“Has your memory returned yet my liege?” asked Jole.
The Admiral was silent for a time. This place was familiar, and he had certainly crossed paths with whatever or whoever was inside.
“Faintly. Somehow I feel it is the end of my journey.”
“Perhaps. This is the Patriarch’s Palace.”
Jole placed his hand in the center of the two doors, and whispered, “Ultos Huros Exedi Nom.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Millennia ago when this planet was warm and full of life, the first humans were molded from the primal sludge and set free by the Maker. This is the last city built before the pan-exodus.“
He motioned broadly at the nothingness surrounding the ancient buildings. “During the aeon between our estrangement and reunion, Namurai Sun Jewel wasted away into this scoured, shriveled husk. But the ancient city was preserved with the best technologies of that primitive age, and so it remains, the last relic of our youth.”
The ship traversed the void between the gas giant's shell and the small white sphere. It docked with a spaceport that had seen better days, or perhaps better millennia.
Jole led the Admiral out of the Jade Javelin and into the spaceport. They walked in silence down a series of long empty corridors. At last they came to the space elevator, a sphere of crystal that would spirit them safely to the surface.
As they neared the solar system, the planets gained distinct shape and color. One in particular stood out, it was the fourth from the sun and shone by far the brightest. From outward appearances it was a gas giant, with a shell of copper-colored clouds and many red and purple spots. The Admiral noticed dozens of space-stations orbiting it slowly, skimming the atmosphere like dead whales drifting through an ocean of rust. As the ship neared the largest of the stations, a computerized voice filled the bridge,
“Travelers, beam your codec-packet immediately.”
The first man went over and undid the straps.
A rush of memories returned at the mention of the ship. His mind played back scenes of mammoth trees, ghostly colors, and birds with long, muscled wings gnawing away at a ceiling of interwoven branches. Lurking at the edge of every image was a dark skinned figure clad in gray with a face sometimes sympathetic and sometimes hostile, but always heavy with guilt. Words came back to him as well. ‘Lumina.’ ‘Lantern Hawk.’ ‘Toruln.’
A formless glow born of a billion distant light-sources shone on the other side of a clear partition. It held no warmth and no chill, and it might have been a painting or an illusion freed from the sleeve of a conjurer. A man was seated before it. He had been gazing into it since its birth, and with each rise and fall of a celestial empire, he had become aware of another aspect of his being.
Half of the Blæc Guard split off and cornered the villagers. The rest lined up before the Admiral and raised their rifles. Their black armor bristled like quills, red lights blinked in place of eyes on their visors, and fearsome plastiform trunks hung from their mouthpieces. A voice lacking any resonance or warmth came from their ranks, seeming to belong to all of them at once.
In a single breath all fell silent. Like fog shredded by the wind, the cacophony dissolved into silence. Grefa slowly opened his eyes and peered out between his knees. His entire body trembled as the last vestiges of sound dissolved; it felt as if several Gs of pressure had been banished in the blink of an eye. He exhaled a great breath and struggled to his feet. All around him others rose and swayed back and forth in half-lit night. They murmured garbled words and looked about with wandering eyes.
The autolutes began to play. Their notes rippled through the viscous floral air and soon became an indiscernible warbling drone. The canopy began to shake as if a strong wind was pushing on it and there were several sharp cracks above. Shards of wood rained down, followed immediately by the shadowy forms of six Lantern Hawks. The creatures clove the stagnant air and glided about the village with wings outspread and locked in place. One by one, they swung towards the suspended Lampflower and fell into a circular pattern around it.