The fires of resistance spread. Striking from liberated worlds, brave freedom fighters loyal to the NEW REPUBLIC have stormed the Twelve Worlds, challenging the tyranny and oppression of the EMPIRE.
Meanwhile, a far more ancient conflict looms. The Oikoumene Dark Lord TYRÓMAIRON tightens his grip on the countless worlds of CYRANNUS, preparing to enact the final stage of his nefarious grand plan.
Republic loyalists, led by AOIRTAE VALAERIS and KARA INVIÁ, have made their way to the very heart of occupied Capricaerón: as the first step toward the final battle for freedom...
ERÚMAETHRAN, 67,004,981 BNE
Erúmaethran loomed large above the galactic core of Cyrannus. The once great capital of the Oikoumene hung in space, shattered and sundered beyond recognition by the titanic clash between Light and Dark. Between the dualities of the Oikoumene, between the energy which defined them as a people, as an empire, and as an intangible force of the cosmos themselves.
As Libraé overlooked the desolation, she considered that she had witnessed not only the twilight of her people, but the long night of the galaxy itself. Now, there was no other choice.
Her messenger once told her that “all of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again”, and that the destiny of the Oikoumene was not to reign, but to recede, to become one with the Valin'uvalyë and allow the disparate peoples of existence to chart their own course among the heavens.
Admittedly, even she, the Wisest of the Oikoumene, had been apprehensive about accepting such a fate. Surely, she could do more good as a corporeal guide and teacher. Through the passage of time and counsel from Apolithanatár, she came to accept that Apotheosis was the only way. And the time was close at hand.
Libraé looked closely at the conflagration at the centre of Erúmaethran, where Light and Dark had clashed, where legions of Mornûnendur had battled against the Estëmentári. The battle had waned soon before Libraé’s arrival, though through the currents of the Valin’uvalyë, she could not perceive which side had emerged victorious. Or, if indeed, any side had.
Libraé released her corporeal forms and became one with the starlight. Her form became an orb of brilliant light and floated swiftly toward the broken apex of Erúmaethran.
It wasn’t long for Libraé to arrive on the spot where so many of her kin had been banished from corporeality. She could still sense the final screams of anguish of both Mornûnendúr and Estëmentári during their final moments in this realm. Some, she could sense lingered still, in dimensional prisons much like the one she had encountered when she first met Apolithanatár.
Libraé regained physical form in the old chambers of the Oikoumene council and heard a familiar voice behind her.
“The eternal circle closes,” Tyrómairon said, rising to his feet from the perch he had claimed as a throne. He broadly indicated toward the ruin of Oikoumene civilisation. “Behold, the supremacy of my power.”
Libraé could see that the once great champion of the Oikoumene, her own husband, had become something else entirely. Once, she looked upon him and saw nobility. Now, she saw darkness. She saw the many shapes of power within him, in his hands he wielded cold and flame, and she knew that all those of the dark aspect were now laid to his charge.
“I see nothing but ash and betrayal, husband,” Libraé said. “You have become a monster, consumed by the darkness.”
Tyrómairon stood perfectly still, focusing and channelling all his power. Dark energy seemed to engulf him, and the air around them crackled with sinister electrical energy. “I am the darkness. And you, an impediment to peace.”
Libraé stood forward. “I refuse to believe that the husband I loved would descend to such madness. Please, my love, return! Return home, return to me. It is not too late.”
“Your husband is a fiction, First Elda. He always has been. My truth has been, now and for all-time, the Dark Lord. Now, you stand alone. The last flickering light of an era of chaos and complacency.”
“She is not alone,” a new voice said, heralded by a beacon of light, from which Apolithanatár emerged.
Tyrómairon regarded the two with cold detachment. “Long I have waited, Apolithanatár. Legions of Estementári rose to test me,” Tyrómairon said as he beckoned to the ground upon which they stood, upon which so many Oikoumene had been felled by the Dark Lord’s hand. “Will you join them?”
“Do not do this, Tyrómairon,” Apolithanatár said gravely. “Our time is at an end.”
“Bold words from a relic of the past,” Tyrómairon spoke in his dark voice, his very being radiating such dark power that the very air around them seemed to tremble. “You are blind, a fallen star in the heavens contemplating the endless void of space. Your destruction will be as insignificant as your striving.”
The Dark Lord unleashed a wave of energy, sending Libraé flying backwards. Apolithanatár, prepared for the strike, remained standing in his place, an orb of light defending him from the blast. He could feel the oppressive might of Tyrómairon’s power, as it probed his defences and attempted to dominate his will. Resisting the darkness, Apolithanatár responded in kind, letting the light within channel and flow before releasing it in a blinding beam of starlight.
A brilliant flash illuminated the Oikoumene capital as Dark and Light collided in their purest form.
When the conflagration died down, both Tyrómairon and Apolithanatár fell to their knees, though the Dark Lord was the first to rise. Swiftly, he advanced, hands outstretched, his eyes burning with red malice. Apolithanatár closed his eyes and felt his last reserves of power rise within him. Standing to his feet, he unleashed them, and Dark and Light collided once more, equally matched in intensity.
The Lord of Light and the Dark Lord of the Mornûnendúr could not overcome the other. Libraé rose to her feet and watched the Vectors of Darkness and Light battle. Are they doomed to battle for all eternity?
Beside her, her messenger suddenly appeared. A guide, a teacher and friend for many millennia, the messenger had guided Libraé to the home of Apolithanatár, often speaking of a special destiny which lay ahead for her. The messenger was not Oikouemene, however, instead taking the form which, the First Elda had crafted for a species native to the world of Wináiml.
“It is time, old friend,” the messenger said. “Apotheosis is the beginning before the beginning.”
Libraé sighed deeply and nodded. “All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.” Drawing deep on the very energy within her life-song, Libraé gave up her physical form one last time, and became one with the Valin'uvalyë. Across reality, all Oikoumene felt this, the first Apotheosis, and knew that it was time. Countless followed Libraé in passing beyond, uniting within Valin'uvalyë.
Even amid their titanic clash, the Vectors of Darkness and Light perceived this radical shift. Tyrómairon sensed that Libraé and her followers were now gone from corporeality and let out a sinister laugh. “Now you are truly alone. Follow them into the abyss!”
Tyrómairon unleashed ever more blasts of darkness toward Apolithanatár but found he could not overcome even the weakened Lord of Light. It was as though the very force of the Lord of Light was being augmented by the other Oikoumene.
Tyrómairon looked around in anger and confusion. “Impossible!”
Drawing on all his power, the Darkness radiated from Tyrómairon in palpable waves, drowning out the spectral images of all but a few of the most powerful Oikoumene. Nevertheless, Apolithanatár resisted, and with one final blast of Light, overcame the Darkness. Tyrómairon found himself unable to stop tendrils of pure Light from encasing him.
Rage and pure malice seethed within him. “You cannot contain me forever.”
“No,” Apolithanatár replied sadly. “I cannot. Until we meet again, Tyrómairon.”
Like Libraé before him, Apolithanatár released himself to the Light, his physical form vanishing into orbs of pure starlight. The orbs began to engulf Tyrómairon’s cage, and when they dissipated, nothing of the Dark Lord or the Lord of Light remained.
There was only silence.
The power of Valin'uvalyë washed over the galaxy like a mighty wave, illuminating the cosmos and marking the end of the age of the Oikoumene. No longer would the life-song of the Oikoumene be limited to the most advanced, now, it could be felt by all.
In a pocket dimension within the core of Aldár, Apolithanatár sat on a log next to a peaceful stream and allowed himself to become lost in his thoughts. The reign of the Dark Lord had come to an end, though at a dreadful cost, for within his captivity, Tyrómairon’s power could only grow. For now, at least, peace and harmony could reign. Only by locking himself away could Apolithanatár impose this imperfect sentence, for the Lord of Light knew that “all of this will happen again”.
Apolithanatár sighed. “If it must, I will ensure it is the last time.”
CAPRICAERÓN, 20 BNE
As darkness encroached above the skies of Capricaepolis, exchanges of brilliant energy illuminated the once peaceful skies. In the skies, Republic fleets, bolstered by allies from across the Gigaquadrant, were clashing with an array of vessels loyal to the Imperial puppet regime of President Zare'Anne.
On the planet below, Remnant commandos had already seized control over most the planet's island continents alongside Krassio forces and had begun the long push into the capital. Above the towering skyscrapers and monads, X-9 ReCon fighters engaged in vicious dogfights against Imperial ASP fighters, while on the streets, resistance fighters emerged from the shadows to overthrow the shackles of Imperial rule.
A lance of purple energy erupted from Aoirtae Valaeris's blade, and the young Ortella deftly waved it from right to left, deflecting deadly bolts of light back toward their origin, cutting down an Imperial trooper. Suddenly from behind, a blaster bolt shot past her ear, and as quick as a flash, she turned on her heel, blade in hand. Before she could move on her attacker, the second Imperial trooper was impaled by a golden light: the blade of Kara Inviá.
Aoirtae let out a deep sigh. "I had things under control."
Kara held her blade to one side. "It sure looked like it."
They are closer than friends. Closer than sisters. Ever since they first met on the frostfields of Andustar, they have become two sides of the same coin, and the war had forged their lives into one.
All around them, the once opulent capital of the New Republic was now a warzone. In the distance above the ruined skyline, a trio of Republic Venator-class Star Destroyers hung in the clouds, the sky crosshatched by ion trails, turbolaser bolts and hundreds of starfighters. The battle for control over the Twelve Worlds had been proceeding surprisingly well, the vast allied armada of Republic, Aldárae, Cognatus, Krassio, Rambo, Collective and Confederacy vessels making quick work of the token Imperial taskforce assigned to defend their prize.
The combined fleets of the Krassio and the Collective had managed to pierce through the Imperial lines of defence rather swiftly, creating an effecting blockade for the Allies to land their troops. By the third day of battle, the majority of Zare'Anne's loyalists had surrendered, though nevertheless, the fight toward the Pyramid was proving to be anything but easy.
Dropping from the sky came a Republic Caelum-class gunship, which manuevered to a wide open space which had once been home to a monument honouring the dead of the Trucinex War, before its destruction by a stray turbolaser blast. Sentinel Cainak and Master Bel materialized out of thin air, with Cainak asking questions to his Civatron sister eagerly, as a Krassio Phase-ship passed by and went on to join its fleet up in the sky.
Stepping off the Republic transport came Caranye Valaeris, Commander Corvexa, Vanikaimar and Commandant Gavakar. Removing a helmet, revealing her long hair, Caranye smirked as she walked down the boarding ramp. "Welcome to the battlefield, little sister."
Aoirtae, who had not seen her sister since prior to the fall of the Twelve Worlds, embraced Caranye closely. She had come a long away from the austere Imperial Intelligence agent she had met on the Battlestation.
“Gee thanks,” Aoirtae said with a broad smile. “We should visit warzones more often.”
Materialising next to Caranye came a purple swirl of energy, which Aoirtae recognised as her sister’s AI companion, the Eternal Enigma. The AI glowed as it spoke, in a clipped accent like those found on many of the Core Worlds in proximity to Orbispira. “Ah yes. Simply magical. Oh look, over there, a pile of debris!”
“Not now, Enigma,” Caranye replied in annoyance, releasing her sister from a long hug. Aoirtae eyed the assembled soldiers with interest.
Gavakar unholstered her rifle. "Ah, it has been a while. Hope you lot haven't forgotten about the good old Collective!"
"I have never seen a creature such as you before in my life," Vanikaimar responded, causing the Dracogodasimer to frown and the Nagith to smirk.
Commander Corvexa dropped to her knee, and in her right hand, her holoprojector activated, and a hologram of Admiral Helo Roslia resolved. "Our recon units close to the Presidential Pyramid report that the last of Zare'Anne's lackeys have taken refuge within the palace itself. President Apollo has expressed a desire for the traitor to be captured alive, so if that remains your intention, you're going to have to break into the Pyramid the hard way. My fleet won't be much use to you."
Vanikaimar scratched his chin. "A pointless mercy, but if we must, then so be it."
"I can get him alive, but I can't guarantee he'll be delivered with all his teeth intact," Gavakar said, letting out a mild chuckle.
Helo nodded. "An orbital strike on the palace is out of the question. Believe me, I would've ordered one if the risk to civilian lives wasn't a factor. In any case, that traitor must answer for his crimes."
Aoirtae ran her fingers through her hair. "This is still too easy. The Empire deployed a lot of their forces to take the Twelve Worlds in the first place, but this time? A handful of Star Destroyers and disloyal Republic puppets. Maybe we're walking into a trap."
"It is likely," Vanikaimar agreed, "or perhaps they have come to consider this puppet Republic expendable. Or both."
Helo furrowed his brow. "With our victory in orbit, the other Twelve Worlds are already declaring their loyalty to President Apollo and the provisional Senate. Nevertheless, we'll remain on guard for any potential counterattacks. Roslia out."
The hologram flickered out, and Corvexa stood to her full height. She pointed at a nearby alleyway running parallel to Republic Avenue. "I suggest we avoid running directly in the line of their blasters. Let's take an alternate route, shall we?"
"Works for me," Gavakar said. "Since I'm the biggest one here, stay behind me just to make sure."
Yvenne nodded in agreement. "The Loyalists will protect your flanks and rear when you advance towards the pyramid."
As Yvenne finished her sentence, the Resurging Starfire, a Hammerhead landed, sending Loyalist troops- amongst them Carthuendi, humans, Winteria Serindia and their All Terrain-Battle Tank into battle. Kara and Aoirtae activated their energy blades, holding position behind Gavakar as the group made their way slowly across the street toward the alley.
Almost as soon as they turned the corner, the desolate passage was filled by crimson bolts of energy. Ahead, a platoon of Imperial troopers had taken up position, defending one of the few remaining paths toward Zare'Anne's fortress.
“Ah,” the Eternal Enigma remarked from within Caranye’s helmet. “This doesn’t look good.”
Leading them stood the frightening form of Inquisitor Charcar'maer, his golden blade raised in challenge. "You did not seriously think you could win, did you? Your beloved Republic is dead. Any hope of victory against the Dark Lord is dead. And soon, you will be too."
Vanikaimar brandished his own weapon. "How unfortunate that we must encounter more Basileus-spawn in a place like this."
"Don't care what he is," Gavakar said. "He gets out of our way or he gets gunned down!"
A moment later, the Inquisitor leapt forward, bringing his blade down heavily on Kara's. The young Libertus raised her weapon to meet the Inquisitor's, the force of the impact sending painful vibrations shooting up her arm. Quick to help her friend, Aoirtae shifted on her feet, but before she could bring her weapon to bare, it was blocked in her hands by the crimson blade of a second Inquisitor—Vandalion himself.
Aoirtae's eyes widened, "You!"
Vandalion growled. His once pristine visage had been almost completely burned by Ryen during the Battle of Laurantia, but it was clear that the wily Basileus had lost none of his potency. "Your puny master could not stop me, whelp. I will finish what I began on Vurdon all those years ago!"
Vandalion rushed at Aoirtae with ferocity, slashing at her without restraint. Trusting in her feelings, Aoirtae shifted her focus from attack to defence, and then back again, bringing her blade up in a blur, knocking aside the Grand Inquisitor's offensive and pushing him back with a blast of light.
As the two knights faced off the Inquisitors, the Loyalist troops advanced as their battle-tank cannons roared as they advanced and engaged the trenched Imperial forces. "Advance Loyalists," Lendinnas yelled. "Give no quarter to these Imperial scumbags!"
Meanwhile, Charcar'maer pressed his advantage, slashing and bringing his weapon down harshly against Kara's. Momentarily caught off balance by the Inquisitor's sheer size, Kara just barely managed to avoid being stabbed directly in the chest, though the blade managed to slash her shoulder, causing her to back away with a yelp of pain.
Growling with anger, she spun the blade in her hands, switching to a reverse grip, and she sent it straight through the Inquisitor's midsection, almost bisecting him. The Inquisitor's laughter gave way to anguish as he fell sagging to the ground, his gleaming armour clattering against the ground.
Kara swiftly turned to help Aoirtae, involved in a vicious duel against the Inquisitor who first hounded them when Aoirtae and Kara met. Locked in combat, Vandalion bared his teeth at the young humanoid. "Appropriate, perhaps, that it is I who puts an end to your little quest."
Struggling against the sheer malice of the Inquisitor, Aoirtae closed her eyes. From deep within, she heard a familiar voice: the voice of her old friend Ryen. "Focus, Aoirtae. Light, dark, life, death, put them all to the back of your mind. Trust in yourself."
Aoirtae opened her eyes, filled with renewed determination, and her blade became a wheel of purple fire that caught Vandalion off guard. With a single mighty slash, she brought the blade down on the Basileus' chest. Vandalion looked down in horror, clutching his chest as he fell to his knees. Looking up at Aoirtae, he attempted to speak, to curse his enemy once more, but death took him instead.
Deactivating their blades, Kara and Aoirtae looked around at the carnage. Victory was close at hand.
Aoirtae felt her anxiety grow with each step she took toward the Presidential Office. What little remained of Zare'Anne's personal staff and security detail had either fled, or surrendered to the authority of Apollo's forces, and so the group encountered little in the way of resistance. As they turned a bend in the corridor, however, they found themselves confronted by three armed guards.
"Halt! Stop where you are," the lead soldier said.
"We can't do that," Kara replied, readying her weapon. "We have business with the President."
The three guards spread out in an arc as they approached Aoirtae and Kara, their rifles ready and primed for fire. The entrance into the central office loomed behind them, with Zare'Anne doubtlessly waiting on the other side.
"I said stop," the soldier said again, advancing now on Aoirtae and Kara.
Aoirtae responded quickly, drawing on the light within herself. With her right arm she used a blast of power to knock the rifles from the soldier's hands, and with her left, she sent them flying through the air and into the door, blowing it open, causing a healthy laugh to come from Gavakar. Such displays of power amused the likes of her.
President Zare'Anne, leader of the occupied Republic territories sat at his desk, his expression betraying no surprise and harbouring no contempt toward those who would remove him from his seat of power.
"I suppose you expect me to surrender," Zare'Anne said. "You'll be disappointed."
All around, the room was in disarray, holopads thrown about the floor and the furniture askew. Caranye took up position on the doorway, keeping an eye out for potential visitors, while the rest of the group moved toward the desk.
Despite her hatred for the man who had caused so much pain for her family, and the Republic itself, Kara was unwilling to accept that.
"We don't want to kill you, Zare'Anne," Kara said. "You can expect fairer treatment from us, rather than your new masters once they learn of your failure."
The Dracogodasimer raised an eyebrow and she placed her weapon on her shoulder. "What? Why not? Ain't no reason to spare enemies... Unless you intend to gather information?"
Vanikaimar responded by shaking his head. "No. It is simply mercy. Not one I agree with, of course, but nobody ever agrees with my opinion anyway."
The puppet President rose from his seat. "You still don't understand! I did what I did for the good of the entire galaxy. The only way to defeat the Empire is to change it from within, to temper its worse impulses and ensure the galaxy does not slide into endless war."
"You are a puppet posing as a usurper. You are in your position because the Emperor wills it," the Nagith said, contempt in his tone. "Do you truly believe you were ever in charge? That your will was your own? If so, you are a fool."
Zare'Anne shook his head. "It's not about control! I may be a fool, but through my obedience, I saved countless lives. Can you say the same?!"
Aoirtae lowered her weapon. "Countless lives under the greatest tyranny of our time. We're fighting to ensure that the galaxy doesn't slide into darkness for all eternity, Zare'Anne. We fight because we have something to believe in!"
Zare'Anne placed his hands on the desk and sighed deeply, seemingly unconcerned about his foes making their way to circle him. "Even if I want to believe you, it's too late. Too late for me. Too late for the Republic."
The Draken turned and walked to the window behind the desk. Peering out, a single tear rolled down his cheek as he surveyed the destruction of a city under siege. Slowly, he turned to face Aoirtae and Kara. "I can only pray that history will look kindly upon me. That it will judge my actions with kindness."
As he spoke, he reached into his coat pocket, and with another heavy sigh, pulled out a blaster pistol. "Forgive me."
Zare'Anne fired at Kara, who, with a flourishing swipe from her blade, deflected the bolt back toward the President, hitting him directly in the chest. The Dracogodasimer and the Nagith both took out their weapons in response, though as the Draken fell, they immediately relaxed.
As if he had expected his death, Zare'Anne gave a weak smile before finally succumbing. Caranye looked over the scene with disquiet and pulled out a holocommunicator. After a moment, the holographic image of President Apollo appeared, his hands clasped behind his back.
"Agent Caranye," he said in anticipation and relief. "What's the situation?"
"Zare'Anne is dead. He refused to surrender."
"Loose ends have been dealt with," Gavakar said as she circled Zare'Anne's corpse, giving it a poke with the barrel of her weapon to ensure he was dead. "Our Royal Marechal will be pleased by the news, as I know this man has been a thorn in the side of the Republic since the days of the First Remnant. Honestly, you should've killed him sooner."
Apollo lowered his head slightly, his expression unreadable. "I'm afraid things are rarely so straightforward. In any event, my shuttle will be landing at the Presidential Pyramid in a few minutes."
"Indeed," Vanikaimar said, crossing his arms. "It is time you take his place. Your place."
Apollo smiled, and the holotransmission ended. As the group waited for his arrival, reports emerged from across the Four Systems that the remaining Occupied Republic forces, commanded by Fleet Admiral Rel Vendri had betrayed the Empire and taken up arms against them. In orbit over Capricaerón, the remaining Imperial forces, commanded by Grand Admiral Vastæ Scaeva, took up position surrounding the mighty Nemesis, though upon being confronted by the combined Republic and allied armadas, buckled under the combined firepower, obliterating one of the Empire's most prized flagships, claiming the life of a decorated Grand Admiral and ensuring total victory for the Republic.
As cheers rang out from the streets below, Apollo's shuttle descended from the skies and landed at the Presidential Pyramid. Emerging from the cockpit, and accompanied by Dané Elenya, his son Laoi Cretacea, the AI known as the Adjunct and his special advisor Naelys Valraenos, Apollo glanced at the burning city below with sadness, though upon catching sight of the citizens waving Republic flags, he smiled and walked with confidence toward his old office. Almost as soon as he entered, he rushed forward and hugged Kara. Though she had been an active member of the Aldárae Order for years, he had yet to get over his constant worry for her safety.
"I'm so glad you're alright, sweetheart," Apollo said. "Your mother would be proud."
Kara smiled at her father, tears welling in her eyes. "She'd be proud of you too, dad."
From the back, Gavakar smiled as she watched the scene. "Man, this reminds me I haven't seen my own family in years. Wonder how my siblings are doing... All sixty-six of them." Vanikaimar looked at her with somewhat raised eyebrows but decided not to question it. Touched by the scene, Caranye approached Aoirtae and placed her arm around her younger sister.
The President moved behind the desk and sat down on his old chair. After a moment adjusting, he began rustling through the desk drawers. To his surprise, he pulled out two holopicture screens. "I was sure that Zare'Anne would've smashed them," he remarked as he placed the pictures of his deceased wife Gianne, and his close friend Ramashe, back on the desk where they belonged.
"Now," Apollo said. "What's next?"
Across the cityscape, downed starships dotted the once pristine waterways, and once proud skyscrapers now stood with missing pinnacles billowing smoke and fire. Nevertheless, the proud flag of the New Republic could be seen flying across the liberated capital, as surviving citizens took to the streets celebrating the downfall of Zare'Anne's regime and the end of the dreaded Imperial occupation. For two weeks since the battle ended, the frontline of the war had been expanding by the day. Republic forces, now bolstered by the loyal worlds of Coru Secundus had made a push toward the northern sectors, while the might of the Singularim Pact had brought the war to the very borders of the Empire's heartland.
Although the Presidential Pyramid was now missing an apex, President Apollo had gathered commanders, friends and allies from across the Gigaquadrant in the central meeting room, where he planned on discussing the next stage of the war. The President, attended by his staff and the Republic military led by Helo Roslia, was the first to sit at the wide circular table, prompting the others to do the same. Republic representatives, including Senators Raen Magalen, Amirtae Buroa and Aneen Daerethal followed suit. Surveying their surroundings, Aoirtae, Kara and Vanikaimar took up seats next to Primarch Voro Acetenus and the exiled Confederate chancellor Taros Cassynder.
Standing a little off and on his own, with crossed arms and looking grim stood a Winteria Serindia known as Lord Lendinnas Le Rambo. He hoped the Quadrantians kept their feelings of old wounds to themselves and not disturb the current meeting with it, Quadrantians were nowadays quite infamous, as they still felt insulted when most of the Gigaquadrant watched the Empire conquer the Rambo, eventually resulting in its fall and dissolution a few years ago.
"It's good to see you all, my friends," Apollo said. "But while we may have won a breather, I doubt the Empire will let it stay that way."
Admiral Roslia nodded, and pulled up a holographic map of the galaxy, showing the current state of the war. A red line bisected the region between Coru Secundus and the rest of the Imperial-occupied galaxy, with flags indicating fleets and their origins. The map zoomed in on the Lurasura Sector of the Inner Rim, and numerous Imperial symbol donated amassing Imperial armadas.
"We detected this task force yesterday," Roslia said. "It's preparing for a massive counteroffensive on Coru Secundus."
"It was only a matter of time," said Gavakar, scratching her chin. "Of course, they want payback. And it seems they're very serious about it."
Commander Donaró of the Free Osteola Rebel Cell nodded. "We cannot allow the Imperial conquest to resume. We did not fight to liberate the Republic, only for it to fall within a month."
"We must take new action," Apollo said. "We're finished hiding."
The President stood up and slammed his fist on the table. "I propose an immediate attack on Orbispira, the Imperial capital itself."
The table fell silent for a moment and began murmuring among each other.
Commodore Malegras was the first to speak up. "With all due respect Mr. President, that is madness and possibly suicide. If that Imperial task force moves in as we assault the Imperial capital, we will get caught between two major fronts. And how do we know if there are no Interdictors or other gravity wells blocking our approach to Orbispira?"
Apollo smiled in response. "A valid question, Commodore. Agent Caranye?"
Caranye stood forward. "I was recently contacted by a traitor within the highest echelons of the Imperial government. Potentate Tereyn Aeresius, himself. In exchange for haven, he has provided access codes past the Imperial blockade of the planet. A team can land and destroy a section of the planetary defence grid, allowing for our forces to besiege the city."
"That is exceptionally risky", said Gavakar as she narrowed her eyes. "Even if the defence grid was taken down, we'll still have to deal with the entire Imperial navy. No doubt they'll come flocking to their capital at the first sign of danger."
At this moment, Vanikaimar rose to his feet, his arms crossed behind him. "I have the solution to this problem."
Aoirtae, who had not expected Vanikaimar to contribute to the meeting, looked at him with confusion. "You what now?"
The Nagith eyed the hologram before fiddling with it himself, changing it to be an image of Orbispira. He had his eyes narrowed as he spoke with a cold tone. "My people once besieged Orbispira, as you may know. The First Republic was once almost brought to their knees. But they had a weapon we did not anticipate."
Vanikaimar then pointed directly at the planet. "A highly advanced beacon - no doubt Oikoumene technology - which allowed their leader to send a signal to the entire Cyrannus Galaxy in real time. Within minutes, reinforcements from all corners of the galaxy arrived to Orbispira. We were soundly defeated. If this beacon still exists, we could make use of it ourselves."
Lord Psantik rose among the crowd, conflicted. "How can an artifact project such a powerful signal? Not even my people could do such a thing with our psionic might."
"You underestimate the Oikoumene," Vanikaimar said as he returned to his seat. "My people worshiped them as deities for a reason. Something exists there. I may not have been present to witness it, but the Childrenheard its call. They spent years studying it. I am certain of what I speak of."
Apollo, an avid reader of galactic history, considered that. "Records from that era are fragmented at best, courtesy of the galactic dark age after the Nagith Wars. But nobody has been able to deduce why the war ended so swiftly, and so decisively against the Nagith. This beacon must be real."
The Civatron turned towards Apollo, his burning eyes wide open, "Revered President, if this thing exists, I could deploy my fleet beyond Orbispira to delay Imperial reinforcements so that you have enough time to activate the beacon. The 7th fleet would extend the frontline by a small margin, but it should give you what you need."
"We need all the help we can get, Lord Psantik," Apollo responded, sitting back in his chair.
"The fleets of Cognalorilos will defend your liberated worlds, my old friend," Voro said, holding his hand to his chest. "Though for myself, I would like the honour to stand at your side at this, the great battle of our time."
Apollo bowed his head in response. "I am thankful to you both."
"Well, then!", Gavakar said as a grin grew on her face. "I believe it's high time to call for reinforcements from home. If we're really doing this, it's time to call for the full might of the Draka Fang and the Royal Guard. Heck, maybe they can get the Polar Crystal Alliance to provide some aid too, after all the Republic helped get rid of some of their foes back home not too long ago."
Chancellor Cassynder furrowed his brow. "Despite our history, Mr. President, the forces of the free Confederacy will stand with you. Still, we should be under no illusion. The Empire will not surrender its capital so easily. I fear this may be a one-way trip for many of us."
"Something that needs to be reminded to all here," Vanikaimar said, glancing over to Aoirtae and Kara, "is that the Empire is led by Oikoumene. Precursors far beyond the reach of mortals. Casualties will be extreme, and Tyrómairon himself will intervene if we strike at the heart of his Empire. This will be our one and only chance."
Apollo nodded his head solemnly. "Yes, but we can't allow our fear of failure to doom the galaxy to an eternity of submission. We must draw the line here, and fight while we have the strength to do so."
That evening, Apollo sat on the floor in his quarters in the Presidential Pyramid, his head resting against the bed, absentmindedly scanning a datapad containing the plans for the coming mission to liberate Orbispira. He knew that the plan was risky, and that failure would mean the final destruction of the Republic and the end of any hope that the galaxy had to successfully defeat the Empire. On the bed, Dané Elenya sat up, awakened by the light of the datapad. “Aedanius… what’s wrong?”
Apollo said nothing, too deep in thought to respond.
Apollo sighed and looked up at Dané. “I’m thinking that, despite everything, I’ve failed in every respect.”
“You don’t believe that,” Dané said softly.
“Look at us, we may have won a small victory against Zare’Anne, but the Empire is omnipotent. This may be a lost cause.”
Dané sat up from the bed and placed a reassuring hand on Apollo’s shoulder. “You don’t believe that either. Why would the Republic accept defeat? Why would I accept it, if you won’t? You only fail if you give up, and I know you, you can’t give up. Neither can our friends. And neither can I.”
Apollo smiled and got off the floor, settling himself in the bed next to Dané, wrapping his arm around her. “Maybe there’s hope after all.”
Suddenly, a massive blast shook the building, causing Dané and Apollo to immediately jump from the bed, as alarms began to blare, and dust crumbled around them. On the already devastated streets visible out the window, citizens began to rush out of the skyscrapers and houses as lances of green turbolaser fire began to rain down from above. Acting quickly, Dané picked up her emergency commlink. “Doctor Elenya here, what’s the situation?!”
A Republic officer on the other end responded, her voice stricken with panic. “Doctor, an Imperial dreadnought has dropped out of hyperspace and is bombarding the city. The fleet is on route.”
Agent Earion Aerellus, Apollo’s personal Senate Guard burst into the room, with the President’s son Laoi Cretacea in tow, as well as a handful of the President’s closest advisors and staff. “Mr. President, Dr. Elenya, please follow me immediately. Colonial One is primed for emergency take-off.”
Meanwhile, in orbit over the planet, Admiral Irenwen stood proudly on the bridge of the Imperial siege dreadnought Absolution, which was soon joined by three Imperial Star Destroyers, which flanked the flagship from behind. Irenwen glanced down at the planet below, her eyes fixed on the outline of the capital. “Charge the primary cannon,” she roared. “And decimate any vessel leaving the system!”
Surrounded by his guards, Apollo, Dané, Laoi and the President’s senior staff were led through the crumbling halls of the Presidential Pyramid toward the central landing pad. Apollo reached for his holocom, which displayed the image of Captain Allie Narea, a female Tezelteän who worked as his primary pilot since the days prior to the outbreak of the First Great War. “We’re preparing for take-off, Mr. President, what’s your position?!”
“We’ll be with you momentarily, Allie,” Apollo said. “Set course for the Resolute, they’ll be our only way out!”
As the group made their way out of the Presidential Pyramid, the distinct outline of the Absolution could be seen in the skies high above the city, continuing its deadly volley onto the defenceless streets below. All around them, transports and fighters began to fly as fast as they could away from the city, prompting Apollo and his allies to race up the boarding ramp of Colonial One, which immediately blasted off into the skies once the final passenger was aboard.
On the bridge of the Absolution, Irenwen stood with her hands behind her back and her feet half a metre apart, watching as the relentless turbolaser barrage continued. Soon, she thought, the homeworld of the Libertus would be a charred cinder floating lifelessly in the void of space. A fitting inaugural moment for the next ten thousand years of Basileus domination.
“Are the ventral cannons primed?” she asked.
“Affirmative, sir,” the tactical officer replied.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Fire on the city!”
The Absolution quivered beneath Irenwen’s feet as the ventral matter cannon roared.
Apollo immediately made his way toward the starboard window, gazing out on the city below. Suddenly, his face was bathed in brilliant red light, as an immense blast of energy came surging from the Absolution toward the city. In an instant, he could feel the heat of the resultant explosion, cracking through what little remained of the planetary shields and impacting the Pyramid.
The blinding light was followed by a moment of pure silence, followed again by a deafening blast as the ventral cannon of the Absolution annihilated the ancient city of Capricaepolis – the beacon of Cyrannian democracy and a symbol of culture across the galaxy. As he watched in horror as his hometown burned to ash and cinder, Apollo immediately rushed to the bridge of Colonial One, and took his seat on the command chair. Another explosion rocked the ship, and green laser fire shot past the cockpit window.
Narea took the helm, and manuevered swiftly away from the city. “ASP fighters are on our tail! Colonial One to all Republic forces, we need immediate assistance!”
Her hail was almost immediately answered by the voice of Kara. “Hang on Narea, we’re on our way!”
The Auethnen Raptor emerged from a cloud, and unleashed the full force of its forward cannons, instantly destroying the pursuing ASP fighters. Taking position alongside Colonial One, the Auethnen Raptor, escorted the Presidential transport into orbit, where a battle had erupted between a Republic taskforce, led by the Resolute, and the Absolution. Out the viewport, Apollo could see the Resolute and the Absolution exchange deadly broadsides, and while he was no expert in naval strategy, he knew that even the advanced Republic flagship would be incinerated should the matter cannon fire again. Suddenly, he spotted several new vessels drop out of hyperspace. Over the ship's intercom, he heard the familiar voice of Fleet Admiral Gialu Kaedar. "This is Kaedar to all Republic ships: form up and concentrate your fire on the Imperial flagship!"
After a moment of jubilation, Apollo sank down in the command chair of Colonial One. Only a few weeks after finally liberating his home, it had been destroyed by the Empire. A single tear rolled down his cheek as he remembered all the moments of his life defined by the capital, from his boyhood playing on the streets, to his triumphant return to liberate it from Imperial rule. Now, all that remained was dust and echoes.
A familiar voice came quietly in the night above what remained of Capricaepolis. Standing on an outcropping overlooking the city, Aoirtae, Kara and Vanikaimar turned their heads to look.
To their shock, an equally familiar shape stood before them, shimmering in the moonlight. "Ryen!?" Aoirtae and Kara said in unison, shocked to see their former master standing before them, so long after his supposed death during the Fall. "It cannot be...", whispered the Nagith, who appeared dumbfounded.
"It is indeed," Ryen replied. "And it is good to see you."
While both Kara and Aoirtae heard the voice of Ryen during key moments in the years after his death, both assumed it was merely remnants of his memory within them. But now, Ryen appeared almost corporeal, his eyes penetrating and wise.
Aoirtae glanced at Kara. "I dunno, Kara, maybe we're drun-"
Ryen reached out and rapped Aoirtae on the head firmly. "I am not a drunken vision, Aoirtae Valaeris, thank you very much."
Aoirtae massaged her head. "Hey! Clearly the afterlife's done nothing to improve your temper!"
"How is this possible, master?" Kara heard herself say, rushing forward to embrace her old friend. While he appeared almost translucent, she still felt her arms wrap around him, and watched in glee as Aoirtae did the same.
"The mysteries of the Life-Song are beyond even death, Kara," Ryen said, with a hint of a smile. "You stand on the great precipice now. The great battle is about to begin."
"The others have hope, Ryen," Aoirtae said softly. "But they still underestimate the Emperor. Fighting Phaedra is one thing, but the Dark Lord? The Mornûnendur? Hoping for the best is only going to get us so far."
"Both of you have unlocked only a fraction of the power within. You have more hope than you realise, and when the time comes, you'll know how to use it. Don't preoccupy your thoughts with regret or fear. We don't decide where our place in this story begins or ends."
Vanikaimar then approached the Osteola master. "Master Ryen. You once saved my life. And I swore to protect yours." The Nagith's expression was one none of them had quite seen before - one of deep shame - as he proceeded to lay down on one knee before him. "And I have failed. For a warrior like myself, this is a great dishonour. You are free to judge me for my failure."
Ryen smiled softly. "Rise, old friend. My passing was the will of things. The will of Valin’uvalyë."
Slowly, the Nagith rose to his feet. "I do not understand this 'energy' you speak of," he said, still ashamed. "And I do not believe I ever will. At the very least, I can still fight against our foes. Surely I cannot fail twice."
The vision of Ryen suddenly began to waver and become fainter. "But I've lingered too long, my friends," the Osteola said. "I fear I must bid you farewell."
Aoirtae reached out for Ryen's hand but could not touch him. "Ryen—!"
"Never give up the fight," Ryen said. "I loved you both as daughters, as students, and as friends. You fight with the strength of generations, of entire galaxies. I am so very proud of you both."
The image finally faded, and Ryen was gone. Both Aoirtae and Kara knew however, that he was still with them, within the strength of their blades and the focus of their minds. For a few minutes they stood together on the edge of the balcony, saying nothing, and letting the night breeze surround them. Vanikaimar closed his eyes and, with his arms crossed behind him, returned inside without saying a word. Turning to face one another, Aoirtae, Kara and Vanikaimar nodded in unison. They were ready to face the greatest challenge of their lives.
In spite of the destruction of Capricaepolis, the Twelve Worlds were secure, with all those who pledged loyalty to Zare'Anne and his Imperial masters now safely behind bars. Across Coru Secundus, the Republic and their allies were liberating new worlds each day and forcing numerous Imperial fleets back into their own space. In orbit above Capricaerón, the Auethnen Raptor soared from the planet's atmosphere and set down in one of the cavernous hangar bays of the flagship Resolute. The boarding ramp lowered, and Aoirtae, Kara, Vanikaimar, Caranye and the pilot Munalur strode out, making their way to the turbolift.
"I haven't been this nervous since that incident on Vasuband," Aoirtae said, fidgeting with the hilt of her energy blade.
"You're nervous?" Munalur said with a smile. "I'm the one who has to fly you guys into this mess."
Kara laughed and placed a reassuring hand on the Mon Nahdar's shoulder.
"You are correct to be nervous," said Vanikaimar, with a sarcastic smile on his expression. "After all, we are not likely to survive this battle. I hope you have made peace with yourselves."
"Roslia should make you the morale officer, bud," Kara said wryly.
They rode the turbolift in silence, each lost in their thoughts and worries of the battle ahead. When the lift opened, they made their way to an assigned position within the briefing room. To Aoirtae's surprise, it appeared that the meeting consisted only of Republic and Aldárae representatives, though the various commanders were listening within their own ships in the amassing flotilla in orbit over the planet.
Admiral Roslia stepped forward, and the hubbub of conversation around the briefing room ebbed.
"It is time," Helo said. "Time to deal a crippling blow to the Empire."
The conversation picked up again, murmurs of both excitement and fear.
Roslia continued: "While the fleet prepares for this unprecedented assault on the capital, two teams will travel to Orbispira and lay the groundwork for success. The crew of the Auethnen Raptor will travel to the old Senate district, where Vanikaimar believes the Beacon can be found."
"It's one of the oldest buildings on the planet, even predating the era of the First Republic," Agent Aldorón remarked. "If this beacon's anywhere, it's gonna be there."
"That's all well and good," Commodore Thonaloc said. "But I still believe we're walking into a trap. I've heard that all of this is based on the word of Potentate Aeresius himself. How can we possibly trust such a man?"
Aoirtae studied Thonaloc. While she understood his scepticism, she could not help but feel a tinge of anger that the Corthrinus officer spoke about trust, when he and his vessel abandoned the Remnant after the Battle of Cognalorilos. To her surprise, it was not a Republic intelligence officer who replied, but rather Arasah, the young Cargura who Ryen had trained prior to his death.
"Aeresius wouldn't have reached out to me lightly, Commodore. When we spoke, I could sense palpable fear in him, but also a resolve that he was finally doing the right thing."
Aoirtae fought alongside Arasah during the conflict on Ambar prior to the outbreak of the war, and found herself impressed by the intelligence and poise of the young woman. She had heard from her sister that the Cargura had become an active participant in the underground war in the Twelve Worlds, working alongside Caranye, Aldorón and Senator Magalen to hamper Zare'Anne's rule. Now, when in her presence, she could well believe the stories.
Commander Selanius nodded, his cybernetic eye illuminating the area in red. "Furthermore, it would appear that the information he provided about the planetary defence grid is accurate."
"My contacts in Imperial Intelligence verify them too," Caranye remarked, stroking her chin. "As does the Eternal Enigma, and he was programmed to be paranoid to the extreme."
"Forgive me if I don't trust the word of a soothsayer, a former Imperial agent and her psychotic AI," Thonaloc huffed, resulting in protestations from the offended parties.
The Eternal Enigma materialised, surprising many of the Republic officers unaccustomed to Imperial AIs being given free rein on the flagship. "I'm not sensing a lot of trust here."
"Trust is earned, machi-" Thonaloc said, only to be cut off by Admiral Kaedar, who strode forward and slammed his fist on the holotable. "Enough! We would not be in this room if Apollo did not trust in our ability to work together. Now, Admiral Roslia, what of the allied fleets?"
Admiral Roslia rose from his command chair once more, and pulled up a hologram of the Orbispira system, showing the terminal points of the galaxy's major hyperlanes, and projections of the allied fleet arriving on all sides to overwhelm the orbital defences. "Once the beacon has been lit and the rising begins, our fleet will besiege the capital on all sides. It won't be an easy fight, but I have confidence that people across the galaxy will fight for their freedom. We represent the first spark which will ignite a fire - a fire which will burn down this Empire and restore peace and justice throughout Cyrannus. Now, to your stations, and may fortune favour us."
The crowd let out a united cheer and began to disperse. As the crowd broke up, Aoirtae and Vanikaimar approached Arasah. Aoirtae greeted the Cargura with the customary bow of the Aldárae, and Arasah responded in kind. "Long time no see," Aoirtae said. "Caranye told me you'd be hitching a ride on the Banshee."
Arasah nodded. "Normally I wouldn't be in the habit of trusting former Imperials, but for your sister, I'll make an exception. I just hope Aeresius had pulled through on his promises."
"You do not have to go out of your way to trust anyone", said Vanikaimar, with his arms crossed. "All you must focus on is the mission. When all is over, then allegiances will be clear to the entire galaxy to see."
"I suppose you're right," Arasah replied. "In any case, I'd better get ready. Agents Caranye and Aldorón will be expecting me."
With that, the assembled Republic and Aldárae officers broke off into their own groups. Aoirtae and Vanikaimar returned to where Kara and Munalur were seated, and together they made their way back to the hangar bay. Along the way, Aoirtae and Kara noticed that the crew of the Resolute almost went out of their way to see them, with some even risking reprimand to get a closer look at the famed Last Nagith.
"Looks like we're celebrities," Kara said light-heartedly, soaking it all in.
"Hm. I had a certain fame of my own, once," the Nagith said as he looked back at the crew. "I was a decorated warrior, recognised for my feats. But this feels different."
"It's because they don't fear you, Vanik", Aoirtae replied, placing a hand on his arm. "They respect you. You're a hero to them, not just a strange relic from the past. You just need to see it for yourself."
The Nagith looked at Aoirtae with a raised eyebrow. His expression seemed uneasy. "I have committed many acts of cruelty against the Republic in my time. To be seen as a 'hero' by their successors is... strange."
"Ryen always said, "learn from the past, but live for the future"," Kara replied softly. "What matters is what we're fighting for here and now, a better tomorrow, regardless of the mistakes we made in the past."
The Nagith considered her words and closed his eyes. "It would seem Master Ryen was right about the two of you. You are wise beyond your years." He then opened his eyes again and looked at them, a serious expression in his face. "We spoke of allegiances earlier. You know I hold no allegiance to either the Republic or the Aldárae, by which I mean, my allegiance is yours only. If we are to meet our ends, know that I will be at your side."
They stopped when they reached the hangar and followed Aoirtae toward the forcefield overlooking the growing allied fleet amassing above the picturesque vista of Capricaerón. Following closely along, the Adjunct bobbed up and down in the air. "Anticipation! To bare witness to the Great Beacon itself is really quite something."
With a tear running down her cheek, Aoirtae turned to face her friends. "It's been... an honour."
"No matter what happens," Munalur said. "You three will find a way through it. You always do."
"We likely will," Vanikaimar said as a sly grin grew on his face. "Unfortunately for the Empire, these children have proven remarkably difficult to destroy."
"We've had our fair share of hopeless situations before," Kara said. "But I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Aoirtae smiled and hugged Kara tightly. "Neither would I. It's been a good ride."
Kara wiped a tear from her eye. "The best."
"Now, let us not waste time," Vanikaimar said as he proceeded. "It is time for us to face our fate."
Aoirtae and Kara both looked up at Vanikaimar. Aoirtae outstretched her hand. "C'mon big guy, let's hug it out."
The Nagith looked at them with a look of confusion. "... Do not push it."
Aoirtae, Kara and Munalur laughed in unison, as together with the Adjunct, the crew of the Auethnen Raptor boarded their ship, ready for whatever destiny had to throw at them.
Two days later, crowds were being huddled together in the grand plaza leading up to the Imperial Sanctum on Orbispira. The skies themselves crackled ominously and rain began to pour down. Hiding in a sheltered alley adjacent to the main thoroughfare, Arasah raised the cowl of her cloak and stepped out into the crowd. All around her, Arasah could sense the despair. She took note of the Imperial walkers positioned ominously on either side of the plaza, their cannons directed toward the crowds, while in the skies above, Imperial ASP fighters screamed as they zoomed overhead.
While the young Cargura had not set foot on the city-world during the time of the United Republic, she had seen plenty of holos of the planet's splendour.
Nothing prepared her for the Imperial capital.
The towering skyscrapers and acrologies had been stripped of the opulent art-deco design of the Republic era, and replaced with cold Imperial uniformity, with hard lines and harsh shapes dominating the skyline. Even the former Imperial Palace, which had previously been the Presidential Palace under the Republic, had been reduced to rubble, and in its place, a vast monolithic monstrosity known as the Imperial Sanctum towered ominously above the citizenry.
As she moved deeper into the crowd, Arasah made her way toward one of several holoscreens positioned across the plaza, allowing the crowds to see what was happening at the base of the Sanctum over three kilometres away. As the rain pelted down around her, Arasah stopped and stared at one of the screens, which showed two Imperial Guards holding a chained Libertus for all the crowd to see. Her heart sank when she saw that one of the Libertus was Tereyn Aeresius, himself.
She had wondered why he had failed to meet with her, and while she immediately expected treachery, now it was clear that his treason had been noticed by the Imperials. Aeresius was bound with restraints, and judging from the scars on his face, had clearly been tortured. Beside him stood Grand Mandator Deoclet Caesarius, widely regarded as the head of the Imperial Military.
With his long white cape billowing in the wind, Caesarius overlooked the crowd assembled before him. Across the grand plaza in the shadow of the Sanctum, he could see thousands upon thousands of crimson Imperial flags and the confused and frightened faces of the beings forced to attend this gathering. "You've always been a fool, my dear Tereyn. But to betray the Empire? Did you honestly believe you could get away with it?"
Aeresius looked at Caesarius with disgust. "The Empire has become a poison, Grand Mandator. I refuse to serve it any longer!"
Caesarius motioned to two of the Imperial guards, who walked forward and forced Aeresius to his knees. Smiling with satisfaction that his old rival was now completely at his mercy, Caesarius walked to the central pedestal. Even to Caesarius, the rally was impressive.
Glorying in the moment, the Grand Mandator stood flanked by an enormous banner stamped with the insignia of the Empire, and when he spoke, his voice boomed across the plaza. "Today marks a new beginning for our Empire! Even on the brink of our total victory, the insidious rebels strike from within to topple our Imperial Order," Aeresius proclaimed, before indicating to Aeresius. "Our former Potentate has conspired against us, my friends, committing vile treason against our Lord Emperor. Now, he stands charged with treason."
Caesarius nodded his head to an Imperial guard, who approached the former Potentate with a laser axe. A touch of the activation switch resulted in brilliant energy erupting from the emitter, capable of cutting through anything. Retreating from the pedestal, Caesarius approached Aeresius with a smile of victory etched on his face. "Well? Any final words?"
Aeresius spat on the ground where the Grand Mandator stood. "Long live the new Empire."
Caesarius blinked in confusion, but only momentarily. "Execute," he ordered, his voice oozing with cold satisfaction.
The whine of the axe could be heard through the holoscreen, and Arasah watched as the trooper raised it for the killing stroke. At the last possible moment, she turned her head away. The crowd fell utterly silent, and Arasah clenched her fist. Suddenly, she felt someone grabbing her arm before she could do something impulsive. Looking at her side she saw the trusted face of Ross.
"Their evil will not endure young one," she said sternly. "But now is not the time to behave rashly."
"I know he was an Imperial," Arasah said. "But without him, we wouldn't have been able to land on Orbispira. If we succeed, it'll be because of his help. He didn't deserve to die like that."
"True, but the Light works in miraculous ways" she said in return. "Now focus on the task at hand, young one.”
Arasah nodded and together, she and Janice made their way out of the plaza and toward the hidden landing pad where Caranye had landed the Banshee. There, they found Rhavor and Caranye in the middle of what appeared to be quite a heated argument. Arasah rushed forward and got between the two intelligence agents. "What's going on here?! We're allies!"
"It's nothing, missy," Rhavor said. "It's just another mad idea from this one."
"Aeresius is dead," Caranye countered. "At this point, mad ideas are all we have left."
Arasah sighed deeply. "Okay, okay, let's have it."
"The underworld, that's our only option," Caranye said. "I have contacts down on Level 2901."
"The battle is on the surface," Rhavor growled. "There's nothing down there but criminals and low-lifes."
Caranye shook her head. "People are down there, Aldorón. People who hate the Empire just as much as we do. I've worked with these contacts before. We can trust them."
Rhavor opened his mouth to respond, but was silenced by Arasah's raised hand. The young Cargura raised the cowl of her hood. "I trust you, Caranye. Lead the way."
The Auethnen Raptor emerged from hyperspace above Orbispira, the vast endless city sprawled out before them. To Aoirtae, who grew up in the frigid wastes of Andustar, it was difficult to get her head around the sheer enormity of the galactic capital of Cyrannus. She noticed Kara shudder out of the corner of her eye.
"I grew up here, you know," Kara said. "Back in the days before the Empire. It doesn't seem real after all these years."
"It's changed by all accounts," Munalur said. "A far cry from the centre of peace of prosperity in the days of the United Republic."
Vanikaimar looked down at the planet with a stern expression. "I have never been to this world, yet I heard many legends of it. Of how my kind would one day rule over it... It was not meant to be."
"This world would appear to be the Erúmaethran of this era," the Adjunct said. "The bright centre of civilisation."
"And now, the dark heart of tyranny," Aoirtae replied ruefully.
Using the information provided to the Republic by Aeresius, the Raptor descended through the city-world's clouds undetected by Imperial forces, and it wasn't long befoe they began to pass by the tallest peaks of the planet's famed spires. To Kara, however, the city was almost unrecognisable. The Empire had torn down many of the opulent towers of the Republic, and replaced them with drab, imposing buildings which reminded her of the Empire's Star Destroyers.
As the Raptor descended further through the levels of the city, however, she began to see some buildings she could recognise, including the bulbous Senate Tower in the far distance. Aoirtae looked over the cockpit panels. "Wow, so few people actually live in the skyscrapers. Most are living underground."
"Likely to avoid contact with the Empire," Munalur said. "Not even they have total control over the lower levels."
Aoirtae pointed at a nearby abandoned skyscraper in close proximity to the Senate Tower. "Put us down there, Munalur."
The Auethnen Raptor sped toward the skyscraper, landing on top of the building's roof. Munalur turned to his comrades as they prepared to leave the ship. "Stay safe, guys. I'll set the Raptor down a few kilometres below. Just send a signal when you're ready to get going."
Aoirtae placed a hand on Munalur's shoulder. "It'll be alright, Munie. We always get through these things."
"We'll see you on the other side, bud," Kara said with a confidant smile, before packing up her things and joining the others as they descended the Raptor's boarding ramp. As the Raptor lifted off the roof and flew off into the distance, Aoirtae opened a case, revealing three grappling guns. Taking one for herself, she handed Kara and Vanikaimar the others, and aimed at the distant Senate Tower in the distance.
"Hope you aren't afraid of heights," she said.
"I do not fear," Vanikaimar replied as he immediately went ahead and fired at the Tower, before allowing himself off the ramp to go for it. Kara and Aoirtae laughed and followed his example, firing at the Tower and leaping from the skyscraper, zipping a thousand metres above the city toward their destination. The Adjunct followed closely, zooming through the air behind them.
After a few moments, they crashed through one of the opulent windows of the Senate Tower, landing in a long abandoned chamber. All around them, the building was clearly decrepit and in need of serious repair. In the place of wealthy and affluent senators, Kara was shocked to see that the poorest of the poor had made the building their home. All around, people had torn down lavish paintings to use to heat their fires, and anti-Imperial graffiti was displayed on the once pristine halls.
In the distance, Aoirtae spotted a group of Imperial troopers patrolling the central convocation hall, trampling upon what had once been the makeshift home of one of the building's inhabitants. "Hey!"
She rushed forward and ignited her blade, throwing it like a boomerang and killing the troopers where they stood. Another group of soldiers emerged from a nearby passage, and immediately opened fire, only to be sent over the edge of a balcony with a telekinetic blast.
All around, the citizens cheered and began to gather around Aoirtae, Kara and Vanikaimar. Many of them had taken up weapons and raised them into the air. "Long live the Republic!" they cheered. "Death to the Empire!"
"I had hoped we would not gather too much attention," said Vanikaimar as he eyed the crowd of citizens.
"I couldn't just do nothing, Vanik," Aoirtae said. "These are the people we're supposed to be fighting for."
"Whether the case," the Nagith said as he turned back forward, "let us proceed. We must find the beacon before the Empire is alerted of our presence."
"Agreed," Kara said, as they moved through the crowds toward the Senate Tower's central turbolift. "The beacon should be located on the lowest level."
By the time they made their way through the cavernous interior, the crowds had begun to rise up against the meagre Imperial security presence, swiftly overwhelming them. Stepping into the ancient turbolift, they could still hear the cries of people declaring that the Republic's day had come, before the doors shut and the lift began to descend swiftly through the levels of the tower. After almost half an hour of travel, the lift opened to reveal the first level, dating back to the days prior to the formation of the First Republic itself.
All around, ancient technology was strewn about, some dating back to the planet's earliest civilisation and others to the days of the Second Nagith War. Aoirtae picked up a weapon similar to that of Vanikaimar's spear and held it to him. "Recognise any of this stuff?"
The Nagith took out his own weapon and put it against the spear held by Aoirtae. "That I do. I must say, I am surprised to find one of these here. It means my people got very far."
"Just moments away from preventing their final defeat," Kara said.
The Adjunct bobbed along ahead of them, stopping short of a large central platform in the centre of the room. Detecting the presence of the Aldárae, a massive conducting chamber rose from the ground below, powered by the ancient machinery of both the First Aldárae Order, the Republic they served, and even more mysteriously, the Oikoumene themselves. Vanikaimar looked at it with visible unease; it was not often when you were confronted by what was essentially the catalyst for your species' destruction.
The Adjunct peered closely at the device. "Curious indeed! It would appear that this is the Great Beacon!"
"It seems inactive," Aoirtae said with disappointment. "Why can't it be easy? Just once."
"There must be a way," said Vanikaimar as he started looking around the chamber. "I almost wish we had that bizarre blue creature with us, it could have served as a power source again."
"Unfortunate," the Adjunct responded. "Although in the absence of the Thoi Themek lifeform, there is only one possible solution. I must power the device."
"But you'll be destroyed!" Kara said, rushing to the Adjunct's side.
"Ah, but it would be a fitting end for the last of the Oikoumene constructs. Giving my life to spare the galaxy's next generation."
"We came to this world expecting casualties," the Nagith commented as he eyed the Adjunct. "Though I must admit, I did not expect this artificial intelligence to be among them."
"I'll never forget you, Adjunct," Kara said sadly, placing her hand on the construct's chassis.
The ordinarily positive tone of the Adjunct's voice was now sombre. "Farewell, Creator Kara. Please give my regards to your father. Tell him that the influence of Libraé is as strong in him today, as it was millennia ago."
Kara was too upset to question the Adjunct on his claim, and instead stood back, watching the final sacrifice of her family friend. The Adjunct bobbed up and down in an approximation of a goodbye, and made his way toward the centre of the conducting chamber. Suddenly, he transformed into a brilliant orb of glowing light, and the Beacon roared to life, causing the entire Senate Building to rumble.
A vast column of light, a pure datastream, emerged from the Senate Building, and branched off into space. Using the power of the Light, Kara manipulated a data crystal containing her father's holographic message, and pushed it directly into the datastream, sending thousands of beacons of light on different trajectories through the heavens.
On the streets below, the people of Orbispira looked up at the beacon with hope, and on holographic projectors and datascreens across the Cyrannus Galaxy, the datastream resolved into a holographic image of President Apollo.
"This is President Apollo of the New Galactic Republic of Cyrannus," he said, his voice confident and his eyes burning with hope. "The time has come to fight. To take up arms against the Empire and end this age of tyranny and oppression."
The beacon of light arrived at the ecumenopolis of Tar Kuuraen, causing every droid and screen on the planet to display Apollo's message. In her palace, the crime lord Aiora Xaeymea put down her drink as she listened.
"We must unite," Apollo declared, "unite in the face of the greatest peril ever encountered by our galaxy! We must not retreat, but go forward, as a united galaxy, with unbounding determination in the righteousness of our cause and the inevitability of our triumph."
The sun was setting on Vasuband, when the beacon hit the palace, causing Grand Mandator Erissare to spill her drink. In anger, Erissare threw a Dvottie at the hologram of Apollo as its light filled the room, though the President continued his speech. "We can no longer live under the shadow of Tyrómairon, send your ships, your warriors! Converge on Orbispira, and let us all step into the Light!"
On the bridge of the Resolute, as it travelled through the void of hyperspace, Apollo stood proudly with his hands clasped behind his back. All around him, Admiral Roslia, the crew of the Resolute and his Presidential staff joined him, their eyes filled with hope. "We do not fight for conquest, we fight to end it! We fight for liberation and justice!"
The Resolute dropped out of lightspeed over Orbispira, followed closely by an entire armada of Republic and Resistance vessels. Apollo gazed at Orbispira with resolve. "We fight for democracy, for the Republic, for Cyrannus!"
The Final Battle had begun.
The skies above Orbispira blazed with war. Explosions and debris began to rain into the atmosphere as the united allied fleet, led by the New Republic, clashed against the Imperial defence fleet. Beings across the planet below watched in awe as the night sky became illuminated with the clashes of starships.
The New Republic armada, consisting of the flagship Resolute, included the dreadnoughts Star of Cyrannus and the Spirit of Freedom, battlecruisers such as the Tythóran, destroyers such as the Valour, the Aeolus, Allecto, Starfyre and the Phoebus, as well as smaller vessels such as the Mou'Llhei Star and the Ardaeinos.
At the bridge of his dreadnought, Royal Marechal Jerkon had brought the full might of the Indoctrinate Collective's navy and Royal Guard to join what remaned of Commandant Gavakar's forces. "We have come to destroy the Empire," he said, in that exact same tone of emotionless seriousness which Apollo had known for years.
And following him were forces hailing from the Polar Crystal Alliance; a myriad of ships from various cultures of the Borealis Galaxy, led by Grand-Commandant Asraels of the Zoles Imperium. "The Republic once aided us in freeing our stars from Imperials and zealots. Today, we are here to repay the favor."
"Well, my old friend, ready to rustle our feathers once more," ambassador Rambas II asked the rather frail looking Ramcard who smiled at the comment. "Well, see if you still can keep up" he shot back in friendly competition. Both looked at captain Aur'Luthiaen and asked in unison if they were allowed by her discretion, she was the captain of the Intrepid after all. With her approval Ramcard sat behind the weapons console while Rambas took the helm as they advanced towards the Imperial fleet.
On the bridge of the Resolute, Apollo looked up at the holographic displays of the Imperial fleet. It had gathered around a massive warship in low orbit over the planet. He had hoped the intelligence from the Confederacy of Free Planets was somehow mistaken, but nevertheless, what he saw proved otherwise.
"The Emperor's flagship, the Sovereign," he said. "That's our primary target."
All around the Sovereign, the Imperial fleet moved into formation. Blockading the planet from invasion was an imposing line of Judicator-class Star Destroyers, including the Judicator, under Admiral Mortalagueis, the Fist of the Empire, the Harbinger and the Desolator, as well as dozens of Imperator-class Star Destroyers such as the Accuser, the Basilisk, the Chimaera and the Devastator II.
"All ships," Apollo declared over a fleetwide channel. "Advance and concentrate your fire on the Imperial flagship!"
"By your word, Apollo," Primarch Acetenus replied from the bridge of the Herald of Retribution, before turning his attention to the assembled Cognatus fleet. "Fleetlords Ehtar, Vicliquam, Valna'leh, Vandon and Xellunaion! Let our cannons roar!"
The combined Cognatus armada rushed forward, charging at the front lines of the Imperial fleet with a ferocity matched by few. Following close behind came a small Confederate fleet led by Cassynder and Admiral Evel Thielde of the Calidusa, which unleashed the full force of its ion hypercannon, disabling and destroying an Imperial Star Destroyer in a single volley.
On the bridge of the Resolute, Admiral Roslia swivelled in his chair from station to station, examining the battle map keenly. Admittedly, his assessment was far from ideal. Already, a contingent of Aether-class corvettes had been lost, two Arquitens-class frigates were leaking atmosphere and countless individual starfighters had been lost to the swarm of Imperial ASP fighters darting across the battlefield.
Ahead, other destroyers circled the distant Sovereign, parting at just the right moments to allow its mighty turbolasers to lance out between its escorts, bombarding the New Republic fleet. Moving his chair to alongside Apollo, the two Libertus watched as the Cognatus and Confederate front line surged against the Imperial blockade, but even their combined mighty were unable to drive a wedge in the Empire's cordon of Star Destroyers.
"We must advance, Admiral," Apollo said. "Push forward."
"Aye, sir," the fleet admiral responded, before opening a channel to Admirals Kaedar and Quarantar. "This is Resolute Actual, follow on our flanks, we're making a run for that dreadnought!"
The Beacon of light continued to spread across Cyrannus, bringing Apollo's word of revolution to worlds as far from the Core as Cognalorilos, Rinus and Carindes. Even the locked down space of the Great Star Dominion was not immune from the message of hope. On his throne on Moreuse, Zillum watched his nemesis speak with interest, as reports came in of the New Republic's desperate assault on the capital.
In the Imperial Sanctum, Emperor Tyrómairon watched the light as it continued to ascend into the skies. Narrowing his eyes, the Dark Lord extended his hand in concentration. The Imperial Sanctum began to vibrate violently, until suddenly, the light suddenly halted, stopped by the immovable force of the Darkness. The pressure of the datastream began to thrum as the pressure built within, until finally, the Light went dark, extinguishing the fire of revolution.
In the Senate Building's cavernous foundations, the Great Beacon exploded, forcing Aoirtae, Kara and Vanikaimar to dive out of the way of the blast. Falling to her knees, Manipulating the light, Aoirtae prevented falling debris from hitting them, forming a shield as the world around them was consumed with fire and smoke. Recovering from the blast, they got to their feet and surveyed their surroundings. Suddenly, the darkness was illuminated by six crimson energy blades, as from the darkness the Phaedric LordsArchaxys, Cythonia, Echoriax, Moranonúngur and Venatorius emerged.
"The Emperor foretold that you would be here," Venatorius said, his voice as cold as the void of space. "Now, face your destinies."
Aoirtae and Kara ignited their own blades in unison, and began to back away from the approaching Phaedric Lords. While powerful, they knew that even together, they could not withstand all six.
"No," he said, as rather than retreat, Vanikaimar took a step forward, revealing the full extent of his blade. "You will not have them."
"Oh, I don't know about that," Echoriax said, brandishing her weapon. "I look forward to smashing all of your hopes, and watching you beg for mercy. Oh, we're going to have so much fun."
Turning his head back, the Nagith looked at his companions. "Go. I will keep these cretins occupied."
Aoirtae rushed forward, extending her weapon into its dual-bladed configuration. "Like hell am I leaving you!"
Vanikaimar shook his head. "Child, child... I call you by this word for that is what you are; a child. It means you yet have a life to fulfil. You and your friend must grow. You must thrive. You must survive. I am a relic past my prime, but you still have much to experience. Besides..." a twisted grin grew on the Nagith's face as he faced the Phaedric Lords once more. "I am not so easily destroyed."
Kara took hold of Aoirtae's shoulder, and turned to face Vanik. "Master Ryen would be proud, Vanik."
"Perhaps," the Nagith said as he took another step forward. "But you would disappoint him if you were to die to these bootlicks. Now go!"
Reluctantly, Aoirtae and Kara said their goodbyes to Vanikaimar and rushed out of the conducting chamber, leaving him alone with the Phaedric Lords. The Nagith continued grinning as he took yet another step, almost as if being faced with his doom excited him. "Phaedric vermin! You think you can frighten me, the Last Nagith!? Your Oikoumene overseer is not here to save you this time. I will teach you the meaning of fear!"
As they begun to ascend the building once more, the last thing Aoirtae and Kara would see in the chamber would be the Lords and Vanikaimar rushing against one another in a battle they would not seen, though they feared they already knew what the outcome would be.
As the battle raged on in orbit, the Phantom descended through the seemingly endless depths of Orbispira, passing by hundreds of individual layers of the city world as they descended toward the planetary underworld. Gazing out the viewport, Arasah found herself shocked at the conditions of those living in the undercity. She had been raised on stories of the opulence and grandeur of Cyrannus' capital world, but to see the slums first hand, she knew that there was much that one could not learn from the official Republic databanks.
As the ship descended, Arasah watched in horror as chaos began to reign. It appeared as though Imperial forces were firing upon population centres, while fires and riots were breaking out all over the planet. Worse, chatter over the HoloDomain seemed to indicate that something horrific was happening on the surface of the planet. As the ship set down outside a particularly seedy cantina, Arasah resolved to fight to improve the lives of the people who called this world home.
Following Agent Caranye and Rhavor as they descended the boarding ramp onto the platform, Arasah raised the cowl of her cloak and walked into the cantina, only to find it completely deserted, with the notable exception of a female Alavar and a Paladian—a species she recognised as hailing from the distant Borealis Galaxy. The Alavar rose to her feet and walked toward the new arrivals with a broad smile. "Ah, so I guess you guys are our contacts."
Tironus nodded his head. "We've been tracking you since your arrival. Not exactly easy."
Corva beckoned the others to follow her through a backdoor in the cantina. "After the rest of the galaxy went dark after Apollo's transmission, the Empire began purging a twenty kilometer radius around the Imperial Sanctum."
Arasah shook her head. "Twenty kilometers? That must be millions of people."
Tironus nodded gravely. "Most of the able bodied have been moved to conditioning camps scattered on the outskirts, near the Senate Building. Luckily, we were able to escape."
The group exited the cantina and found themselves in what Arasah assumed was once a hotel complex, built on the shores of an artificial lake. The complex was packed full of civilians from various walks of life, from species hailing from not only Cyrannus, but across the Gigaquadrant. Tironus extended his arm. "And we weren't alone."
Caranye was stunned. "How many people were able to escape the upper levels?"
"We don't know," Corva said. "Tironus and I rescued as many as we could on the Falcon, but some of the larger freighter captains were able to save more. I'd say at least ten thousand. More are arriving every minute."
Sure enough, Arasah could see ships of dozens of configurations descend through the central portal to the surface and touch down in a landing pad beside the complex. The Eternal Enigma materialised. "They're fortunate. I've tapped into the Imperial battlenet. All non-military transports are to be shot down if they attempt to lift-off."
Arasah could sense the collective feeling of hopelessness from the crowds, but something else too, something deeper. Anger. Rage. An urge to strike at those who tore them from their homes. She turned to Corva and Tironus. "Can we arm those who want to fight back?"
Corva glanced at Tironus, and back to the Cargura. "This is the underworld, kid, city's full of weapons. But they're not an army."
Arasah shook her head. "They're the only army we need."
The Aldárae warrior took a deep breath and made her way to the centre of the complex. Corva and Tironus watched with interest, while Caranye held Rhavor back from following her.
"What does she think she's doing?!" the Republic agent said, struggling against Caranye's grip.
"Calm down," Caranye said irritably. "She knows exactly what she's doing."
Arasah climbed up onto a stage at the core of the complex, surrounded by thousands of refugees and civilians. Though she briefly feared that she would lose the ability to speak before such a huge crowd, she closed her eyes, and found the strength of the Light fill her. Unholstering her dualsaber, she ignited its bright green blade, drawing all eyes in the vicinity toward her.
"People of Orbispira, hear me! I am Arasah Nui, sentinel of the Aldárae Order of Light and agent of the New Republic. All those who long for peace, hear me! Those who have hope in their hearts, hear me! Hear me, and listen!"
Caranye and the others watched with the same fascination as the many thousands now gathered in the complex.
"The Empire has forced you from your homes and robbed you of your freedoms. They have spread their darkness to every corner of their cosmos. Today, we say enough! At this very moment, the galaxy itself rises to fight them. Now is not the time to hide in the underworld, under the boot of an evil Emperor. No, now is the time to fight! To resist!"
All around, dozens began to stamp their feet, then hundreds, until thousands of people did so in unison. Cheers roared throughout the crowd as Arasah stood overlooking them. She raised her blade into the air, where it seemed to illuminate ever brighter. "To victory!"
The battlespace above Orbispira was seemingly limitless, stretching from the skies of the planet itself to the orbit of its temperate moon Corunnia. Despite the Republic's advantage of surprise, the Empire maintained a neatly compressed fleet—a perfect defensive perimeter around the Sovereign, which itself hung in geosynchronous orbit over the Palace District below.
Apollo held himself steady as another turbolaser barrage rocked the bridge of the Resolute. He frowned as he gazed out the viewport; space itself was lit up like a nova with simultaneous turbolaser bolts lighting up the skies. On his left, he caught a glimpse of a venerable Venator explode into a fireball, the victim of a direct barrage from the Imperial flagship. Apollo did not have the luxury of regret or even grief for those who lost their lives. Finishing the mission, saving the Republic, was all that mattered.
"Stay on target!" Admiral Roslia yelled. "Concentrate your fire on any vessel blocking our way!"
The bridge of the flagship was alive with tension. Gunners coordinated their targeting, navigators guided the ship's movement through the chaos, while communication officers maintained contact with the other ships of the fleet. At the centre of the chaos stood Apollo and Helo, watching as ASP fighters darted past the viewport, chasing or being chased by Republic vessels.
Small corvettes and frigates, varying from Republic, Rambo or Collective design, led the charge, pushing down toward the defending Imperial Destroyers, while the Cognatus flagship Herald of Retribution and the Confederate dreadnought Calidusa slid in on either side of the Resolute.
On the bridge of the Sovereign, Captain Nirndal smirked, his hands clasped behind his back. The Republic's forward line had begun to collapse, with numerous enemy capital ships now smoking wrecks in space. He looked through the viewport at the rest of the Imperial fleet.
It remained in formation, acting as a bulwark against the rabble. He allowed himself a smile of satisfaction. Soon, the Republic would be finally crushed, and their allies would soon follow. Then, after so many years, the Empire would begin the Final Conquest and all the Gigaquadrant would bend the knee. And he would ensure that Grand Mandator Caesarius and the Emperor himself would know his worth.
"We are in range of a Phoenix-class supercarrier," said one of Nirndal's lieutenants.
Nirndal smiled, recognising the vessel as the Spirit of Freedom, which had served as the former flagship of Admiral Willelmus Cretacea, and now under the command of Admiral Mytus Aradraen, proving instrumental in the destruction of the Cyrannic Imperial Battlestation at the beginning of the conflict. "Fire the primary weapon!" he ordered.
Beneath his feet, the deck rumbled as the massive primary cannon of the Sovereign erupted. The superlaser lanced across the battlefield and impacted against the Spirit of Freedom. The powerful shields of the carrier flashed, before failing, destroying the powerful ship in an instant.
As the battle intensified and lines fell as endless swarms of ASP fighters overwhelmed the defenders, Captain Aur'Luthiaen swore under her breath as the Excelsior-class starship USS Intrepid's hull was breached by Imperial boarding parties.
With a stern voice she was heard over the intercom of the vessel, "All stations, prepare to repel boarding parties, lock down bulkheads on all critical sections!"
Ramcard narrowed his eyes, he had grown too old for this, as he grabbed a phaser and said "I'll deal with the boarding parties ma'am, please ensure my old friend Rambas survives the battle, he is more diplomatic than I."
As Aur'Luthiaen, Ramcard and Rambas locked eyes, the captain nodded as Ramcard exited the bridge with a security detachment. Rambas narrowly avoided a collision with the Imperial Star Destroyer Devastator, though the Intrepid crashed through one of its bridge shield generators. Aur'Luthiaen fell from her chair as the Intrepid steered straight again but suffered another barrage from the Devastator.
"Ma'am, the Imperials cut us off", Rambas said in shock, coming to a stop as three Star Destroyers closed in and opened fire.
"Rambas, get us out of here!" Aur'Luthiaen ordered, but to no avail as barrage after barrage of fire hit the saucer section of the Intrepid.
"Re-route all energy to the shields," Rambas told the captain as console after console sparked electricity, with flames erupting all across the ship as various decks buckled and the hull breached. On her knees, Aur'Luthiaen looked shocked, she survived the fall of Rambo Nation and kept her crew save, but at Orbispira things were going awry. How was it possible such a large force of good was to be overwhelmed by evil.
"Ma'am, we are not containing boarding parties," she heard Ramcard yell over the intercom, with background phasers and laser sounds.
"Aur'Luthiaen, the ship is lost, you must evacua.........aaaaargh!" was the last sound Ramcard made as Phaedric Lord Maethoruin impaled his chest with his saber.
"Rambas, we cannot stop a Phaedric Lord," Aur'Luthiaen said with a tear, watching the Phaedric's Lord carnage as he made his way to the bridge. Rambas looked down, pondering their next move. "Perhaps we should surrender" the elder Serindia said defeated as he helped the captain to her feet.
"Never", Aur'Luthiaen said sternly as she looked at him and took position at the helm. "All hands, prepare for impact" she said, as she engaged the impulse engines. As the Intrepid shut forward it rammed the Devastator, cutting partly through the massive ship, before eventually coming to a stop, with most systems down besides critical, the Intrepid had carved its way into the Star Destroyer.
On the viewscreen, she saw Maethoruin regain his footing. Smiling, she opened the Intrepid's intercom again and said "all hands, prepare boarding parties. We will seize that bloody Star Destroyer!"
The destruction of the Spirit of Freedom could be seen from the bridge of the Resolute, destroying several other allied ships in the resulting fireball. Just as Admiral Roslia was about to give the order for the fleet to change attack vector, sirens on the bridge indicated that several vessels were dropping out of lightspeed. Several Imperial vessels of differing design had appeared, including, to Roslia's dread, the distinctive profile of a Nemesis-class Star Dreadnought, Admiral Carandial's Imperatore, as well as two Executor-class dreadnoughts, Admiral Rela Loupál's flagship Empirical, and Admiral Sarcophoneus of the Tyrannic.
The new arrivals formed up alongside the main Imperial line, headed by the Imperial Star Destroyers of the 1010th Fleet, commanded by Grand Admiral Mortalagueis. "Today, the repugnant Republic and their misguided allies will be purged with turbolaser fire", he said, a grin growing in his expression.
Grand Admiral Carandial stood on the bridge of the Imperatore, his hands clasped behind his back. "All ships, advance! Leave none alive."
Leading the charge was Admiral Gaius Prentus of the Accuser, as well as Captain Henera Medé of the Chimaera. Lining up alongside the Republic Star Destroyer Impavid, under Captain Ramthor, the Accuser unleashed the power of its turbolasers, blasting away the shields of the Republic vessel. On the bridge of the Impavid, Ramthor called for the crew to get their escape pods, but his order was interrupted by a simultaneous barrage from the Chimaera, which had appeared on its starboard side. Trapped between the two Star Destroyers, the Impavid lost structural integrity and exploded.
Across the battlefield, Voro Acetenus slammed his fist on the command chair. "Imperial snakes! I will handle them myself. Full shields, prepare for ramming speed!"
The mighty Herald of Retribution shuddered as its engines roared to full capacity, blasting across the space battle with a ferocity the Imperials were utterly unused to. Countless Imperial starfighters exploded when they collided with the shields of the Retribution as it sailed toward its target. On the bridge of the Accuser, Admiral Prentus was lost for words as he watched the ship approach. "-W-what the...?! Evasive manuevers!"
But it was too late. The mighty Cognatus dreadnought rammed through the Accuser, utterly pulverising the once feared Imperial destroyer. The bridge of the Retribution rocked violently, though Acetenus remained seated on his command chair, clicking his mandibles in satisfaction. "Watch, as they blister and burn."
Over the comm, Acetenus heard Apollo's voice. "Primarch, I believe it's time for Plan B, there's no way we're getting through that blockade."
Voro steppled his fingers and nodded. "Indeed, my friend. Fear not, for the warriors of Cognalorilos will see it through."
The Primarch turned to his lieutenant, Ankhnes Nar Monomai. "You have the bridge, Ankhnes." He got to his feet, and readied his blade, his eyes fixed on the distant Judicator, the flagship of Mortalagueis. "And prepare a boarding party."
Moving through the battlespace, the Herald of Retribution, escorted by Fleetlords Morin Ehtar of the Endurance of the Hallowed Star and Thaur Vicliquam of the Harbinger of Truth engaged in any Imperial vessel in the way, utilising the superior Cognatus shield technology to ram through a line of Imperial frigates providing cover for the Judicator. After a few minutes of travel, the Herald was positioned directly above the Imperial destroyer, and Voro deemed the time to be right to strike.
Garbed in his elaborate armour, Acetenus' helmet, usually revealing his face, was now protected by a small shield, allowing him to survive in the vacuum of space. He gazed out the ventral hangar bay at his target below. Space between him and the Judicator was awash with chaos, with starfighters engaged in deadly combat against one another. Nevertheless, Voro ignited his blade and with a fierce battle cry, leaped from the hangar bay, followed closely by a cadre of his most fierce warriors.
Despite the chaos of the battle, their fall toward the target was utterly silent, despite several ASP fighters zooming right by Voro and his warriors as they made their descent. In freefall with his blade extended, Voro noticed a superlaser blast from the Sovereign streak across space, and hit a mighty Republic dreadnought, causing its engines to ignite and destroy the entire ship. His resolve strengthened, Voro ignited thrusters built into his armour and a few moments after bypassing the energy shields, landed boots first on the roof of the command bridge with a thud.
With all of his power, Voro drove his blade through the bulkhead, carving a circular hole through the hull and landing on the pristine floor of the command deck. Unsuspecting Imperial officers close to the breach were sucked out into space as more and more Cognatus warriors followed their Primarch in puncturing holes through the command bridge's hull before Mortalagueis concentrated the remaining shield power to protect against further incursions, restoring the artificial gravity and sending the remaining Imperial officers plummeting the ground.
Disengaging his protective visor, Voro held his blade in an attack posture, and beckoned toward Mortalagueis. "I have need of your ship, Mortalitas."
The Mortalitas barred his teeth as he revealed a blade of his own, glaring in rage at the Primarch. "So, it is you. How bold of you to attack me head-on in such a manner. But know that you have just dug your own grave by doing so."
Voro brandished his weapon. "Come, challenge me, my time is short and wasted on talk. I hope your skills have improved since our fight on Corathon, or this will be an unworthy fight."
The massive Grand Admiral charged forward, sending his blade down at Voro Acetenus with murderous intent. Voro let out a thunderous battlecry, countering Mortalagueis' attack and delivering a powerful kick to his chest.
Mortalagueis flinched, though remained standing as he struck back, a twisted grin growing in his expression. "Once your Republic allies are defeated, I will personally see that your despicable species is driven to extinction. I will drive you and your cults to cinders, and claim your worlds for the Mortalitas!"
"You may find yourself unworthy of the task," Voro countered, igniting a second energy blade from his holster and driving his attack with ferocity, utilising both blades against Mortalagueis as though they were extensions of his very being. Despite his size and strength, the Grand Admiral was forced back by the superior skill of the Primarch who, with a blow, sent the Mortalitas' blade flying out of his grasp.
Voro readied his blades, and bowed his head slightly. "You fought well, Mortalitas. You meet your death with honour."
With a flourish of his blades, Voro drove his weapons deep into Mortalagueis' chest. The Grand Admiral roared out in rage as, in a final act of defiance, he delivered a punch to Acetenus' torso before collapsing with a heavy thud. Turning to face his fellow Cognatus, who had sealed off the bridge from any incursions, Voro deactivated his weapons and walked to the command console, beckoning a Vevilog engineer to follow him. "Chart an intercept course for that dreadnought," he said, pointing at Carandial's flagship, the Imperatore. "Engage the hyperdrive."
The Vevilog blinked at the Primarch, before nodding enthusiastically. With the other Cognatus warriors manning the ship's navigation systems, the nose of the Judicator changed position away from the allied fleet and toward the unsuspecting Imperatore.
On the bridge of the Empire's former flagship, Admiral Carandial narrowed his eyes at what he saw. "Admiral Mortalagueis, what are you doing?! Return to formation!"
"She's coming about," Carandial's first officer said. "Sir, it's preparing to jump to hyperspace!"
Realisation dawned on the Basileus admiral, a horrified realisation etched on his face. "All fire on that battlecruiser!" he screamed.
With the ship on auto-pilot, Voro quickly led his warriors into the escape pods adjacent to the bridge and jettisoned, zooming away from the doomed battlecruiser as the other Imperial ships tried in vain to stop its inevitable jump to lightspeed. In an instant, the Judicator accelerated to near the speed of light, elongated into a bright streak that shot through the Imperatore, almost dragging it into hyperspace as well. The two once mighty vessels left a instantaneous fiery trail through the Imperial fleet, before finally impacting against the Sovereign.
Nirndal had just enough time to find some small comfort in the fact that his brother did not live to see his demise, when finally, the force of the impact ripped the mighty Imperial flagship in two in a tremendous explosion which could be seen from the surface.
Picked up by the passing Republic corvette Mou'Llhei Star, Voro clicked his mandibles as he watched the Imperial line fall. His satisfaction turned to rage however, when one after one, additional Imperial reinforcements led by Grand Admiral Valindor Palenix of the Executor dropped out of hyperspace to defend the capital.
As sparks began to fly from consoles on the Resolute, Apollo sank his head in anger. Despite the destruction of the Sovereign and the Imperatore, Imperial forces still outnumbered the rebels five to one. His despair turned to jubulation, however, when additional contacts were detected arriving at the battle.
Apollo joined the others on the bridge of the Resolute in a resounding cheer as a vast armada of ships began to drop into realspace all around the battle. At their moment of desperation, when all seemed lost, fighters, relics, freighters, cruisers and capital ships from every sector of the galaxy, and seemingly from every era he had read from his history books began to join the fight.
The comms erupted as ship after ship began to announce their presence.
"Warriors of Rinus, ready for action," came the voice of Savra Mathen, former Emperor of the Corthrinus. "The Imperial blight dies today!"
"Trucinex basestar command, standing by for orders," came another voice.
"Vessels of the Saurornithanta, standing by."
"Delfoi armadas, standing by."
"Aevarin fleet, standing by."
"Regent of the Stars, here. No longer will the Thanatyrannus submit to this false Emperor!"
As the galaxy made itself known, tears began to run down Apollo's face, as he watched in awe as thousands of ships filled the space above Orbispira.
"Basileus Freedom Movement, standing by," came a familiar voice. "This is Guolivian. And I hope for atonement here, at the great battle of our age."
Apollo let old resentments wash away like a great wave. "It's a pleasure to fight alongside you."
The galactic armada formed up alongside the battered allied fleet and dived down toward the Empire's proud navy. Apollo watched as the Rambo, DCP, Republic and a mighty Trucinex basestar combined their firepower and began pummeling the dreadnought Tyrannic, causing it to list sidewards and collide against dozens of smaller Imperial vessels, before exploding violently. The tide was turning.
On the surface of the planet, the Dark Lord stood surrounded by the Oikoumene Lords of the Mornûnendur. "The spark is extinguished."
The Emperor lifted his face to Orbispira's skies and raised his hands, as if he was reaching toward the battle overheard. Kilometres away, Aoirtae and Kara could feel the intensity of his staggering power build until finally, it was unleashed. Pure darkness erupted from Tyrómairon's hands, bursting into the skies and devouring anything in its path.
Apollo watched in horror as the geyser of darkness detonated the engines of the Admiral Vinchauk's venerable Endeavour, causing an explosion which destroyed the mighty ship. Before he or Helo could react, however, the tendrils wrapped themselves around the Resolute. The ship lost all power and began to drop, the overwhelming power of Tyrómairon causing it to drop toward the planet like a meteor.
Bracing for impact, Helo caught sight of his mysterious messenger Sonja out of the corner of his eye. Her expression was inscrutable. "Judgement day."
Across the allied fleet, the commanders stared helplessly as the Republic flagship turned into a fireball, shooting through the atmosphere at impossible speeds.
Across the city, Kara watched the ship fall from the heavens. She wanted to look away, but she clenched her jaw and stared anyway. She closed her eyes as the ground shook from the distant impact.
Kara and Aoirtae made their way through the streets of a wartorn Orbispira. In the skies above, Imperial Star Destroyers traded deadly broadsides with descending Republic vessels, while allied and Imperial fighters darted between the crumbling skyscrapers. In the far distance lay their target. The Imperial Sanctum stood ominously on the horizon, its highest peak rivalled only by the column of fire and smoke emerging from the crash site of the Resolute.
"Come on," Kara said desperately, hurrying ahead of Aoirtae. "He needs our help."
"K-kara, Kara wait!" Aoirtae shouted back, climbing atop a pile of rubble obstructing her path. "We need a plan! We need backup!"
Kara ignored her, and charged ahead. Sighing sadly, Aoirtae rushed forward and grabbed her friend by the arm, pulling her toward her. Kara struggled in her arms for a moment, though her heart wasn't in it. "Kara, we need backup. We'll die if we approach the Sanctum by ourselves."
Kara sighed deeply, before nodding in agreement. "I k-know. I know. Contact Munalur. Tell him we need an immediate pickup."
Aoirtae pat Kara on the shoulder and opened her holocommunicator. There was no response. Aoirtae's eyes widened. "Somebody is jamming our signal!"
"That would be us," came a female voice from behind. The two Aldárae spun on their heels, instinctively bringing their blades to bare against the new arrivals—the Phaedric Lords Venatorius, Moranonúngur, and Archaxys. All appeared to have sustained some damage in their fight against Vanikaimar, but now they advanced on the Aldárae with their crimson blades poised to strike.
"Surrender." Venatorius' voice deepened. "You will be given no further chance."
Aoirtae ignited her blade, and two beams of purple energy emerged from either end. "We won't need one."
"Come now, child," Archaxys said. "Your Nagith friend fought admirably to the end. Echoriax and Cythonia are dead by his hand. But it was in vain. Submit, and the Dark Lord will show mercy."
Aoirtae and Kara did not respond with words, but with their blades, and the two Aldárae moved at once. Aoirtae launched herself at Venatorius and Moranonúngur, her duel-bladed weapon meeting theirs with ferocity. The purple blade whirled and spat, crashing against the Phaedric Lord's defences. Kara advanced too, her golden blade seemingly everywhere, flashing and whirling and countering the attacks of Archaxys seemingly at every moment.
Despite their mastery, however, they were outnumbered. Venatorius sent a burst of dark power through the air, impacting against Kara and sending her crashing into a pile of debris. Gratified by his attack, Venatorius was about to turn his attention to Aoirtae, when he found his vision obstructed by the sole of her boot impacting against his helmet. Such was the power of the attack that Venatorius collapsed to the ground, barely able to hold up his blade to counter her attack.
Moranonúngur responded by summoning a surge of darkness, disabling Aoirtae where she stood. Venatorius rose to his feet and joined his fellow Phaedra as they surrounded the two Aldárae. "Such power," Moranonúngur said, gazing at Aoirtae as she stood immobilised. "Now, it will serve the Dark Lord."
In an instant, a deep, vengeful anger stirred in Aoirtae. She remembered the death of her parents, of Ryen, of Vanikaimar, and her eyes burned with rage. Suddenly, golden lightning erupted from her fingertips, flowing through her and sending Venatorius and Archaxys flying backwards. Moranonúngur remained where he stood, his power outshone by her light, his skull flashing within his Phaedric helmet as the electricity destroyed his very being.
After a moment, the Bisistar's body fell to the ground in a sizzling heap, smoke rising from his corpse.
Before she could turn her power against the other Phaedra, however, they stood in unity with one another, sending waves of dark energy against the Aldárae. Aoirtae and Kara were enveloped, and despite their best efforts to harness their power, found themselves at the mercy of the Phaedra.
"Enough!" Venatorius bellowed. "The Dark Lord is expecting you."
With the Resolute out of action, the commanders of the New Republic fleet could not allow themselves the luxury of grieving their fallen President. Instead, on the bridge of his flagship, the Star of Cyrannus, Fleet Admiral Kaedar took command of the armada and pressed his attack on the Imperial armada, which had begun recover after the loss of its command vessels.
As his chair swiveled from station to station, his huge eyes, better suited for aquatic life, darted from screens to his bridge officers. Despite the fact that the allied fleet now outnumbered the Imperials, thanks to the timely arrival of a fleet consisting of vessels from across the galaxy and wider Gigaquadrant, the Imperials retained an advantage due to the sheer firepower of their vessels.
It was clear to Kaedar that the Empire's tactics had shifted as the battle went on, likely due to the unorthodox tactics of Grand Admiral Palenix. While Imperials were well known for their reliance on refined and clever tactics, now, they were resorting to a brutality which caught the allies off guard. Kaedar had witnessed an ASP squadron crash head-on into the bridge of a Venator-class destroyer, destroying the bridge and disabling the ship, while on the outskirts of the Imperial line, their vessels were expending weapons in seemingly every direction.
"Status report?" Kaedar asked one of his officers.
"We have lost contact with Inviá and Valaeris on the planet's surface, Admiral," an officer replied. "The Intrepid is lost, though they appear to have captured an Imperial Star Destroyer and are turning its guns against the enemy. Reports are coming in of uprisings across the planet, but that Super Star Destroyer is preventing us from landing reinforcements."
"One problem replaces another," Kaedar mused. As he gazed out the viewport of the bridge at the battle all around, something in the far distance caught his eye. One of the Imperial Star Destroyers, which a bridge officer identified as the Persecutor under Captain Rhén Caentaris, suddenly turned its nose dramatically starboard, aiming directly at the Tythorán, Commodore Monoud's flagship.
Without time to maneuver away, the Tythorán becomes overwhelmed when the Persecutor crashes into deck of the ship, shearing through it with accelerating force, thrusters on full, until both vessels explode, light and fire coruscating between them. Slamming his fist on his command chair, Admiral Kaedar sank his head in despair for the fallen crew of the Tythorán, before noticing something—the foolish suicide run of the Persecutor had opened a hole in the Imperial line.
"All ships," he ordered, jumping to his feet. "Advance!"
A motley forward line, consisting of rebel Basileus, Republic, Collective, Cognatus, DCP and Krassio ships manuevered forward, following the lead of the Confederacy's dreadnought Calidusa, which led the charge. On his own vessel, the old Empirical-class destroyer Ohmonir, Guolivian allowed himself a small smile. Who would have thought that I would be here, following the Confederacy and the Cognatus as they fight to claim Orbispira for the Republic.
With the Imperial line faltering, the allies moved in, engaging at close range with their enemies. On the Calidusa's bridge, Chancellor Cassynder ordered Admiral Thielde to fire everything the mighty ship had, and in an instant, banks of turbolasers, torpedoes, missiles and the mighty ion cannon roared, obliterating an Imperial battlecruiser.
Over the fleet wide comm, they heard the voice of Admiral Quarantar. "We need to concentrate our fire on the engines! That'll disable the entire ship!"
Like a swarm of insects, the smaller allied vessels began to dart over the massive city-like superstructure of the Imperial dreadnought, which unleashed the full power of its turbolasers, dissecting a Republic Phoebus-class destroyer and disabling the Corthrinus flagship. However, after an hour of vicious battle, it now found itself surrounded by the heavy hitters of the allied fleet, the Star of Cyrannus, the Starfyre, the Herald of Retribution and the Calidusa. The resulting exchange of destruction was mighty, with the Herald managing to rip a massive hole in the side of the dreadnought with the power of its deconfinement disruptor.
On the bridge of the Executor, Admiral Palenix remained steadfast, ordering a volley at the heart of the Star of Cyrannus, punching through its faltering shields and after a minute of sustained fire, through the hull itself. Holding himself steady on the bridge, Admiral Kaedar watched as the bridge went up in flames, as explosions began sounding in the belly of the ship. Turning his attention to his bridge officers, Kaedar smiled weakly, knowing that this was the end, but that they had accomplished a mighty deed, for with his final order, he ordered all ships to concentrate their fire on a weak spot on the Executor's primary engine unit.
Turbolaser fire erupted from the Star of Cyrannus even after the primary reactor blew, taking the entire ship along with it, but by the time the bolts had found their target, the force of almost the entire allied fleet had joined them.
Though he had felt in control of the battle since his arrival, Palenix watched as it all fell apart. "All hands, get to the escape pods!" he ordered frantically, feeling the cascading eruption of the ship's engines beneath his feet. Two minutes later, the Executor had joined the Star of Cyrannus as a field of fiery debris over the ecumenopolis.
Though the battle raged on, the allies were now fighting on even ground as the battle itself moved into the planet's upper atmosphere. With the loss of another battle commander, the chain of command in the Republic fleet became blurred, but given the chaotic nature of the battle, that hardly mattered.
On the Star Destroyer Allecto, Captain Nerazachi bowed his head in a silent prayer for the soul of Admiral Kaedar and the crew of the Star of Cyrannus.
"Captain," came the voice of the ship's AI Aible. "We're receiving a transmission from the surface."
"Onscreen," Nerazachi responded. Both he and his first officer Selanius stood as the viewscreen flashed to life, revealing Agent Caranye on the planet's surface.
"C-captain Nerazachi?" she said in surprise. "I had expected to speak to Admiral Kaedar."
"The Star of Cyrannus has been destroyed, agent. Though the Imperial line has collapsed," Nerazachi replied.
"The people have risen up against the Empire and their constabulary. We're in the Palace Distri-," she said, before being interrupted by a nearby shout by someone offscreen. Caranye responded by picking up her rifle and firing, presumably shooting down whichever Imperial had spotted her. "The Empire are cracking down hard. We need reinforcements!"
"You will have them," Selanius said. "A joint Aldárae, Collective and Polar Crystal Alliance force is descending as we speak. They'll soon be joined by other Republic units when circumstances allow."
"Good," Caranye said. "We'll need all the help we can get down here."
The main boulevard leading to the Imperial Sanctum was rife with chaos. Rising from the underworld below, thousands of citizens had taken up arms against the Empire and were now fighting tooth and claw to throw off the yoke of Imperial oppression. From his perch in the Sanctum, Grand Mandator Caesarius overlooked the chaos with unease. In the distance, the wreck of the Resolute lay on the far end of the boulevard, now secured by massive Imperial walkers and a legion of the Emperor's finest troopers.
Emerging from a side alley, Arasah emerged with her dual blade extended, followed closely by Caranye, Aldorón, Corva and Tironus. Behind them came another contingent of this new informal Republic army—the very people the Empire had ruled over since the beginning of Tyrómairon's reign, powerless as individuals, but as a group, they had the power to topple regimes.
Around the boulevard, more and more revolutionaries began to appear from the various side alleys, while others came running off transports from the lower levels. Arasah looked around with pride. With a force like this, she thought, they had a real chance.
Suddenly, a distant sound silenced their cries of rebellion. In the distance, emerging from the Sanctum, came legions of Imperial troopers flanked by the largest walkers Arasah had ever seen.
"W-what are those things?" she asked, turning her head slightly to Caranye.
The former Imperial agent merely shook her head, and it was the Eternal Enigma which responded. "Super-Heavy Walkers. I suggest cover immediately."
"You heard him," she called out to all those who could hear. "Find cover! But stand your ground!"
The Imperials opened fire, and where once stood a group of a hundred fighters, now there was a smoking crater. In the skies, ASP bombers swooped down from a descending Imperial Star Destroyer, dropping a vast quantity of bombs which levelled another line of resistance fighters. As the explosive force approached, Arasah held out her hand, forming a shield of light protecting those around her.
In the distance, the Heavy Walkers opened fire yet again, decimating another group of rebels, while the ASP bombers came around the Sanctum for another bombing run. Just as they were about to open fire, Caranye spotted the distinctive silhouette of Republic, Collective, Polar Crystal Alliance and Aldárae starfighters fly through the trench of skyscrapers surrounding the boulevard. Laser bolts lanced across the sky and impacted against the bombers, sending them falling to the ground in fiery heaps of metal.
Finding a safe place to land, the starfighters set down and were met by Arasah, Caranye and Agent Aldóron. Arasah rushed to meet the masters of her order, Alinor Nanuq, Daera Rosalayne and Aenaró, who all greeted her with a respectful bow. In the distance, Arasah spotted other members of the Order, such as Janice Ross, Cainak and Zahra disembark shuttles too.
"You have done well, young one," Master Nanuq said in his typically gruff voice. While Arasah often wondered where the taciturn Thanatyrannus stood before the war, she could sense deep admiration within him.
"Yes, indeed," Master Aenaró said. "To you as a symbol of hope the people look."
Coming out of the Collective's fighters were whole squads of soldiers from their esteemed Royal Guard, with Commandant Gavakar at the helm. The Dracodasimer appeared utterly enraged as she barked orders at her men to move out and secure the perimeter, while from the ships of the Polar Crystal Alliance came a mixed force of Zoles, Niaka, Paladians and other members of their people, led by the decorated Legate Olcinius.
The Paladian was the first to approach the Aldárae, slightly bowing his head at them as he kept his blade in hand. "I am Legate Olcinius, here representing the forces of Borealis. I believe the area is secured for now."
Somewhat awkwardly, Tironus stepped out from behind Arasah's group. "With some Paladian firepower on our side, the Empire doesn't stand a chance."
"And who might you be?", the Legate asked as he raised an eyebrow. "You are not in uniform."
"Nah, no, not for some time now. I... uh, work as a..." Tironus' voice trailed off, only to be interrupted by Corva.
"He's a privateer," she said with a smile.
Olcinius frowned, though as he was about to say something, Gavakar approached them and spoke out loud. "Forget about that, people! We have a big problem here! The damned Imperials shot down your President! Some sort... Essence was blasted at his ship and it went down like a meteor!"
Agent Aldorón began to pace up and down, unwilling to believe the possibility that Apollo had been killed. "I-I saw the ship go down, we all did, but I didn't want to believe it was the flagshi-"
"Regardless," Master Rosalayne said serenely. "The President would want us to fight on. If we take the Sanctum, we end this war here and now."
"This will be a heavy blow to morale", said Olcinius, brandishing his second blade. "But we cannot stop now. This may be our only chance. We must strike at the Empire while they are vulnerable and worry about the chain of succession later."
Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of approaching laser fire, and across the bend, an Imperial Heavy Walker appeared, unleashing a volley of laser fire which destroyed one of the Aldárae starfighters. The Aldárae and the others retreated to the cover of nearby buildings, where suddenly they heard a sinister voice which appeared to be all around them at once. "So, at last you have arrived."
"I know that voice, Caranye," the Eternal Enigma said, though the former agent did not need him to confirm who it was. The voice was unmistakable.
"Lord Ruuvitharn," Caranye said, her voice as steady as she could manage.
Though Ruuvitharn's voice could be heard by all in the vacinity, it was clear who he was talking to. "Accept the gift of your life. And we may discuss the Empire, the Phaedra and your... sister."
"Who the hell is speaking?!", bellowed Gavakar, as she looked around in confusion. "Stop wasting our time and show yourself so we can kill you!"
Ruuvitharn remained hidden. "Your destruction would serve neither of us. Though my patience does have limits."
"Why remain in the shadows, dark one?" Master Nanuq said, his interest piqued.
"The diminution of my order served a purpose. Now, my power will grow unhindered by rivals. Your forces are doomed, though this battle is an adequete distraction."
An orb of darkness appeared in the centre of the plaza where the ships had landed, and from the darkness, Ruuvitharn stood forward. "Aldárae, your order will die. Join your power with mine, and we will reforge the galaxy in our image."
In the skies above, the clouds continued to darken and lightning storms began again, throwing the battle into even more chaos.
Olcinius, keeping his bladed readied as he stood behind cover, frowned. "It always has to involve some sort of supernatural monster. Why can't I be sent to fight normal people for once?"
Agent Aldorón opened fire on Ruuvitharn from behind his cover, though the blaster bolts seemingly passed through him unharmed. A sickening laugh echoed as the rogue Phaedric Lord once again disappeared, only to reappear directly behind Aldorón. A crimson blade ignited through the Libertus' chest, and he fell the ground in a heap.
Caranye rushed over to her fallen ally and checked his vital signs. Slamming her fist against the ground, she looked up with rage in her eyes. "Sick freak!"
"Reduce that Basileus to a smear!", ordered Gavakar as her and her men opened fire themselves, with the soldiers of the Polar Crystal Alliance following suit, though he disappeared again before any shots could reach him. The Aldárae ignited their blades defensively, though even they could not sense where Ruuvitharn would appear next.
"Kneel," Ruuvitharn intoned. "Or you will all die by my hand."
"Hmmm, powerful our enemy is," Aenaró said. "Though through the darkness, our Light will burn."
Nanuq nodded his head. "Aldárae, form a circle."
Arasah joined Nanuq, Aenaró and Rosalayne as they gathered in the circle, sitting cross-legged as if meditating back on Aldár. An orb of light protected them against Ruuvitharn's shadowy incursions, and the sound of thunder in the darkening skies went silent. As the others watched in awe, the Aldárae lifted off the ground and became enveloped with golden fiery light.
Ruuvitharn materialised, and eyed the Aldárae with distaste. "W-what is this?!"
Ruuvitharn retaliated as best he could, raising a dark barrier which negated some of the Aldárae's immobilising attack, but he was forced to remain in place, his powers depleted. Taking her chance, Caranye jumped out from behind the destroyed starfighter and aimed her rifle. A bolt of energy shot through the air and through Ruuvitharn's head, though unlike Aldorón's shot, Caranye had hit her mark, and the crafty Phaedric Lord fell to the ground, dead.
Gavakar and her men watched the scene in some confusion, though they did not seem as baffled as one would expect. The Dracogodasimer looked to Ruuvitharn's corpse before shrugging. "Alright then, no idea what that was about, but it works."
"Sometimes, a good aim is all you need," Caranye said.
"C-caranye," Arasah said. "It's your sister... and Kara... I sense they're in grave danger."
Helo Roslia's eyes snapped open when he realised that he was being dragged across the deck of the Resolute's bridge by his mysterious messenger Sonja. Even after all these years, he was shocked that this being could interact with the physical world without being seen by anyone but himself.
Helo scrambled to his feet next to her, his blaster raised. All around them, there was chaos, with thick smoke filling the room and the bodies of less fortunate bridge officers and soldiers littering the floor. Fortunately, the ship itself, despite the force of the impact, remained relatively intact.
"H-how did I survive the i-impact," Helo said, coughing and waving away the smoke.
Sonja smiled. "Oh, you're not going to die today Helo. I've told you, you have a special destiny."
Helo scrubbed down his uniform and stood up straight, throwing the messenger a questioning look. "And it has nothing to do with this? The Great Battle of our time?"
"Your fate is linked to those beyond these stars, in the unseen forces lurking in the shadows."
Helo was about to question her, when he suddenly realised that Apollo was nowhere to be seen. "Mr. President?! Apollo?! Can you hear me?!"
Sonja sighed deeply. "He's alive. For now. While you were snoozing, some armoured Phaedric Lord scoured the bridge for his prize. You should thank me for keeping you out of sight."
Helo marched up to the messenger angrily. "You should've saved him instead! Despite all your claims, I'm just a soldier. We lose if Apollo dies!"
Sonja remained aloof. "He has his own protectors, Helo. And you are the one who must stand against the flood to come."
Coming back to his senses, Helo realised that he could hear the distant sound of laser fire and the thunderous collapse of buildings. Moving to the ruined viewport, he overlooked the chaos of the battle for control of Orbispira. Civilian militias were fighting alongside the allied forces as they began landing in the area surrounding the Imperial Sanctum, while in the skies, Imperial and allied capital ships were trading salvos in an increasingly fraught space battle between the evenly matched forces. "It's hard to believe any of us will make it out of this alive," he said, mostly to himself.
Noticing a Republic dropship land on the dorsal hull, nearby the bow hangar bay, Helo exited the bridge and made his way through the ship, helping injured crewmembers as he went. Indeed, he could not help but feel a hint of admiration for the Imperarchate builders of the Resolute, which remained in one piece despite the force of impact.
The bow hangar bay, however, having borne the brunt of the impact, was devastated, with the floor strewn with bodies and broken machinery. However, the doors of the hangar bay were clearly operational, for they opened to reveal the Republic dropship, and a group of individuals many of whom Roslia recognised, such as the President's son Laoi Cretacea, his partner Dané Elenya, Republic Special Forces Commander Corvexa and the Aldárae knight Kaliyana.
Dané and Laoi rushed to Helo when they saw him approach. "Admiral Roslia," Laoi said, his voice flushed with emotion. "My father, have you seen him?! Where is he?!"
Helo placed a hand on Laoi's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Laoi, but he's been captured by the Phaedra."
Dané remained calm, though her voice quivered as she spoke. "C-capture him? Why would they do that?"
Kaliyana extended her sabre staff and surveyed their surroundings. "I don't know, but be on alert. They could still be nearby."
The sound of marching boots in the distance caught their attention, and the group turned to face the Imperial Sanctum. A legion of black armoured warriors had emerged from its primary gateway and were now marching down the boulevard, their crimson blades striking down any rebel or soldier in their path. At the head of this army marched a Phaedric Lord. "The Emperor's Wrath," Kaliyana said, readying her weapon. "He marches with the remnants of the Inquisition."
Emerging from a nearby alley, the group caught sight of Arasah Nui, Caranye, Gavakar, Olcinius, Corva, Tironus and the Aldárae Masters rushing toward them, countering attacks from nearby Imperials as they moved. Leaping from a far distance with her blade extended, Arasah cut down an Imperial sniper taking aim at Helo, before joining the others at the dropship.
"The Inquisition, the Phaedra, they're approaching! We need to get out of here!" she said, as the group made its way toward the dropship. Spotting the commotion, the Emperor's Wrath halted his advantage and extended his hand toward it. Crimson lightning extended from his fingertips, flashing across the battlefield and igniting the engines, causing the ship to fall from the skies and crash into the side of a nearby skyscraper.
"Get down!" Corvexa ordered, putting on her helmet and equipping her rifle, while throwing one of her side pistols to Admiral Roslia. Dané and Laoi responded in kind, despite their limited combat training, and drew their own blasters. Kaliyana jumped into view, using her staff to deflect the attacks of the Wrath and his Inquisitors, though after a few minutes of constant exertion, her strength began to fail, her light dimming against the darkness.
At this moment, the skies erupted with light, alerting all the forces fighting in the planet as a golden vortex manifested, and from it came out the massive winged form of a phoenix, whose radiant power made even the largest vehicles in the battlefield look tiny in comparison. Chaneonix's wings flapped as he perched on the top of a ruined skyscraper, engulfing himself in light as his form changed; the phoenix transformed into a being resembling a Libertus with a patch of golden feathers covering most of his body, with pitch white eyes, a pair of immense feathered wings, a tail ending in two tips and a set of grandiose armor which seemed to double as a long coat, like that of a man of science. Large claw marks scarred his head, passing over his left eye, sustained during his cataclysmic battle with the monstrous Shu'wokerama.
"Enough! This waste of life is an offense to the Life Song!", shouted the Oikoumene, his voice booming across the battlefield. "The Dark Times of the Emperor must end. Now is the age of the Light."
In the Imperial Sanctum, Tyrómairon watched with cold fury as Chaneonix appeared in the distance. Around him, Thaurlathrón, Apeligateza, Ekrillium and Morumadáin watched with growing unease. The cosmic struggle between Light and Dark had shifted once more, and the dark skies of Orbispira were now illuminated by Chaneonix' light.
"Send the Phaedra," the Dark Lord said. "All of them."
The radiant Oikoueme then opened both his arms and his wings. "Come, children of the Uvalyë! You are needed!"
Across the battlefield, golden vortices appeared as, out of them, entire battalions of Miluiel warriors poured into Orbispira's streets, engaging the Imperial troops without a second thought. As she watched in awe, Caranye felt a sudden warm wind, followed swiftly by the thunderous sound of wings. Du'utahrovin appeared from an orb in the skies, and swooped down from the heavens, his wings alongside his body as he dived toward the marching Inquisitors and their dark army. Opening his jaws, Du'utahrovin unleashed his power, and the forward line of Inquisitors went up in flames.
Invigorated by the arrival of so many new allies, Arasah raised her blade to the skies, and turned to her allies, speaking in a clear voice. "The time is now" she yelled. "We have a battle to win!"
Master Nanuq smiled with pride and raised his blade in turn. "Let us go forth! Strike where the enemy gathers, and fear no darkness!"
The Aldárae Masters began a charge from the wreck of the Resolute toward the awaiting Imperial army marching from the Sanctum. Believing his sister and father to be dead, Laoi brandished his pistol with tears in his eyes, and followed them, quickly followed by Caranye, Dané, Kaliyana, Gavakar, Olcinius, Corva and Tironus. Wild cries of resistance broke out as surrounding civilians, soldiers and the legions of Miluiel joined the charge, and in the skies above, Du'utahrovin provided assistance by bathing two advancing Imperial walkers with star fire. More and more dropships belonging to various factions touched down on the sides of the boulevards, unloading warriors of a hundred different species.
In the skies above, Voro Acetenus watched from his shuttle as the growing allied army swelled in their charge toward the Sanctum. "Open the doors," he commanded to the pilot. Though at a considerable height, Voro did not want to miss a moment, and jumped from the shuttle, followed closely by Ankhnes Nar Monomai and other Cognatus warriors. Landing hard on the ground, he recovered with laugh, and ignited his energy blade. "Come, warriors of Cognalorilos! Let us send these beasts to the abyss!"
Voro led his forces as more and more Cogsangui warriors freejumped onto the boulevard, letting out guttural warcries as they joined with the Army of Light. A great thunderous clash erupted when the two armies met, the darkness of the Phaedric Order now matched with the furious light of the Aldárae and their allies. Blades clashed, blaster bolts exchanged, and in the skies above, fire rained down on the Imperials as starfighters clashed and warships exchanged thunderous barrages.
In the Sanctum, Grand Admiral Caesarius watched in growing alarm as the battle came closer and closer. He could see in the distance that an Imperial Star Destroyer had exploded under the firepower of the descending Republic fleet, while on the boulevard below, the appearance of Chaneonix and his forces of Light were beginning to push back the forces of the Empire.
"All ships, decimate the city! Bomb every last being into oblivion!" he commanded, unwilling to allow the city to fall into Republic hands.
In the fierce battle below, Lord Maethoruin directed his attention forward, at an advancing group of Miluiel led by Master Rosalayne. His blade in hand, he marched forward, deflecting a blaster bolt with his blade in one hand, and telekinetically crushing the windpipe of a Miluiel warrior with the other. The Miluiel escorting Rosalayne unleashed their power on the Phaedric Lord, who countered by lifting his hand, and in so doing, lifting the Miluiel in an invisible stranglehold. With a cold fury, Maethoruin threw his blade like a boomerang, decapitating the Miluiel and sending their bodies crashing to the ground around Rosalayne, who raised her own weapon in response.
The Phaedric Lord and the Aldárae Master advanced on one another, skilfully clashing their blades as the battlefield descended to chaos all around them. Breaking through Maethoruin's defences, Rosalayne jumped into the air and landed a powerful kick on his armoured chest, with a force that would ordinarily break a being's ribcage. Maethoruin remained where he stood, however, and grabbed Rosalayne by the leg, throwing her forcefully onto the ground and driving his blade through her chest, killing her instantly.
At this moment, however, a dark presence appeared before the Imperial forces. It was the Imperial Overseer, as they knew him, though his disguise quickly fell apart as Darkness coursed through him, revealing his true Oikoumene form. Thaurlathrón glared at Chanoenix's direction, who immediately took notice of his foe as he gently floated down to the streets. The dark Oikoumene had scars of his own, also sustained in the battle with Shu'wokerama, though they were mostly hidden by his armor.
"As soon as I learned you had survived to this era, I knew you would be a problem", said Thaurlathrón as he walked onward, ignoring the presence of nearby Imperial troops who were baffled by his appearance. "You have always walked the path of the weak. You never understood the truth that the Dark Lord represents."
"It pains me to fight my own kind", Chaneonix responded. "This is not what we are meant to be. We should be protectors, not enslavers. Your order has turned its back on the Life Song."
"The lessers obey, or they die!", Thaurlathrón exclaimed as rays of dark lightning were blasted from his hands, which Chaneonix retaliated with golden rays of light of his own. "Only the Great Plan of the Dark Lord may dictate their use. The Song you follow is a lie; a relic of an era before your own! And I will not allow you, nor your Lord of Light, to interfere in all we have built!"
The two mighty precursors then vanished, only to reappear in the skies above the battlefield, clashing head-on. With each blow they exchanged, a shockwave of power surged across the landscape, reducing the weaker and ruined buildings to rubble and causing those beneath them to lose their footing. It was clear to Chaneonix that Thaurlathrón, once someone he had known as a source of vast wisdom and respect, was beyond saving.
With a ray of light, the golden Oikoumene struck his foe as he saw an opening, causing Thaurlathrón to be sent down into the earth with a powerful impact. He then sent himself down, sending a wave of Light downwards which was blocked by his foe with a shield of darkness. However, Thaurlathrón's eyes shook as he realized he was losing his footing.
"You are a shadow of the true Thaurlathrón who once provided our people with knowledge and warfare mastery. A puppet who dances as the Dark Lord commands", said Chaneonix as he joined both hands to form a larger blast of Light which poured down at Thaurlathrón. "But I see one thing which has not changed... Your fear of death. You have always feared it, and it causes you to doubt."
"Silence, traitor!", Thaurlathón bellowed out as he disappeared in an instant, only to reappear behind Chaneonix and thrust an arm forward, piercing through the back of the radiant Oikoumene's torso and skewering him, causing him to gasp out and bleed what looked like pure starlight. However, Chaneonix did not hesitate, for Thaurlathrón had made himself vulnerable.
The dark Oikoumene's eyes widened as he watched Chaneonix's large wings open, charging out rays of Light which blasted back at him at point-blank, forcing him backwards as much of his armor was obliterated instantly. With a swift motion, Chaneonix would then turn over and rush at him, pressing a hand into Thaurlathrón's head and causing his eyes to widen as he was then struck one final time; with a powerful blast of pure Light, Thaurlathrón's form was destroyed as he was banished from corporeality, the closest thing a being like him had to death.
Chaneonix stumbled as he fell to the earth, panting as he held onto the wound he had received. However, his face appeared more sad than truly agonized. "I truly wish it did not have to come to this, but you left me no choice."
In the skies above the battle, Munalur piloted the Auethnen Raptor, frantically scanning the battle below for any sign of Aoirtae or Kara. Suddenly, he detected a faint lifesign from within the Sanctum itself. His eyes narrowed, he steered the Raptor in a trajectory straight down toward the boulevard. As it plummeted, Munalur fired the forward cannons, taking out a pair of ASP bombers before they could begin a bombing run on the boulevard.
In the chaos below, Voro, Arasah and Caranye fought in unison against the Phaedric Lord Archaxys, while Helo, Dané and Laoi provided cover fire from behind a crashed speeder. In the distance, three lumbering Imperial Super Heavy Walkers emerged from the Sanctum with their cannons blazing, until suddenly, the Raptor buzzed over the clashing armies and crashed through the legs of the advancing walkers, cutting them off at the knees and toppling them onto the street, crushing an advancing unit of troopers and Inquisitors.
Crashing onto the street itself, the Raptor took out another group of advancing Imperials before coming to a stop at the very base of the Sanctum, leaving in its wake a barricade of broken-down Imperial technology for the allies to occupy.
Aoirtae and Kara hung paralysed in the air, following Venatorius as he made his way into the Imperial Throne Room. The very energy of the place awoke them from their induced slumber. Steeling themselves about what was to come, Aoirtae and Kara were directed through the precipice and landed on their knees in the centre of the room. The enormous throne room had an arched ceiling and a vast window overlooking the besieged city below. Other than the throne, which sat on an elevated circular pedestal, the room was relatively unadorned.
Venatorius sank to one knee as the pedestal swivelled around to face them, and for the first time in their lives, Aoirtae and Kara set eyes upon the Dark Lord Tyrómairon—the Oikoumene Emperor of Cyrannus. Clad in unadorned crimson and black robes, both Aldárae could feel the darkness within him emanate with an intensity which caused the air itself to ripple.
"My Emperor," Venatorius said. "I have brought you the champions of the Aldárae Order."
Tyrómairon rose to his feet, and as he did so, the doors behind the Aldárae swung shut. His gaze was piercing, and while Aoirtae and Kara tried to avoid his eyes, they found their attention drawn involuntarily to them. It was as though they whispered secrets, hidden knowledge that could elevate those strong enough.
"Well done, Lord Venatorius," the Emperor said, his voice deep, resonant and measured. "Aoirtae Valaeris. Kara Inviá. Welcome."
With a wave of his hand, Aoirtae and Kara were brought to their feet.
The Dark Lord regarded the two young Aldárae with a cold detachment. "Bold are your actions on this world," Tyrómairon said. "Though they are in vain."
Aoirtae indicated to the window behind the throne, which showed the fierce battle all around the Sanctum. "T-the forces of Light are on your doorstep, your Empire is finished!"
He smiled, few things were as entertaining as an enemy who believed they had the full picture, when what they have is but small pieces of the whole.
From his chambers in the Imperial Sanctum, Grand Mandator Caesarius watched in dismay as the last line of Imperial defenders collapsed away. Both he and his superiors listened as Thaurlathrón denounced the Empire as expendable, and with his destruction, the morale of its soldiers had vanished. In the distance, he spotted a mighty Executor-class dreadnought explode under intense bombardment from allied vessels, while every moment, more and more dropships landed on the boulevard.
A commotion caught his attention below, and he spotted a crowd of citizens pull down the Great Statue of Tyrómairon, sending it plumetting to the streets below. Calling up the Sanctum's cameras, he spotted Admiral Helo Roslia, supported by soldiers, citizens and Aldárae, climb atop the debris and plant the flag of the New Republic.
"All is lost," Caesarius said ruefully. A massive sheet of flame suddenly flashed by the window, and Caesarius almost lost his footing at the sight of the mighty Du'utahrovin soar past the Sanctum, bathing it in starfire and sending debris raining down. A distant flash in the sky heralded the fall of an Imperial Star Destroyer, which descended toward the cityscape below in smoke.
As he watched his power vanish, Caesarius fell to his knees. Gingerly he grabbed his blaster, and put it to his chest. "Empire eternal!" he declared, before pulling the trigger and collapsing to the ground.
With a gesture of his hand, Tyrómairon opened a side door, and through it came Inquisitor Morhioven with a body slung over his shoulder. Kara's eyes widened when she recognised her father, who had been knocked unconscious, his body displaying wounds sustained from the fall of the Resolute. "Anywhere will do, Inquisitor."
The Mortalitas dropped Apollo on the ground in front of the Aldárae, bowed to the Emperor and left the room. The President woke due to the force of his fall, and was immediately tended to by Kara, who rushed forward to help him. "Apollo, sentinel of the Republic," Tyrómairon said coldly. "His entire life has led to this moment, though it now stands on the edge of a knife."
Apollo struggled to his feet, aided by his daughter. "T-the Empire's time has come," Apollo said.
Tyrómairon smiled and turned on his feet. "Yes. It has." His throne lowered and the Emperor began to walk toward the vast window. Even now, starfighters were darting by and in the distance, a crumbling Imperial Star Destroyer crashed into a ruined spire.
"The Empire was ever a means to an end."
"End? What end?!" Aoirtae managed.
Materialising from the darkness, came three figures, the Oikoumene Lords Ekrillium, Apeligateza and Morumadáin. Aoirtae and Kara instintively raised their weapons to defend Apollo, but the Oikoumene made no effort to retaliate. Instead, Venatorius telekinetically summoned their weapons to his hands, and he flung them to the side.
"The culmination of the Grand Plan is at hand," Tyrómairon said exultantly. "The Empire was just the beginning. Witness the dawn of the Age of the Mornûnendur!"
Tyrómairon raised his hand, and beyond the space battle, Aoirtae and Kara could sense something arrive. A calamitous flash of lightning heralded a vast ship, unlike any the Aldárae had ever seen—a giant obelisk of raw power visible from the ground. More and more of the Mornûnenduran Dreadnoughts appeared, until thousands covered the skies above the capital, blocking out the sun and entrapping the entire alliance.
Aoirtae felt her knees weaken. An entire starfield of ships. The largest fleet the galaxy had ever known.
Beneath his helmet, Venatorius smiled. "The Grand Plan... now, do you see the futility of your cause?"
Ekrillium raised his hands in reverence. "Eons ago, the Oikoumene held sway over all. So shall it be again!"
The Emperor began to walk slowly toward Apollo, Aoirtae and Kara, his demeanour haughty and confident, his gaze fixed on the President. "You escaped the Empire's birth because I willed it so. The New Republic rose from the ashes of the old, because I allowed it."
The dark power emanating from him was almost unbearable, and Tyrómairon laughed. "All in preparation for this day. It was by my design that you gather my enemies here, at the end of all things."
The Dark Lord stopped directly in front of Apollo, who was utterly lost for words. "Know this, Apollo, of the patronois of Oikoumene-kind, you have earned my singular admiration. But you are patronois nonetheless. Your kind have ruled these stars without wisdom, and what has taken you millennia to achieve, I will erase in the work of a moment."
Aoirtae rose to her feet. "Why now?! Why not simply invade decades ago?"
Rather than the Dark Lord, it was Apeligateza, his chief lieutenant, who spoke. "A servile galaxy served our needs during the search for lost power. For two decades we laboured in the galactic core, to wrest the hidden power of Erumaethran and to bend it to the Dark Lord's will."
Each second, more and more of the lost Mornûnenduran dreadnoughts arrived from the galactic core, where they were hidden millennia ago under the aegis of the First Elda. Now, after two decades of searching, the lost power was in the Dark Lord's hands once more.
"Fear not," Morumadáin said. "In a galaxy defined by peace, it was the patronois, not Oikoumene, who spread chaos and blood. All of that ends today."
"Peace without freedom is not peace at all," Apollo snarled back.
The Emperor directed his attention to the Aldárae. "The rise of your order was an unexpected development, young ones. One that shall be rectified, yes, but intriguing nonetheless."
Tyrómairon closed his eyes and outstretched his hand toward Kara and Aoirtae. "Yes... yes... I can sense your power," Tyrómairon said, before opening his eyes and indicating to the stationary Mornûnenduran armada, which had yet to fire upon the allied fleet. "Kneel, and all of this shall be yours, the power to remake the cosmos, to partake in nature's inevitable refinement."
"Don't listen to hi-" Apollo managed to say, before being immobilised by the Dark Lord, who turned his attention toward Kara. She could feel him in her head, carelessly sorting through useful and useless information in her memories. "N-never!" she screamed, almost overcome with the intense pain of her resistance.
"We'll never join you," Aoirtae screamed, consumed by her hatred for him. "We'd rather die!"
The Emperor sighed. "Most unfortunate, child. Still, I sense great anger in you. Anger toward Venatorius, perhaps? After all, he was the one who killed your parents."
Aoirtae blinked and turned her head to face Venatorius, who stood with his hands clasped behind his mask, his reaction to the Emperor's words hidden by his mask. "T-that's not true," Aoirtae said. "My parents were killed in a Panthrea slaver attack."
"A smokescreen," Venatorius said. "Your power was apparent then, even as a small child. The Dark Lord considered recruiting you for the Grand Plan, in the nascent Phaedric Order."
Aoirtae whirled to face Venatorius. "Liars!"
"A-aoir... Aoirtae," Kara managed, before being immobilised once more by the Dark Lord, unable to move, only to watch her best friend fall prey to the Phaedra.
Venatorius began to circle Aoirtae. "You know it is the truth, Valaeris. As the Panthrea ransacked the ship, I choked the life out of your parents. As the Dark Lord commanded. But even then, I could sense no darkness within you. Only sadness. Weakness. Pathetic, like your parents."
"No!" Aoirtae screamed, as hot, primal rage rose inside her. Ignoring Venatorius' defensive barriers, she called forth the Light and telekinetically, both her blade and Kara's shot from the ground and into her waiting hands. As the Emperor laughed, she erupted forward, swinging her blades with fury. Venatorius dodged the initial attack without drawing his weapon, before her speed necessitated a change in tactic, and he brought his own weapon to hand, clashing and smashing against one another as the assembled throne room watched.
Despite the intensity of her attack, she found herself unable to break through his defences. Gritting her teeth, she attacked him with the Light, sending him flying backwards. Harnessing his own power, the Phaedric Lord landed neatly, and raised his weapon in time to deflect Aoirtae's renewed attack. Though he was physically stronger, she was faster, and as their blades clashed, she could feel the intensity of his rage and power. Yet he could sense hers.
Her mind focused on her training and the words of Master Ryen, she let her anger wash away, and her blade became an extension of her being, countering attacks effortlessly, as the Light surged within her. With a downward slash, Venatorius stumbled, and Aoirtae ran him through with both swords.
Venatorius collapsed, staring up at the young Ortella in agony, his armoured chest heaving. He turned his attention toward Tyrómairon, who regarded his fallen acolyte coldly. "M-master... I failed... H-have mercy..."
Tyrómairon rose from his throne. "There is no mercy," he said, and with a flick of his hand, crushed Venatorius' throat, ending the life of the great Crimson Conquerer of the Phaedric Empire.
"Unfortunate. Venatorius was a useful servant," the Dark Lord said. "Join me, Aoirtae. Take your rightful place at my side. You will be the Emperor's Hand, and enforce peace throughout the galaxy. It is the only way to save your friends."
Aoirtae looked at Kara and Apollo in desperation, knowing the intense pain they suffered under Tyrómairon's torture. Nevertheless, her answer was clear.
"The Darkness has no hold over me," Aoirtae declared with forcefulness. "I am an Aldárae!"
Aoirtae summoned all her strength and ran at Tyrómairon, her anguished face bathed in the light of her blades.
The Emperor merely narrowed his eyes, stopping her advance with a raised hand. Telekinetically, he brought her close. "You have the spirit of an Oikoumene," he told her, before flinging her across the floor.
As Aoirtae fell her knees, Kara knew that it was over. Sadly, she looked at her best friend's body and deeply into her paralysed father's eyes. "I-I'm sorry."
The Emperor gathered dark energy in his hands, which seemed to crackle with intense electrical power. "So marks the end of the age of defiance."
With an expression which betrayed a hint of regret, though overshadowed by absolute conviction, the Emperor turned on Apollo. Tears streamed down Kara's face as Tyrómairon unleashed crooked tendrils of fiery lightning from his fingertips, enveloping Apollo in an attack of such intensity that Kara was forced to look away, her eyes closed tightly.
Abruptly, the onslaught came to an end, and Kara could feel the Emperor take a step back. For the first time since meeting him, she felt weakness, and when she opened her eyes, she could see why.
Apollo stood tall and unharmed, standing alongside a female Oikoumene, whose outstretched hands had absorbed the Dark Lord's attack. Kara could sense both resolve and a deep sadness from her, as well as the fear she inspired among the Mornûnendur present.
The Emperor took another step back. "Libraé..." he said, his voice faltering somewhat.
"Husband," Libraé said firmly. "I am not alone."
Kara sensed the Light grow stronger, and turned around to see Apolithanatár, gleaming in his golden Oikoumene armour, help Aoirtae to her feet.
"All of this has happened before," Apolithanatár said. "But it need not happen again."
"Enough of this, Tyrómairon," Libraé said, taking a step closer to her husband, her expression softening. "I recall a time when you stood proudly as the Vector of Order, upholding the unity of the song of Valin'uvalyë. This dark aspect is a perversion, and you must reject it."
Tyrómairon regained his composure and narrowed his eyes. "Lies upon lies. The Darkness is order, Libraé."
Apeligateza, Morumadáin and Ekrillium moved forward to stand behind their master, who began to walk toward his wife. "The Vector of Chaos rose once in this cycle, until he was undone by my hand. If we falter, his influence may yet emerge once more."
As the Oikoumene spoke, Aoirtae and Kara escorted Apollo to the far corner of the room. Apolithanatár watched them out of the corner of his eye, before directing his attention toward the Dark Lord.
"You speak of Order, Tyrómairon," he said ruefully. "But what you mean is domination. You forget, I am the Firstborn of the Oikoumene. My memory is long, and I recall the Lost Aeons. Valin'uvalyë was our people's unifying force, beyond Darkness, Chaos and Order. It was by my error that the Oikoumene strayed from their Light, and it is one for which I have atoned, as must you."
Tyrómairon intensified his dark aspect. "Firstborn, you may be, Apolithanatár, but there is much you do not know. For the darkness has always been there, even in those early days, when it was but a shadow. I will restore the diminished peoples of this time to peace, and all will be fair and well-ordered under my eternal rule. Do not stand in my way, Apolithanatár, lest you face destruction beyond any hope of rebirth."
Apolithanatár indicated to the battle beyond the window, and of the vast Oikoumene dreadnoughts poised to strike. All around was chaos. "Is this the well-ordered cosmos you speak of? Is this the wisdom of Tyrómairon?"
The Emperor smiled tightly. "A temporary state of being. A necessary step to eliminate those who would resist. These patronois do not possess the wisdom of Oikoumene. They do not have the strength to face what is to come."
"For one final time, husband, I ask you to step away from this path," Libraé said firmly. "So much has changed, but my love for the man you were has endured. Come home, Tyrómairon, let us recede and allow the Patronois to chart their own course. Let us break the eternal cycle."
Libraé outstretched her hand toward her husband. Aoirtae, Kara and Apollo watched as the Emperor remained silent for a moment, as if considering her request. Instead, he let out a sinister laugh. "Such reckless passion," he intoned, casting a baleful eye at both Libraé and Apolithanatár. "Pride limned by infantile self-righteousness. You are masters of nothing."
Tyrómairon became enveloped with dark energy, and with his outstretched hands, cast a wave of malevolent energy toward Libraé and Apolithanatár, knocking them backwards and onto their knees. In their weakened position, he summoned torrents of crimson electrical energy through his clawed fingertips, laughing darkly.
On the streets below the Sanctum, the Imperials continued to fight with all of their strength against the approaching allies. Although the destruction of Thaurlathrón had been a blow to their morale, as had the suicide of Caesarius, those fanatically loyal to the Emperor found redemption in the skies. The Mornûnenduran Fleet hovered ominously above the planet, although it had yet to strike down the Republic and their allies.
Atop the ruins of a fallen skyscraper, Lord Maethoruin brought his crimson blade down hard against the chest of a Republic soldier, and telekinetically pushed his corpse into a heap of tangled debris. He had felt the passing of Lord Venatorius, and could sense the battle of all times was now underway in the depths of the Sanctum. Nevertheless, he knew his duty. His place was here, among the soldiers of the Empire.
Using his blade to deflect incoming fire in one hand, with his other, he activated his holocommunicator, and the image of the Imperial Captain Henera Medé resolved, her ordinarily pristine appearance dishevelled by the heat of battle. "My Lord," she said. "We have sustained heavy casualties in orbit. I do not foresee us winning this battle."
Maethoruin grimaced beneath his helmet. "Captain, the Oikoumene Dreadnoughts will soon be ready, and when they are, the Republic will be forced to their knees."
"That may be so, my Lord," Medé replied. "But I will not stand around and wait while our fleet is destroyed. I'm pulling back our forces beyond Corunnia. If what you say is true, we will rejoin the fight. But at the moment, we are utterly defenceless."
Maethoruin nodded his head. He did not like the sound of retreating, but he was unwilling to condemn the bulk of the Imperial military to destruction, either. "So be it, Captain. On your head be the consequences if the Emperor disapproves."
As the hologram disappeared, Maethoruin perceived a great disturbance, and managed to move his head to one side just as a flying blade came striking through the air, narrowly avoiding his neck. The blade was pulled back toward its origin point, the hand of Arasah Nui, who came charging toward the Phaedric Lord, her posture poised for combat.
Acting swiftly, Maethoruin telekinetically fired a piece of debris at the approaching Cargura, only to see it cut in two by her blade. Growling, Maethoruin readied his weapon in his hand, and attacked with ferocity. As the battle raged around them, Maethoruin and Arasah put all of their strength into defeating the other, and while the Phaedric Lord eventually gained the upper hand, he was blasted to his knees by a surge of Light from Master Nanuq.
The Thanatyrannus did not have a blade of his own, but harnessed the power of the Light with a skill that Maethoruin had not seen since fighting Ryen on Achiliquin. "Surrender, Phaedra."
Maethoruin got to his feet, and stood tall. "Look to the skies, Aldárae. The age of your Republic has ended. You are the ones who should surrender."
Arasah angled her blade to the ground. "You're in no position to make such claims."
Maethoruin picked up his blade and activated it. "No. Perhaps not."
Charging forward, Maethoruin met Arasah in combat once more, as the battle for Cyrannus raged around them.
As the Dark Lord unleashed his power on Libraé and Apolithanatár, Apeligateza advanced on Aoirtae and Kara, who stood with their weapons ignited in defence of Apollo. Almost without effort, the Dark Lord's Lieutenant lifted them telekinetically and began to choke the life out of them.
At this moment, however, they witnessed the windows shattered as Chaneonix burst forth, letting out a powerful wave of Light directly at Apeligateza. His grip on the Aldárae failed, and Aoirtae and Kara fell to their knees, their blades at the ready, as they gazed at the titanic duel being waged between Apeligateza and Chaneonix. "No! It is you who has suffered this universe enough with your presence", shouted out the radiant Vosaus as he engaged the Dark Lord's right-hand.
Across the room, Tyrómairon glanced at the bout with disdain, before returning his attention to Libraé and Apolithanatár, only to find that his wife was nowhere to be seen. Rising to his feet, the Lord of Light held out his hands, and harnessing his hidden power, light surged forth, meeting the Emperor's energies in a cataclysmic explosion which engulfed the room.
As Morumadáin watched the proceedings, he felt a hand on his shoulder. To his surprise, it was Libraé, an expression of warmth and understanding on her face. Morumadáin stood back, his eyes narrowed, his hands poised to unleash the Darkness on the First Elda.
"This is not you," Libraé said calmly. "You were never a servant of the Darkness."
"I serve the Dark Lord," Morumadáin said in response. "It is my choice."
Libraé shook her head and approached him once more. "No. It was not. My husband corrupted you. He sought out your weaknesses and exploited them for his gain. Remember your truth, Morumadáin, remember your oath as Estementari."
The First Elda placed her hand on Morumadáin's face, and in an instant, all of his once lost memories came flooding back. He had always believed that each patronois was finite and precious, even while in thrall to the Dark Lord, but he realised that Libraé spoke the truth. He was never a willing follower of the Dark Lord, but rather an Estementari who had been enslaved against his will.
When his eyes opened, his form changed from the dark aspect of the Mornûnendur to the regal and bright Estementari he had been prior to the Apotheosis. In his eyes lay wisdom and an inner strength, and not a hint of the taint of darkness. Morumadáin bowed his head toward Libraé, who smiled warmly.
"Forgive me," he said sadly. "I will atone."
Before Libraé could respond, Morumadáin's form became an orb of Light, which became one with Valin'uvalyë. Libraé could feel the warmth as the Light intensified in power all around them. However, as she went to rejoin Apolithanatár, she could sense that the Mornûnendur has yet to perceive this shift.
"Your Lord of Light's power is faltering, Vosaus," Apeligateza said with a sneer. "Soon, it will be spent."
"You are but a mindless drone!", rebutted Chaneonix as he sent another wave of Light at his foe. "Nothing but an object in his eyes! Is this truly the existence you strive for?!"
Blocking the attack, and countering with a blast of fiery energy, Apeligateza moved forward with malice. "I serve the future, you indolent fool! A future under Oikoumene rule. You would doom the cosmos by leaving it in the hands of these insects!"
Chaneonix defended himself with his wings, which were singed by the power of Darkness. "You are blind. Beyond any salvation. It pains me, but if I must shatter you like I did to Thaurlathrón, then so be it!"
Striking from the shadows, Ekrillium summoned rolling waves of icy energy, which came rushing at Chaneonix from all directions at once. He yelled in pain and staggered; wounded from his battle with Thaurlathrón mere moments earlier, he could not fight both Mornúnendur on his own.
Ekrillium let out a shrill cackle. "You had your chance, Chaneonix! Now fall!"
Combining their dark powers, Ekrillium and Apeligateza let their darkness pour forth toward the noble Estementari, only to find that when the force of their attack dissipated, Chaneonix was unharmed, protected by a shield conjured by Aoirtae and Kara.
"Impossible!" Ekrillium said with a gasp. "No mere patronois could stand against our power!"
Aoirtae remembered the words of Master Ryen's spirit on Capricaerón, Both of you have unlocked only a fraction of the power within. You have more hope than you realise, and when the time comes, you'll know how to use it.
With power emanating from them like a mighty wave, Aoirtae and Kara realised that the power of Valin’uvalyë was not diminished within them because they were not Oikoumene. Rather, they were true followers of the Light—like the Estementari of old.
Apeligateza scoffed. "You cannot defeat us, pitiful creatures! Now, you will die, unmourned and forgotten!"
Apeligateza shot lightning from his fingers, and Ekrillium followed suit, though even still, Aoirtae and Kara remained planted in place, reeling only slightly backwards, their ignited blades flung up against the malice being cast against them. Chaneonix regained his composure and looked down at the two young warriors, a smile growing on his face as he watched them.
Putting forward her entire strength, Aoirtae advanced forward toward Apeligateza, her power augmented by the spirit of Master Ryen. The Lieutenant of the Dark Lord seemed to increase the force of his power with each step Aoirtae took, to the point where the hilt of her weapon began to dig painfully into her palm. Simultaneously, Kara called forth the power of the Light and imbued it within the plasma of her blade, which became the core of a nebulous cloud of light and fire.
Invigorated, Chaneonix rejoined the battle, using his energies to weaken the dark powers of both Mornúnendur while also lending Aoirtae and Kara a part of his own Light as well. Despite Apeligateza's best efforts, he found himself unable to defeat her. Calling on his last reserves of strength, he attempted to subdue her, only to be telekinetically blasted to his feet by the young Aldárae.
The tip of Kara's blade flashed in a flurry of light, and leaping forward, she brought her weapon down against Ekrillium's chest, causing him to scream in pain.
"Impossible!" Apeligateza yelled, as he attempted to regain his footing alongside Ekrillium.
"You talk too much," Aoirtae said, summoning her energy for a final strike. "And your time has come to an end!"
Aoirtae, Kara and Chaneonix united their powers over the Light, and unleashed it upon the fallen Mornûnendur, who writhed under the intensity of the attack, before releasing their physical forms and vanishing into Valin’uvalyë—never to return.
As their enemies were vanquished, Chaneonix looked down at the two Aldárae. "You young mortals have proven rather reliable! More so than even I anticipated!"
Aoirtae shot a glance toward Tyrómairon, who remained locked in existential combat with Apolithanatár and Libraé. Not far from them, Apollo watched with a feeling of utter helplessness etched on his features.
"Chaneonix, this is no place for my father," Kara said. "Please, return him to the surface. Without him, the Republic's fight is lost either way."
Chaneonix turned his eyes to Apollo, before he vanished from sight, only to reappear behind the President, covering him in his feathered wings. "Aedanius Cretacea. It has been many years since our last meeting", the Oikoumene spoke out, his body radiating warmth in an attempt to calm him down. As he did so, distant memories, once locked away by Chaneonix, returned to him.
"You... I remember you... You saved my life from Mar-Júun," Apollo said, his voice trembling slightly.
"Indeed, and I warned you, the Lord of Light would come. That is him over there!", the Oikoumene gestured at Apolithanatár before shaking his head, as if realizing he was going off track. "But I digress. This is no place for you. We can leave Tyrómairon to him."
With that, Chaneonix was enveloped with Light as both him and Apollo vanished from the throne room.
The force of the battle between the Oikoumene and Tyrómairon had begun to throw the entire planet into disarray. Groundquakes devastated the lower levels, while on the surface, the Republic and Imperial forces fighting throughout across Orbispira were forced to contend with collapsing skyscrapers as well as their enemies. Such was the force of the energy exchanged that from the streets below the Imperial Sanctum, it was as though miniature supernova were being ignited within its cavernous interior.
Apolithanatár and Tyrómairon stood in the centre of the throne room, circling one another as they unleashed the full strength of their unlimited power. The energy erupting between them collided mid-point, causing a massive explosion which caused matter itself to unravel. The massive Imperial Sanctum suddenly lifted into the air, high above the planet's surface.
As Libraé sheltered Aoirtae and Kara from the worst of the battle, the two Aldárae could still feel the brunt of the energy exchanged by the two Oikoumene. The very fabric of space seemed to be ripped apart with each blow.
Forced to fight in their nebulous forms, the Dark Lord and the Lord of Light rushed at one another, clashing in a cloud of fire and lightning.
Libraé rushed forward, her arms outstretched and her eyes closed. "Enough!" she yelled, summoning her strength and forcing Tyrómairon to take physical form. Apolithanatár followed suit, the energy exerted causing both he and his adversary to fall to their knees.
"Come back to me, Tyrómairon," Libraé said, her voice soft.
The Dark Lord regarded her with interest. "You cling to hope for so long, Libraé. Why?"
As she spoke, Aoirtae and Kara formed a united shield and moved their way through the ruination toward the Oikoumene. Glancing out the ruined window, Aoirtae could see that the Sanctum was already spiraling high above the atmosphere, and with a sigh, she came to terms with the fact she and Kara would likely not survive for much longer.
"Listen, old friend," Apolithanatár said. "Libraé has always been wisest of us all."
"Your fate is bound to mine, Tyrómairon," Libraé said. "You were the Great Protector of the Oikoumene, the Vector of Order. And I loved you."
There was a long silence on Tyrómairon's part, and Aoirtae and Kara could feel the Darkness within him seemingly decrease in fury and intensity. Though he could perceive a slight change, even Apolithanatár in his might could not sense what the Dark Lord was thinking or feeling.
"It is too late for me," Tyrómairon said finally, a hint of something new in his voice, or perhaps, something long hidden. "This is the end, my old adversaries. My old friend. My love."
And suddenly, the world around them erupted into whiteness. It was not born from the Light, however, but rather it was energy so dark and brilliant, that its very heat threatened to engulf them all. Once again, Libraé raised her hand in defence, protecting Aoirtae and Kara, who could still feel the world burn around them. Encased in their shield against Tyrómairon's renewed attack, Aoirtae suddenly realised that the Sanctum was gone, dissolved into nothingness, and that all around was the endless void of space.
Starships clashed in the far distance, while the shadow of the inactive Mornûnenduran fleet, hung above them. Streams of blue and gold light shot from Apolithanatár's fingers, and they clashed in the void against Tyrómairon's energies. Though they appeared evenly matched, the Dark Lord suddenly became wreathed in clouds of flame, and intensified his attack, reducing Apolithanatár to his last reserve of strength, and forcing Libraé to focus all of her energies to protect the Aldárae.
At that moment, when all seemed loss, Aoirtae felt a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "You have more power than you know, old friend," said the spirit of Master Ryen.
Aoirtae turned to face her old master, and was overjoyed to see that he wasn't alone. Gleaming in his Nagith armour stood the spectral image of Vanikaimar, while Kara was being raised to her feet by the spirit of a female Libertus whom Aoirtae did not recognise, as well as Admiral Cretacea, who looked on with pride.
"Mom? Granddad?" Kara said, with tears falling from her eyes. "Is it really you?"
Gianne nodded, and embraced her daughter. "Oh, I'm so proud of you sweetheart. But this isn't the end."
"Indeed", said Vanikaimar, a mocking smirk growing in his expression. "After all, you are not so easily destroyed."
"I have never been more proud of you," Admiral Cretacea said. "But now is the time to fight."
"Rise up," Ryen said.
"Rise, Kara," Gianne said.
"Rise. Endure. Survive," Vanikaimar said.
Then, other voices joined in the rising chorus. They didn't recognise them all, but through the Valin'uvalyë they could feel the confluence of those who came before, as well as the possibilities of futures and the certainties of pasts all stretching through the vast starfield around them, filling them with Light. The voices became louder and more powerful; a well of power from which to draw.
Such was the strength of her exertion in maintaining the shield that Libraé fell, and the shield collapsed, exposing the Aldárae to the void of space. Nevertheless, to Libraé's shock, Kara and Aoirtae rose, full of strength, empowered by the Light, which erupted from them like a supernova.
The force of the energy caused Tyrómairon to cease his attack on Apolithanatár, a look of shock etched on his face. Nevertheless, his eyes glowed with power, and he reached forth with the darkness, though the Aldárae held firm. Inspired by their resolve, Apolithanatár rose once more, and sent currents of Light at the Dark Lord, who deflected them with one hand and attacked Aoirtae and Kara with the other.
With anguish on her face, Libraé came forward, and in her hands was mustered the energy of the waves and wind. Like an avalanche of energy, she directed her energies at her husband, hitting him in the chest and causing him to stagger backwards, the dark power in his hands vanishing into the void. Before he could retaliate, the Dark Lord was enveloped by Apolithanatár's Light, which had augmented by that of Aoirtae and Kara.
"You cannot defeat me! You will never contain me!" Tyrómairon yelled, his aspect as dark as a black hole, his very being causing Apolithanatár's entrapping Light to slowly dissolve around him. Nevertheless, Apolithanatár held him in place, his aspect changing from his grand Oikoumene armour to the more humble attire he had worn on Aldár—that of a wise old traveller, his true form. The Lord of Light looked over at Libraé, Aoirtae and Kara, who could see a single tear roll down his cheek. "Here at last, my dear friends, our journey comes to an end. Fare thee well."
And with that, Apolithanatár lost his corporeal form, becoming one with the Light as it surrounded and bound Tyrómairon in place. "No!" he yelled, struggling in vain. "You have unleashed damnation upon the stars!"
With a thunderous yell, Tyrómairon's form collapsed in upon itself, becoming an orb of darkness which vanished alongside the vestige of Apolithanatár's Light. Tyrómairon, the Dark Lord of the Mornûnendur and the Emperor of Cyrannus was defeated.
As if overcome by an invisible wave, Kara and Aoirtae watched as the Mornûnenduran armada disintegrated into nothingness, as the energies of Tyrómairon and Apolithanatár fell all around them like stardust.
Apollo had watched in horror as the Imperial Sanctum lifted from the surface of the planet, and seemingly vanish from sight in the midst of the titanic battle being waged among the Oikoumene. Nevertheless, he continued to fight. He fought for freedom, for the Republic, but more than that, he fought for his family; for the son at his side, and for the daughter who had risen up to face the greatest evil in the galaxy.
Across the battlefield, Maethoruin continued to strike hard against Arasah and Nanuq, but was suddenly forced to his knees by a deep disturbance within the Valin'uvalyë. "... Impossible," he said, mostly to himself.
Arasah held her blade to his neck. "Now, as I was saying, surrender. Now."
Maethoruin said nothing, overcome with the sensation that the Dark Lord was no more. His reverie was broken by the sound of a scream coming from behind. Lord Archaxys sprang forward, her blade like a whirlwind. Outstretching her hands, she unleashed an electrical wave which blasted Arasah and Nanuq into the distance.
"On your feet, old master!" Archaxys said, forcing Maethoruin to his feet. "You have felt the Dark Lord's defeat, as I have?"
Maethoruin's tone was stoic. "All is lost."
Archaxys shook her head. "Only if we allow it. The Phaedric Order may yet survive this day. Now come, the Wrath has a shuttle prepared."
Regaining his composure, Maethoruin followed Archaxys through the ruined battlefield of the capital, and together, the Phaedric Lords escaped Orbispira as the Empire collapsed around them.
In the centre of the boulevard, Apollo walked through the smoke, blood-stained and dirty. Following him came Helo Roslia, Laoi Cretacea, Dané Elenya, Munalur, Gavakar, Voro Acetenus, Aenaró, Caranye, Olcinius, Master Bel and Rambas II, while Du'utahrovin roared triumphantly in the skies. In the skies above, the victorious allied fleet was descending from the skies, while Republic starfighters launched fireworks into the skies of the capital.
Spotting a Republic flag on the ground, Apollo picked it up and climbed atop the debris of a downed Imperial walker, and waved it for all to see. The thousands upon thousands of soldiers, knights, warriors and civilians let out a cheer which shook the heavens themselves. As if in response, twin columns of Light appeared, and from them came Chaneonix and Libraé, with Aoirtae and Kara close behind.
Making his way through the crowd, Apollo rushed toward his daughter, only to find that she had already been embraced by Laoi. Laughing with joy, the happy father held both of his children as if he would never let go, and all three wept as the crowds cheered around them.
Aoirtae looked on with tears in her eyes, and suddenly found her vision obscured by a mane of blonde hair. Caranye hugged her younger sister tightly, and began scanning her face for any injuries.
Aoirtae laughed. "I'm fine, I'm fine, promise!"
"I had to check, now it's done," Caranye said with a laugh.
The Eternal Enigma appeared, his hue far brighter than usual. "Ah, it warms the central processing system."
As he watched them celebrate, Chaneonix turned his eyes to Libraé. While he was not present, he had felt the disturbance in the Life Song. "What happened in there? What of Tyrómairon and the Lord of Light?"
Libraé's eyes lowered to the ground in sadness. "They are gone, old friend, unable to take form. Apolithanatár knew that it was the only way, for there can be no darkness without the light."
"You think the Dark Lord might come back again?" Aoirtae asked.
"Perhaps," Libraé said, staring off into the distance, her incomprehensible mind awash with thoughts. "Evil always rises, young one, but I trust in Apolithanatár's judgement. He believed that the cycle would be broken, and perhaps it has. For as long as there is the Darkness, the influence of Tyrómairon may yet be felt."
Although Apollo did not pretend to know all about the clash between the Oikoumene, or the mysteries of Light and Darkness, a question had been tugging at his mind. "Both of you protected me at one point or another during all of this," he said to Chaneonix and Libraé. "I remember when you saved me all those years ago, but you Libraé, we hadn't met before today, and yet I can't help but feel that I've met you before."
Libraé smiled. "The feeling is quite mutual, Apollo. I was guided by a being with your image for many an eon during the era of the First Apotheosis, and this connection allowed me to regain my lost corporeality and face my husband this day. I cannot explain it fully, for even the wisest do not have all the answers."
Chaneonix looked puzzled. "Truly? Truth be told, I intervened in your life because I needed you for my own intentions, Aedanius Cretacea. Though I feel your continued existence is beneficial to the galaxy at large... Good job not dying!"
Kara laughed. "Despite his best efforts."
"Speaking of which...", the Oikoumene brought a hand up, pointing to the sky. "Given your role in the defeat of Tyrómairon, I do believe you deserve some compensation."
Apollo looked at Chaneonix in confusion, and laughed shortly. "Oh, I assure you, no compensation is necessar-"
"Shush. You do not refuse a gift from your precursors", Chaneonix responded, as his finger twirled. Around it, they could see a golden trail of dust slowly materialise, and a familiar warmth enveloped Apollo, Laoi and Kara. "Now, I believe this belongs to you."
Pointing his finger down, Chaneonix let the golden dust hit the ground, where it begun taking form. Within instants, they were met to the sight of none other than Gorf, who sat on the ground, eyeing his surroundings in confusion. "... Gorf is back?"
Apollo rushed forward and held Gorf in his arms, followed closely by Kara and Laoi. "You're back!" the President managed to say. "You're back! I've missed you so much, buddy!"
"Indeed, I figured you would like the Dreamy Creature back", said Chaneonix with a chuckle. "Luckily, it is not too difficult to recover their parts and reconstruct them again... Though I must say, he has a most bizarre odour."
"Gorf no smell, giant Tigarlu, he has no nose", said the creature as he hugged Apollo back happily. Libraé smiled happily, and knew in this moment of joy that they had taken the right path.
"Chaneonix, it is time," she said, bowing her head toward the assembled group. "The time of the Oikoumene has long since ended. You never needed our protection, not truly. Keep the memory of the age that is gone, so that your people will remember the lessons learned. Your story goes on, my friends, and the Valin'uvalyë will always be with you."
"Ah, I suppose it is time... I will miss this place", Chaneonix responded as his form was engulfed in light, and he assumed his phoenix form once again. "But I'm sure our descendants will take good care of it."
As the two Oikoumene stood alongside one another, they bowed their heads in unison. Aoirtae and Kara held their blades into the air and ignited them, in a gesture repeated by all present along the boulevard. In the skies, Du'utahrovin let out a sorrowful roar, as all the Aldárae present set their blades alight in reverence for the Oikoumene of old. And with that, both Chaneonix and Libraé released their physical forms, and became one with the Valin'uvalyë—finally at rest.
The battle for Orbispira had been won, and though the cost had been great, Apollo knew that the rest of the galaxy would soon follow suit. The President looked around at the celebrations being had across the cityscape, and took strength and joy in everyone's gaiety. As he moved through the crowds, he shook hands with those who had fought alongside him. Some, like Voro Acetenus, ignored Presidential protocol and rushed forward, hugging him so tightly he almost collapsed, while he and Dané shared a kiss under the fireworks.
As the celebrations continued, Aoirtae sat on a piece of a rubble and closed her eyes. She could hear the encouragement of those who had fallen through the Valin'uvalyë, and she found peace. After a moment, she rose to her feet and shouldered her way through the crowd, and found herself wrapped in Kara's arms. Kara could feel Aoirtae's tears against her face, and squeezed her tightly. "We did it," she said with a warm smile.
"We did it. Here's to the future, Kara."
There was much work to do, many to mourn, and a Republic to get up and running, but for the moment, celebration continued all around them, and a new day had dawned for Cyrannus.
ORBISPIRA, 26 NE
Empires do not fall in a single day, and the Galactic Empire of Cyrannus was no different. Rather, it was death by a thousand cuts. Though Tyrómairon had been defeated, the Empire retained control over vast swathes of the Cyrannus Galaxy, from the Core Worlds to the Outer Rim, and beyond that into the wider Gigaquadrant. Nevertheless, the regime did not outlive its founder.
The Emperor's defeat threw the Empire into utter chaos, while the loss of so many military leaders at the Battle of Orbispira sank any hopes of a clear succession. Instead, ambitious Mandators and Admirals attempted to hold onto their own fiefdoms of galactic power, seizing what territory they could even as the New Republic advanced on their borders. While some remained true to the Emperor's vision, others sued for peace quickly, and others fought amongst themselves for the vacant Imperial throne.
Over the course of five long years, the Empire dissipated like a fever dream, pushed from the Core by the emboldened Republic from the rebuilt capital on Orbispira, shredding the Empire's once omnipotent fleets and ending the careers of a succession of potential leaders. By 26 NE, even the most devout Imperial had to admit that the Empire's dreams of reconquering the galaxy were well and truly dead.
On the steps of the refurbished Senate Tower, President Apollo stood with his hands clasped behind his back. Behind him, stood Aoirtae Valaeris and Kara Inviá—the renowned Battlemasters of the Aldárae Order, garbed in formal robes, and wielding ceremonial staffs. In Aoirtae's hand was the weapon of Vanikaimar, recovered from the site of the Great Beacon below. Surrounding them were a cadre of Senators, including Raen Magalen of Capricaerón and his wife, President-elect Kyrsá Nimrais, as well as officers of the Republic Navy such as Helo Roslia, Quarantar and Nerazachi.
As the Gigaquadrant watched, a lone Imperial shuttle descended through the clouds and landed on the platform. The hatch opened, revealing a female Libertus in regal attire, whom Apollo recognised as Henera Medé—one of the few remaining high-ranked Imperials. Following her came the Phaedric Lord Maethoruin, whose very presence caused Aoirtae and Kara to instinctively reach for their weapons as a precaution.
The Phaedric Lord merely inclined his head slightly at the sight of the Aldárae, and followed Medé, who proudly walked up to Apollo and outstretched her hand.
"The war is over," Medé said without emotion. "The Empire has lost."
Apollo shook Medé's hand and nodded his head. "Let there be peace."
And with that, Medé held her head high and turned on her heels, and with Maethoruin by her side, the two Imperials returned to their ship, bound for Antemurale to oversee the beginning of a New Empire.
Apollo walked up to a podium on the steps of the Senate Tower, and spoke. "My friends, people of the Gigaquadrant, of Cyrannus, the war is over. When we look back at this dark time in our history, we may think that nothing could have been worth the terrible price we paid. Entire planets destroyed, families ripped apart, a galaxy seemingly divided for all eternity between Darkness and Light. But let us remember that all those who perished did so for the extraordinary peace we have won."
He held out his arms, taking in the celebrations on Orbispira, the brilliant sunshine and the countless citizens of a thousand worlds and species gathered together under the flags of their people, and the flag of the New Republic. "There is a great cycle in our history. Some generations live with much given, while from others much is expected. We have endured much, but we have emerged victorious. Our rendezvous with destiny is not over. We stand at the gates of a new era! And we stand ready to rebuild our galaxy. Long live the Republic!"
Stepping down from the podium as the crowd erupted into cheers, Apollo walked toward Aoirtae and Kara, who had been joined by Laoi, Gorf, Caranye and Dané. As he proudly looked upon his extended family, Apollo smiled broadly. After so many years of fighting, he was finally ready to step back and live a peaceful life. "All is well."