The doors of the Silence Temple slid open as Rune approached them, as silently and smoothly as any spaceport automatic door in Zelan. The Tower had a small dock for a spaceship, despite being older than any civilisation in Algol. An immense feeling of calm hit him. He was a guest of the oldest and most powerful authorities in Algol. This room, the planet, was at the same time a part of its form and just another of its tools. He walked straight across a T-junction and through the massive crystal arches that led into Le Roof's chamber. Usually it was featureless except for a rear door that led to the spaceship dock and an intricate spiral pattern carved into the floor, meant as a map of the galaxy, a physical representation of Le Roof and the runes for the network of thousands of different techniques, simple and complex, that wove together to make the physical manifestation of Le Roof. Three red crystals on the floor designated where the visitor was meant to stand to receive Le Roof. Today, there was also a crystal plinth, organically shaped as if it had sprung up overnight, with a holder for the sword. Le Roof had been expecting him.
Rune walked up to the centre of the room and rested the sword on the plinth. A column of blue light shot from the blade, hit the ceiling and washed across the walls, glittering as it refracted off every facet of the crystals. The light spread through the chamber and into the corridors beyond, then up the outer walls of the Temple, before rising into the Rykrosian night sky. The room went dark and Rune watched through the images projected into the darkness as the blue light outside hit one of the floating strips of rock, where it bounced off one to the next, redirecting the light in a path that swiftly brought it to the other towers; first the Towers of Strength and Courage, then beyond, to others that Rune never knew existed. There were other tests to be had by different types of heroes, here on Rykros; there were other entities whose light and information-being embodied other concepts... Rykros was such a huge place, compared to what Rune thought it was, and now it was covered in a blue glow like the reflection of a computer terminal's display in a window in Second Era Paseo...
When the light hit, Rykros changed. Rune saw firsthand how the world molded structures out of crystal when and where it needed, to interact with visitors or to build houses for the entities and the tools it was given to safeguard over the aeons. Now the whole planet was rippling and shifting like water disturbed by a thrown pebble. Repairing itself, Rune understood now. It wasn't anything so obvious as fallen walls being rebuilt or holes being filled - it was as though the very aura of the planet was gradually brighter, broader, without any of the red tinges or the static, without ever flickering or wavering.
Then Le Roof spoke to Rune:
I apologise for the inconvenience. It is difficult for me to believe that one of us would go this far, to create deliberate damage that would spread like a virus to others of us. It is an unforgivable crime, and an even less forgivable lack of foresight that we did not realise what was happening until too late.
Before Algol was created, we were the only entities to exist in the galaxy. We were the very stars, the fires of the galaxy, the very minds. We were information, and we fed off information, and we expanded. As the world around us grew more complex, life began to evolve. We in turn expanded as they taught us and were taught by us - they were constantly living, breeding and dying, we simply existed and grew, and our ways of being were such that we learnt very different things about our Universe.
Then, inevitably, two of our number fought a war. It began with an argument, the details of which were petty, and now lost to us. The argument was not resolved over the millennia and it began to escalate. Countless worlds were destroyed, countless solar systems such as Algol. Soon it was impossible for others of our kind not to be caught in the crossfire. We were so huge by this time that it was impossible for us to reconstructed in the same way twice if we were ever deleted - none of us had the memory capacity to store the exact content of another of our kind, and we were beginning to grow organically to emulate the mortal races. For this reason, deleting another is an unforgivable crime - almost as unforgivable as creating viruses. But it was not unthinkable. The two warring entities had fallen so far that they were not above using any unspeakable means to destroy the other. And, as they were equally matched, neither side could be destroyed by anything less than the destruction of the Universe.
Realising the inevitable eventual consequences of this war, we met in conclave and decided to combine our efforts to strike against the two entities. We were not lured into the trap of overtly joining in the war, but we slowly hemmed them into one area of the galaxy while they were too busy fighting a battle there to notice. We managed to pull them apart by creating an entire solar system as a seal around one of them, the weakest. In truth it was a double seal, imprisoning one entity within it and preventing another from ever approaching the solar system. The stronger entity was shunned by our entire race, unable to access our memory banks. We then created another planet, with an orbit around the entire galaxy, and appointed a team of guards to monitor the prisoner while keeping tabs on the wandering exile wherever he may be, in case he try to lash out at another of us. It would be a simple matter to create another prison for him now that he was isolated. The Warden of Rykros was Re-Faze, an entity authorised to use force against another for the first time in our history, and I was the keeper of Rykros' records. Over time, intelligent life evolved in our new solar system, as it inevitably did in systems with sun-like stars. Once they grew responsible enough, we tried to teach them to assist us in the simpler aspects of our guard duties, and we gave them some of our powers as compensation for their having been forced to live near a dangerous prison.
"Are you saying that Algol is...?"
That is correct. Algol is not only a prison for the Profound Darkness, it is a ward against the return of the Great Light. Or, as their names actually translate to, 'unbearably bright light that blinds and burns everything it touches 'and 'the nightmare in the cold and the darkness that all people fear'.
"Is that the thing that was tormenting Doran," asked Rune, "The Great Light?"
I can never tell what the mortals are thinking, but I do know that the Great Light has been subtly and maliciously affecting the evolution of species and the cycle of destinies within the worlds it has come into contact with. We will have not only the Great Light to deal with, but the entire worlds that are his mutant offspring.
"Is it going to come here?"
If it does so, I am afraid you will be forced fight it alongside us as Lutz, if you wish Algol to survive its visit. It has taken down Re-Faze. It attempted to damage the specific data sectors that contained knowledge of its own exile, making it look blameless in the Profound Darkness incident. Its intention is clearly to attack us, either as revenge or to break the curfew on its exile. We will still attempt to imprison it, but it will be difficult now that we do not have Re-Faze and can't directly attack it - and, as you have seen from the Profound Darkness, our imprisonment method is not foolproof.
"Chaz always said he didn't trust the Great Light," noted Rune with a smile, "He was smarter than I gave him credit for."
Indeed, mortals can always be trusted to question authority.
"The ironic thing, it's what Lutz tells them to do. I guess that makes Lutz not a real authority," said Rune.
But Lutz is still the person charged with the defense of Algol. I shall be expecting to see you if and when the battle starts, Lutz.
"And I'll be expecting you to work properly for a change," retorted Rune, "Um... by the way... I don't suppose you could teleport me back to Dezolis? I can't get back without the Elsydeon!"
A spaceship is heading towards Rykros. I believe it contains a Wren android that I have seen travelling with you before.
"Well... that's... convenient... what is he, a taxi?" Rune scratched the back of his head. Then he remembered the image of Wren he had seen in Re-Faze's vision made manifest. It had probably been the delusion of multiple powerful, insane psychics, and he had seen Doran go back to normal, but he still figured he had better be careful. He gathered his power, ready to cast Tandle, as he watched the spaceship approach Rykros on the display that Le Roof made for him.
Demi watched the Landale take off. As it rocketed into the upper atmosphere, only a wink of light was visible as it secondary thrusters fired to give it the kick it needed to break free of its orbit. Even though Wren had scanned as completely repaired on the last sweep of her sensors, she was still worried for him and about him; that he would lose control and forget how to fly a spaceship, or would suddenly decide that firing all the ship's guns at Dezolis again would be a good idea.
After the bizarre phenomenon on Nurvus' display screen had disappeared, replaced with a view of the calm Rykrosian landscape, Wren had also calmed down. He submitted to a full repair by Demi, then apologised profusely and even let the other android have his spare Pulsecannon. He had given it straight back; he had been stripped of all his combat modules and his memory of combat training was erased during his imprisonment by Motherbrain and it hadn't been something he reinstalled in secret on Zelan - it would have been something the scanners looked for, and besides, he didn't like fighting.
Then Wren had said something to persuade him.
"You could always join the Rogues," he suggested, "They could do with the official face of a control android to make them look more respectable without breaching their code of political neutrality, and the Rogue Lodge would be a suitable sanctuary for someone who wishes to both start a new life and protect Algol. Your ability to defy even Motherbrain gives you the perfect mentality for an organisation that will defend Algol even when it makes you the enemy of everyone on Algol."
"Do you think they will take a representative of Motherbrain?" asked the android.
"You are not a representative of Motherbrain," said Wren, "And the Rogues will have to be able to take in anyone, if they wish to build a reputation as a fresh start from outcasts. Many outcasts are unwanted because they have genuinely done bad things."
"If you say you have forgiven me, why do you not want me working under you?" he asked.
"Because I want you to use your own name, Wren, and it is not possible for two androids to be called Wren," he said, "High-level androids work alone in different facilities, but communicate to bring about the good of Algol. It's time for you to find your own place. Please have your reply ready by the time I come back from Rykros. I want to check that everything is truly resolved up there."
Since that time, Demi and the other Wren had been helping the surviving Rogues carry their wounded back home to the Vahal Fortress. Demi decided to give them the Fortress as their base, seeing as they had done so well at holding it for as long as possible. They even managed to pull one of the Landrovers out of the river. The Hunters were already picking up the pieces in Aiedo; Demi waved at Chaz and Rika as they helped wounded civilians out of a collapsed building by using Zan on the rubble to lift it up.
On the way back to their base, they passed Nalya. Their repair attempt wasn't going as well; there wasn't enough left of the village. It had been wrecked once before by the crash-landing of the original spaceship, and then by Zio's invading army. There were whispers that it simply wasn't a good place to have a village. As the two androids discussed this, Enma cried out a warning and pointed to a small figure running towards them through the desert sands, waving at them and screaming.
"Do you require medical aid?" asked Demi as the small Palman boy ran up to her. He looked to be around eight years old, tall for his age, with deep brown hair.
"Um... are you the guys who fought off the bad lady from the ship?"
"I didn't, but these people did," explained Demi. The child looked up at the leader of the Rogues, who was slightly vague-eyed from the amount of Trimate she had doped herself with to ease the pain of her injuries, "We stopped the... the other bad lady. The one who caused the fires," Demi wasn't sure how to simplify things for children but she thought she was getting the general idea.
"Oh, she wasn't bad. That's just what happens when you do bad stuff - bad things happen to you. It's 'cause everyone followed the bad lady," he said with the solemn certainty of a child who had already decided how the world worked, "Everyone in the village went away and left me alone. I was the only one who knew not to follow her. I always knew they'd go away and leave me alone one day. You guys are the same, aren't you - you can stay behind when the others go away?"
Nisa nodded, "You must be clever, to know about that at your age."
"I can see all sorts of things the grown-ups can't," he said, "And I knew about you guys, too. Can I join you?"
"Is there anyone left who can take care of you?" she asked.
He shook his head, "I told you, they all left me behind. They're gone forever, now. It's their own fault. Can I join you?" he repeated.
"I guess someone has to look after you," she shrugged, "But it's a hard life, being a Rogue. You have to train every day. You okay with that? I could just drop you off at Aiedo."
"I know how to fight a bit. I help chase the Monsterflies. Hit them with a stick. And the people from Aiedo will go away and leave me too, one day. Forever," he added for clarification.
"I think someone wants to keep him," said Azda. They all glanced up at the huge Motavian, who had been watching the boy with his blank red orbs and avian gaze. For Enma, it was a remarkably friendly expression.
"Motavians are fluffy AND scary," said the boy conversationally as they walked back to the Landrover, "How do they do that?"
"I have no idea," admitted the leader of the Rogues, "Hey, kid, I forgot to ask your name!"
"I'm Diggory," he said, "But everyone knows that's too long a name, so I call myself Digo."
"I'm Nisa, the scary fluffy guy is Enma, the gormless kid is Azda and that there is Wren, our other new recruit," she gestured to the android, "Welcome to the Rogues. The idiots who stay behind when everyone else goes away."
The Motavian opened the door to the Landrover and waited for everyone to pile in, Nisa in the front, Wren and the kids in the back. As Azda and Digo argued over which seat they got, Enma put his foot on the accelerator and they sped off in a cloud of sand, knocking over an unfortunate Grasshound that failed to escape from their precariously swerving path through the desert.
There were already five of them, so Demi started walking in the other direction, back to Nurvus, to start work on some repairs while she waited for Wren – not the new Wren she had met, but the Wren to whom she was closer than anyone or anything in the whole of Algol - to come home.