Ive made countless deals in the last five hundred years as Ive run this organization. Ive had deals with the Dominion to ease up their restrictions on our shipping of Lemange. Ive had deals with the Union to gain freedom of movement in their boundaries for wiping out some particularly annoying voids. Hell, Ive made deals with the Lavoids themselves, selling anti-lavoid weaponry to both sides of their civil war. When two people can both benefit from a deal, sometimes you just have to take it, even if it means doing business with the devil. Honestly, thats probably what half of the people Ive had contracts with thought they were doing when they started working with me.
-Jack McKlane, in Shaking the Heavens, a biography
Long before Lathain of Zeal and the LEA swept across the galaxy in their crusade, long before the scientists of Terra had recreated the Lavoids, even, the eldar had been a space faring people. Perhaps it was their aptitude with magic that allowed them to advance so quickly, or perhaps that they had been around for much longer than the primitive humans of Terra. Perhaps they had a similar experience with an object anchored by a finori to what the first space faring humans had, or perhaps they stumbled upon some relic of the ancient Sraphites or Draconians. Regardless of how it occurred, though, before the galaxy belonged to the Sol Dominion or the Lavoids, the galaxy was the playground to the elves.
The elves are, at their root, a warrior culture: a value set that can be traced back to their home world. Because of their advantages in magic, their armies were able to conquer lesser foes with ease. Bit by bit, they built an empire characterized by peace and thriving trade. Conquered worlds, if civilized, were allowed to retain their own culture, requiring only their functioning as trade nodes. In this manner, the elves did not put unnecessary duress on those functionally under their control, minimizing civil unrest.
Elven military might came from two main sources. First, their ability with magic was (and probably still is) unrivaled. Their wizards and conjurers dominated most battlefields, paving the way for the warriors to move forward and cut down the enemy in close combat. The elves abhorred the use of guns, using their second species-driven advantage -exceptional speed and agility- to move into and dominate the melee. The elves excelled in the use of bladed weapons, and the one-two combination of magic and melee was extremely effective, even against worlds with relatively advanced technology bases. War was a form of art for the elves for a very long time.
Destiny would not have the elves running the show forever, though, and when Destiny wants something, It normally gets Its way.
The fall of the elves came in two crushing blows, both of them being at least the indirect fault of the humans. When the Lavoids were first released in full might on the galaxy, the vibrant worlds of the elves were popular targets of the beasts. Elven worlds are virtually pollution free, as the elves themselves stress a strong sense of harmony with the environment. Unfortunately for the elves, healthy worlds like these meant lots of Lifestream- the fueling source for the Lavoids. As the Lavoids spread, particularly in the repopulating process after the Second Fall of Terra, many elven worlds fell, and not even the magical and martial prowess of the elves could stand up to the power of Chaos.
As the beleaguered eldar fought for their survival against the Lavoids, Cain and his Wanderers made their way to the galaxy and began to form the Sol Dominion. Then, as Lavoid attacks began to abate (around the time that Kyrie lost her homeworld), the Dominion moved and forced the elves to fight against something that had always been on their side: magic.
While Dominion sorcerers were not nearly as able as those of the eldar, the presence of opposing magic on the battlefield was enough to make the once unstoppable melee approach of combat suddenly fragile. When faced with their own strength being used against them, the technological might of the Dominion began to wear down on the elves. Unable to repopulate the armies that had already been weakened in the lavoid wars, the once great eldar empire folded after a mere three years of war with the Dominion. It was not long after that the Dominion began the sequestering process that resulted in the creation of the Eldar Confederacy
The elves, once a noble and powerful people, had been reduced to the political puppets of Cain and his Dominion. Elves rarely forget, however, and even after what was over a thousand years, they hated Cain, they hated the Dominion, and they hated the Lavoids. It was into this environment of hate that Cyrius came and formed the Swordmasters Order
Hallas was taken by surprise as Siria opened the door to his mediation room, snapping him out of concentration with a startled look. Out of habit, his right hand shot to the knife in his belt, though he quickly released it when he saw that the intruder was just his lover.
Sorry... Hallas said, standing up. You startled me.
I heard they found the person for the job, Siria said, clasping her hands behind her back and walking up to him.
Thats right, Hallas said, motioning her out of the mediation room and back into the sitting area of the main room. She walked over to the couch on the far and the room and sat down.
So who is he? she asked,
Cyrius says hes a planeswalker, Hallas said, sitting across from her in a large chair. Hes some sort of Lavoid Hunter from the Union.
A Lavoid Hunter? Whats he doing here? Siria asked.
Were not sure, Hallas said. Or at least Cyrius hasnt told me yet. Hes supposed to be good, though.
They say he dispelled the approach shields, Siria said. What kind of magic is required to do that?
The powerful kind, Hallas said. I tried to analyze his Lifestream when we found him, but he actively guards it so well, I couldnt get any sort of read.
A planeswalker, though Siria said. Ive never actually met one before. How exciting
Not just any planeswalker, Hallas said. This ones particularly important, I think. Cyrius said his name was Duncan McKlane.
McKlane? she asked. Like from the Exterminatorum Adeptus? That was Lathain of Zeals common name, was it not?
This is Lathains son, I think, he responded.
I thought all traces of them had been destroyed at the end of the Second Age, Siria said. Most people dont even know the LEA existed. Is it possible that Cyrius is wrong?
I dont know, Siria, he admitted. Cyrius isnt wrong often, and at first glance, it looks like this man might be in that upper echelon of power. He looked around the room, taking in the air for a moment, then returning to focus. I just hope he can do the job properly.
Itll be fine, Hallas, Siria said. Im going back to the Complex in a day or so. Well have the kidnapping, the Dominion will deny it, then the Swordmasters will raid the Escillian garrison and well deny our responsibility. The Dominion will become aggressive and the Senate will have no choice but to move towards war. Its pretty brilliantly planned, if I must say so myself.
Yes, Cyrius is very good at what he does, Hallas said. Its frightening, sometimes.
Just trust him. After this, theres nothing stopping us from being together. If I can be strong, then you can, too. Hallas nodded slowly.
Youre right. Im not worried about it, he said, trying to convince himself that it was true. Come, lets go get dinner. Im hungry and theres a long evening of planning coming up.
Cyrius had Duncan and Kyrie shown to the rooms they would stay in. The residential block of the Tower was far larger than either had expected, and it was only now that they concluded that the Tower was far more than just a training ground and dormitory for the Swordmasters. In fact, it seemed as though despite the Swordmasters distaste for magic, there were a plethora of individuals studying the stuff here. The magical presence was stronger in some areas than others, indication that it was being siphoned to specific sites, likely for experiments or training sessions.
Their rooms were located on the 77th floor, across the hall from each other. The rooms were fairly nice, equipped in standard elven fashion. The color scheme of the Tower and the Swordmasters was continued in the residences. The walls were creamy colored, accented by golden trim and moldings. Bed sheets and draperies were detailed in royal blue embroideries. No wood could be seen- the furniture seemed to be sculpted out of pure ivory.
Both apartments included full bathrooms, a sitting area, a sleeping area, and an eating area. Elven kitchens are mostly built using ether technology, from the refrigerators to the cooking appliances. The kitchens in these were fully functional. They had been told by the one that showed them here that there were food stores on each even numbered floor and that they would have access to them by the end of the day.
Most of the duos possessions were still on the Vendetta, but it was Confederacy law that required all foreign vessels to remain docked at the primary spaceport on a given planet. Cyrius offered to have someone pick up their possessions, but Duncan would not allow others into his ship unmonitored. He told the High Swordmaster that he or Kyrie would take Tower-provided transport back to Escillith and pick up their supplies on their own.
Duncan wearily began to take off his clothes, eager for a hot shower. Locating an alcove that was probably intended for use as a closet, Duncan tossed his trench coat into the space and watched as a gravity suspensor neatly caught the coat and poised it upright as if it was on a standard hanger. He unhooked the buckles on his gun belt and dropped the gargantuan pistols on a desk by the bed. Next to them he placed his shoulder-mounted knife holster and black sunglasses. Brushing off the knee-length black cassock that he had been wearing underneath his coat, he walked over to the far wall and looked out of his window onto the plains below. The grass itself seemed ethereal when looking out from the Tower and past the magical shields that enveloped it.
He breathed in, running his hand through his hair, pondering for a moment the ridiculousness of the situation. Duncan McKlane, the last of the High Elijiahians, caught by the Dominion, enslaved by their science, only to be recaptured and blackmailed by the Lavoids and end up now serving the elves. What a week, indeed.
Major bummer, man, Kyries voice pierced the silence as she meandered up towards Duncan. My room doesnt have a window, she said as she reached him. This view is pretty incredible, though.
This whole land is saturated in Order energies, Duncan said. Its a strange place to pick to train a force that doesnt use the stuff.
I didnt know that so much magical activity was conducted here, Kyrie said. Youd think thatd be info Id have. Im disappointed in my own lack of prior knowledge of this place.
Theres definitely something special about this place, thats for sure, Duncan agreed. Its like all of the mystery of your people is focused and magnified here. Even the air tickles of magic. Did you notice how your room smelled? Its like the spring blossom, but theres no physical source of the smell. The residents must be so in tune with their spirits that they address the scents on the astral plane as well as on the physical one. Also, its nearly fall in the planets seasonal cycle, but I dont think the grass will ever wither or die.
Elysia Kyrie said. She looked at him. Isnt that how they describe it?
Flowers always in bloom and grass that never withers? Yes, I believe thats part of it. Somehow, Kyrie, I dont think that our being here has anything to do with dying and going to heaven. While I can do what I can to prevent dying, I dont think I have any say in where I go after that.
Dont talk about dying just yet, Duncan, Kyrie said. Theres still a lot that needs to get done, if not by your hand, then by mine.
Well see, he said flatly. Cyrius is meeting me tonight to discuss the arrangement. Theyve offered to fly one of us back to the Vendetta to get our belongings. Do you think you could do that tonight while I meet with him?
Yeah, sure, Kyrie said. I want to get my computers and set them up here. If were going to be here for any extended period of time, well need them. Theres a ton of exploring to do while Im here, too. I mean, hell, this is the White Tower of the Swordmasters Order. While it wasnt around when I was still living on Ithilian, Ive heard stories about this place for centuries.
I want to know more about the Swordmasters, Duncan said, clasping his hands behind his back and turning back to the window. And more about Cyrius. Hes good, and even if he is my ally, Id like to know exactly who Im dealing with. Something tells me Im going to be a need-to-know basis as far as the Tower is concerned, but theres nothing stopping you from doing a little electronic snooping around, is there?
They knew I was there, last time, Kyrie said, lowering her eyes. But I guess if Im inside their network to begin with, I might be able to cover my tracks a little easier. Well have better hardware, here, too. You can only do so much on a handheld, after all.
Youll be fine, he told her. Any help is better than no help, and well only go prying if I think Cyrius is actually denying me information. Itll be tough, since he guards himself so well, but well figure something out.
Im going to go exploring, Kyrie said with a nod.
Youre like a little girl, sometimes, Duncan jibbed.
Gotta think young, she said with a shrug. Curiositys always been one of my more pervasive traits.
Find out where they keep the alcohol, while youre looking, he said.
Ill drink to that, Kyrie said, moving towards the door. Good luck with the meeting.
Dont get lost.
Hey, come on, now. How could anything happen? Its me were talking about.
Thats exactly what Im afraid of.
Later that evening, Cyrius was to meet Duncan in a lounge that was simply described to him as someplace for important discussions. A white robed female elf came to his room at the prearranged time and escorted him to this secretive room. In actuality, though, the servant could do no more than show him to a teleportation block and give him the key word to speak.
The porters scan your ethermetics readouts as you go through them, allowing only authorized individuals to gain access to certain places, she told him. Just say Elthar Fi after the porter clears you for entrance.
Elthar Fi? Duncan asked, extremely confused by those two words finding their way into an elven stronghold. He knew those words well, mostly because they were tied into his heritage, but why they would be uttered in the Confederacy, let alone at all anymore, was beyond him.
Cyrius came up with it, the servant said. I dont know what they mean, either.
Its not an elven tongue, Duncan told her simply.
Oh, I see, the servant elf said. Well, please be on your way, she said politely. I dont want to get in trouble for not seeing you here in time.
Thank you, Duncan said with a nod. No, Ill be on my way. Recalling how Cyrius had done this before, he tapped the button on the base of the porter with his toe and waited for the green light on the back wall to come on. As it did, he stepped onto the devise and spoke the words he hadnt heard in ages.
Elthar Fi, he said, and there was a pleasant ping as his passage was cleared and he was quickly transported to the meeting location. The new room was, like the Harrisons replica, not very elfin in appearance. The black walls gave Duncan the impression of a Dominion War Room, but the red leather chairs and couches somewhat muddled that distinction. Dark red curtains adorned the windows on the far side of the room. That was where Cyrius was standing, clad in black robes, drinking from a heavy mug. Duncan quickly recognized the smell of coffee.
Sitting off to Cyriuss side was a new face, that of a small woman with wavy red hair. She, like Cyrius, was also clad in black and Duncan processed her presence for a few seconds as Cyrius greeted him.
Welcome, Cyrius said, turning from the window. Can I get you some coffee?
Sure, Duncan said. Cyrius nodded, setting his mug on a nearby table and wandering over to the left. He produced another mug from the cabinets on the wall and poured Duncan a cup.
You take it black, I assume?
Actually, with sugar, Duncan admitted. Not much, but I like a little.
Thats interesting, Cyrius said, walking to Duncan and handing him the mug and two packets of sugar. I had a friend, once, and he always used to say you could tell a lot from a person by how they take their coffee. From what I know of you, though, Duncan, I wouldnt have assumed sugar would find its way into your coffee.
So there are two possible explanations, Duncan said, taking the coffee in one hand and pouring the sugar into the cup. Either you dont know very much about me at all he took a sip, smiling mildly. Or your friend was wrong. Cyrius considered this for a moment and Duncan would have sworn that he was somehow pleased by the planeswalkers comment.
Please, come sit, Cyrius said. Id like to introduce you to Ariana Tenser, my associate, Duncan faulted a bit at the mention of the name, but tried not to appear taken aback.
Good to meet cha, Ariana said, rising from her seat and extending her arm. Seeing her move, his initial scan of her suddenly made more sense.
Youre not an elf, Duncan said, a bit surprised. Ariana laughed as she shook his hand.
Nope, not me, she said. Full blood human, or at least thats what they tell me. You never can tell these days, though, right? she joked. Duncan carefully studied her, now realizing that he had somehow seen this woman before, but not being able to tell where.
Duncan moved sat in the closest open chair, laying his coffee down next to Cyriuss. As he sat, he detached the Dreamblade, the only armament he had brought, and leaned the sheathed blade up against his chair. He drew himself up, looking to Cyrius with a well, youre the one who called me here look.
Of course, Cyrius said, knowing the glance well. The details. I dont suppose you want to discuss the weather or your quarters beforehand? he asked jokingly. He knew the answer would be no. It didnt take long to figure out that Duncan McKlane didnt bull shit around. Someone like Cyrius who was in the know (as he put it) probably knew this before even meeting the man.
Ive got some other questions for later, Duncan admitted, thinking mostly of the password for getting to this floor and the last name of the woman sitting across from him. But we can deal with business first.
Very well, Cyrius said, nodding and taking another sip from his mug. I assume youre somewhat aware of history of the Eldar Confederacy.
Somewhat, Duncan said blankly.
And of the growing tensions between us and the Dominion?
A bit more so, Duncan said. I can venture a guess as to where you want these tensions to go, too.
There is a growing movement in our Senate to seek full independence from the Sol Dominion, Cyrius said. But theres a certain force against this movement thats being applied by many of the older statesmen who are content with the power that they have. As you can imagine, this upsets certain people who are slightly more freedom minded.
I can imagine.
As it happens, though, Cyrius continued, There are several key individuals who are in favor of this new movement.
And one of them happens to control the most elite fighting force in this quadrant, Duncan said, cutting him off. Am I right?
The Swordmasters serve the Confederacy by doing what is right for the Confederacy, even if the Senate is in disagreement. That is why we remain separate from the Senate. Duncan looked intrigued.
Wait so you operate a military organization thats autonomous from your governing body? How the hell did that come about?
I think they were your words, Duncan, Cyrius said. Im very good at what I do. Lets just say in addition to having several key individuals on my side, Im very good at identifying situations that might be beneficial to my goals.
And they are? Duncan asked, raising an eyebrow.
At the moment, getting the Senate to declare war against the Dominion, Cyrius said with a quite smirk.
Which is what you need me for, I assume, Duncan said.
Ill explain in full, so you can get an idea of the whole plan, Cyrius said. Duncan nodded, giving him the go-ahead. Cyrius passively took another sip from the mug, placing it back on the table and placing his hands in his lap.
I want you to break into the Confederate Senate Complex and kidnap someone, he said simply. Duncan didnt appear phased, so he continued. The person that brought you in here is an elf named Hallas. His girlfriend is one Siria Antioch, a member of the political aristocracy here on Escillian. Now, Sirias father is very against change, and, to be honest, very against Hallas, but unknown to her farther, Siria is a member of our little freedom movement. When you kidnap her, it will be interpreted as a Dominion move, mostly because Ive been doing a good job of giving Cain every reason to want to kill me these last few months.
Not a friend of Cain? Duncan asked.
I believe thats a mutual point we share, Cyrius said with a smirk.
I did try to kill the guy, Duncan said, chuckling softly. Cyrius also managed a laugh.
No, Cyrius continued. I hate that bastard a lot. Hes so damn cocky; youd think he was the leader of some huge Galactic Power or something. Having been silent up to this point, Ariana laughed at the joke as Cyrius continued. Regardless, the Senate will accuse the Dominion and the Dominion will deny it. This process will probably take about a week if the uproar is as big as I think it will be.
The next step is to send a task force in and take down the Dominion Garrison stationed in orbit around this world. This will be done by Swordmasters, but it will be performed in a manner that does not give away our identity. The Dominion will be stumped, and blame the Confederacy, mostly because theyll think that we still blame them for kidnapping Siria. The Confederacy will then respond by denying it and the Dominion will become aggressive to solve the problem. Upon violating what limited independence they grant us, the Confederacy Senate would have no chance but to declare war.
Duncan stared at Cyrius for a moment, allowing all of this to settle in.
You want to start a war, he said. But why? I can tell your Swordmasters are great warriors, but the Confederacy has no real army that could stand up to the Dominion. Do you intend to overpower the entirety of the Dominion with your task force? he asked comically.
See, thats the beauty of it all, Cyrius said. Youve noted the rising tensions between all three of the other major Galactic Powers, have you not? Duncan nodded. The Union and the Dominion in particular are on the verge of a war of proportions that this galaxy hasnt seen since the days of the Lavoid Exterminatorum Adeptus. With that happening, its just a matter of us picking wise targets to achieve our goals.
And what do you know of the LEA? Duncan asked coyly.
I know enough, Cyrius said cryptically. And I know that while they werent the largest army in the galaxy, but they were able to bring Cain and his Dominion to their knees.
They were larger than I believe this Order is, Duncan pointed out. And not only did they have the planeswalkers, but they had weaponry far outstripping the technology of even the elves.
Well, we have a planeswalker now, as well, Cyrius said. Then, And our army will grow, he said. Once war is in motion, the Senate will reinstate the citizen draft and well have a full compliment of forces to go along with the Swordmasters. Size is not the most important thing, either, Duncan, Cyrius said.
I dunno, Ariana chimed in. I know a few girls who might argue differently, she said with a laugh. Duncan and Cyrius both narrowed their eyes and gave her cold stares. She quickly sank back in her chair, her audience not appreciating the innuendo.
Thats not what I meant, Ariana, Cyrius said. What I mean is that Duncan here is well schooled enough in war to know that the most precise touch can take down a giant when applied to the right place.
Youve studied the LEA? Duncan asked hesitantly.
Your father was one hell of a general, Cyrius said. Duncan thought about this for a moment, analyzing the Swordmaster carefully.
Youre older than me, Duncan said. Which means you were probably around during his campaigns, correct?
He was a good man, Cyrius said as he lowered his head, sealing Duncans suspicions that the High Swordmaster had in fact known his father.
How did you know him? Duncan asked, trying hard not to appear too eager for the information Cyrius possessed. Cyrius managed a thin smile before standing up and brushing off his robes.
For another day, Cyrius said. I hadnt wanted anything besides our deal influencing your decision on participating in my plan. Im sorry that Ive obviously piqued some interest (damn, he could read Duncan so easily). Now that your end of the deal is set before you, Ill give you some time to think it over. In the mean time, I shall arrange an appointment with Ranagorn for you.
I dont foresee any problems, Duncan said. Out of curiosity, though, what will my position be in this little war of yours?
Why, youll be my general, of course, Cyrius said with a smile. After all, if ever there was someone with the genes for war making, why, itd have to be Lathains son.
Funny how its my genes that bring me here in the first place, in addition to making me ideal for your job, Duncan mused.
Im sorry to say that I cant guarantee what Ranagorn will tell you. Its why I want to give you the option of meeting with him before agreeing to help.
I understand, Duncan said. Im a man of business myself. I know how these things work.
I have to be going now, if youll pardon me, Cyrius said. There are several matters at hand that I have to address. Ariana can answer anything else that might be on your mind, he said, giving him a knowing glance. Of course Cyrius knew what Duncan would ask the girl. Before he left, he looked down at the Dreamblade, propped up against Duncans chair.
Pardon my asking, but may I see your weapon, first? Cyrius asked. Duncan didnt normally let anyone other than Kyrie touch it, but the occasion seemed to encourage him to oblige. He nodded, grabbing sheathed blade and standing up to hand it to the High Swordmaster. Cyrius smiled faintly as he ran his hand over the runic markings on the scabbard, then slowly removed the blade and held it perpendicular to the ground. The light danced along the crimson metal as he examined it.
Its been awhile since Ive seen this blade, he said whimsically. I can see its been reworked, but its just as beautiful as ever.
Kyrie is the one to thank for that, Duncan said. Cyrius nodded, re-sheathing the blade and handing it back to Duncan.
Thank you, Duncan, Cyrius said with a nod before turning towards the porter and signaling for an open channel. I will see you tomorrow. As he said this, the clearance light came on and he spoke something under his breath before disappearing with a blur.
Wasnt that a little odd? Ariana asked after he was clear of the porter.
That he wanted to see my sword? Duncan asked.
Not really, I suppose. I cant quite tell, but I think he fought with my father at one point in time. It might make sense that the Dreamblade would have some significance for him. Quickly he turned to Ariana, who was now standing and walking towards him. And while were speaking of men who fought with my father, I must ask
He was my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Ariana said, knowing where he was going. Or something to that extent, anyway. He had his wife and family sent far away from Lathain and his Crusade. Thats probably the only reason Im here, now.
Youre not very old, are you? Duncan asked.
Twenty eight, she said.
You must have had quite the young life.
Still having it, Ariana said, motioning him towards the teleporter. And how old that does that make you? Duncan chuckled.
One thousand, five hundred and twelve, he said with a laugh. And Ill bet my worth in Lemange that Cyrius is past the two millennia mark. Now Ariana laughed.
I couldnt tell you, she said. He keeps most of his personal information under wraps. For someone so prominent, hes actually quite the mystery.
What are you hiding then, Cyrius Nightblade, Duncan mused. And when will you let me know?
When Duncan returned to his room, he found Kyrie passed out on his bed. A half empty bottle of rum sat on the end table next to an 8 and ½ by 11 data readout with a collection of information about the White Tower that she had probably spent the last few hours compiling. Grabbing a blanket from the closet, he laid it on top of her, then taking the data readout and sitting in an armchair by the window. He read the entirety of it until about 4:30 in the morning before falling asleep in the chair.
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