In the year 2278, a boy and a girl are playing in the Centauri Royal Palace, and come upon an open window. Through it, they can see the city burning outside. Their nurse finds them and warns that they should not be playing there and should not look outside. All the windows in the palace except for this one are covered up, and this one is for the Emperor. As they are about to leave, they are interrupted by Emperor Londo Mollari.
"It's all right," he says. "It's been a long time since I've heard the sound of laughter in this room." The Emperor asks them to come closer, and the boy identifies himself as Luc Jaddo ("Knives") and his sister Lyssa.
Londo offers Luc the opportunity to give one order. "Make it a good one," he says. As the boy thinks, Londo prompts him again: "What do you want?" "Tell me a story!" Luc replies -- a better answer to that question, Londo reflects, than his own.
"A story about great deeds," Londo eventually begins. "About armies of light and soldiers of darkness. About the places where they lived, and fought, and loved, and died. About great empires, and terrible mistakes. A true story. You see, I was there, at the dawn of the Third Age...
In the year 2243, in Earth Dome, a young Londo Mollari, liasion to the Centauri delegation, arrives at General Lefcourt's ("Endgame") office, where the general and a presidential aide are waiting. Following Earth's victory in the Dilgar war ("Deathwalker"), the Earth government has been extending their sphere of influence, making deals and treaties with the League of Non-Aligned Worlds. Some aliens have been receptive, some hostile, and some are a mystery. Among the latter are the Minbari. The General has asked Londo to his office to see if he has any information about the Minbari. Londo says the Centauri have had some dealings with them in the past, but nothing recently. The aide explains that Earth is preparing to send an expedition to Minbari space, to see if they pose a threat to Earth's expansion, and they need all the information they can get.
Londo advises them to send only one ship. He explains that the Minbari are one of the oldest space faring races, and even at the height of Centauri expansion they never dared oppose them. The Minbari won't bother Earth if they are left alone, he says. But the aide and the General are not listening, and are confident that Earth can handle whatever comes its way. Londo promises to give them the information they requested, but nothing more. "I only hope," says Londo, "that in your stumbling around you do not wake the dragon."
Meanwhile on the Minbari homeworld, Lenonn, leader of the Anla'shok (the Rangers) is meeting with Callier, a warrior caste member. Lenonn has requested more support and men for the Anla'shok, who are not well regarded by the warriors. The prophecies of Valen indicate that this is the time when the Anla'shok will be needed most, but the warrior caste elders have denied his request. Lenonn demands to see the Grey Council and make his case personally, as is his right. Callier warns that going over the heads of the caste elders will offend them, but Lenonn does not care.
That night, Lenonn is awakened by silent attendants who escort him before Dukhat, leader of the Minbari, and the Grey Council. Lenonn recalls Valen's prophecy that the Shadows would return in a thousand years, a time almost upon them now, and says the Rangers are not ready; they are few, most of them old and tired, mocked by some even in the Grey Council, and by the Warrior caste who consider them an embarrassment, who do not believe in the prophecy of Valen.
Dukhat replies that the prophecy also says the Anla'shok will arise, so why not wait until there is proof? Besides, prophecy only concerns the religious caste; what does Lenonn have for the Workers and the Warriors? "All I can say is that I believe," replies Lenonn. "What more is there to say?" The rangers need money, resources, and people; and Lenonn also suggests contacting the Vorlons.
Coplann, a member of the Grey Council and the Warrior caste scoffs at the idea. In the last hundred years no ship sent to contact the Vorlons has returned. "Let them appear," says Coplann, "to give us something to believe in." He takes their absence as further proof that no danger exists.
Delenn, not yet officially a member of the Council but in attendance nonetheless, suggests instead an expedition to Z'ha'dum, homeworld of the Shadows, to verify whether the Shadows have returned. Coplann argues that such an expedition would cause panic if it were generally known, and Dukhat agrees with him. Therefore, Dukhat announces, the Grey Council itself will go to see the truth of the prophecy, travelling in secret and via an indirect route. The Council is dismissed, and Dukhat returns to his sanctum to meditate. In his sanctum, and clearly known to him, are two Vorlons in their encounter suits.
On Earth, Lt. Cmdr. John Sheridan arrives at Gen. Lefcourt's office. Gen. Lefcourt offers Sheridan the first officer position aboard the Prometheus, which is leading the expedition to the border of Minbari space. Sheridan feels an obligation to Captain Sterns, his current captain aboard the Lexington, and he does not feel comfortable leaving the ship, or joining Capt. Jankowski aboard the Prometheus. Capt. Jankowski is considered a loose cannon by people who have served under him, and he doesn't handle first contact situations "as well as others." Although Jankowski was completely cleared of responsibility for something called "the Omega incident," Sheridan would rather avoid the situation. Gen. Lefcourt considers this a bad move for Sheridan, but if Sheridan wants to shoot his own career in the foot, that is his problem. Sheridan is dismissed.
Aboard the Grey Council ship, just prior to the ceremony to officially make her a member of the Council, Delenn notices secret supplies arriving. She discovers they are brought every week on Dukhat's personal orders, and have to do with life support and alternate atmospheres. Dukhat overhears her investigations and reminds her of the coming ceremony. Delenn confides to him her suspicions, that the supplies have to do with Vorlons who may be among them secretely, obviously known to Dukhat, but Dukhat neither confirms nor denies this. However, he tells her "If you ever have doubt about your actions, all you need do is look upon the face of a Vorlon. Once you see that all doubt is erased forever." (See Dr. Kyle's comments in "The Gathering"; also "Chrysalis.")
The Prometheus arrives at the given coordinates as the ceremony to induct Delenn is taking place. The Prometheus picks up the silhouette of the Grey Council cruiser. They were not expecting any ships in this area, and Capt. Jankowski does not understand her presence. "Unless they are waiting for us," he muses out loud. He does not want to jump back out unless thay are detected, however, to avoid putting the jump engines under strain, and thinking about the likely medals he will receive for bringing information on the Minbari warships back with him.
The first officer reminds the Captain that their orders are to avoid a first contact situation, but Capt. Jankowski ignores him and orders his ships to approach. Their scanners are having a hard time locking on, and they cannot pick up anything more than a silhouette, so Capt. Jankowski orders them to get even closer, trying to obtain as much information as they can before being detected. Over the objections of this first officer, he adds, "We handled the Dilgar, we can handle a few stray ships."
Aboard the Minbari ship, they have picked up the echo of the Earth ships. To confirm whether it is aliens, a member of the Grey Council has ordered the scanners on maximum but does not think they should bother Dukhat until they have more information.
The powerful scanners are so strong that they interfere with the Earth ship's jump engines, so the Prometheus cannot jump out. Capt. Jankowski gets more and more agitated, conjecturing that this is being done deliberately. He calls a Red Alert, and tries telling the Minbari that they mean no harm.
Dukhat is informed of the ships, and that they are talking but cannot be understood. The Grey Council member who ordered the scan says they are approaching with gunports open, as per Warrior caste custom: a sign of respect. Capt. Jankowski misinterprets the gesture and unable to tell whether the Minbari have locked their weapons on them because of the interference from the scanners, he grows ever more agitated and finally orders the ships to open fire. They manage to damage the Grey Council ship, mortally injuring Dukhat and shutting down the scanners. As Dukhat dies in Delenn's arms, the Prometheus and her escort turn around and flee.
A Council member approaches Delenn as she holds the dead body of Dukhat. The Council is divided: should they follow the humans to their base and take revenge, or wait and try to understand what happened? Delenn's vote will break the tie. Delenn, distraught over the death of the Minbari leader and mad with grief, votes for revenge: "They struck without provocation... there was no reason... Animals! Brutal... They deserve no mercy... Strike them down! Follow them to their bases and kill all of them! All of them! No mercy!"
"With the death of their leader Dukhat," continues Londo, "the Minbari went mad. They swore revenge, and began a holy war which could only end with the complete extermination of Mankind..."
Gen. Lefcourt and Gen. Fontaine host a massive briefing for Earth Force personnel, where they shows images of dozens of Minbari heavy cruisers destroying an orbitting station and Earth cruisers. The Minbari are attacking and destroying everything, even ships which are not capable of fighting any more. They are not responding to communications, and ignoring offers of surrender. Since the first engagement, Earth Force has not won a single battle, as the Minbari ships are immensely superior and Earth Force cannot even break the Minbari stealth technology. The briefing is to make sure everyone understands, and relays to their ships, two things. One, that Earth Force needs a victory, any victory, to boost morale. "And two," concludes Gen. Lefcourt, "that unless we find a way to defeat the Minbari, the human race ends with the current generation."
At the briefing are Sheridan and Capt. Sterns of the Lexington. Although the Lexington is an old ship that was not expected to see action again, it is being made ready. Also there is Ganya Ivanov, a fighter pilot who is visited by his younger sister Susan. Susan promises to join Earth Force when she turns eighteen in a few months, despite her father's likely objections, and she gives Ganya one of her earrings "for luck."
In Geneva, Londo is talking again to the presidential aide. Earth knows the Centauri will not intervene militarily, but they would like strategic and tactical support from them. And, as Londo points out, weapons. Centauri are more advanced, and the weapons may give Earth a fighting chance. But although Earth offers to pay any price, the Centauri are worried about possible retaliation by the Minbari should they find out, and consider the humans a dying race anyway because of the war. Centauri Prime will not help.
The aide returns to his office, where G'Kar of the Narn regime waits. G'Kar predicted the Centauri would react this way, but the Narn are willing to help. When the Narn drove the Centauri away from their home, they seized many weapons they have since learned how to replicate. They will sell them to Earth, but for a high price. Asked if he is worried about Minbari retaliation, he reasons that if the Minbari capture any weapons, they will blame the Centauri, which is an excellent outcome for the Narn. The aide agrees to the terms, having little choice.
The massive Minbari fleet continues its advance. But Delenn has lost her taste for the war. "Dukhat would have never approved of this slaughter," she argues to another member of the Council. Lenonn agrees with her, accusing the Warriors of being afraid of losing against stronger opponents, the Shadows, and therefore embracing genocidal war against the humans, who have no chance of victory.
Later, when Delenn and Lenonn are alone, Lenonn informs her that he has recreated Dukhat's sanctum in this new ship. Only the two of them have access to it for now, and he advises her to go there very soon.
When Delenn goes, she finds two Vorlons in their encounter suits. One of them identifies himself as Kosh, and shows Delenn a projection made by Dukhat before his death. The Vorlons have told Dukhat that the Minbari will need allies in the coming war, and have specifically mentioned the humans. Dukhat hopes that the person hearing the message will help bring them to the war against the Shadows on the Minbari side. Kosh further tells Delenn that the humans "are the key." Lenonn emerges from the shadows in the sanctum and says the war against the humans must be stopped.
Back on Earth, Dr. Stephen Franklin, recently re-enlisted, is confronted by Gen. Fontaine. Franklin spent some time hitchhicking through space, exchanging medical service for free passage. During this time, he came into contact with some Minbari who had been seriously injured. He was unable to save them, but performed autopsies and took detailed medical notes. He has not provided Earth Force with these notes, since he knows they will be used by the BioGenetic Division to attempt to create a biogenic weapon to wipe out the Minbari. As a doctor, he cannot allow that. Under the Military Code of Justice, the General cannot order him to turn in the notes, but Gen. Fontaine does not care. He has Franklin arrested and his office and home searched. He will be held under arrest until he turns in the notes the General "requested." "And God help you, son," Gen. Fontaine tells Franklin. "From now on, the blood of every soldier who dies in this war is on your hands."
In space, the Lexington and her group have been under hit and run attacks for the past few days. They are all tired and under pressure. They pick up a lone Minbari short range transport and follow it to an asteroid belt, where the transport engines apparently fail, leaving the transport adrift. Sheridan realizes it is a trap, but before the group can break formation a Minbari heavy cruiser jumps in the middle of the group. The hyperspace distortion and the cuirser make quick work of the group, destroying most of the ships in a matter of seconds. The Lexington is hit and loses engines and weapons. Capt. Sterns' chair is hit by flying debris, crushing him to death. The Lexington is left adrift in the asteroid belt, the Minbari thinking it dead already.
In Delenn's quarters, Lenonn and Delenn are trying to figure out what to do. Until now, the Minbari have only hit outer colonies, sparsely populated, but soon they will start approaching the inner colonies closer to Earth. Every day they delay will make stopping the war that much harder. Delenn suggests opening negotiations with the humans, but no member of the Grey Council can go by himself; and the humans will probably think it is a trap anyway. But, she suggests, Lenonn is respected, and has a history of service and unchallenged loyalty, making him a perfect choice. The Minbari know of the deal between humans and Narns, and Delenn suggests using the Narn as intermediaries to arrange a meeting in neutral territory. Despite the dangers, Lenonn agrees, happy to be able to serve his people again. With luck, a meeting can take place in three or four weeks.
Adrift on the Lexington, Sheridan comes up with a desperate plan. He orders three tactical nukes put on asteroids as mines. When they are ready, he sends a distress signal. The Minbari cruiser intercepts the transmission and turns back to destroy the Lexington. Before they can fire, Sheridan detonates the nukes, destroying the cruiser.
The cruiser turns out to be the Black Star, the Minbari flagship. Upon the Lexington's return to Earth, the news of the destruction, the only victory Earth Force has managed so far, is the morale boost Gen. Lefcourt was hoping for.
Gen. Lefcourt congratulates Sheridan. "You were right to stay where you are," the General says. "Thank you for arguing with me." While the Lexington is undergoing repairs, Gen. Lefcourt sends Sheridan to the rendezvous with the Minbari, now arranged through the Narn. It is to take place in an abandonded Earth listening post in the Epsilon system, and G'Kar will go as a mediator and translator if needed. Dr. Franklin, who has agreed to help as his only way out of the stockade, will also go to verify that the other party are indeed Minbari. If it is safe and the Minbari are serious, negotiators will follow, to surrender if necessary.
"We all have our orders..." muses Londo. "My orders were to prevent the Narns from using the war to establish closer ties with the humans. We learned of their mission, and we assumed it was an arms shipment. We didn't know. We couldn't know that it was an attempt to end the war. And so, I gave the order to intercept it."
A Narn heavy cruiser delivers G'Kar, Sheridan and Franklin to the listening post on the surface of a desolate planet, where they meet Lenonn. Lenonn knew Sheridan was coming, and knows what he did to the Black Star. He also knows, he says, that it was necessary. "I also know many of my people will not forget," adds Lenonn. "I speak for them. We must find a way to resolve this, so that many more of your people not get killed. We..." but before he can finish, G'Kar is contacted by his ship; someone is coming through the jumpgate. Before the ship can say anything more, they are destroyed. A Centauri cruiser has opened fire on them, and then fires several missiles at the surface. In the explosion, Lenonn is mortally wounded. Before he dies, he explains that his people will blames his death on Sheridan, so he tells Sheridan what to tell them.
"They never knew who had attacked them," explains Londo. "Each side assumed it was a renegade arm of their own government. But it was us, and it was my order that destroyed their last chance for peace..."
The Minbari soon arrive to find Lenonn dead. Sheridan, Franklin and G'Kar are brought before a hooded Delenn. G'Kar is to be sent away and the two humans questioned prior to their execution. But before they are taken away, Sheridan starts yelling. "I have a message! I know what is in Dukhat's sacred place!" When asked by Delenn what is there, he replies "Insil'zha". Delenn realizes they are not to blame for Lenonn's death and orders them released. Although stunned, the Minbari obey her. When Franklin asks G'Kar what the word means, G'Kar replies "The future."
"With their one chance for peace ruined, and Lenonn dead, the war escalated..." Londo pauses in his story and looks out the window. He explains he had all windows blocked, afraid that if he saw the burning city unprepared he would break down and cry. "But there is hope," he says. "But it will be hard. It will be so very hard..."
Londo returns to his seat and continues the story. "Where was I? Yes, the war. The humans, I think, knew they were doomed. But where another race would surrender to despair, the humans fought back with even greater strength. They made the Minbari fight for every inch of space. In my life I have never seen anything like it. They would weep, they would pray, they would say goodbye to their loved ones... and they would throw themselves, without any fear or hesitation, on the very face of Death itself, never surrendering. No one who saw them fighting against the inevitable could help but be moved to tears by their courage, their stubborn nobility. When they ran out of ships, they used guns. When they ran out of guns, they used knives, and sticks, and bare hands. They were magnificent. I only hope that when it is my time, I may die with half as much dignity as I saw in their eyes, at the end.
"They did this for two years. They never ran out of courage, but in the end, they ran out of time..."
On Earth, the Earth Alliance President addresses the military forces that are left, and tells them of the fall of Proxima and Beta Durani. Earth has also lost contact with Io, and they believe the Minbari will bypass Mars and strike Earth directly at any moment. Despite broadcasting a surrender and a plea for mercy, the Minbari have not responded. To buy more time for the evacuation of Earth, every ship capable of fighting is being asked to join the final defense of Earth. "We will not lie to you," the President says in broken tones. "We do not believe that survival is a possibility. We believe that everyone who joins this battle will never come home. But for every ten minutes we can delay the military advance, several hundred more civilians may have a chance to escape to neutral territory. Though Earth may fall, the human race must have a chance to continue elsewhere. No greater sacrifice has ever been asked of a people, but I ask you now, to step forward one last time, one last battle to hold the line against the night. May God go with you all."
Hundreds of ships of all sizes hold position around Earth as the Minbari approach in hyperspace. The Grey Council assembles to oversee the end of the campaign. On her way to the Council, Delenn stops at Dukhat's sanctum and talks to the Vorlons. She says she has failed, and the war has taken a life of its own, despite the fact that even the Warrior caste has lost its taste for it. She believes that even now they would agree to stop if there were a reason to do so, but there is none. Running out of time, unsure of what to do, she begs the Vorlons to tell her what to do. But they remain silent. As she is about to leave, Kosh says "The truth points to itself." Delenn doesn't understand, but Kosh tells her to leave before it is too late.
Alpha group, led by Jeffrey Sinclair, is first to encounter the enemy, a scouting party. "Hold the line," orders Sinclair. "No one gets through, no matter what."
The Grey Council oversees as hundreds of Minbari ships jump into normal space and start firing. They quickly destroy all of Alpha group except for Sinclair himself. Without any weapons left, his ship about to explode, he turns on a cruiser intent on ramming it. The Cruiser is the Grey Council ship.
Delenn suggests they capture a human to interrogate him about the defenses on Earth. When asked to choose a pilot, she recalls Kosh's words and chooses Sinclair's ship. The cruiser uses an energy beam to stop and tractor in Sinclair's ship, as the battle continues around him. Coplann, a Grey Council member of the Warrior caste, leaves to conduct the interrogation. Later, Delenn, unable to watch more death, leaves the room, and is intercepted by a troubled Coplann. They were using the triluminary to probe Sinclair's mind, and something happened. Coplann thinks Delenn and the rest of the Council should see this immediately.
The triluminary glows when close to the beaten Sinclair, an indication that he has a Minbari soul. Moreover, as Delenn points out, it is not any Minbari soul, but the sould of Valen himself. Coplann cannot believe it, but the trilumniary is the holiest Minbari relic and cannot be questioned. Delenn reasons that Valen was reborn as a human, a sign that humanity is important to the coming Shadow War. Since Minbari do not kill Minbari, "we cannot kill them," concludes Delenn. "In the name of Valen, and he who is Valen's shadow in this life, we cannot kill them."
The ships are to be ordered to stop immediately. As Coplann leaves to see to it, another Council member points out that the rest of the Minbari people are not ready to know this, it would cause panic. It is suggested that Sinclair's mind be wiped of this memory, to ensure secrecy, and that a close watch is to be kept on him to make sure he does not remember. "Leave that to me," says Delenn. "We will keep him close to us, one way or another."
"For the next ten years," continues Londo, "one question would obsess a hundred worlds: Why did the Minbari surrender at the Battle of the Line, on the very eve of victory? The answer to that question would change the Galaxy forever..." concludes Londo, as he finishes his tale.
Londo orders the children out, as he has things to do. Before they leave, Luc asks about Sheridan and Delenn and the end of the story. Londo tells them that Sheridan became president of a great Alliance, Delenn ever at his side. "The story..." Londo says, "is not over yet. The story is never over." "Did they live happily ever after?" asks Lyssa, the first words she has spoken out loud in the presence of the Emperor.
"That remains to be seen..." replies Londo, and the children leave. Londo orders several bottles of alcohol and asks that "the prisoners" be brought to him in an hour. When the guard leaves to execute the order, Londo turns on a projector, where she sees Delenn and Sheridan in a cell in Centauri Prime ("War Without End, Part Two.") Londo takes his cup, and in a mock toast to the screen, he says "To the future, my old friends," as he settles back on his throne to drink.