While the hovel offered to them was more than gracious of the Nywanese, Rose still preferred to sleep in her own quarters aboard the ship. The ship that always managed to pull through seemingly impossible odds.
She slept lightly in the cool summer nights, and the gentle humming of the vastly repaired and upgraded Skyreign lulled her into a gentle dream state every time.
It was as if all the answers were here, at home, and all the experiences offworld were simply to underscore that Nywan would always be where her heart resided.
Only, Rose in all her constant alertness, knew within the deepest recesses of her soul, that such peace, such bliss, was finite.
And just as expected, almost in perfect concert with that one thought that saw through this otherwise perfect life, her ears betrayed the attempts at well-placed, silent footing, creeping up to her door, and stepping in.
Had she been Behraanese, she would have never heard him coming. Never heard his nostrils inhale and exhale. Never heard him unsheathe some pointed weapon.
Had she been Behraanese, she would have gone into the night, never to return.
Had she been Behraanese, he would have been holding a bloody dagger, in the stead of a crushed and disfigured hand that popped and cracked under Rose’s inhuman grip, before she pushed him back.
Despite having the unlikely advantage of surprise, Rose was immediately at the disadvantage of being unarmed, unarmored, and largely unclothed, clad only in black undergarments.
Neither the assailant, nor the target, gave any thought on the matter.
Rose did, however, get a quick glimpse of the mat-black armor under the otherwise cloaked figure, and the golden circuitry that most Behraanese eyes would not have noticed in a nearly pitch-black room. It told her that he was important enough to have powered armor, with benefits of shielding, self-maintenance, and generally better survival of the one wearing it.
But she also noticed the unnaturally silhouetted face, one that seemed to negate almost all natural light, and even denied her eyes the luxury of seeing his otherwise unprotected face. He only wore round sunglasses—probably not simply sunglasses—and she had some idea that the figure had a short beard and long hair tied back. So not only was he important enough to have powerful gear, but he was powerful enough not to need it.
He was certainly powerful enough that his supposedly crushed hand hindered him the way a mosquito bite hindered an ancient Khrynthoss dragon. That same hand hurdled precisely at her chest, aimed squarely between the ribs, giving Rose just fractions of a second to swat his hand away, and less than that for his following sweeping kick, forcing her to flip back onto her bed.
This gave her the short opportunity to bounce off the bed and flip over her assailant as he struck—and utterly destroyed—the bed with a hammering kick that reached well over his head before coming down.
This bought her time enough to make a back-kick into the small of his back and make a getaway.
Or at least, so she thought. Her foot met his, bare against booted. A move like that, met with direct force of a much larger and heavier foot, would have shattered the bones of a typical Behraanese female.
Instead, it cracked the composite of the tread on his boot, cleanly in two, and she simply used the energy to spin the other way and vault up, making the first actual contact with him. The heel of her foot struck him cleanly in the throat, giving her enough traction to jettison herself out the door and into the mess room, where lighting was more forgiving.
But it also gave him a clear shot at her with a plasmar, only—he didn’t take it. He instead pulled out two long, serrated golden katars from his leg-mounted scabbards, and darted toward her at speeds only she should have been capable of.
The first blade came at her, an odd move since he came at her as if charging, and then simply stopped and made a more careful, reading attack, one she could bob under and counter-attack effortlessly.
It then became completely apparent that this assassin wasn’t really an assassin at all, and killing her was not his intent. He had numerous opportunities to kill her, without any fuss, and he had not taken any of them.
So was it a capture? No, or he would have done that in her sleep with a statification weapon of some kind.
So it was clearly about her. It wasn’t to kill her. It wasn’t to capture her.
Enough time was wasted. Rose wasn’t the fraternizing type, and this supposed fight was just that: fraternizing. Playing it safe until he made a slip badly enough, she guided one of his swinging katars forcibly into his armor. The inertia of the movement threw him forward, and the blade grazed hard against his own chest plate. Sparks lit the room in flashes as he rolled it off.
Before she could move in and catch him off guard, he stood, waved his hand and shook his head, saying sternly--yet smoothly and sweetly, “enough.”
And it wasn’t in Behraanese. Not Suragaan. Not Francescan, Kelviki, Khrynthoss, Marioch, T’pauzi, Celestial, nor common Noregaan.
Oasiic. He said “Enough,” and he said it in Oasiic.
Those katars were certainly sharp enough, despite their mundane appearance, as the one Rose deflected towards its wielder left a long slash in the chest plate from one hip to the opposing shoulder.
They seemed familiar somehow, but the opponent gave her no more time to study them, sheathing them in their scabbards casually, as he spoke, “I knew. I knew it had to be you, only—I had to be certain.”
“You could have simply asked,” Rose retorted, then somewhat more conscious of her near-nudity, crossing her legs and arms.
“Just as you could have claimed to be of a race long-thought to be extinct,” the figure sat at the table, gesturing the seat across from him.
As she carefully tread over, the shadow before his face dissipated, revealing a face of simple appearance. The lips were pursed and aged; the cheeks were pale and the bones protruded enough to show the same consistencies of a weathered man; the forehead showed only a few wrinkles, a sign to her that the emotions displayed were in his voice, not his face.
She compared him to Olsein, who made a habit of grimacing often, and had the lines to show it. Olsein did appear healthier, however.
“Not extinct,” Rose argued, “just not recognizable anymore.”
“Yes,” said the gaunt figure, “just so.“
“Who are you, stranger, and why are you here?” Rose was still not interested in fraternizing.
“Swift and direct,” he grinned a sly, one-sided grin, stretching and cracking his fingers—namely those of his injured hand, “just as you fight. Always living as if your next day is your last.”
“Until a few seconds ago, I wasn’t so sure,” Rose cocked a brow, “now answer my question, or you’ll have to kill me.”
“Jehran Cyan,” his sunglasses were reflective enough that Rose could have done surgery through such a reference alone, “and I bear a message only an Oasiian could fully comprehend the gravity of.”
Rose was motionless and emotionless; her eyes locked on him like a target to be fired upon at soonest notice.
“War is coming,” Jehran said evenly, leaning forward in his chair, “it comes to Behraan. It comes to Marioch. And it comes to Suragaa.”
“What enemy brings war to so many?” Rose asked evenly, taking no word to heart without some backing, “Behraan has made enough enemies, that’s sure.”
“The sensors array on your ship has been repaired, and tuned to break past the scrambling field,” he stated, “a Behraanese fleet rests just out of sight above this world, as it has for decades.”
Rose remained inanimate.
“Just weeks ago, the flagship of the Behraanese Navy, the Imperator’s Hand, had joined them, as part of its maiden tour to raise morale in the outskirts of the Dominion.”
This seemed to make little sense to her, though it was always indirectly known of. Those who crossed the threshold between air and space over Suragaa III, never returned.
Well--seldom returned. Rose had made the trip before.
“You know, as well as any Oasiian would,” Jehran almost savoured every word that he uttered, “of the Bentorii.”
“I do,” Rose said finally.
“They know of the presence of the Hand,” he said boldly, “they know that the vessel is of ancient Oasiian berths. It was the prize of their nation that was, and they want it back.”
“The Bentorii don’t know what they want,” Rose shook her head, laughing in disbelief, “what they want changes from second to second. They’ve never made an organized attack.”
“If you do not believe me,” he hummed to himself, pulling out a well-recognized long range transmission receiver, turning it on and opening up the volume, “listen for yourself.”
Numerous voices chattered between each other in Behraanese.
<Maker Seven to Fleet Command: I have two—correction—three fighters inbound. Vector three one nine, pitch three three. Right at our broadsides. Banner unknown. Makes of vessels and varied compositions are consistent with Bentorii Raiders, only-->
<Only what, Maker Seven?> an older, more authoritative voice spoke.
<They seem to be in unusually good condition, Fleet Command. They’re holding formation—wait. Five more just leaped in. More fighters. Same vector, same pitch.>
<Fleet Command to Maker Seven, you may open fire. Just some Bentorii filth that picked the wrong place to raid.>
<They’ve just fired on us, Fleet command! Their weapons are powerful! We--> the speech was interrupted by an explosion and shuddering clearly audible in the background, stuttering the signal, <Starboard shields out!> another hit. <Our turrets can’t track them, they’re splitting up!>
<This is Captain Aekel of the Audacity, permission to assist Maker Seven?>
<Fleet Command to Audacity, granted. But no other vessels are to break formation. The Hand is to be protected at all times.>
<Maker Se--> another burst, <Maker Seven to Fleet! Sensors down, but I can see dozens—no—hundreds...> more bursts and alert sounds cut him off, <oh, Kabaiila be mercif--> the signal was abruptly ended.
<Audacity to Fleet Command! Maker Seven is lost! Hundreds of targets pouring in from three-nineteen through three fifty-nine! Detecting capital-class vessels. Retreating to main fleet!>
<Fleet Command to all vessels! To battle! Launch all strike craft. Repeat: launch all-->
Jehran closed the device, “war is not coming. It is already here.”
Rose shook her head, “that could just be a recording.”
“I will leave that opinion to you,” he pocketed the device, “however, the Behraanese did have another reason to be here. You see—they deploy a tactic, from world to world, a tactic that has yet to fail. They choose a faction, usually an aggressive, underdeveloped one, and give them the means to combat and defeat their enemies. And then—“
“They swoop in and clean up, I get it,” Rose cocked her brow again.
“Precisely,” he grinned that malicious, one-sided grin of his, “leading to my next point. You know of the Ma’guul. Correct?”
“Why would they make such a bold attack upon a larger, better-established nation unless—“
“Unless they were being helped,” Rose stood up, her hand slapping onto her mouth, “I should’ve seen this sooner. Grahaamut Grahaamut Grahaamut—“
“Not so much cursing,” Jehran nearly laughed—if he could, “it will change nothing. Understand that if the way of Nywanese living is not changed, Nywan will fall to the Ma’guul, if perhaps after a long, drawn-out, casualty-heavy war. With Nywan captured or razed and, soon thereafter, Pillars, Behraan will force the remaining tribes or smaller nations into submission, claiming this world as part of the Dominion like so many others.
“More than this, they will reclaim your mother, Janeth Sehra...and in all likelihood, have the Skyreign crew executed for treason.”
“Even with the fleet being attacked by the Bentorii?” Rose said again in disbelief.
“You know as well as any that the Behraanese have an expansive fleet at the Imperator’s disposal,” he warned, “and with the Hand here, forces will pour from every corner of the galaxy to save that ship. It is illogical, but loyalty often overlooks logic.”
“You wouldn’t have attacked me and then gone on doomsaying without some actual message,” Rose sat down again, “so tell me what the actual message is.”
After a long sigh, he cracked his fingers again and then laid them on the table, “if Janeth Sehra, Queen of Nywan, does indeed know the location of Spaceport Eighty One...then the Sacred Vessel can do two things for the Nywanese: repel the Ma’guul with the powerful ancient technological prowess it possesses....and ward off the Bentorii or Behraanese, whichever wins what will be the bloodiest war of the century.”
“So why are you telling me specifically, and not my mother???”
“She will not listen to me,” he shook his head, “I am not a diplomat or anyone of charisma. But she will listen to you. She loves you. And she loves her people.”
“And what do you have to gain from telling me this?” Rose stood again, throwing her hands to the side, “how will all of this repay you?”
“I only have my home to lose,” he stood, making for the stairs down, “like so many others. I gain nothing from keeping my glimpses to myself. I believe you may ask Olsein for more on the matter if my own divinations are not enough.”
Rose’s lack of reply was reply for him enough.
“Seek me out--in Pillars.” With that, he disappeared past the last step.