Aboard a Shi’ar vessel currently attacking the Kree world Kon-Shor:
Admiral Ka’ardum tells Vulkan that he fears the Shi’ar Imperium is overstretched with their current war, or will be soon.
A Shi’ar soldier tries to tell Vulcan he should probably remove himself from this location. Vulcan orders him to be quiet. Adults are talking.
As they walk the halls of the ship, explosions outside, Ka’ardum points out that the Imperium is presently engaged in ninety-seven separate campaigns of pacification or annexation. They have already been obliged to downscale sixteen of them in order to maintain the supply of men and munitions to the Kree warfront. Vulcan tells him to increase production in the shipyards and arsenals. It’s not complicated! For God’s sake, doesn’t anybody own a whip anymore?
The soldier tries to talk again and Vulcan shuts his mouth. A hologram message of Chancellor Araki informs Vulcan that there are reports of unrest in the labor pools of most manufacturing worlds. Furthermore, several outworlds have risen in revolt at the scale of the taxes being demanded of them.
Ka’ardum adds that the sheer intensity of this war with the Kree is exhausting their military resources. It is beginning to sap the spirit of the Shi’ar.
Does he concur? Vulcan asks Araki but that moment the hologram breaks up. Ka’ardum explains that communications have been affected by the aftereffects of the nega-bombing.
Again the soldier urges Vulcan to return to the flagship. What, and miss a bracing walk in the country? Vulcan asks, referring to the brutal battle outside.
Ka’ardum suggests they negotiate a ceasefire with the Kree. That sounds an awful lot like treason, Vulcan warns him.
That moment, the soldier shouts in panic that a sentry has got through the defense barrage. The robot lands inside the ship and uses its blast to incinerate the soldier. Ka’ardum cries for the Imperial Guard to protect the Majestor. Must he do everything himself? Vulcan shouts, his hand crackling with energy. But a blast from another direction destroys the robot. The Shi’ar Majestor is under his protection, Talon, a Darkhawk, announces. Indeed, Vulcan states, and who might he be?
Hala. The shores of the Sareth Ocean, where Crystal has accompanied her recovering husband Ronan. Ronan admits he is still coming to grips with the concept of their being married. He confides that by rights the Shi’ar should have crushed the Kree already. The Imperium has never been so strong, nor the Kree empire so weak. It is a testament to the leadership of Attilan that they are holding their own.
It is more than that, Crystal explains. Her cousin Karnak thinks the Shi’ar are in danger of overstretching. Despite their vast resources, Vulcan’s program of expansion has damaged them. So the Inhumans are just a stubborn adversary who has appeared at the least opportune moment.
Ronan points out that the average Shi’ar soldier fights this war because he was ordered to and is afraid of Vulcan. The average Kree soldier fights because he remembers what the Shi’ar inflicted on them in the last conflict. In any war, he’d always back the side that is fighting with spirit.
Kneeling down beside his hover chair, Crystal remarks that he just mentioned their marriage. The Shi’ar Imperium embodies the concept of marriage, doesn’t it? As symbolized by their gods, Sharra and Kythri, Ronan agrees. Gods who were forced into marriage against their will and, in that union, found strength. That’s what the imperium does. It marries other cultures by means of shotgun wedding.
Turning away, Crystal remarks she sees their own dynastic union rather more as an arranged marriage. Two parties who unite in a bond of mutual care and kinship. She means… the Kree and Inhumans? he asks. Of course, she agrees. Belated so does he. She confides he needs to know something, because a good marriage is built on honesty. The Uplift program is not working. The science caste of Attilan has been unable to make good on Black Bolt’s promise to jumpstart the evolution of the Kree. She believes the two of them should stand together and approach Black Bolt on this issue with all urgency. If they wait until this war is over it may be far too already and the Kree will have been left behind!
Ronan agrees and tells her something about this war puzzles him. From the reports it seems to him that there have been several opportunities when they might have capitalized on small victories. It seems that Black Bolt is holding back from taking the most ruthless and decisive actions.
Crystal explains Black Bolt wants this war ended with a minimum of suffering. She believes he is waiting to see if the Starjammers can complete their mission successfully. He trusts those brigands? Ronan scoffs. They are heroes, Crystal corrects him, and they may just unseat Vulcan and end this war with far less loss of life. And if they fail? Crystal believes there is a contingency plan but doesn’t know what it consists of. Given the fury of this war, it won’t be pretty though.
On Chandilar, the Shi’ar throneworld, Lilandra has been busy alerting forces in the underground. Gladiator is welcomed by Councillor D’Bek whose sequence remained loyal to Lilandra while the influential Araki sequence swung the council’s support to Vulcan.
With the help of the Starjammers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, Lilandar was smuggled onto Chandilar. Now the Guardians have departed and only Gladiator and the Starjammers are left.
Is everything prepared? Gladiator asks D’Bek who explains the High Council is in session and Chancellor Araki believes they have been called for an extraordinary parliament to discuss military policy.
Araki addresses the parliament, insisting that the Kree are an age old foe who must be put down! Other voices are dissenting, stating the losses are too dear. A new voice chides Araki for spilling Shi’ar blood so freely. Araki demands the speaker show themselves. Gladly, Lilandra replies and steps into view.
Araki orders guards to seize her but Polaris, Gladiator and the others quickly intercede on Lilandra’s behalf. Lilandra coldly states that Araki’s pernicious secret order has manipulated the fate of the Imperium far too long.
Araki shouts that this is a coup and threatens when Vulcan learns of this he will slaughter them all. Lilandra interrupts him. This is no coup. This is a restoration of legal authority. She is Lilandra Neramani, majestrix of the Shi’ar and she reclaims the throne of the Aerie by right of her blood sequence. Her first acts will be to outlaw the usurper Vulcan and end this disastrous war. What says the High council? Happily the crowd shouts her title and name.
On Kon-Shor, Vulcan and Talon walk among the ruins. The Darkhawk introduces himself as Shir Ydrn Talonis of the Fraternity of Raptors. He is also known as Talon. And this Fraternity is like some kind of Warriors’ Lodge? Vulcan asks. It is an ancient order, Talon corrects him, founded when the galaxy was young. It has a single duty: to protect and direct the great purpose. And what would the great purpose be? Vulcan demands. The Shi’ar Empire, comes the reply. They were created to keep the Imperium strong and to make sure it endures forever.
As emperor, he would have thought he might have heard of them, Vulcan states. They were once the byword for authority and discipline, serving the majestors of the young imperium. But time has passed. They have slumbered in the null void for more than sixty centuries. In their absence, the sequence nobles of the secret orders have done their best to maintain their objectives.
And now they’re awake? Back in business? And delighted, Talon states, to find a strong leader on the throne of the Aerie. The Fraternity of Raptors has returned to save him, to secure his rule. To take the Imperium to the next level. We? Vulcan laughs. He sees only one of him. They are everywhere, Talon assures him.
And what help does Talon think he needs? Vulcan demands. Talon replies he is locked in a brutally expensive war with an implacable foe. His force of leadership has made many enemies within the imperium. Worlds are now rising in open revolt against his regime and he cannot service the war indefinitely.
He dares lecture him on strategy? Vulcan rages. And with such lies and speculations!
The datasong has revealed all that to him, Talon replies calmly. The datasong never lies. And what the &%$ can he do to help him? Vulcan demands.
As a gesture of their intent and a demonstration of their abilities, the Fraternity has struck a pact with king Blastaar of the Negative Zone. He can share the data song with Vulcan. He touches Vulcan’s face and begins the telepathic transmission. Attacked by Blastaar’s forces, Ravenous’ enclave will not last another day
As Vulcan sinks to his knees overwhelmed, Talon calmly asks how he intends to deal with Lilandra’s coup on Chandilar. It’s the first Vulcan has heard of that. Angrily, he accuses Talon of lying. Talon replies the intelfeed had been manipulated by Vulcan’s enemies. Lilandra is in the High Council right now, demanding Vulcan’s censure. Vulcan angrily unleashes an energy blast. He’ll never get back to Chandilar in time to—
Talon tells him to calm himself. He said he would protect Vulcan and he will!
The concourse of the Aerie, Chandilar. The fire spreads. In less than an hour, the city center is choked in a screaming crowd. But some are not rejoicing. Pro-Vulcan mobs riot in the streets. That is when Lilandra decides to walk to the temple. Gladiator walks ahead. The Starjammers surround her to fend off potential enemies.
Lilandra explains that to consolidate her claim she must go to the temple of Sharra and Ky’thri and renew her oath. Then the Council and the Chief of Staff can pledge allegiance to her at the high altar.
Fending off would-be attackers Polaris replies they understand the ritual significance. It’s the “walking across the concourse to get there” part that Havok is having trouble with.
She’s not Vulcan, Lilandra explains. She needs to show the people that she’s returned and that she’s one of them. She needs to walk among them without fear.
This will not stand! Araki protests. She has woefully misread the willingness of the Shi’ar to accept regime change in a time of war. And Araki’s misread his willingness to listen to him talk crap, Korvus warns him.
Havok asks Rachel about the situation. Marvel Girl scans the area but her head is ringing. So many minds packed in tight, protestors and supporters alike. The mental chatter is deafening.
Gladiator states the Majestrix will be perfectly safe. She is under his protection. Lilandra whispers to him, asking if she has misread the people. Do they really love Vulcan? Of course not, he assures her, but is secretly dismayed. He didn’t expect any popular dissent.
Suddenly, Polaris notices mist surrounding them. It’s not just mist, Rachel shouts It’s in her mind too! She’s felt this before! Suddenly Councilor D’Bek is stabbed. Newcomers have arrived. The Death Commandoes. Chancellor Araki’s covert wetwork squad.
Seeing them, Rachel goes ballistic. Those are the bastards who murdered her family! she shouts and immediately attacks them telekinetically over Havok’s shouts that she and Korvus are to get Lilandra into cover. But she ignores him and soon the battle is joined.
Lilandra orders Araki to call off his killers. Laughing, he replies that he didn’t call them in, but he applauds their work.
Polaris takes down a member with metal wings while Lilandra makes short work of another who attacks her. Korvus drags Rachel away. Gladiator goes for Hypernova. Before he can put her down she has already fried two loyal council members. Warshift is next.
By the time Flaw the Warskrull hits Gladiator, he can hear Araki laughing and shouting over the tumult. Panic has seized the Concourse. A hundred thousand people are caught in its grip. He hears explosions, screams, someone shrieking his name. Another Death Commando member who blasts him.
Araki shouts orders to kill the “false empress.” Parts of the crowd take up the chant, cursing Lilandra. Korvus and Rachel try to drag Lilandra away while she is horrified to hear what people think of her.
Somebody fires a gun, hitting members of the crowd. Where is the shooter? Korvus shouts. Rachel finds him in the chaos and gets a grip on him. For a moment, his image changes and it is a Darkhawk. Rachel wonders about the change; a moment later he is gone.
Rachel turns to Korvus, only to find that one of the shooter’s victims was Lilandra, who lies dead in Gladiator’s arms…