It is a dark time for the Galactic Empire of Cyrannus. Preoccupied with engaging in a multi-front battle for control over the New Republic throughout the First Gigaquadrant, the Empire's territories within its own heartland were left increasingly vulnerable. Striking fast upon claiming the fabled Spear of Ramielum from the hands of the Aldárae Order, the demon lord Mar-Júun launched a savage attack on his homeplanet of Vasuband, usurping command of Basileus space from Imperial Grand Mandator Erissare and inaugurating the dawn of a new era—the era of the Glorious Crimson Imperium of Cyrandia.
On distant Orbispira, the capital of the Empire, Grand Mandator Deoclet Caesarius overlooked a starmap of Basileus space, his cold eyes darting from star to star, as the crimson glow of the map's holographic representation of the spread of the Crimson Imperium's spread from system to system, threatening dozens of worlds in the Syvehil and Vasuband sectors. Ordering fleets presently engaged with the Republic in the Core Worlds to relocate to the southern Outer Rim, Caesarius nevertheless commanded his own armada to disperse along the ill-defined border between Imperial and New Republic-held space, preventing Apollo's forces from capitalising on their recent victories and launching new offensives into the Core.
Turning his head to the map, he turned to face several assembled Phaedric Lords, including Meketanor, Moranonúngur and Archaxys, the latter having recently faced Mar-Júun during his initial conquests during the Borealis Front of the war.
Archaxys: "The beast implied his efforts in Borealis were but the first act of a larger play. But I did not expect him to act so boldly."
Meketanor: "It ends now. I will destroy him and all of this followers!"
Moranonúngur: "We must be cautious. The demon is more wily than even I anticipated."
Meketanor: "I will lead the offensive myself. I shall bring his severed head to the Dark Lord, and the Corruptus shall never return to taint our galaxy with their filth!"
Grand Mandator Caesarius placed his hands behind his back and turned to face them.
Caesarius: "The use of fleets and war machines may not be necessary. If a Phaedric Lord were to face this monstrosity, I am confident they would manage."
Moranonúngur: "Incorrect. The Order may confront Mar-Júun himself, but he still has a fleet scouring the space around Vasuband, enslaving what worlds they encounter. The might of the Imperial army and navy must be deployed at once."
Caesarius: "Perhaps, yes. And yet, remove the head from the snake and the body whithers and dies."
Meketanor turned to Caesarius, his teeth clenched as he grew irritated.
Meketanor: "This is not a request, "politician". It is an order! I demand an army to follow me in the retaking of Vasuband! The Corruptus must be crushed beyond salvation!"
Caesarius: "You have no authority over me, Lord Meketanor. You shall have my fleets, but you shall have them because the Emperor wills."
Meketanor: "Watch your mouth, mortal vermin! Unlike the Dark Lord, I need no reason to keep you breathing. Once I return from battle, you and I shall speak in private."
The massive Marinox begun walking away, his arms open.
Meketanor: "Watch as a true servant of the Dark Lord works!"
Chapter II: The Republic Reacts
In the halls of power on Capricaerón, panic gripped the New Republic—still struggling to impose order over the chaos unleashed upon it during the fiery Cataclysm. In the Presidential Pyramid, Apollo sat at his desk with his claws steepled. Around him had gathered several senators, as well as his own Presidential staff and military joint chiefs, to discuss the ramifications the fall of Vasuband would doubtlessly have on the war effort.
Gialu Kaedar: "Now is the time to strike! Now is the time to launch an immediate attack on Corulus, besiege the interior, and rendezvous with the Alberensians for a joint strike on Orbispira. With their forces pulled back to Vasuband, the Empire is more vulnerable now than it ever has been. We may not get another chance!"
Ansin Cyrellon: "Don't be too hasty, Admiral. If the Empire is victorious, they pull their forces back, and destroy us all. If the Corruptus win, they march forward, and destroy us all. We need to consider joining them in fighting these nightmares. Who knows, it could bring about lasting peace between us? A common enemy often makes for unusual friends."
Apollo furrowed his brow.
Apollo: "There will be no partnership with the Empire, Ambassador. Not while I sit in this office."
Cyrellon bowed his head sycophantically.
Apollo: "We can't sit idly by while the Corruptus pillage the galaxy. But there can be no peace with the Empire. Not even in the face of such a threat. Send word to the Aldárae Order. And let us hope that they have what it takes to save us."
Chapter III: The Cyborg Warrior and the Nightmare King
Under the leadership - or perhaps more accurately, angered order-barking - of Lord Meketanor, an Imperial fleet made its way directly to Vasuband, the heart of the Crimson Imperium, in order to deal with the problem on its roots. In what was a contrast to most worlds attacked by the Corruptus, it seemed the Basileus homeworld was spared from being charred and warped, save for its atmosphere having grown dark and blackened, perhaps because Mar-Júun did not want to sully its image - or he was waiting for the right time. Upon arrival, the fleet was met with the sight of corrupted ships from Borealis and vessels of Cognatus origin, which immediately opened fire. As the battle over Vasuband ensued, forces begun deploying to the surface in order to open a path for Meketanor to reach Mar-Júun and deal with him himself.
Commanding the Imperial fleet under Meketanor's baleful glare was Admiral Jora Camarelur, chosen for her experience against the Corruptus during the Borealis Front. In the period since, Camarelur, obsessed with reclaiming her honour and prestige lost by the Imperial defeat in Borealis, prepared for this day—when she would unleash the power of her Judicator-class battlecruiser on the Empire's foes. Meeting the twisted husks of what were once Imperial and Cognatus vessels, Camarelur pushed hard against the Corruptus fleet, unleashing the full force of her armada's turbolaser batteries on the demon fleet.
On the surface, as the shuttles opened and allowed the army to advance, many were distraught over the state of Vasuband, those of Basileus descent the most; the darkness which enveloped the world had the very air heavy, and the skies were covered in such a way the sun did not shine through, leaving it in perpetual twilight. Opposing their attack, corrupted Rambo Serindia kidnapped from the Quadrants and undead Cogsangui warriors emerged and at that moment, an onslaught begun to ensue. The slaves of the Corruptus were overcome with a frenzied rage unlike any they had ever witnessed, and fought with unmatched ferocity.
Meketanor cut through the ranks of nightmarish creatures, eventually resorting to rapidly climbing the walls of buildings in order to leap from one to another, quickly making his way to the Crimson Tower. Before he reached it, however, he was struck by a blast of vile energies, forcing him to stop atop a rooftop as Mar-Júun himself appeared before him, his two blades in hand as he appeared to wear regal, ornamented armor fit for an emperor.
Meketanor: "You! Have you lowered yourself to trying to copy the majesty of the Dark Lord?"
Mar-Júun: "Yes, I was hoping you would come. I knew you wouldn't be able to resist the chance to face me again, machine."
Meketanor: "Our schism has gone for far too long. Today, it ends! I will crush your skull beneath my foot!"
Mar-Júun: "I will enjoy this... Come, and let us be done with this!"
The two entities clashed, Meketanor swinging his energy blade and striking against Mar-Júun's own daggers, causing shocks of energy to flare around them as they unleashed their powers. Despite towering over Mar-Júun, the Marinox found himself unable to overpower him through force alone, the Vanguard easily being able to stand his ground as he delivered quick and merciless blows against him, chipping through his armored hide.
The two of them jumped back, creating distance between them as, from Meketanor's fingers, a blast of lightning was launched at Mar-Júun's direction, with the demon responding with a stream of blackened, purple flames from his own hand, the clashing energies exploding between them.
Meketanor: "You think yourself my equal? A rival? Bah! You are nothing! You and your filthy kind will be scoured from our universe! The Dark Lord will see your precious 'gods' erased from history!"
Mar-Júun: "Try as he might, the Corruptus will never stop returning. We rise again, and again, each time stronger than before... stronger than you, and any who would oppose us!"
Leaping through the dust created by the explosion, Mar-Júun struck at Meketanor, stabbing his blades into the Marinox's hide and causing its venomous energies to seep through his mechanical entrails, causing him immense agony. However, it seemed Meketanor was not programmed to feel pain, as he only retaliated with enhanced rage, swinging his blade vertically at Mar-Júun and slashed through his armor, creating a visible hole through it. He then thrust an arm forward at the demon, unleashing a blast of force which sent the Basileus reeling back, forcing him to dig his talons into the rooftop and slide through it in order to not get knocked off his feet.
Looking back at his ruined armor, Mar-Júun's eyes narrowed; he had now lost his patience. As Meketanor charged to strike once more, the Basileus' very form transformed into a mass of tendrils which struck back at the Marinox, immobilizing his arm and knocking the blade out of his hands. Quickly retaking his Basileus shape, the demonic lord then attacked again, thrusting his blades against Meketanor's torso and leaving them there as he shrieked in pain, falling to one knee. A fiendish growl came out of Mar-Júun as he used his own claws, enhanced by his power, to tear through the hide of Meketanor's head, piercing through his eyes and leaving him blind as he then clenched his hands into his head, his claws jabbing into him as nightmarish energy begun poring into him.
Mar-Júun: "Fall before the new lord of Cyrandia!"
Meketanor begun thrashing in agony, purple essence shining through cracks which formed over his hide as he was slowly - and very, very painfully - burned from the inside out. He had only the chance to do one plea;
Meketanor: "M-Master Tyrómairon!! H-Help me-"
Blasting his essence into Meketanor, Mar-Júun utterly destroyed the Marinox, causing him to explode into shining ashes which were quickly blown away into the wind. He looked at the damage sustained through the fight and frowned at having his newly ordered armor ruined, all while his forces savagey beat the Imperial army who quickly got wind that the Phaedric Lord leading the attack had been killed in action.
Ordering a retreat, the Imperial forces rushed back to their shuttles as fast as they could as the forces of the Glorious Imperium gave chase, killing any who was not quick enough. In the atmosphere above Vasuband, the mothership Dark Dream, now under the command of Warmaster Xae Vandon, focused on taking down any shuttles trying to escape as he sought to not just back Jora Camarelur now that their offensive was shattered, but also humiliate the Empire as much as he could.
Xae Vandon: "How I missed the feeling of watching the Libertus and their precious allies be torn asunder as they deserve... Run back to your Emperor, infidels, and warn him he is next."
Chapter IV: Into the Heart of the Nightmare
On distant Aldár, Grandmaster Ryen in the library, his eyes darting across a datapad, provided by New Republic Strategic Intelligence—seemingly portending the end of the Empire's reign in the Southern sectors of the Outer Rim. He lifted his head from the pad when Master Alinor Nanuq walked in, accompanied by Aoirtae Valaeris, Kara Inviá and Vanikaimar.
Kara looked surprised to see Ryen.
Kara: "Master, I didn't know you'd be here. I take it you've heard the news?"
Ryen: "Yes... yes, indeed. Troubling to say the least. Without the Spear, I fear that there are few things that can stop the spread of this Nightmare."
Vanikaimar: "This makes me miss the old days of warring with the First Republic. There were no such things as "nightmares made material" back then. Getting rid of normal, fleshy beings is so much simpler."
Nanuq sat opposite Ryen.
Nanuq: "We've received word from President Apollo, requesting our aid in destroying the beast. I came to the Library in the hopes of locating something, anything, which could help in this endeavour."
Ryen: "Our course is clear. By retrieving the Spear from Mar-Júun's grasp, we'll possess the sole means to destroy him, and his dark Imperium before it can threaten any more innocent worlds."
Vanikaimar: "We do not even know where it is. Not even this "Chaneonix" who currently flies over this temple knows its whereabouts. If Mar-Júun is as intelligent as he thinks himself to be, he would have destroyed the Spear by now."
Aoirtae: "Presuming he has the capability to do so. Perhaps the Vida'Rra manufactured it with immunity to Nightmare Energy."
Kara: "If that's the case, he'll probably want to keep it close to his side."
At this moment, Master Aenaró walked into the Library.
Aenaró: "Grandmaster. A child wishes to speak to you, at the entrance. Claims to know you, he does. Claims to know where the Spear of Ramielum is."
Ryen: "What opportune timing. A child, you say?"
Vanikaimar: "Nonsense. No one but us know the Spear even exists. It must be a trap of some nature."
Aenaró: "Paranoid, you are. Perhaps rightfully so. But this child radiates Dream Essence. An ally, indeed."
Ryen rose from his seat and, accompanied by the others, made his way to the entrance of the Temple. Standing at the entrance was the visitor, who he quickly recognized as being Hachiman Shinha, who waved a hand at him as he approached.
Ryen: "By the stars above, if it isn't Hachiman himself! I had not expected to see you on Aldár."
Hachiman: "Hello! Boy, am I glad I found this place. Kinda got lost along the way a couple of times, heh."
Vanikaimar: "What manner of creature is this?"
Hachiman: "It's complicated, to be honest. Nice to see you again, Master Ryen! Wish it was under better circumstances though."
Aoirtae: "Master Aenaró mentioned you know about the Spear of Ramielum. How do you even know what that is?"
Hachiman: "Oh, I don't. But the power I follow does, and he's been kinda watching this whole mess unfold. He asked me to lend you guys a hand in retrieving this Spear thing, because Mar-Júun's goonies are currently trying to destroy it."
Aoirtae: "We can't let that happen. Where has he taken it?"
Hachiman: "Uh, that's... kinda the bad news. He took it to the Nightmare Region."
Behind Hachiman, Chaneonix landed, causing a small thud which startled the Tā warrior.
Hachiman: "Aaaah! Giant bird!"
Chaneonix: "The Nightmare Region is a plane of existence beyond our universe. The cursed realm that once served as the prison of the Corruptus when the Vida'Rra defeated them nine billion years ago!"
Kara: "Please tell me it isn't as ominous as it sounds."
Hachiman: "I'm afraid it's probably worse. I don't have to tell you it's a pretty damn dangerous place, and even with all my power, I wouldn't be able to retrive the Spear on my own. I can take us there, but I need your best for this."
Aoirtae: "Have you been there before? We should probably know about what we're about to walk into."
Hachiman: "Well, not really, but I know what to expect. Considering the gravity of the situation, surely one of Mar-Júun's greatest minions is probably gonna be there to stop us."
Aoirtae: "Wonderful. Well, I suppose better now than later."
Aoirtae turned to Vanikaimar and Kara.
Aoirtae: "I'm ready if you are."
Kara: "As ready as I'll ever be."
Vanikaimar: "You believe just the three of us will be enough?"
Aoirtae: "The guy with the big ears seems to know what he's doing, he can come too."
Hachiman: "I mean, without me, you can't even get there to begin with. Also, without my essence, the Realm would instantly incinerate you to a crisp, so."
Aoirtae: "See? Know's what he's doing."
Vanikaimar: "Bah. This is the work for an army, not four individuals. But fine. At least I can be remembered as having died surrounded by the corpses of slain abominations."
Hachiman: "Not the most cheerful guy, ain't he?"
Kara: "This is him on a good day."
Cracking his knuckles in preparation, Hachiman used his power over dream essence to open a radiant golden portal which appeared to end in a single, dark dot in the end.
Hachiman: "Get in then! Keep your eyes closed by the way, it's kinda bright."
Breathing in deeply, Aoirtae activated her blade and jumped in, followed closely by Kara and Vanikaimar, with Hachiman himself going last and closing the gateway behind him. They felt as if they were warping through an angelic wormhole, though the more they progressed, the more the bright, radiant light of dreams was snuffed out and replaced by darkness. The quartet would eventually land on a dirt floor as Hachiman immediately threw his arms away to cast a protective shield around them, and the Aldárae knights then had the opportunity to see the Nightmare Region itself; it was a realm devoid of light or hope, engulfed by stormy, purple and red clouds, the landscape resembling nothing but a barren, battered wasteland with not a single soul in sight. What resembled terrified screams and shrieks perpeated the air, coming from everywhere and nowhere. It was a realm made up of nothing but pure terror from the depths of mortal life's consciousness.
Kara: "I wonder why they call it the Nightmare Region... How do we even know where to look?"
Hachiman: "I took us close to it already. It's ahead. Take a look."
Hachiman pointed ahead with his mechanical arm, and there indeed appeared to be something; it appeared to be a ruined altar of sorts, and the sound of what appeared to be metal slamming down against metal echoed through the realm, each blow causing a lightning blast to fall from the sky.
Vanikaimar: "They are indeed attempting to destroy the Spear."
Aoirtae: "Come on then!"
The group rushed ahead to approach the altar, and as they did so, the identify of the entity striking down at the Spear was revealed to them; it was the Greater Nightmare Harbinger, a being who Aoirtae and her companions had already encountered before at the Borealis Galaxy. The massive demon was striking at the Spear with his staff, the surface of the divine weapon slowly cracking with each blow. As the heroes approached, the creature's eyes darted at their direction as he stopped hammering down at the Spear.
Harbinger: "Your arrival was expected. You have come to die."
Kara: "Give us the Spear, and we won't send you packing again."
Hachiman: "Wait, you guys fought this demon already? Heh, you must really be tough then."
Vanikaimar: "It nearly snapped my neck."
Hachiman: "Eh. A bit tough, then."
Harbinger: "This is our realm. You have no power here."
With a wave of Harbinger's hand, undead Cogsangui warriors erupted from the dirty earth, energy blades in hand as they prepared for combat. With her blade in hand, Aoirtae lunged forth, meeting with the blade of one of the Cogsangui warriors in a crackling frenzy. Vanikaimar confronted them with his staff, while Hachiman transformed before them; his blue fur turned a radiant white as angelic wings sprouted from his back, and with a wave of his hand, he launched a beam of dream essence which reduced many of the undead to ashes in instants.
Harbinger returned to striking the Spear with his staff, while the sounds of more demons roaring in bloodlust were heard in the horizon. The dead continued to rise around them as well, causing Hachiman to turn to the Aldárae knights.
Hachiman: "You guys deal with the big one, I'll keep the hordes in check."
Aoirtae: "Got it. Good luck."
Hachiman: "Likewise, now hurry!"
Acting in unison, Kara and Aoirtae leaped out of the frey and toward Harbinger. Using their combined strength, they unleashed a wave of energy which blasted Harbinger away from the altar, before landing in full combat position. The demon's skeletal wings fully opened as he took flight, regaining his composure as the skull-like head of his staff opened its maw, unleashing a beam of demonic energies at the two. As they distanced themselves from Hachiman, they felt the dark forces which permeated the Nightmare Region engulf their skin, causing a very uncomfortable sensation; any more distance would make them start burning outright.
Aoirtae: "We need to stay close to him, Kara!"
Though they began to move backwards, Aoirtae continued to launch energy waves at Harbinger, holding him back while Kara formed a shield around them to protect against the brunt of his attacks. Watching their moves for a moment, the demon then suddenly vanished from view entirely, before quickly reappeared directly behind them; teleporting there in order to whack them both with his staff, its bony-like surface filled with hooked thorns. Though bloodied and bruised, the two Aldárae recovered swiftly, and rushed at the demon together. Aoirtae swung her blade at Harbinger with one hand, while with the other, blasted waves of light. The demon's stone body, blue like sapphire, hissed and burned as the Light collided with it, though Harbinger remained stoic and devoid of emotion as he threw an arm up, using his energies to thrust pillars of stone upwards from directly beneath them.
Harbinger: "No light shall shine here. Never. You shall become nothingness."
Struck from below, Aoirtae and Kara were thrown away, badly wounded and losing hold of their weapons. Harbinger's massive form raised his front legs in order to crush the two girls under his monumental weight, but before the had the chance, a radiant light shined behind him like a bolt; the Spear of Ramielum was launched at the demon's back, immediately causing part of his torso - including his Heart - to be utterly destroyed instantly as the Spear itself passed through him and landed on the ground ahead. In the distance, Vanikaimar posed as if he had just thrown it, and that was indeed the case.
Harbinger's body shook in pain, the demon falling to his knees as his stone hide begun to crumble.
Harbinger: "Damned mortals... We will... never... end..."
The Greater Nightmare's form then crumbled into dust fully, marking his death. The hordes which Hachiman kept at bay appeared to panic as they begun to disperse, and the yong warrior himself turned to them and levitated their way, his angelic aura enveloping them once more, healing their wounds. Getting to their feet, Aoirtae and Kara rushed forward and hugged Vanikaimar fondly, causing him to whince in discomfort.
Aoirtae: "Our hero."
Vanikaimar: "... Whatever."
Hachiman: "You killed him? ... Dang, nice! Dead at his own home realm means he ain't getting the chance to come back, that's for sure."
Kara: "Good. There's nothing more annoying than overly persistent demons refusing to die."
Aoirtae: "Speaking of which, let's grab the Spear and get this over with."
Vanik turned to Hachiman.
Vanikaimar: "... What manner of creature are you?"
Hachiman: "Well. An angel, basically."
Vanikaimar: "... Hmpf. I have seen enough weirdness recently to believe you."
As Aoirtae retrieved the Spear, it was clearly in bad shape; its surface was broken and it appeared very depowered. It was clear they were only going to have one chance at using it against Mar-Júun at this point. Meanwhile, Hachiman's eyes widened as he looked to the skies of the realm and realized they were being watched; two pairs of blood red eyes, emitting an overwhelming aura of hatred gazed them down at them fiercely.
Hachiman: "Ah, crap. He knows we're here. We need to leave, like, now."
Aoirtae: "Read my mind, buddy. A portal would be nice right about now!"
Hachiman: "I'm working on it!"
Like before, Hachiman used his essence to open a gateway back to Aldár, hurrying them all inside and closing it behind him as they escaped whoever was it who watched them. The quartet would find them returning to the entrance of the Order's Temple, the Spear resting in Aoirtae's grasp. Chaneonix, who waited rather impatiently for them, clasped his two wings together in joy at their return.
Chaneonix: "Praise the Lord of Light! The plan is saved! As is Cyrannus, presumably. No, no, certainly!"
Aoirtae holstered the Spear behind her back.
Aoirtae: "So... what's next?"
Vanikaimar: "Destroying Mar-Júun."
Hachiman: "I'll be sticking around, in case you guys don't mind. I wanna do my part in ending the threat of the Corruptus in this galaxy. So let's get ready for some demonslaying!"
Chapter V: Light, Dark and Doom
As the dark hand of Mar-Júun spread throughout the Outer Rim, and after the Empire's initial attempt to retake Vasuband ended in failure, Grand Mandator Caesarius ordered several Imperial battlefleets to blockade the Perliama Hyperlane, the use of which would grant the Imperium access to the prosperous regions of the Mid and Inner Rims. Simultaneously, in the aftermath of the crushing Republic defeat at the Battle of Cianbur, President Apollo and Republic High Command dispatched what few ships they could spare, led by Commodore Helo Roslia of the Aeolus, to rendezvous with an Aldárae taskforce preparing to launch a covert strike on the Basileus homeworld from Laurantia, one of the few Outer Rim worlds that had yet to fall to Imperial reprisal.
A number of ships from the Indoctrinate Collective, under the command of Commandant Gavakar would follow them, and they were soon joined by a considerable force of Cognatus vessels, which made up the bulk of the allied armada, including the remnants of the Fleet of Unrelenting Reverence under Morin Ehtar, the Fleet of Majestic Integrity, under Fleetlord Thaur Vicliquam, and the mighty dreadnought Herald of Retribution, the flagship of Primarch Voro Acetenus himself. Meanwhile, from the Void Combine, a substantial fleet headed by Count Sheval Oskani joined the battlegroup, the Silent Retribution included in the mass of ships. To the surprise of many, an arkship bearing the colors of the lost Cloud Combine was included in the Void fleet as well, with the shock reverebrating especially on the bridge of the Retribution.
Yvrak Parakil: "Rikken managed to find it drifting in the void, fully staffed but willing to fight for us. The will of Metix is with us, it seems."
Arriving in the Auethnen Raptor, Aoirtae, Kara, Vanikaimar and Hachiman joined the pilot Munalur in the cockpit.
Munalur: "The fleet's fully assembled. Now, we just have to wait for the Primarch to give the order."
Aoirtae: "Have we worked out a plan yet? I don't think jumping in, guns blazing, will work."
Vanikaimar turned on the ship's communication devices, so that the whole fleet could discuss it together.
Vanikaimar: "We have the weapon required to destroy the demonic leader with us. A path to the surface must be opened at all costs. From what we have learned from the Imperials' previous assault, a mothership helmed by this "Xae Vandon" is leading the orbital defenses. Destroy him."
A booming voice echoed over the fleet intercom, that of Acetenus himself.
Voro Acetenus: "All vessels, form up and make an immediate jump to Vasuband. There, we face the dark might of Xae Vandon, and his Basileus masters, and if we hold true, we can and will defeat them."
Gavakar: "Oh, I'm going to enjoy this. It's been too long since the Collective has kicked the Corruptus back to the hell that spawned them."
Vanikaimar: "Once the orbital defenses are dealt with, land with us at the surface. Vasuband is infested with abominations, far more than just four warriors can fight alone."
Sheval: "I'll send my fleet's best down to help cull this rabble. With our newfound forces gifted by the Machine Our God, we will send them screaming back to the abyss."
Helo Roslia: "However, remember that we don't have the numbers to hold Vasuband once the Corruptus are defeated. Once they are, I recommend we fall back, unless we want the Empire to capitalise on our success."
Vanikaimar: "Destroy the planet. Its fate is none of our concern. Let the legacy of the Basileus be reduced to cinders."
Helo Roslia: "The Republic isn't the Empire, Vanikaimar. We aren't going to destroy a world with billions of innocent civilians, even if they are Basileus."
Vanikaimar: "And that is why you are still weak."
Helo Roslia: "Oh, and how did your "strength" benefit the Nagith Empire? We go in, defeat the Corruptus, and leave. We aren't committing genocide today."
Gavakar: "By Koluap's saggy head-organ, shut your traps already."
Hachiman: "We should focus on the Corruptus first and foremost. This isn't gonna be an easy fight; we're fighting monsters born out of our deepest nightmares. The Corruptus is fear incarnate, and they capitalize on that. They're not gonna give us any quarter, and we shouldn't give them any ourselves. It's a battle to the death."
Unmoved by Helo Roslia's words, Vanikaimar simply spoke again, his tone unchanged.
Vanikaimar: "The assault is yours to begin, Primarch."
Voro Acetenus: "So it is. Come, we have lingered here long enough. Let us end this."
Once his command crew provided the fleet with a common set of coordinates, Acetenus ordered the Herald of Retribution to jump to lightspeed, followed closely by the rest of the allied fleet. Intending to bypass the space battle completely and make for the surface of the planet, the Raptor was the final ship to leave the Laurantian system, as the crew prepared for what may have been their most dangerous mission yet. As they arrived to the space around Vasuband, they were met with the sight of the Crimson Imperium's fleet awaiting them, with the Dark Dream looming in the distance. As they approached, their comms were hijacked by the dark forces of the Corruptus, displaying a somewhat static image of Warmaster Xae Vandon.
Xae Vandon: "More lambs have come to the slaughter? Or have you come to surrender to the Dark Imperator of Cyrandia?"
Primarch Acetenus growled as Vandon's face filled the Herald's viewscreen.
Voro Acetenus: "Your mind has truly been scattered if you believe that I'll surrender to you, "Warmaster". Today, you shall meet your final destruction, and I intend to deliver it upon you."
Xae Vandon: "My my, if it isn't Voro Acetenus at last. Have you come to rejoin your comrades in the life-after-death? Or do you forsake who you were before you started your little "movement"? You served me once, you know."
Voro Acetenus: "I served, yes, before you led our people to ruination and collapse. I shall not allow you to do so again."
Xae Vandon: "Be that way then. I will scavenge your corpse from your broken vessel and make you my slave, as I will do to all the aliens you have brought with you. The Crimson Imperium cannot be stopped!"
With this, the demonic fleet advanced to meet the allies. As they were outside firing range, Voro and the rest of the allied commanders had a brief few moments to organise their battle plan. The Primarch split the armada into two groups, one to cover the ground forces beginning their descent onto the planet's surface, and another to bring the fight to the Corruptus. Upon entering firing range, the full force of the allied and Corruptus armada became unleashed, and chaos ensued. While the Corruptus vessels, a sinister union of Imperial and Cognatus technology, possessed an advantage in range, Acetenus moved his battlegroup into close-quarter combat between the cruisers, the crossfire of which caused many once proud vessels to fall into Vasuband's crimson atmopshere.
Across the battlefield, Commodore Roslia turned to his operations officer Subcommander T'ran, who reported that another fleet was arriving in the system. Gazing out from the viewport, Roslia saw a large force of Imperial vessels, led by the largest ship he had ever seen—the Imperial flagship Imperatore, under the command of Grand Admiral Carandial, whose haughty voice echoed over the comm.
Carandial: "Republic forces. If you think you can take Vasuband from under our nose, you are quite mistaken. Today, you will behold the retribution of the Empire scorned, and be thankful that, for now, you merely witness the extent of our fury. We have more pressing concerns."
Before Roslia could respond, Carandial closed the transmission, as the Imperial fleet shot over head toward the central hive of the Corruptus fleet, followed closely by the Imperatore, which darkened the entirety of the Republic fleet as it slowly passed overhead.
Hachiman: "Well, that ain't good, ain't it?"
Gavakar: "Imperials in our way?! Destroy each and every last one of them! I want the Corruptus threat neutralized!"
Voro Acetenus: "Do not fire unless fired upon. We cannot contend against that Dreadnought! Concentrate on the Corruptus!"
Xae Vandon: "You mortals will all serve me in death!"
The battle quickly became mired in utter chaos, though the Imperials and the allies did not initially fire upon one another, the lack of coordination between their fleets swiftly resulted in exchanges of turbolaser fire between their forces. Bolstered by the sheer firepower of the Herald of Retribution, however, the Cognatus led the charge into the dark heart of the Corruptus fleet, smashing through the twisted remnants of what was once an Imperator-class destroyer until the Dark Dream came into view.
For emphasis, Acetenus slammed his fist into the arm of his command chair.
Voro Acetenus: "All ships within range, concentrate all fire on that ship! Let your cannons roar!"
Dozens of allied vessels immediately opened fire on the Dark Dream, which, bolstered with incredibly strong armour, withstood it all. After five minutes of sustained fire, however, the hull began to show signs of weakness, yet its dark weapons lost none of their potency, unleashing tendrils of energy which swatted down unsuspecting ships on both the allied, and Imperial side. On the cavernous overbridge of the Imperatore, Grand Admiral Carandial narrowed his eyes as the Dark Dream inflicted heavy damage on his forces.
Carandial: "Activate the coaxial hyperlaser."
Crewmember: "By your command, Grand Admiral."
An orb of brilliant green energy manifested itself at the Imperatore's bow, which grew in size and intensity, seemingly distorting space around it as it expanded.
Crewmember: "Critical mass reached, Grand Admiral."
For a moment, there was perfect stillness and the battle seemingly came to a momentary standstill, before a light, more brilliant than a star erupted into being and from which, a vast beam of energy lanced across the battlefield, punching a hole in the fabric of hyperspace, and utterly obliterating the Dark Dream, and any ship, Corruptus or allied, within its range. The shield of the Herald of Retribution barely held against the intensity of the Imperatore's attack, and though Acetenus believed that there was no possibility that Vandon could have survived the ensuing explosion, the wily Warmaster, in the fraction of a second before impact, teleported himself to the surface of the planet.
Chapter VI: The Warmaster's Last Stand
As the orbital defenses set by the Crimson Imperium fell, the allies' forces begun deploying in the surface alongside the crew of the Raptor. As they had predicted, the planet was infested with the minions of Mar-Júun, which included undead Cogsangui warriors, maddened Rambo Serindia and Heleanorians, and perhaps most disturbindly, Basileus soldiers wielding nightmare energy; it seemed that the Dark Imperator had begun corrupting the populace... or some of it had bent the knee to him willingly. The skies roared with thunder as the light of the system's star was blot out entirely, with a pillar of nightmarish essence thrusting itself up from the Crimson Tower where Mar-Júun was residing at and reaching the skies. Swarms of hissing and gibbering parasites also dominated the air like flocks of birds, though they paid little attention to the landing forces.
Setting down in close proximity to the capital of Basilban, Aoirtae, Kara, Hachiman and Vanikaimar walked down the boarding ramp and stepped foot on the surface, soon to be joined by an elite Cognatus team including Ankhnes Nar Monomai and Thaur Vicliquam, who approached them while unholstering his blade.
Thaur: "The Corruptus flagship has been destroyed, and yet the battle above continues. The Primarch wishes to inform you that he will leave command of the Herald to Shiplord Tolahven, before joining us on the ground when able."
Hachiman: "I know the Basileus aren't the nicest people ever but... nobody deserves this. Look at the state of this planet."
Aoirtae: "One hundred centuries of culture, reduced to this. Still, if we're successful, they'll rebuild, and hopefully show gratitude for our efforts."
Vanikaimar: "Destruction would be a mercy, then. Let it stay like this."
Hachiman: "You need to get out more, guy. Like, urgently."
Kara: "Yeah, honestly Vanik, give it a rest for five minutes."
Vanikaimar: "You are all naive. But so be it. Let us plunge the Spear of Ramielum into Mar-Júun's flesh and be done with this."
The path deeper into Basilban was defended by the Crimson Imperium's forces, which the allies begun cutting their way through. Hachiman's angelic powers manifested as he begun culling hordes of demons with dream energy, while Vanikaimar delighted in facing the corrupted Basileus in combat, as it gave him an excuse to unleash his full might upon their kind. With their blades in hand, Aoirtae and Kara weren't far behind, working in unison with Thaur and Ankhnes as they cut down their foes.
As they made their way through, they were eventually forced to dodge a great pillar of purple flame which was launched at their direction. In the distance, Xae Vandon slowly walked into view, carrying his blade in one hand.
Xae Vandon: "You shall go no further."
A patch of air rippled briefly behind the demonic warlord. He narrowed his eyes as he looked over his shoulder, a malevolent grin growing on his face.
Xae Vandon: "I thought your precious Order of Cognalorilos was all about honour, Thaur Vicliquam. But I see you have resorted to invisible soldiers to deal with your problems now. Unfortunately, his soul shines bright regardless."
Surprised, Qurik Skel deactivated his stealth module, leaping at Xae Vandon as he did, spear ready to impale the warlord. The demon reacted by throwing his sword away, before his arm turned into a mass of hooked tendrils which extended and took hold of the Saviki, before hurling him at his allies with mighty force. Qurik quickly regained his footing, holding his spear more defensively. The distinctive roar of a Cognatus shuttle soon filled their ears, and as they looked up, they saw Primarch Acetenus standing on the boarding ramp, his crimson cape fluttering in the wind, and his energy blade already activated. Leaping from the shuttle, the Primarch landed in a battle stance.
Hachiman: "... Cool!"
Voro Acetenus: "Come, Vandon. Meet your end."
Xae Vandon: "We are the Corruptus! We will never end!"
The undead Warmaster opened his arms, which turned into a pair of massive tendrils resembling claws as he let out an otherworldly roar. The demonic forces all turned their heads to face the group, though Hachiman would confront them, giving them a chance to fight Vandon without being interrupted. With a single leap, the monstrous Warmaster swung his tendrils at them, seeking to rake them to pieces. Ankhnes jumped to avoid being hit, and brought her blade to bare against them, severing one of the tentrils, while Aoirtae and Kara telekinetically tossed debris toward the Warmaster, attempting to distract him from concentrating on any one of them. Qurik dodged out of the way and swiped at the tendrils with the electrified tip of his spear, while Vanikaimar swung his staff at Vandon's head. His tentacles recoiled with the shock, while a piece of his helm was torn off, revealing part of his head; partially rotted, he was transformed into a sickening hybrid of Cogsangui and Basileus.
Voro charged forward, removing his cape, and bringing his blade down on the Warmaster, attempting to sever his head with one swift blow. However, Vandon anticipated the move, and pivoted out of the way, unleashing another tendril to ensnare his one-time ally, before Aoirtae used her blade to sever it, freeing Voro and allowing him to once more bring the fight to the Warmaster. Vandon let out a pained roar and manifested another tentacle which swung itself at Aoirtae in retaliation, knocking her off her feet, and sending her flying into Hachiman, who quickly opened an arm and grabbed her.
Kara immediately turned her head and screamed, telekinetically grabbing Aoirtae's blade, and, with both in hand, began carving through tendrils and demons with a ferocity she never knew she possessed. When she reached Aoirtae, she sank to her knees, realising that she had been seriously injured.
Kara: "No! W-we need to get her out of here!"
Hachiman: "I can take care of her. You take care of the big demon running after you!"
Enraged, Xae Vandon chased after Kara, raising a tentacled arm to crush her under it. Her eyes seemingly alight with furious fire, Kara unleashed a massive shockwave which caused the ground around them to tremble, knocking Vandon off his feet and turning some of the lesser demons to dust. Approaching from behind, Voro thrust his blade through Xae Vandon, skewering through his demonic heart and causing him to roar out in agony. Before he could struggle, Qurik ran to the Warmaster's front and jabbed his spear into the Warmaster's throat, while the blades of Thaur and Ankhnes stabbed him from the sides, forcing the mighty demon down to the ground.
Voro Acetenus: "Begone Vandon, curse in vain as all you have built collapses to nothing."
Xae Vandon: "Rraaaagh! No! I... I don't want to return to the nothingness! Not again!"
With a look of unexpected pity, Voro drove his blade once more through Vandon's heart. The Warmaster gurgled and grunted for a moment, though his body would eventually go limp, and it then begun to turn into ashes before their eyes, marking his final death. Acetenus sighed deeply.
Voro Acetenus: "With his death, one of the final remnants of the First Cognatus Empire, a reminder of our dark past, has been swept away."
Ankhnes: "By the blood of our ancestors, we right the wrongs of the past."
Still panting from the power she unleashed, Kara approached the group and indicated toward the Crimson Tower.
Kara: "C'mon... that, that was the easy part. His master's still out there."
Hachiman: "What about the gal over here? She got beaten up pretty bad. I could heal her, but it might take a while."
Kara: "No, she's not safe here. I need someone to put her onboard the Raptor and take her out of here."
The Primarch nodded.
Voro Acetenus: "Thaur, I select you for this task. We require your skills in naval combat, in any case. Go, take the girl back to her ship, and inform the pilot to take her to the Herald. There, she can heal."
Hachiman: "I'll stay here and make sure this horde doesn't chase after you. Give Mar-Júun a kick in the groin for me, will ya?"
Ankhnes: "Good fortune, blue one."
Vanikaimar walked over to Aoirtae and proceeded to take the Spear of Ramielum from her back, before turning and handing it to Kara.
Vanikaimar: "The deed is yours to fulfiill now."
Kara looked somewhat hesitant, but outstretched her hand, and took the Spear.
Vanikaimar: "Remember what Chaneonix said. The Spear is damaged and only has enough energy for one blow. We will only have one chance to strike at Mar-Júun when he is exhausted. Doing it when he is at full strength will let him overwhelm us."
Kara: "Thanks for the pep talk, buddy. If we're done standing around, let's get this over with."
Vanikaimar: "I am giving you tactical advice. Rush to your death on your own will. Now, move."
Chapter VII: Mar-Júun - The Vanguard Assassin
With nothing else standing in their way, the heroes made their way into the Crimson Tower. Compared to the battlefield outside, the interior of the tower was in pristine conditio, though that would change as elite Basileus guards stood in their way, forcing them to put them down in order to continue. As they made their way up, they caught up the sound of something unexpected; it sounded like a woman, and she was complaining out loud about things. Soon enough, the group would encounter Erissare, who was forced to dress in an embarrassing maid uniform and mop the floor of one of the tower's corridors.
Erissare: "This is a travesty. Erissare, serving as a maid, to a spike-headed tendril fetishest. And this outfit, true, I wear it best, but does his psychosexual obsession with me know no limit?"
Interrupted from her work, she turned her head to face the group.
Erissare: "And who are you all meant to be?"
Vanikaimar: "This is a most unsettling sight. I feel it may be burned into my mind for days to come."
Erissare: "Ditto there, uggo."
Vanikaimar: "We have come to destroy Mar-Júun. If you serve him, then prepare to die."
Erissare pointed at her chest.
Erissare: "Well, random homeless person who wandered into my house, I serve only one person. Me: Grand Mandator Erissare."
Vanikaimar: "Then tell us where Mar-Júun is, "maiden"."
Erissare lifted her finger.
Erissare: ""Grand Mandator." In fact, after much campaigning by one Grand Mandator Erissare, the Emperor himself named me the greatest Grand Mandator in over three thousand years."
Kara: "The Empire was only formed seventeen yea-"
Erissare: "I stand by that statement."
Qurik: "Clothed so embarassingly, there must be some inkling of desire within you to see Mar-Júun dead. I suggest you act on it."
Erissare: "I want a lot of people dead. Him, most of all. That sexually depraved lunatic is ruining my office with his acts of depravity. Conquering Basileus space is one thing, but forcing me to clean up after him? Unacceptable. He's on the top floor, right next to my taxidermy collection."
Vanikaimar: "You said you were a Grand Mandator, that means you are a leader of the Empire. I would be inclined to remove your head from your shoulders, but we have more pressing matters at hand. Pray we do not meet again."
Erissare kicked over the bucket and mop.
Erissare: "That's the spirit, now mind you don't slip on the expired meat water I've been using to clean the floors. And try not to ruin my furniture, either with his blood or your blood."
Qurik: "You've been enough of an annoyance that I'd have no qualms about damaging your possessions."
Erissare: "And if I'd not been ignoring most of what you all have been saying, due to my deep revulsion of your outfits, I'd probably threaten to have you all gelded, or something. Now, in the future, I'm going to try harder not to stop and talk to vagrants, because this has been an utterly boring waste of my time."
Abandoning her cleaning utensils, Erissare turned on her heels and turned back the way the allies came, seemingly unconcerned about the demons infesting her world.
Voro: "We have wasted enough time here. We did not need her to tell us that the proclaimed leader of Vasuband is in the throne room of Vasuband."
Vanikaimar groaned in mild disbelief over the absurdity of the situation before urging his companions to continue their way up, to the directions they had been pointed. It would eventually become clear that Mar-Júun had done some changes to the place, as rather than an office, they would open a set of mighty doors to reveal a massive throne room, decorated with tapestry displaying the symbols of the Corruptus. Upon a throne of obsidial sat Mar-Júun himself, dressed in garb fit for an emperor, and he grinned, displaying his fanged teeth, as he watched the group arrive. A black-purple fog permeated the chamber, with the only sources of light being candles which let out an omnious purple light.
Mar-Júun: "Well, well. I admire your tenacity, mortals. You not only recovered the Vida'Rra artifact, you also killed my Warmaster and got here alive. Very impressive."
Kara: "You haven't seen anything yet."
Mar-Júun: "I give you all one last chance to bend the knee and serve. Pledge loyalty to the Corruptus, and you will be given power beyond imagination. The power to destroy the Empire."
Qurik: "You sound much like my insane father, demon, though I believe you serve a different master. Participating in your death will be a great luxury for me."
Vanikaimar: "Not even the entire Oikoumene civilization would be able to make me bend the knee to a filthy Basileus. Not just that, a fiendish Basileus."
Kara: "Why don't we skip the small talk. You know we're not going to serve you."
Mar-Júun: "Then I will add your skull to my throne's right arm. And once I'm done with this little rebellion in my planet, I will hunt down your brother, and add his skull to the left arm."
Mar-Júun rose from his seat, and his two nightmarish daggers manifested in his hands. A confident grin dominated his expression as he readied a battle stance.
Mar-Júun: "Come, and face the mettle of a Vanguard!"
Kara: "You've haunted my family for too long, Mar-Júun!"
Activating her blade, Kara likewise readied herself, while the others in the group did the same, waiting for who'd make the first move. Mar-Júun did not move from his spot, though sounds came from beneath the ground as imposing, pitch-black shadows in the shape of the Basileus demon appeared and attacked them, wielding shadowy versions of his daggers, one shade for each of them. Vanikaimar use his staff to put himself between the shadow attacking him and himself, striking back at it with swings of its bladed head. Qurik bashed the shadow which came for him with his rifle, before kicking it against a nearby column and firing an antilithium round through its shadowy skull, causing it to dissipate into nothingness.
Refusing to let Mar-Júun vanish from her sight, Kara used her blade to fend off two shadows closing in on her, while Voro and Ankhnes stood back to back, moving in a circle to avoid being caught off-guard by the apparitions. As she pushed some of the shadows back, Kara found herself suddenly struck by Mar-Júun himsefl, only barely able to parry his blades as he sent them both at her. His strength was formidable in comparison to anything she had ever faced, with one blow being nearly enough to knock her off her feet.
Mar-Júun: "I bested the Darkness. I will best your precious Light next!"
Kara: "You're going to pay for all you've done, monster."
A glow of red passed by the Basileus' head, vaporizing a section of a wall some distance away. Far to his left, Qurik cursed under his breath and adjusted his aim. Noticing the shot, Mar-Júun leaped away from Kara and went in Qurik's direction, letting out a flurry of quick and dexterous blows as he attempted to stab the Saviki with his blades. Qurik parried several blows with his rifle before switching to his spear and batting Mar-Júun back with its two electrified tips. The contact between the electricity and Mar-Júun's nightmarish essence caused sparks to be launched between them, which briefly illuminated the gloomy chamber they fought in. Before he could continue his onslaught against Qurik, however, Mar-Júun found himself struck in the back by Vanikaimar, causing the Basileus to turn around and begin fighting him instead. Taking a rejuvenating sip of Mana, Qurik moved to thrust his spear through the Imperator's head, but was tackled in midair by a shade, forcing him to grapple with it while Mar-Júun attacked the Nagith.
Mar-Júun: "You are fools to oppose me. Only the Nightmare has the power to reclaim Cyrannus from the Empire. Only I have the power to destroy Tyrómairon! Your Republic is useless! Weak!"
Voro: "They are strong enough to defeat your legions, and your lieutenants, beast. And together, we are strong enough to defeat you."
Voro lunged forward with his blade, trailing it on the floor as he ran, sending up sparks which caused a nearby curtain to catch fire, before he leaped into the air and pounced toward the demon, his blade aimed toward his dark heart. Mar-Júun let out a pained roar as the blade pierced his fine ornated armor and wounded his weakest spot, though almost immediately, the demon's form dissolved into shadows as he disappeared from sight, hiding in the darkness of the chamber. Out of the floor, tentacles begun thrusting themselves upwards, attempting to impale the heroes.
Forcing his spear through the shade he had been struggling to throw off, Qurik regained his footing and switched back to his rifle, firing a single round through several tendrils as they briefly aligned before him, while Vanikaimar grunted as some managed to strike hits against his chest. With a swing of his staff, he severed many out of the floor, causing them to vanish into nothingness. As chaos enveloped the room, Kara closed her eyes for but a moment, and when she reopened them, she unleashed waves of light which permeated the throne room, quelling the tentacles and revealing Mar-Júun's location. A confused yell came out of the demon as he was forced out of the darkness, causing him to bring his hands to his eyes as if he had been blinded; a perfect opportunity to strike, Vanikaimar thought. The Nagith warrior charged, thrusting the blade of his staff at Mar-Júun's torso and knocking him into the ground as his heart was pierced once again.
As the Nagith prepared to plunge his blade into him one more time, a tendril came out of Mar-Júun's arm and wrapped around the Nagith's weapon before tossing it aside. With a furious frown, the demon rose to his feet and grabbed Vanikaimar by the head, and he begun to scream as nightmare energy begun to burn through his skull. The pain was such that Vanikaimar lost consciousness altogether, causing Mar-Júun to throw him aside as he stepped forward; before their eyes, his form begun to change as he grew larger in size, his claws and talons doubling in length as a pair of feathered, raven-like wings grew out of his back. His face begun to resemble that of a monstrous bird as he took a form resembling that of his master.
Mar-Júun: "I will not be touched by rabble such as you! I am a Basileus! A superiorly bred race! You are nothing to me!"
Voro: "You are a common beast, and will be put down as such!"
Letting out a nightmarish roar which would have made lesser men and women flee for their lives, the angered Mar-Júun charged at them, discarding his daggers in favour of monstrous claws, literally drawn out of nightmares. Each swing left a trail of vile, poisonous energies behind it - it was clear he had lost his composure. Hefting his spear like a javelin, Qurik threw it at the monstrous Vanguard's right eye, though while it struck it, Mar-Júun did not appear to react, as if his tolerance to pain had made him immune to it. With a quick swing of his monstrous hand, he grabbed the spear and launched it back at the Saviki, leaving a trail of nightmare essence behind it. Qurik barely dodged it, the spear embedding itself in the floor a quill's breadth away from his foot.
Kara stood in place, her eyes closed, blasting orbs of energy directly at the demon's heart, while Voro unholstered his blaster and began unleashing torrents of bolts toward it, while making sure to avoid falling prey to the same tactic Mar-Júun used to incapacitate Vanikaimar. His weak-spot being struck caused him to become more furious, and he retaliated by launching beams of demonic energies at them, burning through the floor and wall as it struck them. Kara jumped out of the way just in time, narrowly avoiding a column as it toppled into a newly formed abyss. Noticing that each and everyone of her allies, including herself, were on their last legs, she grabbed her blade, and telekinetically sent it flying across the room, lodging it in Mar-Júun's heart. The demon let out a pained roar as he took a step back, feeling the power of the Light in the blade which sapped his energies, leaving him vulnerable.
Kara knew this was her chance. Steadying herself, she reached behind her shoulder and took hold of the Spear of Ramielum. She knew she would only get once chance, and that if she failed, Cyrannus might well fall because of it. Activating the damaged weapon, she aimed true toward Mar-Júun's heart, and with all of her might, hurled it across the ruined throne room.
Upon touching Mar-Júun, the Spear blinded them with light as its Dream Essence exploded, while Mar-Júun let out a terrible pained roar. They witnessed the Spear itself slowly turn into dust as its energies were spent, while Mar-Júun begun to rapidly decrease in size, his demonic features disappearing and the nightmarish energies permeating the chamber slowly vanishing, allowing its true lighting to shine through it. The mighty Vanguard Assassin of the Corruptus had his eyes widened in bewilderment as looked at his own hands, and realized they resembled those of a common Basileus.
Before their eyes, Mar-Júun reverted into a common, mortal member of his race, devoid of all demonic features.
Mar-Júun: "... W-What? W-What happened?! What have you done to me?!"
With disgust in her voice, Kara looked down on him.
Kara: "More like what you have done to yourself. For the first time in many years, you are your true self. A Basileus."
Mar-Júun: "M-My power! My precious, beautiful power! You... you cursed Libertus!! I can no longer hear the voice of my master!"
Kara: "You've lost. Beaten by Apollo's daughter. Do you hear me?! Lost! "
Mar-Júun: "No... Noooo!! We are the Corruptus! We will never end!!"
In a fit of rage, the now-normal Mar-Júun ran at Kara's direction with fists clenched, intending to hit her. Drawing her blade into her hand, Kara cut him down in a single downward slash, sending him slumping to the ground. He struggled for a moment, only able to say one more sentence:
Mar-Júun: "It... cannot end... like... this..."
And with that, he died. The Imperator of the Crimson Imperium and servant of Shu'wokerama was brought back to his mortal roots and killed, like the commoner he truly was. Outside, the forces still fighting the Corruptus were surprised to see the undead Cognatus and corrupted Rambo and Heleanorians suddenly dropped dead, while the demons swarming the skies immediately fled. The light of Vasuband's sun shone through a window as the skies begun to slowly open, the demonic clouds which covered it disappearing into nothingness.
Wasting no time, and showing no gratitude, Imperial forces in orbit immediately opened fire on the Republic and allied ships, preventing Kara, Voro, Ankhnes, Qurik, and the still unconcious Vanikaimar from licking their wounds. All across the planet, Carandial began landing his forces, almost preventing the Raptor from escaping, once it had dropped from orbit to bring the victorious comrades to safety. Once docked with the Herald of Retribution, the last of the surviving allied ships departed from the Vasuband system, satisifed that in spite of their heavy losses, they had assuredly saved the galaxy.
Erissare tutted as she surveyed her destroyed throne room, standing beside Grand Admiral Carandial as he overlooked the destruction unleashed on their beloved homeworld. Mar-Júun's corpse was still in the middle of the chamber, though at this point, decomposition was starting to take its toll on it.
Erissare: "Maybe I stuttered when I specifically instructed them not to ruin my furniture."
Carandial: "What are you blathering about? There are more important matters to consider than your furniture, such as the reconstruction of our world."
They were joined by the Phaedric Lords Moranonúngur and Archaxys, both of whom were clearly disturbed by the residual traces of Light in the room. In the Bisistar's grasp was Meketanor's energy blade, recovered amidst the debris of a distant building - the last memento of the vicious Phaedric Marinox's existence.
Moranonúngur: "Interesting. It would seem that Apollo's child has succeeded where Meketanor failed."
Archaxys: "If only he were alive to wallow in that fact."
Moranonúngur: "Ah, the tantrum he would throw. I may yet miss his yelling. May."
Carandial nodded his head to the new arrivals in the approximation of a bow, while Erissare had yet to turn, her eyes fixed on Mar-Júun's corpse with sinister satisfaction.
Carandial: "My lords, the world is now under complete Imperial control. Yet I estimate it'll be several years before the planet has fully recovered."
Moranonúngur: "Begin rebuilding at once, and order your fleet to station here for the time being. We cannot allow the Republic and their allies to come and go to one of the hearts of the Empire as they please."
Carandial: "With their defeat at Cianbur, I am confident that they lack the resources for a lengthy campaign this far within Imperial territory, but yes, I will order the bulk of my fleet to remain at Vasuband, and send out a patrol picket to secure the rest of Basileus space."
Moranonúngur: "An animal fights the hardest when it is cornered, Grand Admiral. One can never be too careful. Now, the Imperial Overseer has ordered Lord Archaxys and I to secure Mar-Júun's remains and take them away for study."
Erissare: "A shame. And here I was, planning on dressing it in that ridiculous maid's outfit, and putting him on display in my taxidermy collection."
Moranonúngur: "I'm afraid you will do no such thing today, Grand Mandator. However, there are plenty of other corpses for you to play with outside."
Carandial: "By all means, Lord Moranonúngur. Take the thing away. This is a chapter of Vasubandian history I should very much like to erase."
Moranonúngur: "Indeed, the events that transpired here should remain on a must-know basis. We do not want the whole Empire to learn the homeworld of the Basileus was taken by the Corruptus and invaded by the Republic in quick succession."
Archaxys: "Yes, though soon it'll matter not, for without these demons to stand in our way, we can finally devote our full might on conquering the Republic and ending this war."
As he was about to speak, Moranonúngur suddenly stopped in place, blinking for a moment before turning to Archaxys, who suddenly reacted in a similar fashion.
Moranonúngur: "Did you feel that? Something is happening to the Imperial Overseer. We must return to the rest of the Order at once."
Archaxys: "I've felt it too. Come, we must leave."
Without saying anything more to either Erissare or Carandial, Moranonúngur leaned down to grab Mar-Júun's tail, and the two Phaedric Lords vanished, taking the corpse with them.
The Herald of Retribution sailed across hyperspace toward Aldár, ferrying the group which successfully brought an end to Mar-Júun's Crimson Imperium before it could begin in earnest. In the sickbay, Kara sat by Aoirtae's bedside, eagerly waiting for her friend to wake. Vanikaimar had regained consciousness for a while now, and he whinced in mild agony as Hachiman rested a hand on his head, cleansing the nightmare wound left on him with his own dream energy. Qurik leaned against a wall, silent but observant.
Voro stood at the bottom of the pod and grumbled.
Voro Acetenus: "Your friend is strong, child. She will recover."
Hachiman: "Permanently killing off a Vanguard of Shu'wokerama? You guys aren't just strong. You're something else entirely."
Vanikaimar: "In pain."
Hachiman: "I mean, yes. But that'll pass."
Kara turned her head toward Hachiman.
Kara: "Are you planning on sticking around?"
Hachiman: "Well, now that the threat of the Corruptus is dealt with, I'll probably be requested to go somewhere else by the power I follow at some point. But I might be able to stick around a few more days... You think Aoirtae would be interested in hanging out?"
Vanikaimar: "She is not of your race, wet-nosed one. Find one of your own."
Hachiman: "What, are you her dad now?"
Qurik: "Y'know, I wouldn't mind..."
Aoirtae suddenly woke up, her eyes darting around in a panic.
Aoirtae: "W-wait, what? Where am I? What h-happened!?"
Aoirtae: "D-did we... did we win? Did we lose anyone?"
Vanikaimar: "I lost the skin of my head, though this healing appears to be regrowing it."
Hachiman: "Yep, we won! Mar-Júun's done for."
Aoirtae sighed deeply, and sank her head into the pillow.
Aoirtae: "Some help I was..."
Hachiman: "Well, you were. You can't expect to fight one of the greatest demons of the Corruptus and not leave with a few scars. To be fair, it's surprising no one straight up died."
Kara: "He's right, 'Tae, we were lucky to get out of there in one piece. But right now, you need to chill. We're heading back to Aldár, and we can finally rest up a bit."
Hachiman: "Ryen and Apollo are gonna be happy when they hear the good news. Last time I hanged with Apollo, Mar-Júun was a bit of a prick with him. Say, does he still go around dual-wielding pistols?"
Kara: "Yup. Sometimes he even manages to hit stuff on purpose."
Hachiman: "Hah. What a guy."
Vanikaimar: "Hmpf, I suppose there really is nothing to do but rest now... I am going to get bored quickly."
Qurik: "In a universe of seemingly eternal conflict, rest can be an even greater luxury than slaying nightmarish tyrants."
Aoirtae: "Me, I wouldn't mind having the opportunity to get bored, y'know, instead of almost being killed on a daily basis."
Hachiman: "Yeah, well, we could... catch some movies... and eat some snacks... and stuff."
Vanikaimar: "Do not. Be quiet."
Hachiman: "Aw, come on. I helped."
Aoirtae laughed awkwardly, and shot a quick glance to Kara, who suppressed a smile.
Aoirtae: "That sounds... nice..."
Vanikaimar: "It does not. You will do no such things."
Hachiman: "Aww. At the very least, I wanna hang out at the Aldárae Temple though. I wanna see how you guys work."
Kara: "Any friend of Ryen is a friend of ours, we'd be happy to show you around."
Qurik: "I too am interested to see this Aldárae Temple. Rikken wants me to help establish more... direct bonds with your Order, given the battles we've fought alongside in."
Kara: "I'm sure we can arrange something, Qurik. But right now, we should probably let Aoirtae and Vanik rest for a while."
Vanikaimar: "Indeed. This conversation was tiresome."
Aoirtae couldn't help but laugh, only to be slightly pained by the sensation.
Aoirtae: "I wouldn't have put it quite like that... ow... but some sleep sounds swell right about now."
Finale: Clash of the Gods
Reality shuddered and shook as the horrendous might of That Which Unmakes travelled through Endless Space, a trail of destruction behind him as spacetime itself was scarred by his gigantic presence. Around his form, an all-consuming nebula of black and purple devoured the light of the universe and replaced them with the darkest of the creature's hatred for the Cyrannus Galaxy. Mar-Júun's annihilation had repercussions not only at Vasuband but through all of reality, reaching even the deepest reaches of Inferno as the end of the Basileus rend a significant part of Shu'wokerama's soul into shreds without warning. This mighty demon - mortalkind's worst nightmare, made material - would no longer idly sit and watch his servants fall to the powers of the Light and the Empire; he would take actions upon his own hands, and tear Cyrannus apart, star by star, planet by planet, until only a trail of death and destruction was all that was left. That was the only fitting punishment for this defiance.
The monster was abominable beyond description. His body, from a distance resembling that of a terrible raven, was not made of skin and bones. but uncountable parasites mashing their bodies into one another to form a mass of gibbering, toothy flesh in the shape of a bird. The mass extended outward to grow muscular arms, mightier than any mortal could hope to match and holding the power to shatter a planet with one swing, and legs ending in sharpened, hooked talons made to tear through whatever it is his victims were hoping to defend themselves with. A long, serpentine tail followed behind him, swinging from side to side as the demon traversed the vaccuum of space though all paled in comparison to its wings; two monuments of nightmarish flesh and muscle, huge enough to swallow a dreadnought, and constantly pouring its demonic essence through its feathers, creating the nebula which clouded the abomination from view. His head, crowned with gigantic horns and fins which grew from his forehead to his back, held a hooked beak which hid the teeth of a predator, starved for the destruction of his enemies. And his eyes, as red as blood, held within them the fury of nine billion years as they gazed upon the Cyrannus Galaxy - the fury of a god made manifest, and now unleashed upon the First Gigaquadrant.
The monstrous thing would not, however, reach his destination without interruption. Before Shu'wokerama manifested a black aura which, like him, consumed the light and looked back at him in disgust. But, unlike the nightmare that was the demon, this was instead the power of Valin that stood before him; Thaurlathrón, his full might unleashed, held energy into his hands as he put himself between Shu'wokerama and the Cyrannus Galaxy.
Thaurlathrón: "The lord of the Corruptus makes himself known at last... It is time to put an end to the threat of your abominations once and for all."
Shu'wokerama: "Cyrannus will burn. All which you have built, Oikoumene; we will destroy it. For the death of my Vanguard, all which you hold dear will pay the price."
Thaurlathrón: "Nightmare itself will bow before the might of the Dark Lord!"
With this, the Essential and the Ultraterrestrial clashed as they lunged at one another - Thaurlathrón's claws against Shu'wokerama's own, the impact unleashing such energy that it could be mistaken for a hypernova; were they not in the middle of the vaccuum between galaxies, surely any planet at their vicinity would have been instantly vaporized. With a swing of his hand, the Oikoumene unleashed a storm of dark energies at the demon which collided with the nebula which now engulfed them both, releasing a blast of light which illuminated the cosmos and tore rips through spacetime itself. Thaurlathrón's hatred for the Corruptus was only surpassed by his disgust - he believed demons to be even beneath mortals, abominations unworthy of existence who deserved only the most painful demise imaginable, and he had confidence in his own ability to inflict this level of agony upon the defiler of his beloved Cyrannus. Indeed, he thought, a being as lowly as Shu'wokerama was nothing in comparison to the marvel that was an Oikoumene.
But things were not so simple.
With a swing of his massive tail, Shu'wokerama struck Thaurlathrón and sent him flying across the vaccuum with such momentum, anything in his path would be completely destroyed - only by his power as an Ultraterrestrial was he able to stop in place, only to be struck by the searing flames of nightmare as they were launched from the demon's clawed hands. The Oikoumene cringed and shuddered as he felt the burning sting of the enemy's essence course through his skin, retaliating by placing his hands together and unleashing the might of the Darkness in the form of a beam of black electricity. Rearing his head back, Shu'wokerama would inhale before unleashing a breath of nightmare energy from his mouth, a stream of purple fire which collided with Thaurlathrón's energy and unleashed another mighty shockwave of power across the empty cosmos around them. Darkness and darkness clashed, equally matched, until the Oikoumene begun to grunt as he lost his strength - with a monstrous roar, the demon's four eyes shone in unison as his breath grew twice greater, devouring Thaurlathrón's energies and blasting the Oikoumene directly, consuming his body entirely - he would scream as his intricate, Oikoumene-made robes and armor were burned away into cinders, and his form shook in agony as his very soul felt the hatred within Shu'wokerama nearly shatter it.
Staggered and dazed, Thaulathrón was defenseless to Shu'wokerama's assault as he lunged at the Oikoumene, digging his monstrous teeth into his throat and raking him with his claws before throwing him aside, roaring in pain and bleeding what almost appeared to be pure starlight from his wounds.
Shu'wokerama: "WATCH YOUR GALAXY BURN."
With a swing of his hand, the demon clawed through the Oikoumene's head, tearing through his skin as if it were nothing as he could do little to fight back.
Shu'wokerama: "WATCH YOUR FEATS AND ACHIEVEMENTS CRUMBLE BEFORE YOUR EYES."
With another swing, he struck Thaurlathrón's torso, nearly shattering the divine physical form of the Oikoumene and unleashing energies which rivaled supernovae and black holes around them.
Shu'wokerama: "WATCH AS WE DEVOUR THE BODY, SPIRIT AND POWER OF YOUR PITIFUL DARK LORD AND MAKE IT OUR OWN."
With a swing of his entire body, Shu'wokerama's entire right arm became a whip of monstrous, hooked tendrils which struck the Oikoumene - like a master punishing a disobedient slave -, each strike sending him unimanigable amounts of pain.
Shu'wokerama: "WATCH. AS. WE. END. YOU."
Raising his tentacled arms above his head, the might god of nightmares prepared to deliver the final blow and end the proud Mornûnendur's existence here and there. A death by the hands of a demon - perhaps he had, in fact, underestimated their capabilities.
However, it would not come to pass.
???: "Begone, spawn of nightmare! You have no place in this universe!"
A beam of heavenly light struck Shu'wokerama from above, like the divine retribution of the gods, which caused the demon to reel back in rage and confusion. As Thaurlathrón regained his senses, holding into his own wounded and bleeding form, he watched as a magnificant being - a phoenix of starlight - lashed out against the horrible monstrous form of Shu'wokerama. It was Chaneonix, member of the Estëmentári who Thaurlathrón fought against ages ago and a follower of the Uvalyë - the Light.
Chaneonix: "I have studied the Vida'Rra for the entirely of my existence... and now I stand before the one created as a fury-fueled perversion of their image!"
Thaurlathrón: "... Chaneonix?!"
Chaneonix: "Thaurlathrón. Even as a follower of Darkness, I could not simply watch as this demon tore you apart."
Thaurlathrón: "I... may have misjudged the threat he poses to a being such as us."
Chaneonix: "You have seen what this beast can do. We must not allow him to enter our realm."
Thaurlathrón: "... So be it, then. Until this is over, we will work together."
Shu'wokerama: "Weak. Hopeless. United you will DIE."
With a flap of Chaneonix's wings, golden light coarsed into a beam of energies, while from Thaurlathrón's fingertips, darkened lightning was launched at the nightmarish behemoth who assaulted them. As the combined Light and Dark struck him, Shu'wokerama's eyes burned in hatred as his form was seared and burned, hissing maws growing across the wounds as he retaliated by turning his arms into tendrils which struck back at the two Oikoumene - Thaurlathrón gasped as he could evade the blows, while Chaneonix's pained shrieks delighted the demon, his golden feathers being torn out of his body and sent to float across outer space. Even together, it would not be easy.
But they would persevere. Charging himself with the Light, Chaneonix flew into Shu'wokerama and sent his own talons into the demon's eyes, while Thaurlathrón's body, engulfed by the Darkness, struck the demon's torso. As the three entities clashed, reality around them was torn apart as nightmarish essence and starlight bled into the vaccuum - a clash of gods which would decide the future of the galaxy, if not the entire cluster. And the perseverance of the Oikoumene would pay off as their combined might begun to overwhelm Shu'wokerama, his body charged in nightmarish essence as he once again let out a breath of terrible flame at them both, with Chaneonix and Thaurlathrón responding by uniting their energies into a beam of Light and Dark - a vortex of energy which collided with Shu'wokerama's rage and caused all three of them to shudder from the sheer force of their energies' impact. With furious rage, Shu'wokerama's eyes shone in anger as his flame was overwhelmed and he was struck with all of the Oikoumene's power, causing a significant part of his torso to be annihilated into nothingness, sending the demon flying backwards.
Wounded and weakened, Shu'wokerama looked at his opponents and spoke as his form begun to vanish before their eyes;
Shu'wokerama: "Resist for as long as you like. We are Shu'wokerama; we are your doubts, your fears, your hatreds. For as long as you resist, we will keep return. For as long as you exist, CYRANNUS WILL NEVER BE FREE. WE WILL NEVER END."
With this, Shu'wokerama's monstrous form disappeared before the Oikoumene, the black nebula which he had created slowly dissipating. Chaneonix and Thaurlathrón would exchange looks; there was much to say between them, much of it unpleasant at best and violent at worst, but they would have to wait for another time as they parted ways without a word. As Chaneonix returned to Aldár, Thaurlathrón manifested within the halls of the Mornûnendur on his knees, his body hurt, his very soul wounded and his life very nearly ended as he weakly relayed the news to his compatriots.
The Corruptus had been vanquished, at least for a time.