part I

Mars. The Temple of Empyreal Provenance. 2188. 308.03.14.

Eder Mirela stared across the table at the familiar painting that hung on the wall above the mantle, as he had on countless nights since he was a child. He sat in the same seat, situated between his mother and father, each on opposite sides of the long, antique oak table that filled the elegant stone dining room.

Like most nights, the family chewed their food in silence for much of the meal. His handsome and gentle father glancing between his wife and son. His tall, austere mother, dressed in her darkly ornate Flamen Martialis regalia, thinly smiling on occasion through her naturally severe expression.

Eder had never known the painting’s origin or author despite his nightly, absentminded consideration of its lone winged-figure floating skyward, spear in hand, above the aftermath of some ancient battle. Was it one of the many pieces of valuable art the Church had acquired over the years? Or a priceless piece carried here by the Adarai loaded with some arcane meaning? Or was it neither of those things and just some cheap replication of a long-forgotten work by a long-forgotten artist?

Whatever the answer, Eder did not particularly care at the moment. It was the distraction the painting offered that truly mattered. The distraction from the unbearable silences. The loaded glances from his parents. Their overbearing questions. And, more recently, the charged conversations surrounding his part in the Adarai’s recently-uncovered prophesy.

He had never wanted for anything being the only son of the Church’s highest priest and a wealthy belt-miner. His life was one of “blessed privilege” as his mother once called it during a particularly nasty holiday fight in his more angst-filled teenage years.

For Eder, there had always been a roadmap starting with primary school in Coelum followed by boarding school in New Galilei and ending with university at CIT in the Belt. It was all part of his parents’ plan, and he had more or less followed it to the letter. He had even returned home after completing his studies at his mother’s request in an attempt to temporarily appease her hopes of him following in her footsteps as a high-ranking priest of the Church.

But Eder had no intentions of becoming a priest.

In fact, after graduating, he had been accepted into the Federation’s military exploration program and only returned home after promising himself that, one, it would only be temporary, and, two, he would continue to pursue that which would supplement his true aspirations of getting as far away from Mars as humanly possible.

Much to his relief, he had been able to convince his mother that her desire to have him carry on the family legacy could be better served by not joining the clergy but rather the ranks of the Salii, the Church’s secretive operative wing, which, in reality, consisted of and was run by the Adarai’s sect of warrior mages.

Magic had never been a strong suit of his despite dabbling in it with a couple of friends during one summer home from school when he a teenager. To him, it was just another unseen element of the universe tethering him to the cold, stone palace of his birth.

Being a smart and capable young man with a long history living alongside the Adarai, their Council quickly approved his joining of the Salii with his training to commence immediately, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Not only would he be able to train beside and learn from the most ancient class of warriors in human history, but, more importantly, he could finally get his mother off of his back for once.

Because, for as long as Eder Mirela could remember, his mother had coveted, more than anything in the world, a place within the Adarai’s ranks.