This short story is part of Galactic Chronicles, an ongoing space opera based on our multiplayer campaign in Paradox’s space grand strategy game, Stellaris. Events and characters, while embellished heavily in some cases, are based on actual events and characters encountered during gameplay. These entries do not have to be experienced in a specific order, but the “Earth Standardized Solar Date” header will indicate where in the galactic timeline a particular entry falls.
This story concerns the Athirova, a race of spiritualist, warrior monk-ruled Avian aliens from the planet Ayaal. Learn more about them here.
[EARTH STANDARDIZED SOLAR DATE 2213.01.04]
“Chaplain, please present your report on the failed escape attempt of the former First Seeker, orchestrated by the Yasha terrorists, to the best of your recollection,” the dour Kaanira ordered from behind the semicircular table where the Sa-Raaya sat. On this day, they were conspicuously missing two members.
The warrior monk being interrogated wore pauldrons of pale gold metal over his robes to denote his rank. He was armed with a long, tapering mag rifle, the butt of which was styled after the traditional combat staves of his order.
“Yes, Wise One,” he replied. “The crux of it involved drawing our security forces away with decoy ships…”
“Are you sure these things will hold together?” the nervous, young pilot asked. “It’s really just a pretty shell with a fast engine and a harness. Barely vacuum-worthy.”
He regarded six, identical vessels that appeared from their exterior to be identical to the science ship Kasnave. The dummies had room for a single pilot and their makeshift reactors had been carefully tuned by the science team to match the real Kasnave’s energy signature as closely as possible.
“They will hold long enough to get into orbit and allow you to eject, and that’s all we should need,” Iyara responded.
“But Captain…” the pilot asked, “what if we just get unlucky? Even with seven potential targets, they could hit the real Kasnave. Isn’t that a lot to gamble the whole operation on?”
Iyara’s eyes twitched with mischief. “I’m not a gambler. And they won’t even see the real one.”
“Forgive me, Chaplain, but that does not explain how they were able to navigate the cells below the temple complex without raising an alarm,” Xarathka, another of the Sa-Raaya, cut in. The atmosphere in the temple chamber was becoming tense.
“It seems the temple protectors were systematically infiltrated by Yasha sympathizers,” the warrior explained, casting his eyes down in shame. “Forgive my boldness, but we believe this happened with the aid of some among your number. In particular, the two Wise Ones missing from the chamber this day. Their timing was precise. They only needed one shift made up of disloyalists to execute their egress.”
There echoed a couple scoffs of “Ridiculous!” and “Impossible!” Kaanira just glared angrily, as if this were mere confirmation of suspicions he already had.
“You do realize,” came the aged, wizened rasp of Athagxa, senior most of the Sa-Raaya, “that you are making a serious accusation against this council? One that could result in harsh rebuke if it is found that you made it in bad faith. Do you not?”
“My statement is Truth,” the chaplain insisted reverently. “As is every word I will speak here today.”
“Very well,” Athagxa nodded. “Then proceed to tell us where the real Kasnave went, and why we were never able to locate it.”
“Yes, Wise One,” the chaplain continued. “The disloyalists also seem to have infiltrated a number of transport and construction firms on the surface of Ayaal. They were able to ship a significant amount of material into the unused cave systems near the temple complex…”
“Please tell me that’s not what I think it is,” pleaded Laxa, First Stormguide of the Kasnave, as she stared up at the machinery moored with bolts and cables to the cavern ceiling.
“That,” confirmed Iyara, “is a fully-functioning weftstorm generator. And you’re going to help us use it to get the Kasnave out of this cave.”
“And how do you propose we’re going to get the Kasnave into…” Laxa’s words stuck in her throat as Iyara quirked her head and indicated the fully-functional starship hiding in a nook a few dozen meters away. “HOW?”
Iyara seemed very pleased with herself. “We disassembled the whole thing. Smuggled the pieces in on the same ground transports we used to ship the materials for the generator. And then we put it back together.”
“You realize nothing like this has ever been done before?” Laxa almost spat incredulously.
“I had a feeling,” Iyara responded with a bit of an amused coo.
“I’m being serious here! Even if you manage to tunnel into the prison and get Xaka out, calling a storm this large in atmosphere has always been deemed too dangerous to attempt. To say nothing of doing it in an enclosed, subterranean space! We’ll collapse this whole cave system in on itself, in a best-case scenario!”
“Well, if you do your job,” Iyara retorted, “we’ll be well away from here when the rocks start to fall.”
“And you believe this Ka-Iyara, the one who was gravely wounded protecting the former First Seeker before we apprehended him, was central to orchestrating this attack?” Kaanira inquired with barely-disguised bile in his voice.
“Indeed, Wise One,” the chaplain confirmed. “I would go as far as to say that there are no greater believers the disloyalist cause than she.”
“And can you confirm what we are hearing, that she escaped and it is believed she will make a recovery from her injuries?” Xarathka asked.
“To the best of our knowledge, Wise One,” the chaplain answered.
“Then we should make hunting her our first priority,” Kaanira declared. “What is to make us think she will not attempt something like this again?”
“There would be no need,” the chaplain’s words almost cut Kaanira’s off, and a strange note of pride had entered his voice. The agitated councilor was caught off-guard and remained silent for a moment.
“And why,” Kaanira finally posed, “tell Truth, is that?”
“Her mission was a success,” came the chaplain as he stood to his full height and looked each of the presiding councilors in the eye. “You never apprehended the First Seeker. The individual you have in the cells is a monk who has been in many Truth Plays. He has been meditating, studying, and practicing to impersonate the First Seeker for some time. His facial injuries were self-inflicted to obscure his features, and not a result of the fighting in the tunnels. Go to him now, and he will tell you the Truth of this.”
“Absurd!” Kaanira shot back. “You are telling me that Ka-Iyara nearly got herself killed for some performer?”
The air in the room seemed ready to catch fire with outrage, but the chaplain continued. “She had to make you believe she would give up her life for the impostor to preserve the illusion. And she did it out of loyalty to the real Xaka. Iyara and the brave pretender now meditating in your cells made their sacrifices for the greater good, as have I.” He bowed his head, discarded his weapon, and turned his wrists upward in preparation to be restrained. “I serve Harmony. The First Seeker alone will guide us to it. My life for the Sa-Navlaaya.”
“A great warrior works in three layers of deception, and the greatest deceiver needs not ever speak Untruth to use others’ assumptions against them. Make your foe fear your right talon, while your left holds the true weapon. In the moment he realizes he should fear the left and feels confident he has evaded your ruse, bid your unseen ally to strike from behind. The foe will be dead before he realizes your whole presence was merely a distraction.”
-Athanivxi, The Truths of Warfare
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