“We should be breaking through any moment, now.”
The Farsight’s crew was gathered in the command bridge, peering into the thick mists. The Glittershoal was denser than any natural nebula, formed of ever shifting clouds of strange material – and, thus far, had shielded their movements from the League patrol prowling the border edges like a deep-sea predator.
All members of the Reforged Guard were present, along with the two members of the ship’s engineering contingent – despite Chief Olson’s insistence the damage they’d taken at Tanis still wasn’t completely fixed, and likely wouldn’t be for days. This was simply too important, too… captivating.
None in living memory had reached the Heart. Only scrap made it back.
The ship began to groan.
“… We’re hitting gravitic turbulence.” The ship’s pilot, Rembrandt Kase, frowned. “Space itself is… strange, here, in a way the sensors can’t really make heads or tails of. I’m trying to compensate.”
“Simply do what is required.” Prince Celan said simply, golden gaze drifting outwards. “I have faith in your ability to deliver us without harm.”
The pilot nodded.
The shaking grew worse, one of the tiles along the bridge ceiling popping loose with a slam.
Beyond the viewports, the Glittershoal seemed to solidify, as if actively resisting the vessel. Pressure warnings began to blare as Rembrandt fought with the controls.
One of the guards put a hand on Kye’s shoulder, and in the chaos of reaching the Heart they weren’t sure who it was.
Their eyes flicked from the view, to the pilot, to the guard – and his hand, reaching for his scabbard–
In an instant Kye was moving, throwing themself backwards against the guard with enough force to cause him to drop the blade in surprise. The other members of the Guard shouted in alarm as the offender attempted to grab for the rabbit, but Kye was ready this time, their own sword at the ready.
“You damned traitor!” Kye shouted, fury in their eyes and voice. “At least show the decency of making your face known!”
The “guard” laughed, and reached up – removing their House helmet and tossing it aside. The person beneath was fair, almost Sylvan, with long braided gray hair and crystal blue eyes. Their fingertips crackled as magic oozed into the bridge, and with a fury unbridled they lashed at the closest guard, hitting him with three punches that sent him denting into the bulkhead.
Two more guards fell before Kye charged in, sword ready – and slashed downwards, intending to end the fight right then and there. Their own magic augmented their swing, the air singing as the blade parted it like nothing, but it was simply not fast enough. The man ducked out of the way, tugging a pair of hythel daggers free from their belt.
“My, what a dance!” The man laughed, giving a mocking bow. “It’s been some time since my last true duel, Prince Celan – please do not disappoint.”
“How long have you laid in wait in my Guard?” The Prince snarled, fury pouring down the blade in electric light, casting their face in relief.
“Long enough,” He smirked, pirouetting to his left and bringing one of the daggers down in a deadly arc. Kye slashed their sword to the side, catching their wrist on the flat and twisting it out of the way. One of the other guards attempted to grab their other arm from behind, receiving a hole in their helmet for the trouble. “My! How unsporting, duels are invite only.”
The guard fell without a sound.
Fortunately for Kye, the killing blow had deprived the assassin of one of their blades, and in a brief moment of clarity they sliced inwards. The Carrigan-forged blade cut through the Guard chestpiece the man wore, slicing a bloody gash across his midsection that elicited a sharp cry of pain and surprise even as the undergarments began to wet.
By now the other guards on the bridge – including Ulyn Variss, the Bulwark, had begun to close, and any good assassin knew when to call it off. Eyes darting wildly, he spotted a conduit on the ceiling – and with a marksman’s aim the sparks coiling around his free wrist jumped away, overloading it. It exploded in a shower of sparks and smoke, and the assassin leapt from the bridge down the command deck access hallway. He stumbled slightly as the shaking grew worse.
“Seize him!” Kye cried, charging after – and followed closely behind by the Guard.
There was only place he’d be headed aboard the Farsight, and he could not be allowed to reach it.
“Take the lift! Cut him off in the rear hangar!” Ulyn was shouting, ordering a pair of guards into the level below – and squeezing off a shot from his sidearm, missing the fleeing assassin by scant millimeters and singing the doorframe.
The pursuit through the ship was short-lived, however, as another guard fell to his blades – and Kye managed to close the gap as the hangar doors flew open, catching the dagger on their crossguard. With a vicious kick Kye was knocked backwards into Ulyn’s armored bulk, prismatic lance readied and charged.
“The Director sends his regards,” The man sing-songed, clearly intending to make a run for the ship – but made it three steps.
As his foot hit the ramp boarding the shuttle, the hurled lance pierced his lower back, exploding from his stomach in a shower of gore-spattered light. The weapon had been thrown with such force it continued onwards after spearing the assassin, embedding in the hull of the shuttle to the hilt.
He took one more step, and collapsed to the deck.
“A waste of a good throw,” Ulyn muttered, calling the lance back to his palm.
Kye stared as the blood ran down the ramp, pooling on the hangar floor.
Blood, pooling on the floor of the throne room. White fur stained pink.
They closed their eyes, and turned away.
The lift opposite opened, the pair of guards rushing into the room as the rest followed from behind the Prince and the Bulwark.
“Ulyn, please… deal with the bodies. I cannot.”
The synth removed his helmet, and slightly bowed. “My Liege.”
His sympathetic gaze lingered a moment too long, before he was gone.
The ship’s shuddering abruptly stopped.
Blue-white light poured in from somewhere beyond, utterly unlike any starlight Kye had glimpsed before – omnipresent and harsh, yet soft. It reminded them of ice.
“Captain, you’re… gonna want to see this for yourself.” Their comm buzzed, the pilot’s voice a mix of wonder and apprehension. “We’ve pierced the Heart.”
It was… beautiful.
In the core of the Glittershoal, sculpted from swirling, thick clouds of miasma, was a… thing.
Metallic lattices of cyclopean scale and unknown make stretched the width and breadth of the unimaginably vast space the Farsight had entered – culminating in a lonely, centrally placed star. It had once been a standard K-class star of similar type to any other, but this star was surrounded by a system of six rings. Each ring was easily the size of Carrigan’s orbit, their inner faces once sporting habitable land and atmospheres, supported by a coronal shunt mounted around the star’s poles.
This star no longer shone, however.
Where once roiling seas of flaming gas had roared, was harsh crystal – a star of ice, and death. The coronal jets had frozen mid-transmission, shattering the collection apparatus on both poles and sending the rings spiraling into asymmetric orbits. Their surfaces, no longer graced by the warmth of their parent sun, were frigid and dead.
“What… happened here?” Rembrandt managed, the Farsight drifting over the furthest ring.
“A crystal sun…” Kye finally managed, the words of the Ovelle rising in their mind.
It was real? What did this? Who?
“Rembrandt, have you checked the Heart for wakes?”
“No, Captain. Should I?”
“Yes. I believe our friend may be involved, here.”
The pilot set to work, leaving Kye with a palm on the window, staring at the dead world below.
“Woah. We’ve got a wake, alright. Must be the size of a moon…”
“Are you certain it’s not a mass transition?”
“Yeah. Sig’s too uniform, when ships jump together it’s more like… a collection of holes. This is one big one.”
Kye, brow furrowed, turned their gaze from the view. “What do you think did it?”
The pilot, tugging a little lighter from their pocket and shakily lighting the cigarette clenched in their teeth, shrugged.
“Plenty of weird shit out there these days, Lord Celan. My bet’s on someone testing something. Can’t imagine a better place than the Glittershoal – who’d see? Aside from, you know, those down there on the rings…”
He took a drag, exhaling a long sigh. “Poor bastards. Nobody even knew they were here.”
Kye was already deep in thought, and after bidding the pilot farewell for the time being, headed back down towards the hangar. Already the guards lost in the fight had been given their rites and committed to the void, but… Kye wanted answers.
“Ah, I was about to call for you,” The synth grunted, staring down at the corpse. “He’s one of the two we picked up on Tanis. Knew I recognized his face, but he’d looked… different, before. When he died this cut out.”
Ulyn opened his palm, a small holite emitter perched upon it.
“He’d been disguised for weeks. Just to get a shot at you.”
Fury rising, Kye gave the body a kick – and turned away, unable to look it in the eyes. “He was sent by the Director himself. Said as much. I highly doubt he hadn’t reported back to the man in the time we’ve been within the League.”
“We’ll simply have to accelerate our plans,” Kye stated darkly, signaling for a pair of guards to carry the body of the assassin away for disposal. “Carrigan is in striking distance.”
“You intend to simply charge in and try to kill him?”
“What choice do I have, Ulyn? My throne and the hall of my forefathers in the clutches of a kingslayer? My people, suffering beneath a petty king?”
“And what if he kills you?”
Kye said nothing.
“What if he does, Kye? You’d waste every ounce of momentum we’ve gained in this year among the stars for the slightest chance at revenge?”
“You don’t know what it’s like!” Kye practically screamed, voice cracking. “I shed my blood, sweat and tears for this cause, Ulyn – I’ll be damned if I don’t have his head!”
Ulyn fell silent, regarding the Prince with a strange mixture of pity and sorrow. They were too young for this, too naïve, too simple. A child raised on stories of heroes and knights who believed all evil in the world was solved by the flick of a wrist. Ulyn had seen the truth of the Eventide League; fought on the rimward reaches with pirates, had participated in the Chalcyrus Nightfall. Wars were not won by heroics and one final blow.
A resolve burned behind those eyes, though – a will to move the stars themselves. The heir to the Kingdom of Carrigan, the last of their line.
“I am not endorsing your plan.” Ulyn said after a moment, carefully choosing his words. “We don’t have the men, or the arms. But I… may know a few people. Have a bit of sway. All I ask is a week.”
“Done.” Kye said simply.
“Rembrandt?” Ulyn said into his comm, waiting for a reply.
“Get us underway. We’re headed for Olesia.”
“Uh, correct me if I’m wrong – Olesia is where the Bad Guy’s from? Why the hell are we headin’ there?”
“Old friends.” Ulyn said simply.
“…If you say so. We’re locked in, we’ll be underway shortly.”
The comm clicked as the channel closed.
“Go get some sleep,” Ulyn said, gesturing to the hall.
“You’ll need it.”
Kye shuffled away, spent. Ulyn stayed behind, staring intently at the blood-stained ramp, and sighed. He’d left the mercenary life behind long ago, dragged along by another young prince fresh out of the Carrigan Military Academy much like the one he served today. What was it that kept bringing him back? Fate? Bad luck? Or was he simply attracted to danger and trouble like a moth to a flame?
Maybe that’s why he’d genuinely enjoyed the past few weeks – a return to form, as it were.
A cleaning drone puttered by, beeping in protest at the dirty floor as it began to scrub away the drying blood.
Ulyn knew there’d be a lot more of it, sooner or later.
With that, he turned, and headed for his quarters. He had a few calls to make.