Under One Star - A Sequel

A climactic short story of adventurers defending the alien worlds above our horizons in Defend the Sun, a science fiction tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) setting that launches some Space Opera science fantasy into Earth's orbit. A "sequel" to a real game session.

Natrok Di Trom

Natrok Di Trom, a Charming Jovian Vocator who Commands Mental Powers

Charming Jovian Vocator who Commands Mental Powers

Goals: Pay back the debt from the saviors of Time's Amber and deliver their seedpod. Achieve fame.

Outcome Roll: 100%


Learned Neptunian Syphon who Exists in Two Places at Once

Goals: Discover the origins of the Primarch menace and run a successful research lab.

Outcome Roll: 50%


Intelligent Neptunian Syphon who Siphons Power

Goals: Gain insight into Void energy and achieve fame.

Outcome Roll: 67%

Having just defeated the Primarch before the mind-controlling Invader menace could spread beyond the remote Titanian island of Vidlumina, the researchers of the group say goodbye to their battle-worn compatriots and make haste to discover the source of these terrifying entities before a greater threat arrives.

Principal Solarian Species in this story:

Jovians - Sociable humanoid aliens with emotion-broadcasting hornlike tendrils along the scalp and/or face, purple to crimson to turquoise skin and a bone structure that resists heavy gravity.

Saturnine - Ceremonial humanoid aliens with four dexterous arms, scales of many colors and reptilian features.

Neptunians - Nuanced humanoid aliens with smooth, aquatic features and color-changing cyan to amethyst blue skin. Their multinucleate physiology allows limited changes to their physical forms.

Titan, high plateau of Dilmun

"This Cycle, I stand before you all, with only my words and emotions to speak this Legacy."

Natrok Di Trom stood facing the darkness of a Titanian night, the expanse below her prismatic platform lit only by a sea of tiny fluorescent crystals that spanned from near to the hydrocarbon-gilded horizon, each held aloft by scaled hands. Holo drones quietly hummed as they wavered above her line of sight. Staring outwards and within, the Jovian, with emotion-sending tendrils engaged, concentrated on the pain and struggle of the heroes chronicled within the harrowing tale she told.

"Though we seek the infinite, we are bound in time and space, constrained by forces of gravity, darkness, and fate. As we Solarian peoples awakened to the light of the stars, we found these forces intertwined and connected in one true Nexus."

She closed her eyes for a moment. "Sa Ma Ri."

Then opened them. "A simple word in the Solarian Standard language. But in the languages of the peoples of Sol, it carries deeper meanings."

"In Jovian: To elevate."

Titan, one Cycle after the Primarch's defeat.

Screams erupted from the medical bay that _-Ka⚇ hastily exited, chromatic skin over her cyan brow pulsing purple and yellow with frustration. "I just can't imagine how... on top of all La Ki Ra went through, what a direct link to the Autarch would do to her poor mind."

_-Ka⚇'s fellow Neptunian Void researcher descended a metal staircase in the adjoining prism-paneled hallway. "Come on _-Ka⚇. You've got one more breakthrough in you. How else can we know who sent the Invaders?"

An identical _-Ka⚇ emerged from the medical bay's sunburst archway following the first, showing almond shades of doubt across her brow. The double hesitated for a moment. "No, Me can't recruit this subject. That woman needs counseling."

"Maybe she'd calm down with a story?"

The Neptunians felt a sensation of doubt wash over them. Natrok Di Trom, with her thin Jovian scalp tendrils broadcasting skepticism, sat on a thin metal bench in the segmented corridor outside the medical bay. "And exactly what kind of story would you tell a soldier who wishes she were dead after killing her friends while possessed by a giant monster?"

_-Ka⚇ sat next to Natrok and glared at her double. "Not a ghost story, Me Second!"

_-Ka⚇'s double sat on her other side. "Yeah when you say it out loud... it's a bad idea."

Ii-Ko❖'s arms and shoulders showed patterns of marching gray spots over his slightly darker cyan skin, then he flashed violet. "I have one! When I was on stage with Shinefire and I experienced the Void energy modulation, there was a fascinating antipodal resonance I observed within the atmospheric vibrations of the -"

"I think I know how that one ends." Natrok rested her chin in her hands.

_-Ka⚇ nodded. "Yeah, with her still eating a plasma bolt."

_-Ka⚇'s double also nodded. "Me too."

Ii-Ko❖ sat on the bench opposite them. "Look this is valuable intel, it could save us from something even nastier."

_-Ka⚇'s double flickered green. "'Worse than Skargoth's breath' nasty?"

"Oh yeah."

_-Ka⚇'s double kicked her feet under the bench. "Call me skeptical when he insisted Martian mouths are 'self-cleaning.' Let's give him a toothbrush."

_-Ka⚇: "You do that. See how that goes."

_-Ka⚇'s double: "You first."

All felt a wave of intense resolve and looked at Natrok, who now sat upright. "After all of this, everything that's happened. There's one story I think the Saturnine - all of us too - need right now."

Ii-Ko❖ flashed violet again. "Hmm... Something funny?"

For a moment she held the seed pod on her necklace that bore the legacy of their saviors of Time's Amber. "A story of Hope."

Space, Outer Oort Cloud

A shining appendage motioned towards a warped holo-dome display optimized for clusters of pupil-less eyes. It showed the gap of space around Saturn's rings, occupied by a modest force of skirmishers, weapons platforms and fighters, led by a large, ridged, Draco-class battlecruiser. Though powerful and fierce, the Saturnine fleet had no choice but to spread themselves dangerously thin to defend their homeworlds from the incoming Krythox Swarm.

"In Martian: To be vulnerable."

Plasma Explosion Tears Through Saturnine Colony, Kills Hundreds
Mirandan Moon Colony "Harmony of Peace" - A Saturnine Tragedy Is the Saturnine "Harmony of Peace" Incident A Neptunian Plot?
The Miranda Incident: Neighbor Neptunian Colony May Be Involved Saturnine Engineers: More than a "Mechanical Failure"
Miranda Incident Survivors: "We Will Not Forgive" Saturnine Council of Prime Leaders Call for "Severe" Neptunian Atonement

"Okay, question 12: You now spend the majority of your waking hours viewing holo news feeds, mostly politics. Why?"

_-Ka⚇'s eyes looked up from her notes to the vanishing thread of the real-time sonic transcript as silence followed her question. _-Ka⚇'s double observed the reptilian patient's vitals rendered on a holo-display as numbers, lines and Neptunian text floating past like a regimented swarm of crystalline needles. The Saturnine La Ki Ra, meanwhile, observed none of this and leaned back on the makeshift divan as the medic drone constantly oscillated its scanner beam up and down her form. The harrowed warrior's posture and vitals both suggested an island of calm in the cluttered chaos of the lab.

La Ki Ra spoke up at last. "What if I were to stop answering your questions?"

_-Ka⚇ showed no change in color or expression. "Participant does not answer question 12." She slowly corrected her posture. "Please answer question 12."

La Ki Ra shot a glance at her own vitals chart streaming by, past the second _-Ka⚇ a short distance away. "So, you log my words, my respiration. What if I had said something... scandalous?"

_-Ka⚇, still as a suspended holo-feed: "Subject has changed the topic." For the first time in weeks the second_-Ka⚇ briefly took her eyes off the charts during a session.

La Ki Ra mused, "If I were to say -" She swayed forward to admire the polished clawed tips of the sixteen fingers on her own four hands. "- that a trained practitioner in the Art of Four is equally versatile in warfare and deepest relaxation."

_-Ka⚇, still as midnight: "Subject remains on changed topic."

La Ki Ra sat upright, crossed her legs and looked upward with a curious smirk as she ran her thumbs along her fingertips. "And your kind have shapeshifting... you could shape like one of my kind and discover the Art of Four for yourself."

_-Ka⚇'s double coughed. It was a loud one.

"What Me meant to say was, moving on to the next question -"

La Ki Ra leaned back on the scavenged divan. "What if I said the Saturnine Council of Prime is absolutely wrong about the Miranda Incident."


-Ka had silently stood from her chair and flipped a machine switch. A different flowing topographic holo-image that previously rippled in response to sounds in the cluttered laboratory suddenly went flat and inert. The master recording was stopped.

"Participant La Ki Ra, we're going to roll that back a bit-" _-Ka⚇ manipulated a side panel on the device - "and strike that. Off. The record."

--- - 00.07.03 SECONDS DELETED---
_-Ka⚇'s double peeked outside, returned and tapped the door closed. "So as I was saying about this strictly clinical interview..."

As the door sealed with a *CLICK*, the second _-Ka⚇ shot the Saturnine a stern look.

_-Ka⚇ sat upright in her chair and her hands shifted to an aristocratic navy blue. "Let's catch our breath and get back on track, ok? And I professionally advise you to cease viewing irrelevant Holo-News headlines and use your recovery time to... well, recover."

"We remain off the record, correct, _-Ka⚇? Speak informally and remove your mask. You are Neptunian and, given my peoples, and your peoples... this news involves the fate of your being."

"La Ki Ra, look, I know you want to..."

_-Ka⚇'s double shouted, "Protocol! vihv - ♣ - las!" In her exasperation she had spilled a not-quite-empty jar of silicate powder all over her desk.

La Ki Ra turned inward. "The Jovian had saved my life that dark day, but... this..." She trailed off.


La Ki Ra stood up. "Do you understand... your work is saving my being, _-Ka⚇."

The shock of this statement after months of setbacks didn't register. _-Ka⚇'s skepticism held strong - until La Ki Ra knelt in the Seventh Reverie of Courtly Grace and Respect. This was the breakthrough moment at long last, "clear as Neptunian twilight" as La Ki Ra would proclaim in her charmingly grandiose speeches.

_-Ka⚇'s double looked up from her powder-tarnished workspace. "What..."

The back of _-Ka⚇'s neck rippled in the faintest cascade of pink diamond spots. A smile caught the corners of her mouth. "I can't take all the credit." She smiled and pointed at her double.

"We're two halves of the same person and you literally just did."

"La Ki Ra... thank... uhm, thank you. But... you have your scriptures and rules. And there's a bureaucrat with gorgeous - I mean just gorgeous jade scales just begging for me to break one of mine, especially now. We need to know what happened. Those monsters and... your trauma."

La Ki Ra settled back in her chair. "It is tragic, but it is the nature of things. I shift my focus. I reflect on the Miranda incident and I see... as the crystals rain down, the mirror shatters, the river flows. None are to blame. I stand before light."

"Delightul, but come on. Watch me bump into an old lady on the Line tomorrow morning, and she'll say "Miranda! Invaders! My pet Stormdrake's outbreak of Nerve-Leeches! ALL YOUR FAULT!"

La Ki Ra: "They are not your fault? A shame. I was hoping you would grant me a Leech-free Drakeride tomorrow..."

"My Leech echolocation is rusty but I'll make it work."

La Ki Ra surveyed the room briefly, then got up and walked to the farthest countertop with holopads covered in research notes, devices and samples. She activated the plasma steamer. "They say the Miranda explosion began when a Neptunian factory part failed, so they must be at fault. They say." She clenched three fists. "Perhaps we should blame the Uranians generations ago for leaving their moon open to all outsider colonies, to claim and conquer with no safeguards. 'Of many, conflict born.'"

_-Ka⚇ flickered orange. "Warsong scripture? Ohh, you're maaad..."

On a countertop, a shining cylinder hummed and flashed, and vapor rose from a seam along its lid. The machine's sides whirled open in a spiral, and La Ki Ra took the canister within to pour a hot cup of hydrocarbon tea. "If I were to give you this cup. The handle breaks. The liquid falls. Your precious skin burns. Who bears the blame?"

She slowly gave the cup to -Ka with two hands, and for a moment her fingertips cascaded across -Ka's wrist.

Betraying -Ka's poker face, the second -Ka's eyelids fluttered.

Space, Cis-Oort Cloud

"Great Ungaunt. We have confirmed. Their small claws leave exposed their giant underbellies. A strike will crack their shell where it is thin."

The Great Ungaunt seethed at the condition of its freshly-blinded central eyes before it determined its plan. "Assemble the Claws of Matter. The Swarm shall consume them whole."

"But we expose our dorsal thorax -"

"No matter. The Swarm will encase them five times over."

"The Progenitors birthed us in this celestial garden - a home where we children of the galaxy could flourish, among native worlds with loci of power over the five greatest forces in the universe."

"Sa Ma Ri. In Plutonian: To play."

House Arrest Declared for Neptunians on all Saturnine Worlds
One Neptunian's Daily Life: Surveillance and Fear On Titan On Triton, Neptunians Declare Lockdown for All Saturnine, Churchgoers Stranded... Retaliation Imminent?
Simmering Border Disputes "on the verge of conflict," Says Neptunian Official From Border Disputes to Cataclysmic Conflict: Vapors Set to Ignite by One Plasma Spark
Scales versus Chroma: Can Centuries of Division Erupt into Catastrophic War? Former Ambassador Speaks
Bearing slides of cross-sections extracted from a dormant Primarch specimen, _-Ka⚇'s double opened the analysis room's vanadium door and nearly dropped the precious samples to the ground.

There in a partially disrobed state were _-Ka⚇ and La Ki Ra, locked in an embrace on a lab bench, a half-empty Titanian Bo Po wine bottle on the shelf.


The Saturnine sat upright on the bench, her scaly green face flush with her orange blood, with both right-side limbs pulling up _-Ka⚇ by her shimmering cyan waist that pulsed with shades of lavender.

"...Um, Me, that is a violation of every ethical -"

"Shut up, Me Second!" _-Ka⚇ scowled, then put her head on La Ki Ra's shoulder with a big smile.

The double closed the door, still holding the samples with a critical eye. "You left the door open, are you insane?" She managed to wiggle her smooth cyan scalp fins even though they were tied up in a bundle, sending pulses of exasperated orange stripes along their length. "Look, you're a little drunk, and we're late -"

_-Ka⚇ cupped the sides of La Ki Ra's face and widened her eyes at her double. "Helloooo, do you see how ntawd-kuv✿-thiaj this one is!? It won't get better than this, we do research for a living!"

La Ki Ra's expressive amber eyes narrowed as she gently put _-Ka⚇'s hands down with her inner forelimbs. "I hope that's a compliment."

"Anyway, we're late to process these samples, I have to work on them now or we'll lose them, so if you want to do whatever you're going to do, well... do your thing." The double walked towards a lab desk in the opposite corner of the chamber.

_-Ka⚇ pouted. "Nowhere else to go... no privacy for we, war got them all so snoo-snoopy!"

La Ki Ra sighed. "My people would kill me for being with the enemy, but what's really stopping me is the child-talk." Her outer left hand brushed aside _-Ka⚇'s scalp fins, and her inner left hand brushed _-Ka⚇'s fingertips as she leaned closer. "Promise me you won't do that again?"

"Yes." _-Ka⚇ tilted her head to one side at La Ki Ra, sapphire eyes looking up expectantly. "If we do this... Me Second will be here. What do you think?"

It took the Saturnine a while to ponder this rare philosophical situation for a non-Neptunian. "Ah... well, at the end of the Cycle it is you, I would say I'm fine with it I think."

"Taaaaaaaahm✦! It's exactly what you'd think! Hey Me Second, get over here!"

Looking at the Neptunian(s), La Ki Ra's eyes cycled through confusion, realization, embarrasment and acknowledgment.

"Oh? All right. The moment there's a break I'll be back to work though, ok?" The double set the samples down and stood up from the desk. She released the clip on her bundled scalp fins, letting them fall to her shoulders as her cheeks pulsed with lavender.

Outside the door, in 6 languages the access panel flashed with the message "LOCKED."

Space, Outer Kuiper Belt


One by one, vast clusters of chitinous Krythox vessels activated their Nexus drives in cascades of spiraling neon energy, dashing across the intervening Nodes in space, their rippling, spiked command vessel following close behind.

"In Uranian: ...Well, it means exactly what it means in Uranian."

La Ki Ra's eyes went nearly blank as she gasped for breath, but no air came.

"Be calm... you are safe..." came a soft voice. It was the same voice that had once pulled her from the brink of madness with the story of a Saturnine girl and a seedpod.

Her lungs relaxed. Air meant nothing here. No matter how many times she returned to this place, simple facts like this always slipped her mind, as if forgotten from a dream. She cursed her foolish ignorance.

She chose to bear the malachite ceremonial robes and carbon-crystal weapons of a classical warrior of faith. Modern weapons had no power here, and over a lifetime of devotion she'd had quite enough practice with the Tempest of Furies: spear, shield and hooked sabres in her four weapon arms. She would be ready for any threat.

A disturbance. Though she saw nothing in the absolute darkness, she readied her weapons. Something was wrong...

"KYAA!" She spun to her right and twirled her two left-side weapons at the sudden intruder.

The assailant screamed, stumbled backwards and fell to the ground, three rainbow-chromed metal points at his neck. "Wait uhh, wait! Ii-Ko❖! Ii-Ko❖! Friend!"



"You address me like a child or pet. I fail to see how you are more useful than one yourself right now."

Ii-Ko❖ grimaced, clutching his shin, and his face pulsed with irregular red and black splotches. "Sa Mo Ra to you too... It took hours to get me in here, and by the way you could have really killed me!" He slowly got up, then shook his head and looked upwards. "Natrok, I'm in."

Among a chaos of wires, specimen racks, holosteel notepads, improvised furniture and chart-cluttered holodisplays lay Ii-Ko❖ and La Ki Ra. _-Ka⚇ closely monitored the vital signs of the pair with dreaming faces, on benches with makeshift blue pulsing devices mounted precariously over the sides of their heads.

Natrok sat nearby, serene, eyes closed. "You're in? I'm glad to hear it. Ask her if she's ready to go." Her soft voice echoed across the mindscape.

In the blackness, La Ki Ra looked up and folded her inner arms. "I'm right here."

Ii-Ko❖ nodded to La Ki Ra. "You prepared to engage the Void-Encephalon Tunnel?"

"Excuse me?"

An alarm sounded in the lab facility. Over the loudspeaker, a calm human voice intoned in Solarian Standard: "Project Warrior's Salve. Your work is an act of war. Cease operations immediately."

_-Ka⚇ turned bright orange with anger. "This is research! Can you petty vim-lawv▽-huv stop this stupid war for just one second! This is our fate we're dealing with -"

The alert repeated: "Project Warrior's Salve. Your work is an act of war. Cease operations immediately."

_-Ka⚇'s double stood up and marched over to the intercom. "Operations ceased, now get the Fto Ke out!" She released the button and turned back to the others. "Sorry." She shoved another desk against the reinforced door, marched gray dots along her skin for a moment, then walked back to her workspace. "We've got 20 minutes."

Meanwhile, _-Ka⚇ finely adjusted the curved, wired discs that formed a bulky headset around Natrok's skull. "This is the lab life, Natrok... you work your fins off your whole life and then the government shuts you down."

_-Ka⚇'s double grinned broadly as she sat back down. "Don't forget the best part. You're broke!"

Natrok murmured through her tense face. "This time we must walk deeper, La Ki Ra."

La Ki Ra slowly nodded in the mindscape. "I am ready."

Ii-Ko❖ looked up. "She says she's ready." Ii-Ko❖ began to concentrate on his body back outside, on the Void energy core he kept there on his belt.

Natrok's voice echoed. "It will be far, far deeper than you've ever gone before."

La Ki Ra pounded her chest. "Do you not understand? I am ready!"

Ii-Ko❖ shrugged. "Says she's ready."

Natrok's scalp tendrils pulsed purple with effort. "I just want to make sure, because this is gonna be... difficult."

In the mindscape, a predator sprang from the darkness. Ii-Ko❖ responded by gasping and stepping backwards. La Ki Ra's response was to deflect the Primarch monster's right foreclaw with her outer right shield, parry the left foreclaw with the outer left spear, and criss-cross her inner arms' sabres across the creature's exposed belly, spilling its wet innards onto the ground.

It landed and crumpled in a twisted heap. A pool of ichor rapidly formed beneath it. La Ki Ra twirled her weapons back to ready position.

Ii-Ko❖ looked down at the mess. "Yup. READY."

Natrok's eyes opened, glowing heliotrope. "Initiate."

_-Ka⚇ entered inputs on the holoscreen. The machine pulsed.

La Ki Ra closed her eyes. The mindscape's darkness expanded into a shining, spiraling black tunnel, and the travelers within felt a sense of movement for a few moments. Glowing hexagonal neon ripples shimmered along the black tunnel walls in twisting arcs. Then La Ki Ra screamed and backed away, eyes wide with terror.

Ii-Ko❖ held up a hand, looking around confused. "Uhh... hang on..."

He looked down to see that the face of the Primarch corpse was not the ferocious, eyeless snarl of flesh and fangs he expected, but the face of a Saturnine that stared forward with blank eyes. It spoke. "La Ki Ra."

Figures crept forward from the edges of darkness all around. As the neon glowing ripples streamed along the walls, they illuminated the silhouettes, revealing Saturnine soldiers walking erratically. Ii-Ko❖ saw now that La Ki Ra wore a military uniform instead of her ceremonial garb, and looked back to see the figures approach the dim ambient light that surrounded them.

"La Ki Ra... You betrayed me... you tore me apart... At your hands..." All of the soldiers wore her same uniform and all bore fresh and fatal wounds, orange blood seeping out.

La Ki Ra, seeing the rotting faces of the friends she had killed while mind-controlled by the Autarch, dropped her weapons.


_-Ka⚇ shook her head while staring at the holodisplay. "She's not doing so well..."

Natrok's voice echoed over the murmurs of the walking corpses. "Ii-Ko❖, talk to me. Are we ok? What's happening?"

Ii-Ko❖ glanced rapidly all around. "Uh, wait, wait wait..."

The ghouls formed a tightening circle around the pair. "You killed me..." they whispered.

Ii-Ko❖ grimaced at their hollow eyes, looked over at his cowering Saturnine comrade and picked up a spear. "Give us a minute!"

The machine on Natrok's skull hummed with rising intensity. Her voice become a tense whisper as the waveform accelerator focused her mental powers, stretching the mindlink beyond any limits she had ever known. "I can't stop the sequence."

In the mindscape, La Ki Ra covered her face and sobbed.


_-Ka⚇ activated multiple holoscreens. "She's critical."

"Shut up and stay dead!" Ii-Ko❖ shouted as fiercely as a thin blue researcher possibly could, then charged at the ghouls with the spear.


Natrok's eyelids fluttered. "Stay calm... Stay calm..."

Ii-Ko❖ crashed to the black rippling ground, ultramarine blue blood spattering from his mouth as the dead closed in on La Ki Ra.


_-Ka⚇ turned to the screens above Ii-Ko❖. "Ii-Ko❖'s gone crit!"

_-Ka⚇'s double rushed down to embrace La Ki Ra's sleeping form. "No, you can do this!"

"Cease operations immediately," roared the loudspeaker.

_-Ka⚇'s double leaned back. "How about you Fto Ke shut up!"

In the mindscape, an eerie black iridescence shined around La Ki Ra as over a dozen cold claws crushed her kneeling body.


A glimmering black circle burst outward from the kneeling Saturnine and then exploded into a brief ring of vaccuum, wrenching the dead off their feet and slamming them to the ground.

Ii-Ko❖ refocused his concentration and wiped the blood off his face. With a roar of Nro Fto Ra! he brandished the now-glimmering spear edged with pulses of indigo-tinged blackness. He spun around and swept the tip in a ring around himself and La Ki Ra.


The point arced through the air and ripped through the fabric of space, leaving crescent, inverted glowing rifts that howled with vaccuum. As the ghouls reached forward to cross the rifts, their limbs severed and spattered to the ground. Each apparition fell and faded into nothingness until no more of the horde remained.

Ii-Ko❖ nodded to himself. "Sa Mo Ra to you too." He turned to La Ki Ra, puffing out his chest. "That battle-cry? You taught me that! Hmm!" Then he whispered, "...it's kinda hard to pronounce."

La Ki Ra remained kneeling, staring at the ground.


Beams of violet light shone along the edges of Ii-Ko❖'s glowing rifts as they sealed themselves back up. The Neptunian looked around at the tunnel walls and rubbed his hands together. "Oh this is certainly getting published! 'Encephalonic Conduit Expansion Via Ii-Ko❖-an Void Application'... got a nice rhythm to it, you think?"

Silence followed. Ii-Ko❖ tilted his head and gently waved his hand in front of La Ki Ra. "Hey. You all right?"

A tear dripped off of La Ki Ra's face and disappeared on the now-rapidly pulsing dark ground. She did not respond.

Natrok's voice echoed over the mindscape. "Looking good everybody? Get ready for a trip." She suppressed a nervous laugh.

La Ki Ra leaped up and roared in Ii-Ko❖'s face.

The Neptunian fell backward and his spear clattered to the ground. He looked back at La Ki Ra's snarling face with surprise. "Feedback noted!"

Moments later Ii-Ko❖ escaped from La Ki Ra's crushing four-armed hug, all while hearing the warrior's shaking voice cursing in rough Saturnine under her breath. He looked upward and said "We're good," before he straightened himself up and activated his Void core.


The tunnel sheared into fragments and the sleepers' senses shattered with the force of rocketing upwards... upwards... through Natrok's Void-enhanced mind link and to the stars.

The Great Ungaunt stirred from its dormancy in the Waters of Revivification. Its link to Autarch Theta had long gone dead, and it had feared that failure of its predestined mission was the cause... yet now, that link pulsed with vitality. In wonder and conviction that the spark of life within its brood-scion had not faded, it reopened the link.

Within the abyssal mindscape, it stood. Visceral swarms of organic veins of neon, pulsating along the ground to the infinite black horizon, indicated a twisting craggy landscape scattered with peaks and canyons that made even The Great Ungaunt seem small. Come, brood-scion... divulge your conquests.

No response came, except for a faint sound behind. Curious, it turned.

Into its ventral eye cluster pierced a burst of fire and pain.


The Great Ungaunt roared and swung a row of heavy pincers through the air, launching backwards a small green assailant that curiously possessed only 6 limbs and tiny weapons.

The Great Ungaunt released an arc of caustic, hissing discharge from beneath its mandibles towards the other, bluish nuisance, paying little heed to the spear embedded in its dripping eye cluster. Instead of melting into a gory pile of bones, the tiny blue creature stood its ground as the wave of acid splashed against an invisible barrier around it.

Do these insolent creatures know the consequence of death in the mindscape? The Great Ungaunt felt regret... that after tearing their minds apart it would miss the chance to watch these brazen little spies die firsthand.

"Five more seconds!" shouted Ii-Ko❖ as he held his fingertips to his temples. A matrix of glowing indigo-black particles spread outwards from his form and anchored themselves to the edges of the pulsing darkness in a grid formation.

Behind, the Great Ungaunt's dorsal eye cluster observed the green intruder rushing around to attack. It swung its right row of pincers in a feint towards the blue intruder in front, then suddenly shifted its momentum to the opposite side overhead to crush the green intruder behind it.

But La Ki Ra had seen its shell spikes curl in anticipation of the feint, and she dived out beyond its right flank.


The pincers' ground impact nearly shook Ii-Ko❖'s concentration. A flurry of Void particles rushed and locked into position, forming a dazzling indigo-black beam that stretched from the creature to infinity. "Got your coordinates you son of a vim-laiqh▽-ta. La Ki Ra, go!"

"To your innards I say..." She leaped forward and prepared to slice her two indigo-black-glowing sabres across its underbelly. "Face the Void!"


Before the deathblow could strike, Ii-Ko❖ and La Ki Ra fell... and fell... through a trillion meters of space, warped by the Void's weave.

They returned to consciousness in the lab, hearing only shouting. All around the lab, holoscreens flickered and sputtered, machines stopped cycling and telemetry instruments powered down. A few Saturnine Bearers of Law stood within, brandishing plasma weapons and disabling lab devices, and more entered past the smoking remains of the reinforced lab door. _-Ka⚇ and her double both struggled to escape their glowing plasma chains.

"Again, you are in violation of the law for this weapons research, Neptunian. This lab will cease operations."

"It is not-"

"Continue protesting and your voice will also be restrained."

Natrok opened her eyes from the mind link and instantly stood up before the lawbringers could approach her. In the native Saturnine tongue she shouted, "No! They return from battle."

The lead lawbringer hesitated, more stunned by her flawless Saturnine diction than the circumstances. "Who? Them?" She motioned to the still-groggy Saturnine and Neptunian with the side of her plasma rifle.

"They did not sleep, they fought a battle. I invoke the Right... the Right of -"

The leader folded her inner arms and spread her outer arms in skepticism. "You? Truly? In that case I should grant the Right of Chronicle to my child's pet Drakeling that dreams of chasing starships." She nodded to the rest. "Arrest them all."

Natrok Di Trom turned to the lawbringers who clasped the groggy test subjects in manacles. She closed her eyes while they approached her, and spoke in the Prayer Dialect. "Lies met by death, Truth met by honor. The right is Invoked."

The lawbringers froze upon hearing the hallowed speech. Natrok turned to their leader. "Ignore my Chronicle and you doom us all."

"Gods weep for you, foolish Jovian." She nodded to her compatriots. "We take her to the Fabled Grounds."

"In Venusian: To wait."

La Ki Ra struggled in the darkness. She remembered all the good she had done. She had fought and killed many of the Primarch invaders in single combat. During the harrowing research work with her beloved _-Ka⚇, they had dove into her subconscious mind to reach the source of the Autarch's mind link, revealing the existence and location of the incoming Krythox invaders.

Yet every night she prayed for her fallen comrades. Each and every time she spoke the names of those she had killed while under the Primarch's mind control, she felt a knife of anguish cut through her that never dulled as the weeks and months progressed.

Though she had sought counseling with Saturnine elders at length, at long last La Ki Ra saw only one final path to redemption. She turned to the sleeping forms beside her and brushed her fingertips along _-Ka⚇'s cyan hand, above her wrist that bore a bracelet inlaid with glittering red and aquamarine hydrocarbon crystals.

Cycles later, a Venusian cloud-lit image of Natrok Di Trom spoke from a holo-screen, kneeling among silver-ivory archways, holding a seedpod before a Venusian monk. On the other end of the room _-Ka⚇ faced the window, her sapphire eyes glistening in the morning light. "So that's it? What about the others in your life who care about you? You're going to just leave them all behind. Doesn't your family care? Don't your mother and father and thither have anything to - uhh right, you don't have the third one..."

La Ki Ra sat forward in the dining chair, inner palms cradling her forehead. "We believe in key principles. We believe in purpose, and we believe in redemption. Redemption that I owe to the families of those that I -"

"What about the people you hurt now, because you just want to give up?"

La Ki Ra stood up. "How dare you. It is an honor for us! One of the greatest..."

_-Ka⚇'s double walked out of the hallway, the skin of her face flashing orange. "You txhua-tus▽-yog! I feel everything Me feels... and so does she. Do you have any idea how much we can hurt?"

Simultaneously they shouted, "I'm talking about Me!" "I'm talking about Me Second!"

"What about it?" Her four clenched fists thumped together on her sides.

"Can't you see? Is that all you care about, your Fto Ke tradition? You're a bunch of selfish vim-lawv▽-huv and you know what, maybe we should have finished the job on Miranda!"

A long silence fell.

La Ki Ra got up and walked directly to the portcullis door.


Space, the Rings of Saturn

On the command deck of Draco-class Battlecruiser An Go Ta, "Dream of the Leviathan," the Lord of Crusades of the Saturnine Fleet stood his ground as the Krythox approached, bowed in prayer.

"We reside here not only to dance among the spheres... but to survive. For the galaxy is a dangerous place, filled with invaders from beyond. Even as I speak, one such threat looms..." Hearing this, some in the crowd froze, and others held loved ones closer.

"In choosing our wondrous home, the Progenitors chose danger - this prime birthing ground was also a beacon across distant star systems for others to come and take these wonders away from us.

"So they try. And so we fight. We Solarians have fought each other and fought within.

"Yet when the invaders come, we fight annihilation itself."

In the Saturnine barracks halls of the Knights of the Eclipse, La Ki Ra held _-Ka⚇ and her double's hands in her own four hands. They had spent all night together, hardly sleeping at all. They sat on a bunk in the now-vacated soldier's quarters as the hour of reckoning soon approached. Vibrant orange beams of Titanian sunshine poured in through the mosaic skylight high above.

"Thank the Chronicler for opening their eyes... that we may now show our bond in the light."

_-Ka⚇'s double sat on La Ki Ra's right and rubbed the soft spikes on her scalp crest. "Sometimes, dear, I don't know if it's your language or if you're really that dramatic all the time."

_-Ka⚇ reached into a pouch. "Before you go... take this... it's a tradition of ours. For good luck." She held a tiny square of bread with a purple leaf on its surface.

La Ki Ra smiled and carefully examined the bread in her fingers. "What does it taste like?"

The double finished _-Ka⚇'s sentences. "It's... Neptunian Mint. It's really... good. I think you... you'll really..." Their eyes welled up. "Please... Please?" they pleaded through their tears. "I... I don't want to lose you. B-But..."

"We will all meet again one Cycle."

_-Ka⚇ and the double both shook their heads. "Hurry up... before our luck runs out..."

La Ki Ra crunched down on the sweet dried bread and a cooling sensation filled her body from within.

She wished she could share more of these treats with _-Ka⚇. In that tiny moment her stoicism cracked, and she quietly sobbed. They all held each other close - La Ki Ra treasured this last time she would feel their embrace.

The walls shook, NexusDrives roared and shadows loomed across the skylight. The barracks alarms began to ring.

Space, Cis-Neptunian Zone

The light of Sol glimmered off of a drifting research station that floated along the nebula-encrusted starscape. Moments later the sea of stars vanished in darkness, followed by a glimmering surge of sallow spikes of organic metals. The station floated towards the Swarm and vanished among the multitudes.

On the command deck, the Saturnine Lord of Crusades lifted his head and opened his eyes. "Honored Knights of the Eclipse, Engage."

A vanguard of interceptors launched right into the mouth of the Swarm, helmed by Saturnine chanting rites of redemption and valor as they opened fire with their Plasma Cutters.

The Swarm advanced, refusing to slow down in the face of direct assault. The Eclipse fighters broke formation and darted to the edges of the Swarm, then doubled back to re-engage, arcs of plasma shearing the Krythox ships on its periphery into shell fragments.

Then one by one, Eclipse fighters tumbled and rocketed to pieces as the Swarm's antimatter-infused pincers of glowing death began to erupt around the tiny fleet. From victory to doom, their fortunes turned.

"Sa Ma Ri. Hope."

Natrok Di Trom glanced to the left side of the crowd. "In Neptunian: To pray."

She glanced to the right. "In Saturnine: To pray."

She turned forward.

"I pause for these last two, because it is one instance where two peoples share the same meanings across time and space."

La Ki Ra awoke, dazed, staring up at the orange sky sheared by a titanic crescent. She saw crystalline trees passing the sides of her view, and lifted her head up to see that she was laying on a floating platform being pulled. This was neither the barracks nor her Eclipse fighter. She was somewhere in the forests of Titan. She felt a cooling, numbing feeling vanishing from her core. When she saw the cyan hand with the red and blue bracelet gripping the rope that pulled her makeshift bed, she leaped off of it and turned to confront _-Ka⚇.

"What has happened...?"

"We're safe... you're safe. We can go now."

"Go... where...?"

"We're free, La Ki Ra. We're free to -"

"They went without me?" A sudden panic rose within La Ki Ra. "I live without my honor. You take that from me?"

"No, listen, I just wanted to -"

"You kidnap me! You steal me from my people! What have you done? Tell me where they are! Tell me now!" Tears of rage filled her eyes as her four hands squeezed _-Ka⚇'s shoulders.

"No. You do go with honor. You've gone..." She stared upwards to the stars. "...with the Knights of the Eclipse."

"Send me back! You are stricken with madness! Send me back and leave me to my fate!"

_-Ka⚇ began to walk backwards away from her and chant in La Ki Ra's native tongue, and La Ki Ra could only freeze in shock. Was she mocking her faith? It was utter blasphemy for a Neptunian to speak those hallowed words...

Simultaneously, on a Saturnine interceptor flying towards the mouth of the Swarm, on the pilot suit emblazoned with La Ki Ra's name and title, just for a moment beneath the rainbow-chromed hydrocarbon helmet, a glimmer shined with the light of Sol, revealing a pair of sapphire eyes. The Solarian within chanted the same words... the Prayer of the Knights of the Eclipse.

A look of horror and realization crept over La Ki Ra's amber eyes. She screamed in denial in her native tongue as she rushed forward.

_-Ka⚇ spoke the last words of the chant, a river of tears streaming down: "...in death redeemed, in sacrifice cleansed, my soul returns to the Sun."

A point of light exploded in the stars far above, and all four of the Saturnine's arms caught the Neptunian as she collapsed lifelessly to the ground.

Space, the Rings of Saturn

The vast Krythox Swarm flew strong, its numbers reduced little. It screamed forward through its final Node jumps, now fully committed to tearing through the remainder of the Saturnine fleet as it had done to the advance charge it had just doomed to oblivion.

Aboard all decks of the legions of Saturnine ships, all soldiers ended their long prayer to honor the redeemed souls of the Knights of the Eclipse. All returned to their stations, prepared to join the fallen as the Swarm encroached on Saturn's rings.

"What other links do we share? Across the dark of space..."

On this cue, in the amber-lit air above the platform where Natrok Di Trom stood, Ii-Ko❖ unlocked his Void energy core, releasing a cascade of iridescent black motes that shimmered outwards into an inverted-color model of the Sol System - a display more vivid than any holoimage, and one that inspired awe and reverence in the gathered onlookers as it spread to the far edges of the sky above the crowd. He nodded to Relsk Ma Brot, the Jovian bandleader of Shinefire, and the music rose and swelled as waves of amplified emotions spread over the vast audience.

"...what light can we find?"

The audience erupted in cheers and applause.

"And now I share the final meaning of Sa Ma Ri, reconstructed from the lost relics of the Progenitors: to dream."

"If there is one great lesson they have left behind for us, it is to dream... beyond the stars, beyond all we've known. To dream of peace for our peoples, so united we may survive all threats, to dream of the galaxy beyond our garden..."

She held aloft the spent shell of a Venusian seedpod. II-Ko❖ channeled his Void energy core once again to surround Natrok with a spiraling grid of shining black wisps. "...to dream of hope."

"Under one star stands one people."

La Ki Ra reviewed the sequence of Node jumps one more time. Destination: the Kuiper Belt... the realm of ghosts and wanderers. With a bit of luck, she would make the full journey with fuel to spare.

Then she laughed bitterly, imagining the fierce gnostic debates that would have flared up between her nation's elders had they known the reality of La Ki Ra's penance. Despite this, she held one truth - the haunting visions no longer stalked her in the darkness. As far as she was concerned, a foolish, greater sacrifice had been made.

She locked in the final step of the ignition sequence and looked over Titan's horizon for the very last time as her cruiser elevated to her homeworld's heavens. La Ki Ra passed through a narrow corridor and leaned against the bulkhead as she read new information on a holodisplay, her eyes tense with worry.

Moments later in the adjacent room, La Ki Ra's scaled palms slowly swept up and down cyan fingertips, past a gray palm, past a wrist bearing a ruby and aquamarine bracelet.

She bent down and kissed a cyan forehead, softly brushing aside the scalp fins above _-Ka⚇'s sleeping, masked face as medical devices hummed, the display reading:

Condition: Serious
Status: Stable

Space, the Rings of Saturn

A hollow region of space rippled, then flashed violet as a curved, cobalt cruiser shimmered into view. On its dim lower decks amongst curving bulkheads and glowing nitriglass holopanels, a neotorch-wielding Neptunian activated his commlink. "Preeminent Captain, Engineering at hand. Dark Energy cloak powered down."

"Eminent Engineers, Captain at hand. Direct power to charge Plasma Cores. Eminent Flight Deck, Captain at hand. Move us to Plasma Cutter range. I await orders from Most Eminent Grand Admiral Ur-Wo❂. Fire on my mark."

"As the gods speak, your tales honor the fallen and the damned, the redeemed and the fated."

The chants of the mystics rose in fervor in response to the elder's proclamation. Natrok Di Trom stood tall as a ceremonial hydrocarbon-jade pendant was clasped across her shoulder.

"So stands one, of Saturn not-born, in millennia of millennia, the first alien Chronicler of Legacies." The ranks of the Saturnine disciples of Ro Ka Ne bowed and shouted in unison.

In that moment throughout Saturnine and Neptunian cities, while militarized zones and border colonies grimly readied for Solarian-against-Solarian bloodshed, one billion holoscreens glowed with the light of hydrocarbon-jade.

For the first time, a pair of sapphire eyes opened and _-Ka⚇ felt emptiness as a second pair of sapphire eyes did not open soon after. Stars streaked past the window as her dark eyes focused upwards into eyes of amber, and _-Ka⚇ felt whole once again.

Space, the Rings of Saturn

On the Krythox command vessel bridge, forests of antennae raised in shock and confusion as new blips appeared behind The Swarm on the holo-dome displays. They emerged one, after another, after another, until the space between lit up as a galaxy of fireflies.

The Great Ungaunt stared at the grim harbingers, but could only focus on the blinded eyes within its ventral cluster, a constant reminder of its failure in the mindlink. Its dreams of conquest had turned to dreams of absolute brutality, of grinding the fragile bones and flesh of those two insolent intruders into sludge with its own mandibles. The Great Ungaunt would hunt them down, and they would suffer.

"Great Ungaunt, our dorsal thorax is exposed. The attack was a deception - "

"Observant you are, Lesser Carnivex. Recall the Swarm and attack."

"Our NexusDrives lie weakened -"

"Recall the Swarm!"

"- we are caught between them - the NexusDrives must gather their strength - "

"Then attack! Strike! Tear them apart until our strength returns!"

On the bridge of the "Dream of the Leviathan," The Guide of the Firelight observed the uncloaked Neptunian vessels preparing to merge with the Saturnine fleet and engulf the Swarm in an ionized net of searing retribution. "Lord of Crusades, the Weavers of Hues have followed Stratagem 'Jaws of the Redeemed.'"

"Under one star," the Saturnine Lord of Crusades said as he nodded to the Neptunian Grand Admiral on the viewscreen.

"Stands one people," replied the Neptunian.

"Solarians: Engage."