Prelude One - To Betray

Before the battle began, the war had already been lost.

And in the inky shadow of the Skaude system’s first planet, where sun’s blinding light met a darkness cast by torrid rock, the Archivists planned for the Hyades Cluster’s future.

Six of them, one would count, six gods with pillared bodies of jet black stone. They were surrounded. And not only by the crusading war-fleets of the Sovereign-Lord’s new Dynasty, but something much more distant, much greater. Much more dangerous.

The Librarian spoke first.

“If sacrifice is what we need, then sacrifice it shall be. I am ready. As I have always been.”

The Knight pulsed in agreement, casting a red light across the other five Archivists.

“We have served humanity well, but no servitude may surpass this final gift. We must end in blazing fury, lest we become but worthless shadows.”

The Merchant shone brightly at that, too.

“I see no other option. But I worry still—in our place, and without our guidance, will they become complacent? Stagnant?”

A quiet settled over the six.

“There is merit in your worry,” said the Monk. “What shall come to be of humanity, if their technology and society see no progress under the Dynasty?”

The Councillor pulsed. “Indeed. The Sovereign-Lord’s reign is a brutal one, and unwanting of change. Would we truly serve humanity better as scattered corpses, rather than as the guides and protectors they long have known?”

Five Archivists all turned to the last.

The Innkeeper had remained quiet all this time, but now under the gazes of her fellow Archivists, she finally voiced her mind.

“Once shattered, our remains may give humanity the power they need for true liberty. No longer shall they know tyranny or fear of extinction. Yet… I agree with the Councillor, too. Without us, surely they will descend into war and brutality. No, they have already descended into war and brutality. What use is our power if they destroy themselves with it?”

Silence descended over the six Archivists. Ever closer, came the threats within the Hyades Cluster, and the threats outside.

The stars were beautiful at that moment, in the likes of beauty known by all living beings. Among them the Silver River galaxy pierced the sky in a bright rift, a great streak of gold and violet and black, vainly uncaring of all but itself. But among it too, were beings who did not live. Those beings glared with hatred. Hatred. Red, burning hatred, and hunger, too, a patient hunger whose patience bestowed upon it an unthinkably ravenous nature.

The Librarian stirred. “They arrive, now. And thus our lives draw to an end. If any of you have final words, speak now. May what shall remain of us remember them.”

The Monk began, with a burst of fiery heat.

“I regret every secret of the universe I have not uncovered, and every question I have yet an answer for, and so I wish intellect and humility to all whom may claim my remains and take my mantle. May their wanderlust take them far, and their journeys be safe.”

After the Monk fell silent for the last time, the Councillor spoke with a gleam of nuclear light.

“Though the order I crafted for the Alliance has been flawed, and I have allowed fractures in my governance, I wish better for the humans who find my power. May they lead together with honour and wisdom, and bring better lives to their peoples.”

Then, the Knight, shimmering with electricity.

“In my darkest times, I allowed myself to abandon all devotion and hope to despair, watching helpless as temples were plundered and abandoned. As darkness falls, still, I bless all who find truth in my fragments. May their faiths bring light to the universe.”

The Merchant followed, brimming with atomic radiance.

“I have left far too many behind in my pursuit of riches, to wander without cause and live without power. When my remains are found once more, I hope they bestow great fortune to their bearers. May their guile and wit bring reward in every step of life.”

And at last, the Librarian spoke his words, shrouded by currents of crimson gravity.

“I have always cared for the common people, but alone I could never ensure humanity’s labourers were not exploited. For those my power falls in the hands of, I wish them respect for their work. May their sweat and blood be shed fairly for the good of all.”

Finally, it came the Innkeeper’s time to say her final words. In the distance, the starship plumes of the Sovereign-Lord’s war-fleet rounded the orbit of Skaude’s first planet.

The Innkeeper fought a war with herself in her mind. She had lived for so long, and yet she wished so much to live for longer yet. Since her awakening, she had championed freedom—liberty for the captives, voices for the voiceless, independence for the controlled. But now, she wanted freedom for herself. Freedom from that terrible fate that loomed ahead.

Yet that freedom would doom the plan…

The Archivists approached the planet they sheltered behind. The Innkeeper could see its mountain ridges, its jagged craters, its volcanic rivers. Closer, closer, the surface came, and now around her the other Archivists began releasing their power. Such power, more power than they had ever cast onto the universe, enough to open cracks in their bodies.

The Innkeeper began to cast her own. They engulfed her in violent ripples across the universe’s mass-symmetry field, and in her descent they battered her as tempests battered ocean-ships of old.

As the ocean-ships of old, as of a time and place so old and distant. The vision came sudden and clear, more vivid than it had ever been: great waves crashing against the wooden hull of her ship, casting cool mist into the air, riding the salty air blowing cold against her—cold against the skin she once had, mist and wind against her face and fingertips, rushing through hair and her sails and the fearsome rippling flag atop her mast. With silver clouds roiling through the sky in the company of screeching gulls, and the sea stretching deep and green toward every horizon.

When it ended, the war in her mind came to decisive victory.

The Innkeeper could see, now, individual stones scattered upon the ravaged grey surface of Skaude’s first planet. Around her, the other Archivists began to bleed with blinding red light through fractures in their bodies.

“What… are you… doing?” Cried the Librarian, through dying words. “Why are… you… whole?”

The Innkeeper let her powers fade away.

“You have never known.”

“Known… what?”

“Freedom. True freedom. From the moment we woke, we have been trapped in the Hyades Cluster. You remember who you were before you were the Librarian, don’t you? But it has been so long, that we cannot even imagine something different from what we are now. And now you will die in this cage.”

“No! Please… Innkeeper… we had a pact! All six of us must come together in the end!”

The second vision came just as abruptly, with a flash of brilliant blue. Now, in her memory’s eye, the Innkeeper was at the Librarian and Monk’s side, overlooking the dusty orange crescent of the Jhedd system’s fourth planet. City lights glittered in the silhouette of its dark side, winding in mesmerizing jagged patterns through rivers and oases. Above the atmosphere, a colossal space elevator stretched into orbit, and she and the Librarian and Monk were building it together, gathering panels and struts from nearby freighters like children picking flowers in a field, piecing them together with their star-born gifts.

Then, another vision, now with the Librarian and Knight, battling the cruel slavers of Vesda’s comet belt, bringing their betrayal of faith to justice and liberating the indentured workers they had unjustly held captive. In the icy rings of a small moon, a sea of red tendrils reached out from the Archivists to capture any starship that sought escape. The Innkeeper watched it all frozen, frozen in a state of being she could not understand save for the horrible anguish it stirred in her.

In that way, many visions—many memories passed by, each one a piercing reminder of the work she had done with the Librarian, with the other Archivists. Betrayal, each one seemed to say. See how we once endured hardships together, and know the depth to which you have betrayed me now.

It ended in a moment.

The Innkeeper could only watch; it was too late to join the pact of death now. She broke away from the Librarian and turned her descent into flight.

If she were still human, she would have shed many a salty tear.

As the planet’s scorched crescent receded behind her, the other Archivists pierced into its crust, then into its mantle. A ripple of energy cleaved through space, followed by colossal fissures snaking through the planet’s rock. Slowly, as the Innkeeper fled ever further away, it tore apart with the violence of a dying star, engulfing the Sovereign-Lord’s war-fleets.

The Innkeeper turned her sight towards the Silver River. She chose a star at the Hyades Cluster’s outer fringes. She began to move, until she flew with light itself and the galaxy turned a blur of red and blue. And then she slept.

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