Six years before the fall of Cera, revolution brewed throughout the galaxy.
The New Empire ruled half the galaxy with an iron fist, collecting the resources and labor of hundreds of colonies for the sole benefit of New Eden. Yet, there were those who refused to be oppressed. They gathered under the crimson banner of Compact, a rugged band of freedom fighters who sought independence for the colonies.
A young woman from the doomed world of Diode crash lands at the edge of Imperial space and joins Arcadius and his band of fighters against the all mighty New Empire. Their adventures together chronicle the final years of the Compact Revolution, and the birth of PACT. But a civil war will make monsters out of even the most idealistic of freedom fighters. What begins as an independence movement becomes a nightmare.
The revolution will not be civilized.
Join an all new cast of characters as well as returning familiar faces in the Sunrider companion novel VENICZAR. Who was the mysterious Arcadius who vanished from public view during the final days of the revolution? Find out the origin stories of the villains of Sunrider: Liberation Day and discover if they are truly villains.
Read Sunrider: Veniczar by backing our Patreon at the $5+ tier. You also get the beta for Sunrider: Liberation Day on top of that after your pledge is processed!
About the Author:
Woolyshambler is a medical student and aspiring doctor who also likes waifus. His claim to fame is completing the official novelization of Sunrider: First Arrival and Mask of Arcadius which is actually twice as long as the actual script in the game! And the poor guy didn’t even get paid for that… Find him on our community forum!
Click to read the prologue to the novel for free!
The woman came to with the deafening silence of her own head. Empty. Hollow. A relief and a curse at the same time. The room was dark, utterly devoid of light save soft shafts of light on the floor which illuminated a path away from the cradle in which she lay. Looking around at the inky, infinite darkness that stretched out around her, she sat up, allowing the suspension gel of her resting chamber to slide from her naked body with the sensation of silky fingers retreating across her pale skin. Standing, she looked down at her lithe, small frame pulling free from the pod-like chamber before stepping out, splattering the ground with gel as she slicked her short, cropped periwinkle hair back with her hands, dislodging a shower of the viscous gel carelessly.
Wordlessly, she began to walk forward, her tiny feet pattering gently and gracefully as she followed the lights. Whisper quiet snicks and whirs of machinery filled the air around her as various tool tips and devices on long, extendable booms and armatures rotated around her like a shadowy orrery, with her at the center. What remained of the suspension gel on her skin peeled away with a breath of hot air, her hair pushed back, bright and clean as mechanical fingers caressed her scalp. Continuing forward, additional mechanical armatures offered her various articles of clothing with nervously polite hesitancy before helping her into a dark black military tunic with golden inlays, all woven from the finest Marinian cloth with ceremonial blood red Taurenian silk cords fastening the tunic shut. A matching red leather belt was next, securing a ceremonial sword to her right hip before yet another mechanical arm draped a matching crimson cape over her shoulders.
Slowly, more lights in the room began to come to life, bathing the entire chamber in the warmth of simulated dawn, capturing the rosy, ephemeral moment and letting it stretch infinitely. A recessed vanity mirror whispered open, spreading its arms in embrace as she approached and set herself before it.
The woman’s eyes seemed to burn from within, almost colorless as though every pigment in her irises had been blanched out. Cold and unnaturally silvery, they were clearer than Far Port’s oceans, glaring back at herself with flashing menace and barely contained rage. Her skin glowed with radiance, sheathing the cold, graceful beauty of her delicate, elfin features, flawless save for two jagged welts of scar tissue running diagonally across her face. Where the welts met her native skin, the difference was as sharp as day and night; smooth, unblemished and soft tenderness abutting against torn, almost waxy scar tissue betraying a wound that must have cut down to her very bone. Looking at herself, she felt nothing but contempt, wanting nothing more than to avert her eyes. Taking a deep breath, she steeled herself, forcing herself to drink in her own image. Refusing to look away from the mirror, she regarded the meat which she’d been born with, fighting a wave of revulsion and hatred that rose in a sickening swoop at the sight of her own reflection.
“Look.” She heard his voice from a great distance, an echoing whisper just out of reach. “No… Look.” Her hand trembled as she gripped the edge of the vanity. “That there? Behind your eyes? That’s human. And nothing can ever diminish that.”
No. He had been wrong. She knew that now. She’d never hated herself for being who she was, but for what she wasn’t. That glint behind her eyes? That spark of what he’d called a “soul?” The final vestiges of a primitive existence, the evolutionary dead end called humanity which she’d found herself forever burdened by, a corrupting seed she could never fully expunge which she tormented herself with each and every day.
With deft, slashing movements, she made a well-practiced hand gesture, signaling the vanity which cracked down the middle along a previously invisible seam. Rising upwards from under the counter, a pedestal ascended from the fathomless depths of machinery beneath. Upon it, a mask.
It was a thing of beauty, she thought as she ran a delicate finger down the side of the silvered mask. Inimical, yet soothing. Anonymous, yet recognizable the galaxy over. Featureless, but with the grace and beauty of a Venetian enigma. The Mask of Arcadius.
The woman felt the intoxicating rush of power as she caressed the mask; no, Her Face. The purity of purpose, the singular will and destiny embodied within; everything her born mask had never given her. She lifted the artifact with a trembling hand, raising it to the level of her eyes and bringing it closer. The cold metal of the mask cupped her delicate features perfectly, settling over her as though it lived and breathed the same as her own flesh. Her lips parted as she almost gasped out loud with pleasure, drowning in a sensation more exquisite and alluring than any vice or luxury she’d ever known, feeling herself slip away and seize the divinity the mask conferred.
Arcadius’s heels clicked with neurotic precision as she made her way down the hallways of the old Imperial Palace, her tight tunic comfortingly wrapped around her torso as her cape swirled and billowed in the wake of her path. Warm light filtered in through the ornate stained glass windows from another flawless New Eden sunset, refracting and distorting in a prism-burst of shimmering light and beauty, reflected endlessly through strategically placed mirrors to give the sense that one was walking along an infinitely stretching corridor of pure light.
Less than a decade ago, the Emperor himself would have walked down these same halls, pined after and worshiped by the lords and ladies of the Imperial Court, venerated as the Infinite Emperor of Ryuvia had once been. Now, save for the Compact Guard standing at stiff attention in their blood red powered combat suits, the ornate corridor was abandoned. For this, Arcadius was glad, the mere thought of dozens of sniveling insects seeking to ingratiate themselves and curry favor in close proximity was enough to make her chest heave with disgust. The Emperor had been foolish and insecure at his core, surrounding himself with useless peons to elevate and shroud his frailty as a mere mortal man, but Arcadius had no need for that. Here, her will was absolute, her eminence taken from humanity as was her right, rather than conferred by the base creatures.
At last, Arcadius reached her destination, segueing to a smaller, more reserved corridor before entering a room on her left. As she entered, the room’s sole occupant turned to greet her, gesturing with a sweeping motion to set aside dozens of reports hovering as glowing holograms in front of him on one of the many tactical screens adorning the room’s sides.
“Veniczar.” Fontana dropped to one knee, bowing his head as Arcadius strode into the PACT war room proper.
The baroque room had once served as one of the many smaller, more intimate dining rooms in the Imperial Palace where members of the Imperial Family would host private meals with their chosen guests. Although some of the ornate and jeweled chandeliers had been replaced with sleek holo projectors and the ornately gilded crown and wall moulding was now somewhat obscured by tactical screens projecting fleet deployment and military schedules, the lavish pedigree and opulence of the room, as with the rest of the Imperial Palace on New Eden, retained its Imperial glory and radiance as though unaware of its new tenants.
“Fontana, rise,” Arcadius gestured at her understudy as she took a seat at the head of the table. “Be seated,” she indicated the chair closest to her right with a subtle gesture.
As he swept around the table to the indicated seat, Fontana opened the face of his pocket watch, studying the antique’s face for a minute in silence before speaking. “It’s not like Cullen to delay his customary victory boast,” Fontana remarked with distaste on his features, snapping the watch shut and returning it to his waistcoat.
“Hold your tongue boy,” Cullen’s bulk stepped out of thin air like a mirage as the room’s holoprojectors activated, receiving his FTL transmission from across the galaxy. “While you and your fleets cower in safety, I have delivered news of yet another glorious victory. At long last, Cera has come under our Crimson Banner. BWAHAHAHA!”
“You are very nearly late, Cullen,” Arcadius’s voice was dangerously soft, cutting across the large man’s wet snorts of childish glee effortlessly.
“Veniczar,” Cullen’s jowls snapped shut as he thumped a meaty hand across his chest as a fist, bending against his massive girth.
Fontana’s eyebrows quirked upwards in amusement as he could practically hear the straining of the other Veniczar’s buttons to hold fast against the sudden pressure.
“News of Cera’s fall is welcome, but unsurprising. I expected no less,” Arcadius’s voice was that of a cat toying with a mouse, dangerously playful.
Cullen straightened, triumph flashing in his watery eyes and etched over his blustery demeanor. “It was glorious battle; my forces overwhelmed the Neutral Rim rabble in mere moments. Their pathetic excuse of a navy was barely worth the trouble of using the Legion in the first place.”
“Precisely,” Fontana flicked through Cullen’s report on an open holo with dissatisfaction etched on his face. “What about the situation could have possibly merited the use of such heavy-handed tactics against a single Neutral Rim planet?”
Cullen sneered at Fontana. “Do not presume to lecture me on the ways of war, boy.”
“Indeed?” Fontana’s delicate eyebrow arched. “It was your strategy then, to reveal the existence of our ultimate weapon to the entire galaxy before the war has even truly begun? Over a single Neutral Rim fringe world of limited import or tactical value to our greater objectives no less?”
Cullen’s face flushed and an angry retort trembled on the edge of his tongue.
“And what of your secondary objective?” asked Fontana, continuing despite Cullen’s mounting indignation. “Did I not specifically request that your forces seize the Ceran’s new prototype assault carrier?”
“Bah,” Cullen waved a meaty hand dismissively. “That wretched ship warped from Cera’s gravity well after taking direct fire from the Legion; there’s no way she could have survived the transition with the damage she took.”
“Disappointing,” Fontana’s voice turned cold. “Our spies indicated the Cerans had acquired a novel weapon paradigm that could-”
“It is of no consequence,” Cullen sneered, refusing to be upstaged by his rival. “What weapon could compare to the might of the Legion? If you wish to find the ship so badly, have your own fleet search for its wreck.”
“Enough.” Arcadius’s voice sliced across the squabbling in an instant, leaving silence in her wake. “What of the city?”
Cullen smirked, sensing his opportunity to redeem himself. “A success beyond our greatest imagination,” he waved to someone off screen.
The war room’s holoscreens suddenly changed, showing orbital imagery of breathtaking beauty and devastation. A massive dust cloud erupted from the surface of the blue world, blasting into the upper atmosphere as an artificial volcano formed on the peninsula of Cera City.
Arcadius’s mask stared blankly at the destruction the Legion had wrought upon the planet’s capital city, inscrutable, but apparently enraptured by the sight of the city’s razing.
Fontana’s hand clenched into a fist on the table as his eyes flickered between Arcadius and the sight of the city burning, uncertainty flickering behind their cyan depths. “Veniczar-”
Arcadius held up a hand, cutting him off mid-sentence. “The Cerans?”
“Unconditional surrender,” Cullen’s tone could not have been more smug. “Once word of this hits the holonets, dozens of other Neutral Rim planets will offer the same unconditional terms without our fleets firing a shot.”
“Very good then,” Arcadius’s voice was thick with satisfaction. “Fontana. Do you see?” Arcadius turned her blank silver mask to stare at the man. “The sacrifice of the few for the many. History will remember that this day saved lives.”
“I…” Fontana swallowed. “…understand.”
Arcadius nodded. “Good. Our time is at hand, our plans come to fruition. With Cera’s fall, the remainder of the Neutral Rim will fall under our Crimson Banner in short order. We must now turn our attention to the Alliance Imperialists.”
“My fleets stand ready to attack on your orders,” Cullen’s tone dripped with anticipation. “Give me the word and I shall deliver Solaris to you within the month.”
“Veniczar,” Fontana’s voice was cautionary. “Even unawares, the Alliance will not fall easily. An incursion into their territory before we’ve secured the Neutral Rim leaves our fleets in too vulnerable a posture, even with the Legion.”
“Hmph,” Cullen snorted at Fontana. “You shame yourself with your cowardice, boy. If-”
“We agree with Fontana.” Arcadius’s voice was final. “Decades of decadence and corruption have left the Alliance weak and impotent, but a strike at their territory would galvanize them to action. We will continue our conquest of the Neutral Rim unimpeded and strike at them decisively when the time comes. Cullen, take your fleets and subjugate the remaining worlds of the Neutral Rim. The mere threat of the Legion should be sufficient at this point.”
“Yes Veniczar,” Cullen bowed once again.
“Take your leave then. We expect results.”
“Is the food and drink not to your liking?” Arcadius sat across from Fontana, swirling a glass of red wine delicately as her blank stare bored into him.
Evening had settled softly on New Eden. The two sat on a terraced balcony overlooking the Imperial gardens, bathed in the soft light of New Eden’s moons and serenaded by the peaceful orchestra of burgeoning life around them, paradise incarnate. From here, the massive pyramidal slopes of the Imperial Palace soared gracefully towards the sky above them, a monolithic testament to the glory of the New Empire in its heyday, the center of New Eden’s endless metropolises and lush, verdant landscapes. Outwards, the balcony afforded the two a view of the meticulously curated Imperial gardens, overflowing with all manner of priceless fountains, art fixtures, and sculptures spanning historical eras from the days of Ancient Ryuvia to the modern day. The garden’s lush extended outwards to the cityscape beyond where towering buildings of shimmering grey and white knifed into the sky dizzyingly like dozens of sails, rippling gently in the wind.
Fontana looked down at the table. Everything, from the Ryuvian china and Verstan silk tablecloth to the succulent inifon fillets from Neume and arbor red from New Eden’s most celebrated vintage felt… wrong, indecent.
“When I was still on Threala, I used to dream of fare such as this,” Fontana sliced a sliver of bluish meat from his fillet, spearing it and bringing it to his mouth. The meat’s exquisite aroma reached out to him, caressing his senses, somehow arousing a visceral and primeval thrill of hunt and feast. “I remember serving my master’s feasts while my own hunger gnawed…”
He delicately bit into the flesh, feeling its buttery flavor and smooth texture fill his mouth as he chewed and swallowed. “It is a bitter memory. I confess I find myself unable to enjoy the very luxuries I once coveted.”
Arcadius nodded sagely. “You of all people know what it was like to suffer at the hands of the Imperialists.”
Fontana said nothing, but set his utensils down, his meal and wine practically untouched. Things had changed. There had been a day when he would have confided any secret to Arcadius, his faith unshakable. If he closed his eyes, he could still feel Arcadius’s hands on his shoulders, shielding him from heat and fire, the image of a paladin, standing selflessly as a guardian without peer.
But now, Fontana looked into Arcadius’s mask with distant eyes, his face a mask of ease concealing his inner turmoil. The silver facade he’d once found comfort, hope, and humanity in glinted with cold light, becoming less of a face with each passing day and drifting further and further away from his memories of his mentor.
Declaration of Eternal Revolution, a push to spread the Compact to the Neutral Rim and beyond, seizure and devotion of virtually all large scale planetary industries to the production of warships and war goods rather than to relieve the poverty centuries of Imperial reign had inflicted upon their worlds, and now, the indiscriminate use of planetary bombardment against enemy civilian populations… Fontana’s conscience weighed heavily on him. Necessary steps and transient sacrifices to safeguard the Compact itself, a burden borne today for a future tomorrow; Arcadius’s logic had never been this cold or ruthless in the past.
The sound of shattering glass jerked Fontana from his thoughts. Stiffening in surprise, Fontana saw that Arcadius had flung her glass of wine to the ground, shattering the glass on the terrace, letting the red wine steep into the cracks between the tiles, flowing in dark rivulets.
Arcadius began to laugh, softly at first, but with mounting derision and mirthless hysteria. “You’re right Fontana…”
“Veni-” Fontana swallowed hard.
“They’ve taken everything from us.” Arcadius’s voice was hard and cold with burning hatred. “Swine, dogs, filthy beasts of burden, consuming the galaxy like a plague of locusts, leaving nothing but hunger and blight in their wake, squabbling for the crumbs of the galaxy before turning on one another in endless famine. Pathetic, powerless, and revolting, squealing endlessly and bawling incessantly, corrupting and polluting the galaxy, dooming it to endless repetition in every age past, present, and future.”
Reaching up, Arcadius snatched off her mask, letting it fall to the table with a clatter as her chest heaved with emotion, disgust etched in every line on her face.
Fontana started, it had been some time since he’d last seen her face. During the revolution, he’d found her beautiful and flawless with the hardness and clarity of a diamond. She hadn’t visibly aged a day since they’d met years ago, and yet, her face had changed, twisted by years of haughty contempt and pent-up fury, the disillusion and hate she now bore having wrought infinitely more change than her physical scar ever could. Alice’s face.
Alice stood and swept from the table, her cape billowing after her raffishly as her colorless and silver eyes smoldered with a burning, barely contained ire and choler against the universe itself. Turning away from Fontana, she strode to the side of the balcony, placing her dainty hands on the cool marble railing as she stared out at New Eden’s skyline, glowing brightly in the distance.
Wordlessly, Fontana looked at her small frame, haloed by the illumination of the city before her.
Six years and all the difference in the universe…