yours is very important.
Gavakar - Right. Let's get this over with then.
Deutera's eyes flashed from beneath her hood and three Anointed cultists entered the room to answer her call, carrying strange, locket-like mechanical devices, both arcane and technological in design. Thessina stared at the devices with great curiousity, analysing them and their origins.
Thessina - Are these Rades relics?
Deutera - No. Commonwealth technology.
Gr'roz - And where the hell did you glowy chaps get it?
Deutera - We have our sources. These are your infiltrators.
Gavakar - I'm not expecting a good answer for that.
One of the cultists demonstrated the infiltrator's use by taking the device in her hand and changing into an Anointed cultist.
Cultist - Holograms and utility fog. Very useful.
Gavakar - That solves the "I'm too big" issue.
Deutera - We have managed to find and eliminate three Anointed cultists: Mithvea Qenaim, Sakar Karralak and Safiv Zan. You will... replace them.
Gavakar - Fun.
The cultists walked to the trio, their facial expressions concealed by their long robes, and handed the devices to them. The Radeon scientist was the first to accept, taking the arcane infiltrator in her hand and watching it dissolve in her hand. It was an enticing sight for her to see the wonders of technology modern science had achieved: perhaps one day, it could surpass the ancients she had devoted her life to?
Thessina - Hm... Feels... tingly. - Thessina's body was engulfed in white light and then flashed, illuminating the dark room and blinding Gavakar and Gr'roz for a split second. Slowly emerging out of zen-like trance, the Radeon scientists looked at her hands with a half-smile of uncertainty: she had changed. Her coat, once of a grayish blue tint inherited from her infamous mother, had become dark brown, and was now covered in tatooes from head to toe. The tatooes were in Ancient Radessic script, one she clearly recognised but many of the glyphs. Her clothing, too, had changed: instead of a lab coat-like light combat armour she was wearing as a Commonwealth archaeologist, she was clad in a long, dark blue robe-like kilt that went from her waist to her feet. There wasn't much clothing above that, save for a few runed bandages on her chest, and when she looked down, she was quite pleased: whoever that cultist was, she was clearly more ample and endowed in terms of appearance than her - I might as well enjoy that mission.
Gavakar - How do I get this thing to work again? - Gavakar took the device and stared at it.
Deutera - Clench it in your fist. - Gavakar raised an eyebrow and did it as instructed. A white light once again flashed, and Gavakar had changed into a much smaller form. A tatooed Dracogovaesis, wearing robes on her legs but no clothing from her chest to her head. Gavakar looked at herself in visible annoyance.
Gavakar - Too small.
As Gavakar was finishing her transformation, Gr'roz emerged as well, having been turned into a lithe, tall Ryketian dressed in a similar way to Thessina. Much like the Dracodasimer commander, he had a frown on his face.
Gr'roz - I look ridiculous.
Gavakar - At least the Radeon lady is enjoying herself.
Thessina - Wow. Just look at me... look at my new... hm... eh, nevermind.
Deutera - Excellent. According to our agents, the Revelation Adepts' next meeting will convene on the Indoctrinate world of Quaron III, in Andromeda. Infiltrate the meeting, gather the information and return to me. May the Isio'Nar be with you.
With a wave of a hand, Thessina, Gavakar and Gr'roz were gone in a shroud of purple mist, taken away by the Anointed's energies into a place far, far away. As the mist disappeared, Deutera Arcana continued to stare at it, thinking of what the future held...
Cultist - My mistress, are you sure they will succeed in their mission? We can't trust such an important task to... unbelievers.
Deutera - The Hierophants have made their decision, brother. They will succeed. And if they don't, I have one more ally to call...
Thessina's senses returned to her in a flash; the cacophony in her ears went away, and the pulsing colours that once filled her vision gave way to more rational images as she opened her eyes. She saw a large, advanced city built in a rather traditional manner; not sophisticated enough to be Imperial, not spartan enough to be Brood, not elegant enough to be Divinarium. Thus in a few seconds the Radeon scientist concluded: this was a colony of some extragalactic species that inhabited the galaxy. Gr'roz, which materialised before her, appeared to be as perplexed, looking around slowly and with a slight twinge of fear evident in his movements - there was something twisted in the air, something ancient and malevolent.
Gr'roz - Cor blimey...
Gavakar - That was unconfortable. - as Gavakar arrived, she grunted and scratched her head as she looked around.
Thessina - Definitely. - Thessina turned her head down; although her tatooes and clothings appeared to have changed to resemble a more traditional apparel, her body remained that of a Revelation cultist, with all the perks of it.
Gavakar - Ngh, this better not take much time. This disguise is so unconfortable.
Thessina - Mine certainly isn't- ugh. Let's concentrate on the mission. Gavakar, that is an Indoctrinate world, right?
Gavakar looked around, a frown forming on her face.
Gavakar - It is.
Gr'roz - Can you check where are we and what is that city?
Gavakar - If I'm correct this is an outer colony called Mielian, and this is the capital colony of the planet. I think it's called Gaminan. But why is there a hostile cult on a Collective planet? My shooting arm is getting agitated already.
Gr'roz - Guess they're hiding. But where?
Thessina - Hmmmm...
Thessina turned her sight towards the pitch black bracelet which laid on her wrist and stared at it closely, her eyes glowing slightly; the bracelet's projectors were then set into motion. A holographic cylinder surrounded Thessina's wrist, turning into diagrams, equations, maps; with a shaking hand, Thessina quickly skimmed through the projected windows until she found what she was looking for: a list of today's important events in the city.
Thessina - Let's see what we have here... films, festivals, Attack on Macronormus... My Little Blaargus... wait, what's that?
Gavakar - What's what?
Thessina pressed a projected button on her wrist, making it turn into what appeared to be a picture of a middle-aged Collective Zazane dressed in decorative armour; texts in Dracogonarish, Spinkish and Zan'tai were flying around the picture, flashing like neon adverts.
Thessina - Hm, what is that? Let me read the Zan'tai bit... - Thessina held the part of the text with her hand. - Jaradulzan's Imperial Opera, brought to you from Cakothar's ashen plains...
Gr'roz - A Zazane opera? Wha-?
Gavakar - Huh. Never seen one of those.
Thessina - Yes, Jaradulzan... wait, wait, I get it! The professor liked Zazane operas before he had become... what he is now. Also, it's said here that the Gaminan opera house has a large underground section...
Gr'roz - Seems like a perfect place to arrange a cultist meeting.
Citizen - Erm... what are you talking about?
A young Spydahma dressed in a form of "trendy" clothing adapted for his species' arachnid physiology stopped on his way and looked at Thessina, Gavakar and Gr'roz talking, confused and clueless. His eyes, pearl white as befitting his species, were filled with clear curiosity.
Gavakar - ...We're just chatting over something. It doesn't concern you.
Thessina - Yeah! We're just, erm, preparing to do... an... erm... thing... at a... place.
Citizen - Of course! Sure, sure, I get it...
With utmost haste, the unlikely trio boldly (and somewhat awkwardly) moved into the heart of their enemy, leaving the Spydahma youth alone... or rather, with his older protege covered in tatoos.
Spydahma - I saw them conspire, brother. What shall we do?
??? - Do nothing. Inform noone. They might prove useful if converted into our cause...
Gr'roz - So, we're here. - the Val'Kar commander stared at the massive opera house that stood before him. It was square-shaped, brick red - almost like the colour of spilled blood - and quite massive. Built according to Dracogonarious architectural standards - that is, very laconic and not quite opulent - it however carried certain elements of Zazane masonry, which was evident in its strong foundation and abstract, yet still threatening grotesques that adorned its walls. Looks grand. And kinda creepy...
Gavakar - Nothing I'm not already used to.
Gr'roz - Large, ugly, and with a huge underground level, mostly under construction. Perfect place for these chums to convene - especially since their bloody leader likes opera, if the Radeon lass is to be believed. Radeon lass... where is she?
Gavakar - I thought she was with you.
Gr'roz - So did I... - Gr'roz turned around, looking worryingly for the Radeon girl. His eyes darted from place to place, analysing the area like the old soldier was used to in his old times. Then, suddenly, Thessina appeared - flouncing happily out of the city's trading district, smiling as she held her handbag in her hand. Although she kept her voluptous cultist disguise, the unconspicious clothes she wore originally seemed to be replaced by clothing of Dracogonarious making that appeared to be much more fashionable and considerably more revealing. Gavakar looked at the girl with an expression of downright disbelief.
Thessina - Look! This city has lovely shops - they even have clothing for Radeons, my size! Just look at me! - Thessina spun slightly, flaunting her bare cleavage and belly - I lo-o-o-o-o-ve it!
Gavakar - Girl, did you forget why we're here in the first place?!
'Thessina - Oh- Thessina blushed - Yes! The opera is about to begin, and we have to meet the cultists inside. Should we go together or one by one?
Gr'roz - Together. That's safer.
Gavakar - Yes. We go together. Wandering off on our own is a death sentence in a situation like this.
Gr'roz' - I go first then.
Gr'roz walked into the opera house, the doors opening automatically as he neared the entrance. The interior of the opera house was, in stark contrast to its somewhat spartan exterior, quite exuberant; red carpets with intricate patterns on them laid on the floors and portraits of famous Andromedans - clearly of Draconis artistry - stood on the walls. Overall, the room's design seemed to be closer to a Commonwealth manor than anything found in the Indoctrinate Collective. Awaiting the team was a tall, skinny Gezzirak wearing a posh suit that greeted the guests; from the jovial expression on his face, it seemed that he treated the trio as if he had known them for a long time.
Gezzirak - Hello, friends! You may proceed without a ticket; your friend has already paid for you. Good luck and remember... - suddenly, the Gezzirak's voice became gravely and whispery - The Infinite emanates through us.
Gavakar - Uh. Yeah, of course.
Thessina - It definitely does... - Thessina closed her eyes, thinking and muttering to herself, her whispers become more audible after each word - Infinite. Something which has to do with the Radessic ideal of the Universal Truth, probably Dei'Nar...
Gr'roz - Yes! - Gr'roz pushed Thessina and then dashed into the opera hall. As Thessina was running, however, something catched her ear. A raucaous yet melodic baritone, apparently of a Zazane singer, rang through the walls of the building; the Radeon scientist ears twitched as she listened to it, closing her eyes in delight. Whatever she was thinking right now, she was in heaven. It was divine - even though she could not understand the words, she smiled as she walked.
Thessina - Ah, yes. This voice. Sounds so...
Gr'roz - Hold your mouth shut, lass.
Gavakar - Bad. If you want music, you listen to a Deldor melody.
Gr'roz - I don't give a damn about what music you like. Get in the hall already! - Gr'roz opened the door as the trio walked into the opera hall. Build opulently - probably with elements of Radeon and Draconis architecture - it was heavily decorated; the walls were made of pure white marble, or at least a material that very closely resembled it, and statues of reptilianfigures - presumably Dracogodasimer - stood like titans, holding the ceiling on their shoulders. The seats were all taken - the audience sitting in strange concordance, watching as if they were all unified by one single emotion. Something was off with this place.
Gavakar - I don't like this place already.
Thessina - Let's just sit there. enjoy the show, and find out what... these ones are up to. - Thessina and the rest of the trio took their seats at the middle of the hall, where they wouldn't be noticed.
Gavakar - The fastest we get this done and get out of here, the better.
Thessina began to listen to the opera, savouring the rich and pleasant-sounding voice of the Zazane singer. The scene itself seemed to be quite bloody; the heroes, apparently ancient Volix noblemen, dueled on the stage with greatswords - all while singing in what appeared to be archaic Zan'tai. Suddenly, while Thessina was immersed in the play, a woman right to her touched her arm.
Woman - Hey. Friend. Do you like the play?
Thessina - Yes! Definitely! - Thessina turned to the woman - a teal-skinned, middle-aged Shodrae with a high-pitched yet dry voice. The Radeon girl seethed with joy, though she also attempted to keep quiet; although visiting an opera was not her intention, she enjoyed it and did not want to ruin its beauty. Gavakar looked over at the two with an eyebrow raised.
Woman - Will you join me after the play? It's about to be over - you missed most of it, unfortunately - so you won't have to wait much. We'll have a... party. Yes, a party.
Thessina - Eh... sure? - Thessina raised her eyebrow, but then realised what was happening and shook her head in approval - Yes! Sure!
Gr'roz - Huh. I don't get it.
Thessina - This is it. - Thessina said as she turned to Gr'roz and Gavakar and began to whisper to them - That must be one of these Revelation Adepts. They are going to gather below this building. We must follow them.
Gavakar - Let's do so.
Thessina - My friends too will come. Would you mind that?
Woman - No, not at all! - as the strange Shodrae spoke, the curtains in the opera house - or rather, the radiant holographic barriers that replaced convenient curtains among the Indoctrinate - began to drop, and the crowds of theatregoers began to leave the hall like a tide. The situation was chaotic; the perfect situation for a group of people to assemble and get to the underground section of the building easily.
Thessina - Where should we go?
Gavakar - Follow that woman.
Woman - Yes. Follow me! - the Shodrae grabbed Thessina by her hand and led her into a place in a middle of nowhere...
Following the cultist woman blindly, as if in some kind of twisted delirium, Thessina, Gr'roz and Gavakar ran through the corridors and pathways, barely even understanding what was going on, until they found themselves in a massive underground hall. From its metallic walls and its vastness Thessina made an assumption that it was originally meant to be used as a store or some other benign purpose, or that it was another opera hall left unbuilt. One way or another, this place now served a new master - it was a twisted temple to ancient, dreaded gods. Banners depicting strict geometrical shapes - built to imitate the Demiurges' alien art - were now raised on its empty ramparts, colouring the hall in obsidian black and deep azure. All sorts of ancient machinery - from something completely useless to devices that even the Reclamation Service was unaware of - were scattered across the room like sacred relics, raised on marble pedestals. The half-naked, tattooed cultists bowed to the elder machines in silent reverence.
Thessina was horrified, but also - ever slightly so - intrigued. The artifacts of ages gone by instantly caught her eye, fascination overtook her, and a blissful, almost sensual feeling came upon her mind. She smiled almost involuntarily.
Thessina - That... could that be the Qensehami Stone? The Mechanism of Orinkadami IV? - Thessina whispered to herself - I'm almost... I'm almost w... wind in my head...
Gavakar - Damned zealots.
Gr'roz - Quiet. Don't you see these bloody blighters here are listening?
Gavakar - Hmpf.
I'kt - My friends-friends, upon us today comes a day of great-great importance, yes? Our destiny will be, will be fulfilled; the last project of the ancients will be done, done, yes?.. - the old mentor of Thessina was now talking from a massive platform, his small, withered frame supported by spidery half-metallic, half-organic limbs - presumably Rades biomechanisms. His shining eyes moved from cultist to cultist, analysing them like a computer.
Thessina - That is him- wait, no... must keep my disguise...
Gavakar - Urk...wish I could shoot now and end this nonsense here...
I'kt - The Khasqaphanth Tharaenuom - she is here-here, somewhere in the stars. We shall find her and open a gate unto the greatest revelations that are. Quaenosophinuan! Quaenosophinuan!
Gr'roz - Kha-what?
Gavakar - Must be their god.
Thessina - No. That word means 'the Daughter of Two Stars' in Koiné Archaic Radessic, a-and Quaenosophinuan is 'O Knowledge'. I think we should just go with it. Quaenosophinuan!
Gavakar - Feh...Quaenosophinuan.
Gr'roz - Quaeno... quaeno... bloody hell, I hate this!
Gavakar - You and me both, pal. You and me both.
Gr'roz - K... K... - Thessina punted Gr'roz slightly - Kvenosphinwan. Yes.
Cultists - Quaenosophinuan! - the chants of all Revelation Adepts coaelsced into a single, terrifying chant, so loud that the walls themselves rang with its sheer energy. Thessina's head hurt suddenly.
'I'kt - And now, my brothers and sister, we shall gaze unto the geas of Satyameva. New revelations await us. - the Sader professor lifted his hand and revealed a strange slate on whose white, organic surface intricate crystalline patterns were etched. Suddenly, it activated. Radiant light emerged from its surface, brighter than anything Thessina had ever seen in all her life. The glow grew stronger still - unrelenting, unyielding, yet... not blinding.
Instead, in the stunning whiteness, she saw a face.
Whispering in the language she could barely understood, his will tore into her head, every word a command.
Obey my judgement.
Obey my judgement.
I'kt - What... Who resists? Who dares resist the will of the Demiurges?
Thessina suddenly regained consciousness to find all the cultists - including Gavakar - in trance, with only Gr'roz and herself still retaining consciousness. Confused, she was stumbling as she tried to maintain her consciousness now, breathing heavily and abruptly. I'kt was still above his platform, clenching his staff with a snarl on his face. His eyes shone brighter in ever, alien energy flowing in his body.
I'kt - Who resists the will of the Geas? Show yourself! - I'kt's eyes were suddenly fixed on Thessina's half-naked, tatooed transformed body and her friend. He growled in disapproval and then pointed his rod at her.
I'kt - Take her. The will of the Geas commands you.
Compelled to obey, the cultists were brought back from their trance, their eyes blue and empty. Some of them carried ancient, energised blades with them, whereas the other were armed with normal Commonwealth sidearms that they held with sure hands - presumably former soldiers or mercenaries. Gavakar, too, was made to fight. Thessina and Gr'roz froze, looking for their guns in their clothing. Suddenly, they found themselves surrounded.
Thessina - What just happened? Why does Gavakar want to kill us? What... what is going on?
Gr'roz - It must be that bloody crypt on Satyameva. The same thing that turned the professor and the rest of his lands doolally... made us resist that bloody voice.
Gavakar - Damned heretics!
Thessina - Curses, curses, curses, curses... - Thessina found herself shooting chaotically, without aiming, more to lull herself into the false sense of security than to ward off the attackers. Gr'roz fared much better than her, shooting the cultists down with deadly precision - yet it was still not enough to stop the charging horde of cultists. To save, there had to be a miracle.
And such a miracle did come.
An explosion of light, emerging from the pair but not affecting them, launched back all the cultists in the room. Standing in front of them, as if from nowhere was a Draconis, his body largely hidden under a set of advanced but delicately-etched armour. He stood silently, glaring at I'kt rather scornfully.
I'kt - No! Not the false ones, not the usurpers! - a look of unparallelled dread came upon I'kt's face - No, no!
Gr'roz - Huh. Look like the old chump's fucking nicked.
Thessina - Whoa... Is it... no, no... mister... dragon! Don't hurt him! Help us!
The Draconis lifted his arm and position his hand, the cultists between him and I'kt were pushed aside by an invisible force. He then turned his attention to Thessina and uttered a single word that resonated with power within his voice.
Draconis - Explain.
Thessina - That... Sader. He was once... my teacher.. Please, don't hurt him. - the Draconis looked at Thessina hesitantly for a moment, then looked back on I'kt.
I'kt - You... you cannot kill Yaldabaoth's messenger. Not even your kind cannot. Step aside. The Draconis turned his gaze back to I'kt with a growl and reached out, positioning his hand as though he was cupping it around something, and I'kt began to feel himself being lifted off the ground, gravity stepping aside at the silent command of the intervener.
Draconis - You have no authority over me, Sader. - the Draconis flicked his wrist and propelled i'kt sideways, gently enough so that the Sader would not be killed by the impact. Although someone such as him would be injured by it.
I'kt - You... shall.. pay... for this... bring in the Archons!
Suddenly, the gateways that stood on the both sides of the hall opened slowly, and from within them came... creatures. Strange. Half flesh, half machine - carrying traces of Radeon, Sader, Ryketian appearance, yet nothing like any of the species. Twisted, warped beyond recognition, these beasts were, skin steely and stretched, muscles wiry and animalistic. In their hellish eyes there burned a cold fire of obedience, and their misshapen mouths were kept concealed under iron breathing masks.
I'kt - We found those creatures in the depths, yes! Our lord told them about us. These ones, still loyal to him...
Draconis - The Dracogodasimer, she important to you?
Gavakar - I will make you regret being born!
Gr'roz - The lass came with us. She is coming back with us.
Draconis - Subdue her. I will keep the archons occupied.
I'kt - You shall not escape this place, servants of the usurpers! We shall reclaim our true purpose!
The Draconis cupped his hands, generating lightining between his fingertips. After a brief second he thew his arms out, casting the lightining at two Archons on different sides of the room which would jump to other monsters. I'kt's face contortred into a grimace at this very instant; regaining his ability to walk, he rushed into the fray atop his spidery legs to his servants; although he did not fight himself, his presence alone strengthened the cultists' will and resolve. Meanwhile, on the other part of the hall, Thessina and Gr'roz continued fending against her friend-turned-foe. Growling almost like an animal, her eyes burning with cold rage, she attacked with fierce - yet hollow - fury, fiercely determined to crush the unbelievers.
Thessina - ...Wake up, you crocodile-face! We don't want to fight you!
I'kt - She has seen the truth now. - I'kt snarled and commanded those of his Archons that still survived the Draconis's initial assault to aid Gavakar in fighting Thessina and Gr'roz. The beasts bowed to him in silent obedience and charged, making loud, thunderous steps as they ran. Their attack was met by an interruption from the Draconis; as he saw them gathering around Gavakar, he made gestures to sweep them aside, allowing Thessina and Gr'roz to better subdue their former comrade uninterrupted.
Gr'roz - Bugger off, lass.
Gavakar - Die, damn you! - Gavakar took out her rifle and began firing at the direction of Thessina and Gr'roz. Seeing this, the Val'kar leaped in the way of the blaster bolts, his tough skin and personal shields successfully resisting the impact, and charged back, waving his gun. With a powerful thud, he smashed his former ally, knocked her out and grabbed her body, her holographic disguise slowly fading away.
Gr'roz - Quickly! We must leave!
Thessina - Not yet! - the Radeon shouted, desperation in her voice. As I'kt roared and began chasing Gr'roz, his staff glowing radiant white, Thessina leaped in his way and removed her disguise, losing her tattoos - and her generous bosom - to show her true face to the one that was once her teacher. A mist of tears came upon her sapphire eyes as she spoke - Please... professor... stop... it is me, Thessina, your favourite student! Don't you remember?
I'kt - Thessina... it is you, you. I... I remember... Why don't you see? I make things right! Right! We - Radeons, Saders, Solonese - we are not what they were meant to be-be. Our purpose - it has been corrupted! Corrupted!
Thessina - Corrupted?
Gr'roz - He's too far gone, lass! We must leave... whoever you are! - Gr'roz made a gesture to the Draconis. Teleport us away before she gets herself in trouble!
The Draconis turned to the trio and opened his wings, enveloping them underneath his shadow. In a bright flash of light, the four of them vanished from the chamber, reappearing within a modest apartment somewhere in the city. Confused, Thessina looked around, her hands still trying to embrace the now-gone professors, and then frowned as she saw herself translocated away. Her face burned with frustration.
Thessina - Corrupted? Corrupted? What did he mean?
Gavakar - Ugh...What a horrible nigthmare. - Gavakar slowly woke up, holding on her head in pain.
Draconis - Nothing. - the Draconis closed his wings and paced towards a window - His words are nothing but the misled ramblings of a man whos mind was lost to the twisted melodies of madness.
Gavakar - Where are we? Who's this?
Draconis - If you require a name, I am Sarec. You should be safe here, for now. But I do not want this to become a habit.
Thessina - Well, I suppose I should thank you... Sarec. Are you with the Anointed?
Sarec - You can consider me an associate.
??? - That is correct. The one you call Sarec is... a brother of ours. - once again robed figures appeared in front of Thessina, Gr'roz and Gavakar, having semeingly formed out of the shadows themselves. The fur on Thessina's body suddenly stood on end as she screamed quietly, turning her attention to the cultists. Sarec turned around to look towards the source of the voice, somehow expecting it.
Gavakar - Ngh. Those folks again.
Sarec - You recruited a dangerous group.
Deutera Arcana - I see that your infiltration attempt has been successful... mostly. It is unfortunate that your lives had to be put in danger, but I assume you can take solace in understanding that the risks you took were for the greater good. Furthermore, now that Gavakar has been subject to Revelation influence once, she will resist it.
Thessina - Influence? You mean that thing?
Gavakar - I sure don't want to go through that crap again.
Deutera - That was a Rades geas. The Revelation adepts use these artifacts to transfer information and to brainwash their converts into obedience. I suggest you not to pry on the things you heard while being affected by them, or by the visions that may appear afterwards. This may have a... detrimental effect on your mission.
Gr'roz - Hell yeah.
Cultist - It's not that you have a choice. Tell us, what did you find in the cultist base? Any useful information?
Sarec - And I advise you not to lie. I will know.
Thessina - Something about... Khasqaphanth Tharaenuom. They are searching for... the Daughter of Two Stars.
Deutera - The... the Daughter? They know about her? ...Impossible... - Deutera turned to Sarec - Sarec. I need you to help this team find Khasqaphanth Tharaenuom. I understand you may have other things to do, but... this mission is important. Highly important. We can't have the Revelation Adepts awake him.
Sarec - Understood. I will take priority in this assignment.
Gavakar - Woah woah woah. Explain what this Daughter is.
Deutera - This will be revealed to you... in time. Remember: some secrets have to remain secrets.
Gavakar - Gah.
Deutera - I'll leave them to you, Sarec. Farewell, heroes.
And then, the robed ones were gone. Once again.
Sarec folded his wings and looked at the group rather smugly as he clasped his hands over his stomach. Gr'roz and Gavakar were breathing in relief, safe at last. They were warriors; for them, a moment of peace was more than enough, after all. For Thessina, however, a chance to be at peace with her own thoughts was even more tormenting. She was looking at the window, breathing heavily. Inside her mind, there was a swirling, fierce storm.
Gr'roz - I assume you are going with you?
Sarec - The Annointed selected me to watch you, therefore I am staying.
Thessina - [Secrets. Secrets. Why? I am a scientist. My calling is life to find answers, not... not this. What did I'kt mean when he told me about our species' true purpose? Who is that Daughter? Questions, questions, questions, so many questions...]
Sarec peered to Thesina and her thoughts were broken when his voice abruptly entered his skull.
Sarec - [Radeon, I do hope you do not plan on dwelling on your mentor's words, for your sanity's sake of course.]
Thessina - [You can read my thoughts? Wait... does that mean you saw- no that was totally not me and Phaemin Tharaniim together in a hot spring...] - Thessina blushed - [Threl'a'sa.] - Thessina shook her head and looked at her compatriots with a smile on that face. - Very well then, mister dragon! Heroics was never my thing, but I will... I will try.
Arcadium: the Interlude
The Ardacium's common room was a comfortably spaced room in the heart of the ship, with a round table in the middle with a television and a holoprojector on one side of the room and a bar and kitchen on the other.Lining one of the walls was an e-book library filled with ancient literature, expedition journals of long-dead scientists and explorers and the odd steamy romance novel. Gavakar watched the television, drinking from a bottle of Paa'go. Her expression showed she was tired, if not slightly annoyed about the recent events she went through.
As she was engrossed in watching, Sarec opened the door to the outside corridor and walked in, beelining for the kitchen cupboards. As he rooted around he looked over to Gavakar and put on a smile as charming as he could. Being still essentilyl draconis, this didn't look very significant by human standards. the Dracogodasimer turned her attention to Sarec as he entered, taking another sip from her bottle.
Sarec - I apologise for what you have been through, something like this rarely happens for most people... so it's understandable if you may be... confused or upset.
Gavakar - Eh, it's not the first time I get caught in strange supernatural stuff... But yes. It upset me a little. Or rather, a lot. The first time was bad enough.
Sarec - What was the first time, If I may ask?
Gavakar - Were you around during the great Corruptus war? - Sarec rooted around the cupboards and removed ingredients for a cup of tea, setting them on the counter and concocting a brew as he continued talking.
Sarec - I was around. Certainly not the best times of my life but, hm, given my upbringing I suppose I ared better than a few people.
Gavakar - I got attacked by one of their higher demons. A huge monster who turned people into crystal just by touching them. I lost an entire fleet to that demon before we managed to defeat it. I get nightmares just thinking about it.
Sarec - Crystal? Must have been unpleasant. During that war Andromeda was infested with demonic spiders of all things.
Gavakar - I heard about that. I later lost a dear friend to the Corruptus some years later. Arkerbul was his name.
Sarec lowered his head as he stirred a small spoon inside his cup, suddenly feeling guilty about something.
Sarec - I...See. I'm sorry.
Gavakar - Don't be. Arberkul was put down and saved, at least. So as you can see, none of my experiences with the supernatural are pleasant. This one isn't being any different.
Sarec - Except this time you have one on your side.
Gavakar - I suppose...I should've asked before drinking your stuff and watching your TV.
Sarec waved his hand in dismissal with a smile.
Sarec - You are guests aboard my vessel. You are as welcome to my amenieties as though they were your own.
Gavakar - Thanks. Urk... I got caught in a hellstorm, didn't I? I was just on that planet because the Collective wanted to improve relations with the Radeon, now I'm having to fight zealots and mutants.
Sarec - Things could be worse. You could be stuck in a city overflowing with the undead I suppose.
Gavakar - Eugh. I remember the undead infestation. It was just as bad the Corruptus war.
Sarec - Ah. I'm sorry of reminding you.
After Sarec finished brewing his tea he picked up the cup and walked over to the sofa Gavakor was sitting on, resting himself within it next to her.
Gavakar - Hey, it's okay. At least it's over.
Sarec - So the two you were with, you mentioned you joined them to improve relations between the Collective and the Divinarium?
Gavakar - Yes. I barely know how they're called.
Sarec - The Radeon, Thessina. She seems a little obsessive for my tastes.
Gavakar - So I've noticed. She kept staring at her own body. Stupid mammals.
Sarec - ...Actually I was more concerned with her current pursuits. ADIA tells me she recently pulled the plug to encourage her to take a break from study.
Gavakar - Is that so? Huh. She's like our Royal Marechal then. Jerkon is his name. A massive workoholic, but with good intentions.
Sarec - You know I may have met him once. It was either him or Commandant Baptarion.
Sarec - Calm fellows, enjoyed working, both liked to remain undisturbed while they were conducting research.
Gavakar - Yes, Jerkon and Baptarion are similar. But Jerkon is a Dracogonarious, not a Radeon.
Sarec - Yes I do recall. Although I do wonder if Thessina's obsessions become her undoing.
Gavakar - Jerkon's attitude got him in danger at times. The Radeon girl shouldn't be any different.
Sarec - That's what worries me.
Gavakar - As far as I know, Jerkon toned down on it. Before the Corruptus war started, he had never led a land army before.
Sarec - You seem to be the least obsessed, so I wish to ask something of you.
Gavakar - What's that?
Sarec took on a less cheery expression and turned to focus his eyes on Gavakor with a commanding glare.
Sarec - The less you three know of the Khasqaphanth Tharaenuom. The better. Thessina is putting you at great risk with her obsessions. Do not let them consume her.
Gavakar - Honestly, I don't want to know what that is. All I want is to get this done and go home.
Sarec - Smart girl. Do I have your word you will keep her on track?
Gavakar - Of course.
Sarec - Now. We are nearing our next destination so we had best speak to the others.
Gavakar - Yeah, sure.
As Sarec and Gavakar were talking, Thessina studied in her own quarted. She stared into the brilliant holographic screen of her computer, standing in her chambers aboard Arcadium. Her eyes were red from the blinding light of the machine; the girl had spent a few hours browsing already, if not more, yet she still continued to study. The subject of her inquiry (cats and funny pictures aside) was of course, the Demiurges, as always. Images and recordings and texts and videos flashed between her eyes like birds, dancing in some primordial trance to the jerky, yet quick and precise movements of her hands. The search continued and continued and continued. Sarec was within one of the Arcadium's meditation chambers. Sitting passively as he focused his mind. Despite looking peaceful, there was something of about the way he sat, as if the others were being watched. ADIA, the ship's artificial intelligence, did what it could to assist Thessina in her research.
Thessina - Khasqaphanth Tharaenuom... Khasqaphanth Tharaenuom... What is that thing they are searching for... Nothing... nothing- oh, wait, what was that? No! That's another word altogether... now, let's look at that window - by Spode, no! Not spam again- actually... actually... this Artharon boy looks pretty cute... No time for this! Must concentrate...
ADIA - You appear distractemd miss Venoriel, perhaps you should take a break?
Thessina - ...What? This ship has an AI? No, no, I can't. I really can't.
ADIA - You have been working tirelessly for several hours. My knowledge suggests that working at the stretches you have been is not healthy.
Gr'roz - Doing science tosh again, lass? - the gigantic Val'kar suddenly appeared behind Thessina's back, a smile on his tusked face - You sure you really need that?
ADIA - I have suggested she take a break, master Gr'roz but she is insistent she keeps working despite suffering eyestrain, lack of concentration and a reduced cognative coherence.
Thessina - Of course I do! - Thessina responded, anger resounding in her voice - In the cultist hideout, I saw so much. Relics that the Reclamation Service could not even comprehend before! I only managed to take a few shots of the relics, but I have already identified some. Most of these are databanks. They contain information. Information that I CANNOT FIND! - Thessina slammed the computer. Then, suddenly, the entire console abruptly shut down. After the screens vanished, the system displayed a red light for three seconds before it faded into an off-position, signifying the console was cut off from the electrical grid.
Thessina - You did that, robot lady? Fine. Let the secrets stay secrets, I assume. Still, I did manage to gather some information. Mostly about that... Khasqaphanth Tharaenuom.
ADIA - I apologise for interrupting your work. but I have archived your last session should you wish to continue later.
Gr'roz - You're way too single-minded, lass. I noticed that the moment we first met.
ADIA - I have prepared the common room in advance if you wish to spend your break there, miss Venoriel.
Thessina - What... what do you mean? - Thessina turned to the Val'Kar with a look of confusion on her face - I am doing what I was meant to. That is my duty.
Gr'roz - Duty. That's a deceitful word. - Gr'roz smiled. - Sit. Hey, my luv, - the Val'kar looked above - Can you make any chairs for us... three. Where is the crocodile lass?
ADIA - Miss Gavakar is presently in the common room. And regarding constructing chairs for you to sit on, I can use this room's holoprojectors and barrier projectors to contruct them. However I cannot guarentee they would feel entirely like the genuine article.
Gr'roz - Whatever. Make them. I'm tired of standing.
ADIA activated the projectors built into the ceiling and walls, materialising a pair of chairs built to fit Thessina's and Gr'roz' body plans.
Gr'roz - Much better, - Gr'roz half-smiled and sat, staring right into Thessina's eyes. The Radeon girl followed, still a bit nervous. I'm an old guv, lass. I know much about duty. And you know what it is? Let me put that simple: bollocks. - Gr'roz watched the Radeon girl's reaction, seeing her face contort slightly. Radeons. - Most of the people who stuck to ideals I knew are now either dead... or psycho.
Thessina - ...You might live by that creed, but I cannot, old man. I'm a Radeon; without ideals, we would be... - Thessina slipped into Radessic - chasamo. I have dedicated myself to learning. I must live by learning. I must know all the secrets, or else... let's put that simply; I would not be... me. That's the Radeon way.
Gr'roz - Well, my way is equal-opportunity. I met Solonese, Artharons, Draconis... you rat people... too. You know, I think one of your philosophers said that... let me remember that quote... gah... - Gr'roz hit his head - Yes! "Deep in our unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic." You see my point, lass.
Thessina - That's Rauthai Ruxaenim, actually. And his point was that the universe is so complex that we need a certain constant to understand it. An ideal. A cause. For me, it is science.
Gr'roz - Don't be stupid then! What I mean is that the universe is a large place. Commandments and holy cows can't simply encompass all of it. You have to trust something else...
Thessina - What... what do you mean? - the words of the Val'kar sounded alien to the Radeon girl.
Gr'roz - It's here. - Gr'roz placed his hand on his chest - It's the-
Thessina - ...what? That? Are you serious? Yes, I know, I am... lacking in that... area! - Thessina covered her (fairly flat) chest - Yes, I am not like my mother in that regard! Why does everyone have to bring it up?!
Gr'roz - ...I was actually talking about your heart.
Thessina - Oh! Well, actually... Radeon hearts are not exactly there. It's... complicated.
Gr'roz - Whatever, lass. See? I talk 'bout your soul, and you think of ya knockers. You judge the worlds by schematics and formulas and old books whatnot... but it's a lost cause, do you understand? Lemme tell you of my service in the Solonese Union. I was a young lad, just like you... wide-eyed, full of hope and - totally willing to die for a cause... Except that I did not die. I did not.
Thessina - ...What happened?
Gr'roz - We got in a total palaver on Vafmen III, fighting some cat folk pirates... you know them, right? - Gr'roz smiled as Thessina became strangely excited when she heard the Artharons being mentioned - Came to plunder our homes, take our lasses to shag'em, that kind of thing. My squad ended up retaliating on the pirate base after we repelled their invasion, and that's where things began getting worse. Crickey riley! My mates were nicked. Surrounded on all sides by these bloody cat bastards! We should have run away. The base was already crumbling, but... hey! Honour! Ideals! We could not just disobey our orders! So I commanded my men to charge. All of them died - like heroes, of course! Heroes for no cause. Only I survived. Survived to live in shame...
Thessina - Ouch.
Gr'roz - You should trust your feelings, not some bloody commandments. Be yourself.
Thessina - And why do you teach me that? You're a mercenary, not my therapist.
Gr'roz - I've lost a lot of friends, lass. My squad was hardly the first family I saw die before my eyes... and I do not want you to end up dead. Funny, isn't it, that now you, stranded with me by chance, are the closest thing to a mate that I have now?
Thessina - Y-yes. Yes. Anyway... Gr'roz. I did some research on Radessic artifacts and I discovered that this... daughter the cultists were talking about - she is a key of some sort. The blood of the-
Sarec - We have a lead you two. - Sarec was standing in the doorway with his arms folded, looking confident in himself. Gavakar appeared right after, carrying the Paa'go bottle she was still drinking.
Sarec - ADIA, do you mind showing the others?
Thessina - Uh?
A projection of the planet Praestol appeared in the centre of the room. On one spot was a crosshair marking a major metropolitan area.
Gr'roz - Praestol? The capital of the segmentum, huh?
Sarec - Word has reached the Virtual Network a few hours ago of a cultist attack on Praestol, I believe a lead towards the Daughter of Two Stars is somewhere down there.
Gavakar - Well, that's something.
Thessina - Of course- wait, you know who the Daughter is? Why did you not tell us? Why- - Thessina went silent.
Without Sarec saying anything, the overworld projection became an assortment of images of Radeon and Artharon temples.
Sarec - Praestol is a holy site of the Demiurges for the Divinarium and the Artharons. If there is any malicious cult activity, we should be able to find something here. However... it may not be that simple. The planet's crawling with criminal organisations, so I would suggest you to exercise caution.
Thessina - You don't tell us the whole story, right? We- - Thessina doubled over as Sarec's voice echoed once more in her mind, speaking. <<You are testing boundaries, Radeon. The less you know, the better, so keep your questions as best you can to yourself>>
Gr'roz - Calm down. - Gr'roz punted Thessina - Right. Right. So you want us to bash a few heads? Very well. I can do that. - Gr'roz laughed - Bring it on.
Praestol: The Daughter
World of Sin
The pitch-black void of Quenthali system, illuminated only by the beryl radiance of its unnatural, undead sun, was suddenly ripped and torn; Arcadium had reached Praestol. Immediately Sarec and Thessina were alarmed of his arrival to the planet by a chorus of quiet, yet numerous voices in their heads, which "spoke" as if they were having a bloody, vitriolic debate: these were the world's inhabitants, whose emotions' echoes Arcadium's psychics could sense even when orbitting it.
Then Thessina (along with Gr'roz and Gavakar) rushed to the ship's captain bridge, and as she saw the myriads of space stations and satellites whose shimmering surfaces were covered to the brim with dazzling advertisements and corporate logos, her feelings were confirmed; indeed it was it, Praestol, the Crown of Crepusculum, the Twilight Jewel, the World of Vice. Praestol, the Beautiful and the Terrible.
Thessina - So that's how it looks like... - Thessina struggled to speak, watching the bright caleidoscope of technicolour lights that gripped the world like webbing - seen even from the orbit. She could hardly breathe. - Praestol. The homeworld of the Rades, the Artharons, the segmentum's capital...
Gavakar - It's good looking, I guess.
Sarec approached the others from behind, folding his arms and smirking as he wathed the mstare at the world with interest. He was almost chuckling to himself.
Sarec - And this is where circumstance has guided us. Quite appropriate, I would say.
Gr'roz - On the surface, yes. On the inside, it's a hellhole the likes of which the universe has never seen. Brrh. Here's some advice: don't go to sector Chanarim-IV. Me, I'll stand for myself, but you... the crocodile lass will probably just be killed, but Thessina? You'll be nicked there, me old beauty.
Thessina - Mobs? N-n-n-obody told me about mobs! - Thessina's face went pale.
Gavakar - Excuse me? - Gavakar raised an eyebrow and delivered a glare at Gr'roz.
Gr'roz - Do not underestimate Praestol, lass. The Artharon gangs are just the tip of the iceberg; now the Radeons - these are nasty bastards. - Gr'roz noticed Thessina looking at him disapprovingly - Eh, no offense. I saw one of these dine with a Divinarium legate. She was smiling, waving, being all polite and sophisticated like a normal Radeon... and then her guest fell on the ground and turned into a skeleton. Gray goo toxin. Kills in seconds.
Gavakar - Once you've fought a Corruptus demon up-front, then we can talk about nasty.
Gr'roz - Demons you can see and kill. Mobsters? They're just like you and me. Much worse...
Gavakar - Whatever. We're wasting time.
Thessina - They aren't even Radeons! - Thessina glared at Gr'roz - They're rejects. Those too scared of mental reconditioning, too scared to disappear... they are the ones who leave the Divinarium for the Neutral Zone! Criminals of the worst kind. - Thessina's ears dropped in disgust.
Gr'roz - Now you're talking. Beam us down already!
Sarec - If you insist.
Sarec took two steps forward. As he did a white light bathed the cabin, surrounding everyone in pure white but remaining invisible ot each other. WHen the light faded, they all stood in the empty city streeds of Ordu Ed.
Thessina - Wow. Shiny. - the Radeon girl looked around, admiring the view of Praestol's unofficial capital. A few decades ago, it was an ancient, dusty ruin where barbarian chieftains gathered to settle their clan disputes.
Now, there were silver spires and skyscrapers and corporate centers everywhere. Highways running above and beneath Thessina's feet, skycars flying from one wormhole portal to another. The cacophony of advertisements rigning in her ears, praising one product after another. Massive neon holograms adorning every building and every street, showing smiling Artharons and Radeons with bottles in their hands. Buy Thenar-Khanad, the best carbonated drink in the history of Andromeda. It's a bomb in your mouth! You're lost bad without Khanad! Warning: Thenar-Khanad causes immediate addiction and may result in memory loss, insanity, or death. Only for 300 AEU!
Thessina - ...I should totally give that drink a try. Actually, wait, what's that small text in the end...
Gavakar - Putting something like that for sale would get you arrested at the Collective. Heh. "Arrested".
Gr'roz - That's the point. It's legal. Technically.
Sarec - We need to find a lead to the Daughter of Twin Stars.
Thessina - Well, first of all, mister know-it-all, can you actually tell us who she is first? And why do we search for her?
Sarec - Who she is on a personal level does not entirely matter. Shall the cultists capture her, she will pose an extreme danger to the gigaquardant as she is incredibly dangerous. We are looking for a female Artharon. Stick close, I will know her when I see her.
Thessina - A female Artharon? That's it? Why do we even need her so badly? What are we going to do with her? Who is after her? You never give answers, Sarec. Only questions.
Sarec glared at Thessina, suddenly fillign her mind with a strange chill. Somehow, his glare became even more frightening in her eyes.
Sarec - Listen. Radeon. The cultists you followed have so far yet to find her. If they do then everyone is in peril!
Thessina - Why? What are these cultists planning to do? You seem to know everything, yet you never share even a flicker of your knowledge!
Sarec - Some secrets, for the sake of preserving stability in the universe, must remain. Secrets. With the Daughter of Two Stars on their side these cultists could very well tip the balance of power into the reamls of disorder, madness and chaos. Who we work for despises chaos.
Gavakar - Anyone with half a brain knows chaos ain't good.
Thessina hissed and glared at Sarec. Her ears went up slightly, like if she was a predatory animal ready for a strike, and a faint, yet clearly visible red light flickered inside her eyes. For a second, it was as if the normally-placid Radeon girl was suddenly turned into a demoness of some sort. Then the momentary burst of anger passed and her face regained its normal, amiable expression.
Thessina - ...and neither is ignorance... Very well! Let us find that daughter, for the good of Andromeda! Dei'nar cyredrae'nii! - Thessina saluted Sarec mockingly.
Sarec - Good. Now, she is not far hmm...Try this bar. - Sarec pointed to an establishment down the street from where they were.
Thessina - You sure about that? ...Right.
Sarec - Call it intuition.
With a look of uncertainty on her face, Thessina nodded, and Sarec's "team" began walking to the bar's direction, quickly hiding itself among the crowds. As Sarec led the way, Thessina looked around, staring at each streetwalker. Some of them were... nothing unusual, at the first glance at last. Save for their garish clothes that definitely would not be worn by a devout Masaari, they were simple Radeons and other Divinarians: cultured-looking and quiet. Others, especially Artharons were more... strange. Tattooed, with piercings and blades on their belts. Not the kind of people she'd like to meet. Some of the Artharons, however, were completely different. Grim, groomed, dressed in dark leather. Hoods on their heads. Black tatooes. And golden sigils on their chests. Circular, like stylised flames, but sharp and threatening, like if they were made to kill. Thessina did not recognise the symbols, but the very look of them made her shudder instinctively. But Gr'roz did, and the fear he felt was very much conscious.
Sarec, on the other hand, did not bother himself with trifles and scanned his way though the bar's crowds without distractions. Unlike the others he knew exactly what to look for and how to notice it, and kept a vigilant eye out. The thoughts and voices of the crowded bar clientele ran though his mind as he mentally sifted out the junk and the trivia from the leads. Unlike Thessina, he paid little attention to the outfits worn by the population - save for the dark-leathered ones who so shocked Thessina, of course. Something did not feel right about them, but he continued his task in finding the mysterious "daughter".
Waitress - Welcome to Kara'saji's Eagle! - a strangely unnatural-looking Radeon woman, dressed in a non-revealing yet decisively eroticised outfit, bowed respectfully to Sarec and his companions, making Thessina shake a little - Enjoy your stay!
Gavakar - Eh. Okay, sure.
Sarec - Thank you.
Thessina - ...Dolls. So that's how they look like. - Thessina began waving to the waitress, faking a smile - Yes, yes, sure...
Gr'roz - Hate those things...
Waitress - What seat would you like, my friend? - the waitress turned to Sarec - I will find the best tables just for you, gentleman! For a handsome and pleasant lad like you, everything! - Sarec widened his eyes in pleasant surprise to the waitress' offer.
Sarec - A good view of the club is fine.
Waitress - I agree most definitely! - striking an... aesthetically pleasing pose, the Radeon girl pointed at the free table in the center of the pub and led the party there. Sarec and his companions quickly assumed their seats as the waitress smiled in a friendly manner, her eyes strangely alluring. - Now, what would you like? Paa'go? Amber Dawn? Sanctuarium's Daim'nii? Karathon 7? Thenar-Khanad?
Sarec - Just an Amber Dawn.
Gavakar - Mammals... 0- Gavakar rolled her eyes at the sight of the Radeon's mannerism.
Thessina - And Then- - Thessina was suddenly slapped in the face by Gr'roz - Something that isn't too strong, please. I need to have a clear head.
Waitress - As you wish, young lady! Speaking of which, I absolutely love your ear coverings! Very fashionable!
Thessina - Right. - As the strange Radeon woman and the team was once again left to its own devices, Thessina began to speak. Her voice was nervous, filled with almost instinctive fear - These... dolls... urgh. Do you know how they are made? Not many know, but my mother told me. She was dealing with Neutral Zone bandits, and during one of her missions, she saw the factory that makes them. She still has nightmares about it. Mieo Venoriel herself!
Gavakar - So it's artificial. Right. That explains a bit.
Sarec - I dread to think of the procedure.
Gavakar - I had an awful urge to punch her head off. Its. Its head off.
Thessina - Not exactly artificial, these dolls are. You know how people disappear in the Neutral Zone sometimes?.. You see, if you just clone a Radeon body or make a robot, its psychic signature just won't be the same. It won't register as sentient on the subconscious basis. But when a recently dead body is reanimated and reconstructed quickly... it will pass as alive. Barely. THAT is how they make them.
Gr'roz - Wait? - Gr'roz eyes opened wide - What?!
Gavakar - So you're saying that's a zombie.
Sarec closed his eyes and grunted, bearing his teeth slightly.
Thessina - A doll. Take a recently dead person, reanimate it quickly, remove everything that is not required, replace with nanotech. Perfectly normal on the outside, but when you pry such thing open...
Gavakar - Ugh. This place should be bombarded from orbit.
Sarec - I have heard worse amongst pirates within Segmentum Draco. Well...perhaps not worse but still, disheartening.
Gavakar - let me tell you something. We Dracogo's really don't enjoy people who meddle with the dead like this. At all.
Thessina - Neither do us Radeons. True Radeons.
Sarec - Praestol is a planet with a lax legal measures. Much of what is found here may be illegal in the rest of the Commonwealth.
Gavakar - Well the Commonwealth needs to step the hell up.
Sarec - I do not believe Praestol's laws are an oversight....
Thessina - The problem is, whenever the Divinarium tries to bring some order to the Neutral Zone, the Coalition starts accusing them of warmongering and imperialism. And vice versa.
Gr'roz - Uh-uh. And that's why the place's been a hellhole ever since the Great War.
Sarec - Andromeda is not a galaxy that can be united by force of arms, as dissapointing as it is to a few figures in the Imperium's grand senate.
Gavakar - Urk. We need to find this Daughter and get the hell out of here before I vomit.
??? - Oh, look who's here? Some prissy-looking rat from the Commonwealth, a Draconis, and... oh. - a group of drunk Artharons from the adjacent table looked at Gavakar with confusion - Who the hell are you?
Gavakar - None of your damn business.
??? - Goddamn rats and their dragon fuck-buddies. They came to our homes, took over our worlds, and now act like they own the place and we are the victims?! Fuck you all. - Sarec slowly turned his head to the drunk Artharons with a blank expression.
Gavakar - ...Eat shit.
Sarec - If we gave off the impression that we are the masters here, then there must have been some error of communication.
??? - The only error I see is that you walk into Ordu Ed like if you were the ones who built it! I gonna teach you some manners, rat-lovers... - the Artharon grabbed his serrated knife from his metallic belt - Arkhang nijakha!
Gavakar took out her rifle and aimed at the Artharon's chest.
Gavakar - Shut the fuck up.
??? - Come at us, bro! Jakhandar! [To the death!] - the Artharon snarled a cruel snarl, like the predatory animal he so resembled, his rusted, sparkling blade shining malevolently in his hand as it reflected the light from the bar's broken lamps, as did his entire right arm which had been evidently replaced with cybernetics. Soon, the drunkard was followed by his friends and buddies, too clenching weapons in their claws. Gr'roz and Gavakar primed their weapons, prepared to defend themselves, while Thessina tried to hide behind them.
Then, suddenly, a blaster bolt appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. Fired with deadly precision - as if controlled by some unnatural force, it struck directly at the Artharon's knife, throwing it out of his hands. Sarec jumped out of his seat and looked towards the source of the shot, curling his fingers inward defensively, while Gavakar watched the scene with a raised eyebrow, keeping her aim on the Artharon.
Artharon - ...The hell was that? Khardashi! [Damnation!]
??? - Again, Tsiri'thakh? Sichakh kardajin, e? Si'jirkha si xang?! Bi kharaja sin. [Starting brawls, eh? You with your shit again? I'm tired of you.]
Out of the other side of the table, slowly walked, with a quick yet steady swagger, an Artharon female. Her face was obscured by the half-darkness of the pub, it was neverthless evident that her body was more than stunning; although she was definitely athletic even for a member of her own species, she neverthless maintained a feminine, curvy figure, accentuated further by her more than revealing, yet still fairly utilitarian, light-brown outfit, consisting of a heavy leather shirt with a sizeable cleavage and a short skirt. Gr'roz looked at the new visitor with lust that he did not even bother to hide, while Thessina was suddenly rendered speechless by a combination of surprise, curiosity, interest, and jealously. Sarec's eyes too widened upon realising, though for a completely different reason, and, quietly but still audibly, he spoke though everyone's heads: "that is her". Only Gavakar, cold as she was, did not take notice of the Artharon girl's beauty, and responded with a short, simple and straight-to-the-point sentence.
Gavakar - Ah, shit.
Gr'roz - Huh, me old beauty...
Gavakar - Snap out of it. That's our target.
Tsiri'thakh - Sikash khalatha maskhalai, Tenri! Jirkhanar-daang jikash! [These are the damnable rat-lovers, Tenri! We ought to beat the crap out of them!]
Sarec - This could get unpleasant.
Tenri - Bi si-jan jirkhanak k'si hanza-jirkhanad. [I'll beat the crap out of YOU if you don't stop your shit!]
Tsiri'thakh - Grrrh... jakhari. [Fine.] - the drunkard acquiesced, and the Artharons put down their weapons. The girl, smiling as she looked at her blaster, turned to the guests. - Welcome to Praestol, mates, with all its blood and gore. You're from the Commonwealth, aren't you?
Thessina - These... these... that... - Thessina struggled to breathe - That... those... this... umph...
Sarec kept silent, only nodding to Tenri's question, while Gavakar looked at the Draconis and the Artharon in succession, keeping her stance.
Tenri - It's not Alcanti or Crepusculum, mates. You'll get into trouble if you ain't fast or smart enough. And no, your doctorates won't help you here. A gun, on the other hand? Definitely so.
Sarec - I have seen harsher places, And I wonder if we may have but a moment of your time.
Thessina - Uh... yes! These... umph, listen, whoever you are! - Thessina stood up until she looked eye-to-eye to Tenri - You're the one who is in danger! Someone is trying to kill you, and we must get your br- I mean, we must get you into safety! You have to believe us!
Tenri - Okay. - the Artharon girl chuckled - You're neither fast nor smart. You're crazy. Or just stupid.
Gavakar - Listen here you little shit.
Sarec - We speak the truth. I am afraid you have been marked by a group with understandings beyond your own. We know what they want and we know how they fight. You do not.
Tenri - I know lots of stuff. Do not underestimate me.
Tsiri'thakh - Heh... stupid rat-lovers talking shit...
??? - Yes. Rat-lovers.
Sarec - Perhaps you do. Yet we also knew you are no child.
Suddenly, darkness began clouding around the pub. Or rather, blackness. Artharons in black clothing, flame symbols drawn on their leather jackets surrounded Sarec and his companions' table. Only a dozen at first. Then came more. And more. And more.
??? - You backed down from a fight with rat-lovers because you were scared of a woman?! How pathetic is that?! Are you not Artharons?!
Tsiri'thakh - ...Right. Right.
Sarec - Do you know of this, Tenri?
Tenri - March...
??? - You let these rats walk freely on our planet?! On the sacred land of Tharrus?! Enough of this, I say! I spit on the Commonwealth's cowardly peace! Praestol for Artharons!
Crowd - Praestol for Artharons!
Thessina - ...Threl.
Artharon - You will not escape this time, Tenri. - one of the Artharons in black clothing, the most scarred and definitely the largest, stepped forward and looked with a devilish smile at the Artharon girl that the team was about to save - The Margrave-scions will have you, and our new allies will ensure that your demise will be most torturous. Ah-kasang setamari!
Tenri - Tell the March that they can go and fuck off, bitch. - the Artharon girl made a rude gesture towards her would-be-captor - Kasangar kazan.
Thessina - Erm, lady, with all due respect, I would not recommend you to be cocky right now at all. Not sure about you, but last time this happened to us, we nearly died.
Sarec - You three have me this time.
'Artharon - A Draconis? Hah. What good are you in a fight? Your kind is too scared of getting their posh frilly dresses getting dirty to be good warriors!
Sarec linked and looked at the Artharon with a completely blank expression.
Sarec - You have not met many in the Talon Marine Corps have you, I take it.
Artharon - I have not met many Talon Marines who survived fighting me, hah!
Gr'roz - ...Wait. - Gr'roz looked in confusion at the Artharons, especially their leader - Why do we keep talking and insulting each other instead of, you know, fighting? You're professional criminals, aren't you? The March? One of the most powerful criminal gangs on Praestol?
Artharon - Erm... well, I like making long-winded speeches? - the Artharon leader looked at Gr'roz in confusion.
Gavakar - Kill them already, for Draka's sake.
Gr'roz - Fair point. - Gr'roz smiled malevolently and made an uppercut beneath the Artharon leader's chin, with the intention of stunning him. The sheer force of Gr'roz's fist further empowered by his armour was like a strike of lightning for the March commander, and for all his bravado, he could hardly do anything with it; the Artharon only managed to utter a short curse before blood splattered from his nose like a fount and he fell on the ground, losing consciousness near-immediately.
Sarec - So much for his reputation.
Thessina - Heh. - regaining a little shred of her confidence that she normally lost in battle, Thessina grabbed his pistol and began firing - probably aiming at someone, but definitely failing at doing so. At her back, she saw the Artharon girl standing her own as well, repelling the attacks of the invading raiders, albeit definitely more successfully. Sarec, too soon joined in; standing up from his chair, he materialised a pair of fusion pistols, making them look as if he drew them from concealed holsters and aiming with precision at the Artharon raiders. Gavakar did not bother with such theatrics and simply shot down the Artharons, having grown tired of their presence already.
'Tenri - Hah! Eat shit, black shirts! - Tenri laughed as she fired at the waves of bandits, definitely enjoying herself.
Thessina - Who are these anyway? Cultists?
Gr'roz - No. But they're in league with them, clearly. That's the March, one of the Artharon criminal gangs...
Gavakar - Hell, who cares? As long as we leave this shithole of a planet already.
Tenri - Bungers bastards are who they are, mate. Get them... Quickly! - Tenri stabbed one of the thugs that approached her in the chest with her powered kukri-life knife and disabled the other with a flash grenade, breathing heavily as she saw new bandits behind their backs replacing their fallen comrades. Although she still continued to flaunt her skill, now even she understood that fighting the approaching hordes became harder and harder; their numbers seemed to be growing. Sarec felt the same: Draconis were bulky as it is and he was finding less and less room to move, hitting tables, chairs and drinks glasses with his tail as he struggled though the mass of angry bodies.
Then, suddenly, the Artharon thugs stopped. It wasn't Gr'roz's fists or rounds, nor it was Sarec's psychic powers or Tenri's knife, and obviously it wasn't Thessina's vain attempts to hurt at least someone. No, it was as if they were debilitated by some dark, malevolent presence; their bodied contorted in agony, being twisted and ripped from within by invisible, but clearly tangible elemental currents. Gr'roz and Tenri simply stood still in confusion, too affected by the psychic field, while Sarec stepped back slowly in an attempt to concentrate, trying to isolate its source. Only Thessina, shaken by fear but still capable of quick rational thinking she was so famous for, was able to understand, or rather guess, what - or who - made the Artharons stop.
And her guess was soon proven correct as the all-familiar Sader figure stepped in, glaring at Tenri with his twisted, almost feline eyes that seemed to glow faintly.
I'kt - What is going? Who dares to interfere with our mission?
Thessina - ...Not him...
Gavakar, Gr'roz and Sarec immediately turned to the twisted Sader, aiming their weapons without remorse or fear. His former student, not so much. Thessina, almost crying, could not even watch the scene, turning away her sight from the abomination that her mentor had become. Gr'roz attempted to shoot, but it seemed like his psychic presence was strong enough to make him miss shots. Tenri seemed to fare no better, especially since I'kt was now right next to her, pointing his staff to her neck as if he wanted to stab it.
I'kt - The daughter, yes, there she is, her genes so perfect, yes-yes-yes... Blood opens the lock, yeeessss...
Gavakar - Kill it!
Sarec - Your barbarism is abhorrent, puppet.
Artharon - ...Wait, old man. - the leader of the Artharon thugs slowly stepped up, apparently having recovered already - What are you going to do with her body? The Margraves wish to make sure the Unifier's scion is gone from this universe.
I'kt - Oh, yes, you will have what you need, yes-yes, just as long as she is ours... yes, the Master will have her, and his plan will be realised...
Tenri - Tell your master this! - Tenri shouted, strangely unaffected by I'kt's psychic aura. Clenching her knife, she quickly stabbed I'kt, leaving a trail of silvery blood on his greyish coat. In the eyes of the Sader scientist, there was nothing but fear, fear and confusion. Paralysed by pain, I'kt was thrown off balance and fell from his spider legs; the remaining Artharon thugs were thrown into confusion, as was the team.
I'kt - What...? Impossible...
Gavakar - Huh. That's something.
Gr'roz - Now, lass, you're going with us. This is clearly no trivial matter, as you can see. - Gr'roz quickly regained his fighting shape and grabbed Tenri by his hand. - Gavakar, Sarec, you go with us too, and- Thessina? - the Val'kar found the Radeon scientist sobbing, quietly but still audibly, over her barely conscious mentor's body. She was breathing heavily, and muttering something, as if she was praying for him.
Thessina - By Dei'Nar... please... professor... wake up from this nightmare... please... This- this is not you! You're stronger than this! Fight, please!
Gavakar - Finish him off already.
I'kt - I don't have to... I have seen the truth, yes, yes.. - I'kt opened his eyes and then, with a gesture of some sort, threw Thessina away - snarling and laughing madly - The Yaldabaoth will not be denied!
Gavakar - I told you to finish him off, you bloody idiot!
Sarec widened his eyes and opened his wings to cradle her as she flew backwards.
Gr'roz - Dammit, girl! - Gr'roz leaped to Thessina's side and grabbed her while she was flying, an angry snarl on his face - Quickly, we must leave!
Sarec - Gr'roz, Thessina, go!
Panicked, the unlikely companions fled the now completely destroyed bar, escaping to the streets of Praestol...