House Galeres Run On - The Coming Storm
He awoke with a start. Sashar shook his head as he rose, the quarters of the Quaestor still unfamiliar to him. Nevertheless, he waved a hand at the light controls, telekinetically tapping the switch to give him some muted illumination. He hadn’t been sleeping well now for some months – the galaxy was in a state of unrest – distress. The war raging throughout it was like an aberration in the force, and as embedded in a nest of darkness as he was, the Mandalorian was not used to such a feeling of sheer pain constantly pouring from the Force. He knew his brethren in the Dark Brotherhood, scattered throughout the office as they were, could also feel it. He also knew that some would revel in that pain. It was useless trying to speak about it – The Brotherhood would not intervene until the Dark Council commanded them to.
Running a hand through his hair, he sat up and steadied his breathing. The memories of his earlier activities in the evening came back – that familiar urging coming from the tomes on his desk detailing some of the more advanced techniques of Shadowcrafting beckoning him to delve further into that perversion of the force. Only the Consul knew of his secretive practicing. He was almost ashamed of embracing the dishonourable art; there was no glory in striking from the shadows, no peace of mind knowing that his opponent stood a fair chance, yet he continued, spending hours late at night practicing the damned act in solitude.
However, it wasn’t just the tempestuous nature of the Force that had roused him, no, it was a chilling vision. Even now the images which had been just moments ago clear as cut crystal were fading into nothing as he struggled to retain them.
Etah crumpling to the floor, his armor pierced by a fateful flow from a blaster, Malidir standing before the downed Aedile and danger – Sashar too far to help and busy deflecting countless bolts…too many…
Even with the aid of a force memory technique, he was unable to glean more than that from his subconscious. Fortunately, he was spared the effort by a chime coming from the comm. console. He sat down before the Holonet screen and pressed the icon representing an incoming external line. Before him materialised a harassed-looking human female. He didn’t bother to apologise for his own dishevelled appearance – the caller would have been told local time by the communications officer before the transmission was put through to him.
The Mandalorian nodded, still too tired to formulate a more cogent response.
“I am Jean Dinzler. I’m calling on behalf of the Krantian Regional Governor’s office. As you know, times are a trial at the moment, and the plant Krant is feeling the effects more than others.”
“I wasn’t aware Krant had been invaded. The Bothans have lost their sector already?” Sashar asked mildly, as if he were discussing the weather.
“No no, but that’s the problem. Most of the Bothan Military is on the front lines, repelling the invaders in the Outer Rim. The home front is suffering in their absence. The Peace Brigade are tearing apart refugee convoys and any military aid the Republic can afford to send. Even the Jedi haven’t responded to our pleas for aid.”
Sashar grimaced. His house wasn’t a charity. “You are aware that we don’t work for free?”
“Yes, we are quite willing to pay you for your efforts, if you’ll just remove the Peace Brigade threat from our system.”
“Very well. I will consider your offer and get back to you presently.”
“Thank you, I-“ Sashar cut off the transmission and leaned back in the comfortable chair, now completely awake. Cabal Cronal did need a proper test, and Soulfire were always ready for some action. He tapped in another series of commands and summoned the House Summit to the Grand Arena. They would accept the contract – the only question was how they’d do it.
Half an hour later, after Sashar had subsequently contacted Jean Dinzler and gathered the information he needed to brief his men, they were gathered before him, four of them, each looking quite unhappy at the lateness of the hour. He sat in the throne, thoroughly hating it. An ugly marble edifice, tackily carved into the shape of some mythical lizard with a gaudy black and gold colour-scheme, it was nevertheless the symbol of power in Galeres, and until his role as Quaestor was cemented in place, he knew it would be unbecoming to effect changes.
“We’ve got a contract” Sashar began without preamble “The planet Krant has some local trouble – the Peace Brigade have been harassing Refugee convoys heading to Krant. We’re being asked to clear them out of the system.”
“Krant…Bothan Space. Won’t this put us dangerously close to the Vong, who the Dark Council has instructed we avoid at all costs?” Orv asked sceptically.
Sashar nodded “It will, however we will not be engaging any Yuuzhan Vong in this assignment – they’ve shown little direct interest in Krant, hence the Peace Brigade’s presence. We’re not disobeying our mandate here, as far as I can tell. If the DC do decide to take umbrage to our actions, I’ll make sure I take full responsibility.”
The others murmured their assent.
“The Peace Brigade are situated, ironically enough, in an abandoned Sith Temple deep in the southern continent’s largest forest. Their forces are estimated to be one Star Galleon, two Corvettes (one was destroyed recently by NR Fighters escorting a convoy to Krant), a half-squadron of Y-Wings and numerous PPBs – Pocket Patrol Boats, Corellian short range fighters best used in swarm tactics. Make no mistake gentlemen, their space forces alone I don’t like our chances against in open combat, and it is estimated that there are roughly 500 support personnel manning their makeshift base of operations. Expect the usual Smuggler fringe scum here – unpredictable, undisciplined, and unhygienic in the extreme.”
He paused, letting the numbers sink in before continuing.
“We’ll have two main objectives here – the first will be to neutralise the base, and the second is to seize their leader alive and extract him. Zandro, you and all of Soulfire, Kal Hukatiir and Kal Prudii included, will infiltrate the Temple by way of the Drexl and zip-line, and then plant demolition charges at key structural points. From there, they will proceed to eliminate key senior personnel without alerting the entire facility – we need to maintain our air of secrecy for as long as possible – even we can’t survive against 500 pissed smugglers in an enclosed space.”
The image brought a chuckle to his Summit, and he continued on, pleased with the levity he had injected into the meeting.
“Cabal Cronal, it’ll be your task to infiltrate the facility, get a complete dump of their main archives and capture their leader, Fac Sun – A Geonosian of thoroughly disagreeable temperament. He is to be exfiltrated along with yourselves by way of a LAAT/i and taken back to our temporary camp, where I shall interrogate him – only once we’ve finished with him do we hand him over to the Krantian Authorities.”
They each nodded. It was expected that Galeres get first dibs on the information sources – they weren’t a ‘black market’ house for nothing.
“Etah, your role is simple. You shall take a Platoon of the Eldarian Rangers down close to the installation, again by way of two LAAT/i’s and secure the area immediately surrounding the Temple. It is expected that a fair number of the Smugglers will try to flee into the forest when the Temple starts coming down around them – I’d rather we had this nice and clean and didn’t leave anyone to tell the Vong that Galeres and the Brotherhood were behind this. Oh and that reminds me, I’d like to maintain the illusion that we’re not force users for as long as possible, even the entire duration of the mission if that’s possible – The Vong seem to get hypersensitive around ‘Jeedai’ and I’d just as soon not have it known that a bunch of Jedi commandoes’ [Expletive Deleted F-word]ed up their bitches’ bolt hole. So don’t go swinging your saber around unless you absolutely have to. Any questions?”
Zandro raised a hand
“Two. First, How are we getting there with only four Larties, and second, what will you be doing whilst we’re all playing gun-ninja?”
“Good Questions. To answer your first one, We will be borrowing a modified Gallofree transport, the Argos, from Clan Tarentum to act as our transport for the duration of this mission. As for the second one…it’s best that you don’t know for now, but suffice to say I will be on scene, and in just as much danger.”
His half-brother nodded, satisfied with the answers.
“Good. Gentlemen, we leave at 0430 hours, so rouse your men and get them geared up.”
Kieran was trying his best to stand up straight, but his double vision was severely impairing his sense of balance. Kieran was in a bit of a state to say the least, his face was aghast with a look of astonishment over how the service droid had managed to understand his garbled order. Still it returned with his two drinks and uttered the usual compliments which Kieran now knew off by heart, not that he could hear them over the dim of the bar. He turned, slopping his Lomin Ale over his hand and onto the floor, cursing loudly in the process and then walked, or rather waddled to the table he had spent the last several hours at. Kieran grinned stupidly as he saw the assortment of various glasses that festooned the table, and the rosy cheeked face of his rather drunk ner’vode Juda Kodiak Erinos staring up at him.
“Beer bud,” Kieran called as he slumped down into his seat, fishing his cigarette off the table.
“Tah ner’vode,” Juda replied reverting to their mother tongue for the affectionate word and raising his glass to Kieran’s.
He was in an equal state to Kieran if not more since the Knight had persuaded him to try a puff or two on his covertly rolled ‘cigarette’. The two were well on their way to what could have been a spectacular night when their comlinks began to blare, as did numerous other patrons of the bar which meant one thing; stand to.
“Osik! Why tonight!” Juda cursed opening the channel.
“Easy boys, Kier you there too?” the familiar voice of Zandro Savric Erinos called out to them.
“I have no idea what’s going on,” Kieran replied into his own comlink.
“Glad to hear it, briefing in fifteen, it’s play time so sober up,” he replied closing the link quickly.
Kieran took one last long drag on cigarette in his hand and then tossed it into the ashtray. He began to concentrate on his body, delving through flesh and bones to the molecules floating round his body. He began to pluck each one and exterminate its existence within him; soon he began to feel the horrible clarity of soberness.
He opened his eyes and saw Juda fixed in the same look of quiet concentration, Kieran didn’t need the force to tell him he was accomplishing the same. They rose after a few moments and walked out of the bar to make their way to the briefing room.
“We’re gonna be dropping right onto the temple roof to make our way inside, zip line insertion which we’ve done a multitude of times so you know the drill,” Zandro paused to draw breath before continuing. “They’re not posting look outs, as far as they believe no one knows they’re there. As you’d expect this is a night insertion and but we’ll encounter wets, neutralize silently we don’t wanna blow the lid till the charges are set.”
Kieran looked round briefly at the assembled room. He sat next to his long time friend Derik Loran and commander of Soulfire’s support squad; Kad Huukatir, or to those who could not speak Mand’oa, Saber’s Guard. Maku the sergeant of Kad Prudii, was staring intently at Zandros following it word for word. The other faces of the assembled squads spoke out to him with a number of names, Briike, Reeza, Flik, Jaarg, all his kinsmen and brethren.
“Prudii is going to hit the hanger bay, placing charges to demolish it and cripple the ships. Huukatir is heading for the communications relay, disabling this leaves them blind and ensures they don’t transmit a distress call. Our Intel is severely limited so once Soulfire gets in Kier will identify locations for us to plant charges. This is covert boys, we wake them up and it’s gonna be like wearing a hornet’s nest for a buy’ce,” he paused for a moment allowing the torrent of information he had blasted on them to settle in.
“Bad Intel? How bad?” Kieran piped up from the corner.
“We know there are five hundred of them, we know where they are and what they fly, but as far from that we have no idea what we’re really up against,” the Erions replied to his brother.
“This is all gonna end in tears,” the Knight replied remorsefully.
“It always does,” Zandro replied with a grin.
“Yeah, but this won’t be the good tears, this’ll be the ‘Kieran getting shot again’ tears,” he replied sarcastically.
“I’ll protect you buddy!” called Juda from the seat behind him.
“I’d rather if you just stood in front of me and took the hits instead, you’re better at that Jud'ika,” Kieran replied turning back to face his brother, who playfully returned the comment with a gentle tap to the head with his clenched fist.
“Right then,” the Soulfire sergeant called out giving the cue for any further questions to be raised; the room remained silent. “Suit up and be ready to role out at oh-four-hundred hours, hangar bay one.”
Even from inside the Medical Lab, Juda could still hear Kieran’s valiant voice bellow; “Ib'tuur jatne tuur ash'ad karamu!” Bringing a smile to his porcelain-skinned features. His hand brushed over a variety of medical supplies that were laid neatly on the top of a pristine counter while he flicked the crimson strands of jagged hair out of his eyes with the other.
The Lab’s artificial light smothered everything a brilliant white and the strong scent of disinfectant reeked throughout the cool air as he placed a roll of Bacta patches into the medical belt buckled around his waist.
‘Excuse me, Jedi Hunter?’ A static voice buzzed behind him startling the adolescent Mandalorian, ‘May I be of service?’ Juda looked over his shoulder to find a chrome-plated medical droid hovering waist-height, thanks to a set of miniature repulsor lifts.
“Erm… yeah, I need a fresh laser scalpel and some salve spray” Juda replied as he watched the droid hover to the other side of the room hastily, “Oh and a bottle of Synthskin!”
The Lab was completely empty apart from a variety of droids, and the Kad Hukaatir and Prudii Medic’s, one of whom Juda saved when Decca’s forces invaded the Dajorra system by performing a tracheotomy in the midst’s of battle. The whelk-like scar that laced across Davrel’s throat was still visible as he hurried past Juda holding assorted medical items in his hands, but not without nodding his greeting.
Juda soon escaped into a daydream while he awaited the droid’s return. It was a time of change, his Master; Sashar had been newly appointed as Questar and thus wouldn’t be fighting alongside his Soulfire brethren, his fellow apprentice to the Exarch; Rho had recently transferred from the Strike Team to Cabal Cronal as second in command. Juda found it hard to adjust to seeing the Nagai clad in the new Battle Team’s armour, the pair shared a bond similar to that of brothers and would miss not having the Sith watch over him through the scope of his favoured Sniper Rifle.
Like his brethren Juda was also changing, not in a physical sense but mentally, ever since joining the Brotherhood he had studied and followed the Potentium views of the Force, but he mixed with such a variety of individual belief’s he was in doubt, and had began dabbling deeper into Dark energies.
The droid hovered back with the supplies, knocking Juda out of his daydream only to hear Kieran’s jovial voice,
“Mar'e, burc'ya! Get suited up!” Juda looked up at his Ner’vod who peered in from the entrance now clad fully in his Soulfire attire, “You’re worse than a dala” He mocked as Juda finished organising his medical belt.
“You ready to go?” Juda asked, stopping momentarily to catch his own reflection in Kieran’s visor.
“Troch, ad’ika!” Kieran grinned, patting the various explosive devices attached to his belt…
Zandro’s office was little more than a glorified closet, but he treasured it all the same. Its cramped space was filled with weapons, armour and small gadgets that he would probably never use but had piqued his imagination when he first saw them. A chair and desk had somehow been squeezed into the space and it was here where the Sergeant now sat, contemplating the mission ahead. He always liked to have some time alone so that he could centre himself and choose his weapons for the fight ahead. Remembering back to his last big mission, he recalled his brief brush with the Dark Side and a small shiver swept through his body at the memory as he tried to push it away again.
I can’t allow myself to fall again, but dwelling on it won’t help. This mission is going to be all about stealth and assassin type killing. It’s going to be just like Praetorian all over again, minus the petty politics and the back-stabbing antics. I need to stay focused, because if I don’t, I could die.
Shaking his head, he stood up from his chair and clambered over the multitude of tat that littered the room as he made his way over to the wardrobe where he kept his weapons. Opening it up, he surveyed the various blades, blasters and grenades that were held there. Pausing for several long seconds, he began to pull weapons from their slots and placed them down on the table in preparation for suiting up. When he had pulled the weapons out, he closed the wardrobe and began to suit up his armour, the Neo Crusader armour slipping easily over the jet black bodysuit and clamping into place, the weight comfortable and welcome, making him feel slightly more protected and secure. He strapped the various blasters in their holsters as well as sheathing his vibroblade in his boot and clipping his lightsaber to the small of his back. He grabbed his new helmet from the desk and admired the design; the Jaig eyes that now adorned the helm brought a grin to his face as he remembered the ceremony where he had received them. Pulling the helmet on and securing it, he grabbed his blaster rifle from the table and stalked from the room, his comm already activated and keyed to his half-brother Sashar’s frequency.
“So, what exactly is it that you aren’t telling us?”
A low chuckle spread across his headset as his brother laughed.
“Nothing, just the fact that we are outnumbered by a lot and have very little intel going in.”
“So, basically the usual deal for us then?”
“Pretty much. You think your squad can handle it?”
“Hah, do Rancor’s eat meat? You should know better than to question these boys.”
“True, but I feel I have to keep checking, especially as I won’t be there to make sure you don’t get shot up or captured again.”
“I’ll be on my best behaviour. Anyway, time to rock and roll, catch you later.”
He flicked off the channel with his tongue as he headed towards the hangar, a spring in his step as the adrenaline began to kick in as it always did before a mission. It was known as a flight-or-fight reflex, and Zandro knew there would be no running with this battle.
Orv Dessrx d'Tana strode from the room with confidence, a slight grin creeping onto his pale face. Cabal Cronal was a new team, yes, but a talented team that - since their inception - had been confined to their desks pouring over incoming and outgoing transmissions in the Dajorra System. It would be good to have them all stretch their legs and experience a little more 'hands on' information gathering.
Within minutes, Orv found himself at his office desk in the Cabal Cronal Headquarters crouched over his HoloNet terminal. 'Now...who to assign to this mission...' the Teltior's mind raced as he analyzed the files on is Intelligence Gathering Taskforce; weighing strengths and weaknesses, tailoring the most effective team to gain access to the Temple on Krant and extract Fac Sun. After an hour he had his team. Along with himself, he would be bringing 2 Operations Officers and 3 Intel/Recon Officers. Working quickly, Orv crafted an encoded message, split it into 5 parts and planted it various data streams his team would be monitoring.
Two standard hours and twenty standard minutes later, Orv Dessrx sat at the Cabal's round table with his team. After the pleasantries were out of the way, Orv began, "Dark Brethren, the time has come for a little field action." Orv let the sentence sink in, smirking inwardly as his team shifted in their seats, more from anticipation of the details than from nervousness. "Exarch Sashar has tasked the Cabal with a trip to Krant-"
"In Bothan space?" Jedi Hunter Jaing Beviin asked, cocking an eyebrow.
"Aye. It seems the Peace Brigade has set up shop in one of the two Temples planet-side Galeres' skills are being called upon for two things. One: Soulfire Squadron has been assigned to neutralize the Temple. Two: Cabal Cronal has been assigned the tasks of downloading their data archives and apprehending their leader, Fac Sun," Orv pressed a button and an image of the Genosian Leader appeared on his five officer's screens. "We are to extract him alive and bring him in for questioning. When we're done with him, we'll hand him over to the group that has asked for Arconan help. Gaining access to the Temple is the key; we've been instructed to enter unnoticed and refrain from using outward displays of the Force."
The Krath Tetrarch shifted in his seat, hesitating on his next statement. "I am no expert in the art of field work, my expertise lies in interrogation, information brokering, analysis, and political manipulation. I look to you for your thoughts on entry."
"Tetrarch, if I may."
"Go ahead, Hunter Beviin." Orv nodded in appreciation.
Jaing pressed a few buttons on his datapad and a surface map of the Temple's surrounding area appeared on the team's screens. "According to the Intel that has been provided, I would suggest we drop down planet-side 5 kilometers South by South East from this point," Jaing pressed another button marking a sewer entry point on the map. "We enter there gaining access to the Temple from beneath."
Orv ran his eyes over the map, "Good, good. And once we're inside?"
"Hrm...do we have a map of the interior?"
"Yes. Let's see," Orv pressed a few buttons, "There we go." A bare bones map of the Temple interior appeared on everyone's screens.
"The rooms aren't labeled," a Cabal member said, scratching his head.
Orv sighed. "Right. Intel is poor on the interior. We will at least know where rooms are and fill in the blanks as we go. This is a sure sign that we need more contacts in the Bothan System."
Grunting, Jaing continued, "Well, once we're in we need to move quickly and find some uniforms and-"
An Operations Officer cut Jaing off, "Actually...if the Temple is held by the Peace Brigade, they don't have uniforms, per se. All we need are typical dirty smuggler/spacer outfits with the Peace Brigade insignia. Those we can bring with us."
Beviin nodded in agreement. "True. So, I suppose from there it should be a room by room sweep until we find their archives and their leader. My assumption is that this room," Jaing marked a large room on the interior map, "is where their leader is. Cocky leaders tend to like the largest rooms."
Chuckling softly, Orv nodded. "I like where this is going. If there is no opposition from anyone else..." he paused and looked around the room, "then lets get down to the details on provisioning, LAAT/l rendezvous points, et cetera."
Within a few hours Cabal Cronal found themselves suited up, packed, and loading their gear onto their transport in Hanger Two. A chill of excitement pulsed through Orv's body, Krant is where Cabal Cronal will show its worth...
Kel Antar was excited; his first mission in Cabal Cronal was up to go. Everything was set - the gear and equipment and all the things necessary for the job. He listened carefully to Orv, briefing them on mission again and again, Orv wanted no screw ups, he wanted this mission to be done successfully...
Kel set next to Rho and Orv on a cargo crate in the hangar. He was a bit nervous to be embarking on his first mission. Rho had kept telling him that it'd be alright and everything would going to be as planned. Soulfire would do their job, and the Cabal would do theirs. Rho was from his past Soulfire; he knew them, and he knew they'd do their part. You could see the excitement on Orv's eyes. How he was confident in his team, spreading the morale all over the transport, Kel was sure he was ready for the mission.
Galeres’ forces were nearly assembled, it was nearly time…
"Orv, is everything ok?" Kel said to Orv, looking at him.
"Yes Kel, why do you ask?"
"Well, I can sense you are a bit worried..."
"No no Kel, I know we will make it. The mission is clear, everything is set, and there is nothing to worry about. "
"Is everything ok with you?" Said Orv, thinking Kel might have something on his mind.
"Well, I don't know, actually it might be my imagination, I don't know about this mission. You sure it'll be alright? It's my first mission after all... After we win this, I might be promoted to a Jedi Hunter; I have been waiting for this for months!"
"Ok Kel, I can't promise anything, but hopefully will succeed, and it will all go as planned. Don't worry Rho, myself and Jaing have your back."
"Oh alright, thanks Orv, you are a model for all of us."
"Just don't screw it up Kel, or else..."
"No no Orv," Kel smiled... "It's ok; really I'll do my best you'll see."
"I'm sure on that Kel. Good job, keep it up." Said Orv proudly.
Then Sashar entered the Hangar and Kel felt that things were about to start in earnest.
Juda was dressed differently now, no longer adorning his red-trimmed Mandalorian armour, instead his matte-black Soulfire attire, he was dressed to kill. The fitted helmet was of the Pilot design, a sleek dome-shaped helmet with various databanks and comms installed along with a medisensor.
His weapon of choice; a KX-80 repeating rifle was slung across his back and given the situation, had made sure to attach a silencer, a SSK-7 was buckled tightly to his left thigh in a modified holster, giving optimum access for a quick-holdout situation. His remaining weapons consisted of a Vibrocombat knife sheathed across his midsection and two Class B Thermol detonators and one Glop grenade hooked to the back of his medical belt, although these were used on rare occasion as explosives wasn’t Juda’s forte.
He stood alone in the Drexl awaiting orders, a slight feeling of anxiety came over him but this was nothing out of the ordinary before missions. He paced back and forth on the Laat/I’s grated bay, each step echoing a metallic tap.
“Udesii, Judika! You’re making me nervous” Kieran said from his perched position on the edge of the Drexl, his legs swinging from under him as he ran a hand through his dishevelled brown hair, “And giving me a headache”
“That’s called a hangover, vod” Juda mocked as he stopped and leaned against the far wall. This was always the worse bit, waiting… his mind would race, thinking of unimaginable terrors of the future, but with someone who showed signs of becoming a great Force seer the future was as atramentous as his armour. Juda often had visions of his brethren and the future, some good, some bad. The adolescent Jedi Hunter looked down at Kieran who tinkered with the hilt of his newly constructed lightsaber and thought of the vision he had not so long ago, it was a tale of the future, Kieran would live to be an old grandfather, in the visualization Kieran would stand strong, proud, shoulders back, despite his age he would hold himself like a true Mandalorian warrior.
Of course he never told his Ner’vod of this, the thought caused a smile to creep across Juda’s pale skin, until Zandro’s confident voice boomed out, causing Juda to snap out of his daydream and slam a clenched fist onto his breastplate in salute.
Zandro was postured like a true leader and gave a aura of certainty and composure as he saluted his Soulfire brethren, his commander helmet was placed snugly between his right arm and torso, it was different from the other member’s helmets and gave a fearsome appearance, newly sprayed Jaig Eyes demanded respect and reverence.
"Now guys, I know you are used to running around and blowing s**t up while just gunning everyone else down” His gaze turned to varying members as he continued “Usually you are about as subtle as a rocket launcher to the face, but this is about stealth. No lightsabers if you can help it-”
Zandro was cut off by a sigh escaping Kieran’s mouth before he hooked his hilt to his belt and gestured with his hand for his commander to continue.
“We are to be silent. Kill if you want, hell I'll be killing a lot of the scumbags…. But be discreet." With that Zandro looked each of his team in the eye, starting with Kieran, then going along to Juda, Malidir, Garik and finally Munro. “Lock and load gentlemen…”
Etah sat at his desk in the darkness, the darkness of his skin blending into the darkness of his room. He was sitting at a simple desk, on a wooden stool, beside an overfull bookshelf, near a punching bag. His bed was similarly unadorned. What little color in the room had to do with the Cult of the Sith’ari, the Abyssal Church and the tribes of Kiffex. His childhood home, his current home and a great adventure he returned from some months ago respectively.
The Royal Guard didn’t bother switching the light on. His armor, weapons and gear were laid out on his bed, his warning order, movement order and preliminary operations order were complete and his rangers had been notified. This was his time for self-reflection. This was his time to imagine the battle to come, the soldiers who would lose their life in service of the Clan Arcona and the enemies they would murder.
The ebon skinned Sakiyan grimaced in the dark, torturing himself with memories of the past and dark visions of what would come. The darkness in his eyes was overtaken by bright orange, he smelled the smoke of soot, he felt the griminess of being in the field, he felt blood slide down his arms that was not his. Bodies of comrades and drinking buddies littered his vision as the hordes of the Hutts kept coming.
‘Will they ever stop’ he says quietly, coming too, looking at his room in the darkness, feeling the cold steel of his lightsaber. He had fought in dozens of battles, he had watched good friends die, he had taken life with his bare hands, but he never got desensitized to it. He never became unafraid. He had seen that kill the strongest of soldiers, too many times. At the end of the day, fear and apprehension just made sense.
Then the Sakiyan Army Officer began to run through the operational timeline from start to finish; movement, infiltration, occupying the operations area, the unnerving waiting, the moment of action, the moment after, all the variables of what could and couldn’t happen. Did they have air support? Did they have armor? Did they have artillery? Did they have electronic surveillance around the area? What would happen if communications or supply lines were cut? What if they lost air or space superiority? What if they were isolated from their fleet?
Etah and his squad leaders had identified rally points, secondary routs and secondary rally points, his rangers had experts in flora and faunae and he even had an exo-biologist. They would have ample maneuver area and could in all probability survive if they had to break contact. He would have enough weapons that used sparingly; his force could remain armed for some time. “Why do I always get involved in this” the twenty two year old said to himself, feeling much older, wondering when it will be time for others to put themselves in harms way.
As if he had reached some kind of conclusion Etah suddenly stood, turned around, and began to grab his armor.
The Hangar was a riot of activity. The Argos had set down a mere fifteen minutes ago and thus far there was a frenzy of support staff endeavouring to load it up with the Larties and the various other martial materiel, amongst which was an AT-AA, a pair of Scout Walkers and 9 Aratech speeder bikes. Sashar was in the thick of it, directing the two platoons of Arconae forces on board, marshalling his forces with the air of an experienced commander. He would have denied it, but he was having a hell of a time. With a roar of repulsorlift engines a further two Larties set down in the Hangar – the second of two pairs needed for the operation. Strangely, on board was Timeros, who hopped down before the craft had properly settled. He marched up to Sashar and clapped him heavily on the shoulder. It was most definitely not a gesture of camaraderie.
“I know what you’re planning.” He said without preamble.
Sashar turned slowly to face him, his hand unconsciously drifting to his lightsaber. Timeros was known as a master of Makashi – he could match Sashar blow for blow and whilst the Mandalorian’s mastery of Soresu was formidable, he knew he couldn’t achieve a victory against the clan’s proconsul, especially since the troops gathered in the hangar would answer to Timeros first, Sashar second.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The Quaestor answered neutrally.
“Sashar, never confuse me with a total idiot again. You know what I’m talking about, and you know you’re not ready for this.”
The Mandalorian shrugged. “It’s necessary, and someone has to.”
“Then wait for Strategos to-“
“You know as well as I do that Strategos will never endanger the Iron Throne that way; it has to be me. I’m the only expendable one.”
Timeros glared and turned away, gesturing for the deck officer to approach. Sashar turned his back and grinned as he saw a familiar sight cutting his way through the frenzied loading efforts.
“Ner’vod.” Sashar greeted warmly to his half brother, Xayun Erinos.
“Ner’vod.” He replied with an ironic smile.
“Oberst send you to guard the Argos?”
Xayun grinned and tapped his lightsaber pointedly.
“He figured it would be safer if Tarentum’s assets had Tarentum protecting it. Wouldn’t want you to steal our most valuable piece of the fleet.” He said, his tone heavily laden with sarcasm.
“In either case, it’s good to see you.” Sashar clasped his brother’s forearm as Xayun mirrored the gesture of one warrior greeting another.
“Quaestor.” Etah’s voice reminded the Mandalorian of his duties.
“Sir, the troops are assembled and the loading operation is almost complete.”
“Good. Begin moving our boys onto this fine space worthy beauty. I’ll be in the command salon.”
Etah saluted by slamming his left fist onto his right pectoral armour plate and turned sharply about to begin shouting out orders.
“Xayika. I’m going to be heading off to carry out an errand of my own during the operation. Can you watch the LZ while I’m absent?”
“Of course, vode.” He replied carefully, knowing that he didn’t want to press Sashar for information; if he was going to tell, he would have done so already.
“Sir! We’re ready to lift off.” A member of the Argos’s crew shouted over to Xayun and Sashar, prudently not addressing either in particular.
“Shall we?” Sashar said to his half brother sardonically, as the pair headed towards the elderly wreck of a transport.
Seated in the LAAT/i and stretching out with the Force to get a better feel of the thoughts from the squads under his command, Zandro was at ease for the first time since he had heard about the mission ahead. It wasn’t that he was afraid for his own safety, he knew what he could handle and that the mission shouldn’t end with him getting injured or captured for once.
No, I’m more worried about my troops. I’ve lost too many recently what with Sashar and Timeros leaving to take command and then Wolv’s death, as well as the casualties for the other two support squads. These are my friends, my brothers in arms and any of them dying would hurt me, even if it was one of the new guys I’ve never really gotten to know yet.
The feelings that swept between the soldiers were usual for the approach to battle. Nervousness hidden by bad jokes and shaky laughs. Eagerness hidden behind shy grins and furtive eyes. Uncertainty was there too, although he could only feel it from 1 of the members present. Standing up and tucking his helmet once more under his arm, Zandro headed over to where Garik Burren, the new Soulfire scout, was sat on his own. Setting himself down next to the man, he brushed the fringe of his brown hair out of his face and let a cocky grin spread across his scarred features.
“How are you feeling about the mission then Garik? Looking forward to working as part of Soulfire?”
The man turned to his commander and grinned himself, although Zandro could see straight through the facade and almost tasted the faint hint of worry that was just about emanating from the other man.
“It will be a different experience I’m sure. I’m told you guys are anything but ordinary.”
Zandro laughed lightly at the remark and let his mind race briefly to the multitude of people, enemies and supposed allies alike, who would say that Zandro and his boys were nothing but egotistical scum.
Shows what they know.
“Don’t worry about it, you’ll do fine. I have faith, that’s why you’re here. Just remember, calm and calculated will always beat a rash decision, so think things through if you have the chance, and it’ll be fine. Now, I’m gonna go talk to the pilot, so I suggest you have a word with some of the guys and get to know them before we land.”
Garik nodded and rose, walking over to a group of Prudii and Hukaatir troopers. Satisfied that Garik would be fine, Zandro rose to his feet and headed to the cockpit, stopping briefly on the way to throw Juda off his back as his family member tried to wrestle him to the ground. Leaving the passenger space in a state of humour as they laughed at their embarrassed comrade Zandro walked up to the pilot and leaned in close to him.
“Anything doing Bendak?”
“Not a thing boss. They say it’s better if it’s boring for infiltration, because it means no ones noticed you yet. You think that’s true?”
“Probably, just make sure you don’t get so bored you pass out. I haven’t flown one of these things in a long time, and if you fall asleep and force me to relive the experience I imagine the rest of the mission will involve you entering through the waste disposal system.”
Bendak turned and grinned at his Sergeant and Zandro patted him on the shoulder before turning back towards the passenger bay and walking in. This time he was taken by surprise as both Kieran and Juda slammed into him, crushing him to the ground as the call of “Pile on!” swept through the chamber, every trooper turning to see their leader on the floor and rushing over to join in the crush. Zandro, held at the bottom by the weight of his troops, let a small sigh escape his lips before gasping for breath once more.
Well, at least morale is high.
Juda gave his charming grin as he pulled Zandro to his feet and burst into a juvenile fit of laughter as Kieran pulled a comical face. Zandro composed himself and with a smile gestured for his troops to join him in the Drexl’s bay. The shutters closed shut with a metallic hiss and Soulfire went about checking and double checking their weapons as their Commander turned to Soulfire’s pilot who positioned himself snugly behind the Laat/I’s control panal.
“Whenever you’re ready, Bendak”
The thrusters hummed to life with a luminous blue-glow and hovered meters from the floor, various Soulfire troops grasped onto the safety harnesses as the bullish-form made it’s way into the Argos’ docking bay.
Juda brought his helmet to his head, the squad were silent as the Drexl queued up behind the other Laat/I’s waiting to board. The adolescent couldn’t help but stand in the position next to the shutter’s where Sashar would usually take, this was his first real mission without his Master, he was confident yet uneasy.
“Ke'sush burc'ya's” Zandro piped up once more, now placing his own fearsome helmet over his head, “If the merciless troan of death should call our own name's tonight, don't turn your back on it…”
“Instead I should only expect you to drive it's proverbial skull into the asphalt and kick it when it's down!” A master of motivation.
His troops saluted with a jubilant roar as he continued, “Remember friends, hesitation is a luxury we cannot afford”
The troops fell silent once more and busied themselves with minor tasks as the sound of the Argos’ giant thrusters kicked to life…
Etah walked up to the rangers and a smattering of Arconan’s not numbering among Cabal Cronal or Soulfire. He unconsciously tugged at his usual scarlet colored Grand Master’s Royal Guard Armor as he contemplated the task ahead. His group had the most satisfying mission, Cronal and Soulfire’s missions merely laid the ground work for the great ambush that was to come. His Rangers were going to bring the entire operation to a swift and violent climax.
The Ranger’s looked at Etah, a small wave of fear spreading over the group. The Dark Jedi Knight admired his soldier’s more than they would ever know; he would do or sacrifice almost anything for them, save his loyalties to Arcona. But he was the commander and he played his role well. The group knew that if they broke or fell back, the demonic looking Sakiyan would slaughter them with extreme prejudice. In many ways the group feared this ebon skinned warrior more than the enemy, and in the end, that’s what made them so effective.
The Royal Guard locked eyes with Polnik, the commander of the Rangers who answered directly to Etah. With a simple nod of his head the Dark Jedi Knight wordlessly ordered the Vicar to begin pre-combat inspections. The Ranger’s were neatly lined up in five squads with twelve men in the first four and sixteen in the last. Polnik started at the back of the formation and Etah started at the front.
Without so much as a warning, the Dark Jedi walked up to the first soldier and began to grab at the Ranger’s body armor, ruck, tactical, pistol belt, all straps, belts and buckles. The Ranger’s stood, there trying not to be moved one way or the other. They knew that if their belts or buckles came undone and they lost equipment in the dark, they would face harsh punishment, so they really didn’t mind.
Etah met Polnik in the middle of the third squad. The Vicar deftly saluted him as Etah nodded with a short order “As you were, move the platoon out to the armory”. Polnik was an imposing figure, his head was bald, his musculature was well defined and his arms looked like battering rams. He was one of the greatest Champions on the world of Eldar, having passed the ninety ninth level of the Champions path on the Abyssal examinations, along with level seventy three of the path of the scholar and level eighty one of the path of the sage.
As the Ranger’s moved out smartly to draw their weapons, all Etah could think of were the beautiful explosions they would make together.
Both Sashar and Xayun found it a point of irony that the Tarenti had been made brevet captain of the antiquated hauler. However, that didn’t stop the Warrior from stepping into the role as soon as the lumbering craft decanted from Hyperspace.
There was a myriad of civilian traffic heading to and from the milky blue planet before them and the Argos slotted neatly into the ‘traffic lane’, looking no more out-of-place than any of the other cargo freighters associated with small businesses intent on eking out a wartime living by shipping necessities to expansion and mid rim region worlds.
“They’re going to want to know where we’re putting down.” Xayun reminded his brother.
Without replying, Sashar crossed the cramped space of the command salon and leant over the Communication Officer’s shoulder, tapping the general broadcast channel on.
“Aurek Trill 3.”
“Acknowledged, Gallofree Transport. Have a productive stay.” A voice replied instantly.
“What was that?” The second officer of the Argos asked cautiously.
“Krant’s ‘diplomatic’ bypass. Given out to state officials on matters of supreme importance to Krant. It just so happens that we qualify for that privilege. Bring us down towards the spaceport, but keep just above ground for our approach, and drop us off fifteen klicks from the temple. I don’t want to show up on their scanners, so let’s stain this thing’s belly green from the treetops.”
Xayun looked over at Sashar dubiously.
“We’re in a Gallofree. This thing isn’t designed for precision flying. I doubt the crew can manage that.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be some hotshot pilot?”
Xayun raised an eyebrow, but nodded. “This isn’t exactly my forte, what with it being a freighter, not a fighter, but I’ll give it a shot.”
“Just get us to ground without letting ‘em know we’re here and I’ll be happy.”
It was a tense few minutes as the Argos descended through the atmosphere and then bypassed the spaceport completely. There was a fifty meter gap between the ground level and the area of sky the sensors started sweeping at, and piloting a laden clumsy egg/box of a transport that was more suited to space down that narrow corridor was no mean feat, however through a fair amount of luck and a modicum of skill from the brevet captain, the medium transport was settled into a clearing a short time later.
The Arconae troops disembarked and secured the area with an air of seasoned soldiers (now that they’d first tasted combat and more importantly, survived) whilst Sashar made sure that the AT-STs were first off and standing either side of the Argos like large bipedal sentinels. The shorter, crab-like AT-AA stomped off next and planted itself in front of one of its taller cousins, ready to swat anything that threatened the allied forces from the sky.
Sashar didn’t bother to give a pre-battle speech to the troops as they rushed off to their various tasks, Etah’s Rangers filtering into the murky night of the forest, camouflaged by the lack of light (local time being just after midnight) and their tactical jumpsuits designed to blend in to hundreds of types of foliage on thousands of different worlds. The twin thrums of Cabal Cronal and Soulfire’s LAAT/i’s briefly pierced the night as the two craft shot off in the direction of the temple, again making sure to keep to the sensor-blind spot on their approach.
Then there was quiet.
The Mandalorian brothers stood in the clearing, oblivious to the troops moving about, setting up a small command post outside of the Transport.
“So how’s the boyfriend?” Sashar asked, referring to Xayun’s scarred Zabrak lover.
“Cethgus? Not bad, although I haven’t seen him in a while.
“You should really make the effort to see him more, he’d appreciate it.” Sashar said, hoping that Xayun would finally get a little peace in his life.
“I know, I know. It’s just difficult.”
The Exarch nodded in sympathy, then slapped his brother on the shoulder.
“Watch the camp for a bit, will you? I’ve got to take a little trip.”
“Sure thing, vode.”
Sashar gestured for one troop to approach. “Grab three of the speeder bikes and another pilot, then mount up, I may need an escort.”
Kieran watched the ground turn from a blur of green grass to the patchy green and brown colours of forest foliage. Lost in the music blaring in his helmet the Mandalorian was oblivious to the deck surrounding him and the activities of the three squads that made up the Soulfire strike team. Juda was on his knees elbow deep in his pack, brow furrowed and clearly rechecking his kit. Zandro was talking intently with Derik Loran the two Sergeants of Soulfire’s other squads. The force rippled with apprehension as was becoming of soldiers on the eve of battle. Their LAAT/i, the Drexl, skimmed the tops of the trees as it ferried them towards certain danger.
Passively, Kieran was aware of what was going on surrounding him and blinked his music to a halt on his HUD as Derik approached him. The Mandalorian removed his helmet as the hulking frame of the Kaad Hukaatir Sergeant dropped to a seat beside him.
“The usual torrent of noise?” Loran asked implying the music Kieran chose to listen to.
“You know you used to tap your foot when I played it in the Prowler,” Kieran grinned back.
“Yeah right, what was that about?” nodding in Zandro direction.
“Finalising details, he worries too much.”
“Ner’vode looks after ner’vode,” Kieran replied, “besides something’s gonna go wrong.”
“Got a feeling?” he asked.
“Not so much, this stuff usually happens to use and besides, with the Intel. we got…” he trailed off, not wanting to flood the force with his apprehension.
“Well, I’m here to the save the day,” Derik smiled punching Kieran playfully in the shoulder.
“ETA 10 minutes people, rig your zip lines and switch on your osik,” Zandro’s voice cut in to their conversation.
“Well, let’s go croak us some wets,” Kieran grinned.
The Drexl’s blurred thrusters were the only signs of visibility as it hovered steadily above the Sith Temple, inside the snapping noise of troops attaching their zip-lines was the only sound. The scouts were first to step up, taking careful aim with their respective rifles before an array of silent shots sent their Grappling Spikes soaring through the night sky before mutely imbedding themselves into the aged Temple‘s face.
The scouts continued to detach their lines and hooking them to the Drexl while Prudii and Hukaatir’s snipers stepped forward and took a knee and scanned the area through their scopes before giving an affirmative nod while the scouts hooked themselves to their metallic cords.
Without looking back to their Sergeants they set off, their silhouettes giving an distinct contrast against the low moon. Zandro signalled for Juda, Kieran and two other members from Prudii to ready themselves as he got the ‘all clear’ through his headset.
The three groups had descended the Laat/I within a matter of moments, they all stood on the Temple’s roof poised with the butt of their rifles firmly into their shoulders, Derik gave the signal for the Drexl to ‘disappear’ as Zandro gestured for the squads to move on.
“We have a group of several hostiles near the main entrance” Rilla, Hukaatir’s sniper confirmed as she leaned over the roof’s ledge, her trigger finger itching as she cross-haired one target for a headshot.
“We’re taking the back doors” Zandro replied, even through his helmet you could make out the smug grin on his face, “There…. a series of ancient Sith ventilation shafts” He said, pointing to a small hollowed out chunk of the Temple
“Won’t it be a little…. Uncomfortable?” Kieran asked, still keeping aim with his rifle, “I’d rather blast those down there and be done with it”
“You all know our roles on this, the shafts are our best bet”
“Right well, I’m going first!” Kieran barked, slinging his rifle over his back.
“Very respectable of you, Kierika” Zandro said,
“I am not crawling behind any of you lot, with your arses in my face” Kieran smirked as he casually walked up to the small shaft…
The Cabal's Lartie was approaching their co-ordinates where they were supposed to drop down and begin their own infiltration. This was Rho's first mission with Cabal Cronal and his first mission also not with his Soulfire brothers. It was a peculiar feeling knowing that he wasn't going to be looking over Soulfire's shoulder and blasting heads open with one sharp shot. “One shot, one kill.” Rho said out loud.
“What was that?” Orv asked. The Dark Jedi Knight overheard his Executive Officer talking to himself and starring into space.
“Oh, you heard that?” Rho replied with no expression. “Yeah, I was just remembering what I would normally say to myself just before our ship landed when I fought with Soulfire.” Rho still carried his SoroSuub X-45 Sniper Rifle that he was able to transfer along with him when he came to The Cabal. This was his partner. Nothing else he had ever carried could takes its place and with the nature of this mission, it would prove to be a worthy ally. He knew what it meant to use stealth; it was his role while with Soulfire. Now, being the second in command of Cabal Cronal and the top Operations Officer, he was going to help – along with the others – escort this team into greatness.
Just as that thought ended, Rho began to sense a feeling of uneasiness threading in the Force. He wasn't quite sure what it was at first but as he concentrated he was able to pin point what this feeling was about. It was apparent and obvious that there was more than one person, even on the Strike Team, who were apprehensive about the abilities of The Cabal to be an adequate Intel. Team. He knew that with anything new, there were going to be feelings of nervousness. With as much Force ability as Rho possessed, he sent out an air of confidence and assurance, hoping that those who felt nervous about the small intelligence team would pick up on the feeling.
“You guys ready for this... Kel, Jaing?” Orv cut into the Nagai's concentration. He looked over at Rho with a look that said – 'I know you're ready for this.'
“Osik” Kieran hissed as he braced his elbows against the stone walled ventilation shaft.
A little ‘uncomfortable’ had been an understatement, it was damn near impossible for him to fit his frame through the constricting confines. Progress was slow and despite assurances from the tech guys his suit was not doing a good job of controlling his body heat. Sweat was dripping down his face and the suit had become sticky around the joints where the material had more flexibility. Kieran was grunting with ever exertion, driven on by his Sergeant’s promise that it would soon widen out once they reached the main duct.
“I swear you’re ass has gotten bigger,” Juda called from his position behind Kieran.
“Jay, either you shut up, or I’ll drop my gut and believe me you don’t want to know what a spoilt night on the town smells like close range,” Kieran shot back, his voice filled with mock malice.
“Kier, if I so much as get so much as an unpleasant whiff back here you’ll be scrubbing the Drexl’s intake jets until you get a perfect reflection out of that matte black paint job,” Zandro called out over the comlink, and Kieran knew he had his customary mock angry father look sprawled across his face.
“Check Sarge, no flatulence,” Kieran replied, smirking all the while inside his helmet.
After several more gruelling minutes of crawling Kieran had convinced himself it was getting wider as his Sergeant had said. Soon, Kieran was moving freely, no longer having to brace his elbows and drag his body through. This comfort gave Kieran a moment of solace before the heat in his suit drove his spirits back down. The duct stretched out before him and Kieran could see numerous shafts leading off in different directions; the whole place looked like a maze.
“Which way Sarge?” Kieran called, their helmet com systems stopping any noise from echoing round the temple’s ventilation system.
“Right, it’s the second one on the left, we can reach where Prudii and Hukaatir are heading to, we’ve got a bit more crawling to do then Kieran I promise you can stick someone,” Savric spoke to the squad.
“A pleasure,” Kieran replied with a grin, his had falling briefly to make sure his combat knife was where it was supposed to be before he began his rhythmic wiggling once again.
Etah stood amongst the Ranger’s as they disembarked from the landing craft. The four twelve-man infantry squads each moved as an element and each one of the four, four man heavy weapons teams moved as an element. With each one of the platoon’s eight elements was a Dark Jedi Knight aside from Etah himself who would bounce between elements. He would control the fight as it moved forth into infinite complexity.
The Dark Jedi Knight walked along one side of the platoon as they moved toward their destination. Etah looked over into the stark eyes of Polnik. Because of the necessity to maintain noise and light discipline as much as possible, there was no yelling orders about. In fact the Dark Jedi embedded in each of the eight elements acted as more of a commo tech than a commander, each being able to silently communicate with the other and their respective element in whispers.
This was going to be the hardest part of the trip. Originally Dash had asked Etah for a small, lightly armed recon platoon because that group set would make occult movement a lot easier, but for mission accomplishment Etah informed him that heavy infantry would be needed. So there they were, over eighty personnel, half again as large as the average platoon, closer to a light company. They had taped all moving parts down and dulled everything that shined to avoid early detection.
Each squad contained three teams of four soldiers, one carried a T-21 Light Repeating Blaster, one carried an X-45 Sniper rifle, and one soldier carried a PLX-2M with 3t3 missiles which can be heat-seeking and dumb fired, armor piercing anti-vehicle shells. The final soldier was the team leader and assistant PLX-2M gunner, carrying more rounds for the weapon. The four man heavy weapons teams contained an F-web gunner, an F-web ammo specialist, an F-web shield technician and a team leader who carried a PLX-2M.
Every soldier in addition to their primary weapon and function was issued an EE-3 Carbine, class E thermal detonators and several Hx2 anti-personnel mines. Several of them carried vibro-shovels for the second part of mission set up. Many of them carried their own side arms and vibro-knives or bayonets. The Dark Jedi scattered among the Rangers were dressed and armed randomly, each to their own liking and some more wisely than others.
The only one not tactically garbed in fact, was Etah. But the Ranger’s were used to the wily Obsidian skinned warrior disappearing into the shadows, his bright red armor becoming invisible as water in a clear running stream. His lightsaber was on his person, but like all of the Dark Jedi present, he had no intention to use it unless they happened upon Jedi or rival Dark Jedi. Nothing from this mission could speak of the Brotherhood. Etah and Dash were of like mind, not to have their battle dragged back to Dajjora or gods forbid, Antei.
They were now standing in what appeared to be a storage room. Food was stored on shelves mounted on the wall and large crates that lined the walls of the room at various intervals. Galactic basic was scrawled across the tops of them indicating what they contained and a quick glance told the Mandalorian that none of it would come in use. Malidir was at the door, one hand elbow deep inside a control panel he had removed whilst the other held a datapad up to his visor. He stepped into the role that Sashar had left with great vigour after spending countless days in studious retreat bringing him up to speed with the new knowledge he had to assimilate. The rest of the squad were in various positions around the room waiting patiently for their technology specialist to fulfil his role.
A grunt came over the comlink and the activation panel on the door sprung to life and Malidir unplugged himself and retreated to his place within the formation. Zandro and Kieran stepped forward, each clutching their E-15 A Rifles in their arms. They moved to flank either side of the doorway and the rest of the patrol sprung to life. Mayda, the newest recruit retreated to the rear wall of the room and was crouched on a crate staring down the Sullustan Sniper Rifle’s scope.
“On my mark, out and secure,” their Sergeant spoke.
Kieran body began to tingle as adrenaline flooded his blood stream, his body all too aware that it was about to get into a fight. His HUD reported a sharp rise in heart rate as Zandro’s voice came over the comlink once again. The door slid open before them as Kieran’s elbow hit the panel and before it had nestled itself into its housing within the wall Zandro and Kieran were through and either side. Rifle’s swinging round wildly as they scanned the immediate vicinity for targets, finding none.
“RV Alpha, go, go, go!” their Sergeant shouted into his comlink, the noise inaudible to the corridor they now stood in, the helmet perfectly soundproofed.
Kieran knew that from now on there would be little in the way of stops, they would move quickly with purpose and intent in order to further conceal their presence from the enemy. His training had taught him everything that he needed to know about making war, and he knew that time over target on covert operations increased the risk of failure; time was crucial. The patrol moved steadily down the corridor, too well trained to sprint and utilizing the force to lighten their footsteps.
The Mandalorian was in front, his eyes scanning the corridor before him and dancing occasionally to the map in the top right corner of his HUD, checking their were still on course for their primary objective; the power room. He reached the next corner and ordered the pause with his outstretched arm, too scared to make a noise for fear of disturbing the man he had glimpsed round the corner. He was standing on the opposite wall, wearing a stain blotched blue jumpsuit, sporting a tool harness with an assortment of various devices, and more importantly a DL-44 and what appeared to be his only armament save for a heavy looking hydrospanner.
Knife job, but it’s gonna have to be quiet, no time for fun here old boy.
Kieran adjusted the strap on his rifle, slinging it round to nestle into the small of his back and as slid his knife silently from its thigh sheathe. Slowly the Knight crept forward, the blade held in his right hand all the while checking the man’s attention was still focused on the task he was performing on the open conduit. The Arconan sprang forward, his left hand curling round the man’s face to cover his mouth and stifle the scream as his blade tore through the flesh and cartilage that protected the man’s oesophagus. The cut was deep, and the blood began to flow. Kieran cocked back his right arm, still clutching the wicked looking blade and he twisted his wrist till the blade was parallel with the floor but still pointing forward. The Mandalorian slammed the blade home into the man’s ribcage, the horizontal blade passing in between the ribs with ease. He lifted the man, the wound in his back carrying his weight as Kieran stepped backwards round the corner bringing the dieing man back and out of sight. Blood had now overpowered the brown oil stains on his jumpsuit as he vanished from the force.
“In here,” came Juda, opening a panel in the wall to reveal a tangle of wires and enough space for the unfortunate mechanic to be hidden. He was swiftly bundled in and Soulfire resumed her course.
Kieran’s back was to the wall in the regular flanking position he took. Zandro stood across the door from his and Malidir just beside him, hammering furiously away on a datapad in an attempt to open their first objective to them. The power room contained the generator and equipment that ran the Peace Brigade’s base whilst also containing what appeared to be the primary support column for the temple. Their senses told them a total of eight beings were inside the room. Six of them had a heightened alert level implying that they were probably guards of some sort. The first of the other two was concentrating intently whilst the last was merely bored. It would be a simple job for their silenced blasters.
"Take! Take! Take!" Zandro roared.
The Sergeant’s commands filled Kieran’s helmet as the door beside him slid open. A scarlet bolt flew over his shoulder catching the man standing with his back to the door in the back of the head as Mayda took her first kill for the squad.
Fierfek, good shot.
They flooded into the room and it was over in a matter of seconds. Kieran spraying the pair of technicians sitting hunched over consoles with a salvo of silenced blaster shots. Zandro was standing above a black clad man who now sported a smoking crater in his chest. Malidir, leaving another guard lying in a rapidly expanding pool of blood had kicked one of the dead technicians off his console. The team had ripped the feeble defence apart with ease and were now going about their work. Juda was toeing another corpse as if he was begging it to spring up for another round. Mayda strolled in last, and immediately found another corner of the room to set up shop and watch the team work.
Kieran delved into his pack and withdrew a bag containing a plethora of devices he had prepared prior to their insertion.
Good old P for Plenty.
They were similar to the Chiss Vape Charges in that they incorporated a Baridium core, but their yield had been adjusted for the parameters of their mission. In addition, the devices also had a failsafe, if removed a trigger is activated which would set the device off. The team’s demolition expert began to fix three of the devices to various positions in the room before returning to cover one of the three doors leading out of the room.
“Tick, tick boom Sarge,” the young Mandalorian reported in his customary way.
The three speeder bikes tore through the forest, making an uncomfortable din. All about him, Sashar could feel the cacophony of life teeming through the leaves, and he was growing ever nearer to a clamour of sentience created by Etah’s rangers, the cloying insecurity of the 500 or so Peace Brigaders, knowing full well that their temple hideout was no haven, and interspersed about them were the pin-pricks of force concentration emanating from his two battle teams, each intent on their tasks. With a last glimpse, Sashar shut down his presence in the force, deadening his senses to it. His House, his brothers couldn’t know he was nearby. Nobody could.
“We’re coming up on the outer wall, sir.” One of the two troopers reported over the com-link, and Sashar throttled back in response. A moment later, he was staring at a 10 meter unblemished wall on the other side of a clearing approximately 50 meters away from the forest – it had been burned away to allow guards a decent, un-obscured view of whoever was approaching. The speeder trio stopped just inside the line of the forest and dismounted. One of the troopers un-slung a Sharpshooter V rifle from the bike and began to take aim, but Sashar placed a hand on the barrel and lowered it.
“Not yet, Private. What are your names?”
“I’m Grenner and this is Talvid, sir.” The sniper responded.
“Grenner, Talvid, get some camo netting on the bikes, camo yourselves up, and wait for me to get back. Even if the place starts erupting, wait until I’m out. Oh and keep safe.”
Sashar grinned at the two conscripts and then risked opening himself to the force just enough to augment his physical abilities and cloaked himself in his own shadow – a rudimentary shadowcrafting ability. He turned, ran at the wall, and at the last moment, jumped – a flicker of darkness in the night.
It hadn’t been easy at all, slipping into the temple. Furthermore, masking his presence from his fellow house-mates was taking up a fair amount of his concentration – but he’d managed. He was now encased solidly in his own shadow, a mere wraith in the night as he slipped through the tall, narrow corridors of the lower levels of the Sith enclave. Above him, despite trying to minimize him imprint in the force and keep his own brother from feeling him (no mean feat, considering the chain-like quality of their force bond) he could feel subtle ripples as all five of his apprentices, former and current, his entire legacy, shifted through the temple, dealing with their various assignments with an efficiency that made him proud.
Grimly, he turned his attention back to the task at hand. Slumped before him on the stark floor of the corridor was a convulsing figure – a Peace Brigader unlucky enough to come across Sashar during his prowlings of the lower levels, far beneath the original ‘foundations’ of the Temple. This was an older area than the rest of the temple, one rife with shifting shadows, whispered threats, and curses – a haunted place, even in such an advanced age. The hapless human was dead in everything but name – his mind a playground for the Exarch, who tore through the tattered bonds of sanity, looking through the memories of the fallen one, determined to find some trace of his prize.
…An ornate carved stone door, hinges solidified through time and lack of use. Arcane Sith writings carved into the portal and around the arched frame, daring those who read to enter, telling tales of dangers unthinkable aplenty…
That was it. That was the very entrance that had been taunting him at night, sending him visions across space, defying him to test the threats it made. With a last surge of effort and a gasp of half-felt pain, Sashar wrung the way to those doors from the Peace Brigader’s mind, then let him slump to the floor, a lifeless husk of a body, still breathing but devoid of cogent thought.
Deeper and deeper into the Temple the Quaestor went.
Juda paused momentarily from the task at hand and risked a look over at his Sergeant. The most sensitive to the subtle ripples of the force, he knew instantly when there was a change in the local environment; where Sashar had been just moments before – distant but alert – there was an absence in the force. He couldn’t feel his master anywhere. Zandro had felt it too; his connection to Sashar was strong indeed.
“We’d have felt it if he died.” The Erinos responded confidently “Besides, he can take care of himself. Concentrate on the job.”
“Yessir!” Juda responded, suddenly all business once again.
Juda was anxious to say the least, as the squad descended the large corridor his mind was elsewhere, a maze of questions regarding his previous connection to Sashar. His vision became a wash of red followed by dark spots, his head began to swirl and suddenly the dimly-lit corridor warped into a vision of darkness, the gritty-stones that lined the corridor walls faded, his Soulfire brethren became transparent until they completely vanished. Juda was alone, shrouded by darkness he recognised a familiar scent, but his attention was turned to a figure who stood several meters ahead.
It was a man he knew all too well, only his appearance had changed slightly. He stood hunched over a mass of bodies that suddenly transpired, they were clearly dead, deep lacerations across their bare chests, some were completely decapitated, the nerve endings had been burnt shut, a dead giveaway that a lightsaber was the weapon used.
The man’s perfectly chiselled features were encased in a unblemished ashen skin, strands of blackened hair wisped perfectly down to his hunched shoulders, his eyes were black, full of rage and conviction as he breathed heavily. His lean, flawlessly defined torso was stained with sweat… his aura was as black as the Vornskr’s coat, Juda throat grew tight as he reached out to the man, his actions were unclear even to himself as he muttered “…Master?”
As quick as it started Juda found himself in the Sith Temple’s corridor, several paces behind his squad. He could feel the beads of sweat form under his suit as he cleared his throat and picked up the pace to catch up with Soulfire.
Juda was thrown completely off balance and collided with the stone wall, when he came to his senses he found two Peace Brigader’s, one continued his assault and drove his knee into Juda’s plated gut before throwing a punch, his fist encased in a vicious-looking Vibroknuckler, Juda countered the attack by smashing his helmet directly into the man’s nose, busting it in a spray of blood and mucus.
Juda’s attention diverted to his attacker’s counterpart and swiftly reached for the Combat Knife that was sheathed across his chest before striking the man’s face, the blade lodged itself in the man’s cheek and in an instant Juda reeled his arm back viciously, causing flesh to tear and the man to give a gargled yelp. Juda flicked the blade in his hands so the hilt was facing the grain-covered floor before aggressively driving his blade into the man’s throat several times in a flurry of short stabs.
The owner of the Vibroknuckler had since recovered and slugged a punch to Juda’s kidney causing him to reel in pain, Juda couldn’t remember grappling with the man but a flash of crimson interrupted the struggle.
Juda looked down to his feet to find his attacker with half of his skull blown out, the adolescent medic’s attention turned from the man to his rescuer, Mayda stood, her rifle still locked in aim for a moment before she hooked it to her back and signalled for Juda to quickly regroup…
The Ranger’s quietly but assuredly moved into place. There was much clanking and moving about but one would have to be very close to hear it and by then, the Dark Jedi would have sensed them. Sometime into the mission the group was dirty, sweaty, grungy, hungry and tired. Almost everyone intermittently drank from water containers of different sorts and no few could be seen snacking on protean bars. That was the rule of the military, eat when you can, drink when you can, piss and [Expletive Deleted] when you can, wash when you can and sleep when you can, because you might not be able to later on.
The Sakiyan, invisible in the moist eves darkness oversaw the eight teams moving into place and directed them to take advantage of terrain features and move into cover or concealment whenever possible. The problem was the massive lack of intelligence they were operating on. Conscientious of his duties there was a warno and an operations order but they were nearly devoid of details but contained plenty of contingencies. The plan was based more on geometry than anything known or realistic.
Etah pulled out the overlay and took a quick gander:
The Dark Jedi watched as two men from each of the four heavy weapons teams moved in swiftly and laid their Hx2 anti-personnel mines in hasty mine fields on the north east, south east, south west, and north west corners of the enemy location. This would be much quicker and stealthier than the second phase. The infantry teams over-watched the weapons teams, ready to engage the enemy should they reveal themselves before the mine fields were set. Etah with his Dark Jedi abilities and his Sakiyan senses also watched their every move from the far off shadow, ready to move in at any moment.
After a short nerve racking period the first phase pulled back, mine fields properly set down. After the heavy weapons teams were probably in place to over-watch the infantry teams, the four infantry teams moved forward and Etah with them. With vibro-shoves in hand their mission was to dig an anti armor trench ten feet deep and ten feet wide on the north, east, south and west sides of the enemy location. This phase would be their most venerable. If they completed the mission it would also create a hazard that would force the enemy into a deep kill zone or straight through one of the mine fields.
Etah grabbed the shovel and dug it into the Earth with all his might, hoping to tear a huge chunk of it out. Sweat began to trickle down his neck as he heard a noise and looked up suddenly.
Shadows danced across the stone walls as the strike team made their way through the insides of the complex. They were heading for a point directly in the middle of the temple; it contained a central pillar running the entire height which bore a great deal of the weight. Eliminating this pillar and subsequent structural damage that will have occurred from the other explosions would be ample force to bring the building down burying its contents. However, with every plan there was always a hitch.
“Dormitories?” Kieran asked as though he had was not reading the basic scrawled across the wall. They stood in a dimly lit square room; the dark stained pillar dominated the centre of the room. Dotted in an even pattern were six doorways with the word ‘dormitories’ scrawled in red basic across the grey durasteel doorway.
“Fierfek, we’re in some hot osik right here,” Juda exclaimed into the com channel, his helmet clad head turning round to survey the doors before him.
“Can it, Kieran, work, now!” Zandro broke in taking the situation well within his stride. “Standard operating procedures here, it’s in the manual we all know it now move and keep it tight,” he snapped quickly turning to follow Kieran as he began to dart around the pillar.
The rest of the squad assumed positions flanking he entrances of the various doors, ready, waiting silently to smother anyone who would venture out. Only Mayda remained in the entrance of the corridor, knelt, her rifle raised and waiting melt any face that may so happen to peer out.
“Can’t you hit another level?” Garik piped up.
“Gotta be this height, otherwise won’t drop the roof right,” Kieran replied his fingers a blur as they prepped each device.
“And if they go off when we’re still hunting those VIPs?” Juda asked.
“Until the other,” he paused to concentrate for a moment, “babies go boom the roof should be solid.”
“Should?” Juda replied sarcastically, “and let’s just hope they don’t find our other toys then.”
Kieran continued the rest of his work thankful for the silence, after all he was holding the lives of his ner’vode in his hands.
“Tick, tick boom Sarge,” Kieran said a few minutes later, a sweat now had formed on his brow despite the armour’s heat regulation.
“Right, let’s go bag us them wets,” Zandro replied signalling the squad to move out.
In theory the task was simple, place the last remaining charge on the centre pillar, exit the archaic Temple and activate the explosives. However, life had a way of making simplicity into the opposite-
Juda calmly brought his silenced E-15 around to his front and stood poised with the butt embedded into his shoulder, providing covering fire for his squad as Zandro and Kieran made their departure from the large room. Juda’s fingers ran almost motionlessly across the grooved hand-guard set while his gaze pierced down his scope, aiming at nothingness, but prepared for anything.
All but Mayda had left the room until she abruptly rose from her knelt position and quickly caught up with her team. Soulfire was almost clear of the corridor when they were brought to a halt by a squad of Peace Brigader’s of a variety of species, all bore matching cobalt waistcoats and lightly coloured azure shirts.
Malidir broke the momentary stillness by letting rip with his SSK-7; a crimson bolt soared past his Sergeant and collided with an unfortunate Duros’ skull, obliterating the bulbous head and causing the lifeless body to sprawl backward into the group of Peace Brigader’s.
All hell breaks loose
The hallway was soon riddled with blaster fire from opposing sides as a tussle between both sides ensued. Zandro roared as he shot out with his left hand and seized a bulky human by his throat whilst unsheathing his combat knife with his other and sadistically slashing a ferocious-looking gash across the man’s eyes before stabbing the attacker’s gut, and turning to his next foolish victim.
Kieran immediately loosened himself and postured into a Carinor stance as a Peace Brigader slugged a vicious punch, the Demolitions Specialist skilfully clasped the attacking arm and used all of his strength to toss the man toward Juda’s general direction whom in turn, greeted the man with a well-aimed bolt between the eyes.
The walls were patched with glossed blood as the skirmish ensued, Mayda cracked the butt of her rifle into the groin of a fearsome-looking Duros before head butting him to the ground and firing a round into his solar-plexus.
Kieran imagined for a moment what the Peace Brigader’s thought of it all as he drove his fist into an attacker’s throat, caving in his windpipe. Imagined what a fearsome sight Soulfire held, attired head to toe in sleek jet-black armour bearing the best weaponry that you would expect from an elite squad. His thoughts were interrupted by a stray bolt that skimmed his shoulder-guard,
“Oh balls to this!” He spat as his arm reached for the EEP-2 Assault Carbine that was hooked to his back before poising like a mischievous child and yelling “Ke'pare!”
Soulfire crouched as low as they could in unison as Kieran pulled taut on the fletchette’s trigger, lacing a spread of plasma-coated discs across the periphery, each exploding as they ripped through the soft flesh of the Peace Brigader’s.
Several rounds later and the remaining Peace Brigade members had departed this life, each one horribly mutilated from the Mandalorian’s attack.
“I thought you weren’t going to stop” Juda said rising to his feet, followed by the rest of Soulfire.
“Overheated.” Kieran muttered, a self-satisfied smirk forming across his features. With that Soulfire left the crumpled bodies behind and made their escape,
“Requesting Drexl for pickup” Malidir contacted the Laat/I crew as Soulfire ran through various maze-like corridors,
‘ETA twelve minutes’ A voice buzzed back.
“Right team, we need to make our way to the roof” Zandro commanded his squad, hoping that they wouldn’t be set back further.
Etah stood sweating in the dark behind the assembled soldiers, hidden within the shadows. All four of the teams had completed the digging without detection. There was a small Peace Brigade patrol that happened upon the assembled ambush that had grown so large it was nearly an assault, but they were taken out quickly and more importantly, silently, before any of them had a chance to alert their peers.
Then began the hardest part of all, the waiting. Waiting, waiting, always waiting, it was unbearable, but the payoff would be well worth it. There was darkness, most of the assembled soldiers were day dreaming but then came the telltale explosions. Boom boom boom the explosions rocked the temple in the distance. Now was a few more seconds of waiting, then they would hear the mines.
There was the rumbling of feet, followed by the shouting of men. Either the men stepped onto the mine field or fell into the tank ditch. Dozens of tiny explosions took off the legs of the advancing Peace Brigadiers and the Arconcan Infantry moved forward to make a turkey shoot out of the Peace Brigadiers that had fallen into the tank ditches.
Soon the rockets were let fly, there was none of the armor or air that Etah had prepared for so the rocket jocks let the fragmentation anti-personal rounds fly toward the advancing Peace Brigadiers near the tank ditches. The light repeater men opened up after them, followed by the heavy repeating blasters. Etah sat back and watched the pretty lights, directing the attack through projective telepathy.
By the end of several barrages, nothing in the kill zone yet lived.
Kieran pressed the swivel mechanism on the EEP and with a flick of the wrist sent the stock flying round to clip into place parallel to the muzzle; compact storage as well as firepower had been taken into consideration in the weapon’s design. He clipped it to his pack and began to make his way through the body strewn corridor, floor slick with crimson blood.
Reaching out with the force to check each one was in fact dead he then turned his attention to the route before them. He did not doubt for a minute that the latest engagement had notified the entire base of their presence. Caution was his middle name for the time being but their transport was inbound and time was of the essence.
He was covering the distance at a slow trot, focused on the corridor to his front and a wider view with the force, ready and waiting for the next entourage of the Galaxy’s scum to cross their paths. They came at first in a group of three, his senses telling him they were human, alert and angry. The battle meld suddenly became alert as the information seeped through from his mind.
A plan unfolded within their collective with a unanimous decision to avoid getting bogged down in a fight out. Kieran broke into a sprint as they rounded the corner forming into a staggered formation to run up the corridor. The second in the group opened fire with a blaster and the Mandalorian began to juke his way down the corridor with the bolts flying harmlessly past him.
The first man, a brute of a man, came at him with what appeared to be a heavy duty hydrospanner. The man fell, his legs swept from underneath him as Kieran ducked beneath his swing; he’d leave that one for the squad behind him. Before his hulking body was on the floor the Arconan was up, leaping high into the air to deliver a snap kick with his right boot. The brown haired man’s head snapped back viciously and he began to topple, the blaster dropping from his hand to clatter noisily on the floor.
Again he left the man where he lay; it was the third one he would take. He landed and unsheathed his combat knife, the blade pointed towards the ceiling in his fist. Kieran stooped into a lunge, his right foot leading and exploded upwards. The knife caught the man under his chin and the Mandalorian stood, arm extended as the man bled out before him.
Two distinctive whines of blaster fired echoed down the corridor as Kieran stood, studying the man’s unshaven face, his hair ruffled from slumber.
“Kieran, no time to admire your handiwork,” Zandro’s voice came over the comlink.
“Turbolift right round the corner,” Kieran replied after a quick glance at the map in his HUD.
He let the man drop to the floor and slid the knife home into its sheath breaking into a slow jog again. His blaster rifle’s stock placed firmly in his shoulder as he scanned the path before them in his usual manner.
“Two round the corner, close to the lift’s doors,” Kieran whispered even though the sound wouldn’t leave his helmet.
“Grenade job, I’ll take it,” Zandro replied stepping beside the Mandalorian.
The Sergeant visibly inhaled, his chest plate rising and falling the moment before stepped round the corner. The soft plop was heard as the grenade left the muzzle of the micro launcher clipped to the squad’s rifles. The grenade sailed down the corridor and fell short of the two men to detonate. Shrapnel ricocheted outwards from the explosion and showered the tow men, killing them instantly.
“Shot Sarge,” Mayda called from behind.
Kieran and Zandro stormed round the corner, rifles raised and ready. The two men lay before them; one with his arm severed and the other with a mangled mess where his torso ought to be. The squad began to fill the corridors and calm descended upon the meld they shared; the end was in site.
A high pitched chime echoed from the turbolift’s doors momentarily before they opened revealing a rather startled group of a dozen or so of the Peace Brigade.
“Osik,” Kieran said before his index finger tightened on the trigger.
Crimson bolts criss-crossed the corridor in yet another fantastic display of superheated light. Denied the safety of hiding behind the glare of a Lightsaber their armour was taking its toll. Two successive shot’s slammed into his chest plate and warning light flashed momentarily in his HUD; his armour’s self repairing mechanism was now empty. His rifle spat read death down the corridor to joint the crescendo of his brother’s fire.
As the ramp opened on Cabal Cronal's Lartie, the humidity hit them like a ton of bricks...this was the Jungle alright. Orv Dessrx was the first to disembark waving his team out. Equipped with black skinsuits (save for Rho who sported his own...unique...set of armor), night-vision goggles, and backpacks filled with generic spacers garb and the various items they would need to complete their task, the team fanned out to secure the area as Orv crouched near a tree pouring over the sewage map on his datapad, the Lartie taking to the skies once more.
A tap came at Orv's shoulder that startled the Teltior. He whipped around to find Jaing (Debric) behind him. "All clear."
"Excellent. Lets do this thing." Orv stood and motioned for the sewer grate which Kel Antar had already dislodged from its place. The Cabal Cronal operation team filed into the cramped and putrid piping that was the sewer run-off. Orv, carrying just his lightsaber, brought up the rear.
The crawl had been an uneventful and messy 3 hours - Orv had come close to retching twice and he was convinced that this was a sewer dedicated to Hutt feces despite the intel his crack team had gathered. To Orv's relief, Rho d'Tana was at the front of the team signaling that the grating to the temple was up ahead.
The Battle Team Leader expanded his awareness in the Force and felt the others do the same, sensing for lifeforms in the room they were to enter. After a few moments, a feeling of calm and assurance flooded over the Force as each member confirmed that the room was indeed empty. Orv Dessrx signaled to the Dark Jedi Knight to proceed and in seconds the faint glow of Rho d'Tana's saber spilled over the team as the ex-Soulfire member separated the grating from the wall. No sooner did the red light fill the chamber, it died away as Rho de-activated his blade.
It was almost uncanny how fast the team pulled themselves from the sewer, each member eager to separate themselves from the filth. As Orv stood, he focused his ability in the Force, sensing the filth that marred his suit, becoming aware of each disgusting particle's location and with one strong pulse of Force energy the stench and filth fell to the floor. The exertion of focusing on so many small particles left him somewhat drained, but it did the trick. Watching Orv intently, the others mimicked his use of the Force and soon the team was clean enough for proper infiltration without the fear of being spotted by smell.
In moments, Cabal Cronal was dressed in their assortments of smuggler 'outfits' to allow them to blend in easily with the Peace Brigade's attire.
Orv Dessrx nodded towards his team, "Alright, ladies, lets find that data storage room."