Template:PostCatH Post 32 opens with The Excellence ending its pursuit of The Hopeful as they reach Tangris. Once there Princess Aurora Briarose is taken down to the planet for medical treatment. Kiron Nightstrider decides that he must leave as he cannot treat Clear any longer, after showing her his dream in CatH Post 30. Then Wai also announces he plans to leave, being a Wandering A.I., leaving Clear feeling very disappointed. She goes down to the city of Llyth on Tangris where Aurora has ultimately decided to go back into her casket and into suspended animation until a cure for the disease is found. Once frozen her casket is taken by Jeb, a student of Lord Kassuin, to the Skytower Temple for safety. Kassuin takes Clear, Ffion Heul and Kokoro Lymn to the Skytower Temple so they can address the Æon Lords. Heul and Lymn explain that Kassuin is an Aos Sí, or Sith, who are Dark Æon, while others may be Daoine, or Jedi. Neither path is considered a good thing by the Æon, who try to remain neutral in all things. Once at the meeting, Lord Kloo Celli introduces Clear and asks her to speak about the death of Telkrin Izep and the Dark Water, which happened in CatH Post 24.
The Æon Lords
The brief conversation with Dienhand went as Clear expected. Dienhand didn't reveal any specific knowledge about Princess Aurora's condition and demanded Kiron Nightstrider be handed over in return for any knowledge that the woman may, or may not, have. Kokoro revealed that she could do little to slow down the disease but she tried nonetheless and was constantly engaged in the medbay. Thrain's progress was likewise fruitless as the Imperial Database was incredibly detailed and yet also had many layers of information that was buried behind rank walls that Thrain didn't always have access to. Clear slumps down against the barrier of the Command Centre, separating the circular platform and the monitors from the seating area behind her. She sits there and stares at the spot where she had once seen the deaths of Captain Londris and Toolkit, seemingly so long ago. She thinks how much easier this might all be with their skill and experience but then she also wonders if she's aggrandising them in her memory. She barely even knew them.
Wai's voice comes out of the speakers.
Clear: "About time. As soon as we arrive, make sure you open a communications channel with them and get the princess help."
Wai: "No problem."
Clear: "Thanks Wai."
Clear stands up and walks towards the wall. She is lifted and pulled towards it before she even gets close. Pressed up against the cold steal she makes the decision to ask someone in the near future to update the bloody jumpdrives on the blasted ship.
Several transport ships are now docked in the docking bay of The Hopeful. Some of the droids from the Rebel Alliance are still onboard and she used them to clear away as much of the rubble and debris from the hangar as could be managed and allow the ships to land. One of them is a long ship coloured stark white, the classic colouring of medical vehicles. Medstaff take Princess Aurora onboard the ship. Kokoro Lymn and Green join her. Green gives Clear a worried look as the doors to the shuttle close on her.
Nightstrider: "This is goodbye then."
Kiron had told Clear an hour earlier that he intended to leave and now he is making good on that promise.
Clear: "Is there nothing I can do to make you stay, Kiron?"
Nightstrider: "Nothing. You never trusted me, Clear. And since I learnt the truth about this ship, I've not been able to trust you."
Clear: "Now you think I personally destroyed your world?"
Nightstrider: "I honestly don't know. I believed perhaps you were unaware and we could use this monstrous weapon against Dienhand but you didn't even look into it. Which means either you're afraid of the truth or you know the truth and you're hiding it."
Clear: "That's ridiculous."
Nightstrider: "You say that but I don't know you. You could be lying through your teeth. I like to think you're innocent but I really can't be sure of that anymore. So it's best that I leave..."
Clear: "What if you get caught?"
Nightstrider: "That's the other reason I should go. I'll make sure Dienhand hears that I'm not on Tangris or your ship and she'll leave you alone and chase me instead. I just hope I'm wrong about you. I've told the two knights everything. They said they'd keep the princess safe..."
Clear: "Great. Thanks Kiron. Get everyone to distrust me. For what? Your stupid dream! It was a dream Kiron! I could mean anything!"
Kiron doesn't say anything else. He put his helmet on and walked towards a waiting shuttle. Wai then approaches Clear.
Wai: "Sounds like a bad breakup."
Clear: "He's a wanker. What brings you down here, Wai?"
Wai: "Well, now I'm afraid to tell you. Normally I don't say anything and just wander off but I figured I owe you. You saved my life, for no reason, once. I owe you everything. But it is time for me to leave."
Wai: "It's just what I do. Honestly I'm amazed I stayed here this long. The clue's in my name!"
Clear: "Wandering A.I., I remember. This is awful. Everything is breaking apart. Kiron's gone, Aurora's in hospital, Kokoro and Ffion don't trust me and now you're leaving me too."
Wai: "I thought you preferred being alone?"
Clear falters. She does always say that but right now she feels nothing but loss. Her lips limp downwards. Wai, however, smiles.
Wai: "Not many of the people I meet care so much when I'm gone. We'll meet again one day, Captain. I'll just wander up from nowhere like I always do. Think of those who are still with you. You say your friends don't trust you anymore, so prove that they can. And remember, even without them, you still have one thing..."
He spreads his arms out and looks around with a grin. Then, after a swirl, he walks after Kiron Nightstrider and starts talking with the owner of the shuttle to barter his own passage. Clear looks up and around at the interior of The Hopeful. She always has her home. She sighs. Now she needs a new A.I. to run the ship's systems.
One day later Clear awkwardly climbs down the ladder from the cockpit of the yellow starfighter. Most of Tangris is unpopulated save for small temple colonies of Æon. However one small city exists on the northernmost continent. The city, Llyth, is home to different species and cultures that have come together fairly harmoniously. The Æon have non-Æon families that live in Llyth, their husbands, wives, children, brothers, uncles. But many more besides also came to Llyth to start afresh, away from the politics off the Empire or the rebels. The Æon temples get most of their resources from Llyth, which are usually given freely in exchange for the protection the Æon presence offers the planet. No faction wishes to incur the Æon as a foe and so Tangris remains free of dominance or external control.
Although the city uses ships crafted off-world, there is an Æon construction plant that designs and produces starfighters for use by Æon only. They're often brightly coloured, like Ffion's yellow ship, and sleek in design. Although the ships use conventional powering mechanisms, Ffion explained to Clear that they could be powered by the soul of an Æon knight if necessary. The yellow ship, which Ffion named Nach, is one of a kind. Every Æon ship is designed to cater to each knight or student and thus is unique each time. While some may be similar in some ways, the details, at least, are always different. Other times no two ships are even vaguely alike, which Ffion assured Clear is the case for her own Nach and Kokoro's ship.
Ffion's ship was designed with two-seats in mind, as well as a small cargo space which Ffion now pops open. Hydraulics hiss as the hatch lowers. Clear pulls the casket out and the hatch closes again. As Clear begins pushing the casket down the ramp towards the spaceport, Ffion catches up to her. She turns and there is a distinctive 'beep beep', apparently locking the vessel from afar.
Heul: "Busy day today, Captain."
Clear: "I know, right? I'm a bit nervous about meeting these Lords of yours."
Heul: "Just give your report, that's all. Thanks for doing it, by the way."
Clear: "Whatever helps. I liked Telkrin. It'd be pretty selfish of me not to help out."
Heul: "First thing's first though..."
She pats the top of the casket.
Half an hour later they have reached the hospital and enter the princess' room. Clear hugs the teary-eyed Aurora.
Princess Aurora: "I really don't want to do this..."
Clear: "It's your choice, Aurora. You don't have to go back in there. We may still find the cure."
Princess Aurora: "By then how many limbs will I have lost? I can't move my hand, Clear. I can't even hold..."
She looks over at the sword resting on a chair nearby. Clear reaches over and places it against Aurora's chest. She wraps her left arm around the sheath.
Princess Aurora: "I know what happened to me now. My butler must have found out about the plot to have me assassinated, even the method. Maybe he thought it had already been done to me. So when I was knocked out during the attack, he put me into the stasis chamber so the disease wouldn't accelerate through my system. He must have taken me to Earth to seek help, or perhaps he was chased there by the attackers of our ship. Either way I fear he may have... lost his life. I'm so distressed, Clear. I don't know what to do."
Lymn: "Soon you won't have to think, princess. You'll just be asleep. When you wake up again, we'll have your cure."
Clear: "Your Lords couldn't help?"
Lymn: "They could only slow it down, not remove it. It's a man-made monstrosity that will kill her in a few weeks. There really is no way to stop it except reverse engineer the bacteria that started this to counteract the disease. To do that we'll need to find out who made the disease."
Princess Aurora: "I know Dienhand probably had a hand in this but honestly I think someone inside the Rebel Alliance wanted this to happen. The only people that knew where I was were those in the Alliance government. If you can, you could start enquiries there. Thank you everyone..."
The nurses lift Aurora from her hospital bed and into the casket. She holds her sword to her chest. The length of the weapon extends almost to her feet. She has dressed herself in a ceremonial dress of royalty for Algernon, a replica fabricated by a local tailor just for this event. Even in this moment Aurora knows how to show-off. Green holds Aurora's hand but the princess cannot feel it. Then the lid slowly closes and Green hugs Clear instead. And finally the princess is at rest again, just as Clear had found her.
Lymn: "There's a consignment of Æon outside waiting to take the princess to Skytower Temple. She'll be well protected there. Most of the Æon that train there are Consulars that focus a lot of their practice on the healing arts. Should she be woken up, they will be there to help her."
Clear: "This is terrible. Poor Aurora. I wouldn't want to be trapped out of existence like this."
Heul: "Just means we have to solve the mystery all the quicker."
Lymn: "First thing's first though. We have to report to the Æon Lords."
Clear looks down at Aurora. She feels she is being given an opportunity to save her. So many people have died around Clear in recent months but now is the chance to save one of them from death. She has to uncover the plot to kill Aurora. The nurses slide the casket from the room and the present crew of The Hopeful follow, like a funeral procession. Clear thinks of all the funerals she recently should have attended but was never given the chance. There was the military ceremony for Captain Londris and the rest of her team lost retaking The Hopeful but that was all so far. She thinks she should hold a small ceremony by herself for Hebedee and maybe even Note. She wonders if the Æon intend some ceremony for Telkrin Izep.
They exist the hospital and she is once again under the orange sky of Tangris. In the sky are the two red dwarves of the Tangris system, slowly orbiting each other in the sky. They go by quite quickly as far as Clear is concerned, having been used rotation of Mars for day and night cycles. But here on Tangris there is rarely any night as when the dual reds have gone down the single far-off yellow star of the Tangris system would also then rise and take many hours to pass. The planet is protected by elements in the air, which also gives the sky its orange hue. Yet the world is hot and dry nonetheless. Or it would be if huge atmospheric generators weren't pumping the air with helpful atmosphere to make life more comfortable for most living beings on the world. The planet never had any native species to it so when terraforming began, it was an easy decision. Although not all species wanted the same conditions, as the humans are the most numerous and the most versatile in habitats, their needs were met and most other species can easily adapt to those conditions.
But these generators only produce quality atmosphere around Llyth. Further afield and one would be risking their health in the wastes of Tangris, baking under the triple-sun threat. Many locals would complain that the air of Llyth feels artificial but to Clear it's much better than the air of The Hopeless.
In the courtyard of the hospital, standing near the decorative lake, are some Æon knights. One of them steps forward as the casket nears.
Lymn: "I didn't expect you to greet us personally, Lord Kassuin..."
Kassuin: "There's no time to waste. Jeb--"
A student steps forward. He's a squat alien with a bulbous head and large black eyes. His skin is dark grey and his limbs seem a little too small. He wears a tailor-made white apprentice robes of a consular. When he blinks, the eyelids close vertically.
Kasssuin: "--take Princess Aurora to Skytower Temple. Make sure she arrives safely."
Jeb looks down at the princess inside her casket and stares for a long moment.
The alien jumps and nods eagerly.
Jeb: "Yes teacher. Right away."
He leads most of the other Æon away with the casket and suddenly Clear feels unsafe leaving the princess alone with such a stranger.
Thrain: "I will accompany them. I'll join you aboard The Hopeful when you're ready to leave."
Clear silently thanks Thrain. Kassuin looks like he may protest but relents as Thrain steps in line with the Æon group escorting Aurora.
Kassuin is also not a human. His skin is incredibly dark purple that verges on black but shines in the suns' rays. His face is narrow and his nose is squashed into his skull. From that nose extends a black bone ridge up the centre of his face to then protrude from the top of his skull. The horn ends with a bulb rather than a spike. Where Clear and humans have hair, Kassuin has more black bone. If she didn't know better she might have believed the man was wearing a headdress from ancient Egypt on Earth (a subject taught to her by Note one very long summer when she was young). It covers most of his head and extends out into a smooth helmet-like case. Yet from this bony extension of his head does come his hair. His hair seems thin and wispy compared to Clear's. It comes out of the bone in a row at the rear of the 'head piece'. Each bony tube has a clump of hair hanging from it like feathers. His hair is silver, not unlike the colour of some Salmittons. Otherwise he wears the white robes of a Consular Knight. However even this has been adapted to account for the large bones that grow from his shoulders like shoulderpads.
Kassuin: "While I am sorry for the loss you both must feel, I will not hide my pleasure at the demise of a knight so inept as Telkrin Izep. It may be that the Lords decide to award you both to a new teacher. I certainly would accept you, Kokoro Lymn, as I feel your consular skills would benefit greatly from my knowledge. Unfortunately I have only one position left under me as I also have Jeb, as you well know. Otherwise they may decide to let you run free. A decision I shall absolutely oppose. Neither of you have been particularly well trained considering how talented you both are. Izep was lucky to be granted your guardianship and he squandered the chance to have you excel. His loss."
Heul: "I don't appreciate your attitude, Lord Kassuin."
Kassuin: "I don't expect you to appreciate anything, Ffion Heul. But you would be wise to listen."
Kokoro doesn't take the opportunity to make a sly comment about Ffion being incapable of listening, which tells Clear that they plan to stand together in solidarity against this Kassuin. The man turns and everyone begins to follow him.
Kassuin: "You should consider yourself lucky that I shall not be your teacher, Heul. I wouldn't tolerate that kind of back talk from one of my students. Just more evidence of Izep's failings."
Ffion grits her teeth at Kassuin's back but Kokoro nudges her. The Æon Lord then chuckles.
Kassuin: "Such anger inside you, Heul. Perhaps I spoke too soon? Maybe you'd make an excellent student after all."
Ffion seems even more insulted and somewhat upset by that remark than anything said before. Clear doesn't understand why nor does she understand why Kassuin changed his mind. Clear watches the man lumber forward. Although the bone protrusions are large and bulky, his body is otherwise physically slender and tall. His arms and legs seem a little gangly even.
They are led to a large shuttle and asked to seat themselves. Clear is sure that this is one of the ships from Llyth and not an Æon craft as Ffion told her they only used starfighters built for one-to-three members and no larger. Before they enter, however, Kassuin stops and points to the two Æon students.
Kassuin: "You two onboard. And you--"
He points to Clear.
Kassuin: "--also onboard. This little creature--"
He motions to Green but doesn't directly point at her.
Kassuin: "--will have to make her own way home."
Clear: "What? Why?"
Kassuin: "Only those requested can enter this temple. No one else. Simple as that."
Clear: "You could have told us earlier."
Kassuin: "Could have but didn't."
He disappears onboard the shuttle. Clear sighs and turns to Green.
Clear: "I'll see you later, okay? Will you be okay by yourself?"
Green: "I'll be okay. I never get to see you anymore though..."
Clear: "We can hang out when we get back to the ship."
Clear: "Sounds like a plan. She might come early to meet you for dinner if you ask her."
Green: "That's a great idea! Yeah!"
She grins and gives Clear a V for Victory.
Clear: "Be careful Green. I do worry about you when you're by yourself."
Green: "I can handle myself."
Clear: "Last time you handled yourself you almost destroyed my ship."
Green: "I'm SO sorry about that, Clear!!"
She becomes upset and Clear rolls her eyes.
Clear: "Relax, I was just joking. Even if it's true. Just stay out of trouble."
Green: "Aye aye."
Clear gets onboard and waves to Green before sitting down at a table and buckling herself in. She's sitting with Kokoro and Ffion. No sign of Kassuin.
Clear: "What's the deal with this guy then? He seems like a complete... mean... person."
Heul: "He is. And then some."
Lymn: "He's Sootik Kassuin, Æon Lord and one of the more famous ones at that. He's a very popular consular."
Heul: "And a sith."
She almost spits the word.
Lymn: "Calm down, Ffion."
Clear: "What's a sith? What's so bad about that?"
Lymn: "There is no good and evil in the Æon Knights. Not really. We don't interfere with things, we are here for the protection of the people. We just protect them from whatever threat faces them. Be it creatures, pirates, imperials or even rebels - though to be fair, they're less prone to attacking civilians. We help keep and attain knowledge for everyone to use. We value life more than anything else."
Heul: "Aos Sí don't. Sith is a... colloquial term used by people from Terra Flux. It's just a slang term, but a popular one it seems. The true term is Aos Sí. Aos Sí are a sect of Æon knights and lords that genuinely believe we have a duty to rule people. Technically they're still Æon knights and lords so they are one of us, yet their ideology isn't."
Clear: "And did he think you could be Aos Sí, Ffion? Is that what he meant?"
Lymn: "As we said, everything is about balance. But our power comes from within us. Our souls. The power we wield is a physical manifestation of that soul. So if our soul is... not neutral, we may be considered 'dark Æon'. Or 'light Æon' of course. Most people are not so resolutely good-natured to be light Æon but some do exist. They may become Daoine, another group of Æon that follow their own ideology based around the notion of teaching and guidance. But not all dark or light Æon will join these groups. Just some."
Heul: "But there are more dark Æon than light."
Lymn: "It's usually the easier path. Dark Æon means acting on anger, hatred, self-interest, disgust. They're not evil, I should add. They just do things differently."
Heul: "I'd say they're evil! Especially the sith!"
Lymn: "Keep your voice down, Ffion."
Lymn: "Light Æon appear because an Æon uses love, passion and aspiration."
Clear: "Aren't some of these things kind of subjective?"
Lymn: "Perhaps the culture of the Æon sways their understanding of these terms. I don't know. Either way when you lean towards light or dark there are tell-tale signs."
Heul: "But going either way is not what you're supposed to do. Even if you're light and people think you're some bastion of good, that's not the way of the Æon. We're to remain neutral. A balance in all things."
Their conversations extends into matters of good and bad, right and wrong, light and dark but whatever the truth is, some Æon can sway either side of the spectrum. The task was to remain in neutral mode. Not to give in to the impulse to control the universe, nor to try to save it from itself. Both paths lead to ultimate disappointment and do not serve the greater good of history. Kokoro tells a story of a Daoine saving a planet from raiders and he was so popular that he was elected ruler of the world. He was always trying to help everyone, save everyone and solve everyone's problems. But in the end, every act made someone else miserable. In the end the miseries built up and he had done more harm than good. Likewise an Aos Sí ruled a planet with the intent of managing everyone so that they could live healthy and long lives. But every act he took to control the people resulted in someone being left unhappy until they despised him and he lost control. The two women would then continue telling Æon stories until the ship finally lands.
When Clear gets out she finds that she is in the middle of a tropical paradise. A large temple stands before her with plants growing all over it. A waterfall also falls down from the temple's roof, where Clear guesses the mountain behind connects to. The pool at the foot of the temple looks cool in the Tangris heat of the region. Palm trees and sand look inviting, though Clear usually prefers the cold to the heat. She follows the Æon troop through the main gate and inside the temple. Despite the heat outside the inside is very cold. She wonders if that's a natural phenomenon or if they have the A.C. cranked up really high. She doesn't have far to walk in the high-ceilinged temple until she finds herself greeted by a huge round table with many people sitting at it. She is ushered round the table until she is given a seat, far from where Ffion and Kokoro are placed. She finds herself sitting between two men. One is a human with blonde hair while the other is a human-like being but with lots of antennae wriggling about his head. Clear swallows nervously. There are many, many people here. She had expected a small council, not a huge assembly.
Suddenly a section of the table drops down into the ground, creating a path to an Æon Lord on the opposite side of the table to Clear. The path allows the Lord to walk through the table to the centre where she steps lightly up onto a central platform. She is a black-skinned human with very long curly blonde hair. She wears the robes of a Lord, which are somewhat bulkier and longer than the robes of a knight. She wears the colour brown, like Telkrin did, marking her a Sentinal.
Celli: "For the sake of our guest--"
The woman looks at Clear.
Celli: "I am Lord Kloo Celli. We are aware of the information that was given to us by our students Kokoro Lymn and Ffion Heul. However we would obliged if you, Captain Clear, could give us your account of the events that led to the tragic death of Telkrin Izep."
Clear feels pleased that Lord Celli would designate the event as Telkrin's death rather than the emergence of a horrible monster. The woman descends the platform and begins walking back to her seat. At the same time the table suddenly slips away from Clear, falling into the floor so that she could walk down the path provided to the central podium. Clear stands and walks. She fidgets and tries not to look into the dozens of eyes staring at her - sometimes from a single being! She gets up to the podium and then feels the full weight of eyes upon her. She closes her own eyes and draws and breath. She just has to think clearly and tell them what happened. She releases her breath and begins to tell the tale...