The stars hung over the endless forest, spectators to the eternal story of hunter and prey, life and decay, birth and rebirth. As the sun dipped below the golden horizon, the roars and screeches of Aldár's bountiful creatures could be heard from kilometers away, as the students and masters of the Aldárae Temple returned to the safety of their walls.
Across the fertile forest floor darted what an outside observer would likely describe as a wisp in the shape of a woman, sprinting toward an unknown destination beneath the trees. As she slowed, the fading light of the sun revealed her appearance, that of a humanoid of medium height, with flowing brown hair and a youthful and friendly face, belying experiences that few others had faced. She had been running for close to two hours, the setting sun being her guide.
She came to a stop in a clearing, where a young female Libertus sat, seemingly in meditation. "You took your time", Kara Inviá remarked, without turning her head.
Aoirtae Valaeris took a slug of water from her flask and sat next to her. "I was working off some steam. Can't sleep lately."
Kara cast her friend a worrying look. "Vasuband?"
Aoirtae crossed her legs and closed her eyes, trying, and failing, to put herself at ease. "What else?" Although Mar-Júun and his forces had been defeated, it came at a heavy price, and both Aoirtae and Kara barely escaped with their lives. After a few moments, Aoirtae exhaled deeply and fell on her back, gazing up at the clear night sky.
"The way people here talk about us, you'd think I can simply show up with my flashy sword and solve the galaxy's problems."
Aoirtae got to her feet and began to pace in front of Kara, who remained fixed on the ground, eyes trailing her friend's movements. "I mean, I'm twenty five. Is this what I want my life to be like? Gallavanting around the galaxy, fighting bad guys and saving the needy until I can't remember what it's like to be a normal person?"
Kara sighed emphatically, as she too rose to her feet. "You're not a normal person. We're not normal people," she said, walking over to Aoirtae and placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "I know it's a tough life, but do you really want to to live a life knowing that you could make a difference? Do you want to live under tyranny, knowing that you refused to lift a finger to stop it? That's not you. That's not us."
If Aoirtae was convinced, she didn't show it. "Maybe we're not the heroes," she said in a quavering voice.
"No," came a voice from the forest. "Such people do not exist. There are only those with the power, and the will, to help others."
Emerging from the green came a being in humble brown robes, a cowl raised above his head. The Lord of Light, Apolithanatár, who had abandoned his ornate Oikoumene armour in favour of a less grandiose identity. Aoirtae and Kara welcomed the new arrival with surprise.
"All is well, I trust?" asked Apolithanatár. "I daresay you both look more fit than ever!"
"Likewise", Kara replied. Though in truth, she thought that Apolithanatár looked far less impressive than when she last saw him. "What brings you to the woods?"
"Oh, I was merely on a stroll," the Oikoumene replied, raising his head to marvel in the sound of birds singing. "Though as it happens, I had intended to speak to you both. I know that these are trying times."
"That's putting it mildly. It seems that the war, the Order, the galaxy itself, rests on our shoulders, and ours alone," said Aoirtae, perhaps forgetting herself.
Apolithanatár sat on a log and placed his hands on his knees. "Ah! That is not the case, Aoirtae, as you well know. You have the power to make a true difference. Something not many can say."
"Why me? I have this power, and I've used it the best I can. But... but there are times which I wish I was born without it," Aoirtae replied.
"As do I", said Apolithanatár, who, when he noticed the look of surprise on the Aoirtae and Kara's faces, laughed shortly. "Do you believe that the Lord of Light, Firstborn of the Oikoumene, was born without doubt? Has lived without regret? You should not. But it is not our power that show us who we are. Not truly. It is our choices."
Aoirtae's eyes fell to the forest floor, contemplating Apolithanatár's words. After a moment, she met his gaze. "How, how in the galaxy are we going to win?"
"Aha", the Oikoumene began, his voice deep, alien and yet oddly comforting. "That is the question. A question whose answer, if I told the whole tale, would take us from now until this year has past into the next and the next."
Kara smirked. "We'll take the abridged version."
"The tales you have heard from your masters of the power of Tyrómairon are true. Yet his origins are unknown to them. The depths of his malevolence. Always was his way, victory upon victory, and upon defeat, respite until he could grow again." Apolithanatár said, his voice deepening. With a gesture of his hand, an orb of fire appeared, filling the air with the sound of crackling wood.
Aoirtae's interest was piqued. "So he was defeated before?"
Apolithanatár nodded gravely, his eyes fixed on the fire. "Once, in point of fact. But not without cost. The Vector of Order, as he was known, was most powerful. Mighty, noble and brave. Though proud, and utterly convinced in the righteousness of his cause. He was the counterweight to the Primercer, who represented the Vector of Chaos, and under their sway, the Oikoumene began to depart from the path of the Light. Until one, she who represented all that was once truly good in Tyrómairon, came to this very world, seeking the Lord who would deliver the Oikoumene to Apotheosis."
Kara scratched her head. "He wasn't always... y'know, pure evil?"
Apolithanatár's eyes became momentarily glassy. "Oh, oh no. Once, he found love in another. Libraé, wisest and fairest of Oikoumene. She was kind. Kind and warmhearted. Each species, each lifeform, no matter how small, to Librae, each were finite. Each were worthy of her protection."
Aoirtae smiled, as she listened to Apolithanatár recount the tale. "Sounds like you learned a thing or two from her."
"And why not?" Apolithanatar asked, somewhat impatiently. "It is a foolish master who believes he can learn nothing more, that he has all the answers. Regrettably, however, when they came to that final crosswords, Tyrómairon's love for Librae, and her love for him, could not turn him from his path. He had already embraced his nature, the avatar of Darkness, in opposition to the Vector of Light."
"You." Aoirtae remarked.
Apolithanatár nodded. "Perhaps one day I will tell you all the tale. Yes, like today, there was sorrow in the face of overwhelming darkness, but there was hope too. Hope that great deeds were not in vain. Indeed, his plan failed to come to fruition. Yet what we won was not a victory. No songs were sung, that day. It was a delay. And now we pay the price."
"But he was defeated. That means he can be defeated again, and this time for good," Aoirtae said, regaining her lost confidence and rising to her feet.
Apolithanatár bid her to sit once more. "I am pleased to see you have rediscovered your strength, young Aoirtae, though I caution you not to abandon restraint. Yes, the Dark Lord was defeated, and yes, he lacks the current strength to break down all resistance in a fell swoop, but unlike in the Elder Days, he stands with only two Oikoumene to oppose him. He would stand poised to cover the galaxy in Darkness, were it not for the Aldárae to serve as a beacon of the Light."
Suddenly, as if sensing something approach, Apolithanatár rose to his feet. "But for now, I must take my leave. Remember, even in the darkest of places, in the darkest of times, if you remember the Light, it will guide your way."
As quickly as he arrived, the Lord of Starlight vanished into the woods. Watching him depart, Kara blinked slowly. "Well that was sudden."
"I can't imagine we're the only people he needs to talk to," Aoirtae remarked. While it was true that she shared a special bond with the Oikoumene, as few others among the Aldárae possessed, she still found him to be an enigma. At one moment, he could be almost grandfatherly—or at least, as grandfatherly as Aoirtae, who had never known her parents, could imagine—yet at other times, he was every bit the Lord of Starlight that the ancient texts of the First Aldárae Order discussed. Powerful, wise, yet unknowable. Putting such thoughts to the back of her mind, she glanced at her chrono. "It's that time already? C'mon, we better get back."
Kara rose to her feet and yawned. "What's the rush? I'd like to look up at the sky for a while longer. Not often that we get some free time."
"Well, now that you mention it, after the whole Corruptus fiasco, I think we could stand to learn a thing or two from Ryen. We should get an early night sleep, and in the morning, organise a training session," Aoirtae said, holstering her bag over her shoulders and, with Kara by her side, turned toward the path to the temple. "As the Oikoumene said, "It's a fool who believes he can learn nothing more."
Chapter II: A Brother's Tidings
The next day, Aoirtae woke early, feeling refreshed for the first time in quite a long while. As she waited for her cup of caff to cool down, she watched the sunrise over the mountains far in the distance, where Master Du'utahrovin could often be seen soaring. Pouring the caff into her flask, Aoirtae left her quarters and walked for a while along the Temple's balconies and terraces, marvelling, as she often did, at the thin mist hovering over the trees below. Exiting the Temple through one of the side entrances, she came across Kara and Master Ryen, deep in talk, presumably about their encounter with Apolithanatár the night before.
"Good morning, Aoirtae!" Ryen said, beckoning for her to sit beside them on a seat carved into the stone. "How are you?"
Aoirtae sat beside them and smiled. "Better than I was yesterday, that's for sure." Her talk with Apolithanatár had certainly lifted her spirits. After her injuries at the hands of Xae Vandon at the Battle of Vasuband, she almost felt like leaving it all behind, and spending her days learning the hidden mysteries from Du'utahrovin. Now, she felt renewed purpose. "I'm glad you could find the time to meet us on such short notice".
"Nonsense", Ryen remarked. "I can always find time for my shipmates of the Auethnen Raptor. It's been far too long since we've had a good chat over some tea."
"Agreed. Nothing like a galactic war to dampen your day." Kara said, before rising to her feet. "C'mon, lets go for a stroll. It's far too lovely a morning to be sitting around."
For over an hour, Ryen, Aoirtae and Kara walked across the grounds, watching aspiring members of the Aldárae Order train with blades, their minds and the power of the Light. The golden light of the clear morning now filled the valley of the Temple, the sound of distant waterfalls and the calls of song birds filling Aoirtae with a sense of serenity which had been sorely lacking in her life. Even the darkest moments on Vasuband, or within the Nightmare Region now seemed like the memories of a troubled dream, a world apart from the wholesome peace of Aldár.
"... and then I said to Master Nanuq, that's not a handkerchief, that's my robe!" Ryen was saying, his hearty laughter bringing Aoirtae back from her reverie.
Kara winced, before she herself burst out into laughter. "That's gross!"
Once the laughter had died down, Ryen sat down next to a tree on a hill overlooking the Temple's lake. "Now, I understand that you both feel you could use a bit more training," Ryen said.
Before Aoirtae could reply, Kara spoke. "Aoirtae's confidence took a bit of a beating on Vasuband, so yeah."
"That's not the full picture," Aoirtae interjected. "You trained in Tigris under the Krassio, Master Ryen. Maybe we could benefit from something similar, or at least if we had a broader knowledge of different techniques, we might have a better chance against the Dark Lord."
Ryen scratched his chin. "I shall speak to Cainak, and see if he has anything to offer in the way of Psionic Energy training. As he's the only Civatron readily available to us, I'm sure he'll be happy to teach you both what he knows."
"I've heard of Cainak, but we've never actually met." Kara said, sitting down opposite Ryen and taking a sip from her flask of tea.
Ryen smiled. "He's a gentle soul, to be sure. Always looking to the stars, hoping for the return of his kin. Be mindful, however, he's a peaceful being, and may not feel comfortable teaching you certain, shall we shall, aggressive techniques".
"A bit more proficiency with defensive techniques would've helped on Vasuband," Aoirtae said, almost to herself. While it was true that she was widely regarded as one of the Order's most skilled knights with a blade, Aoirtae has long felt that her powers over the Light were lacking, particularly in comparison to Kara, who was more skilled with the Light than she was with her blade.
"You are too hard on yourself, Aoirtae." Ryen said, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Apolithanatár himself sees something in you, and that should give you all the confidence you need. And if that is yet not enough, know that your old master is, and always will be, proud of you. Both of you."
Aoirtae looked up at her master, with a tear rolling down her cheek. Noticing it, she laughed and flitted it away. "Smooth. Very smooth."
Ryen laughed. "Ah, it appears I still have the ol' charm. The stories I could tell of my youth..."
The sound of Kara's HoloCom interrupted their chat. Pulling it from her bag, she activated it, and was surprised to see her brother Laoi, looking even more stressed than he usually did.
"Laoi, is everything alri-", she began, only to be cut off by her brother's frantic tone.
"Capricaerón is under a-attack!" he called out, as if struggling to hear her. "Can you hear me? I think the Empire is trying to cut off all communciations from the s-sy... Scorpiae and Cancerti have alread-... -irgon's government has surrendered unconditiona-"
Ryen and Aoirtae jumped to their feet, while Kara struggled to listen to all the information her brother was offering. "Laoi, I can barely hear you. Is dad- Laoi, is dad alright? Laoi?"
As if distracted by something off-cam, Laoi took a moment to answer. "He's fine, y-yeah, he's here with me. So's Dané, Gorf, grandfathe-... they're trying to b-blockade the planet-... I-imperial fleet, destroyed most of our f-forces. Kara, Kara can you hear me?"
Kara began to pace, struggling to put her feelings into words. "You're breaking up Laoi, but tell dad, tell him I'm on my way!" she said, just as the holographic projection of Laoi disappeared. "Laoi?! Laoi?"
"He mentioned the Empire are cutting off communications," Ryen reassured her. "He's fine, but we'll need to hurry if we're to make a difference."
Kara stopped pacing, and cast a sad look toward Ryen and Aoirtae. "This is my family, I'll go alone if I have to. Ryen, you're needed here, and Aoirtae, you're still recovering from Vasuband."
Ryen, who had already turned toward the Temple, simply remarked, "I'm coming with you girlie, best get used to it," before rushing back the way they came, leaving Aoirtae and Kara alone.
Aoirtae lifted her bag from the ground and put on her sleeveless jacket. "Kara, when are you going to realise that we're in this together. We can't just decide to go it alone when things look tough." She placed her hands on Kara's shoulders. "Together. Until the end."
Kara placed her arms around her, and they hugged warmly. "Until the end."
Chapter III: Battle of Capricaerón
The sky above Capricaerón blazed with war. Across the Four Systems of Calithilaen, gargantuan Imperial warships clashed with their stalwart Republic opponents for control over the very heart of the New Republic. Daylight above the capital of Capricaépolis was sliced by the flames of propulsion drives alight, and outshined by explosions, the deadly debris of which came raining into the atmosphere in meteoric ribbons.
In the Presidential Pyramid, Apollo, the most admired being in the Republic, whose political skills had successfully held the decapitated democracy together for over three years, whose charismatic leadership gave the Republic hope in a hopeless situation, stood motionlessly as he coordinated fleet movements across the system. Standing before a holographic representation of Calithilaen, he blinked, noticing that the Imperial sigil had suddenly appeared above Virgon.
Not only had Scorpiae, the main rallying point of the Republic Navy, fallen, but so too had Cancerti, and now, Virgon had joined them.
Reneé Valentae, the press secretary, recently turned chief of staff, nodded gravely. "Sir, we've received reports that on behalf of the planet's government, Queen Renestrae has surrendered the planet to Imperial Grand Admiral Sarcophoneus." Valentae, like many members of Apollo's administration, was young, though to her credit, she remained composed in the face of this nightmarish situation. Just as the war effort seemed to turn in the Republic's favour after high profile victories at Achiliquin and Cyranduas, the Imperials had launched another devious strike at the Republic's weakened foundations.
"Furthermore," Valentae continued, "we've received confirmation that Grand Admiral Tector Decimius is leading the assault on Capricaerón."
Apollo grinded his teeth together. Doubtlessly, the Grand Admiral had been the greatest threat to the eventual recovery of the Republic. Not only had Decimius been largely responsible for the events which sparked the outbreak of the war, he had presided over the fall of Rambo Nation, and over forty percent of the Republic's post-Cataclysm military forces since the conflict began. "How did they breach the system blockade?"
Director Tempaere scratched his chin. "Initial reports indicated that the Imperial armada bypassed the known system hyperspace waypoints, sneaking past the bulk of our forces and positioning themselves between key worlds, and their defensive fleets. I can only guess that they've received inside information to do so."
Every war has its traitors, the President thought to himself.
High above the planet's surface, the Auethnen Raptor dropped out of lightspeed, to be welcomed by a harrowing sight—the dissected hull of a once proud Republic dreadnought, now burned to cinders and ash by the turbolasers of an Imperial command ship. "Woah!" Munalur explained, grabbing hold of the controls and pulling the ship up to avoid colliding with the debris. Strapped in tight, Aoirtae and Kara explained in unison when the view of the destroyed dreadnought gave way to a vast battlefield stretched out as far as the eye could see: hundreds of Imperial destroyers, thousands of starfighters and dozens of vast dreadnoughts were pummelling what little remained of the Republic fleet.
Lacking the capabilities to go toe to toe with so many foes, Munalur piloted the Raptor toward the Capricaerón, utilising a hole in the the floundering planetary shield to descend below the billowing white clouds toward Capricaépolis. "There's no way for us to win this..." Aoirtae remarked under her breath.
"One thing at a time," Kara replied, her voice hoarse. "We rescue dad, we can start thinking about how to fight back."
The Raptor was suddenly hit by extreme turbulence, which Munalur identified as the sudden reduction of the planetary shield. His eyes darting across his console, the stress in his voice was unmistakable. "The shield has been damaged. According to these readings, it now covers only a region of Oenóen, surrounding Capricaépolis."
"Can we pass through it?" Kara asked.
Master Ryen approached from the crew quarters, his expression brave. "I do not believe so. While the shield has been reduced, it will likely be strengthened. We must land and find another way in."
As Munalur sent the Raptor spiraling toward the sparsely populated Capricae Hills district of the city, which was unprotected by the shield, the crew reviewed the current state of the battle. Imperial reinforcements were arriving in the system on a constant basis, and while forces had already arrived from the Republic's allies, they were few and far between, lacking the numbers to turn the tide of battle. According to reports, Fleet Admirals Cretacea and Kaedar were leading the remnants of the Republic armada, which had been forced to retreat to the Heran Alpha system, consisting of populous worlds such as Piconé, Taurophon, Gemónae and Capricaerón itself. All other worlds in the Four Systems, either through capitulation or conquest, had fallen. By the time the ship had touched down on the landing pad, the Imperials had already landed ground forces in an effort to surround the city, while from orbit, vessels not engaged with the Republic, were unleashing their turbolasers in an effort to weaken the shield protecting the city.
As the hatch opened, and the boarding ramp lowered, the three Aldárae were overwhelmed by the sense of foreboding and dread. "The Phaedra are assembled here. All of them." Ryen remarked, lowering his voice to a deathly whisper.
"I've felt it too," Aoirtae replied, pulling on her jacket and readying her gear. "We need to get out of here as soon as we can. Any bright ideas about getting past the shield?"
"If I remember right, there are a series of old tunnels built during the First Intercolonial War that lead under the river and into Republic Island. They were used for mass rapid transportation before becoming obsolete." Kara said, watching as the Raptor ascended into the sky, to await word of their mission's success.
"C'mon, then!" Aoirtae said, making sure that the hilt of her blade was secured to her waist. "Is there an entrance to one of these tunnels nearby?"
"Should be. Unless they've sealed it up," Kara replied. "Which, given our luck recently, wouldn't be surprising."
Chapter IV: Shadow of Despair
By the time the group reached the entrance to the tunnel system, the battle for control of Capricaerón was now being fought in the streets and alleys of Capricaépolis' outskirts—the protective shield protecting the city centre weakening with each successive bombardment. As they made their way into the deep dark of the tunnel, Ryen summoned an orb of light, which hovered above them, lighting the way forward. All were eager to get the journey over as quickly as possible, for while it was becoming abundantly clear that no military victory could be won at Capricaerón, rescuing Apollo would provide a critical spark of hope for the continuation of the fight against the Empire.
Ryen walked in front of Aoirtae and Aoirtae, his energy sword activated in his right hand, and an orb of arcane fire alight in his left. Behind him, Aoirtae had drawn her own purple-hued blade, and Kara had activated her golden blade, giving an unusual sense of comfort to the trio as they made their way in the cold darkness. The passage continued to twist and turn, with the sound of distant explosions echoing in the background. These tunnels were, to the surprise of Kara, more intricate than she imagined, though fortunately, they showed no sign of habitation.
The dark presence of the assembled Phaedric Lords on the planet was such that both Aoirtae and Kara were becoming overwhelmed by the sheer malevolence of their intent. Never before had they faced such a confluence of darkness. Sensing their misgivings, Ryen stopped and turned, placing a hand on each of their shoulders. "Come now, stand tall. Stand true. Unless I am mistaken, we have already passed under the shield, and so the way should be clear".
Nevertheless, the passage was utterly dark and utterly cold, though as they progressed, they noticed that it became ever wider. Closing his eyes to concentrate on illuminating the darkness, Ryen opened them to find that the light of the orb had actually dissipated, and that the air was lit only by their blades.
Suddenly, heavy footsteps were heard approaching, and out of the nothingness, a trio of Imperial wardroids appeared, blades angling for the Aldáráe. Hurling themselves at the droids, the Aldárae brought their own blades to bare against them, utilising the Light to blast two into nothingness, while another fell quickly when Aoirtae brought her blade down hard against the final opponents head.
"Ugh, I hate wardroids." Aoirtae remarked, keeping her blade ready in the event that others appear.
Ryen did not react, and kept on guard, sensing a darker presence approach. His eyes widened suddenly in realisation. "Go. Go on! Now!"
Kara and Aoirtae looked at one another in confusion. "Master? What's wrong? We're not splitting u-", Kara said, before being cut off by Ryen.
"Go, both of you!"
Before either could protest, a fierce red light illuminated the darkness in a fiery roar akin to a volcanic eruption of dark energy. Aoirtae and Kara readied their blades in a defensive posture, narrowing their eyes as the new arrival came into view. It was more shadow than shape—a shadow of despair.
"Lord Agonânghâsh," Ryen muttered, stepping in front of Aoirtae and Kara against this new foe. "Go! Both of you! Now!" he bellowed.
The Phaedric Lord, darkest of Tyrómairon's minions, suddenly pounced, glowing red eyes briming with malice. The mere approach of Agonânghâsh knocked Aoirtae and Kara off their feet and sent them spiraling into the ground nearby, just under a stairway leading to the exit. Ryen however, stood motionless, and seemed to glitter white in opposition to the blackness of Agonânghâsh.
The voice of the Shadow was deep and unfathomably malevolent. "You stand alone, Ryen of Mandatine. A lone light, flickering hopelessly against the wall of night."
Ryen turned his head to face Aoirtae and Kara, a lone tear falling down his face. "Go."
"N-no!!", Aoirtae cried out, rushing to join her master, before being held back by Kara, who had tears flowing down her face. Aoirtae continued to cry out, struggling against Kara's grip, as she brought them to the exit of the tunnel.
Ryen lifted his golden blade, and in a ringing clash, brought it down on Agonânghâsh, who was seemingly blinded by the sheer force of the impact. Recovering quickly, however, Agonânghâsh forged a blackened blade from nothingness, and with a snarl attacked Ryen. The old Osteola merely avoided the blade, calmly sidestepping the attack, and began slashing at Agonânghâsh with blade and flame. Infuriated, the Shadow unleashed a blast of dark electricity which caught Ryen in the chest, sending him collapsing to the ground. Before Agonânghâsh could finish him however, Ryen effortlessly jumped to his feet, and upon realising that his students were safe, smiled softly and deactivated his blade.
Agonânghâsh leaped, his form consumed in black flame, and brought his blade down on Ryen. As Aoirtae and Kara watched, a fraction of a second before the Shadow's blade could pierce his skin, an great sheet of white light sprang up from the Aldárae Grandmaster. The light spread across the room like wildfire, great shafts of white fire erupting from where Ryen was standing. With a terrible cry, Agonânghâsh was thrown back, and with a dreadful crack, vanished into nothingness, extinguished by the power of his foe.
In shock at the display of power within their master, Aoirtae and Kara gazed into the Light, only to find that Ryen was nowhere to be seen. Emerging from the tunnel, both women trembled, their eyes flooded with tears.
"R-ryen," Aoirtae said, feeling as though she had just been stabbed in the heart.
Chapter V: A Republic Dies
Battle surrounded them, yet everything was eerily quiet. Though resolved to finish their mission, as they were met with the golden light of a setting sun, grief overcame them both. Aoirtae fell to her knees, tears streaming down her face. Ryen had been the one to introduce her to herself, in a sense. He was the one who showed her that she was more than a mere hunter from the Andustaran ice plains. He was the one who first told her that she truly mattered. He was, for all intents and purposes, the closest thing that she had to a father. And now, as the Republic crumbled around them, he sacrificed his life to save them.
As she closed her eyes, she heard his comforting voice, from when they first met. "The winding path to peace is always a worthy one, young Aoirtae. Regardless of how many turns it takes."
Opening her eyes, she suddenly felt the warmth and gladness that she always felt in Ryen's presence. Rising to her feet, she took Kara by the arm and pulled her up, patting her on her shoulder. "Ryen... he'd want us to continue, Kara. And I don't plan on disappointing him."
"Neither do I... I just can't believe he's gone."
Aoirtae sniffed. "M-more will follow, if we don't reach your dad."
Kara nodded, and wiped the tears from her eyes. "The Presidential Pyramid is just down this avenue. We'd... we'd better hurry, it doesn't look like that shield will last much longer."
During their time in the tunnels, the shield had reduced in size. Where once it had covered almost the entirety of the city, now, only the area around the Pyramid were protected from the Empire's bombardment. Stealthily making their way through bombed-out buildings, and parks set aflame by advancing Imperial walkers, Aoirtae and Kara finally made their way to perimeter of the shield, and upon identifying themselves to the meagre Republic force assigned to protect the entrance, were permitted entry into the Pyramid.
On the top floor, President Apollo looked around the room at the assembled members of his administration—Aev Tempaere, Naelys Valraenos, Ansin Cyrellon and Reneé Valentae, as well as his friend and confidante Dané Elenya, his son Laoi, Gorf and his pet Dvottie Tigarlu. Other members of the Pyramid staff, who refused to evacuate, also joined them in the office, including an aide who had just witnessed her apartment building collapse into nothingness from a stray turbolaser bolt. He knew that he had to remain strong, if not for himself, than for the people around him. The people who had placed their trust in him, even if that trust seemingly brought them to death's doorstep. Handing the aide a drink of water, Apollo walked slowly across the room to where Dané Elenya sat, resting her head in her hands. Though protected by the shield for the time being, the sheer force of the Imperial bombardment caused the office to shake on a near constant basis.
Apollo placed a hand on her shoulder, and sat next to her. "This is it," he said softly. "End of the line."
Dané raised her head, reached out and took hold of Apollo's hand in a firm grip. "You don't believe that, Aedanius. You say this is it, that you've failed, but you only fail if you give up. I know you, maybe better than you know yourself—you can't give up. I saw that in you when we first met, it's what made me believe in you. It's what made everyone here, the Republic itself, believe in you. And it's why I'd do it all over again."
Apollo watched Dané intently, and placed a hand on her cheek, and the two moved closer and closer, until a massive explosion snapped them into the situation. Outside the window, the distinctive green hue of the shield disappeared. Laoi covered his mouth in shock. "T-the shield, it's g-gone."
Apollo's special adviser Naelys Valraenos approached the President, shaking in fear, though trying hard to remain focused. "Mr. President, what are we going to do?!"
The President did not answer for a moment, before walking over to his desk and sitting behind it. "You all need to leave. The Empire will be here in any moment... and I won't see any of you die for me."
Laoi rushed forward and slammed his fist on the desk. "Dammit dad, I'm not leaving you here to die!"
"Go Laoi, please! If my death is the price for your safety, for the knowledge that the Republic won't die with me, I'll pay it!"
Suddenly, a clipped Orbispiran accent emanated from the doorway. "Ah, how touching."
Grand Mandator Deoclet Caesarius calmly entered the room, followed closely by a trio of Imperial troopers, who effortlessly gunned down Apollo's secret service protection and aimed their blasters menacingly at the remaining members of Apollo's administration. With no choice but to raise their hands, the New Republic officials watched in growing horror as Caesarius was joined by others, including Grand Admiral Decimius and a black robed Phaedric Lord whom Apollo recognised from the attack on Aldár during the Cold War—Lord Venatorius.
The Phaedric Lord's voice was deep and menacing. "And so, as the wheel turns on a new galactic age, the New Republic dies."
"Do as you will with me, Imperials. But let them go. They are no threat to you!" Apollo yelled, watching as his world fell around him.
"Indeed, Mr. President?" Caesarius asked in mock sincerity. "You stand next to the Director of Republic Intelligence, architect of thousands of Imperial deaths." The Grand Mandator motioned to one of his soldiers, who aimed and fired, killing Tempaere before he could react, prompting Naelys to drop to her knees and try in vain to save the Director.
Turning to face Cyrellon, Caesarius smiled. "You also stand next to one of those who conspired against you, against your precious Republic. Isn't that right, Ambassador Cyrellon?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Apollo noticed that Cyrellon's raised blaster, pointed at the Imperials when last he noticed, was now aimed directly at him. The President narrowed his eyes as the traitor crossed the room to join the Imperials. "You poisonous traitor!"
"Now, now, Apollo," came a voice from the threshold, and to Apollo's shock, Senator Zare'Anne appeared. "Ambassador Cyrellon was merely acting in the best interests of our Republic. The Republic which you brought to its knees. The Republic which Valkistair sacrificed rather than recognise the reality: Against the power of the Empire, there can be no victory. The only way for us to survive, is through submission."
"This is the dawn of a new regime, Apollo," Cyrellon remarked. "With the signing of the P'ax Cyrannica Concordat, President Zare'Anne will ensure the survival of our Republic as a free and independen-"
Cyrellon's words suddenly gurgled in his throat, and as he looked down, he saw Venatorius' blade carve through his chest. Zare'Anne gasped in shock as his co-conspirator sank to the ground, dead. "W-what have you done?! This was not what we planned!"
Grand Admiral Decimius smiled tightly. "Changing circumstances, Mr. President. Cyrellon misunderstood the nature of our new alliance. It is not of mutual beneficence." Decimius indicated to Apollo and his followers. "They represent the independent Republic, which, on this day, is no more."
As quick as lightning, Apollo raised his pistol, only for it to be effortlessly flung out of his hand by the Phaedric Lord, who activated his energy blade, and with a motion of his hand, paralysed the President. Apollo's eyes remained open, darting as he tried in vain to move. Suddenly, a familiar voice cried out, "Get the frak away from my dad!" Kara Inviá charged through one of the side doors with her blade ignited, and with a blast of Light, knocked Venatorius off of his feet and sent him crashing into the wall. Aoirtae charged through the window, leaping into the air and landing on Apollo's desk, her blade extended, and with a motion of her hand, telekinetically smashed Zare'Anne and the Imperials through the wall.
Before the Apollo or his followers had time to react, the Aeuthnen Raptor appeared outside the window, with the boarding ramp lowered. With another blast of energy from Kara, the entire wall fell away, and Dané, Laoi, Gorf, Tigarlu, Reneé, Naelys and Apollo himself were shepherded onto the waiting ship. Once Aoirtae and Kara leaped to safety, Munalur piloted the Raptor away from the pyramid, away from the city, away from the ashes of the New Republic.
Chapter VI: Hope Remains
Before the Fall of the Twelve Worlds, the system was defended by over two thousand Republic vessels. Now, only fourteen remainded loyal to President Apollo. Others, pledged their loyalty to the newly appointed President Zare'Anne, eager to ensure the end of a war which the New Republic had assuredly lost. The Auethnen Raptor dropped out of lightspeed on the outskirts of the Heran Gamma subsystem of Calithilaen, in orbit around the brilliant green gas giant of Pelion. Gazing out of the viewport, Apollo, crushed from the days experience, nevertheless sighed in relief when he saw that the Republica, flagship of the New Republic and his father, Admiral Cretacea, had survived.
Upon docking with the Republica, Apollo and his followers were met with the remaining fleet officers.
"It's hard to believe that this is all that remains of the Republic Navy. We still controlled thousands of systems in Cyrannus when last I checked." Naelys remarked, still trying to process the news.
Admiral Cretacea nodded solemnly when he finally released his son from his embrace. "According to my reports, the Senate has agreed to the new Concordat. This fleet is all that remains loyal to President Apollo."
Naelys shook her head. "I-I can't believe Senator Magalen... Senator Daerethal... would betray us."
"No," Apollo said. "They had no choice. In this war, you resist or you serve. They are merely biding their time."
"In any case," Helo Roslia said, "We need to get out of the system. We've received word from Cognalorilos. Primarch Voro Acetenus has offered us protection while we regain our strength."
"As for us," Kara remarked, "we should get back to Aldár. The Lord of Light has made the world unplottable, so it should be safe from the Empire for the time being. We need to tell the Ethelnór... about Ryen."
Apollo nodded sadly, and embraced his daughter, and patting Aoirtae on the back. "Be safe you two, and please, tell the Aldárae that the New Republic Remnant needs all the help it can get."
As he looked out at the meagre force, the last remnant of the true New Republic, Apollo smiled weakly. "Hope will endure."
Aoirtae smiled, and heard a familiar voice in her head. Smiling to herself, she gazed out of the viewport. "Only in the darkness, can you see starlight."