The Telinaruul have wronged us for the last time.
The Shedai Wanderer made her telepathic declaration of war to the thousands of her kin who surrounded her atop a basalt mountain on a world of fire. All around them, a sea of molten rock churned and belched superheated gases into the tenuous atmosphere of the newly formed planet. Overhead, a penumbral moon blazed with its own inner fires and dominated the black sky, its infernal glow blotting out the cold sparks of starlight around its edges.
They have stolen what is ours, as if they had any right to our legacy. She shared with her fellow members of the Serrataal her memories of the crystalline prison in which she had recently been snared. Now they arm themselves with the weapons of our old enemies, the Tkon. Waves of antipathy surged from the host gathered below her when they heard the name of their long-extinct foes. If they master this instrument of terror, none of us will be safe. Even now, the Telinaruul hold captive none other than the Progenitor himself.
Shock and dismay coursed through the shared mindspace of their ad hoc Colloquium. Ripples of disbelief shimmered back to the Wanderer, and the Warden’s protesting response was steeped in shades of incredulity. The Progenitor was a myth! A piece of lore to explain our forgotten origins.
He exists, the Wanderer insisted, offering up her memory of fleeting contact with the creator of their race of interstellar dynasts . The first and greatest of our kind lies yoked to the weapon our enemies would turn against us. We must punish these impudent upstarts who would call themselves our peers.
Resistance surged upward from the Adjudicator. Do not be so quick to pit us against these new Telinaruul, he cautioned. They grew mighty while we slept. Have you already forgotten the culling of our numbers on Avainenoran? Or the losses inflicted upon us by the Apostate’s treachery?
The Wanderer seethed. I have forgotten nothing. But even alone, I cut through their so-called fortress with ease. Our numbers are more than sufficient to lay waste all the worlds they control and make their peoples ours to command.
Her declaration was met with hues of doubt, most profoundly from the Avenger. He elevated his essence above the throng to address the Wanderer. Tell us, youngling: How would you have us face this new foe that dwells in deep space, light-years from the nearest Conduit? Should we permit them to capture us all and hope for a moment of providence such as the one that liberated you?
His question sparked a storm of panic. Fear washed over the Wanderer like a tide of poison and left her reeling and sickened. This was not the way of the Shedai, not the voice of the people she had known for hundreds of centuries. What had become of them? Had the Apostate been right to condemn them? Had the Shedai become moribund and degenerate? She refused to accept that. Marshaling her strength, she quelled the others’ rising tide of anxiety with an overpowering exhortation: Silence! The chaotic clamor fell away, and she continued. We waged war against distant powers in ages past, and we will do so again. Our folly in the age before the Grim Awakening was that we contented ourselves with fighting through proxies. No more. I will see justice done upon the Telinaruul by my own touch. I will hear their wailing pleas for mercy, their desperate cries of surrender, and ignore them all as they perish in darkness and silence, in the cold void they should never have dared to cross.
Many of the Serrataal reflected the Wanderer’s aura, signaling their support for the war she was committed to wage. Yet islands of defiance remained. Radiating skepticism of her rhetoric were the Herald and the Sage—persons of consequence, former members of the Maker’s inner circle, the elite corps within the elder caste of named Shedai, the Enumerated Ones.
Exuding rich tones of disdain, the Sage asked, Why should we follow you to war? We pledged our loyalty to the Maker, not to you.
I, too, swore fealty to the Maker, but she is gone now, lost beyond the farthest Conduit. And the Telinaruul’s error that set me free also made me stronger than I have ever been. Perhaps even stronger than you, Old One.
The Sage’s essence darkened with resentment. I will not give my oath to a youngling—not even one so obviously powerful as you.
His rebuff enraged the Wanderer. Do you mean to lead us, then?
Seniority has always been our way, the Herald interjected. The Warden is the oldest of us who remain.
Taking the Herald’s cue, the Wanderer aimed her fury at the Warden. And what say you? Will you sanction war for the sake of preserving order? Or counsel a galactic cycle of sleep while the Telinaruul turn our secrets against us and one another?
Anticipation swelled as the assembled minds focused themselves upon the Warden. Perhaps sensing the terrible gravity of the moment, he remained silent for a long moment while pondering his answer. If the decision is mine to make, he told the Wanderer, I would have your answer to the Avenger’s question. How are we to strike at these new enemies? Do you propose we lure them into reach?
She mustered her confidence to lend her words the force of authority. No. We will take our fight to the Telinaruul and slay them where they think themselves safest and most secure. We will crush their puny starships and rend their vaunted starbase into scrap. Then we shall free the Progenitor and let him show us how to cleanse the galaxy of these vermin—starting with the ones who call themselves the Federation.
Massed on the black slope, the last of the Shedai hegemons waited for the Warden’s pronouncement, for the declaration that would define the fate of their race, their legacy, and the galaxy at large. High above, the dark moon passed the midheaven in slow degrees; far below, a sea of magma and fire roiled beneath a Stygian sky. A distant eruption trembled the planet from its molten core to its obsidian crust. Then came the moment of decision.
The Warden was incandescent with pride.