For the past six years, the Andromeda Galaxy experienced a period of prosperity that catapulted galactic society to new heights of technology, relations and unity. What was largely unknown was that in the depts of Segmentum Exterioris, a conspiracy was unfolding as two onceprominent figures engaged in a low-profile rivalry and a secret war for superiority over the other. It was by the actions of the crew of the Andromedan Reclaimation Service vessel The New Dawn that this plan was unfolded. Its crew, made up of the best and brightest from the ranks of Andromeda's military, discovered that the Draconid Imperium's chancellor had for years been obsessed with harnessing the power of The Artifacts, relics that predated the oldest races of galactic histery and promising untold power.
Not wanting a galaxy held within the Draconis chancellor's ash-grey claws, the crew made a decision to destroy the artifacts and the terrible weapon that had been built around it by The Brotherhood. The ensuing destruction triggered an explosion of cataclysmic proportions. But its destruction near Karnatgah was not the end, and now a shockwave sweeps though hyperspace, severing it in numerous places as though the galaxy's fabric were cracked earth. Yet the devestation would not stop there as the entire galaxy groaned in pain.
Saved From Cataclysm
The New Dawn was able to outrun the power of the initial shockwave that erupted from the nightmarish dreadnought Khanjar and his The Brotherhood had constructed. The ship's lighting changed to an ominous deep read as alarms blared for action stations. As they traveled, their warp drive abruptly stopped, leaving them inside the alien nebula. As everyone ran about attending their stations, Arnas had called the senior officers over the intercom to the ship's briefing room. Khanjar was surely dead, perhaps Althron too, Varugr had vanished right before the vessel detonated.
There as an air of panic in the room as everyone settled down. Many were still trying ot comprehend the truth, that all this time they had been pawns of Vesperon Maltris; the chancellor of the Draconid Imperium, a veteren of the Great war for Andromeda and a voice in the ear of one of the most powerful figures in Andormedan politics. He had used them, exploited them for his own gain and discarded them when he no longer had use for them. All from the safety of the Imperium. N'rai was jabbering to herself in a rapid pace, twitching before raising her voice to draw attention to herself.
- N'rai - Everything... lost. Just... look at it!
N'rai pointed at a panoramic screen of the outside with her robotic hand, pointing at the twisted alien clouds circling in the space around the vessel. In her eyes was pure, unmistakable fear - as well as shame. Everything that was done there. Was their fault. The New Dawn's mission was to bring the galaxy to a new level, to raise it from darkness unto light. Instead, it ushered in the light of destruction. Arnas sat slumped in her captain's chair, sighing wearily was she stared into N'Rai's electronic eyes. Decieved by the lies of terrorists and corrupt chancellors, they now faced an apocalypse unlike any other. Beltharon pushed himself from the wall and shouted, causing N'rai to roll her eyes.
- Beltharon - ...This is all Quendor's fault!
- N'rai - You're a genius, Beltharon. Surely victim blaming will end this cataclysm. We're doomed! Doomed!
- Beltharon - At least I'm doing something instead of moping!
- Tarsus - The Chancellor was the one who ordered us to recover the Artifacts.
- Baka'niju - Ahem, I would beg to disagree. - Baka'niju stood up, secretly smiling from beneath his helmet - It is not fact that we are doomed. There is a chance that someone accidentally put draxite into our food and this is all just a massive acid trip.
- Beltharon - ...Did you smuggle drugs onto the ship?
- Baka'niju - Ahem... it would go against honour... erm... - Baka'niju coughed - It is within the realm of possibility.
- Tarsus - This is indeed progressive. First we blame one person, now we have come to the conclusino we either have no hope or we are all under narcotic influence.
- N'rai - Fun.
Tiured of the arguing, Arnas took in a deep breath and stood up from her chair and bellowed a single word in a reverberating timbre, as if an echo escaped from the depths of her throat and out into the room.
Arnas - ENOUGH.
N'rai - ...Ma'am.
Everyone's bickering stopped abruptly as Arnas shouted. N'rai, taken in surprise, turned to Arnas and saluted her while Beltharon glanced towards her and nodded, keeping himself quiet as, inside, he knew that he had no plan of action or suggestions to contribute towards the matter at their hands. He merely looked down, leaning against a wall.
Arnas - The least we can do now is warn the COmmonwealth of the coming cataclysm. The fact we have yet to be consumed by these nebulae suggests that we still have time before the shockwave reaches civilised space.
- Baka'niju - And what are we to do now? - Baka'niju turned his gaze to Arnas, looking at her with an inquisitive expression that she could not see - I do not believe my skills will be worth if I am not given a target to shoot.
- Tarsus - The captain's deduction is indeed sound. This shockwave will not consume the galaxy all at once.
- N'rai - Warning the Commonwealth... this could work, I believe. Provided that we manage to escape, of course...
- Beltharon - The Highlords are going to be pissed.
- N'rai - Surely they will be more fitting to deal with the problem! They have the resources, and-
- Tarsus - 'And what if the chancellor relays this information first?
- Quendor - And this won't matter. We'll just throw the galaxy into the tyranny of fear. Exactly the opportunity for our old friend the Chancellor to take the reins...
Quendor appeared at the door looking rather smug. Everyone turned around to see him. N'rai tilted her head in curiosity at the Radeon officer as he walked in proudly.
N'rai - Quendor? That's... uncharacteristically calm and not-brutal-angry of you. Where have you been?
- Beltharon - Yeah, where have you been?!
- Arnas - We all wish to know.
- Quendor - In my room. Praying... and checking the ship data. You know what happened? We are all stated as KIA. I think we can guess who is responsible for this...
- N'rai - Vesperon...
- Beltheron - KIA? Hmph, well this certainly looks like some kind of Hell.
- Quendor - Exactly. To the rest of the galaxy, we're ghosts. The restless spirits who in their folly have opened the locket of the Demiurges and released the demons within. And you know what? I guess we really are dead. The sector... the innocents whose life we put at stake... Mother... our souls are gone. We are sinners, and tonight is the day for Purgatory.
- N'rai - Remind me; since when were you the one responsible for long overwrought and pathos-laden speeches? Last time we met, you were more concerned about slashing people's heads off.
- Beltharon - Geroniel...
- Quendor - I know. Seeing all this... destruction has given me... a new perspective.
- Beltharon - Oh yeah? Well this has given me yet another reason to be pissed off. I will have somebody's head for this!
- Tarsus - If you can get to him I imagine you'd be satisfied with planting a solid blow on the Imperial Chancellor.
- N'rai - Me first! I punch him in his arrogant gray snout, and you take the head.
- Beltharon - First, we need to find him.
- Tarsus - Quendor is not the only one of us to change, I do not recall you being this aggressive before, Nrai.
- N'rai - It's... true. I once thought this voyage would be an adventure, a chance to meet someone new... I was wrong. No. I won't let vengeance twist my soul. I won't.
- Quendor - It has twisted all of us, N'rai. We shall never be same... but our duty still stands. Once, we sought to bring hope and light to the galaxy. A new dawn. And by Dei'Nar, there WILL be a dawn!
- N'rai - Ooh, we have a new speech addict aboard. "Todeh, the enemeh is at our door!"
- Tarsus - Quendor is correct. We first met as crew, but we have energed from this incident as friends. I would not return to a university laborartoy after all this.
- Beltharon - Screw that, you do not know what I would give to be relaxing on a beach with a woman wrapped around my waist right now.
- N'rai - I second that nation.
Tarsus rolled his eyes and let out a groan under his breath
- Arnas - Despite the fact that the two of you are dead according to galactic records?
- N'rai - Yes.
- Beltharon - I'm sure there are plenty of women who are into necrophilia.
- Tarsus - You may appreciate it but the knowledge that I am apparently dead means that my illuminate's credentials would be erased.
- Baka'niju - Excellent speech, first officer. I only see one problem.
- Quendor - And that is?
- Baka'niju - How do we get out of here?
Quendor's smug expression suddenly disappeared, replaced with confusion and guilty admission. He stuttered fr a moment, making random gestures with his hands as if to find his thoughts.
- Quendor - ...That I didn't really think about.
Quendor turned to Arnas.
- Quendor - Captain?
Arnas looked about the room in contemplation. She herself was unsure what to do at this time, She kept quiet, struggling to speak. In her mind she was over her head; stranded out here in the depths of space with only her crew, little knowledge on how far this news had spread and an assumption that they were alone out here. It was at this point after she began stuttering that Tarsus stepped forward.
Tarsus - Sensors indicate that the destruction of the Artifacts has destroyed the local hyperspace fabric. Meaning that we cannot utilise our warp or transwarp drives.
- Beltharon - So we're practically a sitting duck?
- Quendor - Not exactly. That leaves us with hyperspace or using natural wormholes...
- Tarsus - Wormhole yes, Hyperspace...well there is none.
- Arnas - Wait...so hyperspace no longer eixsts? We cannot access it or use it?
- Tarsus - Within this region of space, yes.
- N'rai - Please, tell me this is an acid trip, 'Niju. PLEASE.
Arnas cupped her snout in her palm and pressed it stressfully against her crest, groaning in frustration.
Arnas - Does the wormhole drive still work?
- Tarsus - ...perhaps.
- Quendor - Now, all we must do is to find a natural working wormhole...
- Tarsus - Gravitational sensors are still operational and we may have a wormhole on our star charts.
- Arnas - Then it is settled. We look for the nearest wormhole. Wherever it goes, we use it as a way to return to Commonwealth space.
- Beltharon - Lets hope we get lucky in that case. Wormholes could take us anywhere.
- Quendor - Excellent. Avast, my friends! The New Dawn awaits!
Quendor shouted these words in an encouraging tone. Emboldened by his charisma, the rest of the sneior officers cheered alongside him. Frowns and worried looks were awkwardly replaced with smiles. A moment of morale-boosing concluded with everyone getting out of their chairs and leaving the room one by one to return ot their normal duties; Arnas and the bridge crew returned to the command chamber to prepare the crew's hunt for wormholes. Everyone except Quendor however, who remained behind. He wandered the room for a moment before descending his rear into the seat of one of the officer's chairs, its foam-like padding deforming and moulding itself to the contours of his back and legs, as if he were melting into its cushioned form. Spending a moment settling, he returned to his thoughts as he looked out of the panoramic screen.
- Quendor - Huh. I was never understood, really. When I was in the fleet, I was called individualistic... rash... bloodthirsty. Against all things Divinarian. I was blind, so blind, and it took me this - this! - to understand what people had been trying to tell me long ago! Enough vengeance and hatred. From this day on, I shall be the hero of that story. I shall right the wrongs of my past... if I survive.
The Last of the Brotherhood
The weathered, rusting husk of Traxus - the last remaining Brotherhood flagship - slowly coursed through the turbulent space of Segmentum Exterioris, not moving in any particular direction but rather floating like an abandoned hulk of a ship would in the oceans. The remaining frigates of the Brotherhood were swarming around this hulk like moths, moving in slow and deliberate ways. Their captains and crews, zealous as they were, were fearful of the cataclysm they had unleashed, and were wary not to stray away from the broken flotilla so as not to be devoured.
Their fear and panic, however, was nothing in comparison to the chaos that transpired aboard Traxus itself. Housing all that remained of Brotherhood leadership in Exterioris, the bridge of the flagship was a chaotic conflagration of raging militants and their arguing leaders. Only the strict honour code of the zealots kept them from turning at one another and ripping each other apart - and even that, only barely.
Of these furious crowds, there were two militants who stood out particularly strongly, their voices the loudest among the cacophony. These were the last two remaining Witnesses of the Brotherhood, advisers to Khanjar himself and the only people who saw him in person; now, with the loss of their leader, they struggled for dominance One was Selemicios, a Tertanai of fine breeding who stood in the chamber with an aristocrat's posture, conveying himself as though he had some highborn right to command the broken leadership. The other, his opponent in this row, was Taela Saraniva; A scar-covered Draconid woman with a fiery temper under dark blue scales that boomed a much as her male counterpart. Their position within the Brotherhood's hierarchy had rapidly given them sway in the heated argument over what to do.
- Tertanai - My fellow brothers and sisters, and particularly the Witnesses. You may consider me stubborn, stupid, or otherwise irritating, but I shall ask you again, for the fifth time: what are we going to do now?!
- Talea - Those Commonwealth krann-runts are stuck here, as are we. They are but one ship, Selemicios, so I say we find them and tear their ship apart!
- Selemicios - Fight them... and then what, Talea?! Brother Khanjar is dead, our fleets are scattered, that damnable Project Adaru is now nothing more than wreckage... and that thing it left has already devoured half of this subsector! Should we stay here, hunting down that "New Dawn" would only give you the solace that you outlived your foe by a day or two.
- Talea Saraniva - We could salvage parts from it, couldn't we? Did that bird-brain of yours not consider that?
- Selemicios - Risking all we have for your bloodlust? We have Inheritant technology. I am sure that our captains could figure out a way to get out of this. ...Somehow.
- Kostos - We don't have enough supplies to last forever. You seem to be the one who wants to give orders and your decision is to hope one of our other captains think of something? - Khostos slumps in his chair in melancholy - We're gonna all die out here aren't we?
- Selemicios - You enjoy surrounding yourself with yes-men, do you not, Talea? How many of your followers are you willing to throw into the meat-grinder so you could enjoy watching the bloodshed?
- Talea - More than you to get results, quite evidently. When was the last time you drew the blood of those you despised?
- ??? - Enough.
From the doorway into the chamber, two brotherhood soldiers entered the room. The light from the corridor momentarily blinded the officers but as their eyes adjusted they bore witness to a grav-chair following in behind them. Sitting upon the grav-chair was the wounded body of Althron; Majordomo of the late founder and leader of the Brotherhood, his body scarred and legs now absent from his body. His eerie presence silenced the room and compelled everyone to drop their jaws open in shock at this strange miracle, their eyes unwilling to believe it. Least of all Talea's, who felt so sure that she could command the Brotherhood. Althron's appearance however, shattered her dreams.
- Talea - ...Brother Althron! We...we all thought you dead.
- Althron - You should know, sister, that it takes more than limb loss to kill me. Now, as you remember, this is my ship. Put me in the seat.
- Talea - Brother Althron...You failed to sustain our Brotherhood. Despite Brother Khanjar's trust in you, he is now dead, our greatest weapon against the Commonwealth is a shattered husk, we do not trust your leadership anymore!
Kostos nodded timidly in agreement, evidently submissive of the Draconis dame commanding attention within the chamber. Althron however ,was less than pleased. He looked at Talea blankly, looking tired of her attitude.
- Althron - Is that a threat, sister?
- Talea - I am saying, brother Althron, that your word means nothing now. Our faith in your ability died with brother Khanjar. The fact he died and you lived is no merit. You let him build that monstrosity and we all consider it disgraceful that you did not burn within it.
- Althron - Who stands for you? Do you challenge me?
A few other commanders raised their hands. Their agreement with Talea evident of their loyalties. Whether they were loyal though her intimidating stature or gravitas, or if they simply felt themselves inferior to her, it was apparent to Althron that she had a notable following of beta officers under her.
- Talea - That I do. Now please - waves a hand of dismissal - You are better off residing in the infirmary. Brother.
- Althron - So it must come to this. It is unfortunate.
Althron was a stark contrast to Talea at this point. While she was scowling and close to grating her teeth with her anger, Althron was virtually calm. He closed his eyes, entering a state of concentration. There was no quiet or tranquility to his contemplation. As his brow furrowed the floor panels rattled and shook, with a flash of his eyelids, he looked up to reveal eyes of a bright bloody red, the light fluctuating inside them as if they were stoking a fire within. The floor rattled further, the various weapons held by each officer were torn from their grip and thrown across the room by invisible forces. Talea, despite her mass, felt herself being lifted and thrown backwards into a far wall with an impact that dented the paneling. She did not slip or fall out after making contact with the wall, instead remaining there fixed to it, unable to move.
She used what strength she had to look at her assaulter, who had lowered his brow in her direction, scowling with considerable annoyance at her insolance. As fiery as her temper had been, her rage subsided and - despite her best efforts to hide it - were replaced byfear from Althron's sinister ocular transformation.
- Althron - Any more questions, lady Saraniva?
- Talea - I'm....I'm not intimidated. Little... Little newtling!
At this insult. Althron became more aggravated, clenching his teeth in the process. His grip on Talea strengthened, further pressing her against the wall and straining her ability to move further in the process. At the same time however, the rest of the soldiers within the chamber found themselves freed from his grasp - as it was with Radeons, anger strengthened his powers, but also disrupted his concentration. Talea's aggregating tactics had drawn his attention away from the audience as a whole and more on this singular Witness that had challenged his authority. Even if she had been privileged enough to see Khanjar in person, she was still subordinate to Althron. And he wanted her to remember that fact.
- Althron - Now, does anyone else object?
- Selemicios - We do not, Brother Althron.
- Althron - You are alone. Are you going to continue to resist or lend your talents to good use and work with us?
Talea attempted to snarl at Althrown, showing her distaste for things not going her way. The amount of pressure Althron was exerting on her body to keep her to the wall however made it difficult for her to breathe, this difficulty made it a struggle to express her displeasure as she had to alternate between exhaling and inhaling in order to support her chest.
- Talea - N-no. You're done Althron! Everyone here is a coward. Youre-- You're all cowards!
- Althron - Sometimes it is necessary for a warrior to retreat and submit. You would do well to understand that. Now, would anyone of you please activate the holoboard?
- Selemicios - With pleasure, Brother Althron.
Selemicios did as she was ordered, manipulating the control panel with several button-presses that generated a Screen that Althron turned his attention to. With the screen fully projected, and with its light illuminating everyone in a whitish-blue light, he began waving his arms and twitching his fingers ot manipulate the display on the screen. As he came close to finishing him, he tilted his head to look at Talea, who still clung to the wall as if she were an insect trapped on adhesive paper.
- Althron - Do you want to know the truth, Talea?
- 'Talea - What truth?
- Althron - I was prepared for this. - Althron spoke as the screen around him cleared - Khanjar's plan was brilliant! He had everything put into place, every piece of his plan impeccable - had it not been for its madness. I have made preparations.
- Talea - What have you been scheming, Althron.
- Althron - Let's just say I have made... connections. - Althron stared at the screen intently - Computer, activate channel Cesseraios.
The holoboard stalled momentarily following activation, as if awaiting a response from the opposite end at which it had sent its hailing frequency, and there was brief silence throughout the chamber. However, after a minute or so of patient waiting, allowing Althron time to regain his composure, they received their reply; sat behind his metallic desk, hands lightly clasped together, was the visage of a black-skinned Zazane adorned in expensive Andromedan wear, the lights of his artificial eyes glancing towards the center of the screen. He wore a sickeningly warm smile on his face.
- Crispy - Ah, Althron. Still alive, are we so? I had not doubted it for a moment.
- 'Althron - Let the loss of my limbs not concern you. A real man never dies even when he is killed.
- Crispy - Thus we must continue to push onward.
- Alhron - Now you must fulfill your part of the bargain. We still hold the Inheritant technology aboard Traxus, as well as our men.
- Crispy - Aye, of course, my dear friend. I shall honour the agreements we had established and allow you both coverage from the sight of the Commonwealth's eyes and access to my resources and funds to restock the Brotherhood. ... Your operations shall be allowed to continue in your privacy as you see fit. Already have I called for escorts to confirm your position and retrieve you and your loyalists.
- Althron - Very well. You will receive our coordinates in due course. Then we shall convene at Umbra.
- Talea - Y-you made a deal with Commonwealth Zazane behind Khanjar's back!?
- Althron - Commonwealth? - Althron laughed - Do you know who that Zazane is, Talea?
- Crispy - Foolish girl. I owe no allegiance to the tyrant Highlords of the Commonwealth; not the Paragon, not the Clericarch, not even the damned Lord-Councillor.
- Talea - Yet you dress like the aristocrats of the core.
- Crispy - And you grovel like the weak. No, I do not align myself nor owe anything to the Commonwealth; rather, my hand stays with the Zazane as a whole. It shan't be the Commonwealth who would control our destiny, just as it shan't control yours. ... And I suggest you stay your filthy tongue 'fore I have it licking at my feet, traitor.
Talea growled aggressively from her position against the metal wall Althron had pinned her to.
- Crispy - ... Dear Althron, I do sincerely hope not all of your arms are as misguided of where they happen to stand in the chain of purpose as she is.
- Althron - She's staying pinned to the wall for the time being.
- Crispy - And while we are discussing arms, once we convene at Umbra I shall bear a gift to you. ... The absence of your limbs has brought me little but great concern, my friend, and I wish to alleviate such with the finest compensation I could buy. Consider such a... gift of good will and a part of my personal gratitude.
- Althron - Just make sure that my new arms aren't made of solid gold and don't sparkle in the dark.
- Crispy - Ah, damnation! I should have known better. My manufacturers and decorators shall be ever so annoyed. ... I jest. I shall have a personal leisure-frigate and various private escorts converge on your position soon. I eagerly await our meeting, dear Althron, as I trust it shall be a good one.
We Meet Again
Travelling though the alien space of the now-dubbed "Glow of Exterioris", the New Dawn searched for an escape, a gateway out of the isolation. Their luck turned upward when they began an approach towards a naturally-formed wormhole. Although whether it was truly natural or a resoult of the anomolies of the changed space it was too early to say. But that did not matter so long as it was an exit out of the alien region.
But no sooner had their spirits upturned they were lowered once again upon the site of who else had found this fortuitous exit. From the screens of the New Dawn, Arnas and the others could see it: distantly on the horizon shone a battered steel grey battlecruiser of Draconis craft, flying steadily - though slower than the New Dawn - into the wormhole. Swarms of similar craft escorted it, all of different shapes, but it was painfully obvious what their allegiance was. The Brotherhood was there.
Arnas called the senior officers to the briefing room upon this discovery. She sat in her chair, slumping to the side as she looked at a hologram of the Traxus spinning in the centre of the large boardroom table. Everyone was equally disheartened by this sight, for once again the Brotherhood was a step ahead.
- Arnas - So...No sooner do we find a way out of this alien space, the Lifefather-accursed Brotherhood find it moments before we do! We might have found all that is left so I open the table to what we do with them.
- Beltharon - Is it not obvious? We have an opportunity and this time, we have the advantage of surprise.
- Tarsus - The advantage of surprise against an Imperium-manufactured battlecruiser and its escort. Hardly a decisive edge that we have.
- Baka'niju - We are also smaller and faster. We can slow down Althron's flagship and end him once and for all.
- N'rai - ...And probably get ourselves killed.
- Arnas - We don't know how long that wormhole could be open for and if we try to simply dash for the throat their guns could cruipple us instead.
- Baka'niju - We need to settle scores. - Baka'niju looked intently at the captain - Leaving them alive - this will not stand.
- Arnas - This is primarily a research ship, subcommander. That thing out there? It was designed to crush small bands opposition. Like us.
- Tarsus - That does not mean ot say we could not slow it down.
- Baka - Either way, we must fight. One way or another. Who is with me?
Beltharon and Tarsus raised their hands as an indicator of their decision.
- Baka - Officer-lord? - Baka'niju turned to Quendor, who sat quietly in contemplation for the entirety of the conversation - What is your decision?
- Quendor - ...I am thinking.
- Arnas - We need a verdict, Officer Telhao.
- Beltharon - We already have one. Why waste time asking for his opinion considering all he has put us through.
- Quendor - This can go either way. ...And we are probably going to die one way or another.
- N'rai - ...Now that's fatalistic.
- Arnas - Fine. We will see about disabling that battlecruiser before we enter the wormhole. Meeting adjourned, all hands to battle-station-
- Althron - ...Am I interrupting something?
The face of the Radeon terrorist suddenly appeared on the screen, staring intently at the shocked crewmen - Quendor in particular. The Guardian of Light grumbled, clenching his teeth in anger, and grabbed for his weapons in an almost automatic fashion, as if he was really there and not a hologram. N'rai and Baka'niju were likewise in a state of equal confusion and anger. Beltharon stared at Althron intently, his eyes analysing the situation. Arnas and Tarsus were also rather shocked, both confused as to how the terrorist was still going after all he had been though. Arnas had coupled this with anger as she found Althron's ability to survive an extreme annoince.
- Arnas - Althron-- How exactly are you still alive?
- Beltharon - I care not of the means with which you escaped your grave! - Belthron screamed from his lungs, enraged at the terrorist's usual taunts - We shall ensure that you be brought to where you truly belongs!
- Quendor - You've been beaten once. What do you seek to accomplish with Adaru gone?
- Althron - That is the question I ask of you. What are you going to do now that the galaxy is torn apart at the seams - because of you?
- Arnas - No one at home knows we were the source of the devastation. Not even the Chancellor is aware that the cataclysm was due to Adaru's end.
- Althron - And that is your solace? That is what you will tell to your children as they draw their last breaths? - Althron laughed devilishly - "Sorry that we killed five quadrillion lives, but at least no-one knew it was us!"
- Arnas - To be fair, were you aware of what destroying the Artifacts would do? Your leader brought this about by his own volition.
- Beltharon - Enough of this meaningless talking! What we must do is end this at this very instant and make a charred husk of his damnable vessel!
- 'Arnas - R-right.
Arnas hastily rushed to disable the comms and exhaled in relief that the terrorist had gone.
- Baka'niju - I suppose there are no discussions anymore? - Baka'niju's usually calm voice carried a slight taste of irony in it - We do what we must.
- Quendor - Get to the weapon controls! - Quendor pointed his blade at the surviving marines and crewmembers - Tonight we end what began on Adaru.
Plans were set, and with renewed confidence, the New Dawn set a course for the fleet of Brotherhood vessels that sailed towards the mouth of the wormhole. The New Dawn commenced the first salvo, firing a laser volley at the Traxus, the centre of the fleet. The lasers stung the plasma membrane around the vessel, alerting the steel behemoth to the threat that approached it. The giant slowly turned to face its port broadside at the New Dawn, revealing the main guns in exposed manholes that opened up to reveal their intimidating cargo.
Moving like a swarm of insects would to defend their hive and queen, the escorts broke formation and flew from multiple directions to sting the New Dawn, zipping past and outmaneuvering the guns that opened up to fire in retaliation. The New Dawn's own cannons and beam banks delivered a dazzling light display to swat the escorts form the black, their numbers however were great, and their stings were many. Despite the New Dawn's best attempts to weave the fire, barrages assailed the vessel's shielding, weakening the barrier that protected the decks underneath the upper section of the hull.
The battle grew progressively more unpredictable, with more and more escort ships joining the fray - all a motley collection of vessels, from Tertamian to Draconis to Divinarian and even at times Cyrannian. Some perished as they got in the way of the research ship's cannon fire, but far more got through, their superior agility and maneuvrability giving them an edge in combat. The New Dawn, for all its worth and advanced technology, was first and foremost a research vessel - and though it could fare well in a direct confrontation, now it could hardly do anything. The fire from Brotherhood ships was relentless. The New Dawn was now in a blockade, unable to move from the growing horde of ships around it. The intricate web of turbolasers and torpedoes grew thicker and thicker, chaining the Commonwealth vessel in its grip.
The fires of battle flashed vividly before Arnas's eyes. Every single torpedo and plasma bolt coursing through the darkness of space was feverishly bright - it was as if a dance of supernovae occured before the captain's eyes. Red, blue, grey, white. Torpedoes flew here, lasers struck here. Tracer bolts were the most striking. Commonwealth gold and Brotherhood silver. The dazzling exchange of fire was blinding - almost chaotic.
Almost. There was no chaos for Arnas - there could not be. It was for moments like this that she trained all her life. It could not end like this, in the back-end of the galaxy that they had doomed. Not after all that had come. Cold sweat came to her brow. She had to make sense out of the situation. To come up with the solution. Arnas's eyes jumped from one blinding light to another with every blink. Every light meant something. On the left, there were Gloryhunters with turbolasers, breaking at the New Dawn's rear sail. These could be ignored - whatever damage they could do, it would be insubstantial. The front of the ship, however, was undefended. A larger vessel - a Radeon Deathwing it must have been - was approaching quickly, preparing its weapons. And on the right was an entire swarm of small vessels - the biggest one so far. She looked briefly at the ships. Cyan lights. Inheritance guns it was. Trouble.
Everything was happening so fast, a solution had to be fast too. Or else-
- Arnas - ...We need a solution ot that battlecruiser. We can't destroy it head-on, not with these escorts stinging us.
- Tarsus - Agreed. Tactics?
- Arnas - Althron is a survivor but we can deal with him another time. We have ot disable that battlecrusier. Any ideas?
- Tarsus - Aim for the rear third of the vessel. If we can damage the primary reactor we might be able to disable it.
- 'Which also happen to be behind several layers of plasma membrane before we even reach the hull.
- Baka'niju - There is a way. Our ion cannons can prove effective.
- Arnas - Agreed. Have all beam batteries fire ion beans at the rear shielding.
- Tarsus - If we eject some of our positron storage containers we might be able to create a blast that clears some of the escorts.
- Beltharon - Eject our positron fuel? And leave us stranded if it fails?
- Arnas - Right now we have larger concerns. Do you have any better ideas besides wasting our missile stocks?
- Beltharon - ...No. The idea is still idiotic.
- Quendor - Messengers be damned! - Quendor stared at Beltharon - Beltharon, do you want to die stupidly with honour here or do you want to survive?
- Beltharon - Graggh, fine. But if we end up stranded in uncharted space because of the illuminate's hair-brained idea, that's going in my report!
- Arnas - Noted. Engineering prep the antimatter silos for ejection.
On Arnas' orders, the rear sections of the New Dawn's engineering bays were opened, and after some preparation several silver canisters were jettisoned from the belly and sent hurtling towards the wormhole.
With precision shots from the New Dawn's laser beam batteries, the tanks were ruptured, exposing the cargo to the void of space. This proved unfortunate to all those around the wormhole, as with the breach came the detonation of several mentric tonnes of anti-hydrigen was exposed to the container, reacting violently and detonating in an annihilation reaction to create a shockwave that swept the area, casting away several of the escorts and compeltely destroying thoe closest to the blast.
Capitalising on the shock of the attack, the New Dawn shifted its remaining energy stores to its engines and launched itself towards the wormhole and on a direct course for the Traxus. As it neared, power stores were shifted to the rail guns which battered the shaken shields of the old and twisted Draconid battlecruiser. The New Dawn then slowed itself as power was diverted to the ion cannons and the small ship assailed the giant with a sesperate volley of ion cannon fire that weakened the shielding.
As if it were a wounded animal turning to discard its opponent, the Traxus turned in preparation to retreat for the mouth of the wormhole.
Althron snarled. Cold contempt was the only thing that he could feel right now, with his plans unfolding slowly yet steadily. So much has passed, so much as come and gone that his ability to feel was so numbed that he did not so much as flinch as the ship around him shook and its shields broke down. Everyone else? Everyone else panicked. If they did not show it, they felt it, and Altharon felt that they did. But he? At best, he was tired. Tired of the New Dawn, at least - but not of his life. He had a plan.
And Spode sees, he would make it come to fruition.
- Selemicios - Brother Althron, our ship is under attack. S-s-evere damage has been taken - dangerous at best, fatal at worst. We should consider escaping.
- Talea - Brother Althron has led us all to our deahs in this foolish counterattack. I say we focus power to the engines and set course for the wormhole. We can finish the Commonwealth filth some other time.
- Althron - Of course. - Althron smiled before turning to his comrades - Captain, command the rest of the ships to move to the wormhole. Except for Traxus. We will stay here and fall back while continue retaliating.
- Selemicios - This is madness! We're risking our best men aboard this ship!
- Talea - You want to extinguish Khanjar's legacy for the sake of glory?
- Althron - Not for the sake of glory, but for the sake of sensibility. You would do well to understand that, sister Talea. Fear is not allowing you to fully understand the situation, even if you do not admit it yourself. Now, have I made myself clear?
- Engineer - Yes, Brother Althron!
- Althron - Good. All ships, begin the escape maneuvers!
Though Althron had prepared everything, now the Brotherhood's maneuver was tactically in the favour of the New Dawn, which used the battlecrusier's moment to turn tail to assault the engines. As the remains of the escort retreated to the mouth of the wotmhole, the torpedo crews of the New Dawn loaded up the warheads that would halt the ship i nits tracks. With the scream of reaction engines ignited, the missiles soared though space and collided with the mouths of the battlecruiser's powerful engines, screaming as they exploded in a show of light and fire, revealing in their wake torn apart exhausts and a rear end. The Commonwealth vessel would have itself been reduced to scrap were it not for an inopportune malfunction in the larger guns of the Traxus.
But in the emptiness of space, there is nothing to slow you down. While the engines were destroyed, the momentum the Traxus had gained in its flight from its pursuer had sent it on a constant course for the wormhole. Realising what she had done, and that her quarry was already halfway to the mouth, Arnas panicked and ordered for all power available ot be directed to the engines. By then the escorts that hadp rotected and followed the Brotherhood's flagship had left though the wormhole, evading the fire frm the Traxus smaller guns that fired in a desperate ateempt to swat it from the stars.
Despite the best efforts of the New Dawn to outpace the behemoth, the Traxus fell though the wormhole first, emerging in an empty region of what was thankfully normal space, with The New Dawn arriving behind it shortly after.
- Quendor - ...So. Where are we?
Quendor, Arnas and Beltharon looked somewhat puzzled at the screen, trying to figure out just where in space have they been washed up. The engineers of the ship checked their maps and radars frantically, but from the looks on their faces Quendor realised they were not succesful yet.
- Arnas - Hopefully somewhere the Brotherhood is not.
- N'rai - Their ship's not there. - N'rai pointed at the map, notably devoid of Brotherhood vessels - Good riddance.
- Baka'niju - Is that a good thing? Their trail has now grown cold.
- Tarsus - Hopefully they will not pursue us for the time being...hopefully.
- Baka'niju - They can be anywhere. An unseen warrior is the most dangerous one.
- N'rai - The good part is that while they are gone, we can get our ship repaired and hopefully get back to civilisation.
- Arnas - Agreed.
- N'rai - ...Now, where do we go now, captain?
- Arnas - We cannot risk immediately returning to the Commonwealth. It is fortunate that our sensors have a few locations on record that we could visit.
The contemplations of the captain were suddenly interrupted by a solemn, deep male voice of the first officer. Filled with emotion and, in some restrained way, passion of a sudden revelation, that one single world trembled with power, so much that the rest of the crew all turned to him immediately.
- Quendor - ...Rubidia.
- N'rai - Excuse me?
- Quendor - The green creatures that we have encountered on our way here. Do you remember? They knew everything about these artifacts. If there is any place where we can find out about how to stop this- how to end this thing, it is there.
- Arnas - The Royal Academy could spend decades trying to decipher the nature of these tears.
- Tarsus - Permission to speak cap--
- Arnas - Denied. As much as I respect the Royal Academy, the Rubidians must already have an answer if they have held the artifacts for so long.
- Tarsus - Permission to speak now? This time not in protest.
- Arnas - Permitted.
- Tarsus - I suppose it would not hurt to reveal the fate of the artifacts. They spoke of the device as dangerous, and now we know why.
- Quendor - Either way, of all places, that is the only one where we can go now. Now of all times.
- Tarsus - There are not many other places. The moment we come up on civilised sensors an Imperial fleet will descend on us with a declaration from the Chancellor himself.
- Arnas - We'll be arrested if we're lucky. But execution is more likely.
Arnas took a deep inhalation, streaming air from her lips gradually as she relaxed herself.
- Arnas - Set course for Rubidia. Keep a steady course and communications keep an ear on communications from the Commonwealth.
Now free from the eldritch nature of the Glow of Exterioris, the New Dawn could once again use its FTL drives. There were answers for the crew back in Inner Andromeda, but business on Rubidia was the primary concern. Once a bearing was established, the ship turned to point itself towards the distant star the planet orbited and engaged its FTL drives, vanishing into the darkness.
Back to Rubidia
- N'rai - Do you actually have any idea where to go? - N'rai snarked, activating the lasers in her suit to cut through a swath of overgrown trees - We've been wandering in the jungle for a while now.
- Quendor - We're close. I can sense it. - Quendor slashed his sword to make way for the rest of the crew - The creatures' temple had a very unique psychic resonance.
- N'rai - I suppose it's because you're special, is it not? Being the chosen one and all that. Is that what you think you are?
- Quendor - It is much simpler. I am a Radeon, Radeons are psychic, and, as it happens, you are not.
- Tarsus - Not all of us are telepaths, commander - Kelsos added, follwing behind the Radeon, looking somewhat worn as he was not so pleased about trudging though the tick, alien jungle - which means we have to rely on your word on that sort of claim.
- Quendor - Well, my word is given. The temple is ahead. Or something else that gives as strong a psychic presence. Which would be bad.
- Tarsus - What sort of presence could. Hrmph, nevermind.
- Arnas - Commander; your judgements are questionable at times, so if you lead us to another mess I shall make note of it when we return to the New Dawn.
- Quendor - Do we have an alternative?
- Tarsus - Not that we prepared for.
- Arnas - We had more pressing matters than logging the temple's coordinates.
- Baka'niju - There is a clearing in the front. - Baka'niju pointed at the light coming from the jungle, expressing little emotion in his gestures - The temple could be there. - The Artharon holstened a plasma thrower and burned a large aperture through the woods, creating a free path to the clearing.
- Tarsus - Wonderful! - Tarsus was more exited now, seeing signs of progress.
- Arnas - Stay sharp. Keep an eye out for anything suspicious...
Quendor was the first to enter the clearing. Having taken on his Guardian helmet and energy blade, he stepped slowly yet carefully, taking note of every part of the surrounding. Immediately, the Radeon narrowed his eyes in confusion. Something was off. The glade, which was devoid of any vegetation whatsoever, was no natural formation. The ashen-grey ground beneath Quendor cracked like broken glass. When he looked down at his feet, he saw that it was a little bit more solid than normal, having become almost crystalline in some places - glistening under the Rubidian sun with a strange, bluish sheen. Instead of the normal bushes and flowers that would normally adorn a forest clearing, there were instead some strange growths of that alien crystal, wrought in the shape of ordinary plants. Some coiled around the ground, similar to ossified vines, while others rose to the sky, spreading into sapphire-like blooms. Tarsus followed shortly, looking about the clearing with convern but also interest; the rest of the team went on one after the other.
- Quendor - Now that is... interesting.
- Tarsus - This...wasn't on visitation records before.
- Baka'niju - Certainly unexpected. But not entirely unfeasible.
- Quendor - We saw crystals there. But blue ones? Looking like that?
- Tarsus - This does not feel too familiar. The smaller growths look like plants. The spread looks more similar to plasma glassing, where the rock has been suddenly crystallised.
- Beltharon - A foreign influence on this world. Some sort of alien must have entered this world.
- N'rai - Or, you know, there could be crystals of different colours on the planet.
- Quendor - ...As much as I would not like to admit it, Beltharon is right. At least, I think so.
- Tarsus - Quendor may I ask...is this the psychic nexus you felt?
- Quendor - No. But I can sense a certain psychic presence around. Not as strong, but it's here. It is not the same as the temple, though. It's... not as harmonic, but very irritating. Like a screech.
- Tiny - Tiny no understand.
- Arnas - That doesn't sound promising...
- Baka'niju - A screech, you say?
- Quendor - Yes. My father told me of this feeling. During the Great War, when he fought in Segmentum Umbra, he encountered these... crystalline aliens. Bound together by a hive mind.
- Tarsus - I recall hearing rumours of such entities. They swept across the territories of the New Tertamian Alliance, did they not?
- Quendor - Yes, but they were succesfully driven back. Rubidia is far away from their original hives, though. If it is really them...
- Tiny - Is bad?
- Beltharon - For them. - Beltharon closed his eyes, thinking, - Tarsus, can you scan the surface?
- Tarsus - The immediate surface or the planetary surface?
- Beltharon - The former.
Tarsus nodded and checked his belt, discovering and removing an emitter device. He planeted it withi nthe ground near the centre of the clearing and with a push of the button at the top the area was engulfed in a tracking laser mesh that mapped out the area, providing telemetry to Tarsus' eyepieces. Several large glowing dots appeared beneath the ground, indicating bioelectrical currents and large deposits of metal and silicon.
- Tarsus - We may want ot move onwards. Promptly.
- Arnas - The New Dawn is not equipped to push back an entire Crystalline infestation.
- N'rai - We are not supposed to stay on this planet for long anyway. Just get to the planet, find these damn green aliens and get done with it-
Before N'rai could finish her sentence, the ground beneath her began cracking and splintering. The thick, glass-like silicon crystal sprung to life, its temperature increasing as it began shaking with a slow but steady rhythm. Delicate crystal plants oscillated and then instantly broke into pieces, swiftly absorbed into the melting ground.
- Beltharon - ...What have you done?!
- Tarsus - This...time I...do not believe this was my fault. All I did was activate the scanner you requested!
Suddenly, a strange, low, almost robotic screech escaped the ground as the melting crystal burst like a bubble. A pair of long, spindly, but gigantic legs escaped the hot slush, grabbing at the molten land as the strange white whiskers on their surface probed the air. N'rai and Tarsus took a few steps back, while Quendor, Baka'niju and Beltharon took their weapons. Arnas took a couple of steps back as well, drawing a pistol from her side whiel scowling.
- Arnas - Beltharon...What are our tactical options?
- Beltharon - ...Kill it?
- Arnas - Does it know we're here?
Meanwhile, the growling, sallivating сreature emerged fully from the ground. It was no less than five meters in height and about as long, with four spindly legs and a long, scorpion-like tail; golden crystals sprouted from its thin body and a similar gold glow escaped the cracks in its limbs' carapace. No eyes were visible on its segmented cephalothorax, but the monster neverthless seemed to be aware of its surroundings, if only faintly. The alien was waving its head in confusion, its movements uncertain, confused, as if it was afraid - or lonely. What was the strangest thing about it, however, was the metallic sheen of the monster's carapace. Though definitely a natural creature, the structure of its body strongly hinted at the fact that it was not a thing of flesh and blood.
- Quendor - Them. Crystallines.
- N'rai - You know what to do?
- Tiny - Smash?
- Quendor - It's blind. Could be distracted.
- Arnas - A creature like this I suppose killing it could bring the rest of the hive.
- Quendor - Any other opinions? Stun it?
- Tarsus - If it can be stunned. We could perhaps try breaking its antennae.
- Beltharon - I suppose so. Unless you end up endangering us all, which is a likely possibility.
Having overheard the discussion, the Crystalline growled and attacked, leaping at the crew while attempting to crush them all underneath its girth. Quendor reacted quickly, fell on the ground and rolled away, his armour becoming covered in molten crystal in the process.
- Quendor - ...Damn. There goes the hair.
The rest of the group managed to dive away in time, Arnas fell to the floor and embedded her leg withi nthe molten crystal, pulling it out as quickly as she could. Tarsus drew his combat pistol, something he kept mainly for self-defense, and aimed ot shoot off one of the whiskers, firing a bolt of plasma in the creature's direction. Strangely enough, the bolt worked. The creature howled in pain and stepped forward, its senses impaired; it looked even more confused, but at the same time, its movements became even more jerky and more active, showing that the beast was enraged. It seemed now that it was ready to counterattack at any moment now.
- Baka'niju - YOU. - Baka'niju suddenly screamed with all of his normally reserved voice, so much that the whiskers at the Crystalline's body began oscillating and humming themselves - YOUR MOTHER DOES NOT OBEY HER HUSBAND. The beast, though it obviously did not understand Baka'niju's insults, turned to the noise's direction.
- Tarsus - Commander!?
- Tiny - Armour man?
- Quendor - Quiet! - Quendor whispered harshly into Tarsus's ear while covering his snout - Artharon armour has voice amplifiers. He's going to distract it for a while.
- Baka'niju - YOUR MOTHER WEARS PANTS. YOUR MOTHER WORKS OUTSIDE OF HOME. YOUR MOTHER-
Tarsus silently complied, signalling with a nod and a pair of flared nostrils. The Crystalline creature screeched in a mixture of pain and anger. Its stinger tail, which ended with a large pipe-like end, began spewing bolt after bolt of superheated, molten orange metallic liquid which made a disgusting noise as it flew. Baka'niju barely managed to evade the attacks, but succesfully continued to distract the creature, shouting more insults along the way.
- N'rai - What do we do now?
- Quendor - Obviously, we shoot him. Professor, what can you tell us about the creature's potential weak points?
- Tarsus - Its limbs appear fragile.
- Arnas - "Appear?" - Arnas looked at the profrssor with confusion.
- Tarsus - My specialist fields are engineering and cybernetics, not biology.
- Arnas - Hell, look at it as an engineer!
- Tarsus - ...the legs. Shoot the legs.
- Beltharon - Fire! - working in concordance (strange enough as it may be), Quendor, Beltharon and the rest of the marines began firing at the creature's limbs and tail, a wave of plasma and rail rounds unleashed upon the beast. The Crystalline, too focused on the source of the noise to notice the attack, did not so much as flinch to evade the attack, and continued firing at Baka in a vain attempt to kill him. The air was clouded for a split second in plasma residue, concealing the Crystalline; one could only hear the wild shriek of the beast coming from the smoke and dust.
- Quendor - Is it... dead?
- N'rai - Didn't we just decide that killing it would be a bad idea?
- Quendor - Well, is it... stunned?
- Tarsus - It might be wise to move while we cannot be certain if it is dead or not.
As the cloud dispersed, the Crystalline that survived was still alive - battered, wounded, barely standing on its legs, its armour cracked in some places, but neverthless standing. Whatever emotions this alien creature might have had other than anger were gone - there was nothing else but pure unbridled rage. The beast was spewing burning acid in all directions, running from place to place and stomping wildly. The air around his body flickered strangely, as if there was some electric barrier protecting the beast.
- Quendor - ...A natural force field? Are you serious? It is a Spode-damn insect! Why would an insect have a force field?!
- Tarsus - It...it might not be entirely natural.
- Beltharon - Neverthless, we will persevere. Focus fire and attack the legs-
- Tiny - Legs? - the giant Cheurith looked at the creature - Tiny knows where legs! Tiny helps!
Without any warning, the freed slave leaped at the giant Crystalline and literally smothered its legs with his four giant arms, throwing the beast off balance and wrestling it on the ground. The wild alien could only scream as it faced an enemy it could not defeat, its struggle slowly ceasing as Tiny's enhanced muscles further cracked its body in several places, its silicon-filled metallic blood leaking out of the broken joints and carapace plates. No longer able to bear the weight of the two giants together, the crystallised earth shuddered, the molten mass of crystal silicon slowly absorbing the conjoined duo as they fell deeper under the ground.
- N'rai - This is our chance! We must run!
- Quendor - Are you insane?! We can't just let Tiny die like that!
- Beltharon - Though I hate to admit it, I must concur. This ship's men do not abandon our own.
Arnas stood watching as Tiny wrestled with the crystal monster.
- Quendor - Captain Volkamen... Your orders?
- Arnas - Tiny can take care of himself. If not, he has earned a place in Paradise.
- Quendor - Very well. Run!
Running with all their remaining strength from the bloodbath, the New Dawn's crew ran from the bloodbath to their destination, leaving their dying comrade behind...
Not that he did not survive, of course.
- The High Priest - Ah. I have been expecting you. The stars have aligned and the dreams of burning skies have pierced the veil of uncreated.
The Strakh temple, which the team had reached after an hour or so of walking and wondering, seemed no worse to wear than it was a few years ago. The strange variety of structures that surrounded it remained there still, unchanged, while the silver and marble walls and pillars of the grand temple continued to stand as they were, in all their strange glory. The overgrown jungle, the Brotherhood attacks, or even the ongoing cataclysm did little to change the daily life of the strange creatures there, who always seemed calm even though they were aware of far more than would be expected from primitive beings like them. The oldest of their race stood observing the sky from a large postament as the crew rushed into the Grand Temple. He was the only thing that had changed over all these years - having become even more overgrown and even more like an old tree, his stature proud and respectable, but also visibly embodying his inner fear and concern. It was obvious from the first look at his alien form.
- The High Priest - The galaxy is burning once again. Just like it did before.
Arnas made a cautious approach.
- Arnas - You...have seen this kind of cataclysm before, your excellency?
- The High Priest - Indeed I have. Those that I sprouted from, those that they sprouted from, I can see all they saw. And they saw terrible things.
- Quendor - Then tell us, o... great tree. What did you see?
- The High Priest - Do you not know yourself? What you were told by us years ago? What did your books tell you? Did you not see this very temple? The cycle - it runs again, and again, and again.
- Quendor - The Artifacts.
- The High Priest - The First Ones tapped into the Artifacts. They sought to become gods, but war and madness was what they brought upon the universe. They sought power, and became power, and were doomed by it. The Second Ones forged out of them machines, weapons of death. In doing so they created death, and became death, and called death to their homes. Death followed them.
- Tarsus - This time the artifact was destroyed. Consumed in the heart of the inferno that it created.
- The High Priest - Indeed. You sought destruction. You created destruction. You became destruction. - the old Strakh's voice became almost angry - almost - Destruction will follow you then!
- Arnas - Is there a solution? We destroyed the artifacts because we thought it would break the cycle, not curse us.
- The High Priest - Never. Not ever. The cycle continues.
- Beltharon - Useless fatalist plant. I knew that traversing there was a grievous mistake.
- Quendor - Tell us, o high priest. You say that the Artifacts create this cycle. Tell us, what is their true purpose? Who created them first? You, of all people, must know.
The ancient Strakh lowered his head and touched his brow. The green vines and brownish bark that comprised his body began moving, as if he was falling apart, yellow light beamed from within his heart. The very sky around Rubidia darkened, the reddish glow of the planet changing from scarlet to malevolent crimson. The statues that surrounded the Strakh began cracking, their eyes too glowing with sinister yellow light. The ancient creature snarled.
- The High Priest - Do you wish to know?
Arnas became defensive, positioning herself for combat. She postured herself protectively and snarled.
- Arnas - ...What in the Void's name are you?
- The High Priest - We were the watchers. Whatever came before us, it placed us there. We grow. We die. We endure. We are timeless. We watch the cycles.
- Quendor - Before you?
- The High Priest - We do not know. Who or what created us, it created the artifacts. Gave us knowledge, made us keep the histories of all that passes. See them pass their apex, seize the power - and die.
- Tarsus - You knew of us because that was your task.
- Arnas - Quadrillions will die because we believed we were saving them from a far worse cataclysm. We desire answers. Now.
- The High Priest - You were given power. Your nature was to abuse it. You abused it. You face the consequences.
- Arnas - Our nature? Your precious artifacts were abused by rebels and vandals! Does that justify the suffering of law-abiding society?
- The High Priest - Has not your Chancellor created them inadvertedly? Have not your people chosen him? Let another society rise. Perhaps they will pass the test.
- Arnas - What kind of test dooms billions for the actions of a single man?
- Quendor - ...Maybe you are right.
- N'rai - WHAT?!
- Quendor - We might not live this cycle, but the knowledge of our people, our wisdom, it will help the next generation. Is that, is that what the cycles are for? To forge a better galaxy?
- Arnas - Damn the cycles! Right now I question who we are better off seeing as the right side: The chancellor or this...monstrosity!
- The High Priest - ...Older cycle. - the Strakh appeared confused - Yes. In the old times, there was another like you. He was... here.
- Tarsus - Who?
- The High Priest - A scientist. The one who forged the sword that doomed the Second Ones. He sought peace like you, but he failed.
- Quendor - Mennefer.
- The High Priest - There was another one. Proud he was, yet small. Yet a scholar unlike any other. Splintered his soul in many, many pieces.
- Arnas - You know of this figure, Quendor?
- Quendor - Not sure. A Rades scientist?
- The High Priest - You will fail on your task. But perhaps if you find what the ancients did, and study their works, you may postpone your doom for a little bit longer. Aid your descendants.
- Tarsus - Your cynicism is most refreshing ,ancient.
- The High Priest - Enough. Now, go.
As soon as the High Priest uttered the word, the entirety of the New Dawn's crew - sans Tiny - were transported back to their ship to ponder...
The Big Game
By Draconis standards, the Chancellory was a cold, austere place. Millenia-old tapestries, plasma-fed chandeliers and baroque sculptures were, for the most part, nowhere to be seen inside this small office-come-palace, despite its great age - as ancient, perhaps, as the institution of Chancellor itself. The internal walls were constructed of shining black metal and white and grey plastic, with the occasional smattering of polished wood and stone, giving the place an ascetic, almost sterile atmosphere. One could in fact mistake the office's insides for a Grimbolsaurian or even Salsetthe design, had it not been for the certain Draconis elegance that managed to get into all their crafts, and was still present in the Chancellory. One could still see, if one looked hard enough, the subtle ornamentations, the simple, but gracious cartouches and decorative columns spread across the halls, the silver mirrors and false windows giving the place a dash of class. Not to mention the ever-present smell of fine cologne, of course.
At the heart of the Chancellory, in a small but quite comfortable office, sat the man at the heart of it all, whose power and whose soul the building represented. His coldness permeated his post and the entire building. It had been his decision, after all, that the Chancellory be renovated so that it would be, as he had said himself, "bereft of all excess". Previous chancellors, be they of commoner or noble birth, used to flaunt their newfoumd wealth and power, making the noble place of office into a lavish, decadent palace. Vesperon Corus-Maltris would have none of it. He would not be accused of being new money, would not acquire infamy through abuse of power. If his governance would be remembered, then it would be remembered solely for his service to the country.
Where the Chancellor preferred an aura bereft of ornamentation and grendeur, his consort - the Solan patrician Thanria Corus Maltris - embraced the glamour of her position. A glittering gown of warm colours, a garment of simple yet mastercrafted design that provided a subtle kaliedescope, almost alien to aescetic the black and white the chancellor surrounded himself in. Alien as her tastes were to her pertner, her presence neverteless warmed his heart.
- Vesperon - Ah yes, Thanria, come in. Your presence is very helpful right now. - Vesperon sighed, clenching his chin as a holographic map of some kind appeared before him - blue and red figures of warriors and nobles dotted across it - In such a dangerous time, your grace is the only thing that still warms my soul.
- Thanria - You cannot appear stoic and distant to your supporters all the time, dear Vesperon. She was teasing, an attitude Vesperon knew all too well as she ingraitiated herself to close by his side I enjoy seeing you warm.
Thanria took a glance at the projection on Vesperon's desk and gave out a sigh.
- Thanria - But, I come with a little news. The Light is considering reaching out to the embattled Tertanai and their allies.
- Vesperon - The New Tertamian Alliance? Now, that is certainly curious... Vesperon said, thinking and moving the blue figures around the map all the while, Continue, my dear.
- Thanria - There is talk that perhaps this effort could bring them into the Commonwealth fully. Perhaps with a touch of incentivisation to sweeten the proposal.
- Vesperon - Now that is a good idea, but, unfortunately, it would take much force to pressure them into further integration," Vesperon smirked, moving a particularily large piece forward, "Threat of foreign force would make them fear, make them want our protection, but our forces are also spread quite thin. Gather our forces to protect the Tertamians, and we will leave another front ripe for the taking, or another sector in Andromeda dirt-poor and hostile to Elysion. Statecraft is a most difficult game after all.
- Thanria - And yet you play it masterfully. Perhaps...force is not required... Thanria teased her fingers around a cluster of large blue figures. She wasn't sure who they were but she recognised by her size that they were important. Perhaps another word in his majesty's ear is the wiser attack. Convince him a greater unity is adantgeous ot Andromedan stability, and the Clericarch might follow.
- Vesperon - Words are indeed great weapons, my dear. They bear great power, like the frills on your dress, or, say... the golden spires on the Imperial Palace, Vesperon pointed at the window, where the great edifice of the Paragon's seat of power glistened from afar - They're golden. They're beautiful. They shine brightly and convey the greatness of the Imperium far and wide. One can see them from here. But have you ever thought what keeps these spires aloft? What holds the palace in the volcanic rock? There's a foundation there. It descends deep into the ground, it is very unglamorous - stone and cement. But that unglamorous foundation is what keeps the palace standing. If we ever forfeit it, it will fall.
- Thanria - If a foundation is needed, what of that contingency I have been hearing stories of. The proposal being passed around in hushed whispers of 'Lux'? Could that alter the situation to our advantage?
- Vesperon - The... Lux Contingency. I am surprised the news spread that wide. Truly the Highlords are irresponsible at times.
- Thanria - I wouldn't worry. Most of those hushed whispers circulate within the dark places of the Virtual Network. Could it serve as the foundation you desire?
- Vesperon - A foundation has to be strong. - Vesperon sighed. It was obvious that there was certain in his voice - The Contingency was a plan to unite the galaxy under one Imperium. To expand Pax Draconica and merge it with Pax Divinariana and Pax Zazania and all other empires of Andromeda. An alliance under one command, with the strength of one galaxy and the will of one man. - Vesperon observed the largest blue figures on front, shaking as other, smaller red figures around them shook, seemingly uncontrollably. One by one, the larger figures destabilished and then exploded in holographic mist. Vesperon opened his eyes, somewhat surprised and a little bit annoyed, but, at the same time, amused, and then raised his head to his wife, But what sort of force would be powerful enough to bring a galaxy together like that?
- Thanria - Perhaps the galaxy does not need one man to bring it together. Let the Highlords lead the revolution while your wisdom ensures their dreams can be realised. Thanria had moved behind Vesperon, wrapping her arms under his and around his side while using his shoulder to rest her head, tilting it to give him a welcoming look of trust as she embraced him. All these years we've been together I've seen you at your best as the Paragon's guide, dear Vesperon.
- Vesperon - Thank you, Thanria, Vesperon moved away from the figures, feeling somewhat relieved, Your help keeps me going, that is for sure. But even if this plan... succeeds. It would take a will of iron and strength of iron to keep it together. Will I muster them?.. - Vesperon sighed, removing the board, You see these figures? That's Raksha-pracinam, one of the oldest games of wit in the Imperium. You nobles often disregard it, because it involves chance. It is seen as lowly, but I say it's closer to life. Chance is strong. Chance can fell even the strongest of giants. - Vesperon closed his eyes in the comfort of his wife - There was a... project I worked on the last few years, in Segmentum Exterioris. Precursor tech. Had I succeeded, the galaxy would have been secure for many millenia, and the Commonwealth prosperous and powerful. The project was almost complete, but... chance intervened. Now, all the data gathered over the years - gone forever.
- Thanria - But chance can be predicted, can it not? Threats and risks can be evaluated.
- Vesperon - You're right. You're always right, my dear, - Vesperon closed his eyes, somewhat reinvigorated, This time, there won't be any ifs. I will ensure that every threat to Andromeda is dealt regardless of how fate plays with me. The new crisis offers me a window of opportunity and I will not let it slip from my hands.
Thanria nodded as she clutched Vesperon tightly, the corners of her mouth rising as she embraced her husband and partner.
- Thanria - None should stand in your way...but...do you recall how you told me of the New Dawn?
- Vesperon - Yes..? What of them..? Vesperon's eyes opened wide, If my memory does not fail me, they all went MIA a year ago. Presumed dead.
- Thanria - One of my cousins, who works for the Royal Intelligence Agency...he was rather ecstatic when he told me he a signal buoy from the Exterioris excursion zone picked up their signature
- Vesperon - ...What?! - Vesperon's usually calm voice broke into a scream - I mean... that is... fortunate. I presume.
- Thanria - It was brief, so it may have been an automated signal. It was heading towards the northern fringe, apparently. Is something the matter?
- Vesperon - ...Yes. I have suspicions that the ship's crew is... acting against the Commonwealth, and has conspired with known terrorists. - Vesperon's eyes turned into narrow slits - Please, leave me, my dear. I have much to think about.
Thanria's smile faded away, a little worried as she felt Vesperon's body tense up and his expression changed. She nuzzled the side of his snout before shifting her arms, passionately caressing the sides of Vesperon's abdomen as she accepted hsi requet. She gave her perner a concerned but optimistic smile before walking out of the door, leaving Vesperon to reflect on both the positive and negative news he had been provided.
- Vesperon - The New Dawn. Well, let's hope they prove cooperative. As for now, - Vesperon looked at his board, seeing most of his pieces destroyed by the enemy figures. Dirty play on an unprecedented scale. I swear, never again shall I play against a Millenial.
The weathered, battered figure of the New Dawn starship shone dilmly as the vessel trekked through the stars, a pale shadow of what it once was. Whereas once the white and gold surface of the spaceship glimmered in starlight, now light was caught in the dents and scratches, trapped in faded paint and dispersed by the now grey metal. In a sense, it was a mirror of the ship's internal state as well. Desperation tore at the New Dawn's crew the same way that rust and decay tore at its plates.
Yet, still, as always, there was hope. The ship had come through much. It had already passed through most of Exterioris, narrowly evading the waves of annihilation, and it would take only a few days for the New Dawn to once again enter civilisation. Today, as every day after the Shattering, the crew gathered in the communications room, trying to contact the worlds that surrounded the ship.
Arnas presided over the meetings in the communication room. As a weary captain she sometimes looked forward to these days, hoping deeply that some positive news would come through. The mood of her crew however was far less optimistic, and unfortunately one of her tasks as captain was to ensure her officers didn' ttear each other apart form stress.
- Baka'niju - Any signals?
- N'rai - There have to be some. We're nearing Umbra. Some Tertamian world ought to respond. ...Right? ...Right?
- Tarsus - Are you expecting any particular news, ambassador?
- N'rai - Well... to be honest... N'rai's mechanical voice rapidly changed from one inflection to another - How should I put it?..
Arnas gave out a sigh, knowing what N'rai was asking and had the comm crews examine the various channels as the New Dawn broadcasted numerous calls for contact, to her dismay, despite their distance from the New Tertamian Alliance's territories, broadcast systems largely came up blank. No word coming from any known systems they theoretically could reach.
- Arnas - ...Nothing. Not even any automated signals.
- Quendor - ...As expected.
- Baka'niju - I do not quite understand. The scanned systems are inhabitable.
- Quendor - It's not that simple, Baka. Not what I am talking about, - Quendor spoke with a sad, yet somewhat humoured tone - There was that artist. Can't quite remember the name, but I can remember his famous saying. He postulated a law: whatever can go wrong, will inevitably go wrong. We're in a middle of an apocalypse. Our long-distance communicators have already broken down, the drives are barely working, more than a few crewmembers are down, and the ship is about to run out of energy. If there is a time and place where that law could ever be applied, it's now and here.
- Baka'niju - I thought your race believed in the god of reason.
- Quendor - Well, looks like we've been wrong all along. - Quendor sighed, the usual vigour in his voice gone - Turns out Spode's a bit cooky and has a very nasty sense of humour.
- N'rai - Captain... Have you checked all planets?
- Arnas - Every contactable planet with a fully-developed planetary society.
- N'rai - ...Right. - N'rai narrowed her six eyes, walking closely to the panel, looking at the map. It was hard to read her artificial body, but she appeared quite emotional, And what of the stations and mining colonies?
- Arnas - They might only be able to resupply us. Any hardware that needs replacing would surely require a fully-functioning shipyard.
- N'rai - ...Hm. There is a big station close to Lamana II, large enough to accomodate our ship. Liberty Docks. There are enough supplies there to feed an ecumenopolis and it gets energy from a nearby star, so we'll have all the power we need. Can we try to contact it?
Arnas nodded and the comm crews adjusted the boradcaster to contact the Liberty Docks station. She wasn't sure if it was a worthwhile decision, but awaited the response anyway.
- N'rai - Now we wait.
- Tarsus - This is a waste of time. If there is little word from established colonies, how can we be certain we can hear from the automated colonies?
- N'rai - ...It isn't automated. There's a population there - not a big one, of course, but they can stand their own.
- Quendor - But even if we get there. What do we do then? We're... you know... enemies with one of the most powerful men in the entire galaxy. That ought to create some tiny problems for us.
- Arnas - Not entirely...I used to live on the outskirts of a large city. Hopefully the local inhabitants, light my family back home, aren't too politically-invested to consider the ire the Chancellor has over us to be a concern.
- Tarsus - And what if one of them decides to sell us out?
- Arnas - We survive, as we have done so far.
- Quendor - We survive, yes. As long as everything else around us survives too. And, judging by what we have done by the Chancellor's decree... I am not sure about that. - Quendor took a look at his sword, taking it out of his sheath and caressing its blade. A melee weapon like that wasn't typically Radeon fare; a Dei'Ar warrior was taught to fight on a safe distance, where emotions did not rage and where cold discipline won the battles. However, Quendor, when he graduated the Alkhuse Academy, was offered the blade, rather than the usual officer pistol. A subtle, but obvious remark on his character and skills, and what kind of marines would he command in the field. He did not quite understand why he was given the "maverick sword", but the weapon, and the role that had come with it, grew to him. The heat of battle and the flames of emotions, that the Dei'Ar had always denied, became his nature. Whenever he looked at the sword, when he saw the reflection in it, he realised that. But... not anymore. Somehow, it now felt alien. It wasn't his. Now, how go the responses?
- N'rai - There.... there is something! There is something! - N'rai rushed to the screen, almost screaming as she ran, This is ARV New Dawn, officer N'rai of the High Lightways.
(could either Arnas or Tarsus react?)
The screen began to shimmer, a holographic image appearing from the platform. Slowly, one by one, parts of the transmission came on the screen. First came the sound. However, it wasn't a voice. It was not even something made by a sentient being. There were loud clangs and sounds of faint explosions, shots of laster fire - and a screech. Some terrifying, otherworldly screech.
- ??? - Help! Help! - the first comprehensible speech came as soon as the visual part of the transmission materialised. A withered, dirty figure of a Tertanai clad in torn officer gear appeared on the screen; his voice was heaving and high-pitched, almost as if he was at the brink of a mental breakdown. The Crystallines! They're back! Bigger than before! The station is overrun! We cannot hold for much longer! Help-
The transmission was cut off.
- Quendor - Point proven.
- Arnas - Haven't I seen the word "Crystalline" somewhere in an intelligence report a few years back?
- Quendor - It's the blue things we saw on Rubidia a few days ago.
- N'rai - ...Captain. We are going to evacuate the station, right?
- Arnas - They spread fast, they must have crew already at risk of being transformed.
- N'rai - ...But we can get the station's resources as well! This will be an excellent chance to resupply!
- Baka'niju - We cannot risk losing our already scarce energy.
- Tarsus - I am with the commander. The New Dawn is competely unfit to engage. Any effort will simply lead to the vessel's destruction.
- N'rai - A speed run could do it!..
- Baka'niju - You are not the one to make decisions like this. Captain? First officer?
- Arnas - The danger is too significant. A rapid response will only jeapordise the already strained crew!
- N'rai - ...Quendor? You're with me, right? You've always faced danger head on, have you not?
- Quendor - ...To be honest...
Quendor looked at his sword once again and breathed in. Some part of him burned. The blade still called to him. Fight! Attack! Spill blood! And yet, the call was different right now. It was faint. Quiet. Some other instinct now gnawed at him. Did he grow up now? Was he wounded? Or healed? He did not yet understand if his new self was an ally or an enemy, but... he trusted it.
- Quendor - There's no point. We'll be better off moving to the hyperlanes as fast as we can.
N'rai stood speechless. Her body was shaking - perhaps out of fear, perhaps out of surprise, perhaps out of... something else. The Imperix uttered a few words in her own native tongue, at a volume so low that noone could hear her. Only Baka'niju and Quendor, with their acute sense of hearing, could hear what she was saying, but even they could not understand what she said.
N'raaaha. R'asssaaa. S'aaarsiiia, I'rrraaaai.
Arnas growled, the stress of the situation was difficult for her to continue ot bear. As captain she made many difficult decisions, but this was one of her most difficult. She heard nothing of N'rai's response, but nonetheless she nodded over Quendor's decisions.
- Arnas - We may find safer harbour deeper inside the Alliance, or we make for one of the free worlds; Praestol perhaps.
- Baka'niju - I am surprised. When the Great War raged, stories of your ferocity were legend, officer Telnhao. We called you Quendor the Wild. Now, you are Quendor the... Pessimist.
- Quendor - ...I suppose I am.