Shafts of sunlight poured through colorful plasma fields, creating a kaleidescopic dance of dust motes in the Great Temple of Ope’mot as the Aukami rose from his seat at the table to speak.
“Our resources are depleted, even more so than yours,” Vynos Evanel said, eyes swirling blue and violet as he placed long slender fingers on the gray stone tabletop. “The Zar’s bid for power cost us much in blood and treasure.”
A growl rose in the throat of the Opodian to his left. Jorta Opo’te, historian for the Great Temple and emissary for the High Priest of Opodi, swiveled his snout so that his glittery black eyes could fix on the alien. “Perhaps you should have considered that before begging us to join this so-called Zarist ‘Supremacy.’ At the moment, you appear anything but supreme.”
The Thul across the table watched with one functional hazy yellow eye, like the tainted yolk of an egg gone bad. A jagged scar bisected the socket where the matching eye used to be. Fleshy tendrils wriggled along the rim of the mouth as he munched on skittering black bugs that crawled across his slime-dappled gray skin. The great slug offered nothing new to the conversation for the moment, content to masticate on insects.
“I am not saying we will not stand by you should the outversers and their Confederacy follow through on this talk of waging war against you,” Vynos replied to the Opodian. “However, any aid we offer will be limited…in the short term. Projections farther out are more optimistic. Our supply of Kamir artifacts continues to grow at a healthy pace thanks to the new rift drives. The improvements make them more efficient with every iteration, thanks to our stalwart Thul comrades.” He inclined his silver-maned head in acknowledgement and respect to the bug-munching alien. Still, the Thul said nothing in reply.
Jorta’s blunt teeth clicked together as his brow furrowed. After considering the Aukami’s response, he said, “If the Confederacy wins the allegiance of the Llivori, our short-term horizon might be measured in days.”
“Do you consider it likely that the Llivori will side with these outversers?” Vynos asked.
The Opodian shook his head. “No. However, they might ally with the Hekayti and the Commonwealth. Such a turn of events would be far more unpleasant than the war posturing of the outversers. That would bode ill for us both, I should think.”
Vynos spread his hands with a sigh. “Then you must do all that you can to protect against such an arrangement.”
“Must *I*?” the Opodian growled. “While you and your people are off hunting for shiny rocks, you expect *me* to hold the predators at bay with…what? My pleasant disposition?”
A faint smile from the Aukami preceded: “You are an official in service to the oldest temple on the planet Kamsho. I cannot imagine that you are a stranger to intrigue and conspiracy.”
Rankled, the bristly gray and silver fur around his thick neck standing on end, Jorta shoved back his chair and stood to his full height to glare up at Vynos. The Aukami stood at least two feet taller and seemed bemused by the Opodian. Jorta snarled, “We are not talking about petty bickering among priests and record-keepers, Vynos! You may find this all amusing, but if Ope’mot falls, rest assured that Multvaros will be ash well before the jungles claim what remains.”
Finally, the Thul dropped something solid and a little heavy on the table, drawing the attention of the Aukami and the Opodian. It was a rune-inscribed cylinder of black stone, rolling slowly left and right as it settled in place. “Thish getsh ush nowhere,” he said, his words made mushy by the nubbed cartilaginous teeth and fleshy lip tentacles. “May I?” Both Vynos and Jorta assented without a word. The Thul started manipulating the cylinder with finger tentacles that tracked greasy gray-green slime over the runes, which soon began glowing a bright cerulean hue.
Light flashed next to the Thul before a shimmering rift materialized, stretching about four feet above the white marble floor. Through that rift stepped a figure clad in black hood and robes, carrying a gray fabric sack in its gloved right hand. Vynos and Jorta stared at the newcomer, who was even shorter than the Opodian, and then they gave puzzled glances to the Thul.
“You were wise to invite me to this gathering, Ancient Shog,” the hooded figure hissed, tossing the bag onto the table with a meaty thud. “Your companions must understand, however, that I will tolerate none of their weak-willed behavior. Those who do not show backbone do not deserve spines. I have a wall with space for a few more.”
Both Opodian and Aukami seemed irked by such condescension from a diminutive stranger. Jorta then seemed further irritated by the sight of purplish fluid leaking from inside the bag and onto the table. A soft growl began to build in his throat, but Vynos interrupted before the Opodian’s rage could get the better of him.
“Who are you?” the Aukami inquired.
The stranger raised his gloved hands to draw back the hood, revealing pebbled green flesh on a snout that bristled with fangs. Bright yellow-orange eyes peered up at Vynos. “I am Hurk of Hatch Vril, Thosoth of the Clawed Fist Fleet. The Nall have a mighty war machine. You have artifacts and technology that are useful to the Nall. We will give your alliance the fangs and claws that it so sorely lacks.”
“And the bag?” Jorta ventured. “What’s in the bag?” His voice trembled. It was obvious he hovered between wanting to know and wanting very much to not know at all.
Hurkvril clacked his fangs together, leaning forward to sniff a few times at the damp bag as the purple stain spread. Finally, he drew back and said, “The goddess Nalia disagreed with my proposal to return our people to their rightful place among the stars. I find such object lessons are effective.” He tilted his snout, looking from Jorta to Vynos.
There was no debate.