Relic Knights: A Brief History of Time
Masters and archai, comrades and friends, I bring joyous news—we stand on the brink of annihilation. Uncountable stars and endless galaxies have fallen before the inexorable advance of the Void, and now our people tread the doomed worlds of the Last Galaxy. We shall soon see the exaltation of the new Avatar, and the death of this universe is at hand. Even now the principalities gather to sing praises and tell tales. The pious see their faith rewarded; the arrogant see their beliefs confirmed. But they do not see clearly.
Our worthies and leaders are blind to the nature of creation, of esper, and our place in both. They believe that the Darkspace Calamity is the oblivion of the universe, but that is misleading. Say, rather, that the Calamity is the birth of the Void. After all, what follows in the wake of Calamity? Nothing; only the pure, perfect, featureless black, unmarred by matter, energy, or life. Nothing—except us. This is why our holy magnates and zealous commanders say we are elevated above the universe, set apart from the cycles of life and death and rebirth. They are content in their power and refuse to accept unsettling truths. They are willfully blind, and thereby, they imperil us all.
We must not be blind. We must acknowledge the truth that we are not exempt. We are not deathless. We are not gods. We are chosen, true. We are eternal, yes, but we are mortal; and it is the doom of mortals that they forget. We must remember. We must remember who we were to grasp what we have become. We must remember what we have done to understand what we must do. Tonight, on this final night of the Festival of Ascent, we must reflect as well as celebrate. Tonight we reaffirm our beliefs and purpose, and we cannot do so in ignorance. We scribes and scholars who have recorded the eons our people’s history, must remind our brethren of what they seem so eager to forget.
We are the Armies of Annihilation, the Voices of the Void, the Handmaids of Oblivion who watch from the shadows as the darkness grows. We are the observers, and we keep the history of what we see. We are the maleaach, the last of all peoples, and to understand what that means, we must recollect what has gone before. I shall read, then, from the record of the end—the Book of the Final Days of the Last Galaxy.
A Brief History of Time
Long before this universe had aged sufficiently for our race to emerge, many of us—many of you—had already spent millennia in observation. We saw that chaos-aligned esper abounded, which we had expected, but the abundance of life and its orderly nature surprised us. This life grew as quickly and wildly as only life can, but its haphazard and irregular appearance across the cosmos left most species isolated for ages.
Still, sentience is especially old in this universe; older than we have ever before encountered. The imbach are perhaps the oldest known native race, and their history stretches back over four-and-a-half billion standard cycles. The noh, of course, were present too, though we did not discover them for millennia, and it took longer to learn their true nature and role in what was to come. They have ever been a warping and destabilizing factor, even at this stage.
The noh deserve more discussion, but here I will only lay down the pertinent facts. Though they act in similar cause to our own, they are pawns at best and dangerous, destabilizing elements at worst. They do not serve us, per se—no matter what many of the holy and military archai claim—but they serve our ends. Unfortunately, they also serve an invader. Nozuki, their hydra god of entropy, used a technology we do not understand to rip open the seams between dimensions and extended his power to our reality. He selected and elevated the primitive, barbarous noh as his chosen people, gifted them with truly alien devices and science, and turned them loose to ravage and enslave the galaxy in service to His endless hunger. We know nothing more of Nozuki’s plans or ends, and thus, we cannot trust the noh.
They are intrinsically tied to us, however, for the first cypher in this universe appeared to one of them more than seventy-three centuries ago. If, as we understood, the appearance of the cyphers signals the beginning of the Calamity, then the noh heralded the doom of this universe long before we awoke. Otherwise, it is only evidence of how they and their god have disturbed the base nature of even the esper. We shall soon see which is the case.
The history of the life of a galaxy, of the universe, does not begin with the awakening of a single species, however. It begins with their steps into the wider world, and space travel developed as unevenly across these vast stars as had life itself. Due in part to the patchy spread of sentient life, and the essential chaotic nature of the universe, galactic civilizations took a surprisingly long time to emerge. Not until the Technocrats of Rhouss developed the slip drive did the vast gulfs between stars begin to shrink.
I recall the wonder and fascination—I dare even to say grudging admiration—that our technicians expressed upon examining the slip drive. It had never occurred to us to create a temporary pocket of space outside this reality but still outside of any other dimension. That ships could slip into this pocket, skim along the fringes of the universe as between the rind and meat of a fruit, and slip back into real space at vastly distant points is an ingenious use of the device. It brushes against many of the core principles of our own rift generators and Nokrian Gates without actually stumbling onto them. In a number of ways, it’s a superior travel technology to our own, because it does not require the esperic expenditure or do the damage to space-time that our devices do. But then, for us, these side effects are benefits.
But though travel and communication are intrinsic pillars of nations and associations, the single indispensable element of intergalactic civilization is a willingness to cooperate. One cannot build anything of worth without the uncompelled aid of others. Virtually every species attains a reasonable degree of internal unity before achieving stable space travel. This does not, however, translate to their interactions with others. Among the aggressive and dangerous species that survive long enough to reach the stars, such trust and willingness are often rare and grudging. So it was here.
The Technocrats’ first slip waypoint, Outreach Station, became a source of conflict almost as soon as they completed construction. After several decades of conflict and Outreach changing hands, the Rhouss made slip technology available to all. This effectively ended the fighting for Outreach but did not actually unify the spacefaring races. That came only gradually, as civilizations assimilated and adapted to slip travel and determined their relative places in the galaxy. This process lead, coincidentally, to the unification of numerous species. Planets or races that previously were divided and squabbling rapidly coalesced into single establishments and pushed outwards with their new ideas and devices. And so this state of affairs might have continued save for the rise of humanity.
To be continued…