Operation Rolling Thunder RO
Eight iridescent smears shifted across the dull haze of stars comprising the deep core. They were smudges in the unrelenting vastness. For all intents and purposes, they were invisible. Sensors didn’t stand a cat-on-Mustafar’s chance of detecting them, and even their hulls were painted with a dapple starlight on a black, non-reflective surface. Spotting them with the naked eye would be a trick and a half. Even their exhausts were covered up and nigh-on impossible to track. It was just as well, because the eight Stealth-X fighters currently patrolling through the Treskov system wouldn’t stand a chance against the flotilla marshalled there, Force-sensitive pilots or not.
They stayed only long enough to gather passive sensor sweeps of the force and base currently holed up around Ebaq 9, then quietly slipped back into Hyperspace.
Invictus walked briskly along the winding, gothic corridors of the Arcona Citadel, hurrying from the Landing bay. One did not keep the Lord Consul waiting. Following a half-step behind was his Aedile, Socorra, and the Commander of Void Squadron, Kalon Dane. Kalon hadn’t even had chance to change from his flight suit; Wuntila had ordered Void Squadron to land directly at the Citadel upon returning from the recon patrol, given the nature of what they’d discovered.
A pair of Summit Guardsmen snapped to attention as the Quaestor and his retinue arrived at the huge, durasteel double doors engraved with the Clan’s emblem, and Invictus didn’t even have to pause as he stalked through, his robes billowing behind him like a storm cloud.
The Throne Room had clearly been configured for war. A massive tactical display was laid out over a huge circular table, and at its head stood Marick Arconae, the Proconsul. The tall, effete noble leant over it, studying three-dimensional displays of the Deep Core, and only looked up when Invictus reached the other end of the table. Behind the Hapan was a line of blue flame stretching the width of the Throne room, separating the Consul’s dais from the rest of the membership. Because of the ethereal sapphire fire, his features were a mere silhouette. Similarly, torches lined the columns running the length of the chamber, offering little additional azure illumination. None of the newcomers missed the pair of Cythraul, one a massive, hulking thing, the other a white shadow, prowling the edges of the room.
“Are these reports accurate?” Marick asked, without preamble.
Kalon stood forward and nodded curtly, his eyes not leaving the shrouded Consul.
“A Chiss outpost on Ebaq 9. Complete with a flotilla able to rival ours. Presumably over four wings of their clawcraft, over two dozen cruisers and frigates and no less than four of their ‘destroyers’, which seem comparable to our own” Kalon reiterated from memory.
Wuntila waved a hand dismissively and spoke for the first time. “I’m not bothered about the obstacle. Did you confirm that there is a route to Judecca through the Treskov system?”
Taken aback, Kalon blinked slightly, but nodded. “Yes, Lord Consul. We did a brief sensor sweep of the exit vector, and whilst we couldn’t launch any probes without drawing undue attention, we expect it is indeed possible, given very, very precisely hyperspace calculations.”
Marick’s eyes hardened. “You expect? You didn’t confirm?”
“If we were to launch a probe, then our presence would’ve been detected and against such odds-”
“Your excuses are of little import. You failed in your mission, Commander. Leave us.”
There was an awkward silence following the Proconsul’s order as Kalon bowed, turned and left the Throne room, his steps hurried as Kilvin, Wuntila’s Cythraul slunk after him, almost to make sure he left promptly.
“My Lord Consul, with the greatest of respect, the boy was right. If he revealed our presence prematurely-” The words died in Socorra’s throat as Marick’s stare brought her to silence.
One did not second-guess the Consul of Arcona.
“Assemble the rest of my summit, Marick.” Wuntila rumbled, ignoring Socorra’s error of judgement.
It didn’t take long for Sanguinius and Timeros to show up.
“We have an obstacle in our path. A reconnaissance sweep of the Treskov System, which is the back door we’d hoped to use to the Judecca system, has revealed a Chiss forward operating base, presumably there as a safeguard and possible attack force for the core if the Galactic Alliance and the Chiss were to ever go to war. It’s a sizeable force, easily able to hold its own against our Expeditionary Force. We need a way to remove the Chiss force in this system quietly.” Marick said, looking each of the assembled leaders in the eye.
Invictus shifted slightly, knowing what was coming.
“A covert attack first. Void Squadron will go in, tag high value targets, then we send in Soulfire, get a slicer onto the installation, and generally try and cause as much confusion as possible, or maybe take out a Destroyer or two, then we come in with the fleet and hit them while they’re reeling.” Sanguinius recommended crisply.
“And how would we even get people onto the surface of that rock?” Socorra asked.
“We could have Void cause a distraction, and sneak them in while they’re busy with the Stealth-X’s.” Sanguinius countered testily..
“That would probably work. If my people detected an attack, they’d seek to repel it immediately with massive overwhelming force, and given that it’s a secret outpost, it’s presumed that their presence is unknown to the Galactic Alliance, so they would turn all their attention to the assault in hopes of preserving the secret. It’s also worthy of note that my people will never, ever attack first. They can only respond to attacks. We’ve exiled military leaders in the past for attacking before being provoked, so once we hit them, then there’s no going back.” Invictus replied.
Sanguinius snorted in derision. “I’m sure you’re elated about us turning our guns onto your people. How can we trust you?”
Invictus’ red eyes flashed dangerously. “Don’t be so quick to question my loyalties, Entar. I’m not the one who’s deserted before.”
The jab cut right through the Anaxsi’s budding retort, his cheeks flushing slightly as his eyes darted towards the floor. Marick narrowed his eyes disapprovingly at his former Aedile. Invictus acknowledged his Proconsul’s distaste at the comment, but didn’t seem to agree that he had spoken out of line.
“Invictus has proven time and again his loyalty to Arcona,” Socorra interjected with a diplomatic tongue and loyalty to her Quaestor. “His knowledge will be invaluable in dealing with a race we have little to no information on.”
“Their confidence in their starfighters is more than bravado. They would rather send more ships than necessary if it meant keeping their motives secret,” Invictus continued.
“It’s still risky for Soulfire-” Socorra started to say before Sanguinius seemed to regain his confidence.
“Like that’s ever stopped them before?” The Anaxsi replied, finding his voice.
“If Invictus is confident that the Chiss will fall for it, it seems like the best course of action we have,” Marick countered in an attempt to move the discussion forward.
“What happens if they see through it?” Timeros inquired bluntly, his voice cold but even. The Rollmaster had a unique way of being forgotten until he felt his voice needed to be heard.
Abruptly, Wuntila rose. Without a word to the assembled summit, he walked swiftly towards them, unscathed through the blue flames, and clicked his fingers, signalled Kilvin to follow. He ignored his subordinates completely, and instead looked to Captain Bly, head of his Summit Guard, who had thus far been standing off to one side, ever-vigilant for threats against the Consul’s life.
“Ready my ship, and inform the Invicta I will be coming aboard.”
The low hum of the Invicta’s rear thrusters soothed him. It was like the pattering rain on a restless child’s window; the rhythmic rocking of a baby in a mother’s arms. He felt peaceful. And peace was a rarity.
Since his ascension to Consul, Wuntila had little time for rest or self-reflection. He was at the Clan’s helm, with no room for failure, no room for weakness. He had led Arcona to victory in quelling the Jedi on New Tython. He barked the order that killed his mentors, Zandro and Sashar. He had been near death in the War of Three Families. He had even killed a Grand Master. And throughout these troubled times he remained the iron-fisted stoic Sashar and Zandro taught him to be.
When he came to Arcona, he quickly blossomed. He became the strategist, the warrior, the Dragon of Selen. But he was no tyrant. And this was a guise he had been struggling to shake off since his ascension. Then there was Teroch. The young Erinos that had gifted this alias unto the Consul with his insurrection. At the very thought of the boy, Wuntila’s fingers instinctively wandered up to the silvery scar that scored his scalp from forehead to ear...
“Wun?” Marick stood in the doorway to the Consul’s luxurious quarters. Wuntila’s hand came back from his head and he turned to the Proconsul with a quizzical look. “Timeros and Strategos have arrived. All of the Arconae are assembled in the meeting room. We are waiting on you.”
The Consul made no motion to respond. Instead he strolled over to the bureau and decanted two tumblers of Menkooro whiskey. He added a splash of Feluriaglade springwater and held one of the glasses out to Marick.
Marick’s face twisted into a troubled look. “Wun... we can’t keep them waitin?” It was only a glance, but that was enough. Marick stopped talking, took the glass and sat down opposite the Consul. He took a sip, the whiskey burning like a fire in his gullet. His eyes began to water, and he hurriedly wiped at his cheeks.
“I have been thinking.” Wuntila folded his legs and downed the whiskey in one gulp. He locked his cold steel gaze with Marick’s confused stare. “And I have not reached an amicable conclusion. Perhaps you could help me?”
“Of course.” Marick’s voice rasped as he struggled down another infernal mouthful.
“I am not viewed with much sympathy by many Arconans. To them, I am a tyrant with an insatiable lust for power. But they don’t know me. Indeed, there have only ever been four people who have known me. I mean, truly known me. Sashar and Zandro are now dead. Ronovi has moved on to Antei. So that leaves you.” Marick did not protest, so the Consul continued, “I’m not a man who stalks for blood. I do not rule for power. I see little sense in these methods. My concern lies with Arcona. A good leader takes the initiative. He leads with his mind, not with fear and oppression.” Out of the corner of his eye, Marick noticed Kilvin appear from behind a dividing screen. The huge Cythraul padded up to the Consul, who ran his fingers gently through his companion’s mottled grey fur.
The Dragon resumed, “If I die?”
“You won’t. I’ll make sure of it.” Marick interjected forcefully. His eyes narrowed and his muscles stiffened, as if ready to pounce.
Wuntila smiled a thin smile, and continued, “This next year will be full of conflict. If I die, I want you to learn from my mistakes. I want you to take up the mantle and lead Arcona to further glory, to further success, to further greatness. Lead this Clan to supremacy. But do so as a mentor, not as a despot, an autocrat, or a dictator.” He stopped, giving the Proconsul a toothy grin, and walked through the open-plan quarters into his personal armoury. He took off his shirt and pulled out a long, sleeveless cloak. He wrapped it over his shoulders, but left it unbuttoned to showcase the mark of the Arconae tattooed on his naval. It was a Mantle, the formal robes of the Arconae worn at every official meeting.
Marick caught a glimpse of the silver threads of scars running across the heavily muscled chest and arms of his Consul before being snapped out of his daze by a hurried knocking at the door.
“Enter.” The Consul barked.
Socorra stepped through the doorway, datapad in hand, urgently flicking her fingers across the screen.
She bowed. “Lord Consul. The Arconae are waiting for you...” she noticed Marick rise to his feet and continued, “... I understand Marick was sent to escort you, but they figured he must have been caught up.”
“Tell them I am on my way.” Wuntila said absent-mindedly.
“Lord Consul,” Socorra nodded and turned to leave, but she was stopped by the Consul’s gravelled voice.
“Socorra, congratulations on your promotion.”
“Thank you, Lord Consul.” She smiled, tapping the new Lightsaber hanging at her hip.
“Very good. Report to the Shadow. Qel-Droma will receive their orders shortly.” Socorra nodded and walked into the corridor bustling with bodies.
Wuntila turned to Marick. “Go put on your Mantle. Report to the briefing room in no more than five minutes.”
The briefing room was all but bare, save for a large conference table, upon which sat a holoprojector, portraying a topographic three-dimensional representation of the Ebaq 9 quadrant. Wuntila stood at the head of the table, with Marick slightly off to his right. To his left stood Teroch. The boy seemed much older now. A dusting of pubescent stubble stretched thinly across his face, and his piercing stare seemed harder, colder. His stomach was a washboard, and his new Arconae tattoo was deep and dark. He was looking more and more like Sashar by the day. Next to Teroch stood Nadrin. Wuntila had met the boy on a number of occasions, and they had exchanged a glance upon the Consul’s arrival. He was wearing his customary attire; notably his white mask, decorated with a black line running horizontally across at eye-level, and a grinning mouth, full of sharp teeth. It stood in stark contrast to his pale, sinewy adolescent body. To the left of Nadrin stood the hologram of Orv Dessrx d’Tana, meeting from his permanent home on Antei.
To the Consul’s right stood the line of Entars; Timeros, with his sandy hair and sharp, chiseled features, Strategos with his dark brown hair and his icy blue eyes, and James with his distinct lack of hair, and piercing silver-grey stare. They were all dressed in their formal attire, striking an imposing collection in the dimly lit room. Clearly, Arcona’s finest.
“Gentlemen,” the Dragon spoke with a deep, authoritative tone, “We place all quarrels, all families, all allegiances aside in the face of adversity. We are Arcona’s children. And it is our parent we serve. We have encountered a problem. In the way of our target stands a Chiss outpost with a flotilla equal, if not superior, to ours. We need to come up with a plan of attack. And we need to be quick about it.”
“Surely no inferior Chiss task force can be a match for Arcona’s fleet?” Strategos’ voice was sharp, and thick with disdain.
Teroch replied with a scoff. “Don’t underestimate the enemy, mir'sheb.”
“Your archaic language has no place at the table of the Arconae, boy.” Strategos retorted archly.
Teroch erupted in a crazed smile, and slammed both hands onto the table. “Ne shab'rud'ni…” he said fiercely, with no attempt to hide the hate that oozed through his tone.
Nadrin held an arm across his brother’s chest and Wuntila turned to face the boy. “He doesn’t want to mess with you.” The Consul shot a scolding stare at Strategos, causing the Adept to look back at the holoprojection. “Now, our strategy.”
“Perhaps move in with a flanking formation; the heavy fleet comes in from the right,” James tapped at the keyboard in his hands and the Arconan fleet materialised into his proposed formation, “and then Galeres and Qel-Droma can come in from the left. We’d leave them defenceless on both sides.” He demonstrated his attack vector on the holoprojection.
“No. This will not do.” Orv shook his head, ever the stoic with his arms tucked into his sleeves and folded across his chest.
“I agree. It is far too risky.” Wuntila brought a hand up and contemplatively caressed his goatee, “Perhaps...” he paused for a moment as if running back over the plan in his head before stating it, “perhaps we could send in the Valour’s Fall first, bringing it up just on the edge of the Sun, and then have it provide telemetry via tight-beam burst transmissions in time with minor solar flares on the relative positions of the Chiss forces whilst being masked by the Sun itself. Once we know exactly where they are, we drop in the Creeping Darkness right on top of them, it powers up the gravity well generators, and the rest of the fleet can blind jump in to support it, right on top of their formation.”
“A Thrawn pincer? Surely the Chiss would be prepared for a tactic pioneered by their greatest tactician.” Strategos commented, stroking his chin thoughtfully.
“The Chiss’ military policy would be to not attack unless they themselves have been attacked first. A full, frontal assault like the one proposed would catch them flat-footed. They’d hold forces in reserve, expecting our first attack to just be one of many. To put it simply, they’d never expect us to be so stupid as to commit all of our naval forces in the Expeditionary Force to one attack, and as such, we’d never have to deal with their full fleet at once. Plus, the use of the Thrawn pincer is ideal. If the Valour’s Fall telemetry is out of date, then the Creeping Darkness can simply not power up the gravity wells and let the attack sail past in hyperspace, rather than risking committing our whole assault. We’ll leave that up to the Interdictor’s captain to decide.” Wuntila reasoned, clearly thinking aloud.
“And what of Soulfire?” Teroch’s voice was calm and collected. It was an improvement on how he’d spoken to the Consul in the past. A vast improvement.
“Soulfire would lead the assault.” Wuntila picked up his own keyboard and tapped in various vectors. The map of the Treskov system was replaced with a detailed schematic of the base on Ebaq 9. “Whilst Void Squadron causes some tertiary damage at the refuelling depot in orbit, Soulfire, by way of Shade Squadron, could be deposited on the surface of Ebaq 9, sneak into the installation, and cause as much damage as you can. Your primary objective would be to sieze control of the hyper-velocity cannon on the surface, in hopes of turning it against the Chiss.” Teroch nodded with a look of approval. “Be warned, though. This is a suicide mission. What is more, this is a mission which will determine the outcome of this assault. Without success, victory could escape our grasp rather easily. I trust you will not fail me, or Arcona.”
“Of course.” Teroch replied.
“Is everyone agreed?” Wuntila looked around the room to a number of nods and a chorus of ‘aye’s. “Good. Timeros, would you be willing to escort the Qel-Droma fleet?”
“I would.” Timeros nodded.
“James and Strategos, would you be able to escort the Galerean fleet?” They nodded in synchronicity, “Good. Meeting adjourned. I’ll see you on the battlefield, gentlemen. Any changes to the plan and you will be notified.”
Invictus strolled up and down the bridge of the BAC Shadow, hands clutched in the small of his back. He was tense. And everyone could sense it.
The Assault Cruiser hovered at the edge of the Dajorra system. An assortment of fighters and bombers darted in and out of view across the transparisteel viewport, clearly landing in the hangars, ready for the initial jump. It was an impressive task force. But, to Invictus, the ultimate goal was too big of a price to pay.
Socorra jogged hastily along the walkway to Invictus, with Timeros following some paces behind. She tapped the Quaestor on the shoulder and snapped him out of his mental gymnastics. “Invictus. Timeros is to supervise our manoeuvre. He has offered his counsel for all that you require.”
“Very good,” Invictus said, turning to grip Timeros by the forearm. Invictus’ blood-red eyes showed no hint of the smile that lit up his face, “Its good to have you aboard, Timeros.”
“Thank you. If it is to your taste, I will be supervising. I believe you wish to lead the assault from here from the bridge and fight upon the front line of the offensive?”
“That I will.” Invictus said.
His voice petered from the air as Socorra interjected. “No. I will not allow that. You are too emotionally unstable in this circumstance to be leading any attack from the frontline. Besides, you are a much better pilot than I. These are your people, Invictus. I will stay on the bridge; you will go out with the fighters.”
Timeros raised an eyebrow and turned back to Invictus with a quizzical look. “She is fiesty.”
“She is.” Invictus’ voice was one of resignation. “However, I am the only pilot in Arcona who has any experience with Chiss Clawcraft. It makes sense that I lead the Fighter assault along with Void Squadron.”
Socorra nodded, knowing it was useless to argue the point. “ Understood. I’ll have a shuttle made ready to transport you over to the Invicta.”
“Brother.” Sang looked up from the pile of datapads on his desk and saw Strategos and James standing before him. He smiled. “Brothers. I didn’t expect to see you anywhere other than the Invicta.”
“We have been assigned to the Darkest Night to provide any assistance you require.” Strategos’ voice was no less derogatory to his brother than to the Erinos in the meeting with the Arconae. His high-born traits were still strong as the sun on a summer’s day.
“As you wish. We are still waiting for the jump orders. We shall meet on the bridge in ten minutes. You can brief me there.”
Strategos and James nodded and slid from the doorway and into the corridors. Sang tidied up the pile on his desk, finished his last message and left the room.
“...So to summarise, we’ll be going in via drop pods launched from Shade Squadron, causing as much mischief as we can while we’re there, hopefully taking control of the planetary cannon, then turning it on them. Any questions?” Teroch asked his assembled squad.
“A couple, actually,” Celahir responded, not looking up from his datapad, which he was controlling via his sub-dermal interface. “First, none of us are Chiss. All the written information there will be written in their language. None of us speak that. How are we going to find our way around, much less operate their technology?”
Teroch blinked once, then grinned ruefully. “I’m going to need someone familiar with the tech and layout of Chiss military installations, aren’t I?”
Celahir smiled indulgently and nodded. “I can help overcome the language barrier, though. I’ll be programming all the helmet HUDs to auto-translate anything written in the Chiss tongue, so we’ll be able to operate their tech and read the signs.”
“Thanks. Next question?”
“Am I going to be expected to rape their network? I’m not that familiar with Chiss operating systems, and don’t know what sort of electronic security they have in place. It could take a while.”
“Basically, we’re operating on a policy of ‘do what you can and we’ll make it up once we get there.’” Teroch answered, hating the vagueness of the answer.
Celahir shrugged and lit another cigarette. “I like it.”
Teroch looked about the room, making sure to maintain eye-contact with each of his squad-mates before continuing. “Any other questions? No. Good. Assemble in the Hangar in an hour. We leave for the Invicta soon.”
The Citadel’s hangar was alive with activity as the bulk of Arcona’s Expeditionary Force readied for departure. As usual, the Eye of the Abyss, Last Light, Lichtor, Dark Artisan, Broken Blade and Light’s Lament would be remaining behind to defend the Dajorra system, however the bulk of Arcona’s offensive ability was contained in the Invicta, Shadow, Darkest Night and Creeping Darkness.
Soulfire Strike Team strode through the organised chaos with an air of nonchalance that was only partly feigned. At arriving, they found two beings already waiting for them. One, was Fet’ai’narun, who was chiss, and presumably had been grabbed as their expert. The other, however, was an interesting development; Wuntila.
Teroch blinked in momentary confusion, then slammed his left fist on his right pectoral plate and bowed his head slightly by way of salute. “Lord Consul, to what do we owe this honour?” His voice was entirely devoid of inflection.
“I’m coming with you, Teroch.” The Consul answered, smiling slightly as he absently scratched the fur behind his Cythraul’s ear.
For week one of the RO, write your character preparing for the upcoming assault. What will they bring with them, what are their feelings regarding the conflict, is there anyone their characters want to talk to before they go? Write away, kids, and don't get to the Treskov system until I write us getting there. For now, just prepare for the conflict. Any questions, you know where I am. Above all, have fun!
BAC Darkest Night
The Prelate stalked along the wide corridor, crewmen deftly moving out of his way as they recognised the Entar. A hubbub of voices filled the passage as they rushed to their duty stations, preparing for the task at hand. Sanguinius was still smarting from the discussion he had been a part of earlier in the Citadel, his counterpart in Qel-Droma had had the audacity to question his loyalty. This upcoming operation would be a perfect place to prove his loyalty to the Shadow Clan, once and for all. A smile spread on the Anaxsi’s face as he thought of the plans he had in place to teach that blasted Chiss a lesson. Invictus would suffer for the affront that he and his upstart of an Aedile had afflicted upon him.
The appearance of his brothers on the Darkest Night had reassured the Obelisk of his position within Galeres; there was no chance of his authority being challenged while he had two Dark Adepts assisting him. He no longer had an Aedile to place his trust in, his former one, Balthier, had disappeared from the Shadow Clan earlier that month on a fact finding mission for SCEPTER. Sanguinius was resigned to the fact that he may be in need of a new Aedile.
Reaching the turbo lift that would take him to the bridge, Sanguinius was intercepted by an exasperated naval officer carrying a large bundle of whitish-grey fur. “Sir, he was found in the women’s locker room again.”
The Prelate grinned, “He likes the attention,”
The bundle of fur moved at the sound of the Anaxsi’s voice, jet black eyes full of mischief stared at Sanguinius and paws scrabbled at the Ensign’s arms, which let the Cythraul pup go. Tam dropped to the floor, tail wagging like a dog with a bone.
“You were causing trouble again, Tam?”
The Cythraul yipped in reply, bounding around the Prelate’s legs in excitement, “My thanks, Ensign Hawthorn; you can return to your post.”
The Ensign saluted, swivelled and walked briskly away. Sanguinius looked down at the excitable pup, “What am I to do with you, eh?” He grinned and snapped his fingers to gain Tam’s attention, “Come on, we have my brothers to entertain.”
* * * * * * *
James and Strategos stood on the bridge, their regal bearing only serving to set them further apart from the other beings in there. The hustle and bustle of the bridge crew were ignored by the two Elders as they conversed in a hushed tone, their speech interspersed with Entariad to keep their discussion private from anyone who could possibly be listening.
A pointed cough interrupted the two Arconae, the high-born Strategos raised an eyebrow in disdain at the insult. “Wa’’tu, brothers.”
“So you grace us with your presence, Tsucyra,” the voice of the eternal Acolyte was flavoured with scorn as he addressed the Obelisk.
“I do indeed, my beloved brother,” Sang stressed the word, “I’m led to understand that you have orders from our esteemed Lord Consul.
“We are committing to a Thrawn Pincer, Valour’s Fall shall lead the strike by providing us telemetry on the positions of the Chiss forces, then Creeping Darkness shall drop in and activate the gravity wells.” James spoke up, enlightening the Anaxsi.
“Let me guess, then the rest of us shall blind jump in?” Sanguinius countered.
Strategos snorted in derision, “The young always think they know everything.”
“You’d be surprised how much I know, my dear pleswae'l,” The Prelate smirked.
“If you’ll let me finish,” James interrupted, “If the telemetry from Valour’s Fall is out of date, then the Interdictor’s captain can use his judgement and not activate the gravity wells. As for Soulfire, they will lead the assault on the enemy vessels.”
The Quaestor chortled, “Ahh, the vaunted Soulfire will do what they do best.”
Sanguinius turned to the cloaked figure standing several metres away from the three Entars and beckoned him over; the furball sitting hunched at the figure’s feet followed him towards the assembled Arconans.
“Celevon, with Balthier’s absence and Teroch leading the assault, I need you as my right hand,” Sang stared at the newly frocked Templar. “Can you do the job?”
The Sergeant nodded, “Yes, Quaestor Tsucyra.”
“Good, open a ship-wide com channel, I want to address the House.”
“Your will be done,” Celevon bowed slightly and turned to walk away.
Strategos studied the Templar as he walked away, “Watch that one, brother, he’s ambitious.”
Sanguinius bent down to rustle Tam’s ears, “Weren’t we all like that once?”
The two Elders looked at each other for a moment before directing their gaze back at the Prelate.
“No,” Strategos replied, “Not like that.”
* * * * *
Celevon attracted Sanguinius’ attention, stretching out his right hand which held the communicator. “Quaestor, the com link is ready.”
The Anaxsi nodded in gratitude before grabbing the link out of the Onderon’s hand.
“My fellow Galereans,” Sanguinius paused as his voice issued forth from the speakers placed around the Bothan Assault Cruiser. His voice also played over several personal com-links of Galereans who were not on the vessel. “We have received orders from our Lord Consul that we will be leaving the system to show off the might of Arcona. You will assemble on the Darkest Night to await my pleasure, you have twenty four hours.” The Prelate paused again to gather his thoughts. “The Shadow Clan shall issue forth, Arcona Invicta!” The last line was shouted by the Quaestor.
The cry was repeated throughout the vessel as crewmen and Dark Jedi shouted the slogan again and again. Sanguinius smiled as he heard the bridge crew erupt into a chorus of shouts and cheering, the Anaxsi was fond of such displays of fervour.
Deactivating the comlink, he turned to Celevon. "We can rely on the crew to do their job, make sure there are no stragglers, Sergeant. I want Galeres' full might to be shown."
The Templar bowed his head and turned to leave, "Yes, Quaestor."
Sanguinius turned and walked over to the side viewport, Tam following faithfully at his heels, attempting to nip the Anaxsi's ankles. James and Strategos swiftly joined their fellow Entar. "We will stay on Darkest Night, as representatives of the Arconae."
Sang smiled to himself, as he stared out of the viewport at the planet Selen that hung in space before him. "I didn't expect anything else."
Scelestus, the new Gate Warden of Shadow Gate Battleteam stood in his HQ within the safe-house of the Gilded Credit Casino. The newly ascended spymaster of Qel-Droma was looking over the reports that had just come in from the various intelligence agents spread throughout the port. He was mostly pleased with what he was seeing, although there was a minor criminal kingpin operating in one of the warehouses that would have to be seen to soon. As he was reaching to relay the order into his com unit, the holoprojector next to him hummed into life. Revealing the familiar visage of his former master, Socorra, the blue light accenting her striking features nicely. "Warden," she smiled slightly at the new title, "we are going to war, report to the Shadow immediately with your team and gear." The blue light vanished, and the knight set to work immediately for he knew he had much to do and that the summit of his house would not be patient with dawdling. "That little slime ball will have to wait," he mused to himself as he again reached for the com, this time to send the order for the Gate Keepers to assemble and prepare themselves for the upcoming conflict. The next step was to ensure that arrangements were made to cover his Shadow Academy courses while he was gone. This completed the tasks that needed to be done planet-side, and he then turned his attention to preparing his gear for the trip to the BAC Shadow. There was little enough that he absolutely had to bring with him. His robes and saber were always with him, of course, and his armor was easy enough to pack. A spare datapad completed his luggage. Going through his mental checklist a second time, he was satisfied that he had forgotten nothing. Securing the rooms behind him, he made for the spaceport and the shuttle that would convey him to the flagship of the House.
Legorii made his way toward the bridge of the Shadow, ready for combat. The indigo hems of his Shadesworn robes whipped about his ankles as he swept through the corridors, his crimson gaze always fixed on an intangible spot far in front of him – the Entar cut an imposing figure, but his perceived air of importance was merely for show, and in truth, Legorii did not know what exactly to do with himself. He had no place in the House’s dynamic as preparations for battle were made, with no battleteam and no close friends to share a drink with before riding off into the vacuum. Already, since the call to war had first been put out, the Archpriest had spent extended periods of time napping, cleaning his blaster rifle, lightly practicing his Makashi forms, and reading countless datasheets on the Chiss foes he would soon face. He was itching for war - the thrill of combat - and hoped to end a months-long hiatus from the battlefield as soon as possible.
For the time being, however, Legorii was confined to the Shadow, and he had to find something to do with himself. The doors to the bridge slid open with a hiss, and the Entar was plunged into the chaos of central command. All about him, officers and ensigns rushed to and fro, shouting orders and moving from station to station, as the vessel prepared to depart the Dajorra System. Legorii had been one of the first to assemble on the cruiser, and was left waiting while the rest of his comrades joined him on board. He decided to seek out Timeros Caesus Entar Arconae, his only true friend and ally, whom he learned had recently joined up with the Qel-Dromans, and would be assisting Quaestor Invictus with the preparations for battle.
Not surprisingly, Timeros stood at the forefront of the bridge - the perfect picture of chiseled dignity - and was standing with Aedile Socorra. Legorii did not see his Quaestor as he glanced about the bridge, and was surprised. It appeared as though Socorra was in charge, and she certainly was the most vocal and pointed about her orders. The Anzat strode forward boldly, slicing through the swarm of naval officers and technicians, until he stood before his brother and his Aedile.
Legorii bowed stiffly. “Lord Arconae, Aedile Socorra. I trust you are both well?” Socorra managed a pleasant, if contrived smile, and Timeros merely sneered – aristocratic snobbishness at its finest. “I was hoping I could be of some service, as I find myself unoccupied as we prepare to embark on this mission,” Legorii offered, staring beseechingly at his Aedile. He did not know her well, as his interactions with her had been minimal and she had been promoted through the House in circles outside of his own. From the look on the Arconae’s face, the Archpriest feared he would soon be given a job scrubbing fecal matter, or some other filthy, heinous chore.
With a light sigh, Socorra relented. "Of course, your skills may be of use here - I'd like you to remain on the bridge and assist Executive Officer Hodezan. The Quaestor has elected to lead Void Squadron's assault, and as such I will be remaining here to coordinate our movements. Officer Hodezan could certainly use your assistance, particularly if things do not go as planned after we make the jump - I believe you two have met?" Socorra finished with a polite smile and turned away, leaving Legorii to find his old XO and offer him whatever service he was able. Timeros helped to usher him on his way with an icy stare, before turning his attention back to the viewports.
Grimacing, Legorii scanned the mass of people for the diminutive officer, spotting him quickly in the center of a circle of stations to the starboard side of the bridge. As he approached, Hodezan nodded to him and offered a quick salute, in reverence to him as a former Quaestor. "Officer Hodezan, I'm glad to see you've survived all of these past wars of ours. I'm here to offer you my assistance - I'll help in any way I can." The officer grunted and waved a hand dismissively, saying, "Sure, stay here and keep an eye out these viewports."
Taken aback, Legorii could merely nod. It was clear that Officer Hodezan wanted him out of the way, but kept him on the bridge out of deference to Socorra and to his status as a past Quaestor. Annoyed, the Archpriest took up a post near the starboard viewports, stuck with bridge duty for the time being.
The shuttle trip passed without incident, not that he expected it to be otherwise. Soon Scelestus stood on the hangar deck of the Bothan Assault Cruiser that would be his temporary home while Arcona went to war. The thought pleased the Gate Warden immensely. He relished the opportunity to prove himself both as a member of the Brotherhood, and in his new position as the head of Shadow Gate. He had learned much, both from his time scouring the halls of the Shadow Academy and under Socorra's tutelage and it was past time to shine in a way that he just couldn't obtain during the recent clan feud, or War of Three Families, as some had taken to calling it.
But now was a time for action, not self-reflection. With this new directive firmly in the forefront of his mind, the dark jedi knight quickly gathered his bag and departed from the shuttle area. Seeking directions to his assigned area from an ensign standing nearby trying to look important, Scelestus strode off in the indicated direction, his near albino features standing in stark contrast to his ebony and red robes.
He arrived at the assigned suite of rooms within minutes, and took stock of his new surroundings. He couldn't help but be pleased by the sight that greeted him. His former master clearly had not forgotten what being Gate Warden entailed. The room contained two holoprojectors along with a compliment of other screens and datapads to ensure that he could stay in contact with the intelligence assets that had been left to oversee Port Ol'val in his absence. There was also a console where he could keep track of his classes and grade exams. Oh and there on the end of the desk was a caf machine. He would certainly have to thank her as soon as he could.
Tossing his gear onto the bunk in the corner, he wasted no time getting hooked back into the world of whispers and secrets, making sure his orders were being carried out back home. He knew that being on the Shadow would serve as no excuse with his superiors, he was still expected to get the job done, and he would. He had aspirations for greater positions of power, and was hungry to prove he had what it took to get them. With the chores out of the way, he sent a message to Socorra, informing her of his arrival and that he was at her disposal for orders or assignments.
Kratus leaned casually against a support column, looking over at his sergeant who stood just a little way out in the corridor from him. Ever since being promoted to Templar, Celevon had been far more strict in his regulations with the Battleteam and now, with Balthier leaving unexpectedly and Teroch being away, he was even tighter. The Onderonian had sought out the Cyborg immediately after returning from the Darkest Night, had hastily given the Coruscanti an overview of his task before commanding him to follow.
Now, to Kratus’ immense relief, his leader seemed to be settling down. Most, if not all, of Spectre Cell was aboard the Darkest Night, and all he had left to oversee were general members. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that promotion went straight to your head boss,” the older man growled, making Celevon turn towards him with a slight smile.
“You think so? I think I’m doing a fine job of not big-heading,” the Onderonian replied casually, moving to stand near his comrade.
“How’s the progress,” Kratus inquired.
“Slow, but what do you expect; we’ve been stagnant for quite some time.”
“Everybody but your team you mean,” Vahillus interjected with a smirk.
“I hold all of you to a higher standard, so I don’t count you in the standard equation,” Celevon quipped in return.
The Cyborg then lit up a cigarette and took a long, thoughtful puff. As he released a stream of grey smoke from between his lips, he watched the members of the house as they made their way to the Darkest Night, his thoughts on other things. He thought of New Tython, the Jedi world, as well as a Mandalorian horde descending down upon the surface. He was snapped quickly from his reveries by the elbow of his superior, who began to move off down the corridor. Kratus followed, making sure to stay close behind his fellow Templar.
“Do you have all of your preparations completed?” Celevon asked suddenly, catching the Cyborg off-guard.
“Of course,” Kratus replied hastily, although truthfully. “I began preparations as soon as the announcement was made.”
“Good, good,” Edraven murmured, clearly lost in his own thoughts.
The pair continued on in silence for quite some time after that, bypassing several other members along their way.
Imperial-II Star Destroyer Eye of the Abyss II
The vast hangar of the Star Destroyer was a hive of activity. Arconan forces were preparing for a major operation. Andrelious Inahj watched from a balcony as his favoured engineer, Firmus Jeel, tinkered with his Stealth X. The Battlelord had headed straight for the ‘Eye’, as he called it, as soon as it was clear he was not needed at the Citadel.
Jeel finished his work, and peered up towards the balcony, nodding at Andrelious. The Sith returned the nod, and headed towards a small staircase that led directly to the hangar. His eventual destination was the Cruiser Shadow, one of the carrier ships used by the Arconan navy. But first, he headed towards Jeel.
“I would hope that the damage sustained is repaired, Mr. Jeel,” Andrelious smiled. The young engineer was the only one whom the Sith trusted with his ships, having been impressed when Jeel had previously repaired his personal TIE Advanced a few years earlier. The two weren’t quite friends, but Andrelious definitely had a great deal of respect for the Selen native.
Firmus nodded. “Once again, sir, she’s good to go,” he replied, placing a hydrospanner back onto the belt of tools he invariably wore around his waist.
Andrelious quickly inspected the vessel, taking particular interest in the blast damage he had received in a recent skirmish near the Dajorran system. He noted the lack of repair patches – the ship could be mistaken for a brand new vessel by those unused to the model. Its astromech had also been damaged in the battle, but Jeel had again arranged for repairs, though these had been undertaken by another individual.
Finishing his inspection with an approving smile, Inahj turned again to the young Selenian. “You have excelled yourself. You’ll be ready to take over from Jastan soon,” he noted, frowning in the direction of an older, slightly overweight technician who was working on a TIE Interceptor. Drask Jastan was the head starfighter technician on the ‘Eye’, and did not think much of young Firmus.
By now most of Void were already heading to the Shadow. Inahj would probably be the last to arrive there, but that suited him. He was regarded by some as the best pilot in the squadron, though he was also known to lack respect for the unit’s commander, Kalon Dane. Arriving late would irk the Mandalorian, Andrelious knew.
“One last favour, Jeel.” Inahj stated. “Have a message sent to the Cruiser Shadow. I will be arriving there shortly.”
As Firmus Jeel headed to have the message transmitted, Inahj climbed into the X-Wing. He would soon rendezvous with the rest of Qel-Droma.
Socorra was obviously a very busy woman, and it came as no surprise to Scelestus that his message went unanswered for some time. He knew that she would summon him when she was ready, and he decided to take advantage of the intervening time.
His first order of business was to double and triple check his data connections keep him tethered to the happenings on Port Ol'val. He was happy to see that his orders had been carried out with the ruthless efficiency that was expected of Shadow Gate. The reports relayed the expansion of their influence into the local criminal elements, carrying forward the directive laid down by Socorra and Zakath before he took the reins. Another report detailed the foundation of a new safe house, notable because it had occurred in a region of the port that had previously resisted their expansion. Pleased with this good news, he turns his attention to other administrative matters, requesting supplies, arranging financial transfers and the like.
This doesn't take as long as he was expecting and he still waited on word from Socorra. Well nothing helped pass the time like a good soak in the fresher, so he decided to do just that. It had been a while since he had been able to relax and some stress relief would do him a world of good. As the pulses rained down on him his thoughts drifted back over the past few months, his first memories of becoming part of the Brotherhood, the lessons that he learned under Socorra, the War of Three Families, the operations he had undertaken when he was but a Gate Keeper himself. He marveled at the will and power of the Dark Side that had brought him so far in such a short period of time. It steeled his resolve that he was serving the true driving force of the Galaxy. It was a good thought to have such a strong sense of purpose, to know that what he did mattered. His musings even touched briefly on his lost twin, as they often did at times of reflection. He had yet to know the purpose of her death, but he trusted that there was one...although he couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to serve the will of the Dark Side with her by his side.
As in the past he shook off these maudlin and pointless ramblings. He knew that he had to focus on the here and now, what is and not what was. He quickly finished up in the fresher and donned a fresh robe before returning to wait for word from his mentor.
BAC: Darkest Night
Celevon set off at a brisk pace, his ebony cloak billowing at his feet as the door to the bridge snapped shut behind him. While it wasn’t battle, at least he wasn’t expected to sit there and twiddle his thumbs behind a desk. Beyond that, being given the responsibility to call the entire House to arms was oddly enthralling. Without even realizing it, he snatched out a hand to grasp a slightly battered black leather trenchcoat, pulling his fellow Templar into step with him.
“Problems, boss?” The cybernetic-enhanced voice of Kratus Vahillus asked, smirking at the slight glare from the Assassin.
“I swear you do that on purpose. I’ve told you at least a thousand times to stop calling me ‘boss’. And, no, we don’t have a problem. You’re going to help me gather the entire House so that we can present a united front to the enemy. Then, if you’re being cheeky again, I will have you speak to them,” the Assassin explained with a grin over his shoulder.
Kratus sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Oh, dear Force. I have to put up with you in this playful mood for.. how long will it be?”
“Let’s see.. From here to Eldar: Four, maybe five hours, depending on how fast the pilot flies us. And you don’t need to worry,” Celevon explained as they entered the lift to bring them down to the hangar deck. “I’ll be caught up in reading about procedures for most of the flight, since I’m not all that used to being a second-in-command aboard a navy vessel.”
The Pirate merely squeezed the bridge of his nose even tighter, praying for patience.
Outer Atmosphere, Eldar, Dajorra System, Unknown Regions
19 Hours til Deadline..
“Colonel, Captain, we’re less than five minutes from our landing at the base,” The Pilot announced as soon as the holocom activated. Both Celevon and Kratus looked up from their game of cards, frowning.
“Looks like we’ll have to postpone our game, yet again, my friend,” Celevon smirked at the Pirate.
“And I was so close to winning this time... Or not,” Kratus grumbled, scowling as the Onderonian laid down his cards. “I swear, you must be cheating to win this much.”
“Not so, mate. I just have better luck than you,” Celevon grinned, packing the datapad full of procedures and protocol before pulling the hooded cloak back on, draping it over his shoulders. “You gather everyone in the ceremonial hall. I’ll get everything ready.”
“Consider it done, boss,” the Pirate tossed it cheekily over his shoulder as he ran down the ramp. Celevon growled threateningly, a spark of amethyst energy flickering across his fingers. After a moment the energy dissipated as the Assassin dropped his hand to his side.
Kurs’kranak, Mt. Bralor, Eldar, Dajorra System, Unknown Regions
16 ½ Hours Remaining..
Celevon strode into the packed hall, his argent gaze scanning for familiar faces. Glancing over the raised platform, the Assassin was momentarily confused at the lack of people up there to speak before he remembered that he would be the one speaking. A hand suddenly dropped on the Onderonian’s shoulder and, were it not for the familiar Force presence, the recently promoted Tempar would’ve lashed out.
Kratus glanced over the attire of his younger friend, silently approving the Shadesworn robes. “You know that I can do this if you don’t feel up to it, right?”
The Assassin took a deep breath, hoping to calm his raging nerves. “No, thank you for the offer though. I accepted this responsibility. It’s my job to see it through.” With another bracing breath, Celevon walked up the platform with the Pirate two steps behind him. The light buzz of conversation quieted almost immediately as the members of Galeres took notice of the shrouded figure. With a slightly over-exaggerated gesture, the Assassin drew back the hood of his cloak and opened his mouth to speak.
“Due to being needed aboard the Darkest Night, our beloved Quaestor has asked me to gather all of you, my brethren, for our first conflict following our victory in the last war. I’m certain that Kratus has spoken to all of you of what is to come,” the Onderonian caught sight of several nods from within the crowd, as well as admiring glances from the lower-level Journeyman. Celevon made sure to catch the eye of each member of his Battleteam, who were almost standing at attention. “Thanks to Templar Vahillus’ efforts, I have little to explain. It is time that our enemies learned of how the Galereans of Arcona have earned our reputation as the fiercest fighters in the Brotherhood. In fifteen hours, we take the fight to the Chiss who have invaded upon our territories. Gather your arms and armour,” Celevon raised his arms to his sides as his voice grew deeper, his silver eyes almost glowing with eager anticipation. “You have ten hours to prepare, brethren! Then we leave to bear the full might of Arcona in battle once more! Arcona Invicta!”
The chant and shouts were taken up and repeated amongst the crowd as the Assassin took a deep breath to steady himself. The rush of adrenaline from his fellow warriors following his word was almost addictive. The metallic voice of Kratus spoke up softly from behind him, “You did well, Celevon. I don’t see why you were so worried about speaking to the House.”
The Onderonian grinned over his shoulder at his friend. “It’s different than just speaking to Spectre Cell during our training. You’ve had years of experience speaking to your own crew, so you have no room to speak. Let us go and make sure the younger members we’ve trained are ready for this.”
The Pirate merely nodded, staring after the Assassin in stark contemplation. He had never seen this side of the normally soft-spoken Force user. It was.. interesting, to say the least.
Kurs’kranak, Mt. Bralor, Eldar, Dajorra System, Unknown Regions
Six Hours remaining
The Assassin stood to the side, near the Summit shuttle that had taken him and Kratus from the Darkest Night as he watched the ranks of House Galeres board the varied shuttles, ready for departure. Most of the members who had never experienced battle looked eager, ready to prove themselves. Those who had gazed into space with a calm indifference, prepared to do what they must to survive. Noting that Kratus was helping the other members of Spectre Cell load up into another shuttle, Celevon frowned.
“We’re less than five minutes from lift-off, Captain? Shall we begin flight checks now?”
“You may join the convoy, Lieutenant Malachi. I’ll ride back to the Darkest Night with my Battleteam, where I belong,” the Onderonian explained calmly.
“Are you disobeying a direct order, Lieutenant?” The Assassin’s stern gaze resembled molten silver as he stared down the Pilot.
“Not in the least, Captain. But I’ve been given orders to treat you as you are the acting Aedile, who does not travel with the common members,” Lieutenant Malachi explained respectfully, his stance stiffening into a more formal version.
“I am not Aedile, only standing in until the Quaestor chooses a successor to Balthier. A good Sergeant always travels with his troops.” The Obelisk idly twirled one of his daggers, frowning at the fact that his Battleteam wouldn’t be going into action.
The Lieutenant nodded, though still looked doubtful. “Understood, sir.”
“If you still wish it, you may pass on your complaints to the Quaestor. You’re dismissed, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, Captain Edraven.”
The Assassin sighed, activating his comlink as he walked at a swift pace towards the shuttle bearing his Battleteam. “Patch me through to Quaestor Tsucrya.”
After a moment of silence, the smooth voice of the Prelate came across his earbud. “How goes your task, Templar?”
“We’re lifting off from Kurs’kranak in less than a minute, Quaestor. We’ll be arriving at the Darkest Night in four standard hours. I’ve already told the pilots that every moment counts.”
“You seem irritated, Edraven. Did I forget some comfort I was supposed to send you?” Celevon could almost feel the other Galerean’s smirk as the statement reached his ears.
“No, just had a bit of a disagreement with one of the pilots,” the Assassin replied shortly, ready to get underway.
“Very well, Templar Edraven. Meet me in the bridge once everyone has gotten safely aboard. Tsucrya out.”
The atmosphere was charged around the base as Xathia flitted between bookcases in the library, trying to find her daughter who had taken to sulking in here whenever she was told her mother was leaving yet again. The woman groaned in annoyance as she checked the last corner, still seeing no one who resembled Alyssa before her comm link started buzzing loudly for her immediate attention.
“Yes?” The Krath replied, trying to slip out of the range of anyone’s aim as she made her way back out of the huge room, and promptly fell over the tall eight year old in the process, who had apparently been following her for a short while to avoid Xathia’s rage.
“Hangar, now, you’ve overstayed,” came the sharp response of Teroch’s crackled voice as the Archpriestess picked herself up, and gripped the tip of the Sith’s ear to stop her escape.
With one scolding look, the pair exited the room briskly with Xathia, the ever vigilant mother, nodding at the librarian.
“Not now, Alyssa. You will do as I say. You know where you’re meant to be, and you can’t come with me or Celevon and you know it,” the Krath said, pulling her lightsaber hilt out of the sofa cushion. “Why on earth are you so determined to keep me here?” The woman exploded, her anger getting the better of her, “You aren’t the only person who needs me, you have to wait.”
The little girl pulled a face, folding her arms and storming off to her own room. Xathia shook her head, double checking she had her daggers and the lightsaber before quickly locking the door from the outside. Alyssa would move when she was needed, she was quietly sure Sang would get bored of the child lingering quickly and would give her something to do as the Krath dashed through the corridors, her feet kissing the floors as she pirouetted around Journeymen who were in her path.
There was a niggling feeling that her daughter was going to have the apartment in pieces by the time Xathia had time to come back, or at least get hold of the Sith as she dashed past one of the large halls where most of the House seemed to be gathering.
Her mind briefly touched on her husband, who was off planet for a translating job with the military who were reluctant to leave him completely alone it seemed. Damien had been reluctant to go, but they had continually upped the price until he agreed.
The Archpriestess slid into view aboard the ship as the other members started to get uneasy around Teroch. Her face was a little flushed from exertion, but she grinned sheepishly as the woman leapt forward and landed a little heavily, albeit gracefully before stopping to catch her breath. They were just outside of the Invicta armoury, having given up waiting for the Krath in the Hangar a while ago from the expression on most of their faces.
There was no room for excuses with the Soulfire Battleteam Leader, Xathia knew this from experience under his guide in the Antei Combat Centre as she tried to catch her breath. Teroch’s glare lingered as the older woman shrugged, showing that she wasn’t going to even try and talk her way out of this before straightening herself upright.
Arcona Citadel, Selen
Prior to launch
The message to Qel-Droma by its Quaestor and Aedile was simple. We’re going to war: Be on the Shadow in 24 hours. While the House moved to prepare, Socorra had a monumental number of things to do as well.
After the Arconae meeting, she stopped Teroch in the hallway, as if waiting for him.
"Hey Ter," she smiled, flagging him over. Her black Cythraul pup, Akua, stood next to her, ferociously wagging her tail as her raven-furred older sibling Kote drew closer and they sniffed one another.
"Hey Socks. What's up?" Teroch moved to join her, a cocky swagger swiftly carrying him to the Krath.
"Walk with me," she gestured towards the balconies.
"How are you taking to Qel-Droma?" he asked before Socorra even had a chance to speak.
She was taken by surprise a bit but recovered quickly. “Um. Fairly well. I like the House. Marick always said that I belonged there, being Krath and heavily into Intelligence work.”
They arrived to the scenic view and leaned over the edge, taking in the sight of the citadel below, the wind rushing up to greet them. Socorra turned to light a cigarette and offered one to him. “But I hate being separated from all the Erinos, especially now that you and Maaks are gone.”
Teroch gladly accepted the offer and took a long drag, turning to Socorra as she did the same. Being separated and excluded from the family bothered her greatly, he could tell - she didn’t smoke often. There was something else, too.
“Alone in Entar territory,” he said, taking another drag and flicking the ashes.
Even with her recently shortened hair and the bounty of scars she had earned in the Championship Ladder, and the muscle mass she had gained from the rigorous Mandalorian training, the older Erinos was still clearly female as she held her cigarette femininely in her hand with crooked elbow resting on top of the other hand.
“Can't trust anyone, always looking over my shoulder, turning me paranoid." She finished the cigarette and flicked it into a receptacle without looking, no doubt requested and used often by her when she still worked at the citadel as the Consul's Attache.
“Well. You know you’re welcome back to Soulfire. We’re all piling into the boat for this venture, and it’d be great to have you along again.”
“Right. They’d have my head if I left my post right now. Besides, with everyone in the same boat, someone's gotta stay behind to make sure the Entars don't blow the rest of us up this time."
The youth frowned slightly and the older adopted sibling went to lightly punch him in the shoulder. "Sorry, I was kidding! Sort of..”
With a flash of raven hair Teroch grabbed the outstretched wrist and yanked her close and to the side. A grin formed on his face as she turned to quizzically look at him. "I know."
She returned in kind with a smirk and a sudden left-hand jab at his side underneath her right arm. The Obelisk pirouetted and spun her like a dance partner.
"You're getting better," he said, releasing her wrist. "I saw all your matches in the Championship. A vast improvement since the war, you can actually lay on some hurt now."
She smiled from such high praise from the Combat Master. "Thanks. I’ve been learning from the best."
"I want you on my staff."
She blinked at his sudden proclamation and raised an eyebrow.
"ACC staff, you di’kut."
She threw up her hands in mock defense and grinned. "Hey, this is you we’re talking about. Anyway, how would I do that as an Aedile? And with all the osik Timeros throws at me for the DIA?"
"We'll figure it out. We'll put you through training and if you make it, kandosii, and if you don't," he shrugged, "then you don't."
“What’d you want, anyway?”
“Oh. Right,” she blinked, as if just remembering. “Just wanted to say good luck.”
“Oh. Yeah, you too. Be careful. Thankfully, the Entars seem to like or at least tolerate you. You’re not dead yet,” he smirked.
“Ha, great advice there.” She peered at her chronometer and frowned. “Alright, I need to roll, got a meeting with Marick in a bit.”
“K’uur,” she stuck her tongue out at the tease. “Give me a hug already.”
Teroch rolled his eyes and accepted the open arms. Socorra held him tightly for a long moment, a slightly sad smile whispering out: “K'oyacyi.” She refused to say the words ret'urcye mhi, as they were the last she had spoken to his father at New Tython, before she had relayed Wuntila’s command that ultimately ended his life.
Teroch smiled and replied, "Ret'urcye mhi."
Her pale eyes widened and she embraced her little brother even tighter.
Socorra stood next to Zakath's hospital bed, her arms crossed in front of her mountainous peaks. The Barabel sat reading a magazine in the bed and paused to look up, a quizzical expression on his alien face.
"I said get up!" she yelled, dropping her voice pitch and using her diaphragm for a much more bolder tone. Akua, the black Cythraul pup at her side, then made herself known and barked at Zakath, emulating her master.
The overly large lizard threw his reading material down and clambered out of the bed, dropping to a knee in front of his Aedile, his new cybernetic arm swinging down to his side. The sudden command was surprising. The woman had changed quite a bit since he had first met her, all fresh-faced and timid, still a wide-eyed Journeyman then.
"Now, these kind doctors tell me that you are acting as if this is a vacation, like you're on some kind of luxury cruise," she said, slightly accusatory. "Your wounds are healed, you've done your therapy. It’s time to get back to your House.”
“As you wish,” he replied.
“We're going to war," she said, "and I need every man at my side. Yes, even the 'cripples.' Get your osik together and report to Scelestus on the Shadow in 24 hours. Remember that favor Marick asked of you when I led the team? Well, you're up again. Perhaps now more than ever."
“As you wish,” he repeated, looking up this time, trying to read through her expression and thoughts to explain those cryptic words.
"And seriously, mints on your fluffed pillow?"
Zakath grinned toothily. She rolled her eyes in response and turned to leave, Akua trotting along after her.
Marick looked around the conference room after walking in while Socorra locked the door behind them with a keypad combination. The Proconsul, out of habit, surveyed every corner of the room, taking in all possible angles of vulnerability. Akua and Kira, black and white respectively but Cythraul sisters all the same, playfully bounded around the room after each other.
Socorra strode over to Marick and placed her hands on his armored chest, looking right up into his cerulean eyes. “Glad to see you could make it,” the woman smiled at her former master.
“Are you sure this room isn’t bugged?” he asked, his expression hard and almost emotionless.
“Of course,” she replied with a confident grin that waned when she saw the doubt in his eyes. “I had Mindloop sweep it for us. He’s quite useful when he’s not spouting out random gibberish.”
Marick’s features softened as he studied the exotic lines that made up the Socorran’s tanned face, a smile forming over his thin lips. He took a good look at her attire, the formal Invicta robes. The curves in the armor were definitely tailored to fit her voluptuous feminine form.
"You look...." he started to say, searching for the words that made so much sense in his head but couldn't be articulated properly. He had no problem in being intimate with her before while on the battlefield or their own quarters, but here it seemed so difficult.
Socorra laughed and moved a step closer to him, pinning his back lightly against the wall, her burn-scarred hand reaching up to stroke the Hapan’s handsome cheek.
“Thanks. You’re not too bad yourself.” She smiled and kissed his cheek once, then trailed her lips towards his earlobe where she leaned up slightly and whispered, “We’ve only got a few hours, and then we’ll be separated by who knows how long. How do you want to spend them?”
Marick swallowed a lump in his throat as he felt a shiver run down his spine, and his heart began to beat much faster. He gazed into the woman’s pale eyes while his hand moved to the small of her back, his fingers trailing slowly up and down her spine through the silk of her robes.
“I should be on the shuttle to-”
He never got to finish his sentence.
Undisclosed Cargo Bay
BAC Darkest Night
A loud crack followed by a flash filled the dimly lit cargo bay. The knight brought his blade back to the ready.
“Very good, my young apprentice.” Garik commented.
Maki Starhunter brought his own crimson blade to the ready, tightly gripping the worn hilt used by so many before him. Smiling, Garik swung his blade hard, knocking the Protectors bade out of the way. Bringing his hand up, he a wave of invisible energy shot out sending his apprentice flying into a crate in the cargo area.
“Always be prepared.” Garik snarled.
Powering down his blade, he left the cargo area.
BAC Darkest Night
Garik sat in front of his storage locker. Reflecting on the briefing given by Celevon and Kratus, Garik packed his rucksack.
Chiss… a vision of the blue skinned, red eyed creatures flashed in Gariks' head. Hatred began to swell inside the Dark Jedi His thoughts were interrupted when he felt a presence.
“Master?” Maki said with a bow.
“What is it?”
“Explain to me, why we are attacking the Chiss?”
“It’s battle. There doesn’t need to be any other explanation.”
“I see Master.”
“Have a seat and get your things ready” Garik said gesturing towards Makis' locker.
Kant Lavar dropped out of his StealthX, which was tucked away in a corner of a small hangar just barely big enough for Void Squadron's fighters. The Shadow had moved LAAT/i transports that normally sat here into one of the other hangars, giving Void Squadron's StealthX pilots a nominally secure place to set down. Given that Void was - officially - a squadron flying modified TIE Interceptors, and said Interceptors would likely be making an appearance around the Invicta during the coming battle, it wouldn't do for a short squadron of StealthX fighters flown by Arconans to be seen using the Void callsigns. Thus the private hangar and locker room, secured off from even the normal tech crews - and thus why all the preflight maintenance had had to be done before the squadron left the Invicta.
Kant Lavar chuckled to himself as he changed out of the normal uniform of Void's StealthX pilots, a grey-on-black version of the standard white-on-orange X-wing pilot's gear in the New Republic. Galactic Alliance. Whatever. Setting his black open-faced pilot's helmet down in the locker and pulling on his more normal "casual" look - short sleeved shirt, vest, pants, gunbelt, and boots - the Corellian bounty hunter-cum-Dark Jedi left the hangar and checked a time display on the door panel. Should be enough time to raid the mess hall before any briefings started. And, as any soldier, pilot, crewman, or bounty hunter knew, time to eat was a precious commodity in combat. Always best to face such things on a full stomach...
They came into the Invicta’s armory as one. Soulfire had kicked out the previous occupants of the chambers as soon as they came aboard the ship, and Teroch had swiftly made several notable changes, including their armour being stacked up neatly in the lockers running parallel to the entrance, and a large weapons table had been cleared before him, each with a very...unique weapon laid out on it.
“Ner’vode, I have a surprise for you.” Teroch grinned and moved to the other side of the table, his cythraul, Kote, trotting along by his side.
The item on the far left looked like it’d started life as a PLX-2M, however it’d clearly been modified heavily. Not one but three barrels ran the length of the weapon, and a complex missile feeding system jutted out at an angle, with no less than 6 missiles of varying colours and shapes visible. The scope had obviously been augmented to handle more targeting data, and it seemed able to fold down slightly, so that it’d be able to be slung over the user’s back when not in active use.
“Xar, for you I have this bit of badass tech. Since you’re now our Heavy Weapons specialist, you’ll be trotting around with Mal’s cannon, but I know you’ll want your chips to go with it, so I’ve made this. it’s cumbersome, when combined with the BFG, but the materials have all been swapped to be lightweight alloys. It means it’s more prone to breaking if you lamp someone around the head with it, but you’ll hopefully be able to move.”
Xar Kahn, now the largest member of Soulfire was heavily endowed with thick muscles, and clearly spent most of his down time hitting the gym, nevertheless, he looked a little nervous at the thought of lugging around Mal’s portable E-Web-cum-flamethrower and the Plex. “uhhh, Sarge, with all that tech, you won’t be able to see the soldier. Are you sure I’ll be able to move?”
Teroch grinned easily. “Xar’ika, A big strong lad like you will be able to shift this lot, and if you get tired, well, that’s what the Force is for, isn’t it?”
Xathia, who stood next to Xar, chuckled and shoved the side of his head none-too-gently. “Man up, ad’ika. If you want, I’ll swap.”
The rest of the squad chuckled at the thought of the slight, short woman hefting around such an arsenal, but Teroch brought their attention back to him. “Next up, Nadrin.”
The youngest, smallest, quietest member of the squad, who was still officially going through their standard training regimen to ‘put hairs on his chest’ stepped forward, clearly nervous at the scrutiny. Amongst his squad, he was comfortable enough not to wear that damned white mask, though he could still meet few people’s eyes, apart from Teroch’s.
“This is the prototype EMMAR, short for Erinos Miniature Magnetic Accelerator Rifle. Think a rail gun you can actually carry around. It’s a nasty di’kut of a sniper rifle, and it’ll mess up anything up to the size of a landspeeder, though it’s not rated to puncture a walker or tank’s armour; we save that for Maple.”
Nadrin picked up the rifle and hefted it, surprisingly being able to manage the weight. “. Yeah, I could move this around without too much trouble. How did you get hold of this?”
Teroch smirked. “vod’ika, I designed their rifle for them. Of course I kept the prototype for myself. It’ll take more of a beating than the Verp, but it needs to be manually cocked after every shot, and only has ten rounds before it needs a new clip, so don’t miss.”
Suddenly serious, Nadrin nodded, offered a brief smile of thanks to Teroch and laid the rifle back down on the table.
Soulfire’s Sergeant turned his attention to Xathia. “Now, for you I have something you’ll particularly enjoy.”
He picked up what appeared to be one of Soulfire’s gauntlets, only it was underslung with a strange, almost cylindrical device and put it on, flexing his fingers as he spoke. “This is a bit of gear I picked up off Kieran. It’s called a Plasma Puncher, though I’d like to call it ‘Xath’s Handshake.’ When you clench your fist,” he suited action to words, and a piston hissed, and the front end of the cylindrical device extended out faster than the eye could follow, the end glowing neon blue. “, That happens.”
Teroch released his fist, and the piston slotted back into the housing once more, dormant. “When you punch something, the pistol will jut out up to a length of fifteen centimetres with the strength of 3 tonnes per square centimetre, and if that wasn’t enough, the end delivers a dose of plasma on the point of impact. Useful for manually inputting data into stupid people’s heads, door breaches, and giving you one hell of a right hook.”
Xathia’s eyes lit up and she reached out eagerly, like a child wanting to take a present on life day. “Sarge, I love it. You’re the best.”
“I know. Moving on, we have this,” He picked up an EPL-1, though it looked slightly different, and handed it to Juda.
The team’s medic turned it over in his hand, trying to work out what was different, but was unsuccessful.
“I made it out of heavier alloys than usual, double weighted the stock, and also fitted a compartment which holds an extra EAG in there, in case you run out. Not much, I know, but Sashbuir mentioned you used the EPP-2 to smack the osik out of insurgents, rather than shoot them with it.”
Juda looked crestfallen. “You’re telling me you gave Xath the doomfist, and I get an extra ‘nade and a slightly heavier shotgun? No fair! Even the toddler got a freakin’ rail gun sniper rifle thing-ow!”
He was cut off when Nadrin punched him in the kidney, not bothering to give a verbal retort.
“Don’t be an ingrate, or I’ll let Kote play catch with your dick.” Teroch warned, still grinning.
Juda winked in return, showing he wasn’t serious.
“Okay, moving on. For Maaks, I have a bit of a hybrid.” Teroch picked up what looked like a SSK-7, only it was heavily modified.
Underneath the barrel was a second, smaller barrel with what looked like a clip of slugs protruding. “This is the SSK-7sfv. It has all the usual perks you’d expect with the SSK-7sf, including an extended tibanna gas mag, a polished barrel, hair trigger, customised grip, matted surfaces, widened trigger guard, silencer, muffler et cetera, but it also has a miniature underslung projectile barrel, and I’ve made up some clips with your favourites, such as acid rounds, flechette rounds, and AP rounds. The drawback is that the weapon can only fire either blaster bolts OR slugs, not both at the same time as the firing mechanism is rooted through the same trigger, and you have to flick through firing modes, and the clips are smaller to reduce the pistol’s overall size and weight, and one last feature, I’ve made it so that it has a fully automatic firing mechanism to empty the blaster clip in under five seconds.”
Maaks grinned like a schoolboy in a candy shop as he was handed the weapon. “Kandosii, I like it.”
Teroch smirked knowingly. “I knew you would, that’s why I made you two.”
The squad laughed at Maaks’ squee of joy as Teroch passed over the second, identical pistol.
“Right, this one is a doozy. Cel, I know you just love mind-raping computers, so I got you your very own sex doll, of sorts.” Teroch opened a crate, and pulled out an unusual-looking roughly spherical droid with four repulsor vanes protruding off it like flattened arms. “It’s an Arakyd Industries Z-58-0 Security Droid I’ve modified for your use. First and foremost, it’s array of sensors have been augmented, so you’ve got a whole host of different methods of detecting people, making it the ideal reconnaissance tool. It’s repulsorlift engines have been boosted so that it can hover at nearly five hundred meters above ground, allowing it to act as a UAV if we need an aerial view, it’s got a full-band holocomm unit, meaning that you can connect with the holonet remotely, and, naturally, I gave it a scomp link to allow you to plug into any local networks via this droid. In terms of other gadgets, it’s got a lanyard launcher, dart gun, ion cannon, and a barrier system which allows you to deploy it as a barricade, or to protect itself. Very versatile. I haven’t named it yet.”
Celahir looked at the droid with a mixture of reverence and admiration; it would be the perfect counterpart to his unique implants.
“No worries. Anyway, we deploy ahead of the fleet, so get acquainted with your gear quickly. We’ve also got the added complication of Wuntila coming along. I’ll be staying with him as bodguard for the duration of the op, but we all need to keep an eye in our shebs to make sure he doesn’t get shot, or he may cry. Maaks, you’re going to be taking point with our Chiss expert, Feta. Make sure she doesn’t die, please.”
The squad got to work and Teroch stepped out, sensing a familiar, if unwelcome, presence.
“Timeros, shouldn’t you be in the Darkest Night?” He greeted the Arconae neutrally, devoutly wishing he’d brought Kote out into the corridor with him.
“I’ll cut straight to the chase, boy. I can’t stop the Consul from going with you, but I will be with Socorra for the duration of this operation. Any harm that comes to him, I will inflict on the Erinos girl twice over. Make sure you do your utmost to uphold your oath and protect our leader. Oh, and I’d also hate for him to be caught in accidental friendly fire. See that he is unharmed. Understood?”
Teroch rolled his eyes and crossed his arms. “You need Socorra too much to harm her. Try a different tack, di’kut.”
He hadn’t even finished the sentence before Tim’s fingers curled around his throat and he was slammed up against the bulkhead. To the kid’s credit, he was as fast, and very, very nearly managed to avoid being grabbed, but Timeros Entar Arconae was known for three things: His speed, his swordplay, and his being a cold little bitch. There was a reason he was first and foremost known for being fast.
“Boy, A threat is an oath. I’ve said it now and you’d better believe me when I say that I will gut her like a fish if so much as a hair on Wuntila’s head is harmed. Do not test me.”
Without waiting for a response, Timeros released him and left Soulfire’s sergeant leaning up against the wall, gulping in air.
Zakath was in an angry mood as he paced restlessly around the passenger section of the shuttle that was conveying the Sith Warrior to the BAC Shadow. The fact that he had been dragged into a second conflict so soon after finishing his physical therapy had infuriated the Barabel, who was still getting used to the robotic arm that had replaced his organic one after its loss to Teroch in the recent feud. Despite all the wonders of cybernetics and bio-technology making replacement limbs feel as close to organic limbs as possible, Zakath couldn't shake the maddeningly cold and empty feeling that now existed where his right arm had once been.
And now, this new impending war had sucked him in, and this time due to a favor that he had owed Marick, and which Socorra had now seen fit to use in the Proconsul's stead. The only reason he had accepted the Socorran woman's command was simply because he could smell the Hapan man's scent lingering on her. Obviously they had mated.
Zakath was seriously beginning to doubt the wisdom of doing friends favors.
“Sir, we are docking with the Shadow now.” The pilot's voice sounded over the intercom. “We will be ready for disembarkation in five minutes.”
The Barabel grunted and headed for the exit ramp.
Time to find Scelestus and get the damned war over with.
The Sith Warrior's long thick tail swished as he strode through the corridors of the Shadow, heading toward the Gate Warden's office where he knew that Scelestus would be holed up.
Waiting for orders from his mistress, no doubt. Zakath thought, his lips curled back into a slight sneer. He had never cared much for Socorra's pet, and he wondered how capable the newly appointed spymaster would be at his new occupation. Zakath himself didn't have much patience or the will to act as a supervisor to the wide network of agents that Shadow Gate now commanded throughout Port Ol'val, which had to his resignation. Operating in the field was much more suited to the Sith Warrior's temperament.
The crewmen that conducted their menial tasks throughout the ship had wisely flattened themselves against the walls as the Barabel moved through the corridors, his eyes glowing a deep violet, reflecting his furious mood. Arriving at Scelestus' suite, Zakath merely snorted at the door chime button and keyed in the override code. With a beep of acknowledgment, the door slid silently open, and he entered, instantly spotting the human by the warm glow of the computer monitors.
“Any word yet from our Aedile, Warden?, Zakath hissed in a sibilant tone, his glowing violet eyes glaring down at the seated man as he crossed his arms.
1 hour to launch
There was worry in his eyes. A stare so bare and convoluted and glassy that his attempts at concealment showcased his concerns to any and all. He was an open book for all to read. But he was sure his secret – their secret – was safe. His gaze shifted uneasily around the room. From the datapads on his desk, to the bare walls, to the floor. He ran fingers through his long, jet black, silky hair and looked to the Dragon that stood before him.
“You… know what?”
“I know.” The Dragon spoke with less a voice, and more an abyssal grumbling.
Marick’s expression twisted. Anger swept across his face. His cheeks flushed with crimson. “How dare you accuse me of something without substantiating your claim-”
“I have not accused you of anything, pleswal.”
“Oh and you can stop with that unintelligible, barbaric tongue.” Marick sighed and looked away from the Dragon. He stood and turned on the ball of his foot, his long Mantle flowing behind him. Walking over to the viewport, he looked wistfully out into the vastness.
“You can stop with your dramatics, Marick. You know exactly what I am talking about. Your love affair… with Socorra. It is common knowledge amongst the Summit; the Arconae even have a tape-recording of one of your conversations.”
“You have been bugging my personal quarters?!” Marick hissed, snapping round to face the Dragon. He was angrier now. More crimson.
“No. It’s a standard installation. This very conversation is probably being monitored. Marick, I am simply here to warn you. For Arcona’s sake, do not let your feelings impede your objectivity. Arcona is one. The minute you fail to recognise that, I will deliver you to the darkness.”
“How dare you even-” The words were trapped in his throat. And his throat was clamped in the vice-like grip of the Consul. For a heavyset man, he could surely move.
“No, not how dare me. It is my responsibility; this Clan is my responsibility.” Wuntila spoke through clenched teeth. Jaw shaking, neck pulsating. “I don’t care who you play with. I don’t care who your friends are. I don’t care who you fuck. I care only for the wellbeing of Arcona. If you stand in the way of that, the Force is my guide, I will tear you in half with only my hands. Is that clear?”
The Dragon released his grip on the Hapan and Marick sucked in a mouthful of air. Surprisingly, Marick did not fall; he did not seem shaken. He simply dropped to one knee before the Consul and bowed a respectful, reverent bow.
Wuntila gripped him by the shoulders and pulled him easily to his feet. “This is your chance to command from the bridge. This is your chance to show Arcona that you are worthy. Do not fail.”
“May I ask why you are not leading the assault, Lord Consul?” Marick dared not refer to the Dragon in anything other than formality at that point. The two were very close friends, it was known, but Wuntila’s temperament was as difficult to judge as it was to win against Invictus in Jhabacc.
“I am leading the assault, Marick. I am where any leader should be: In the heart of the battle, at the forefront of the fighting. You are simply the one who directs the others.” The Dragon nodded and walked out into the corridor, ducking under the ‘low’ doorframe.
BAC Darknest Night
1 hour to launch
“It will be done.” Strategos nodded as the holoprojection of the Consul dematerialised before him. He grabbed one of the deckhands roughly by the shoulder. “Boy. Contact the Quaestor and his... aide. They will be here in 10 minutes.” The deckhand murmured a reply and darted off into the sea of people.
Sanguinius and Celevon appeared not five minutes later. Sanguinius held the datapad with the plan of attack firmly in his hand; Celevon was at the ready for any orders he might receive.
“Tsucyra. Celevon.” Strategos nodded, his hands tucked into his sleeves and crossed across his narrow chest. They reciprocated in kind.
“The Consul has given the orders. We embark in one hour. Give your orders to Spectre Cell. Soulfire have the Dragon; I’m sure he’ll find a way to keep them occupied.”
They nodded and scurried off toward the head of the bridge. Strategos smiled and slinked back into the corner. He was relieved; he never was one for effort.
1 hour to launch
Timeros nodded solemnly and watched the holoprojection flicker away. He beckoned the nearby Socorra and she came over to him, her arms tucked beneath her mountainous peaks. He had arrived back from the Invicta not ten minutes prior. His words to Teroch, he felt, had made their impact. At least somewhat.
“We launch within the hour. Make your preparations. Set Void and Shadow Gate their trajectories and tasks.”
En route - T-Minus 30 minutes until entry
Soulfire were huddled by the Valour’s Fall, the Frigate of choice for the late Sashar, former Consul and patriarch of the Erinos Clan. Also known as Soulfire. Surrounding them were the Erinos Clan proper; Seventy Mandalorians, kitted out from head-to-toe in armour which displayed the golden insignia of Arcona. Wuntila could not help but smile. He was followed by his twenty strong group of Summit guard, with Captain Bly to his left. Captain Felix had be left with Marick to oversee the Invicta’s operation.
“Ah. The esteemed Lord Consul.” Teroch chided sarcastically as he saw the approaching Exarch over the sea of Mandalorian faces, “How kind of you to join us.”
Wuntila looked around. These men and women were people who served him loyally. They were his first and last line of protection. But around Teroch, they had always seemed distant. As if kept on a leash by their tamer. Now, though, they seemed different. They were ready for war. And no amount of derogation by Teroch could hinder their spirits.
“I feel it is quite the gesture.” The Dragon replied in kind. He nodded to Nadrin, who stood off to the right of Teroch. The young masked Mandalorian nodded back.
“Now,” Teroch continued, “we are not thirty minutes away from the Treskov system. Soulfire, Wuntila, and the Summit guard will be aboard the Valour’s Fall. My Erinos brothers, you shall board the two MAATs our Consul has been so kind as to afford us. As soon as we enter the system, we are to launch. It is then our job to fight off the expected reconnaissance force. Is everyone clear?”
Arconans! This is the start of week 2 of the Run-On. Sorry its on the short side; I've had very little time to actually write the damned thing. Anyway, we are now entering the Treskov System. Write your particular units interactions and/or fighting with the enemy contingent force. A reminder to all members of the Summit: remember to direct your units in your posts. Give them something to work towards; give them tasks. You know the drill.
Next week will be the full assault. Build up to this moment. In the later posts, toward the latter half of the week, begin to write about the attack on the larger contingent. I'm sure this is all superfluous. You've all got Run-Ons down. Go get posting!
45 minutes to launch
Marick was seething, a torrent of emotions raging through his entire being and radiating outwards in an ominous aura as he marched towards the Invicta’s bridge. While not as potent as his former Master’s permanent use of the Force to emit a sphere of terror, crew members halted, saluted, or cleared a path for the Proconsul as his pristine black Invicta robes trailed at his heels. Marick kept his eyes forward and his jaw clenched, his movements fluid yet mechanical in their purpose. At his side, Kira padded along silent as a ghost, her heterochromatic eyes glancing about attentively. While not as thick as her brothers, the Cythraul’s shoulder blades now came up to the Hapan’s hip, her immaculate white fur slightly masking the lines of her tightly honed muscles.
You fool... Marick scolded himself. He had known that he was taking a risk with Socorra, but had honestly not expected everything to blow up this quickly. He had taken every precaution a former Captain of a Black Operations squad could take, and yet still everyone seemed to know. He was embarrassed and ashamed at the same time, but he let his anger and determination override the plethora of thoughts and feelings swirling around his mind. There would be plenty of time to reflect on his personal life after the enemy at hand had been defeated.
Yet still, Wuntila’s words had hit a nerve in the Hapan’s pride. Marick loved Arcona, had gone so far as to forsake his family name and fortune for the sake of pledging his unwavering fealty to the Shadow Clan. The thought of his actions in any way harming or hindering the Clan made him nauseous. Kira seemed to sense her masters unrest, and craned her neck up so that she could nuzzle her head against the side of his robes just under the mantle. Without looking, Marick’s hand scratched behind the Cythraul’s ears for a moment before returning to their regular motion.
The doors to the bridge slid open, and the officers all snapped to attention to salute their new Captain.
Ban Quell, Commanding Officer of the NSD Invicta bowed politely as he stepped aside from the podium that overlooked a series of terminals that fanned out in a semicircle around the perimeter of the room. The transparent observation glass showed how both terrifying and magnificent the empty void of space could be, everything from debris to spaceships clearly visible. Glancing down at the terminal before him, Marick tapped a series of keys that brought up a holographic interface. His fingers flexed as they danced across the keys, his eyes mechanically following the streams of data that came to his call.
The Invicta was the flagship to the First Clan of the Dark Jedi Brotherhood for a reason; her equipment was state of the art, detailed renderings of enemy ships, a read out of the status on Arcona’s Order of Battle, rosters of the AEF and DDF, access to the DIA’s database, everything a Commander could ever hope for in leading forces into battle.
Marick glanced around to the officers on deck who all seemed to either be staring at him or the white, wolf-like creature sitting at his side. They were all counting him, he knew, and each held a healthy mixture of fear and respect for their Force wielding masters, the Shadesworn. He gave those who acknowledged him a slight nod, before turning to address the room.
“Today, we face a mighty adversary that will show us no quarter if we hesitate even for a second. Usually it is Arcona that is on the defensive, but today, we strike first and take the battle to our foes. Arcona Invicta!” The Proconsul exclaimed, pounding his fist with his chest.
“Arcona Invicta!” The entire bridge roared in response.
Marick had never been one for speeches, and lacked the eloquent tongue of his Consul. Still, he knew what needed to be done to make sure his crew knew who they were fighting for.
T-Minus 30 minutes To Entry
Socorra stood on the bridge of the BAC Shadow , anxiously tapping away at her data pad. To the side, Timeros Entar Arconae loomed like the shadow of the grim reaper himself, overseeing the agents of the DIA that had been assigned to the Shadow.
Her communicator beeped, and the Aedile of House Qel-Droma tapped a button and the face of her Proconsul appeared. Even over holo comm, it was easy for her to make out the perfectly sculpted lines of his symmetrical, handsome face. She did well to hide her emotions to seeing him, but a smile did form on her ruby lips. Timeros watched carefully, his stoic visage unreadable.
“Greetings, your Honor,” she said slowly, knowing full well that Marick hated the use of the honorific.
“Aedile Socorra,” The Proconsul spoke slowly, his voice flat and devoid of any emotion over the comm. “Orders and details are being forwarded now”
“As you say, sir,” The Socorran replied with a nod.
“Remember what we talked about,” The Hapan said in a softer voice, his holographic eyes glancing over in the direction where he assumed Timeros to be standing.
“I will....” She muttered softly, glancing sidelong at the Entar and closing the comm. She was still furious at him for the beating he had given her in the Championship Ladder, and had spoken to Marick about working with the Entar, not against him. Being a leader was about sacrificing personal ego for the good of the Clan.
Shrugging off the thought, she focused on the data at hand. Void Squadron, along with some of the Shadow’s complement of fighters would engage the enemy head on in an attempt to bait them into sending their entire Force to crush the small sortie of starfighters. Silver Night and Shroud squadrons were made up of all TIE-Interceptors, and would help mask the stealth capabilities of Void’s Stealth X’s while sowing confusion into their opponents ranks...and bait them right back into the arms of the rest of Arcona’s forces.
Thumbing through the pad, she came upon a second set of orders labeled: Shadow Gate Her bright eyes scanned mechanically through the information, processing it effortlessly. Her eyes seemed to glow as she realized the plan, the information clicking into place in her mind. Her eyes glowed.
Marick wanted the Gatekeepers to infiltrate the Space Station that orbited Ebaq Nine - SoulFire’s target. Should the Chiss Force try and retreat or flea, they would likely head between the space station and the planet, using it for cover while pulling their forces off the ground. SG was to rig the power cells of the station to overload on command from a remote detonator. That way, if the Chiss wanted to retreat, they could blow them to smithereens. The thought seemed to excite the Erinos.
When she read the last part of the message, her smile vanished. She was to stay aboard the Shadow and coordinate the strike. Her muscles ached to punch something, and it took every ounce of restraint she had not to glower at the Entar watching her silently from off to the side.
Timeros clasped his hands casually behind his back and offered the Aedile a simple smile. While his lips showed a mock kindness, his eyes showed something different.
I’m watching you, they seemed to say. Remember the Arena...
She thought of Marick, then, and let her rage subside as she made her way towards a terminal and donned a headset.
BAC Darkest Night
T-Minus 30 Minutes to entry
Sanguinus Entar heard the beep on his communicator and punched a set of keys to bring up the face of Marick Arconae.
“Sang. I assume everything is well on the Darkest Night?” The Proconsul’s voice chattered over the comm.
“Just so, sir. Do you have orders?” The Entar replied curtly.
“Details are being sent to your PDA. Marick out.”
Sang pulled out his personal data pad and swiped an unlock code across the screen. His eyes flicked over the information, and he nodded slowly in understanding.
The last of the Shadow Gate members filed into the room and Socorra and Scelestus finished up their informal chat by the entryway. The Aedile pushed off the wall and made her way to the front of the room to the podium standing in front of the large displays on the wall.
"Welcome aboard the Shadow," Socorra greeted the Gatekeepers as they took their seats. The woman was clad in her Invicta robes, the silk, armor, and golden embroidery a stark contrast to the urban Port Ol'val attire they were accustomed to seeing her wear. Her raven mane was cut short as well, and her hands, holding the sides of the podium, were marked with burn scars no doubt from the recent combat Ladder. There were almost no traces of the extreme damage wrought to her face and skin by Timeros, except those visible with a close eye.
Akua, the black-furred Cythraul pup with a permanently flopped over ear, sat quietly at her side, sniffing the air and idly looking over the room's occupants. She was several months old now, her curious and playful nature affording others the chance to play along as well. On the other side of her sat Ktah, the older and much larger male sibling with blue-midnight fur and blazing eyes as bright crimson as his Chiss master Invictus’. He too was just as curious.
"Invictus will be with Void, so I am your captain for this voyage,” Socorra began again. “As most of you know, Timeros Entar is the Director of the Dajorra Intelligence Agency, and I am the former Senior Analyst, now his assistant. As he has been assigned to the Shadow for this operation, this ship has taken on special tasks for the duration, which leads me to my point."
The display behind her lit up with images of the installations at Ebaq 9, and the surrounding area.
"On your datapads you will find what we have available on the Chiss assets. There is a space station in orbit around Ebaq 9. Your job will be to infiltrate and rig its power cells to overload on command from a remote detonator.
“If in the event that you find this to be an easy task, I wouldn't mind an attempt at stealing their databases or anything of significant value. But that is a low priority over rigging the cells. I just happen to like souvenirs,” she smirked. “Scelestus will be leading the operation. All of our resources are available to you for the mission. Questions?”
“Are you not coming with us?” Scelestus asked.
Her smirk dropped slightly and her voice betrayed a hint of frustration. “No. My explicit orders are to stay here and coordinate the strike.”
Seeing no other questions, she continued. “I realize this is not your typical intelligence agent operation, but frankly, there isn’t much in the way of spy work during the battle. Though, I would love the entertainment of everyone in the room slapping on blue makeup and attempting to speak Cheunh.”
The room erupted with a few chuckles.
“You are all more than qualified for a quiet sabotage mission. When you arrive, get me patched in immediately and I will watch and guide you through the station via their network. Your mobile translators should be able to assist you inside, but barring that, I know the language quite well. You can thank our Quaestor and former Rollmaster for that,” she smiled. “If there are no more questions, then I bid you good hunting, Gatekeepers.”
She gestured to Scelestus to take the floor.
OOC - Posted on behalf of Nadrin
Nadrin felt the weight of what seemed to be a thousand stares piercing him, even though the truth was that he was ignored by and large. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t like his squadmates, he was getting on well with them in fact, it was more the fact that he still hadn’t quite gotten used to the atmosphere that surrounded Soulfire. Everyone was one big family, and it was taking him more than a bit of getting used to.
Cry me a river, they have accepted you and now it’s past time you accepted them.
Raising his head, the teenager looked around at the people crowded onto the craft that was transporting them to their newest impossible mission. Everyone seemed…remarkably at ease about the fact that they were hurtling headfirst into the lion’s den and Nadrin had to admit that a small part of him feared what was to come. He told himself it was natural, but as he watched the Consul stand stoically in the corner and his Sergeant share jokes with his troops, the Battlelord wondered if he was a little out of his depth. The weight of the new rifle that Teroch had given to him was a constant reminder of something far heavier that weighed down on him going into his first official Soulfire mission; the weight of expectation.
Don’t mess this up, these are the only people you have left.
Even as his internal melodrama played out, a figure approached the masked Sith and thrust something into his face. Woken from his own thoughts, Nadrin took the offered cigarette from his squadmate and cocked his head slightly, causing Juda to guffaw with laughter.
“Kid, you smoke it. Trust me, you need someone to save you from your own thoughts, and it looks like it’s fallen to Uncle Juda to be the responsible one.”
Nadrin paused for a second before removing his mask, putting the cigarette into his mouth and igniting it from the lighter that Juda offered. Taking a drag, he marvelled at the wonderous taste as smoke filled his mouth.
Right before he coughed harder than he ever had before.
“Son of a…”
Juda laughed again and patted Nadrin on the back, clearly pleased to be corrupting more of Arcona’s youth. However, the young Sith had instead noticed that a fair few helmets were pointed his way and realised with a start that, to many of them, it would be like seeing a ghost rise from the dead, albeit one who was about half the age.
Oh well, no hiding it now.
Feigning unconcern, the teenager continued to attempt to smoke the cigarette, hoping to Slice that he wouldn’t have another coughing fit and draw yet more attention to himself.
Ginnafae opened her left eye and surveyed her surroundings through a pain filled haze. Her right eye was still swollen shut and she could feel the wires locking her jaw in place scraping against the bone as the swelling tried to pry her mouth open. The completion of her first ACB had been far more difficult than she had thought and the fact that she survived was an amazing feat. Of course, she had help from some unlikely sources and if it hadn’t been for that last minute intervention she was sure she would be dead, which considering the amount of pain she was in now probably would have been preferable.
Aside from the beeping of the stasis monitor, the only other sound was the incessant clicking of the fingers of her artificial hand fluttering at random intervals. Her allergy to bacta made her recovery time far longer, and her inability to focus through the pain caused by the extent of her injuries was just more proof she had a long road to haul before reaching Dark Jedi Knight.
She stretched out with her senses, trying to determine what the disturbance in the Force was that caused many in the House to depart system suddenly, but the pain overwhelmed her senses, causing her to fall into a red-rimmed haze in which she saw blue skinned Chiss, Arconans garbed in Mandalorian battle gear, a space station orbiting a green jungle planet, and interwoven within those images, sensations of pain, fear, rage, death, and betrayal!
I have to contact my Master! Ginnafae thought, trying to rise out of the med capsule. As she rose suddenly, she felt a blinding flash of agony as her forehead connected solidly with the lid of the pod. Tears ran down her swollen cheeks as she tried to concentrate through the waves of pain and nausea that threatened to overwhelm her. A shadow fell over her face, causing her to look through the transparent canopy. One of the MD-3A droids stared down at her, its emotionless visage bringing no confort.
“Looks like you’re awake Jedi Hunter Delacor”, the droid said, its synthetic voice sounding even more robotic through the internal speaker set in the pillow of the pod.
“Iiii eeed uh huhooounuhhaaaahuun haannnnell ooo Maaaasssuuuur Innnhictusss,” Ginnafae said through clamped jaws, the effort of speaking making her vision swim.
“I am sorry, but my language lexicon is limited and I do not understand what you are trying to say. You need to rest; I will give you something that will help you sleep. Sleep is the fastest way to recovery,” it said in its faux-chipper voice.
“Sleep well, Mistress Delacor,” the droid said as it pushed the button injecting sedatives into her IV tube. Ginnafae focused her concentration trying to detoxify the sedative, but her body, taxed as it was, could not counter it and she drifted off, her mental visions slurring and tumbling in her skull.
Watch your back, Master! was her last thought and she tried to scream it through the Force; she could only hope somewhere he heard it as everything went dark.
(OOC: I am sorry, but I have a lot of class work and I don’t know if I’ll be able to post as much as I’d like, so I wanted to participate without committing myself too deeply into the story.)
Legorii had moved from his demeaning duties on the bridge to join his new battleteam for their briefing, and he was relieved to finally have a real job to do. Seated next to Cethgus, the Anzat had listened patiently while his Aedile elaborated on their mission, eager to get started on the exciting work of blowing things up and killing people. As soon as Socorra finished, she gave Scelestus the floor, and it was he who took charge.
Socorra herself had placed Legorii on the team just hours earlier, after watching his talents going to waste watching viewports on the bridge of the cruiser. He had been the last to arrive at the briefing room, and was taking the spot left by a Jedi Hunter, Ginnafae Delacor, who was stuck on Arconae Primus recovering from some nasty injuries she had recently suffered. Having worked with a few of the squad’s members in the past, and being close with Cethgus and Strategoes, the Archpriest quickly became comfortable in his new unit.
Leaning in toward the Exarch seated next to him, Legorii whispered, “Overload the power cells? It sounds like we want to prevent a retreat.” Cethgus inclined his head slightly in response, but kept his eyes forward. Though he appeared to be paying immense attention to the briefing, his fellow Entar knew him too well to believe this - the Dark Jedi was surely allowing his mind to wander, thinking of things far removed from the battle that they would soon be plunged into. Across the room, the others seemed to be doing the same.
Glancing to his left again, Legorii watched for a few seconds as Cethgus cleaned a standard-issue rifle, preparing himself for the looming conflict. All around the room, the savvy veterans of Shadow Gate privately made their own preparations for their new mission, while Scelestus took the podium at the front of the room. One Qel-Droman who the Krath paid particular attention to was Zakath, an experienced Barabel who cut an intimidating figure at two meters tall. He was a fighter, with scars and cracks visible across his obsidian scales.
Legorii was less of a brute-force warrior than Zakath, priding himself more on fighting smart. His training in the arts of the Anzati assassins of old enabled him to be a fearsome killer and notorious duelist, but when it came to open battlefields, it was men like Zakath who were better-suited for the front lines. For Shadow Gate’s new mission, the Archpriest hoped his skills would be of some use to his Clan; although he knew little of the mechanical processes necessary to rig up the power cells as the Summit desired, the Entar knew he would be capable of taking out any targets the team encountered.
Despite being on a separate ship, Legorii had been in communication with some of his Entar brothers elsewhere in the fleet, and he had heard tell of Soulfire Strike Team’s mission. If the rumors were true, they would be headed straight to the surface of Ebaq 9, spearheading Clan Arcona’s assault on the forces assembled there. A prestigious assignment indeed, and a dangerous one. In the past, while serving with Oblivion Brigade, Legorii had been resentful of the privilege and honors afforded the so-called “elite” team. He believed they were no better than the rest of Arcona’s teams, and while he had served as a battleteam leader, he’d have sworn to any man willing to listen that his team would beat Soulfire in any contest.
The Krath sighed slightly, and leaned back in his chair. His crimson eyes locked onto Scelestus’ face as he began to address the assembled Dark Jedi, standing proudly at the head of one of the most capable battleteams in the Brotherhood, regardless of whether they were called “elite” or not.
Despite himself, Legorii felt a bit of pride well up within him as he sat alongside his new teammates, ready to descend into the hell of war.
His men sat in their own little worlds. They looked like heavily armoured tanks, in their armour. The drop-bay had few enough lights, and their darkened armour was hardly visible in the dull red illumination. By now, everyone had their routines. Juda, in flagrant disregard for regulations, had his helmet off and was smoking, humming tunelessly to himself. Xathia was probably looking through a picture album of her daughter which was saved onto her helmet, Celahir would doubtlessly by trying his absolute hardest to crash some poor operating system allocated to a non-vital system on the Valour’s Fall whilst listening to glimmick music, Maaks, not having the ability to view a HUD, was meditating (or at least trying to), Nadrin was sat as far from everyone else as he could be, keeping to himself, and Xar was triple-checking his veritable mountain of weapons. Between the two racks of seats running the length of the enlarged airlock was a large, air-tight container with advanced repulsors, dual chute launchers, and inertial compensators. Inside were the three Cythraul.
It was easy being the Sergeant at times like these. He could keep himself busy encouraging his men to be calm, prepared and ready for the fight to come. The troops, however, could do nothing but listen and fret. His heart went out to Nadrin the most. A boy of fourteen with severe self-confidence issues, he’d struggled a lot with Soulfire’s training. Technically, he wasn’t rated for the squad. He couldn’t keep up with them physically. Not by a long shot, and whilst the theory side of things and the technical side he had down, the clone was worried that his younger ‘brother’ would crack under pressure. Nadrin had yet to kill anyone.
The doors opened and Wuntila marched in, took a look at the assembled commandoes and glared at Juda, who promptly put out the cigarette and pulled on his helmet.
“Consul on deck.” Teroch murmured into the squad-only frequency, his voice laced with sarcasm.
A few chuckles answered him, and then a baritone cut through the muted laughter. “Thank you, Sergeant. How long until we jump?”
Teroch cursed inwardly. Of course Wuntila would have tuned into the squad frequency if he’d be fighting with them.
“Uhh, we’re good to go in about...thirty seconds, actually.”
Ahead of schedule, the Valour’s Fall dropped out of hyperspace at the rendezvous at the edge of the Treskov system, safely out of the range of the Chiss Forces’ senses.
“Marick, commence the first stage.” Wuntila ordered into his comlink, then pulled on his own helmet.
“Copy that. Good luck.” Marick’s clipped voice responded.
The frigate then re-entered hyperspace, its stealth systems still engaged, and dropped out just inside the gravity well of Ebaq Nine, along with eight Stealth-X fighters. both of the bay doors on the Valour’s Fall opened, and the two MAATs carrying the Erinos heavy Infantry shot out. Void Squadron immediately sprung into action. An orbital defence platform’s guns were rotating to fire on the vulnerable picket ship, but a barrage of Shadow Bombs lanced out and tore apart the installation in one salvo.
The main fleet channel was alight with comm chatter, which most of the fleet could only listen to, given that they were waiting at the rendezvous until the Creeping Darkness was in position, and the commando raids had softened up the defences.
“[Void Squadron reports a kill. Station is down. Fall, you are free to descend. Happy Hunting].” Kalon sounded out as Void moved on to create more chaos in orbit.
“[Copy that, Void One. Descending to drop point. We’ve got a wing of Clawcraft on Long Range. Telemetry indicates that they’re splitting into two groups. One after you, one after us. You going to be able to provide close support when we reach orbit again?]” Captain Yamato instantly answered.
“[Two, break left, you got flak coming up from that refuelling station. Who puts guns on a refuelling station, anyway? Fall, Copy that. We’ll cover as best we can when you get back up, so long as you don’t catch that dirty great Hyper-velocity cannon on the way out.]”
“[Roger, we’ll be up after strafing the hangar complex in approximately twelve minutes].” Yamato replied as the nose of the Valour’s Fall started to glow from friction as the ship descended, listing to the left and avoiding a surface-to-air missile.
The warning light on the wall changed from red to orange. “Soulfire, on your shab’la feet!” Teroch barked, and suited action to words. His squad lined up along one wall, grabbing the hand-rail running above their heads.
Wuntila strolled briskly to the other side, his summit guard lining up behind him. The two Arconae exchanged a glance as the Fall devoured more and more distance, and the assembled soldiers started to feel the gravity compete with the artificial gravity of the ship.
The doors opened before them.
“Oya! Go! Go! Go!” The youth shouted, and hurled himself through the breach.
Thirty small dark smears tore through the thin, insubstantial atmosphere of Ebaq Nine. They shot down, undetected as fire tore from the cannons on the Fall about them like drops of rain. Typically, the Picket wasn’t used as an assault ship, given its light armament, however it was perfect for pouring down a barrage of lightly-powered laser in what would definitely be an ineffectual strike, but it’d disguise the infiltration.
Teroch let out an exubilant whoop of pure unadulterated joy as he tore towards the planet, the pinprick which had once been the hangar facility growing ever larger in his field of vision.
“Sarge, I wanna be sick...” Nadrin’s voice quietly came over the comm feed.
Teroch laughed jubilantly. “Don’t be sick in your helmet, ad’ika.”
Even with the flimsy excuse for atmo which ringed Ebaq Nine, the Arconae could still feel the drag as he dropped like a stone. He twisted back into formation and at fifty meters, safely below radar range, he hit the thrusters.
Thirty flares of light shone out briefly, and the team was down.
15 minutes prior to briefing
Scelestus was entirely nonplused at the abrupt appearance of Zakath. He had entirely expected the overgrown lizard to do something entirely like this move to assess the strength of the new Warden. Keeping that in mind, the inherent disrespect and challenge in Zakath's tone, didn't even phase him. "Greetings, Zakath. As a matter of fact, she has not reached out to us as of yet." He was interrupted by the beep of his datapad, signaling the arrival of a message. Briefly scanning the encrypted file, he spins around in his chair grabbing his outer robe and saber before addressing the Barabel again. "Actually, she just summoned the entire battle team to a briefing in Ready Room Alpha in fifteen minutes. You may accompany me if you wish, otherwise I'll see you there." The human swept past the larger predator giving the air of complete nonchalance as to what the Keeper did next.
Arriving early for the briefing afforded the spymaster the chance to catch up with Socorra and get the basic gist of the upcoming mission before it officially started. However, he paid close attention to every word the flowed out of the Socorran woman's mouth. That exotic accent was hypnotizing and he was sure that she knew it. There was no doubt that she had capitalized on that asset many times before. With a start he realized that she had turned the meeting over to him, and he was forced to shake himself back to the reality of the mission at hand as he took his place at the podium.
"Greetings, Keepers, glad to see you here, for it will take all of us to complete this operation." He paused for a moment to let the importance of team work soak in to the minds of the assembled agents. "Unfortunately some of our senior membership has been tasked with other assignments, but I have no doubt that those of us in this room will be successful. Obviously, I don't need to tell you that this assignment isn't exactly our routine mission. However, you all know that we are more than capable of getting the job done." Another pause to be sure that they were all paying attention before he moved on to the particulars of the op, the meat and potatoes, if you will. "I intend to use each of you in the role that you have proven to be your strongest, while we will simultaneously have secondary assignments to assure the redundancy that will guarantee our success."
Turning his attention to each member, he addresses them all by name as he gives them their role in the upcoming mission. "Zakath, Legorii, there is no question that you are the best among us in combat, therefore I am giving you the task of being the tip of the spear. It will fall on you to punch through enemy resistance and cover the rest of the team. You'll be the first in and the last out. Andraste, Incendus, you'll be watching our flanks. Your job will be to ensure that we are not surrounded or ambushed. Walker and Cethgus will bring up our rear. My assignment will be to both assist the front and rig the subsystems to explode."
Gesturing to a holoprojection that appeared over his left shoulder and showed schematics of the target, he continued, "While our primary objective will be to turn the station's systems on themselves, I plan for each of us to carry a small demo charge that will be our ace in the hole if things don't go as planned. I've ascertained, and Socorra concurs, that placing charges at the highlighted locations will accomplish the same effect. The problem is that there are more locations to cover, and that increases the difficulty, which is why that isn't our first choice."
"That is all that I have for you by way of briefing. I know that I don't have to tell you what gear to bring, so I won't insult you. I just ask that you be locked, loaded, and ready to kick blue ass in an hour. If you have any questions, the floor is open, otherwise, you are dismissed."
The eight pilots of Void Squadron were finding the enemy hard work. They were heavily outnumbered, though their ships and pilots were far superior. The situation was a reverse of the one Andrelious had cut his piloting teeth in, but he was not deterred. The Sith was a piloting veteran, carrying far more experience behind the stick of a fighter than many of the squadron.
Despite his years of knowledge, he had never seen a Nsiss-class fighter before. When he had heard that they were the likely enemy he had studied the ship in as great a detail as he could. Now, what he had learned allowed him to defend himself better against the Chiss onslaught.
“Keep your eyes on your sensors, Snabbie!” Inahj warned as noticed an enemy ship try to slide behind his colleague. The Jedi Hunter acknowledged the message and threw his fighter into an evasive manoeuvre, easily out flying the ‘Clawcraft’.
The sensors of Andrel’s StealthX were filled with bright purple dots, indicating dozens of enemies. The Battlelord would target the nearest enemy and bare down on it, his training and instincts only further boosted by his prowess with the Force. He had soon eliminated six fighters, though one of those was a disputable kill thanks to the assistance of Kant Lavar.
“Keep it up, Inahj!” Kalon encouraged, as his ex-Imperial colleague weaved through enemy fire with a carefully timed barrel roll. The titular leader of Void, though, was worried – he did not feel comfortable with Inahj his squadron. The Battlelord was known to possess a dislike for the Mandalorian pilot, suspecting him to be one of Sashar’s puppets. Andrelious had even gone as far to ‘look after’ the younger pilots in the squadron. With Consul Zratian already believing Kalon to have failed one mission, the Knight knew he would have to perform well now or face demotion.
One of the Chiss ships managed to draw a bead on Mazer, who was the lowest pilot within the squadron and seen by a few within Void as a weak link. Some had even tried to have the Protector temporarily transferred to Shadow Gate – he was a Chiss and, it was suggested, that he would be able to infiltrate the enemy. This idea had been loudly vetoed by Kalon. The Protector pulled his flightstick from side to side, trying to jink away from the enemy, but it remained steadfastly attached to his tail, firing from time to time. The Nssis-class ship even managed to hit the young Sith a few time with its lasers, the weakened shields of the StealthX barely holding.
Another light began to flash in Mazer’s cockpit, whilst his astromech beeped a warning. The Clawcraft was about to fire a warhead! It was evidently one of the newer models that had appeared, for the originals carried no ability to launch missiles.
“Watch out! They have warheads!” the Protector yelled through his comm, as he continued to attempt to evade his enemy. The warning light stopped flashing, but became solid red. Mazer closed his eyes and shunted as much power as he could to his rear shields, praying it would be enough when the impact came.
The impact never came. Within milliseconds of the lock being established, Kalon had destroyed Mazer’s pursuer, taking his own tally up to five kills.
“You’re clear, Mazer! Get back into the action!” the Knight ordered, as he selected another target from the ever dwindling numbers of enemies.
As the final syllable of Scelestus’ dismissal was heard throughout the briefing room, the members of Shadow Gate rose. Nodding to Cethgus as the two parted, Legorii made his way over to Zakath. Extending a hand, the Anzat looked the towering Barabel in the eyes as he greeted him.
“Zakath, good to see you no more the worse for wear. I presume you are ready to sweep that station clean of hostiles?” Legorii’s easy, conversational tone concealed the true weight of the dialogue that he was beginning, as it was the foundation for a partnership that would soon be tested by enemy fire.
Zakath responded seriously, “I am. I’ll be carrying my customary blaster pistol and rifle, as well as my saber, of course.” As if to prove a point, the Sith Warrior showed off a clean rifle, something that he had been working on as he sat in on the briefing.
“Excellent, excellent,” Legorii replied. “I’ll have my lightsaber and rifle, as well as a katana, if we need a sword for anything.” As the two leads for the Shadow Gate mission, they would be encountering the brunt of the enemy force, and would be charged with mowing down the masses of guards and troopers thrown at them. Trusting that their flanks would be protected by their fellow Qel-Dromans, they intended to focus fully on whatever lay before them.
Having never fought as a pair before, despite sharing the same battlefield on at least one occasion, the men began to talk tactics, agreeing that Zakath would serve as the “tank”, the main smasher, while Legorii would provide more precision and grace in eliminating any potential obstacles. Their planning lasted long past the scattered conversations of the other team members, until they found themselves forced to separate to make their final preparations for their deliverance to the station.
Gunship - Shadow Gate Transport
As the transport carrying Shadow Gate hurtled toward the station orbiting Ebaq Nine, Legorii sat between Zakath and Cethgus, turning over in his hands the small explosive that would serve as his back-up charge, should the power cell operation fail. He detested explosives, mindful of the mess that they created, but he respected their usefulness. His blaster rifle lay across his lap, ready to be fired at will.
The vacuum outside of the transport was in chaos, as frenzied Arconan fighters swarmed the Chiss flotilla. The transport’s pilot was tuned to the comm chatter of Void Squadron, and the disorganized dog-fighting between the StealthX fighters and the Chiss Clawcraft created a brilliant spectacle for those watching from the bridges of the capital ships and cruisers. Socorra was getting a show, but she surely would have rathered be in the thick of the action with Shadow Gate.
Scelestus’ voice hissed through the small vessel, “One minute till disembark. We’re going out guns blazing, boys.” His crimson eyes gleaming, the Anzat’s pulse raced and his heart pounded as he waited the remaining seconds before charging down the landing ramp into an unknown quantity of enemy soldiers. The blood in his adrenaline stream rushed through every inch of his frame, prepping him for the pressure of combat.
And then it was go time.
The transport touched down inside the station’s hangar, with its fighter escort having taken out the weapons systems and shields that would have prevented a smooth landing. Zakath was the first out of the ship, his sanguine lightsaber ignited and cutting through a Chiss marine in the hangar. Legorii, close behind, loosed his opening volley of shots from the A280, tearing through a pair of Chiss who were charging toward their position.
In seconds, Shadow Gate had filed out of the transport and formed up around its landing ramp, standing firm against the initial on-rushing guards. Registering kill after kill, the team made quick work of the rank-and-file soldiers in the hangar. As they cleaned up the final stragglers, Scelestus issued his orders.
“Form up behind Legorii and Zakath! You are all familiar with the schematics - move out along our favored route, and move quickly. We are far outnumbered and we have no lifeline here, so there is no time to hesitate.” The team leader’s voice rang out and echoed slightly in the massive hangar, and his commands were followed immediately, without question, as the team began its mission.
Maaks’ Soulfirian armor was an uncomfortable fit. Having grown several inches, he was in dire need of a new flight suit, the previous one being a tight fit by itself and found that the plating grated against his body, impeding a lot of movement. He got to work straight away, tweaking and flattening the parts he felt he could manage to change, taking on a sort of trance to busy his mind. His body had undergone some strenuous activity in his time away from his clan, pushing out muscles where they had not been before and increasing his build. He observed his form through the Force, silently and diligently, working to perfect any flaws he could determine. It was a sort of ritual, a way of conceding to the inevitable battle and accepting it into his appearance.
He removed as much as possible to give as much flexibility as possible, discarding shoulder pads, removing the sleeves and swapping his armored pants for a pair of loose fitting combat pants. It worked, giving a fresh grace to his movements that assured him of adaptability. He took a moment, sitting upon the standard bed within his room and began an internal sweep of his body, eventually shuffling backwards into a lotus position to focus on his meditation.
As his link with Force dwindled, along with his aided sight, he allowed his mind to still, softening to outside disturbances. It was soothing and yet empowering at the same time, having access to the deeper part of his mind and the silent knowledge it held. It was peaceful and fluid, something that was not quite comprehended by the shadowed masses of the Brotherhood, to be perfectly one without the Force.
A tingle swelled within him, drawing his mind’s absent gaze to focus. Irritated, the young Miraluka drew himself within once more, nulling the desire to search out twitches in his mind.
Again, stronger. A surge of emotion, the blackness swirling, spiralling, drawing hs weakness out like venom from a wound-
He jumped up, panting and sweating, his vision fogged by confusion. He looked upon the small communicator that lay by his bed. He could not take his eyes away from it, controlling his breathing and administering his will to administer restrictions upon his panic. The comm-link simply lay there, deactivated and quiet.
His pride stopped the subtle reaching out to his sister Erinos through the Force. He decided that it was unnecessary, that he could handle it, that he would handle it.
Secret Intelligence Depot
The atmosphere was hectic, with DIA operatives rushing to and fro, collecting specific data to be brought aboard the BAC Shadow. There was the gentle hum that accompanied a workplace, coupled with the unnatural buzzing of holonet feeds of reporting field agents and the concise conversations between colleagues. Perhaps the only silent person in the room was Aedile Socorra, secret head of the Dajorra Intelligence Agency. Her eyes were lit intensely by vast lines of data, quickly absorbed into her encyclopedic memory, each paragraph of her operatives reports read briefly and ordered perfectly. She was a treasure to her clan, but more importantly to her family.
“Do you have a moment?”
Without looking up, Socorra shook her head violently, not risking an interruption of her train of thought. The Miraluka kneeled carefully, puckered his lips and blew gently into her ear. She flinched, or rather, leapt out of her chair with both hands ready to break the perpetrator when she suddenly realised who it was. Swallowing down the build up of expletives in her mouth she pointed abruptly at the chuckling youth.
“Maaks, right? Wow...that was a pretty informal greeting.”
The Knight shrugged, smiling whilst holding out his hand.
“I realised you were busy so I thought it would be best not to act like someone you’re used to would. Glad it worked, though.”
The Socorran smiled wanly, her eyebrows raised as she straightened herself out and carefully rearranged her mountainous peaks. She returned to her seat and crossed her legs, re-applying a more focused, leader-worthy pose and addressed him with a serious gaze.
“Was there something I could help you with?”
The humour dropped from his face immediately, sheepishly looking around at the amount of bustling operatives. The Aedile clicked on immediately, nodding and walking briskly towards the hallway and eventually her office, indicating a quieter and slightly less obvious place for a private conversation.
“I think...I need some help. It’s just that....”
“What is it you need, brother? You can trust me with this, I promise you.”
“Well...”, the youth glanced up from behind black circular lenses. There was fear in his face, Socorra decided, and it was a true fear that even youth knows well. The female Krath made up her mind and reached out to him with the Force, politely yet probing. She met tension, but not from his emotional state. From his constant use of the Force to give him sight there was always a gentle scent about him that seemed natural, as it was for a Miraluka. The Priest was met with a pulse unlike anything she had ever experienced. It was as if his capabilities within the Force were bunched and knotted to form an almost palpable layer.
She frowned, searching the Knight’s face for any indication that he would be causing this. She placed her hand on his shoulder and nodded to a passing operative with professional nonchalance and then pushed against the barrier. Maaks made no sound and no protest as she gradually sliced through layer upon layer of contorted defenses. He lacked any natural reaction from a Jedi that was being probed by another, it was impossible to ignore in any usual situation. What made matters more complex was that there was absolutely no Force signature attached to the strange formation, it belonged to neither dark nor light nor any living being. She found the final layer, looking as if she was staring at an especially interesting spot on Maaks’ chest. It was gentle, but there was a light throb emanating from within. She closed her eyes, and with further aid of the Force numbed her senses one by one until she was totally synced with her probe. The veil was keeping her senses out with ease and this was worrying. Her memory seemed to come alive in this moment, dredging up several case studies of force based entities committing to some kind of possession, but it was always documented that these were generally Dark side entities that had a clear signature. It was perplexing, but her passion for discovery urged her forward. Reminding herself of the basics of mental probing, she began to imagine her invading psyche as a sort of sharp point, gently penetrating the shell. Still, no response from inside, until it popped.
Her mind was shaken, spun and suddenly the cold, crisp hands of dread grasped her with such ferocity that she feared she would be lost. She struggled against the bizarrely mute torrent of thought but with a surge of will, stilled it.
The Aedile opened her eyes, collecting her thoughts and shaking her faculties awake. The youth looked expectant and hungry for answers but the truth was she had nothing concrete to give. What she had seen...it would take time to fully comprehend. It was the worst timing possible, but she knew the young Knight’s focus had to be maintained for this Operation.
“Well, it looks like you have a little party going on in there. I’m guessing it’s been caused by some kind of stress or grievance?” Only a half lie, she felt the stings of guilt as she used the death of Sashar to put him to ease. Its necessity was validated, however by the expression of relaxation in Maaks’ body language.
“Yes, yes...I guess I have been quite tired as of late.”
“Then I advise that you meditate more often and get enough rest, otherwise it could continue-.”
The Socorran was betrayed by her emotions, instinctively reaching out and hugging the poor lad. His shoulders seemed to take on such an honest slump that it made her heart ache. Everyone had lost something important in their lifetime and this one seemed to be his biggest. She shook her emotion away and stepped back, smiling into the reflection of his glasses. Pulling out a compact datapad, she gave him a private frequency to contact her just in case he wanted to talk again, wishing him luck on his deployment. He nodded in reply, his actions hollow and bid Socorra goodbye.
Returning to sit in the hustle and bustle of her operatives, she found her mind in two places. Her tasks at hand were piling up with every second, but her thoughts dwindled around her strange meeting with her brother and the rather creepy discovery she had made.
She focused her eyes once more upon the flashing screen and opened a new feed, stalling her immediate responsibilities. A familiar face appeared on the screen, but her face was grim with concern.
Ebaq 9, Moonbase
The blast of bright propulsion cued a silence through the Hangar’s bustling preparations. It was short lived. The facility erupted into action, blaster fire shared by either side as the motions of battle were taken well underway. Movement on either side was stale as they fought to defend their ground, but nevertheless, a sudden appearance by Arcona put the Chiss at a slight disadvantage.
The change in pace began as soon as blue-skinned reinforcements filed in from a far entrance, making the squad come to life. Wuntila led the summit guard forward and to the left whilst Teroch and Soulfire came up unrelenting from the right.
“Maaks, Xathia, up front!” Teroch ordered quickly over the commlink, tossing a smoke grenade far into the foreground with the aid of the Force, “Cel, up and over! Xar, give him some cover! Nadrin, Juda, hukaat'kama!”
They burst into life, Celahir leaping up onto one of the many clawcraft and providing higher ground cover coupled with Xar’Kahn on the ground. Teroch and his companions travelled through the fire, obliterating all in their path until they made their way to the Consul and helped push them through to the other side.
“Where are we?”
“Soulfire is pushing them round onto your side. More guns means more firepower, so we’re making it impossible for them to get any ground on us.”
“Good, then I think it’s time we push them through entirely. Thoughts?”
His response was an excitable cry as Teroch kneeled, engaging a command in his HUD.
The thinning smoke held death in its cloak, as great scythes of amethyst energy cut gratuitously from within. Those beyond its reach were granted with sprays of crimson and flechettes, slicing and burning their opponents into submission. There was no thought, no consideration, only the joy of engagement as Maaks and Xathia, linked subtly through the Force, harmonised their attacks to a state of perfection.
Suddenly, an internal alarm was felt by the two simultaneously as they shared a glance, leaping over the main crowd and into the foray. They were briefly overwhelmed by the sudden shift of pace, relying on an abrupt display of hand-to-hand.
There were screams beyond the feint veil and a bloodthirsty snarl. The patter of gentle steps rushed with ferocity. Maaks, snapping away from an opponent, whistled loudly, grinning and quickly returning to the fight.
The Cythraul leapt, their preys’ lives forfeit beneath their pounce.
Blood fell from the sky in a torrential downpour, soaking Socorra’s fine raven hair and giving her golden skin a new crimson hue. Her heart began to race and her palms sweat as panic set in. Her fears seemed to take shape and come alive before her very eyes.
Was it a dream? A vision? A taste of things to come?
The memories of the Championship Ladder crept over her skin, sweat trickling over her brow as the images flailed about the woman's consciousness. Her shivers recalled the torment and the raging fires that had lapped at her flesh, reminding her of her closeness to death. The images morphed into reality, tears falling from her eyes as she suddenly relived every single horrifying moment of the Ladder.
Then came The Well.
The screams of thousands dead reverberated from the rotten blood-filled pit, the very thing that the Entars supposedly worshipped; filled with the souls of those they had allegedly killed. The Priestess had doubted it was real, but when Timeros nearly drowned her in it, even in illusion, she began to change her mind.
The images, emotions, and horrifying pain of the Adept siphoning the life out of her before shattering her face was so intense she almost screamed out loud in the middle of the Shadow’s quiet bridge.
But something rustled at her side and broke her terrifying vision, snapping her out of a nightmare. Socorra turned to look and found Timeros standing close, studying a display of the battle as she had been. It wasn’t a dream or vision at all, she shrieked in her mind. Just that foul Horror aura of his, screwing with my concentration! It weighed heavily like an intimidating lead curtain, pressing the woman down, attempting to put her back into a panic.
“By the Nine Hells, Timeros, turn that infernal aura off!” the Aedile snapped at the Arconae without a second thought. She could see the dreadful ambiance affecting the bridge crew and even the Cythrauls were slightly cowering at her side.
The Adept said nothing in response, his stoic, gaunt expression unfaltering as his blazing blue eyes pierced her pale ones. The aura, however, dissipated, the lead blanket lifting off of everyone in the vicinity.
A long, frustrated sigh escaped her ruby lips but Socorra finally relented by being the first to break off the stare, though she certainly didn’t thank him. I bet he does it in his sleep, the Priestess thought. She would eventually get used to it. Someday.
Socorra rubbed her temples and moved off to another console, passing by a screen containing the HUDs of each member of Soulfire and the Consul. The HUDs were organized in a well-lit array, just as Timeros had requested. Though truthfully, she wanted to keep an eye on Maaks as she worked. The older Erinos had guiltily attempted to alleviate his worries for the sake of the operation, the lives of his companions and his own and would feel partly responsible if something were to happen.
Next to it, the internal images of the space station were pulled up on several screens. She donned her headset again and went to work. The brilliant display outside the bridge faded into nonexistence as her concentration fell into the Gatekeepers’ mission on-board the space station. The agents had her patched in in no time, and her fingers blurred over the keyboard and the displays, breaching through the Chiss defenses and into their station’s security mainframe.
Huh, she thought. That was a lot easier than expected.
The Krath certainly wasn’t as good a slicer as Celahir, but he, along with the rest of Soulfire, had spent time teaching her pieces of their particular trades. And she never forgot a lesson. Ever.
"Agent Black," Socorra called to Scelestus quietly, using the tongue-in-cheek moniker she had given him as a green operative. "You are clear for another twenty meters. The security portal in the shaft should now be unlocked. I disabled a turret. You’re welcome.”
“Thanks,” his slightly distorted voice replied.
“Also, remember this is an infiltration mission, not blast and smash. That little stunt in the hangar - yeah they’re on alert. Be careful.”
Socorra turned to their HUDs, checking out their vitals and statistics with a practiced eye. Andraste took some fire but seemed to be alright. Scelestus himself was rather calm under the pressure, as was Legorii. Zakath was a raging bantha about to leap out onto the Promenade so that he could take out a massive wave of blue all in one shot. Such was the volatile emotions of the overgrown lizard.
She looked over to Soulfire briefly, their HUDs lit up like a holiday tree, obviously in the thick of the action. Maaks seemed to be doing quite fine; better than fine, even. The combat gave him a focus point away from the anomaly, and he clearly enjoyed knocking a few heads. All were doing well so far, though the heart rate of a few began to climb. The woman’s brows furrowed and she wondered if they were encountering trouble.
Young Nadrin was clearly uncomfortable. His ammunition had barely been touched and his perspiration was as high as a green operative. Experience told Socorra that he was borderline panicking, and she bit her lip, debating whether or not she should do anything other than observe. She decided to take the chance and typed a short message to his display:
Don't forget to breathe. :) -Socks
She hoped the simple message would help. If he kept holding his breath he'd likely pass out as that rate.
The team was putting on quite an impressive display. The former Soulfire analyst was generally used to being their digital eyes and ears for covert missions, and this became anything but covert once they hit the ground. Though she would rather be in the thick of it herself, it was rather exciting to watch both teams' operations unfold, much more than the space battle going on outside.
Then again, Socorra never did fancy flying.
45 minutes ago
Seeing that no questions were forthcoming, Scelestus adjourned the briefing and made his way back to his assigned quarters to prepare himself for the upcoming assault. The first step was to assemble all the pieces of his specter armor. Ensuring that the inner component was fully stocked with its chemicals, and that the wrist unit on the outer layer was functional, he donned the whole suit. The Gatewarden also strapped on the holsters for his sidearms. Next the Arconan’s lightsaber clipped onto his belt in easy reach for a quick draw. The final piece of gear was the balaclava, the black cloth mask that would cover his face and conceal his identity, that he slipped over his head on the way out the door to the hangar bay that had been assigned to Shadow Gate. With the physical preparations complete, Scelestus spent the transit time to the docking area resolving the mental side of combat readiness. He dealt with the fear of death, with the fear of failure, and the fear of disappointing his superiors and subordinates. Each issue was dealt with individually, suppressed through confidence in his skills and in the sense of duty...he was an instrument of the Dark Side, carrying out its will...his triumph was assured.
Arriving at the hangar, the Knight had finished getting his head straight and was ready to accomplish the task at hand. As each of his agents entered the bay, the Sith motioned them to join him so that the spymaster could give last minute instructions and code names. Scelestus had chosen ‘Black’ for himself and had each other member of the battle team pick a color.
With that step out of the way, the Qel-Droman went over the plan for infiltration of the target. “We are making the trip to the station in this sensor-masked gunship,” he gestures to the craft parked on the other side of the hangar. “We will use the chaos of the rest of the surrounding battle to disguise our approach. The insertion point is a secondary docking hangar on the side of the installation. ” All of the agents acknowledged the plan with a nod, so Scelestus directed them all to board the transport and prepare for launch.
The launch progressed without a hitch, and soon the transport was crossing the intervening distance between the Invicta and the space station orbiting Ebaq 9. This was the most challenging time in the entire operation…the time when all you can do is wait. The gear has been checked, and double checked, the instructions given and repeated to demonstrate understanding. This was the time that your mind was your own worst enemy, when doubt sought to rear its ugly head and chip away at your confidence. Maintaining your calm during this time period was the true mark of a seasoned veteran. In fact, Scelestus was able to tell the amount of time each agent had spent with the team based on the time it took them to move through this stage and put on their ‘game face’. The most experienced of them achieved it within seconds, without conscious thought, while the newest took fifteen to twenty minutes to arrive there. In the end though, they all reached the goal.
Present time, Chiss Space Station
The rest of the journey went off without a hitch, and soon the craft carrying the operatives of Shadow Gate docked in the chosen hangar with a final jolt. Zakath and Legorii wasted no time making a beachhead for the team as the rest of them piled down the ramp into enemy territory.
The ethereal voice of Socorra drifted across the team’s comms advising them of the open portal and chiding the group for being noisy on an infiltration op. Scelestus grimaced at the chastisement, but couldn’t help returning a quip back along the lines of communication. “Black to White, if you have a way to convince these blue skinned bastards we are only figments of their imaginations, then by all means. You know no plan survives contact with the enemy, but we’ll try to tiptoe our way now.” Turning to his operatives, the Knight relayed the instructions to try to keep things quiet.
With his orders issued to the team, the operatives moved along the predetermined route, meeting limited resistance along the way--thanks to the Aedile’s skill at anticipating danger and helping them avoid it. Not to say that there weren’t a couple of close calls, one when a group of Chiss had ambushed them from a side passageway, pressing the flank hard and wounding Andraste before Scelestus was able to take them out with his saber, using a move that he had learned from observing Teroch spar. He didn’t have the combat master’s skill, of course, so Scelestus had to use the saber to accomplish what the young Erinos had done with his bare hands, but the maneuver was effective, none the less. The second close call was an encounter with an unforeseen security turret…this time from the back and Cethgus had barely escaped injury before the threat was put down. Otherwise the duo in the lead was making short work of the enemies that they couldn’t avoid, dispatching trained marines with the grace and skill that made it look easy. Only a trained eye could tell that this was a testament to the ability of the Shadow Gate operatives rather than incompetence on the part of their foe.
After a few minutes, each of which seemed to drag on for days, they reached the last obstacle before their destination. There was a Chiss internal security checkpoint that stood right in their way and couldn’t be avoided. The team manning the desk wouldn’t be an issue, of course, but the giant durasteel bulkhead was a different matter altogether. If the Chiss had any sense, the door would be isolated from the main station systems, meaning that Socorra wouldn’t be able to open it for them. ‘Agent Black’ turned to his team for insight. “If anyone has any ideas for getting past this roadblock quietly, now’s the time to speak up.”
“Xath!” A sharp male voice cried out over the helmet, attracting the Krath’s attention before she landed a heavy punch to the jaw of a berserked Chiss. The doomfist was impressive, given the woman’s natural lack of strength, and shattered the side of the male’s face. A thin film of sweat lined the Archpriestess’ forehead as she lunged with her saber in her free hand. With each new attack, Xathia could feel herself wearing as she danced closed to the Mirakula. She had been firing on all cylinders since she’d stepped off the ship.
The hangar had a strong smell of oil, mixed with blood, sweat and tears as the Equite and Maaks struck one Chiss from either side, the momentary shriek bursting forth from his throat and making them both wince before they turned to deal with their next targets.
A quick glance told them both that everyone was tied up, and it was going to be a workout for the whole of Soulfire. Xathia sharply ducked, the Force having guided her body movements as the woman responded to the attacker with both weapons to the chest. He gasped and crumpled to the floor the second she removed the silver blade.
“Handy weapon here, Sarge,” the Krath remarked over the helmet with a dry tone, clearly impressed with the impact it made on her attacks.
A loud click and clunk to the left of the Human, attracted the attention of both Dark Jedi after they’d disposed of another set of Chiss. The pair of Krath paled slightly, as the blaster cannon focused on them. The smirks of its operators were broad, the original intention of the weapon was to protect the hangar from outside invaders, the damage it would inflict upon all those in its path was untold as the Knight and Equite quickly scampered backwards.
Xathia’s breath was becoming a little ragged, she was pushed to her limits--something that Teroch was trying to ‘improve’ in their training. There had to be a way to break the barrier, though it would probably be something more Celahir and Xar could do as a team with ease as another Chiss found himself with a shattered rib cage from the woman’s fearsome punch. The Archpriestess racked her brain for the answer, as she dropped to the floor and swung her leg around in her renown graceful manner, tripping up three males at the same time and swiftly following up with her argent lightsaber decapitating them.
A similar ‘thud’ sound came from behind the woman as Maaks finished off his latest target. “I don’t know what they’ve got, but we’re destroying it,” he said, the pair having ensured to stay within earshot of each other.
Xathia smirked, activating the plasma cannon and striking another Chiss at the same time as the Mirakula swung his arm, firing off the blaster repeatedly to give them a few seconds of thinking time rather than pre-emptively reacting with the help of the Force. The Chiss struggled to keep up with their grace and natural dexterity as both Krath changed their path. The sound of the canon powering up had given them a small window of opportunity, Xathia using the Force to become a blur of dark colour. The shield protected the gun itself, as Maaks dashed for the other side of the massive weapon.
These Chiss were more fierce, as though they had more to lose, and more importantly, more to gain from keeping Soulfire away from the weapon. They made the previous foes look like cannon fodder as Xathia’s saber separated an arm and a shoulder in a blind move whilst her fist came into contact with another’s face. A blade slammed into her armour, the intention fierce though the expression from the offender understood that he would not be piercing her armour. There was enough strength behind the attack to throw the woman off her path, however.
A snarl burst from the shorter Krath as she lunged back, recovering quickly as the Knight disposed of another directly behind her, leaving them both with the same target. The Chiss’ face dropped, realising that he was now fighting two Dark Jedi, before switching to a different tactic, trying to regain his position on the cannon.
“I don’t think so,” growled the Archpriestess as Maaks leapt forward with his lightsaber first, stabbing it forward as Xathia followed up with a derisive swipe to his back. The sickening crunch of his body hitting the floor made her smile as the younger Krath jumped up onto the seat with a grin. “I think Xar would love to see what we’ve captured.”
The battle for the Hangar was over, the Chiss didn’t know it yet. A full spectrum alarm was sounding, barely audible over the barrage of blaster fire, charrics discharging, and the shouts and screams of dying blue-skinned warriors. Teroch took stock of his squad. Xathia and Maaks were fighting well together, and beside the Miraluka, Feta crouched, keeping her head down, letting Soulfire do the fighting for her. Juda had charged into the fray, and true to his nature was swinging the EPL around like a bat, shattering faces with the stock of the hefty weapon. Xar had climbed onto the ball-shaped cockpit of a Clawcraft, and heedless of the sporadic return fire was hosing the left entrance to the hangar with his BFG, keeping any substantial reinforcements from joining the fray. Celahir hovered near the back of the conflict, picking off the odd target, however he was focused on looking for a terminal (thus far, without success). Nadrin, however, hadnt bothered joining the fray, and was instead up on a catwalk, lying on his belly with his rifle spread out before him, observing the conflict.
“Two, report in.” Teroch ordered tersely, looking up at his little brother.
“I’m here.” he answered quietly.
“Glad to hear it. Act like it and utilise your position. We badly need an overwatch.”
“Roger that, Lead.” Nadrin answered, though he didn’t suit action to words.
C’mon, take a shot.
A charric blast shot past his faceplate, and Teroch was forced to tear his attention away from the sniper, turning instead to his aggressor. A black blur shot past him and bit down hard on the Chiss’s arm, dragging him to the floor, screaming. Kote, the Sergeant’s Cythraul mauled the hapless soldier and his owner smirked, turning instead to the larger battle.
On the side of the Hangar, the summit guard were meeting with similar resistance, but didn’t have the heavy weaponry which had come to be Soulfire’s calling card. Nevertheless, the Consul was marshalling his men, barking orders, his lightsaber burning an iridescent standard which few could ignore. Captain Bly, his white cloak fluttering behind him wielded a stubby pistol with deadly efficiency, and Kilvin flanked the Consul on the opposite site, the massive grey beast occasionally loping off to savage some poor chiss assailant.
They weren’t able to push through, though.
“Four, Five, to the Consul!” Teroch ordered sharply, and Juda and Celahir immediately jumped up to obey, charging across the open space between two squadrons of clawcraft.
It wouldn’t be enough. Even now, the Chiss were forming a defensive line between the Arconan strike force and the two exits.
“Yeah, I know Maaks. We need bigger guns.”
Xar Kahn snorted in amusement over the squad frequency, and a moment later the fire pouring from his E-Web ceased. Instead, a missile was launched out at the nearest entrance, and the angry blue people evaporated in a hazy blast of grey smoke, melting metal and the occasional splash of red.
“Move up! Take take take!” Teroch immediately ordered, running forwards to match actions to words.
Xathia, Maaks and Xar were hot on his heels. The disorientating effects of the blast weren’t long-lived, and the Chiss were quick to regain their focus. Blue charric blasts began to pour back in at them, but it met with an orange wall of light. Teroch planted his feet solidly on the ground and let his father act through him, swinging Fraternity into the path of the oncoming fire. He deflected as many shots as he sent redirected, and one by one the fire sputtered out as the soldiers realised how futile shooting a Force user truly was.
Then his squad were past him.
“Lead, was that the Mighty Guard?” Maaks asked as he passed.
Grinning to himself, Teroch nodded. “Yup. I’ve been practicing.”
“Stop patting yourself on the back and get up here, short fry.” Xar interjected as he hopped onto a crate and peppered the Chiss position with the BFG.
Chuckling, Teroch jogged forward, saber in hand, and pointed his free hand out at a soldier who was just beginning to get back up. Kote obeyed instantly and jumped over their hastily erected barricade, his teeth burying themselves in the Chiss’ throat.
Abruptly, it was over, at least for Soulfire.
“Xath, get that door open. Xar, reverse the fortifications. I want to give our Guardsmen something to hide behind. Maaks, where’s Feta?”
“I’m here.” the Chiss woman answered haughtily before her Miraluka protector could respond.
“Good. Keep your shab’la head down. What is likely to be behind this door?”
She turned her red-eyed gaze to the imposing bulkhead, studying it for a moment. “Another door. It’ll be an airlock, in case the mag-con field is disabled. After that, they’ll have pilot and mechanic ready rooms, workshops, storage bays, and a security checkpoint before hitting the turbolift nexus down to the rest of the base proper.”
“Sarge! We’re getting hammered here!” Juda’s voice cut in over the squad frequency, tearing Teroch’s head around.
The medic was right. Across the hangar bay, Celahir and Juda were cutting a bloody swathe through the Chiss lines from the side, but more and more reinforcements were pushing through the single remaining open door. Already, three of the Summit Guard lay dead, the rest having taken cover, and it’d turned into a slugging match. Refusing to keep down, Wuntila stood implacably, batting aside Charric blasts, bellowing inarticulately at his aggressors.
Closing his eyes, Teroch brought up the Force Meld.
The effect was jarring and instant. Juda and Celahir moved not as two separate entities, but one single organism. Crouching, the squad’s slicer ducked under a series of shots he couldn’t possibly have seen and Juda returned fire over his head, knocking two chiss off their feet from the force of the EPL. He rose again, and chucked a spare clip to Juda, who fielded it and reloaded his gun in the time it took for his brother to spin around and kick a charging soldier in the face, breaking his neck. There was no need for cocky refrains or pithy, trite soundbites. The two simply kept killing.
Nero, Celahir’s black and grey Cythraul darted between the pair like a fanged shadow and lunged at the nearest Chiss, its green eyes flashing with feral fury. And just like that, it was over.
Wuntila nodded his thanks to the Soulfirians and turned to the Captain of his Guard, not seeing movement over his shoulder-
Something silent hit the rising chiss in the face, dropping him instantly. The Consul spun around as his aggressor’s body fell like a puppet with its strings cut, and he glanced over to the gantry on the other side of the Hangar, where Nadrin lay prone, his rifle aimed down at Wuntila’s vicinity.
“Haha! Oya! Kandosii! Mandokarla, Nad’ika!” Teroch whooped, grinning manically up at his little brother, who’d just managed his first kill, and in doing so, had saved the Shadow Clan’s Consul.
He waved sheepishly in return and started descending the ladder, regrouping with his squad. Unfortunately, they’d just accomplished the easy part. The hard part was still to come.
Chiss Space Station
Checking the power cell in his blaster rifle to ensure that it was still ready to go, Legorii scanned the scene before them. The durasteel door that separated the battle team from its destination was imposing, and none of the Dark Jedi immediately stepped up to offer solutions. Up to this point, Socorra had been instrumental in guiding the team through the corridors of the station, but she would be unable to help in this instance.
Moving to stand beside Zakath in the point position, Legorii flashed a grin. “Six of the bastards, eh, Zakath? Not bad, but you may have to take out the entire complement at this security checkpoint if you want to catch me,” the Archpriest remarked confidently. Weighing his rifle in his hands, the Archpriest winked at the towering Barabel, who merely nodded his head, focused on the business at hand.
Scelestus gathered his team in, a mostly full-strength unit of perfectly honed specialists on the cusp of fulfilling their objective. “We need to get through those doors, quietly – no explosives. Beyond the doors is a handful of Chiss guards, unaware of our present as of this moment, and beyond them are the power cells that we need to, um, fix. Ideas, go,” his voice was soft but firm, and he had the complete respect and cooperation of his fellow Qel-Dromans.
Cethgus was the first to speak up. “Can we cut through the door with our lightsabers?” A few of the younger members nodded their heads enthusiastically, but Cethgus knew his idea would not work even as he began to say it.
Grimacing, Scelestus shook his head. “As soon as those guards notice lightsabers burning through their bulkhead, the entire station will be shut down. As it stands, the station could be shut down any minute, after the job we did in the hangar. Besides, we don’t know how thick the durasteel is,” he continued.
Walker and Incendus waited patiently, lacking much of the experience that defined their comrades. Finally, Legorii spoke up, articulating the risky plan that he had been toying with in his head. “We need to circle around this main bulkhead and attack from two angles, but not with brute force. If we can press a pair of Chiss naval officers into our service, we might be able to get the guards inside to open the doors,” the Krath explained.
For a few moments, nobody spoke up. Scelestus motioned for him to continue. “We…well, how do you think we could tempt them into opening the doors? I assume we have neither the time nor the resources to get a high-level officer with the security clearance to open the doors for us. Two officers fighting in the corridor? Officers trying to get into the checkpoint? An officer bearing a hostage?”
Legorii continued to throw out a few ideas to work into the plan, but on the hostage idea, Scelestus stopped him. “I’m not going to needlessly put Qel-Dromans at risk as hostages for a plan that we have no idea as to the outcome,” the battle team leader declared. Again, there was a tense silence, as the time internally divided between supporters of Legorii’s rash plan and Scelestus’ refusal to follow it.
“Scelestus, I’ll do it,” Incendus declared.
Socorra, back on the BAC Shadow, listened intently to the chatter within the team, her eyes fixed on their HUDs and the schematics of the station. Her attempts to open the door had been unsuccessful, and she was giving the team free reign as they brainstormed solutions. She was itching to be with them, but knew that she had no choice – today, her place was on the bridge, and she did not like it.
The battle had fully unfolded, and Arcona’s Expeditionary Force was chipping away at the larger Chiss flotilla. Though they were heavily outnumbered and outgunned, the important weapon of surprise had enabled them to deal a severe blow to the Chiss at the outset. Since, the aggressive tactics dictated by the Clan leaders and AEF officers, coupled with the dazzling flying of the Dark Jedi fighter pilots, had the Chiss on their heels.
The Aedile tore her gaze from the viewports that displayed the bright lights and explosions, framed by the starry vacuum that surrounded them. Refocusing on Shadow Gate’s HUDs, she watched as the Gatekeepers made their move.
Chiss Space Station
Walker and Cethgus were sent down a side corridor, using the Force to guide them towards a Chiss officer who was patrolling the entrance to an armory. Together, they utilized their Dark Side powers to sway the officer, dominating his mind and bringing them back with them to rejoin the main group. Incendus and Zakath returned just after them with another similarly-affected Chiss.
Legorii and Scelestus, meanwhile, had been reviewing the final details of the plan, while Andraste rested. The pair of Chiss officers would drag an unarmed Incendus to the entrance of the security checkpoint, within view of the cameras, and demand entrance to deliver their hostage. As soon as the doors open, Legorii and Zakath would lead the charge, taking out the estimated half-dozen security officers as quickly as possible.
It was risky. There was a chance the Chiss would be suspicious and not open the door, and the entire operation would blow up in their faces. The success of their mission, and potentially the success of the entire battle, hinged upon their ability to discreetly bypass the checkpoint and advance to the power cells that lay beyond.
In seconds, the trap was sprung. The addled Chiss officers began dragging Incendus into view, tapping on the door’s control screen as the attempted to communicate with the officials within. The tension in the air was suffocating, as the rest of Shadow Gate crouched in camera deadzones that Socorra had secured for them. Finally, they exhaled as one, when the heavy durasteel door began to slide open.
None of them were prepared for what awaited them. Inside, a single Chiss officer stood at the center of the checkpoint, poised before an access panel that would activate the station-wide alarm and ruin the entire mission.
Immediately, Legorii raised his blaster rifle and took aim at the center of the officer’s head, yelling “Don’t press that goddamn button if you want to keep your head!”
The Chiss officer, panic in his eyes, screamed something in Cheunh that the Anzat did not recognize. Socorra’s sharp intake of breath could be heard through their helmet comms, and none of the Qel-Dromans moved as the two sides stared one another down. Glancing behind him, Legorii flashed a grin that he had no right to display, saying, “Scelestus?”
“Shoot,” came the instantaneous command. Before the single syllable had fully escaped the leader’s lips, Legorii’s finger squeezed the trigger, plastering the Chiss and relieving a tense moment. Shadow Gate collectively exhaled, and looked to Scelestus for guidance.
The tension slowly oozed out of the air surrounding the Qel-Droman battle team as they all released the pent up breath they didn’t even realize they had been holding in. As all eyes turned toward him for the next step, Scelestus quickly scanned the area, soaking in his surroundings. He took in the remaining five Chiss troopers, standing stock still with that deer in the headlights look. He took in the bank of monitors that connected the checkpoint to the rest of the station, as well as other computers that contained the information that Socorra had asked them to acquire as their secondary objective. Finally, he took in the power cell conduits that would allow them to accomplish their primary objective, fifty meters away down the corridor leading away from the security station.
A simple gesture and his team snuffed out the lives of the Chiss. A more philosophical man would probably have wondered at the cavalier manner in which five beings were killed, but the Knight had no time to stop and ponder his actions. The consequences of failure were too high, and in the end it would only boil down to the ‘us versus them’ argument, the idea that if we don’t kill them, then they will kill us, that had plagued the conflicts of the galaxy since the beginning of time.
The next step in his plan was to split his team so that they could accomplish the greatest number of objectives in the shortest amount of time. Andraste was assigned to watch the security monitors and be lookout for the rest of Shadow Gate. Cethgus drew the task of hacking into the computers and downloading any and every data file he could find. The Gate Warden headed for the power conduits to begin the sabotage that would achieve their primary objective. This left Legorii, Zakath, and Incendus to cover the group and intercept any surprises.
Removing the outer panel on the conduit was a matter of but a few seconds, leaving the inner wiring exposed to his scrutiny. The Sith accessed the schematics that Socorra had sent to his datapad, ensuring the he knew the purpose of each wire, connector, transistor, capacitor, and circuit board before he made any move at all. One wrong step at this point would bring the mission to an abrupt and disastrous end. Satisfied that he was familiar with the inner workings of the couplings, the Arconan pulled out the device that he had brought with him. Resembling a small spider, the tiny machine was designed to respond to a remote signal and release a high voltage charge designed to overload the systems’ circuits, resulting in a meltdown, leading to the chain reaction that would make the entire station go critical. Normally, of course, there would be fail-safes and redundancy in place to prevent such an occurrence, but Scelestus was sure to remove them as he installed his device. Next the Qel-Droman primed the detonator to be sure all of that was in working order, before putting in some redundancy of his own in the form of explosive charges placed to knock out the coupling if the primary device were to fail. While this back up would be effective, it wouldn’t release the same amount of energy as the entire space base going critical, which is why it was the second choice for getting the job done. The panel was replaced and the Shadow Gate spymaster rejoined the rest of his team.
“Job’s done, keepers, time to go,” the Sith said tersely as he looked at the security monitors, trying to ascertain if they could exfiltrate out the same path that they had taken coming in. Cethgus chimed in that the secondary objective was complete as well, while the rest of the team locked, loaded, and moved out. The return trip was much less eventful than before with Socorra able to steer them past all hostile elements without any further contacts.
The gunship was waiting for them by the time they had reached the hangar and the entire team was soon onboard the craft. The familiar feeling of loss swept over the Knight as the shuttle lifted off from the deck of the Chiss space station and began the return trip to the Shadow. It was always a relief to be done with an assignment, but Scelestus did miss the feeling of adrenaline that was part and parcel with being in the thick of an assignment. Taking stock of the rest of his team, he allowed himself a rare smile. “Great job, Shadow Gate, first round is on me.” As the cheering echoed through the vessel, the Gate Warden initiated the tight beam communication to the Qel-Droman flagship informing Socorra of their success and transmitting the information that they had acquired from the Chiss computers.