The great D’Ken delivers a rousing speech as his people cheer his return. Vulcan stands alongside Deathbird, watching the true emperors return to glory. Only days ago, Vulcan wanted to kill D’Ken with his bare hands. But, so many things in his life have changed since he and Deathbird escaped from the prison moon.
Deathbird and Vulcan fight their way out of the prison, mercilessly killing or maiming many Shi’ar soldiers on the way. They work together well, almost instinctively. Vulcan admires Deathbird’s ruthlessness immediately. The people she murders were once her people, but she makes them pay with blood for keeping her prisoner, whether they were aware of it or not. They finally make it to a small jumpship with which they depart the moon.
Deathbird takes the controls and Vulcan questions her as to who exactly the Secret Order are, and why one of them was willing to die so he could set her free. Deathbird isn’t entirely trusting of him, despite his actions on the moon. She wants to take it slow. Vulcan tells her that he had been told she was dead. She replies that many thought she had died in space, but the Imperial Guard captured her before death’s hands closed around her throat. Since then, she has been imprisoned. When Vulcan asks what now, Deathbird offers a wry smile, and replies that now they will burn out the stars… until the time is right.
In the days that follow, Vulcan realizes that in Deathbird he has found a kindred spirit. They leave a bloody trail in their wake. She keeps secrets from him, but she shares other things: exhilaration, destruction and even passion. They soon become lovers, and Vulcan experiences emotions more intense than anything he’s experienced in his brief life. Soon, their stolen jumpship is the only place that matters to him. But, he knows it can’t go on forever.
Eventually they make their way to the emperor’s hospice to meet with Chancellor Araki, who bows upon her arrival. She asks if K’Tor’s messages were true. Has her brother recovered? Vulcan is surprised to hear her ask this. He thought she was going to be empress again. Deathbird replies that she lost her taste for ruling long ago. Araki presumes that he must be the Earther; the son of Corsair. He tells Deathbird that he can be allowed no further. Vulcan clenches his fist, but Deathbird holds out her hand to stop him doing anything impulsive. She informs Araki that Vulcan is her companion and he goes where she brings him. Araki reminds her that the Imperial Guard probed his mind and determined that he has a blood feud with the great D’Ken.
Vulcan grins and asks Araki if he thinks anyone could stand in his way... any of his soldiers? Again, Deathbird tries to calm him down by saying what is past is past. Vulcan doesn’t think she can know how he feels, but Deathbird grabs his cloak. “You think I don’t know how it feels to yearn for vengeance? Haven’t you learned anything of me at all?” She kisses Vulcan and asks him to put aside his wrath. There are bigger things at stake there. Chancellor Araki turns and heads inside the building with Deathbird and Vulcan following. She asks Araki once more if D’Ken has recovered or not. Araki replies that it’s a little more complicated than that.
He takes them through a room with several glass tubes inside it. In the tubes are Shi’ar telepaths; the best that the empire had to choose from. They chose them all. When Deathbird notices aloud that they are now all as catatonic as her brother was, Araki informs her that his treatment is experimental. They’ve spent years slowly knitting his mind back together since his exposure to the M’Krann Crystal. Even limited contact with his thoughts was enough to drive most of the telepaths insane.
He then leads them to a large chamber where D’Ken lies in a bed; cables attached to his forehead and body. Deathbird asks what K’Tor meant by progress in his report. Araki replies that their most recent scans show something new. It appears that while he has yet to awaken, the telepaths cured D’Ken to some degree. His mind is calm and his brain patterns are nearly normal. However, the three divisions of his minds cannot communicate. The connections between them have been severed.
He continues to inform Deathbird that their doctors believe that, over time, his mind will grow new neural pathways, and then he’ll awake as strong as ever. Deathbird asks how long that might take, but Araki says that is unknown. This isn’t the news Deathbird had hoped for, but Araki assures her that their forces will follow her as faithfully as D’Ken. Deathbird doesn’t think that is the case. They do not love her as they loved him.
Vulcan mulls over what he has heard. He asks if neural pathways are partially constructed of electrical impulses in Shi’ar brains. Araki asks what he is suggesting. Vulcan believes there might be another option.
Meanwhile, a Shi’ar craft flies through space on a mission to scan the outer moons. The captain asks his lieutenant why he has changed course. The lieutenant replies that he thought he saw an energy flare as they were leaving the atmosphere. Now he’s picking up a reading of a ship on the surface, not far from the emperor’s hospice. He puts it on screen, and the captain can see that it is Deathbird’s. The lieutenant asks how she could possibly know that their forces would be so weak this day. The captain intends to ask the chancellor that very question, and calls for the warships to be recalled.
Back at the hospice, Araki tells Deathbird that Vulcan cannot be trusted. He wants D’Ken’s death. Deathbird reminds her chancellor who is giving the orders. She says that, if Vulcan swears he won’t harm her brother, then she believes him. Araki begins to complain, but Vulcan assures him that he’s doing this for Deathbird, not for him, D’Ken or anyone else. There’d be no honor in killing him like this, anyway. He wouldn’t even know the difference.
Soon after, Vulcan has his hands placed at either side of D’Ken’s forehead, channeling energy into his brain. It’s easier than he thought it would be. With the gentlest of touches, he feels the dead pathways that D’Ken’s neurons used to travel throughout his brain, and he reignites them. D’Ken wakes with a start. He sits up quickly and splutters, trying to catch his breath. “By the gods!” exclaims Araki. Deathbird places her arms around Vulcan’s shoulders and tells him that he constantly amazes her. Vulcan coldly replies that he will kill him eventually. She should know that. Deathbird figures she will tame him of those urges before then. She licks his ear and whispers, “Let the past be the past.”
D’Ken asks Araki to help him to his feet. The chancellor asks him to take it easy. He’s been away from them for some time. As D’Ken stands, a call comes through informing him that they have a problem. Their ships have returned and scouts report an entire battalion advancing towards their position. Araki replies that it’s about time that their Secret Order emerged from the shadows. “Open fire.”
Things move quickly and brutally after that. As Vulcan joins Deathbird and soldiers working for the Secret Order in battling the encroaching Shi’ar troops, he realizes that he’s witnessing a major split among the Shi’ar. Much as Caesar crossed the Rubicon to claim what was his, this is Araki’s opening move to restore D’Ken to the throne and restore the Shi’ar Empire to its old ways. Araki assists D’Ken as Vulcan and his team makes short work of the soldiers. Part of Vulcan hates himself for making it possible. Part of him knows that he should have just killed D’Ken where he lay. However, there is another part of him that cannot stop glancing at Deathbird. He seems unable to refuse her anything. He’s never felt anything like this before. So, for now, he stays by her side to see what the coming days will bring.
They leave the planet in a large ship and, as the days pass, they bring the unexpected. One day he is relaxing with Deathbird when a recovering D’Ken asks his sister to leave them. He has things to discuss with her Earther. Deathbird replies that she doesn’t think that is wise, but D’Ken assures her that he will not be harmed. Deathbird says that it’s not Vulcan that she’s concerned about. Vulcan stands and asks her to go. He wants to hear what D’Ken has to say.
Alone, D’Ken tells Vulcan that Araki has informed him of his history, and apparently they have met before. His memory of those days is still hazy, but he remembers his father of course… Corsair. But his birth, he confesses, is lost somewhere in the blood rage he felt that day. Vulcan tells him that if he’s looking to appease him by referring to his mother’s death as his birth, it is not the way to go. D’Ken asks why he would seek to appease him. He is the great D’Ken, and everything Vulcan is today, he owes to him. But, he does have a debt that he means to repay.
Vulcan asks how he intends to do that. D’Ken informs him of an arcane Shi’ar law. According to the texts, any child born in the high palace on Chandilar may rise to become royalty. Though it was never intended to allow one such as Vulcan into their midst, his sister’s affection for him is plain and his power formidable. He would rather have Vulcan at his side than at his back. As they chat, the ship they are in heads towards an operational stargate. D’Ken informs Vulcan that he wants him to marry Deathbird. He’s asking Vulcan to join the imperium as they rise once more.