The Taste of Blood
War is a cruel mistress. She brings out the best and the worst in men. Great innovation, exceptional bravery and astounding leadership comes with the unfathomable cruelty and loss. Your House goes to war, seeking individual glory and the pride of victory.
This runon event is a cooperative, forum-based fiction event. Fictional cues will be given to each House and Clan at the start of the week. “Cues”, along with plot details released that week, will form the basis of the Run-On.
* The run-on will be conducted in specially designated forums, already set up for each House/Clan. Passwords may be obtained from Consuls and Quaestors
* No one but the author of the post is permitted to make changes to it. The Author may freely edit his post up until another person posts on the run-on.
* 2 posts of 250 words each is required to be counted as a participant.
* Each run-on must have at least 20 posts containing a minimum of 250 words in each post.
* Runon posts may be posted until 22 October 2359 (11:59 EST).
Week 1 Orders: War has been called on the Jedi of Odan-Urr and their home planet of New Tython. You have just received word to prepare and meet the rest of the Dark Council fleet before making your way to New Tython and attacking.
Week 2 Orders: New Tython has been invaded by Dark Brotherhood forces. Arcona joins the fray on both counts, and are the first to come face-to-face with the Mandalorian allies of Odan-Urr. Engage the Mandalorians in both space and on the ground, with assistance from Tarentum.
Week 3 Orders: The battle rages on as the Mandalorians and light jedi managing to hold their own against the combined forces of the Brotherhood. The Dark Council has joined into the fray. Shikyo and Korras has joined up with Arcona and Tarentum, sent to deal with the Mando-leaders
Week 4 Orders: Arcona, Tarentum, Naga Sadow, Taldryan, Scholae Palatinae and Plagueis have all begun to converge on the same point as they make the final thrust at Odan-Urr and their allies. The blending of Houses and Clans causes chaos between the "allied" forces, and old tensions rising in the midst of battle
“It’s war then.”
Zandro sat with his hands interlocked in front of him, brow furrowed as he looked at the message on the desk before him. In a chair next to his, Wuntila sat with a similar expression on his face, clearly deep in thought as the gravity of the situation slowly settled on the two Arconan leaders. The pair had been readying themselves for a quick journey out to some of the outlier refineries and operations that Arcona possessed in order to gauge the defences; however the arrival of the message from the Iron Throne changed everything. The cycloptic Consul turned to his blue-skinned comrade and began to speak, his words careful and his tone level.
“Contact the Temple of Qel-Droma and the Citadel, inform them that they are to get as many assets airborne as soon as possible, and then transmit the location of this rendezvous.”
Wuntila rose and went to leave but stopped at the door, turning back to the Warlord with a slightly bemused expression on his face.
“What if they ask about what we plan to do?”
Rising himself, Zandro threw a toothy grin towards his right hand as he too made his way towards the exit from his office with haste.
“Tell them that we are taking the Invicta and going on ahead to meet with the Dark Council; I have some questions for them that I think we need answers to.”
Zandro strode onto the bridge of the Invicta without fanfare and made his way towards where the captain of the vessel stood, datapad in hand. The Consul felt a pang of pride as he noticed that the crew carried on working, not paying any heed to the new arrival until they had to. It pointed to their professionalism and was something that the Warlord and his fellow leaders had been trying to instil in the crew for some time.
At least it worked.
The Captain, upon noticing Zandro’s arrival threw a hasty salute towards his commander-in-chief which the Sith mirrored before beginning to speak without any preamble.
“We are to depart immediately for the co-ordinates I’ll be sending to your datapad, and I need to use the ship-wide comm system.”
Not waiting for the man’s reply, Zandro stalked over to the communications board, accepted the headset he was handed and, putting it on, began to speak.
“Crew of the Invicta and loyal warriors of Arcona, I regret to inform you that all leaves are cancelled as of now. We will need every one of you for the journey that lies ahead of us, and I’m sure it is one that you will quite enjoy. It seems that the Council has tired of Odan-Urr’s continued existence and has called for its destruction. I’m sure you will join me in happily obliging; it is time for Arcona to go to war once more.”
Handing back the headset, Zandro stood in front of the viewport at the fore of the bridge, gazing out on the empty darkness beyond as he contemplated what the next few days might bring.
The bridge was awash with silent panic. The Proconsul heard his superior mutter the words, “At least it worked,” and glanced back to see his Consul marching toward the Commanding Officer, Ban Quell. The crew failed to salute or acknowledge either Arconan as they approached the blast doors to the bridge, instead concentrating on hurriedly inputting data and correcting the algorithms for a hyperspace jump. It was an admirable display, and Wuntila let a smile tease at the corners of his mouth as he realised what had ‘worked’.
Both Consul and Proconsul had walked to the bridge together, discussing plans and contingencies for their arrival. Now Wuntila walked the short way to the communications center to relay the message to the Qel-Droman temple on Arconae Primus. He could not help but feel a sense of unease as he weaved through the cramped hallways, all the time noticing new faces as they scrambled to their stations for the imminent jump to lightspeed. The anxiety on board was palpable and it would only be a short time before tensions rose further with the meeting of the Dark Council and the other house leaders.
“Christien,” Wuntila barked as he strolled into the communications center, ignoring a salute from one of the younger officers. “Give me a secure connection to the Qel-Droman Temple on Primus.”
“Of course,” the Executive Officer replied, taken wholly off-guard by the urgency of Wuntila’s demand. Christien turned to see the Senior Communications Officer nod in acknowledgement.
“Putting you through now, your honour.” Wuntila watched as Sashar flickered into view and stood, arms folded, ready to hear what it was that had halted his preparation.
“Wun,” Sashar said tersely.
“Sashar,” Wuntila responded in kind, “We are to deploy as many assets as we can and get them airborne. We are meeting with the Dark Council’s fleet in the Antei System before we initiate the attack. We need every able-bodied soldier available. That includes Soulfire.”
“Soulfire are already prepared. I’ll make sure the others are ready and in the air within the hour. Is there anything else?”
“Zandro and I are leading the convoy. We shall meet you there. Good luck to you and I’ll see you on the battlefield.” Wuntila nodded.
“Not if we get there first.” Sashar smiled dryly and winked before his image faded into the ether.
“Now patch me through to the Citadel,” Wuntila said, confirming the flight coordinates that beeped on his datapad.
“Your honour.” Marick’s entity now stood before the Proconsul, “What are your orders?”
“Marick,” Wuntila gave a polite nod of acknowledgement, “You are to ensure that all able craft and bodies are airborne within the next two hours. We are to report to Antei space to meet with the Dark Council and their fleet before the attack begins. You are to command the Eye of the Abyss, whilst Invictus commands the Shadow. Make your way to the coordinates I have sent to you and wait for a signal from either myself or the Lord Consul.”
“Two hours? We have preparation to do and pre-fligh-” The Hapan’s voice trailed off and his Proconsul’s prevailed.
“Two hours or sooner.” Wuntila asserted firmly.
“It will be done, your honour.” Marick said, bowing his head respectfully.
“Would you relay the following message to Galeres: Celahir, you are to captain the Darkest Night with Talos. Inform Cethgus that he has command of the Broken Blade. His previous naval experience may prove useful. Follow the coordinates that Marick has patched to you. We will see you in the Antei System.”
“Is that everything?” Marick said, blurs forming in the projection as men darted around him.
“It is. Fly safe and bring your swords. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
Wuntila cut the connection and spun on his heel. He marched back toward the bridge and began to feel the weight of war pressing heavily on his shoulders. It was time for retribution.
Rear Meditation Cabin
Muscles beginning to burn from protracted exertion, the Chiss quelled the desire to clench his jaw in response. He willed away the pain even as it shredded the tapestry of future events before him. Too late – all that remained was a patchwork quilt of images, glimpses half unseen of his brothers falling in battle. He had known from the moment he heard the Grand Master's command that death was inevitable. There were always casualties in war. Still, he hadn't imagined the scale of the carnage. He focused on those thoughts, grasping them with his mind as easily as he had the cabin's furniture. Unlike the desk and chairs and other assorted items, he forced the thoughts inwards, visualized pushing them down into his gut, to the core of his being. The fear, the doubt, the rage, the bloodlust, he took it all and contracted it until it pushed back. There was a struggle, as though trying to flatten an object that seemed to desperately want to maintain its shape. Finally, when the resistance was great enough, he released the pressure. His emotions, and his thoughts, spread out across the sector on the resulting wave. He knew, if any sense so ephemeral could be called knowledge, that the final troops and supplies had arrived aboard the Bothan Assault Cruiser. Even now the Third and Fourth Divisions from Selen were suppressing grumbles as they were put to work stowing the newly-arrived supplies. Their reaction to the task didn't surprise him; what infantryman wanted to do the work of a porter? The Artillery was even worse, arrogant despite being saddled with SPHA walkers that were old when the Clone War began.
“Only the marines failed to balk at their assignments, Commander?”
The Advozse gave off only the faintest flicker of surprise at being addressed, having long-since become accustomed to his superiors knowing more than they should. Dal absentmindedly ran a hand along the backward slope of his horn then cleared his throat, composing and discarding several responses in the few brief seconds of silence. He had learned, with some hardship, that a few seconds of thought could save one a great deal of pain when employed by Dark Jedi.
“As you predicted, Captain. I heard more than a few complaints. Apparently,” he continued, the slightest edge of mockery creeping in around the edges of his tone, “Having to muster on an hour's notice is bad enough without adding actual work on top of it.”
“I shall have to speak with them,” replied the Sith, slowly retracting his sphere of awareness until it encompassed little beyond the cabin's durasteel and transparisteel walls. With the shift, he once more became aware of his body. His right arm was trembling, working to hold up the weight of his own body while feeding enough energy into his environment to keep the furniture afloat. The room's accoutrements were still moving in a figure-eight, but nowhere near as fluidly as they had been when he started. He had sensed himself growing in power of late, and thought he was nearing a new plateau, but the damned voices kept nibbling away at his control. These increasingly-strenuous meditations were one of only two things that kept them in check. He shook his head, realizing his mind had again drifted from the matter at hand.
“Commander Hodezan, order a general assembly of the Third and Fourth in a half hour. They are to report to the secondary Hanger Bay. I expect them in parade best, not a boot scuffed or a hair out of place.” A grin blossomed slowly on the Sith's blue visage. “And tell them they are to finish stowing the supplies first.”
“First, sir?” repeated the Riflor native, his voice sounding half-strangled.
For a brief moment the Chiss thought the Advozse was questioning the wisdom of his command. Then one of the voices spoke up. Don't forget the gravity. The Aedile revised his opinion of the man – stoic, without a doubt. He reached out with the Force to lower the room's inertial dampeners to Coruscant-norm, realizing it must be difficult for the Commander to even stand under the circumstances. He was interrupted before he could.
Invictus, are you there?
Such a direct question was unusual from the voices and it shook him completely out of his meditative trance. Both the furniture and his own body hit the uncarpeted deck like a sack of bricks – or, more accurately, like four sacks of bricks. The breath went out of him in a rush and the impact left him dazed. He reached up his right hand and, without hesitation, slapped himself across the cheek. The blow stung, but it cleared his head enough for him to reach out – this time successfully – and lower the gravity back to shipboard normal. He waited a few moments before lifting his head, giving Dal a chance to wipe the humor he was obviously feeling off his face.
Well? I haven't got all day.
This time Invictus recognized the thought for what it was, a mental projection from his Quaestor. Sighing, he drew himself to his feet and nodded towards the Shadow's Commander.
“Yes, first. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to speak with my counterpart aboard the Abyss II.”
“Yes, sir. I'll inform the troops immediately.” Dal had turned smartly on his heel and taken a step towards the exit before the Chiss spoke up.
“Sir?,” inquired the veteran officer, turning back to face the Aedile.
Invictus hesitated before finally replying. “I would appreciate your discretion.”
In response, Hodezan smiled. “I would appreciate continuing to breathe, Sir.” Dal turned, without another word, and left the cabin.
Invictus turned back to the viewport, taking a moment to savor the sight of the stars around Selen before sighing and, slowly, switching on the chamber's screen.
“Invictus here, Marick.”
The Chiss didn't bother to reign in the terseness of his voice, and the tone was clearly off-putting to the Quaestor. Accordingly, the Hapan was brief. “How long until you are ready to make the jump?”
The Aedile paused to factor in how long his troop address would take. “Thirty-six minutes and change.”
Used to such preciseness from his second-in-command, the Obelisk simply nodded.
“We jump in forty. Marick out.”
Secondary Hanger Bay
Invictus stood before the assembled troops, his cloak discarded, his long hair pulled back in a ponytail and secured at the nape of his neck. He was dressed simply in gray and black, forgoing his usual attire so as not to alienate his audience. They would hate him soon enough.
“Some of you are new, trained but untested. Others have been with Arcona for years. You have fought the Vong, and the armies of rival Clans. Your survival has proven your worth. Those of you who haven't, though, would do well to pay attention.”
As he spoke, the Chiss strode back and forth along the line of soldiers, looking each of them in the eye. He received all manner of glances in return. Some were hard, others could barely hold his gaze. Dozens were resigned, or worshipful. A few, wheat amongst dross, were rock-steady – they were men who knew their duty and did it proudly. He stopped before one of the latter.
“There has been some question as to what is, and isn't, your duty. We haven't even left the system and already there are murmurs of discontent. So I will say this once, and once only.”
Invictus looked sorrowfully, near-beseechingly, at the man before him. He received a subtle nod in return. Thank you, thought the Sith, pushing the words into the older man's mind.
“Your duty is to do as I command, when I command, without question. You have no conception of the dangers you will face, nor of the power of our enemies. Obedience alone will carry you through. You listen...”
His voice trailed off as he reached out to the Force, pointing to the soldier before him and calling upon the power Arconans knew so well. In answer a shadow detached itself from his own, snaking around the Equite and down his arm. It leaped the gap to the human, encircling him and constricting. The man stood unmoving, silent, as the Wraith compressed his entire body, blood draining from his orifices. He did his duty. And, dutifully, he died – as commanded. Invictus raised his gaze to take in the assembly.
“...or you die. Any questions?”
None spoke. None moved. If it had been possible, none would have breathed. The Sith let the silence continue for a few awful moments, growing pregnant in the hanger. Silence is a fragile thing, and he knew well how easy it was to break. Before the inevitable shifting of stance could ruin the effect, he spoke.
“War is upon us. Training is done. Your comrade has died – and he will not be the last. Carnage the likes of which you cannot imagine will envelop us all. The blood of our own will spill as an ocean before this is over. All we can do is ensure that we drown our enemies in it.”
Invictus looked out over the sea of faces before him and he knew that they finally understood.
Rear Meditation Cabin
He stared out at the stars as they elongated, turning from pinpoints to the swirling mix of light and dark that was hyperspace. The war he predicted months ago had finally come. He had tried, in the interim, to lure as many Gray Jedi from Odan-Urr as possible. He had contacted them via the holonet first, then encrypted transmissions sent direct. Finally, he had made a few secret visits to New Tython, trying to convince them of the danger they would soon face. The outcome had left much to be desired. He had done his best, of that there was no doubt. In the end, though, it had changed nothing.
They would be slaughtered, and the faces of his Clan would be the last thing they saw before they died.
Morning again. The artificial light swathed the room in a clownish brightness, like golden plumes hovering about the arched ceiling of a cathedral. The air was warm and tight around the lungs, drawing them together like squeezed balloons in one chest. The heat was stifling. Someone would have to fix the ventilation of this place at some point.
Ronovi didn't pay it much attention. She sat calmly, organic eye shut off to the space, with her arms folded and her back pressed against the wall. Her tattered coat of arms, literally, lay sprawled out like a dead man's torso beside her. The emitters of her double-bladed lightsaber lay empty, the hilt's hollow metal lips kissing the polished metal floor. No movement. No resistance. Simply silence.
She needed more of that these days. All the paranoid bustle on Lyspair, the shrieks and growls of ships and blades as she undertook assignment after assignment from her superiors. True, she enjoyed the crunch of cartilage as she carved her fists into a cavernous skull, but the scratching of broken teeth on her knuckles and splintered eye sockets and mandibles did did grow tiresome sometimes. Not that Ronovi imagined herself saying that, but all things considered, the past two years had been very instrumental to her gradual change of perspective...
The buzz of a commlink stirred her from her ruminations like a newfound pulse against her side. Drawing her hand toward her right thigh, Ronovi pulled the device toward her lips and spoke softly into it.
"Ronovi." It was Marick. Ronovi could insantly recognize the noble Hapan's prim inflections. "I need you on the Eye of the Abyss."
"...That doesn't sound like a regular Quaestor meeting."
"It's not, thank you very much," Marick's voice crackled in a bemused hiss. Ronovi grinned until she heard what he said next. "I'm calling you personally over. Your previous reputation and experience as a clan and house leader, well...demands it."
Ronovi felt her chest rise and fall. The balloons that were her lungs threatened to burst from the stifling air. Her teeth were pearl-dry as she murmured into the commlink, like she was telling a secret.
"We're going to New Tython, aren't we?"
"It's a shame there's only one of you so far. The master said there'd be more."
"Can I take a shot at her, Master Ara? I've been dying to get my hands on a Dark Jedi."
"You stay back, Movan. I want to show you how it's done..."
She's too strong. Too quick. I can't kill her. I can't evade her...
"If a Dark one is to be cured, they must be severed from their connection to the darkness. The dark side is like a drug that feeds them, and they cannot know the light until they step out of the dark."
They cannot know the light until they step out of it...
I killed them...I killed them all...no shame...no horror...no mercy...what fate is this?
"WHAT DID YOU DO TO HER?!"
WHAT FATE IS THIS?!
"YOU WILL NOT TAKE HER FROM ME!"
Bastards. All of them. No Jedi was an exception to that rule. They harnessed the light like javelins, and ultimately someone was killed. They knew nothing of power.
Nothing of sacrifice.
Ronovi unscrewed her flask of Whyren's Reserve and poured a steady amber stream like medicine into the back of her throat. The stuff felt thick in her mouth like molasses, the fumes kicking her madly in the back of her teeth and rattling each breath that attempted to ooze its way out of her nostrils. Like she was exhaling alcohol and madness and rage in a strange, effervescent spicebrew.
It had happened five years ago now. A near light-side conversion. For any evangelist, it would appear to be redemption...the eyes opening to see a savior or prophet standing before him, holding out a hand. Washing one's face in a cold, stony basin, and raising their head to see that every bruise, blemish, scrape, scar, and sin that had marked them was washed away.
They were wrong. It was the exact opposite. It was the meager submission to excessive guilt and false sermons, like breaking each finger one by one with forceps. Snap. Your power. Snap. Your ambition. Snap. Your sense of worth. Snap.
Snap. Brittle bone and orange blood. Anemic. Nothing left.
It felt almost as if Ronovi had escaped the guillotine, back during the Reclamation of Antei.
Ara Feskin. The Jedi who had attempted to distort her mind to peaceful deception. The Echani she had wished to kill herself, but she had been swooped away by the master who had rescued Ronovi from the light. The one who had molded her into a Jedi killing machine, seizing the woman's hilt as a trophy and using it to mutilate her allies...
I was helpless!
Every Jedi that stood before her had their capillaries severed like a torn spider web. Their tissues torn out like frayed threads of fabric. Their eyes bulging for mercy...
I was so helpless!
Splintered faces. Mangled chests.
I hated it! I hated every minute of it!
Bronze flame in a fool's mouth...
"You're not helpless, Ronovi..."
And the clink of iron between fingers as she drew her saber from their spines and took their weapons as a symbol of her own vengeance...
I won't be! I won't be helpless! Never again!
Never again. The Jedi would die on the soil of New Tython. She would clutch the jesters' toys once more. Never again.
Dawn was beginning to light up the ducts like fingers rubbing magenta rouge on a whore's face. Rosy mist and atmosphere and sound. Ronovi put her flask away. At this point, the Eye of the Abyss would be docked within Selen's stratosphere, right above Estle City's spaceport. She would have to take a shuttle over.
Not that she minded, she thought with a smile, as she drew her coat closer above her broad shoulders. After all, she had done this all before. And she never liked to keep a friend waiting.
There wasn't much in the apartment to distinguish it from any other – a living area with an entertainment/communications setup, a small workbench, storage cases, a tiny food preparation area, a refresher, and a bedroom. The furniture wasn't much to look at, but it was all sturdy stuff. It wasn't a complete disaster area, but it also wasn't the picture of complete hygiene, either. A bleeping sound in the bedroom was coming from a battered datapad, the screen blinking the iconography of an incoming, urgent message. The pile of sheets on the bed twitched a bit, then an arm reached out and blindly slapped at the datapad's general vicinity in an attempt to silence the alarm. The arm succeeded in only knocking it off the nightstand and under the bed where it continued to emit it's alert tone.
Kant Lavar finally surrendered to the inevitable and sat up, the sheets dropping off of him as he started reaching under the bed for the never-to-be-sufficiently-damned datapad. Grabbing it and finally shutting off that damned noise, he pulled up the urgent message, then blinked as it asked for a password.
He had been on Port Ol'Val as part of the House Qel-Droma contingent, playing the part of a mid-level enforcer for the crime syndicate the House used as cover. His past as a bounty hunter had paid off in that regard, and so he'd been one of the “A-team” when it came to dealing with the locals on the asteroid base. He still got summoned out on occasion, but this was... unexpected.
Tapping in a password and a decryption key, Lavar scanned the text that came up on the screen for about thirty seconds, then switched off the device and jumped out of bed. After a normal morning's ablutions in the refresher and pulling on a dark ship-suit and combat boots, Lavar opened a locked storage cabinet in his room and started pulling out more esoteric bits of equipment. A shell spider silk vest with various equipment pouches attached went on, plus his gun belt and trusty DL-44 blaster pistol. A hidden compartment in the cabinet held his lightsaber, which he tucked into a pouch instead of clipping to his belt – the damn things were too conspicuous to carry openly in Port Ol'Val, especially given that he was supposed to be a halfway respectable criminal, not an undercover Force-sensitive and certainly not an undercover Dark Jedi Knight. Other miscellaneous bits of equipment went into pouches on his vest and belt – tools, a selection of grenades, macrobinoculars, communications gear, grapnel launcher and line, and so forth. A backpack came out, pre-loaded with additional equipment, and was set by the door as Lavar pulled out a dark brown trenchcoat and pulled it on over his other clothes. Lavar also took the time to grab a breakfast meal bar out of a cabinet and a bottle of chilled fruit juice and tucked them in his trenchcoat's pockets as he headed out the door, backpack slung over an arm.
There was a regular run from Ol'Val to Estle City on Selen, and the shuttle shouldn't depart for... a glance at his chronometer sent him moving faster. If this was what it looked like, well...
It could be the first battles of the next Galactic Civil War, if they weren't careful.
The Sakiyan clad in his Shadesworn robes, sat down the corner of his quarters that was farthest from the door. Quarters which were unadorned and very simple, spartan enough to rival that of his Mandalorian comrades. The Obelisk Prelate could have requested a much larger quarters. But the comfort and finery of a suite would have been distracting.
The Obelisk was sitting in a strange but comfortable position, where his body was supported by the corner of the room, his head falling in the crevice between the walls and either arm supported by different walls. He started taking deep breaths and focused all thoughts on a point in front of his nose. As Etah watched darkness overtake his vision he drew a sharp breath.
The darkness that had overtaken his field of vision could be interpreted as a simple slate black, by a less discerning individual. But Etah envisioned a complex painted canvas of blacks and grays. Behind these dark primers were brush strokes of crimson, midnight and violate, as beautiful as any artist of great skill could have made.
This intricate darkness was then illuminated by the smallest of candles. The light cast a soft glow behind the blacks, grays, crimsons, midnights and violates. Etah could then see this painting for what it was. He saw the hate, the pettiness, the secret back door deals. He saw the murders, he saw the plotting. He saw all the weakness of the Brotherhood.
The small candle then caught one of the edges of the canvas. The edges of the canvas caught fire. The fire began slowly consuming the canvas. The crimsons, midnights and violates melted off first, followed shortly by the blacks and grays. Only when it consumed the entire canvas did the fire extinguish itself. But the canvas wasn't destroyed. But the surface was burned and all the intricate colors were replaced with brown.
The Obelisk Prelate slowly opened his eyes and his awareness returned to him. He silently wondered what the vision was about. His only powers of prophesy lay in milliseconds and assisted him in combat. That vision was not that. As he was not a soothsayer, he decided it must have been an internal mental and spiritual process.
*Beep* *Beep* his COM buzzed again. It must have been this noise that awoke him from his vision.
The Prelate stumbled towards the COM device connected to the wall, like a man awoken from a hard sleep. “Etah, go” the Sakiyan said, touching the speak button on the device and telling the caller his identity and asking them to continue, using radio shorthand.
Marick sat back from his terminal, taking a few moments to digest the orders he had just received from his Proconsul. His eyes glazed over slightly as he stared off into space
“So, it’s finally time,” he murmured to himself.
It had been over three years since the last war, but Marick remembered it like it was yesterday. He had been a mere Guardian then, alone and confused in a strange new world that starkly contrasted his sheltered upbringing. He was forced to grow up fast, and learned a lot during that period of time. He recalled his first Master, Arcturus Xyler, and the other members of Prophecy Phyle. He remembered his first glimpse at a battlefield, the place he had fantasied about as a child, only to see the true horror it presented. There was no glory in seeing a friend bleeding on the ground, whispering his last words. Marick had killed, and was good at it. That didn’t make losing soldiers, under his command or not, easy though.
To be honest, the young Quaestor was glad the vendettas since then had been more precise and controlled. A part of him longed for the simplicity as his role as a Battleteam Leader. He was in charge of a small elite team then and just followed his orders and made sure he was the best at what he did. But now...
Everything had changed. He was no longer a journeyman, or a Battleteam Leader, or a simple Obelisk Prelate. He was Marick Del’Abbot, Quaestor of House Qel-Droma.
But still...what was Wuntila thinking, giving him command of the Abyss II, Arcona’s flagship? He felt humbled by such an honor, but realised it was probably a test. Just as it had been his whole life, there was no one to hold his hand. No, that was not the case. He had friends now, allies he could rely on with more than his life. He would simply need to rise to the occasion, as he had with every challenge thrown before him, and continue to lead the only way he knew how. He wouldn’t let his brothers and sisters down.
Marick’s cerulean eyes snapped back to focus as he rose from his desk and tapped in a key command on his wrist-comm. A panel of the office’s wall slid open to reveal a full sized mirror, a weapons rack, and a series of hangars for clothes. Discarding his tunic, Marick paused as he studied his reflection in the mirror. He looked the same as he always had, a true testament to Hapan breeding.
His skin still bore the same healthy glow as well as the familiar family crest tattoo. Turning his body at an angle, his eyes shifted to the dull red line that ran down his spine just between his shoulder blades. The scar from the surgery he had undergone to repair the nerves in his spine. Even after bacta treatment, the scar and the muscles beneath it still felt a bit stiff, but he had been exercising every day to make sure he stayed in fighting form. His pride had taken the bigger hit, and that he figured needed more time to recover.
Looks like you’ll get that chance for revenge soon enough though, he mused to himself. He was looking forward to returning the favor to every member of House Taldryan.
Slipping on the form-fitting body suit that acted as the underlayer of the Oblivion Spectre Armor, Marick winced slightly at the needle-like pins that pricked into his skin and allowed the suit to monitor and adjust to his vitals and body temperature. After securing the rest of the suit that went over it, he went about lining his belt with throwing knives and slid a vibroshiv into an ankle holster. Finally, he grabbed his white Quaestor cloak, fastening it into place around his shoulder at the neck with the Qel-Droman logo-clasp.
Pressing a button on his desk, Marick put in a call to the docks to prepare his shuttle for transport to the Eye of the Abyss II. He exited his office with grim determination. As he walked, he queuing up a series of transmissions to send out to Invictus, Sanguinus, and Ronovi. There was a lot of work to be done if Wuntila wanted everyone ready for the deadline he had set.
En route to ISD Eye Of The Abyss
"We're going to New Tython,” Ronovi’s voice said somberly. “Aren't we?"
Sitting in front of the ship’s Holonet transceiver, Marick nodded his head slowly.
“I appreciate it, Ronovi, more than you think. Come join me in the Captain’s Quarters when you get here.” His voice was serious, a slight change of pace from their typical banter. “Marick out.”
The transmission cut out, leaving Marick alone again. Pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers, he exhaled slowly and keyed another command. Marick waited patiently, tapping his fingers against the console as he waited for his sole Battleteam Leader to appear. Sure enough, the charming face of Sanguinius Entar appeared onscreen.
“What’s up, boss?” the Entar inquired, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
“I need you to gather the Gatekeepers,” the Hapan said evenly, suppressing a sigh. “I’ve prepared a shuttle at the Port Ol’val docks. I contacted Ronovi personally already, so do not worry about her. We leave in fourty, with or without you.”
Sang, now alert and fully awake, nodded his head. “Copy that.”
“Don’t be late.” Marick terminated the transmission before the Gatewarden could respond, in order to accentuate his point.
BAC Darkest Night
"War." the word dropped out of Talos Erinos' mouth like an anvil as he strode along the corridors of the BAC Darkest Night, lengthening his stride to keep up with that of his Quaestor, Celahir Erinos' lithe figure propelling him forward. Behind him, the Protector Socorra, also known as the Black Banshee, followed in his wake.
"Yes," Celahir agreed, "War. The death of the Jedi."
"Finally." Talos put in as the Summit of House Galeres, plus one, entered the bridge of the House's flagship and made their way to the commander of the vessel.
"Progress report, Commander." the Kiffar Prelate ordered, holding out his hand for the datapad that the Naval officer was already handing him, a testament to the Arcona Navy's efficiency.
Celahir nodded and hummed as he scrolled through the list of data and statistics before handing it off to his second. Talos busied himself with the datapad as Socorra took in the hive of activity that was the Assault Cruiser's bridge.
"How long until this vessel here is ready to launch?" Talos asked without looking up from the pad.
"Forty minutes, sir," the commander replied and before either Dark Jedi could ask, he continued, "Which will give us 15 minutes to form up and launch to hyperspace. Meaning we should arrive within five minutes of the Eye of the Abyss II and Shadow."
Celahir and Talos exchanged a quick look of pride before saluting the commander and moving off to a corner.
"Orders, boss?" Talos asked, handing the datapad off to his apprentice, knowing Socorra's hunger for information.
"Stay on the Night and provide overwatch. I'm going to take a quick trip over to the Broken Blade and make sure that Cethgus hasn't broken anything yet...or slaughtered the crew in one of his rages" Celahir said, drawing a snort from his Aedile and a look of surprise from the Journeyman.
"Very good, Cel, anything else?"
The Quaestor shook his head. "Nothing, except make sure that everything goes exactly according to what that datapad projects," he said, "Employ some of our brethren to make sure that everything is on pace, and then write up a short speech for when I get back" he finished, emphasizing the word 'short', as he knew Talos' predilection for long speeches.
Talos nodded and inclined his head in reverence as his adopted brother sped away.
"What do we do now, master?" Socorra asked after the tails of Celahir's cloak had vanished.
"Exactly what the Quaestor said, apprentice," Talos answered, "Come with me and witness how Dark Jedi prepare for war."
BAC Darkest Night
Executive Officer’s Office
"Kratus Vahillus, Xathia Vahillus, and Acheron..d'Tana" Talos Erinos said to the three Dark Jedi standing in front of him, hesitating on the last Galerian's surname (which was that of his former Family).
"Unless you are all deaf, you have heard and the rumors that have been going around and unless you are all blind, have also seen the Clan's preparations for war," he paused and blew out a deep breath that he had been unaware that he was holding, "Well, that time has come."
The reaction was immediate, with Kratus Vahillus thrusting a fist skywards. "Huzzah," the pirate cheered, "the time has finally come."
Talos grinned at his friend's reaction before silencing him with a look. "Yes, the time has come," he repeated, "but we are still in the preparation stage. Arcona's war machine must be brought to bear, which is why I have called you three here. You will all be given tasks that are extremely important to the fluid movement of our preparations" the Aedile explained.
"Name it and it will be done, Aedile Erinos," the cyborg bodyguard/hunter Acheron said in a mechanical monotone.
"Aye, just name it," Kratus put in while his wife, Xathia, nodded in the affirmative.
"Then without any further preamble, stations are as follows: Templar Vahillus, you are to survey the loading of our troopers and support personnel along with their equipment," Talos flicked his eyes up from the datapad to ensure that Kratus understood, "Archpriestess Vahillus," Talos said to the former's wife, "You are to take command of this vessel's communication center and make sure that we have absolutely 100% communication capability with the other vessels in our strike group, those being the ISDII Eye of the Abyss II, the BAC Shadow, and the W/GSP Broken Blade. Understood?"
"You got it, sir," the Krath said.
"Excellent, then you two can get a move on. Any issues with your authority, contact me or the Quaestor when he returns from his inspection of the Blade."
The two Vahillus bowed at the waist to their direct superior and then nodded to Socorra, who was standing behind and to the right of her master, and the Prelate cyborg before departing the officer. With morbid pride, Talos noticed that the two Brotherhood veterans had a new spring in their step, as the prospect of war finally sunk in.
"What about me, Aedile Erinos?" Acheron asked after the door had shut.
Talos raked his eyes up and down the cyborg and breathed in deep. "Prelate d'Tana," he began slowly, "you have two tasks. The first is to supervise the loading of all heavy equipment, be that walkers, artillery, whatever."
The cyborg nodded. "The second?"
"After you're done that, I need you to observe the crew and make notes of any personnel, be they combat or no, officer or enlisted, that look as if they may pose a problem to the war effort. I know for a fact that this sudden muster has rubbed a bunch of people the wrong way. However, and I cannot stress this enough, you are not to take lethal action with any possible dissenters you find. Let them see you, let them get scared of you...that should work. If not, report to me or the Quaestor and we'll decide what to do. We will not have insubordination on this ship but neither will we have allies killing allies. We clear?" Talos asked after his explaination.
"Good. Then go."
With Acheron d'Tana's departure, that left only Talos and his apprentice, the Protector Socorra.
"What about me, master?" Socorra asked as her master slumped into the padded chair of the BAC's executive officer, whose office Talos had commandeered.
The Erinos turned to look at his apprentice and carefully traced her face with his eyes.
'Young,' he reflected, 'but not ignorant of the struggles of the galaxy and what we must to do to survive. However, I doubt she's seen anything like what she's about to....
"You, my apprentice, are to go to this ship's archives. Take my passcode, it'll give you complete access. Once there, I want you to research every little bit of information you can find on the planet of New Tython. Topography, number of inhabitants, current season, major settlements, everything"
Socorra's face lit up at the prospect of finding information, but nevertheless she asked the simple question. "Yes, master. But why?"
Talos rose from his chair and looked down on the Protector. "I think it'd be a good idea for us to learn where we'll be fighting...don't you?"
Eye of the Abyss II
For all the times Ronovi had been on a ship, she had never found one so impressive. True, she had been aboard Tarentum's prized ImpStar Deuce, the Magnus Kaerner, during various expeditions throughout the years. The Kaerner, however, carried a more vintage aura, aging but still properly maintained. It boasted of its namesake, the founder of Tau Squadron, almost to the point of obsession. Sort of like a glutton who spent hours conversing about his latest seven-course meal, Ronovi thought to herself.
The Eye of the Abyss II was an entirely different story. True, the Exarch had heard about its modifications, such as the grand libraries and the various meditation spheres that offered tranquil guidance for those desiring level heads. But as Ronovi departed the hangar bay where her transport had sank to its rest, she was greeted with corridors that bore not only the majesty of past heroes, but also of present ones. She could almost sense and peruse the faces of heroes in the sleekly curved durasteel walls - those Arconans who had died for their sovereign’s glory, and those Arconans who still remained with all their battle scars glowing brown and rusty red on their faces and necks. She could only hope that she, too, would leave a mark on the pages of Brotherhood history.
The entrance to the bridge lay open to her like a polished mouth, its silver teeth beckoning her further into its jaws. From a distance, Ronovi could already spot the white cloak of the Qel-Droman Quaestor as he stood quietly with his hands locked behind his back. She wondered if the tension she felt was the tension within the man's own muscles and sinews.
"Ronovi," Marick murmured without turning around. "I'm glad you arrived safely."
Ronovi grinned as the doors closed with a soft growl behind her. The first thing she noticed about the room was the currents of energy flowing from its workers and officers, like static electricity buzzing around her hair follicles and the fabric of her coat. The next thing she noticed, in contrast to the stark white and gold illuminations that threatened to burn the flesh into a hazardous pink, was that the bridge was bathed in a gentle cerulean light. It was practically therapeutic, and the Epicanthix felt the stress in her arms and legs unwind like coils loosening on a curled spring.
"You could almost fall asleep in this place," she heard herself saying aloud, as her boots audibly shuffled across the floor.
"When the Consul is on board, the entire ship is lit in blue hues in his honor," replied Marick, still not looking at her. His eyes were firmly fixed on the viewing portal ahead of him. "We figured it would be appropriate to have similar lighting for this sort of situation."
Ronovi felt her brow furrow in an unprecedented crease. "Situation, you call it," she mused. "I call it a bloodbath."
"Yes, and one I imagined you would thoroughly enjoy."
In the brief time that Marick had known Ronovi, he had adapted quite quickly to her whims and worries. Ronovi nearly drifted back into her frantic psyche again. The Jedi. The plasma singeing the vertebrate. She reached for her flask again and unscrewed the cap.
"I would rather you not drink," Marick's voice burst in her ears like a flood of whiskey. "If you don't mind, please remain sober."
"What?" retorted the Exarch. "You don't think I can handle my liquor?"
"You may not believe it," said Marick, pivoting on his right heel and turning to look at his ally for the first time, "but I'm rather lacking in humor at the moment."
Ronovi blinked. Her fingers danced along the cap of her flask as she resealed it. The tip of her tongue protested, but she kept it locked firmly between the bones of her lower jaw. At that point, she realized just how weary Marick Del'Abbot truly was. His eyes were muted, dim, like the setting sun casting the sky in an exhausted indigo. Like a pebble cooling in the ocean. Like the blue in Ara Feskin's apprentice's gaze before the sapphires faded into gray pearls.
"Yes," she heard herself saying, her back stiffening. She felt her tongue wander in its ivory prison.
Marick was looking straight at her. "I have been Quaestor of House Qel-Droma for nearly a year now," he enunciated, his crisp Hapan dialect never losing its silkiness. "It has been a privilege, and today I was given command of a ship and asked to lead the mighty clan Arcona to New Tython so that we may demolish the Jedi fortifications. There is hardly a greater honor."
"However..." Marick's voice suddenly plummeted in volume. "This year has also been a trial and a test of will. Never before have I been expected to run such a intricate web of people and power. Perhaps I was highly successful as commander of the Oblivion Brigade, but this is entirely different. And as such, I have never gone to war...as a leader."
"Certainly does wonders for the stress levels, yes," Ronovi muttered. In truth, she didn't have much to say to that.
"That is why I brought you here," continued Marick. "To the Abyss II. You could very well have gone with your house, or with Shadow Gate, but I wanted you here individually, not in a group. And I think you know why."
She had a hunch. Five years of being in leadership positions - consecutively, in fact - had done wonders for her perspective. An Aedile during the last great Brotherhood war. A Proconsul during the siege of Salas V. A Quaestor of the Sith King's dominion in the midst of a massive clash of Orders. She had seen much carnage and chaos as a leader. To what end, she could not safely say. The end of her tenure as Prince of Yridia had unraveled quicker than a thread on a loom, the beautiful details of a fine tapestry becoming nothing but blots of color as conflict overtook the system and Khyron himself expressed displeasure. And yet...
"I need, in a word," whispered the Hapan, "guidance. Your help. An experienced hand in all this disarray. One who has stood the test of battle and time while at the helm of a ship...literally and figuratively."
Ronovi understood. She folded her arms across her chest, the weight of her limbs serving as a comfort rather than a burden on her breath. A somewhat seasoned veteran of war assisting a man who also knew the hue of blood and burnt flesh on his armor. But the most surprising thing about it all, with all their casual banter and episodes of outright tension...was that Marick had asked for guidance from a woman.
She wondered if this meant Marick was turning over a new leaf in terms of his outdated chauvinistic perspective. Then again, perhaps it was that she, despite others who had stood alongside the men of Arcona on the battlefield, had actually earned the Quaestor's full trust and respect. It was almost as if she had been sitting at the table with a royal Hapan family and given a full glass of Hapan gold wine, and now she was being allowed to drink it.
The two stood silently for some time, their faces chiseled from stone, their eyes deceivingly lax but in reality brimming with their own medicinal doses of rage and vengeance. Ronovi spoke only after she had grown accustomed to the percussion of the bridge, the hums and buzzes and beeps of the space very much matching the pulse of the Abyss II's heart.
"So,” she pronounced carefully, molding the word like clay in the folds of her mouth. “How would you like me to guide you?"
The Eye of the Abyss. The Broken Blade. The Shadow. The Darkest Night. The Invicta. Names of ships, but also symbols of Arcona's own menacing heritage, its ebony coat of arms hanging in the Dajorra cosmos for all to see.
Two hours had passed since the Proconsul's call to arms, the summoning of leaders to their duties. More and more transports and freighters trailed the sky like comets' coattails as they headed toward their cruisers and flagship. And the names of those in command rang true in the ears and minds of those who answered the call, who responded with sulfur in their stomachs and vinegar in their mouths.
Their battle cries would be stifled in the void of space. Their roars, however, would still brew in their chests, hot and pungent and triumphant.
The Shadow departed first, then the Broken Blade. The Abyss II would soon follow. The ribbons of hyperspace met each person's faces. The battle teams settled into their preparation routines, while those leaders watched the stars feverishly blend into white from their bridges. Zandro and Wuntila watched from separate ships. They watched silently.
Now was the time for Arcona to start hunting for blood.
Earlier: E.T.A - 01:15hrs to Hyperspace Jump
Cethgus looked on through the viewport and saw the Broken Blade. Smirking to himself, he took a drag from the smoke, the glow illuminating his face in the otherwise dark and empty passenger compartment. He strode out of the confined room and slowly moved toward the cockpit of the shuttle, looking at the pilot as he neared. The man – or more specificially, Rodian – tasked with flying the ship tapped the central console with his long, suction-tipped fingers. A series of short clanks and hisses could be heard from the bowels of the shuttle as it slowly moved into docking position. Shaking his head, the Exarch recalled his last voyage as a ship Commander, and the resulting destruction that ensued. The thoughts evaporated as the pilot’s voice cut through the cabin.
“Captain, we have arrived.” His voice was a dull, guttural drone that irritated the Zabrak.
“I’ll meet them at the hatch,” Cethgus turned and marched hastily towards the docking hatch at the rear end of the shuttle. He heard the outer-door hiss and retract into the hull of the ship, taking with it the inner blast door. He was immediately veiled in crimson and orange lights; the reserve lighting for the Broken Blade before ‘launch’. He took a moment to take everything in and, as he perused the docking bay, he felt a pang of pride as the Naval conscripts hurried into a line to greet him. He plainly ignored them as he strode on board and toward the turbo-lift at the rear of the deck, his cloak trailing loosely behind him. He did not care for formality, especially not at a time like this. Pressing the top button in the elevator, he waited the two-second gap between floors. The doors opened with a hiss to reveal the bridge, his home for the following war.
“Status update?” Cethgus voice echoed around the bridge and Junior Officer quickly shot up and darted over to him.
“We are at full capacity in terms of supplies, Sir. Revenance Virtuom is also on board.” the man spoke quickly, trying to hasten the exchange.
“Good. I will be overseeing the ship from the bridge during the jump, so ready yourself and wait for my order.” Cethgus clasped his arms behind his back and inspected the pre-jump preparations, slowly strolling from station to station. Although the ship had a twenty-two man capacity, the bridge seemed teeming with bodies. Cethgus did his best to meander round the swell of operators in the walkway. Without warning, his arm leapt from his back and latched on one of the unsuspecting operator’s arm.
“Call for Inarya and Cassandra. Tell them to prepare the team for a briefing.” he released his tight grip and watched the man scurry off through the blast door.
Cethgus turned back around and finally saw the result of war. Through the main viewport on the bridge, Cethgus saw the hull of the Darkest Night punctuated by large ships, dwarfed by the sheer size of the Bothan Assault Cruiser that acted as the Flagship for House Galeres. Cethgus’ contemplations were disrupted by news from the deck.
“Sir we are getting a message from an incoming shuttle, Quaestor Celahir wishes to inspect the ship.” The Communications Officer waited anxiously for a response from the Exarch.
“Tell them I will meet them when they arrive.” with that, Cethgus strolled off the bridge and back toward the docking bay. The two-second delay in the turbo-lift gave Cethgus enough time to brush the dust from his attire before the docking bay appeared in front of him. Cethgus stopped only a few meters clear of the docking platform just as the doors snapped open.
“I hear you have come to inspect the ship?” Cethgus bowed his head in respect as he spoke to the man.
"Well, somebody needs to keep an eye on you." Celahir said, only half jestingly.
Cethgus nodded as he allowed Celahir to take the lead, following the man as he went into detail inspecting the ship. Cethgus stood behind him the whole way, knowing that everything had to be perfect to get the seal of approval; he just hoped everything went smoothly.
“Is everything to your standard so far?” Cethgus voice was calm and collected as the two men returned to the docking port.
“Everything seems in order.” Celahir replied, seemingly satisfied with the Broken Blade’s final preparations.
“Be safe” Cethgus said as Celahir flicked the hood back over his head.
“One more thing,” Celahir said, turning back to face the Zabrak, “Don’t blow this one up.”
“I promise nothing.” Cethgus said with a dry smile. Celahir shook his head and walked into the shuttle. The doors snapped shut and Cethgus felt his shoulders relax.
The Zabrak made for the small quarters reserved for Revenance Virtuom. It was tucked away in the corner of the loading bay, out of sight, out of mind. It originally been used as a kitchen/pantry for the crew, but now it housed some of the most fearsome warriors Arcona had to offer.
Cethgus waltzed into the room and stood, arms folded against his heavily muscled chest. His voice seemed to ring through the ship as he began, “Are you ready to die for Arcona?”
BAC Darkest Night
Archives, Present Time
Socorra’s pale eyes took in the sights and scenes of the bridge, watching the men and women go about their duties. Truly, this was an experience to behold, as she hadn’t seen the inside of anything larger than a small freighter before. But it was a momentary fantasy; there was work to be done.
As she made her way to the archives of the Darkest Night, it dawned on her on just how frustrated she actually was. The Journeyman had no stake in the war. They were out here wasting time, about to slaughter a whole heap of Jedi that never should have been brought into the fold in the first place. Lightsiders distracted from the true purpose of the Dark Side, and the Dark Jedi would be more focused on bringing about order if they didn't have to keep stomping out their spark of stupidity. And yet here they were, doing it all over again. People would die today for something that could have been prevented.
It really made the nomad wonder why she was here at all. Socorra simply didn’t have the rabid fanaticism that many showed for Arcona, let alone the Brotherhood. It wasn’t exactly the power that she craved like everyone else. It was the knowledge, which was why she had become an information broker in the first place. Knowledge itself was power, the calling of a true Krath.
Even so, she did hope to see and learn from every facet of this war if she was to be caught up in it.
Socorra typed in the Master’s passcode into a terminal in the archives, and it lit up like a Huttese neon burlesque sign. She stiffened for a moment, staring at the welcome screen, her heart suddenly beating faster. Her criminal ties lay deep in the past, but old habits died hard.
The Protector’s superiors would all be too busy with the war to notice if she nosed around in their databases. Her skills for disseminating information were underestimated, thus taking a lot less time to find information than anyone could imagine for a simple Human. In the end, oaths were mere words or actions. Breaking them only depended on whether or not someone cared about the consequences. Socorra had sworn a blood oath to the Black Bha’lir, but here she was, right in the thick of another organization. The mark of the Bha’lir was darkly illuminated on the back of her tanned hand as it hovered over the glowing console, a constant reminder of them.
Admittedly, she was never one for the “one tribe” concept. It was all about what it could do for her, rather than what she could do for it. But that was what the young woman had become since her brutal exile from her “one tribe.” Socorra was a former nomad of her Bharhulai clan, and now she was a solitary nomad traveling the stars, gathering knowledge wherever she went to make up for such a savage, primitive, and secluded childhood.
The Brotherhood offered knowledge of the Force, something she had lost when her first master had turned on her. It wasn’t the only means of knowledge, of course; however, she had no patience for Lightsiders and their ways.
The name of Talos Erinos clearly glared back at her on the welcome screen, as if the Aedile was chiding the young Arconan for these thoughts. It had little effect on her, though; far too many years of prying into other people’s lives made her almost immune to such things.
However, it did make her question her relation to him. Was she merely using her Master? Given the historical trend of most Dark Jedi apprentices, it would be true, but Socorra wondered if that was the case here. Talos was clearly interested in assisting her in ascending through the ranks, but little gain for himself was shown so far. Truly he couldn’t be that noble.
Traditional Mandalorians had a sense of honor, though...perhaps he leaned more toward that heritage than some others. The Mando'ade had also been a nomadic group of clan-based people; with war being a source of honor and pride in their community. However, that group was far less primitive than the Socorran Bharhulai. Although Talos wasn’t born into Mando traditions and only embraced it later on, the similarity between the Master and Apprentice was rather curious.
The more time they spent together and the more wisdom her Master imparted on her, she did feel some sort of bond growing. Known only then as Nim Naja, the young girl had shared a bond with her former Master on Socorro, but it had grown wild and spiteful. He had been a failed Jedi on the path of redemption, and he was unable to control himself when he began to slip back into the beckoning darkness. Talos, however, was gaining mastery in the Dark Side using what appeared to be the correct method, under the guidance and supervision of his own elders.
Perhaps that was what made this bond quite different. It lacked the possessiveness and disease-ridden quality of her former one. She didn’t hear or feel Talos hemming and hawing or teetering back and forth across the boundaries of light and dark. That earned him a massive amount of respect from the young woman.
Socorra frowned at the terminal, her Master’s name still highlighted on its screen. Then, with a sudden hiss, she began furiously typing in and skimming through the information on New Tython, following her orders precisely, and foregoing any insidious actions...for now.
12 Minutes until contact with The Shroud
The Invicta’s hangar was a sight to behold on the eve of battle. Spanning three decks and taking up just under an eighth of the entire ship’s floor plan, it was a hive of activity. The TIE Avengers of Black Wind and Lightbane Squadrons seemed like toys down on the deck below. An assortment of tiny humanoids carried out the standard pre-flight checks, refuelled the Starfighters, and completing last minute repairs to ensure they were ready for combat. Wuntila felt as if he could reach down, pluck one of the Starfighters from their docking supports, and hold it in the palm of his hand.
He stood on the highest walkway in hangar, reserved for the use of Commissioned Officers to oversee preparations. The walkway sat just below the communications deck and, from time to time, Wuntila thought he could hear the customary beeping of the comm-terminals. He had his hands linked in front of him, elbows resting on the handrail, as he looked blankly out over the rush of bodies beneath him.
The Prelate struggled to contemplate his position; he had been a leading member in Arcona’s effort during the Order Wars of 34 ABY, he had been attacked by the Death Walkers in Selen and he had even been captured by the Dajorran invasion force at the end of 34 ABY. This time, though, it seemed different. He felt a great sadness would result from the war, a dark void that would loom over him for some time. Although the Proconsul had been working on his connection to the force for a while, his skills with precognition were extremely limited. He had shown remarkable devotion to the archives when he had the time and indulged in extended meditation sessions daily. The effects were noticeable, but this was something far beyond his reach. His anxiety had reared its ugly head when he stepped on board; that, coupled with the burden of leadership during wartime, made for a very restless Proconsul.
“Wun?” The Consul’s voice knocked Wuntila back into the fray.
“Lord Consul,” Wuntila said, turning to salute, “Sorry, I was… dwelling on some things that have been bothering me.”
“We need you clear-headed for the war, Wun. Do not let your thoughts trouble you in times of uncertainty. You and Sashar are the two main front-line generals. If your vision is clouded, your command will be in jeopardy.” Zandro mimicked the Proconsul’s position: fingers entwined, elbows resting on the handrail.
“I understand, Lord Consul.” Wuntila looked back over the scene unfolding below, the preparations were nearly complete and the pilots began to assemble for briefing. “I will not let my thoughts inhibit my capacity as a leader. It was just a momentary lapse.”
“Good. I’ve never seen you contemplative before. After the war, we’ll talk. For now, we need to be cool, calm and collected.” Zandro spoke softly, as if he had been there himself. “I have to go and begin the preparations. Navigating The Shroud will be no mean feat, especially with me piloting. Will you brief the troops?”
“Wait, you’re piloting the Invicta?.” Wuntila turned to Zandro, confused.
“Hey, it can’t be much more difficult than a Starfighter, can it?” Zandro gave the Human-Theelin a nudge, “Besides, I’d best leave the Dragon of Selen to address the troops himself.”
Wuntila smiled, “As you wish.”
Moments later, the whirl of hyperspace outside, in all its colourful splendour, made the transition from sharp lines to the still void of space once more. They had decanted and were now entering the most difficult part of the journey: The navigation of The Shroud. Antei and its surrounding space were renowned for difficult navigation. In a time of haste, it was even more dangerous. Yet, with Zandro’s Force ability coupled with his piloting prowess, Wuntila had no doubt they would make it there safely.
Wuntila took his datapad and unclipped it from his belt. A few moments of toying later, Wuntila had linked his communication device with that of Felix’s, the Sergeant of T’ad Summit Guard.
“Felix, do you copy?” Wuntila began walking toward the stairs at the far corner of the walkway, his finger pressed against the device in his ear.
“Copy, Sir.” Felix’s undistinguishable voice was reassuring.
“Call the infantry for inspection. That includes the heavy infantry, the heavy assault groups, even the Solus Summit guard. I want all units lined up in hangar nine within ten minutes. I repeat, all personnel not piloting are to report to hangar nine in ten minutes.” Wuntila had already begun to make his way there, but he figured he could wait in nine’s control tower until they all arrived.
“Of course, your honour.” With that, Felix’s voice disappeared and the Proconsul once again opened up his communication line. He strode into the tower of hangar nine and waited for the troops to assemble.
He walked slowly along the unending line of troops, flanked on each side by Captain Bly, the commander of Solus Summit Guard, and Felix. It was obviously a rushed affair, but that was the effect the Proconsul wanted. The infantry had done a good job of being so organised, a testament to their training, and presenting themselves in their best possible condition. Wuntila had his arms clutched behind his back as he passed the ranks, perusing past the armour and even the very mettle of the men that stood before him. He could feel the anxiety, the pressure building in them. Arcona’s Magificent Blue Beast let a wry smile tease at his lips.
“As all of you may know…” Wuntila stopped to tap a soldier in the chest, a direct sign to straighten up and suck it in, “…we are heading to war. I cannot promise that you will all live to see the result. In fact, I know some of you who stand before me now will lie dead on the battlefield in less than two day’s time. All I ask is that you fight well, and you fight hard. You are all here for one purpose. That purpose is something you cannot buy; it is for the glory of yourselves, it is for the glory of Arcona. The only thing that matters is the man next to you and victory. All else is expendable. Fight your heart out; take others down with you if you have to. We are here to win and that is something I expect to happen. If any of you think of desertion, I’ll hunt you down and kill you myself, if I don’t think you are working hard enough, I’ll hunt you down and kill you myself twice. Let that serve as a warning to you all. Let us remember why we are here, what we fight for, what we cherish. We are Arcona, we cannot be beaten!” Wuntila shouted and the sea of faces shouted back. A roar that seemed to shake the entire ship exploded from the soldier’s faces. Wuntila could see the pride, the passion. He turned to Felix and Bly and smiled.
“It looks like we have the making of an army.” Wuntila said aloud, not specifically directed at either of them.
“We have always had an army, Sir. A fearsome one at that.” Bly’s voice oozed patriotism and loyalty.
“Well then let’s show them what Arconans are made of.” Wuntila turned to the crowd, “Dismissed, the lot of you. Report to your stations.” He turned back to Felix and Bly and nodded, “It looks like we’re in it for the long haul. Rally your men, I’ll see you on the battlefield.”
“Sir!” both voices seemed to merge into one as the Proconsul walked toward the turbo-lift.
Eye of the Abyss II
30 Minutes Until Contact With the Shroud
Slippery metal met slippery metal like warring silver tongues in the circular space. As Ronovi locked blade with blade, she felt her pelvis being pushed back, her boots scuffing the steel floor as she attempted to hold her ground. Her opponent lied her blade, but the Epicanthix swung back easily, chopping at the air as she tried to counter Marick's parries. Then, in one swift motion, she feinted with a glissade, viciously shoved the countering sword to the side, shook the floor with an appel, and finally lunged, barely grazing the blunt tip against the man's chest.
Marick had officially excused himself from the bridge and placed the XO of the Abyss II in charge for some time, so that he and Ronovi could discuss things in peace. However, while Ronovi could be a sharp storyteller, she felt more at ease with something actually sharp in her hand. Her body ached for adrenaline and exercise, so Marick - after lobbing a dirty joke or two at her - followed her into a spare space so that they could do some dueling. Now the two, having removed their coat and cloak respectively, danced along the periphery, riposte-ing to their hearts' content, all the while exchanging curt words between breaths.
"That's four-two, isn't it?" Ronovi teased, twirling her weapon and showing off a bit. They were simple foils, the blades marvelously pliable and vulnerable to the air and tempo of the two novice fencers. Marick smiled thinly.
"Not bad for someone so uncouth and undisciplined in style," he jabbed with his words before jabbing with his sword. Ronovi attempted to disengage but soon found herself the victim of the Hapan's cross movement, the bell-shaped guard spinning dexterously over his hand.
"I didn't know you had to look pretty to be a good fencer."
"You don't," Marick said. "But there is a certain grace to the art."
Cut, parry, derobement. What Marick lacked in strength compared to Ronovi's raw strikes and swings, he made up for in dexterity. His agility and the choreography of his footwork, from an advance to a fluid balestra, was beautiful nearly to a fault. Ronovi bit back a taunt regarding Marick’s potential alternative career being in ballet, and she recovered from a bind and an incessant flurry of beats. The Hapan threw forward his rear leg and sprinted in a blurred fleché, throwing his foil at an angle and hitting Ronovi indirectly in the shoulder.
"Four-three," he hissed. "You’re lucky I didn’t use one of my knives."
After another bout of buzzing blades, Ronovi felt the acid within her muscles stiffen her arms and legs, and she knew that Marick was feeling a similar strain and exhaustion. They lowered their blades then, stooping down to mop their faces and necks with towels they had lain out, before pacing around the sphere together.
"Think it's a bit sacrilegious?" Ronovi asked with a small sneer, as her eyes scanned the rounded walls and corners. She saw the raging kaleidoscope of hyperspace in a viewing portal and thought of hyper-rapture. "Fighting in a meditation room?"
"I've seen worse."
"I didn't really duel anyone back in Tarentum." The Exarch drew her towel about her shoulders, the fabric brushing against the damp tunic of her military uniform. "Never bothered to. Most of my training was in the underground rings and with my father, when I was very young."
Marick raised an eyebrow. "Was he a fighting man?"
"He was raised in Panatha. Imperialist pilot for part of his life."
Ronovi had not said much about her time as Consul and later Quaestor of Tarentum besides the main events. She had talked to Marick about Tarentum's troubles with the Church of Infinite Perception, as well as the unit's ennui after the events of the Order War and later on the Independence Games. It had come down to Tarentae politics, plain and simple, as the kratocracy she spent sweat, blood, and lives on to build was simply dismantled by a disapproving successor. She had departed Yridia with little honor, she had said, but ironically very little shame.
As her head cooled from the duel and the adrenaline levels in her body plateaued and eased her tendons, the Epicanthix figured it was about time to tell Marick what he had desired to hear. Holding the hilt of her foil in the crook of her left elbow, she propped herself against a wall and locked her arms against her chest again.
"Leadership," she said, "is not merely about charisma or efficiency. It's about keeping an audience. An interest, if you will. My failure as Prince of Yridia was due to the reception of my work. Those who had handed themselves honors like candy didn't fancy me much...and it resulted in dire consequences within my dominion."
"You did mention a certain...lack of trust with the Tarentae, even Khyron."
"Khyron had his allies. I had mine." Ronovi spat out of the corner of her mouth, allowing the white rivulet to splash unceremoniously onto the floor. "But it was beyond the concept of trust. It was the idea of getting power back. Many who had tried their hand at the helm of Tarentum...and most of them failed to do well with it, for that matter...were anxious to try again. No one within that house is satisfied with a hot-headed newcomer making the heavy decisions. So they became lazy. Somewhat uncaring. And it left holes in my work."
"So what did you do?" Marick asked.
Ronovi laughed. "A more interesting question would be what I didn't do. I didn't fall to the same shortcomings as my peers. I didn't cower in front of the visage of the Sith King when he challenged me. I didn't yield to any pompous Tarentae's demands for more estate, or higher status, within my tyranny of cunning. I abdicated the throne of Yridia when Lyspair called for me...it was when I voluntarily gave up the scepter that the hungry hounds of Khyron snatched it and had their way with what I'd constructed."
She knew that her voice was dripping with disappointment, disenchantment, and a dash of vengeance. She knew Marick could hear it in her inflections as well. However, she forced herself to smile again, shuffling her feet as she pushed herself back into the center of the room, observing the Quaestor as he dabbed at his face with his towel once more.
"Leadership is not only in the friends you make, but also in the foundations that you build," Ronovi continued. "You were taught to follow very high expectations after Arcona's victory during the Reclamation. Si you're not merely a Quaestor...you're also an architect. Now Qel-Droma's framework's been rebuilt, and the blueprints set in motion. Oh, and those you believe you hold sway over? I have one piece of sage advice for that."
Ronovi's brown eye glinted with glee, right before she threw her dominant arm up with the blade circling her body. Placing her hand into a beautiful pronation, she pressed Marick's defending strike aside, metal sliding with metal, before flicking the point against Marick's throat. He stumbled back, attempting to create a yielding parry, but his arms flailed as he was thrown toward the floor, his spine loudly complaining as his back made contact with the durasteel.
The sound of his body landing was a meaty thud like a lump of mutton slammed onto a table. Ronovi used her left hand to cuff Marick's right arm up to his shoulder, pinning it similarly to a prisoner's tricep locked in a binder. The blade of her foil bent and wobbled as she held the dull point right against Marick's cheek, until it traced his chin and nose and snapped backward, exposing Ronovi's marble glare.
"Trust no one."
W/GSP Broken Blade: Revenance Virtuom’s Quarters
As the Student to the Obelisk Sergeant, Cassandra had always found his attitude to be much like hers at time. His witty comments and his childish cockiness made him who he was, and the young girl was glad her Master hadn’t changed during their time apart. But after his briefing about the situation, she only wanted time to herself. After all, war involved death and it only brought on the memories of her parents.
Once Cethgus left to oversee the jump into hyperspace, the team broke into their social groups and began to chat amongst themselves. The tension was stressful, and hopefully she wasn’t the only one who felt it. As Cassandra began to fiddle with one of her many Locust Knives, her eyes caught the glare of Saarin. She figured he spotted her frown, yet who couldn’t here in such small confines and circumstances.
“Come on Cassie, you look like seven day rain.” The Obelisk chuckled as he approached his comrade.
At first her eyes looked out the closest porthole, and the blue sparkle of twisting stars and hyperspace brought a warm feeling to her heart. But once her fellow Battle Team member was in front of her, she snapped and let out all her emotions at once.
“Shut it Vahn. Like you know anything…people are going to die and once they're gone, they never come back!”
As her eyes turned fiery, Cassandra stormed out, trying to hide her red angered face and the tear droplets crawling down her cheeks. Once the door whooshed shut behind her, the Sith slammed her fist into the closest wall. The sudden thumb made the few Ensigns around her freeze in surprise, as their reaction made the young girl smirk, her bitter feelings slowly passed.
“Sorry…Err which way to the Bridge?”
The closest one to her spoke first, his voice was clipped with formality and his uniform was sharp and clean.
“Just down the hall to the left Ma’am, oh and is everything ok?”
“Never better” Cassandra replied as she eyed up the Naval Officer like a real woman looks upon a man.
* * * * *
The Battlemaster came onto the command deck in swift strides, and she felt somewhat at home in the atmosphere of the work around her. Her last days in House Plagueis saw her as the Grand Admiral of her fleet, it gave her enough experience to know that Cethgus had this place wrapped up pretty tight. The glow of hyperspace seeped through the main window, and brought a blue shine to the many consoles around her. Cassandra came to her Master’s side, and a flash back to many years ago came back to her. The memory of the last Great Jedi War, as a console blew up into Cethgus’s back and left her to be the savior of her Clan at the time. Those were the days, she thought.
“Just like old times, wouldn’t you say Ceth?”
The Equite chuckled as she remained by the Zabrak’s side and as she got a chance to look around; she felt the suspense of battle before them. Her hands clasp her Mother’s necklace, and at the moment, she knew she was ready. It was time for her to fight for Arcona and make a reputation of power in battle amongst the Clan’s ranks.
BAC Darkest Night
“Sir, all the troops are secured, as per Aedile Erinos orders.”
“Very good,” Kratus replied in return to the Sergeant with a nod. “Return with your company, I will see to it he is informed.”
Removing his hands from the railing, the Templar turned and stalked from the chamber, his trenchcoat fluttering about his ankles. His pace was brisk, as though he were in a rush to get where he was going, though the Pirate was far from being an urgent man. Crewmen and fellow Galerians walked by him without paying attention to the cyborg, which Kratus was perfectly content with. It was a pleasant change from the constant stares of fear he normally received from the many inhabitants of the Galaxy that knew his name in connection to his previous occupation, and the status he had garnered from it.
“Yes, Vahillus?” Talos asked, removing Kratus from his private thoughts as the cyborg realized he’d arrived.
“The troops are aboard and secure, as you commanded,” he reported, his voice grating from his artificial vocals with a harsh growl.
“Very good, I hadn’t expected any less,” Talos stated congenially, though there was a slight edge that suggested what would have happened otherwise. Though the Mandalorian had come to trust the Pirate, there was still something to the cyborg that kept him on edge, and extremely sensitive.
A moment of silence passed between the two before Kratus inquired, “Do you have more for me to do?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact I do,” Talos responded, sitting forward at his desk and ruffling through some papers. “I would like you to go and monitor engineering, as I know you have a lot of experience with vessels and how they operate. I’m sure our men down there could benefit from your experience. And of course,” the Erinos added with a slight smirk. “You will be allowed to take time to check in on your wife, I wouldn’t want to restrict you.”
The cyborg chuckled softly while nodding to the younger man. “Very well, I shall see to it that they don’t mess the engines up, as it would be a shame to lose a ship such as this to mechanical failure. By the way,” the Pirate added, looking over his shoulder as he turned toward the door. “How long until we reach our destination?”
Talos reclined in his chair, thoughtfully tapping a pen to his chin as he formulated a response to the question. “Shouldn’t take more than five hours at the maximum, unless the Dark Council decides to change plans on us,” he replied. “I doubt that will happen, but you can never be too sure with politics.”
“Aye,” Vahillus responded, turning his head forward again. “Not even the politicians truly know politics, it is the only occupation that writhes like a snake, ever-changing.”
“Can I help you, ma’am?” an ensign asked the hooded and cloaked female before him.
Aveira turned back to face the young man, a glint of amusement in her blue eyes as they lit upon his face. “Not at the moment,” she replied, her tone slightly playful. “I think I know what I’m doing thus far.”
The ensign grew slightly hot under the collar, and it showed in the slight reddening of his skin. His eyes fell to his boots, and he muttered, “Right then. I’ll just be manning my station if you need me.”
The Novice chuckled under her breath as her eyes followed the ensign back to his seat. Most of the crew had been the same, turning shy the instant Aveira spoke to them. She knew exactly why they did it, most men couldn’t handle the tone she used, which was why she continued to use it.
“Ah, Novice Iraedi,” came the all to familiar sound of the Pirate’s voice from behind her. “Funny seeing you here.”
The Krath turned to face the Templar, her head cocked slightly. “Surprised?”
“Only a little,” the Coruscanti replied, walking over to one of the many consoles. His fingers flitted across the keys with the ease of much practice, and soon he had a schematic of the engines pulled up. “Come here Novice,” he commanded softly.
Aveira walked slowly over to the Coruscanti’s side, her eyes displaying intense curiosity. She gazed down at the screen, her eyes absorbing all of the information displayed on its surface: the heat output, the power systems, the fuel level, combustion systems, etc.
“I thought you might be curious to see that,” the cyborg rumbled, a small smirk upon his features. “Given your aptitude for acquiring information.”
“I’ve never really studied engines before though,” Aveira responded, glancing up at the Coruscanti. “I know the basics, but I’m unfamiliar with the finer points of their capabilities.”
Kratus glanced about the room, made sure that all of the engineers were performing their duties, then returned his gaze to the younger member before him. “Well, we have some time,” he said, moving to lean against a railing. “Shall we take a walk? I can give you some information along the way, and perhaps point out some things about engines that most people, including engineers, miss occasionally.”
Aveira looked around for a moment, the nodded to the Templar. “I could use a walk,” she said absently, flashing a smile.
BAC Darkest Night
Acheron looked over the area with an increasing level of distaste. He had grown tired of everything dealing with his body, but secrecy required him to remain vigilant. Few people knew the truth and that’s how it would stay for the time being. As the loaders continued their monotonous work, the Prelate leaned against a nearby wall and crossed his arms.
Nearby in the shadows lingered a young Chiss woman. The Chiss apprentice was never very far from her Master and always seemed to know when he seemed to know when her silence was preferred.
The sounds of a nearby altercation pulled Acheron away from his boredom. He pushed away from the wall with a soft sigh and started towards the two crewmen.
“Come, child,” instructed the behemoth. “We need to handle the situation before it spills out to the other crewmen.”
“As you wish, Master,” came the softly spoken reply.
As he approached the two men, Acheron reached out and grabbed them both by the backs of their necks. Looking from one to the other, he shook his head slightly as Andraste moved to stand opposite of her Master.
“What am I to do with you two? The Director has given me very strict orders that I’m not to kill any of you. However, the young lady over there is itching to practice her new moves on something. Perhaps I should give you two to her to serve as an example,” the Prelate mused aloud.
Andraste’s eye lit up with the idea as the two men began to shake more violently in the Obelisk’s grasp. Dropping the two to the floor, the Prelate looked down at them disgustedly.
“I’ll let it slide for now. However, if any of you fight, I will give you to my Apprentice. She takes great pride in her work and she won’t be very happy now that I’ve taken away a potential playmate. Remember that if anyone decides to start arguing again.”
Acheron looked down at the gathered crew and spoke in a deadly whisper. “Get back to work.”
Andraste growled at the Prelate for a moment before looking down with a mumbled apology. Acheron turned and left the stunned group to scurry back to their positions.
Nearing the walkway, the Prelate received a coded message and sighed softly. Pulling the datapad from his vest, he opened the message and read it carefully.
Your presence will be needed on the surface of New Tython. You know where to meet us.
The message, of course, had not been signed - but the Prelate knew exactly who sent it. The time was coming and the behemoth smiled inwardly as he looked down at his Apprentice. The two of them shared a look that sent the workers around them scurrying to different areas to assist with loading.
The pair turned back to face the loading docks as Andraste said, “Coded messages now, Master? How very cloak and dagger of you...”
“Someday that mouth is going to get you in trouble, child. I should take steps to take care of it myself, but I have a fondness for people who think for themselves instead of simply following the herd. You are very different from so many that I see around here, Vivendi,“ d’Tana said to the young woman.
Acheron knew his orders and Andraste would help him; the young woman was growing more willing to show her mettle to the Family. Acheron watched the docks closely as he slowly shook his head. There would be much bloodshed this time , but that didn’t bother him anymore.
Acheron typed out a coded message to Talos, his fingers moving rapidly.
Once we land, I have been told that my services will be needed by the Warden.
ISD Eye of the Abyss II
Nothing is true, Marick recited the first part of the Oblivion Brigade code to himself. Instinctively, the fallen Hapan thought to redeem himself by sweeping the Epicanthix's feet out from beneath her. Instead he remained on his back, staring up at the dull gay ceiling.
"Trust no one," he repeated softly aloud.
A silence passed between the two Arconans. For the first time since stepping into the meditation chamber, Marick realized just how quiet it was. It was serene, in a way. His cerulean eyes neglected to deviate from their upward gaze. Ronovi frowned slightly and hesitated for a moment before sitting down next to her Quaestor. Leaning her back up against the wall, she followed his gaze up to the ceiling, then settled her eyes back on him.
"But if you trust no one, then you truly are alone," he muttered in more of a question than a statement. "All my life I've felt alone, and the one place that makes me whole is Arcona," Marick continued, hopeful that the quick-witted woman would allow him to vent his thoughts. To his surprise, she remained quiet.
Marick propped himself up on his elbows before joining his companion against the wall, his mind subconsciously running through a series of healing techniques to apply to the aches of his muscles, namely the ones in his back.
"Yet, I am not naive to the fact that deceit, lies, and betrayal are the ways of the Dark Side, and of the Brotherhood at large. I learned that much, at least, from my time leading Oblivion. Am I supposed to not trust the very people who put their faith in me, though? Everything I've done since my arrival here has been for my House, for my Clan. Clearly, they trust me, so in turn I should trust them."
Ronovi continued to stare at the Hapan for a few beats before cracking a small smile that turned into a chuckle. "Wow, you take me really seriously, don't you?"
“I am serious” Marick muttered somberly.
Ronovi’s mirth slowly faded as buried feelings of contempt towards her former Clan surfaced. “Look, Marick. I can only speak from what I know through experience. I only have a few friends because of those experiences, and what I can say is that vigilance is the key to good leadership. Your unit should be obligated to trust you. If you suspect everyone, there’s no way anyone can surprise you. You have to always be on guard.”
“I am always on guard,” the Shadesworn countered quickly, his eyes narrowing ever so slightly.
“You may be on guard for your personal danger, but how can you sense an entire House, let alone a Clan? ”
Marick seemed to be digesting the response. Judging by the way his eyebrows scrunched together, though, Ronovi could tell he was having a hard time accepting her somewhat jaded philosophy.
“A valid point...but--”
“Hey, you’re the one who asked me for advice. Take it or leave it”
Marick nodded slowly and then climbed back to his feet, offering his hand to the other. Half expecting some form of ruse, Ronovi reluctantly accepted the hand but relied on her own strength to bring her back to her feet. The gesture had spoken for itself, though. She knew that the proud Hapan could not openly thank Ronovi for the advice, but the subtle change in his body language did.
“I know,” was all he said before patting her on the back and grabbing his towel and the set of foils. As he headed towards the exit, he stopped and looked back over his shoulder.
“So,” he asked in a more familiar tone that the two had become accustomed to. “Am I one of those few friends?”
“You wish,” Ronovi snorted dismissively as she waved him away with her hand.
ISD Eye of the Abyss II
Marick flicked his head to clear the strands of hair from his face as he stepped out of the shower. Plopping down on the bed, he rested the towel over his head and sat there, alone with his thoughts. As he pulled the towel free and began to change back into his armor and robes, he hoped that Sang hadn't missed the shuttle, and was with the Shadow.
Two hours before hyperspace launch
Sanguinius grimaced at the now blank view-screen, his reflection staring back at him from the glass. He wished he knew whether he was coming or going. Ever since the trouble on Port Ol’val stirred up by the triumvirate of Plagueis, Revan and Scholae Palatinae and the hassle the Gatekeepers had gone through to dispose of the infiltrators, he had been run ragged by the increasingly irrational demands of his old friend Marick.
Dragged out of bed at some ungodly hour back on Port Ol’val, given 40 minutes to get ready, gather the Gatekeepers and assemble at the shuttle. Not to mention the shuttle run up to the Shadow. The Sergeant sighed in resignation; he missed the simple life of Galeres. All he had to do there was turn up, shoot at some targets, practice twirling a lightsaber and drink his life away. Now he had responsibilities on Lyspair in the Academy educating young minds on the history of the Clans, and he was Marick’s personal attack dog.
The shame of it weighed heavily on the Anaxsi’s shoulders, it was a burden that he was forced to carry. But perhaps in time he could hold his head high when he would finally be able to break free of the hold the Hapan had over him. Turning his head to look at the figure sitting beside him, the Qel-Droman stared morosely at his brother Legorii.
“He never takes me seriously anymore brother; no-one does,” Sang complained.
Legorii snorted in disgust, “Stop your whining, you’re supposed to be an Entar. You make me sick.”
Sanguinius’ eyes narrowed in silent anger, his anger redirected towards his brother. “One of these days Legz, I’m going to kick the crap out of you.”
To the Templar’s surprise, the Krath guffawed with laughter, “Good to hear it, I look forward to it. Now get your head back in the game and get us back to the Shadow. I look forward to hearing what Invictus has planned for us.” The Anzati was eager for action.
Sanguinius’ thinly lipped smile answered him as the shuttle changed its heading to return to the Shadow. In the main seating area of the shuttle were the rest of the Gatekeepers bar Ronovi who had sequestered herself with Qel Droma’s Quaestor aboard the Abyss. Perhaps her presence had been affecting Marick during that conversation. The Prelate had seemed rather wild-eyed. That; or the stress of the job was getting to him. The Gatewarden smiled at that thought, he knew that feeling all too well.
The nav-computer chirped at the Templar, demanding access codes for the Shadow’s docking bay. The Professor’s fingers danced over the keyboard of the nav-computer, inputting the code effortlessly. Recognising the codes as priority access, the autopilot plotted the new course into the Bothan Assault Cruiser’s hanger. Sanguinius unbelted his harnesses and stood up out of his chair, and turned to walk out of the cockpit.
Looking back at the Krath he frowned, “I’ll let you know what Invictus has planned for us. I know we’ve been summoned to Antei, but until we hear otherwise they’re just rumours. You got that?”
The Archpriest nodded sincerely, “I understand, but I’ll guarantee you’ll be returning to New Tython.”
Sanguinius shrugged with fatalism, “So be it, I still have my uses for Ascero.”
He trooped out of the cockpit into the more open seating area, nine heads looked up in tandem at the Templar. “At ease Keepers, we’re back on the Shadow. It seems our esteemed colleague won’t be joining us just yet. She must be keeping the Quaestor’s bed warm.” The Obelisk joked.
Polite titters filled the room, “Vassan, Strat, I know you’re fed up with taking orders from me, so go get some down time, I’ll let you know what’s happening later. The rest of you, follow Legorii. I want you to bone up on your skills.”
Sanguinius strode from the room, his cloak swirling around his body as he swept it up after him. The craft jolted as it touched down on the hanger bay floor and the engines powered down. Steam billowed from the engine coils as the walkway extended downwards. The Anaxsi hummed to himself as he marched down the metal walkway, his heavy footfalls reverberated and were quickly lost in the hustle and bustle of the busy hanger bay as technicians swarmed over fighter craft fine-tuning them.
The Entar felt a familiar presence beckoning him onwards from the bay, demanding his presence on the bridge. “Invictus,” he murmured to himself. “Time I found out the truth of the matter.” Sanguinius smiled and strolled off to learn something new.
The lazy cosmos of outside appeared to be rather calm and muted compared to the tortuous path of the Shroud. The raw nebulae and clouds dimmed the viewing portals, obscuring eyes and caressing the body of dead vessels that had not made it to their destination. To the average pilot, the Shroud was like flying into an actual nightmare, the colors and movements of space resembling a high fever cracking apart a porcelain brain.
But the ship Invicta, drifting through the Shroud rather than lumbering around it, had no ordinary pilots. In fact, those at the controls appeared abnormally at peaceful, their faces stoic and blue-hued from the light of the consoles. However, that was because they were being assisted by a power that any normal navigator would cut someone's throat for.
Eyes closed and body swaying on the bridge, Zandro guided the pilots through the mist and stars, the maze opening up to him in his mind. At this point, the rest of the Arconan fleets were to have assembled into a line, entering the Shroud one by one while their navigators were in meditation. A somber military procession into the chasms of unsteady space.
In his quarters, the Proconsul stared at his notes for the last preparations, his finger tracing the outline of the datapad's screen in quiet reflection. A smile slowly emerged on Wuntila's face, though he most likely did not notice he was doing so as he worked. Perhaps, while he was doing what he did best, he had found a way to soothe his anxieties.
"Sir," Captain Yamato said, drawing the attention of the Adept before him. "Shroud at 0010 hours."
"Ori'jate," Sashar murmured.
Rising from his chair, he strode into the center of the bridge, looking at the madness of cosmos before him. The lurch from hyperspace had stirred him, roused him from a near-emotionless perspective. Now, as he let the Force sift his thoughts like flour, he channeled words over to those in Soulfire who could hear him.
Men, focus and be aware. Now is the time to delve into your thoughts and seize the controls of the Fall. We will be entering the Shroud in ten.
One by one, the presence of each Soulfire soldier pervaded Sashar's mind. Kind of like the aroma of baked pastries, dusted with heavy sugar, wafting through his nostrils. The Mandalorian didn't quite know what to make of this at first before he drifted into navigation mode and the Fall cleaved its path through the nebulae.
Eye of the Abyss II
Awkwardly juxtaposing images rattled in front of her. A Jedi duelist hilt. A screaming blood-soaked child. A plate of Lambro shark.
The Epicanthix's body surged forward as she threw herself upright, her face and hands cold with sweat. The muscles in her shoulders and thighs unlocked like brass door bolts as she broke from a dream and found herself staring up at Marick's creased brow.
Ronovi frowned. Her eyes scanned the meditation sphere; she must've fallen asleep after Marick had left. How ridiculous of her.
"Er...time for what?"
"Trance-mode, dear," Marick replied, smiling thinly. "I expect you at the bridge in five to help me navigate into the Shroud."
"Whoa, what - what?"
"Why, something wrong?"
"I...I thought it was an Elder's job."
Marick gritted his teeth. "Well, we don't have an Elder on board, so I'm pulling for every Arconan on board to help me. Including you."
Ronovi protested. "But my Force ability isn't very - "
"Save it, Ron-o. Get on the bridge in five, or you'll be making your case to the Consul."
Grumbling, Ronovi lifted herself up and wobbled slightly while her legs adjusted to actual upright posture. With her hair mussed and her uniform stained with sweat, she felt unpresentable and completely unhygienic. Oh, well. Once in the Antei system, she would have time before New Tython to change into her actual battle attire...her brand new battle attire. Not that she like other women went all googly-eyed about fashion, but by the Force, did having some awesome new threads for fighting invigorate her.
The Exarch attempted to tidy herself up but found herself stumbling down the corridors toward the bridge, feeling the circuits of the Force swell with power like electricity. Arconans had already begun to drift into the currents of space, and Ronovi knew she was obligated to follow suit.
The Shroud. It had become a familiar fabric for her to wander in. All the trips to and from Lyspair had made her grown accustomed to the atmosphere, the dark spacial terrors that coalesced around ships' sturdy frames. She had had a navigator each time she traveled; now she had to play the role for him.
She made it to the bridge and said nothing to Marick, who was so far gone into the Force that waking him would only cause problems. Sighing and closing her eyes, Ronovi toyed with the idea of messing with him later before practically ascending into a higher state of being.
About time we got this show on the road, eh?
Invictus allowed himself a smile for once as he watched the Abyss II fade into the darkness of the Shroud. Now the veil waited for him. Behind his ship, the Darkest Night hovered patiently for entry, while the Broken Blade lumbered further off. After that, gunships. All to be guided like flocks of sheep into a disorienting pasture.
Galeres and Cethgus would be responsible for that.
Come on. Let's concentrate...
And Invictus gladly complied.
"All right, men!" Talos's voice resonated through the ship in a crackling bark. "To your posts! We go into battle meditation!"
Still, he could not mask the hesitation in his voice, even as he sensed the bodies of his comrades, including Kratus and Xathia, assemble into position. His mild anxiety must've been noticeable to Celahir, who turned to look at him with an bemused look on his face.
"Zandro said this would work, burc'ya," he attempted to console with a smirk. "It will help pilots without Force users to follow us."
"And then Cethgus will...?"
"Yes. The two ships will work together in guiding our men. All of our fleets should enter Antei unharmed."
"So..." Talos mused. "I ought to get used to this, shouldn't I?"
Celahir nodded before the two inhaled. Then exhaled. And the ruminations began.
The Broken Blade was the last Force-user-manned ship to enter the Shroud, and the clusters of fleets that were being assisted by battle meditation moved like huddles of insects behind it. However, they would slow down, too. A steady pace was absolutely necessary for accurate navigation, as the paths and turns of the Shroud could easily throw off entire groups of ships as they met their demise in the stars.
In time, the Antei system would lie open to Arcona like a bright red vein of activity. Given Dajorra's distance from the Dark Council's homeworld, other clans and houses' ships may already be there. But that didn't matter. Soon, they would witness the monstrous forces of the Shadow Clan, returning to Antei again to prove its worth and mettle as the First Clan of the Brotherhood.
For now, however, the cosmos lit the viewing portals, and the Shroud welcomed its new visitors with a long finger and dared them to move forward.
BAC Darkest Night
Archives, Present Time
Socorra’s repeated calls and messages to Talos and everyone else she knew aboard the Darkest Night had been ignored for quite some time. Something...odd...was happening and her frustration of sitting in the Archives was starting to eat at her. So she left and made her way to the bridge where she sensed her Master and a few others were gathered.
The young woman raised an eyebrow at the odd demonstration, and Socorra’s first thought was, are they under a mental attack? The apprentice watched Talos closely with the Force, and although it was odd for him specifically, it did appear that he was in some kind of voluntary trance, and not in distress. That would explain her unanswered calls...
Interesting. With morbid curiosity, the Black Banshee studied the oblivious, defenseless individuals gathered here, all in some extreme meditative states, and something deep inside began to nag at her. Her intelligent criminal mind went into overdrive as dark strategic thoughts began to surface. What would stop someone from coming up to the bridge and popping everyone off, one by one by one?
Bam... bam... bam... bam...
How many would fall before the shooter was taken down? How long would he survive? What if...what if she did it?
The darkness beckoned the young Journeyman, pushing her to go over that edge and accept its sweet embrace while she had the perfect opportunity. It wouldn’t be the first time you killed your own...
A frown formed on her feminine features at the images of that powerful memory. The Dark Side had commanded her then and she had obeyed with savage fierceness. The only difference is that now she knew what it was, and was learning how to control it herself.
The memory instantly tarnished her fantasy. The young Nim Naja had lived in exile for what she had done, denied salt and water, and even her family name had been revoked. However, these were all fleeting thoughts, better left buried back in the Black Sands of Socorro. The woman known to the Brotherhood as simply 'Socorra' tamped down the rising emotions and focused on something else. Save it for the Jedi...
The Master had said something about witnessing how Dark Jedi prepare for war. This didn’t seem like preparation as much as it did some creepy Sith ritual being performed. Is this what he meant by “preparation?” Plus, why wasn’t she invited to the party?
Ah, right, because she was the rookie. Just like everywhere else in life, one must start as the scum of the organization, taught and told only that which his or her superiors deemed necessary.
Socorra had a lack of patience and intolerance of idle hands so perhaps it was best to not be involved. She leaned against a console and buried her nose in her datapad, doing what seemed to be the only logical response to this situation: stay out their way.
Standing on the bridge of the Broken Blade Cethgus watched as the crew scurried around, making the last tweaks to the entry coordinates as the ship neared its destination.They would soon be coming out of hyperspace, along with the rest of the flotilla, and Cethgus felt a tightening in the pit of his stomach. They would soon be entering The Shroud and his full concentration would be required to navigate the deadly nebulae and debris in the dark miasma. A sudden jolt shook the Gunship as it decanted; cylinders of bright white light shrunk to pinpoints as they exited the carefully plotted hyperspace route. He let a smile tease at his lips as he saw the Darkest Night, along with it’s support ships, in the distance ahead. Behind him, ships appeared, stretched beyond their physical boundaries before condensing down to their original size. Cethgus felt the impending danger of The Shroud; the tension from the other ships was palpable and he felt a pressure weigh heavy on his shoulders.
“Guess this is where the fun begins. We’re in this together, don’t mess it up.” His voice was dull as he spoke.
Cethgus sighed to himself as he walked from the bridge and into a small room, offset from the communications deck and sat cross-legged on the floor. Although he didn’t want to participate in the Battle Meditation, he didn’t really have much of a choice, after all the decision had already been made on his behalf. He cursed the fact he had to participate - he had more pressing matters to deal with. Nevertheless, he closed his eyes and slowed his breathing into a rhythmic pace.
He pressed a button on his comlink to open the channels, “I’ll be busy until we navigate the Shroud successfully, do not disturb me.” His voice trailed off as his mind sunk into the first level of meditation. The furniture of the room began to shudder slowly, clicking and thudding against the cold durasteel floor.
The men will be fine on their own, he mused silently, they don’t need you to hold their hand. This is for the benefit of the crew and the men. I am helping them.
As soon as he had finally calmed himself enough to enter the next stage of the trance, a Lieutenant burst into the room. “Sir, we have a slight problem, the...” his voice became strained and trailed off croakily.
“I told you not to disturb me, Lieutenant.” Cethgus’ eyes were still closed, his back to the officer. “You will now pay the price.” The officer clutched at his neck desperately as he was slowly suspended in the room. A last wheezy breath of air escaped his lungs. He dropped with a resonant thud, his lifeless foot trapped in the blastdoor.
Again, Cethgus attempted to fall into meditation, his mind drifting into the ether. His breath became slow and his eyelids flickered as he finally reached the crest of his subconscious. The furniture once more began its staggered percussion and Cethgus finally felt his connection to the others on the Darkest Night. Slowly, the Force connection strengthened; their minds melding into one expansive net of guidance draped over the flotilla.
The concentrated maelstrom of crimson and purple swirling outside began to fade into wispy hues, accentuated by increasingly smaller meteorites. Ahead, through the forward transparisteel viewport, darkness seemed to consume the ship. The only light emanated from the stars and the eerie glow of the dense nebulae behind them. It was a welcome relief; the dangers of the journey were all too apparent and the tension was palpable throughout the ship. Nevertheless, the battle meditation had worked. Arcona’s flotilla had successfully navigated The Shroud, and in just under five hours. Even if those five hours had lasted an aeon.
Zandro’s eyelids were heavy. Sitting in stasis for so long was tiring; they had been linked by the Force and Zandro’s connection had been the leading player - that, coupled with his ‘blind’ piloting, left him exhausted. He clutched at the arms of the chair in the centre of the bridge and pushed himself awkwardly to his feet. Making an attempt to smile at Captain Ban Quell, Zandro lurched out of the bridge and towards the turbolift. He was going to rest and nothing could stop him.
“Zandro?” The familiar voice made Zandro’s stomach sink.
“Yes, Wuntila?” Zandro turned to face his Proconsul, who had appeared behind him - probably through another of the turbolifts.
“We’re out of The Shroud and on our way to Antei. Arrival should be in thirty minutes at most. I’m going to catch some shut-eye before things become too heated.” Zandro gave a curt nod and waited, as if to ask, anything else?.
“Very well. I’ll lead the flotilla. When you get the time, check your datapad - I’ve forwarded you the battle plan. We may have to make some changes, however.” Wuntila nodded, apparently acknowledging Zandro’s lust for rest. The Arconae wrapped his cape around him and sauntered off into the turbolift. Wuntila turned, entering the communications centre, offset from the bridge on the port side. It was a large room, with monitors acting as wall-panels, veiling the room in a dim sapphire. Amidst the commotion, three non-commissioned officers stood at a large console - the main transmission hub of the Nebula-class Star Destroyer. Wuntila scanned the room for Christien Hoff, the Executive Officer of the ship, but saw only Lieutenant Tanner. The Communications Officer was barking at some younger recruits before he saw the Human-Theelin.
“Caleb, I want you to relay a message to our flotilla; make sure every communications deck and bridge accepts the transmission and that all members of the Arconan Summit are present before I begin.” Wuntila walked into a small circular depression set into deck and waited eagerly for a response.
“Ready when you are, Sir.” Tanner responded, pressing a headset against his ear.
“Transmit.” Wuntila began to stroke the wiry hair on his chin.
“Transmitting, Sir.” Tanner whispered.
“Arconans. We are at war. Before us is the Antei system. We are here to meet with the Brotherhood’s fleet. It is time to purge the Jedi scum from our dominion. For too long we have sat back and allowed them to walk through our domain, to occupy our territory, to sap resources from our Brotherhood. They have leeched off us like parasites in exchange for protection, and now they harbour the Brotherhood’s deadliest enemy. Michael Halcyon, the Jedi that we have been fighting for so long, is presumed to be on New Tython. Why should we stand idly by while they continue to spit on us, to mock our tolerance of their inferior kind? We go to war with our enemies, that is how much we want to see rivers of Jedi blood flow through the streets of Menat Ombo. As soon as we come in to New Tython space, I expect you all at the forward operating base on Owyhyee. Trophies are going to be awarded to those with the most Jedi sabers; we all know those trophies will be going to Arconans. Remember, light is limited, darkness is infinite. Arcona Invicta!” Wuntila threw his right fist in the air and barked. He was ready to take on any challenge, to take on any Jedi.
The transmission stopped and he turned to Tanner, “Maintain constant communications with us on the ground. If we need to relay information I expect you to be ready to do so.”
“As you wish, Sir.” Tanner replied to Wuntila’s back as the Proconsul strolled out of the communications room.
As Wuntila walked onto the bridge, he saw the fleet mobilising before him. Whilst he had been communicating with the other Arconans, the Invicta had encroached on Antei and the fleet massing in orbit. Ahead, he saw the impressive silhouette of a Brotherhood-Class Super Dreadnought that had to be the Nightfall. Surrounding it, he saw Clan Naga Sadow’s sizable flotilla. There was an obvious division between the houses and clans; their flotillas were clumped in pockets, separated to the point where they were ready to engage if necessary. It was an unnerving yet reassuring sight - so much hostility, so many warriors and ships, but only one target. The question, however, still remained: for how long would there be only one target?
Wuntila pushed the thought to the back of his mind and watched in awe for a few moments as the city-sized ships floated weightlessly around the cold void of space. He shook his head, just as Ban Quell tapped the him on the shoulder.
“Sir, incoming transmission from the Nightfall. Do you wish to receive it here, or in private?” Ban’s gravelly voice took the Proconsul back for a second.
“I’ll take it in here, Captain.” Wuntila stood at the receiver and watched a miniature hooded figure appear in a blue flicker before him.
“Invicta,” The voice was distorted by the static and Wuntila couldn’t quite make out who was speaking, “You will lead Arcona and its forces into position behind the Dark Council’s feet. Yourself and Naga Sadow will follow the Dark Council’s fleet, with the other houses behind, into New Tython space. Is that understood?”
“Understood.” Wuntila replied hesitantly, not knowing whether to address the individual by any ‘official’ title.
“Very well. Thank you for your time.” With that, the image shook and collapsed back into the receiver.
“You heard the man,” Wuntila turned back to the Captain, “Begin the manoeuvre.”
After the rest of the stragglers had arrived, the fleet began to set off through The Shroud, guided by the Dark Council, and towards New Tython. Zandro joined Wuntila on the bridge and they began the long journey to battle.
The Invicta was stationed just above the stratosphere of New Tython, flanked by the Eye of the Abyss II, surrounded by the rest of the Arconan fleet. They were daunting blue silhouettes in the sky above the lush green fields.
Men poured out of transports and into the makeshift operations base. Above them, the Dark Jedi of Arcona had begun preparation for descent. It would be a tough fight, but it would be one they needed to win.
Wuntila’s white Boyna armour glistened in the dull light of the Invicta’s hangar bay as he turned to Zandro. “...so you’re leading the first attack from the north, House Galeres is coming from the east, Qel-Droma from the west and the operating base is located three clicks from Menat Ombo?”
“Indeed, we’ll take a few platoons and Galeres and Qel-Droma can take their own troops. We’ll begin the first wave of attack and you will be commanding from the operating base. Just ensure that you keep some of the Arconans back for reinforcements, should we need them.” Zandro brushed the settling dust from his pauldrons and tucked his helmet under his left arm. “Is that clear?”
“Crystal.” Wuntila replied, “I will be launching the second wave after you give me the signal.”
“Correct. Take care, Wun. I’ll see you on the field.” Zandro gripped Wuntila’s forearm and the Proconsul reciprocated with a firm shake.
“Zandro,” Wuntila barked as the Consul began to walk off, “Don’t get yourself captured this time, okay?”
Zandro simply laughed, “We’ll see.”
He walked off and boarded a shuttle, joining his squad, destined for the Valour’s Fall to pick up Sashar before landing on the surface. Wuntila headed toward his own shuttle and slid his helmet on. He flicked a switch and the communications channel hissed into life with endless chatter.
The battle of New Tython had begun.
New Tython System
ISDII Eye of the Abyss II
Ronovi stood opposite a locker in the small ready room adjacent to the hangar deck, readying her equipment and gear for the battle to come. Her weapons ready and breastplate secured, all that remained were her gauntlets. Taking the bronze hued, armored gauntlets from the shelf they rested upon, she quickly strapped them on. The final piece in place, Ronovi stepped back to get a view of herself in the mirror adorning the inner surface of the locker door.
Suddenly the quiet of the heretofore empty compartment was broken by the sound of a quiet golf clap and a voice. “If wardrobe alone could defeat the enemy, I think we would need not send anyone else planetside.”
Ronovi turned to see her observer. “And if sarcasm had the same power, then I think you’d be enough, Solus.”
Solus looked over her new battle garb and grunted an approval. The short-sleeved longcoat looked to offer more freedom of movement then the traditional Sith robes. Solus tended to eschew the flowing robes and cloaks that many of the others wore like their second skins and he was glad to see that Ronovi still did the same.
“So, why is it that you’re here,” Ronovi asked, gesturing to indicate the room, “instead of with the other Gatekeepers?”
“I did remain with the others at least at first,” Solus responded with a look of mock innocence painting his features, “but I’ve never been one to follow the lead of those I’ve yet to try in battle. And, noticing that my master was curiously absent, I decided to search her out. It would be quite embarrassing if these Jedi were to kill my master before felling me, the student, first.”
“No more embarrassing then a master having instructed a student so poorly that he would find himself lost during a battle and die as a result,” she replied.
Inwardly Solus smiled. Having been separated for much of the recent year, Ronovi and he had easily slipped back into the pattern of verbal sparring that often characterized their interactions. Many others that did not know them found their dynamic quite odd, especially when the former Mandalorian would defer to the wisdom of the taller woman fifteen years his junior. The two, however, had become at ease in each other’s presence, as much through shared experiences and similar conclusions drawn from them as anything else. It didn’t hurt that Ronovi’s prowess in combat was rarely equaled amongst the brethren, and from an early age Solus had learned to respect that no matter who possessed it.
Ronovi crossed the room heading for the door, and Solus fell into step behind and slightly beside her. As the doors parted and revealed a hangar deck awash in chaotic activity, the Epicanthix spoke. “I see that you’re wearing even less of your armor than the last time you went into battle,” she commented, referencing the torso plating that Solus wore beneath his vest.
“I would discard it all together if not for the comfort I take from it,” Solus replied. “Some traditions are harder to break then others.”
The pair walked quickly through the throng of Dark Jedi, soldiers, and crewman as they headed for the far side of the bay. “I’ve yet to face the Jedi in battle,” Solus mused half to himself, “and I find I am eager to test myself against them.”
As he spoke, he saw Ronovi momentarily stiffen before him and felt something dark pass through her. It was gone as quickly as it had appeared and Solus decided not to press the matter. “We’ll be dropping with the second wave so they can direct us where the fighting is heaviest,” the Exarch said. “So I’m sure you will get your chance.”
BAC Darkest Night
Hangar Bay 2
Above New Tython
Admist the bustle of Army soldiers, Naval officers, and Starfighter pilots, two dark-clad figures walked calmly through it all, their very presences clearing a path for them. The pair stopped by the buzzing electro-field that separated the hangar bay from the black vaccuum of space and the taller of the two crossed his arms.
"What you are about to partake in is unlike anything you have ever done before," Talos Erinos said ominously, turning to look at the female standing next to him, "Do you understand...my apprentice?"
Socorra turned to meet Talos' ice-blue gaze and nodded her head. "I do, master."
"Good," he said proudly and he paused for a moment before his voice became grave, "But know that while our mission is to exterminate the Jedi of Odan-Urr, they may not be our only enemy."
"Master?" Socorra asked in slight confusion; she had assumed that their presence on New Tython was relatively cut and dry...destroy those who called themselves redeemed Jedi and wipe their stain from this Brotherhood that she had found herself wrapped up in.
Talos inhaled a deep breath before he explained, but when he did, Socorra noticed that his eyes had taken on a glassy look, as if his mind was somewhere else.
"To be a Dark Jedi," he muttered, "be it Sith, Obelisk, or Krath, is to be a part of a world where you can gain more power and prestige than you could ever possibly fathom...but it also means entering a world where distrust, hate, and suspicion are as much bedfellows as love and brotherhood. I am part of that world, as are Sashar, Celahir, all the Erinos, and every Arconan...you too are now part of that world."
The Protector nodded slowly and bit her lower lip. "What are you saying, master?"
"I am saying that when we get down on that field, when we engage in battle and truly start this war, trust no one that bears a symbol other than this" Talos uncrossed his arms and held out his left arm, where the silver symbol of Clan Arcona shone on his black gauntlet.
Socorra looked down at the insignia and started slightly when she felt Talos take one of her hands and press something into it. When the Obelisk Templar withdrew his hand and the Protector looked down, she gasped at the object lying in her palm...a gold ring with a clear stone, filled with a sanguine liquid, set in the center.
"Are you proposing to me, master?" Socorra asked increduously, "We haven't known each other long"
Despite himself and the mood that the encroaching war had put him in, Talos laughed. "Hardly, Soccora; that ring has a sample of my blood in it so that, in the event we get separated down there," he gestured to the floating orb that was New Tython, "I can find you."
"Oooh" Socorra said in awe, not bothering to ask how blood could allow her master to find her (though she had some idea). Without any further questions, the Black Banshee slipped the ring on her right hand, so that it sat above her Bha'lir tattoo. The gold band and the stone glinted in the light of the hangar bay.
"Now...," Talos started but suddenly, the booming voice of an Army Master Sergeant cut him off.
"Captain Erinos!," the NonCom said, addressing the Aedile by his military rank, "Your shuttle is ready, sir!"
"Well never mind" Talos muttered in annoyance before turning to the Master Sergeant and thanking him.
"Were you going to say something, master?" Socorra asked.
"Nothing important, just some contingencies...but I've seen you in action, you're a smart woman. You'll be fine"
The Arconan Protector looked down at the shiny floor, embarrased for some odd reason. "Thank you, master"
"My pleasure. Now come, Socorra...let us go to war" Talos Erinos said, turning sharply on his heel and leading the way towards the shuttle that would take the Templar and Protector planetside...to war.
The fresh wave of LAAT/i vessels returning from their first drop-off were calmly settled silhouettes in the bay, twenty of them lying bare-boned and patiently for passengers. Swarms of Arconan soldiers, shouldering disruptor rifles and armor with notable Mandalorian influences, had begun to file into each shuttle in somber single-file lines. Their faces were all painted with the same pasty white emotion. Stark, disturbing stoicism, coupled with shuffling feet and stiffened muscles.
Solus and Ronovi were two Arconans to walk toward the very last empty LAAT/i, and the two had not exchanged words since they had traversed the hangar bay. Solus knew why Ronovi had gone so silent. She was like this every time they were about to head into the scattered whirlwind of carnage and decay: Completely withdrawn and ruminating about her own mortality. It was a sharp contrast to many people’s first impressions of the woman, who for many years had appeared to be a soldier and tactician first and foremost. However, knowing of her recent meditations and work in the Shadow Academy, Solus was aware of Ronovi’s radically changing mindset.
Apart from their lightsabers, the two Dark Jedi carried a pair of blasters each - LL-30 pistols and SSK-7 models, respectively. Ronovi broke away from her single-channel thoughts to notice that Solus kept his pistols in a twist draw, the butts forward instead of back. She grinned at the thought of such a set-up, something that could prove to be advantageous if the wielder had mastered the drawing technique.
Why the Hell didn’t I think of that?
A sudden flurry of footsteps rang briskly in Ronovi’s ears, and she turned to see a grim-faced Marick striding full-speed at the shuttle. As he passed his two fellow Arconans, several grunts followed him, the black and gray sheens of firearms lighting up their hips, thighs, and shoulders. Solus and Ronovi watched the Quaestor step into the shuttle, stop, turn, and beckon them with one finger.
“What are you waiting for?”
Perhaps Ronovi’s words of “wisdom” had struck a nerve with the Hapan after all. Exchanging a look with the Human beside her, she raised and lowered one shoulder in a simple shrug and lowered her head as she got into the vessel.
“Take a seat,” Marick said to the two of them, with a bit more enthusiasm in his voice.
They had little time to get comfortable, adjusting their belts and holsters just as the doors closed and the LAAT/i suddenly lurched forward like a drunken Bantha that had just spotted something to eat. Maybe it was somewhat similar to the Arconans, the way they sought out Jedi to dismember like a beast stripping away the flesh of its prey with its teeth. Whether the meat would be satisfying, some could not say. But the thought of holding a dead lightie’s saber in her hand thrilled Ronovi, the adrenaline seeping into her body again like it was injected into her with a syringe.
She found herself going back to the Reclamation. What had happened to Ara Feskin, the Jedi who had attempted to convert her? The last time Ronovi had seen her, she had been wounded, taken away in a transport with her former master Doni Tzu by the woman’s side. She had heard no word from him about her fate, whether she was dead, or captured, or turned. The uncertainty of it all pestered Ronovi...even infuriated her.
Feeling the heat of her hands beneath her gauntlets, Ronovi let her fingers weave together, her flesh pulsing and swelling with blood and restlessness. Marick and Solus appeared to be so calm beside her, but what little she sensed from the Force told her enough. None of them were at ease. And as the cosmos suddenly burst across the portal in a Hellish flame, the Exarch realized that there would be no relaxation in this battle.
“Sin Leader to Sin 2. Stand down. Reassemble formation at - “
“Sin 3 to Sin Leader!”
“Sin Leader to Sin 2. I said stand down...”
“Sin 3 to Sin Leader! I’ve been hit!”
“I - Sin Leader to Sin 3, hit by what?”
“Sin 3 to - AGGGGH!”
“What in slice’s name...?!”
“Engage! En - ”
“...Sin Leader! ...SIN LEADER!”
“Son of a bitch!”
“What the Hell?!”
The swirling insanity of lasers, cascading waterfalls of flame, and the looming shadows of Dreadnaughts threw the space outside in a violent disarray of color and death. Ronovi’s eyes were glued to the small viewing portal, her hands turned to knots and the veins bulging from her throat.
Marick and Solus Gar had quickly risen in order to bring the Epicanthix back to her seat, but a sudden jolt of energy buffeted the ship, pushing it to the left. As her legs were thrown out from under her, Ronovi felt herself wind herself into a ball and roll across the floor before the wind could be knocked out of her. She struggled back to her seat, Solus helping her by grabbing the crook of her arm.
“I recognize those ships,” he said. “Mandalorian. You can’t miss it.”
“Do you know which clan, Solus?” Marick demanded.
Solus shook his head. “I can only guess that it’s Clan Ordo, given what I can see from the crests. But the ships are so fast, I can’t tell.”
“Why in kriff’s name,” roared Ronovi, “are we being attacked by MANDOS?!”
Another swell of momentum pushed the LAAT/i back, as a stream of turbolaser fire painted the void like comets passing in their wake. At this point, the soldiers’ faces were more pale than emotionless, the white shades of their faces behind their closed visors illuminating in the dark space as the lights of the shuttle flickered and grew dim.
Marick suddenly threw himself forward, moving toward the open communication line that was visible from the wall. He began to shout at the cockpit, though he still seemed to maintain his noble intonations.
“We can’t keep moving like this! Start descending!”
Ronovi stared at him in disbelief. “Are you insane? That’s suicide!”
“No, it’s saving our hides!” snarled the Quaestor. “Nosedive! Now!”
“Sir...” the pilot’s voice began to protest.
The shuttle was threatening to flip over from the continued barrage of chaos outside. Marick’s face had turned bright red under his hair, and his voice had crescendoed into an infuriated, high-pitched squeal.
“DO AS I COMMAND!”
Any moment later, and a stray laser would have ripped apart one of the wings and sent the vessel off into a spiral of doom. Instead, as the ship arched downward in a surprisingly graceful descent, the strike simply glanced off its flank, missing rather narrowly. The LAAT/i picked up speed as it plummeted through the stratosphere, navigating the infested maze of fighters and Mandalorian ships.
Ronovi could feel her lips peeling back from her teeth. She tried to hold onto something, anything, to keep her from flying facefirst into the wall. The viewing portals no longer were lit with with the whirlpool of a surrealist artist’s palette, instead alive with the rush of air and mist as the LAAT/i confronted the atmosphere of New Tython.
“I swear, if we don’t make it out alive,” she bellowed at Marick before the bloody landscape rose up with jagged fingers to meet its new arrival, “I will frakkin’ haunt you for the rest of eternity!"
Sanguinius's face was bemused as he stared at the monitor of the tactical computer, which displayed the tableau of exploding fighters and capital ships duelling above the atmosphere of the planet below. The landings on New Tython had been going well; so well in fact that they were unopposed. That had all changed, however, with the appearance of these fething Mandalorians. The Professor chuckled at the irony that the Shadow Clan, who had so embraced Mandalorian culture, was now being assaulted by the very people they aped. The young Entar knew that the Erinos would not be ecstatic about this foray amongst the Arconan fleet.
Despite the irony of the situation, the Sergeant was furious that Shadow Gate had splintered, Ronovi and Solus Gar swanning off together. When this little escapade on New Tython was over and they were back on Ol'val he would have a few choice words for them. Deigning to notice the Chiss standing behind him; eager to offer his opinion, the Anaxsi turned, his eyes narrowed in a thinly veiled warning to the Acolyte.
"Don't even bother trying to lecture me on fleet tactics Mazer," the Obelisk snapped at his Student.
"I was simply going to point out that any attempt at infiltrating New Tython has sadly gone awry, Master," stated the Sith as he gestured to the viewscreen.
"Infiltrating is what we do best, and I don't need some jumped up little Journeyman telling me what we can and can't do," Sanguinius sneered. "Get out of my sight.....No better yet, you'll be coming with us. It’ll teach you what it is to be an Arconan.”
"What?" uttered the Acolyte in surprise, before extinguishing it with admirable control.
"As you wish, Master." The Sith saluted with his right hand balled in a fist over his breast.
* * * * *
The blaring sirens grated on the Protector's nerves as he stood there, fiddling with his armoury saber hilt. Standing in the hanger bay where two LAAT/i dropships waited for the orders to leave the safety of the Shadow, Ryan Neale glanced around, taking in as much of his surroundings as possible. Orders had come through from the Gatewarden for them to assemble by the shuttles. Surrounding the human were his fellow Gatekeepers. The wise Elder; Strategos Thanatos Entar Arconae, was a reassuring presence. The Journeyman couldn't imagine anyone or anything taking down that old goat. Beside him stood another former Consul of Arcona, Vassan Rokir. Ryan refused to look into the Epis's eyes, the unnatural darkness sent shivers down the Protector’s spine. His fellow Protectors stood huddled in a group, comparing blasters and boasting about how many Jedi they would kill. The Quaestor's student Khaer Sordar - who had, it seemed, been abandoned by the Hapan - and the Chiss, Walker Boh, were both flanked by the enigmatic Dalk Darklighter. The two Knights in Shadow Gate were silent, meditating on what was to come: the carnage, the death, the hatred. Kant, the former Tetrach of Prophecy Phyle, and Sarek Tabanne, a recent returnee to Clan Arcona, had experienced this kind of full-blown action before. This gave them a more reserved outlook on the conflict.
Sanguinius strode into the hanger bay, still bustling with activity as technicians and naval ratings raced to their battle stations and Qel-Droman troopers rushed to their shuttles. Walking alongside the Sergeant was his former Quaestor and older brother Legorii Kyrotek Entar. Behind him scurried the Templar's student. Coming to a halt in front of the Gatekeepers, the Anaxsi smiled as they all turned, their conversations forgotten and paid intense concentration to him. They had been trained well. They were disciplined, smart, cunning and never squeamish to what had to be done to protect their cover.
"Gatekeepers: As you all know, we are over New Tython." Sanguinius paused, "Until recently we were going to land unopposed on the continents of Owyhee and Milil’ea to ferment trouble between the natives and the settlers." The Obelisk gestured to Mazer who powered up a small holo-display of the planet below.
"Now, with the appearance of these fething Mandalorians, we'll be concentrating on one continent; Owyhee. I can't guarantee that we'll get through the shitstorm that's waiting for us out there Keepers, but we'll damn well try. Any questions?"
A voice piped up, "Yeah, we get to kill these Mandos and not get told off by Sashar?"
Sanguinius smiled, "I'm sure the Sergeant would have no such qualms Sarek, seeing as they're affecting the Shadow Clan."
Laughter issued forth, "Alright Arconans, you heard the Gatewarden," Legorii bellowed. "Let's get down there and kill us some Jedi!" The Anzat punched the air with his right fist, several others echoing his gesture with assenting shouts.
The younger Entar smiled sadly as he realised that this might be the last moment he would have with his brothers. Attracting the attention of Strategos and Legorii, he grasped their arms in a warrior's grip, forearm to forearm.
"Good luck brothers,"
"Good luck brother," they replied before turning to join the Qel Dromans piling onto the two transports.
Noting that Mazer had joined the Gatekeepers on the two shuttles, Sanguinius grabbed his comlink and set it to a private channel. "Malach, I'll see you down there on New Tython. You know the co-ordinates. Don't be late."
The Professor pocketed the comlink, ran to the closest LAAT/i and jumped aboard. The engines already spooled up, the two shuttles lifted off the ground and sped out of the hanger bay into the chaos.
Cethgus stood on the bridge of the Broken Blade looking out onto the current conflict that was taking place. Knowing that he needed to get his team down onto the ground as quickly as possible, yet the thrill of the combat happening up here was something he marvelled at. It seemed that a Mandalorian fleet had arrived and was now caught in the middle of the fighting. The Exarch smirked to himself watching as Arcona reacted with the bombardment of their weapons towards the newly arrived enemies.
“Focus fire on the closest ship, I want to give as much covering fire as possible for our troops to land quickly and safely” Cethgus spoke to the Weapons Officer who nodded before punching orders into the console in front of him.
Instantly the Exarch heard the noise of the ship's turbolasers opening fire. Knowing that things had managed to get heated up quickly, Cethgus looked around him, he knew that he would soon have to go planet side with the team, but he had a huge urge to stay here with the ship. Looking at the men working he smirked, watching the rounds hitting the enemy ship.
“Keep us in line with the rest of the fleet, at the same time move us into a supporting position for the Creeping Darkness” Cethgus spoke toward the crew on the bridge.
Watching as they scurried around doing their work, Cethgus looked out onto the fight, seeing ships firing everything they had off, watching as the Broken Blade unleashed everything it had, knowing that he needed to make sure the team was ready he look over to the men who were doing their best to continue the hard work on the fighting.
“Get Revenance over to the shuttle I will join them shortly, let’s make sure we lay as much fire down as possible to cover our landing” Cethgus spoke as one of the officers ran off to do as ordered by the Exarch.
As he flourished in the art of war, opponent's actions seemed to slow in Cethgus' eyes. He knew things were getting ugly out there, he wondered how many people were currently landing on New Tython to invade it, before he was brought out of his thoughts by the sound of an explosion and the whole ship juddered in sympathy.
“Damage report?” Cethgus voice instantly cracked through as he grinded his teeth in frustration.
“Sir, we have a fire breaking through the arc section, and the shields are just holding, looks like we were lucky with that last shot” The male spoke quickly hitting buttons as he did so.
Nodding, the Exarch knew that now was the time to move. The ship had suffered minor damage, it wasn’t anything to worry about. The fire would be handled and it would be back to normal shortly. Marching off the bridge he left the commander in charge.
Walking down to the hanger he looked at his team. He took a smoke out from his pocket and brought it to his lips, before lighting it and looked at the team. Taking a drag, he extended his hand and pointed towards the shuttle as if ordering them to board it, knowing that they were all prepared. Checking his gear and making sure it was all there he was the last to board the shuttle, as he looked towards his team, the Professor smirked at the prospect of finding a challenge down on the surface.
“Looks like we get to see action people, I want you all to stay sharp down there” His voice echoed around the nose of the shuttle heading down planet side. Hearing the clanging and bangs from outside he knew that the shuttle was under fire, but that was to be expected, the enemy were not going to allow everyone to go down onto the surface without a fight.
“Right we should make planet side shortly, remember to.....” Instantly the shuttle was rocked by a near miss, Cethgus shook his head and moved up to the pilots looking at them with a expression of distaste.
“Do you know how to fly, did someone actually teach you?” Cethgus voice had a tone of disapproval to it.
“Sir?” The pilot was taken aback by his comment.
“Get us onto the planet in one piece, and pray I do not see this is the last flight you take” Cethgus turned back to the crew, taking a drag from his smoke, he let the smoke out inside the cabin, unaffected by the noises around him. His focus was making sure that his team survived down on that planet, and he would make sure everyone got their fair chance to see action.
LAAT Gunship Outbound from BAC Darkest Night
New Tython Upper Atmosphere
“Kratus, come over here, I want to discuss battle strategy with you,” Talos called over to the Pirate cyborg upon noticing his presence on their gunship.
Kratus glanced over at the Erinos, his eyes showing slight anger at being disturbed from his focus on Xathia, who was still aboard the Darkest Night in space. Next to him, Aveira looked up as well, confused as to everything that was happening and sticking close to the cyborg in an attempt to better understand the whole scenario. Kratus was rather overwhelmed as well, though he attempted to put up a good front and set an example befitting of his Equite rank.
“Sir,” the Coruscanti acknowledged, settling down in the seat across from the Aedile and nodding to the tan-skinned Protector sitting next to him.
“As you well know, House Galeres is to take the eastern flank in our invasion; according to the plan, we should be moving with them, sweeping in from the side and crushing the opposition, then pressing on to the operating base. However,” Talos said, narrowing his eyes and smirking like a mischievous child. “You and Aveira are going to be coming with Socorra and I. We are going to do a little scouting of the surface, just the four of us.”
“Alright,” Kratus returned nodding, then he narrowed his eye suspiciously. “Just one question...why are we scouting instead of forming with Galeres?”
“You were informed of the bounty for Jedi sabers I’m sure,” Talos explained to the cyborg pedantically, shifting in his seat as he spoke. “We are going to collect on it, and give the Clan that much more of a head-start. Consider it motivation, for I know all about your taste for money and blood.”
“Indeed,” the cyborg responded with a grin, running a hand along his goatee thoughtfully. “There’s more, isn’t there?”
“I figured it would be an adequate test of your skills as well,” Talos continued, noting the Templar’s perception. “I am testing you, as well as my apprentice and Aveira. A side battle should prove if the three of you are fully ready for the strains of this war, and the price it will cost.”
Kratus glanced toward Socorra, who was gazing out at the rapidly approaching surface of the planet. His gaze then traveled to Aveira, who was looking down at her lap, attempting to piece together all of the new sensations within her mind. Finally his eyes returned to his Aedile, and he nodded. “I’ll join you, if only to get the experience of this little...quest.”
The Erinos chuckled at the Pirate’s response. “I’m glad you will; it will be easier on me to have another Templar at my side.” He then turned towards the cockpit. “Pilot, land us away from the main action. We have some...alternative plans for the moment.”
“Yes, Aedile Erinos.”
New Tython Surface
The LAAT lowered into a hover five metres from the ground and allowed the quartet to leap down from the troop bay, their feet landing lightly upon the grass. The moment the last member was clear of the gunship’s wings, it gained altitude, and quickly traveled towards the main battle to lend assistance as necessary.
It was fortunate to have that role, Talos thought, instead of having to return to the Arconan Flotilla and brave the might of the newly arrived Mandalorian invasion force. Indeed, the two Equites and their respective Journeymen had barely made planetside before the first Mandalorian cruisers decanted from hyperspace.
“This is the great homeworld of House Odan-Urr?” the Coruscanti growled, gazing about at the quiet meadows filled with peaceful herbivores, then finally to the city of Menat Ombo itself a ways in the distance. Off to the right side, the battle could be clearly seen as blaster fire of varying intensity, mixed with lightsabers of all colors, raged around the masses of bodies.
“Do not be fooled by its benign appearance,” Talos responded, standing a way off with Socorra, scanning the plains with a pair of electrobinoculars. The wind rustled about him, billowing his cape out majestically behind him. “The Jedi are very crafty, and the appearance of peace is but an illusion.”
“One that they seem to enjoy using,” Socorra put in, her deep accent rich and melodic. Her long dark hair blew out behind her as the breeze picked up, giving an illusion of serenity. “Their lives must be incredibly dull.”
The nomad looked out towards the main battle, her thoughts racing through her mind as she methodically put them all in order. This is the same as I had originally perceived, and yet different, she thought, gazing at the ensuing whirlwind with a sardonic smirk. It is less violent than I imagined; then again, these are not the primitive, brutal savages my people were.
Kratus glanced over at Aveira, who stood quietly away from the main group, studying the landscape with intense curiosity. Pensive and agitated, clearly nervous, the Pirate thought, giving a small smirk. She’ll learn much if she can survive this war; we all will. This war will change things as they are, for better or for worse. Turning his head, he glanced back at the others. “Any signs?” he grunted, sliding his lightsaber out of his sleeve.
“Four Jedi stand across the field,” Talos responded, a grin appearing on his face as he lowered the binoculars. “It appears as though they are attempting to prepare an ambush, and doing a very poor job of it too.”
Kratus walked to Talos’ left side, then turned to look at the younger Templar, his arms folded across his chest. “Say the word, and I’ll carve their skulls. Jedi are no different than the rest of the beings in the Galaxy; they all die the same way.”
Talos glanced over at the cyborg, and nodded, motioning the group forward. “Let’s do this.”
~~My fellow Qel-Dromans. We will be dropping into New Tython in tee-minus fifteen minutes. We will be taking the western flank of the enemy’s position while our sister House will take the east. For too long have we hovered in Galeres shadow. Let’s show them how powerful House Qel-Droma really is! Keep your minds focused and your eyes sharp and together, we will triumph over the Jedi. Be prepared for anything. Marick out.~~
ISD Eye of the Abyss II
New Tython Space
30 Minutes Prior to Operation: Irene
It had taken Marick a few minutes to re-orient himself after assisting with navigating the Shroud. Having three Dark Side Adepts on board certainly had made the task a lot less straining than he had anticipated. Still, the Quaestor had wasted no time in getting ready for the trials they would soon be faced with. Running his fingers over his console, he ran a few checks to see if the orders he had issued before entering Battle Meditation had been taken care of. To his delight, green dots glowed next to each objective on the read-out.
The holonet transceiver beeped three times. Marick thumbed a button, the serious-looking face of his blue-skinned Aedile coming into view. His glowing red eyes flickered within the monitor’s screen.
“Glad to see you didn’t crash our flagship,” Invictus said evenly.
“Your razor-sharp wit never misses it’s mark, does it?” Marick replied dryly. Both Qel-Dromans let a moment of silence pass before the Hapan let out a long sigh.
“I don’t know If I’m ready for this, ‘Vic.”
“Most aren’t,” the other replied bluntly. “I’ve studied you closely in the short time we’ve worked together, though. Your warriors trust you, and will follow you without question.”
Marick cringed slightly as his conversation with Ronovi flashed. “I won’t be able to protect them all. They will die under my command.”
“That is the nature of war, Marick,” Invictus explained, his years of experience in battle weighing on his every word. “A leader must be ready to send troops under his command to their deaths. It is acceptable to spend their lives if necessary. It is not acceptable to waste those lives.”
Marick stared off into space, letting the words sink in. “I understand,” he nodded as he exhaled slowly. “Let’s get Operation: Irene going, then, shall we?”
Acolyte Andrew “Andy” Winter paced anxiously back and forth as he practiced quick-drawing either his DL-44 or DE-10 blaster pistols from various stances. He occasionally checked himself out in the mirror hanging in his storage locker. His wavy hair was combed over to one side and his roguish grin complimented his Corellian swagger. He wore a light armored jumpsuit that showed off his lean figure, a canvas bag with extra supplies and extra ammo slung over his shoulder.
In stark contrast, Acolyte Mazer sat on a bench with his arms crossed, eyes closed in deep thought. He didn’t seem to be carrying much other than what he wore.
“You’re only bringing that?”
The Chiss didn’t answer.
“I would bring extra rations, if I were you.” Acolyte Andy suggested.
“My master and I will be able to handle anything they throw at us,” the Chiss replied, eyes remaining closed.
“Well, suit yourself...”
“Nightwings,” the lead shuttle’s pilot radioed out. “Lift off! Operation: Irene is a go!”
“As commanded, Nightwing-One; Nightwing-Two all systems go,” a second voice chimed in over the comm.
“Nightwing-Three all systems go. Fucking Irene,” the third voice hollered, clearly excited for battle. The remaining LAATs that made up Nighthawk Squadron sounded off as they followed suit. The LAAT’s whizzed through the air and over the vibrant green canopy of trees and grassy fields that made up New Tython’s surface.
Operation: Irene was the brainchild of Invictus, reminding Marick how glad he was that he was on their team. The six LAAT’s flew in tight pairs, one designated Aurek and the other Besh. Each Aurek unit had one of House Qel-Droma’s three Elders, nine Dark Jedi, twenty infantry troops, and a spare pilot. Each Besh unit had two Equites, thirty infantry troops, and a spare pilot. Two TIE Avenger squadrons each consisting of twelve fighters flew alongside the gunships. And taking up point in his Nssis-class Clawcraft was the mastermind himself, Invictus--Aedile of House Qel-Droma,
Standing with a hand resting atop of Aurek-One’s opened side-port, Marick Del’Abbot watched the trailing ships, making out the faces of various members of House Qel-Droma. A twinge of pride ran through him at how they all looked calm and poised, ready for the coming storm. His long black hair blew wildly with the wind, obscuring his cerulean eyes.
Marick turned his head and shouted up at the cockpit. “Coordinates have been uploaded to your nav computer. Are you comfortable with the plan?”
“Yes sir, Night-Leader,” the pilot acknowledged. Marick knew the voice to be Dark Jedi Knight Kendal Hunter aka “Hunt.” At his side, Strategos Thanatos Entar Arconae gave the Quaestor a thumbs-up.
“Night-Leader? I am NOT calling you that,” Ronovi chortled from off to the side. Solus Gar seemed to find the comment amusing as well. “How about ‘Prince’ instead,” she added teasingly.
“No,” responded Marick flatly. His mind was racing and his blood surged with anxious energy. He tried to suppress it, running through a variety of Force relaxation techniques to no avail.
“Your Majesty, then?” she inquired again, her smile wide.
Marick narrowed his eyes at the Epicanthix and turned his head away, but Ronovi could have sworn she caught the faintest of smiles tugging at the corner of the Hapan’s lips.
The smile quickly faded as everyone seemed to sense the impeding dangers they would no doubt face. Whatever it was, they would be ready for it.
They had to win. There was no other alternative.
“Incoming missiles!” A voice yelled over comm. “Evasive maneuvers!”
Marick gritted his teeth as Aurek-One made a sharp downward bank that threw its passengers off-balance. The LAAT/i suddenly balanced out, pulling back up into formation.
“Cyber, James, now!” Marick yelled into his wrist-comm.
On the Quaestor’s word, the light surrounding the tight pattern of LAAT/i began to sink away, a shroud of blackness veiling them in a dark cloud.
From the front seat, Stategos Arconae had already taken his cue. Stretching out with the revered power of an Elder, the Entar created a Force Meld between the other Dark Jedi pilots, guiding their course with ethereal vision.
The Force-sensitive TIE Avenger pilots stayed within the shroud while the non-sensitives flew in alternating patterns around the shroud, picking off what enemy fighters they could. Laser turrets groaned as they spat crimson bolts through the air in rhythmic patterns; Pew-Pew--Pew-Pew. Pew-Pew--Pew.
Just when the Mandalorian fighters thought they had a lock on the non-sensitive pilots, one of the Dark Jedi would break free from the shroud and blast them out of the sky. The fusion of distorted sound waves from trailing fighters mixed with durasteel singing and crumpling before shattering into millions of pieces of debris. The bits of shrapnel and scrap showered down to tarnish the pristine looking trees of New Tython.
The Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs), where unable to target the shrouded ships, but three of the TIE Avengers had been sent spiraling to the ground. A few of the projectiles even seemed to be guided by an unseen hand. No doubt the work of the Jedi. Marick and the other teams of Dark Jedi aboard the gunships used their own powers to divert the missiles their pilots couldn’t destroy.
And then the one thing Marick feared above all else happened.
One of the guided missiles got through and struck solidly into the engine of one of the trailing LAAT’s. The ship spiraled out of control, but the pilot, to his credit, was able to level out the transport. That didn’t stop almost half of the assigned troopers from falling into the tangles of trees, helpless screams and cries echoing out. Sanguinius, Vassan, Kant, Mazer, Dalk, WalkerBoh, Sarek, Khaer, Ryan and CyberGuy all braced for dear life as the shuttle spun out of control and crash landed 12 klicks from their planned landing zone. A plume of smoke rose towards the sky, standing out like a Wookie at a Noghri family reunion.
“Sang! NO!” Marick cried out in a mixture of rage and desperation.
Nighthawk-Three down. I repeat, we have a Nighthawk down- a voice yelled out over the comm.
“No, no, no, no,” Marick repeated over and over again, his mind racing with what to do next. He began to doubt himself, the mission, the plan - everything. On cue, Ronovi’s elbow jutted sideways and jabbed Marick in the shoulder. He turned to look at the Exarch and saw the seriousness reflecting in her eyes and the strain on her face. Her expression reminded Marick of the resolve that he needed to maintain.
“Take us down,” the Quaestor ordered, his passion now overpowering his doubt. “Secure the LZ!”
The shroud of darkness was now weakened with the loss of one of the Elders, but the LAAT’s had moved close enough that the SAMs were no longer effective. The five remaining gunships open fired on the ground below, bolts of crimson laser creating a wall of dirt and dust. Using the wall as a “smokescreen,” four of the LAAT’s landed in a diamond formation around Marick’s transport, keeping it centered. The infantry troopers let out a battle cry as they filed out of the transports and onto the battlefield. Repeaters and Blaster rifles sang their tune of devastation, reinforced by the echo of mass lightsabers hissing to life. Once unloaded, the gunships fanned out with the rest of the Tie Avengers to form a perimeter, the ground troops making their way behind fallen trees for cover.
Marick took in the landing zone and tried desperately to wrap his mind around everything going on. It was just too much for him, and he felt his breathing heighten as he nervously struggled for air. Invictus was beside him in a minute, clad in full battle armor that the Hapan had yet to see. His red eyes bore into Marick’s.
“I lost him. It was my fault!” Marick cried, fighting against the Chiss’ grip on his shoulder.
“It takes more than that to kill Shadow Gate,” Legorii barked from his cover, clearly not happy with his brother being gunned down.
Invictus’ eyes darted from Marick to Ronovi with her double-bladed saber activated and Solus Gar with his blasters.
“You two. Take a squad of troopers with you and retrieve or aide your Battleteam leader,” The Chiss said in a strong, even tone. “No one gets left behind.”
They didn’t need to be told twice, and Solus motioned with two fingers for Cresh Squadron to follow his lead. Legorii started to run off with the recovery team, but stopped at the sound of Invictus’s voice.
“Legorii, I know you want to save your brother, but there is a more important task at hand.”
Both Timeros and Strategos, standing beside their brother shifted their gaze to their Quaestor and Aedile.
“You are all members of this Oblivion Brigade, if I recall. Correct?” he asked, speaking quickly.
Marick nodded his head, and for the first time since landing the color in his face seemed to return.
“Marick, Timeros, Strategos, Legorii, Lan and Etah,” the Chiss singled each member out. “Find a way around the eastern flank and see if you can infiltrate the enemies base. If you can, take out the Jedi they are using for Battle Meditation. I will stay here and coordinate the landing party. We’re all counting on you.”
Strategos gave a youthful smile that belayed his wisdom and experience. “Sounds like old times,” the Elder said, getting a stoic response from the other two Entars.
Marick nodded, his fighting spirit returning slowly. “Alright, Oblivion. Form up and let’s move out.”
Marick and Invictus exchanged glances. They hadn’t known each other long, but Marick felt as close to the Chiss as he had with any of his brothers. A simple nod was enough to show his appreciation. The Chiss offered a faint smile as he waved the Hapan away.
Forest near LZ, OPERATION IRENE
Launch + 20 minutes
Crash + 3 minutes
The first thing that Lavar noticed was that he, not unexpectedly, hurt.
The last thing he'd remembered was the LAAT/i gunship Shadow Gate had been in being struck by a surface-launched missile, then he got thrown from the crashing ship and then... blackness.
Carefully opening his eyes, Lavar found himself on his back, lying somewhere in a forest. He experimentally – and very, very carefully, started moving parts of his body, trying to make sure he didn't have any injuries that would indicate that he would be much better served by dosing up on painkillers and antibiotics and waiting for rescue. All his limbs responded to commands from his brain, there were no awkward movements or extreme pains indicating bone damage, and a careful twisting of his head didn't indicate any neck or head trauma besides minor whiplash.
Sitting up, Lavar saw that he wasn't quite as unharmed as he'd thought. Having elected to wear some pieces of heavier armor than was normal for him, and that had possibly saved his life. Cracks abounded in the armor, and his helmet's electronics were completely trashed. Lavar slowly stripped off the armor, using part of the backplate to dig a hole to bury it in. quickly enoguh, Lavar was dressed in a simple black jumpsuit, part of an equipment harness, boots, gloves, and cloak. He'd lost most of his equipment, either to damage or having simply lost them in the fall – his only weapons were a vibroblade, his lightsaber, and a single CryoBan grenade. No comlink, no distress beacon, no macrobinoculars, no medical supplies... and Slice alone knew which direction the LZ was, or the crash site.
Lavar pulled his cloak up as he finished assessing his situation. With unknown enemy forces out there, plus his current condition, there was every reason to suspect that attempting to use the Force to figure out where to go, who was nearby, or even just to keep himself moving would bring Jedi and possibly their Mandalorian mercenaries down on him like a ton of bricks. This would be a bad thing.
Just as he turned to set off in the direction he thought he needed to go, a twig snapped and a flash of metal brought Lavar turning in another direction and his amber energy blade up to swat aside a trio of blaster bolts. Two Mandalorians were facing him, one with brown armor and carrying a T-21 light repeating blaster, the other with an A280 Longblaster. Lavar didn't wait to see if they'd bother offering a surrender demand or just try and shoot him. Discarding caution, Lavar let his emotions feed his connection to the Dark Side as he charged at the two Mandos.
The one with the T-21 couldn't get his heavier weapon in line fast enoguh, and Lavar sent his blade through the barrel of the weapon, disabling it and taking the left forearm of the Mando off, just above his bracer. Bringing the lightsaber blade around, he stabbed it through the Mandalorian's throat, severing his windpipe and spine and killing him instantly.
The other Mandalorian had faster reflexes than his friend, or hadn't assumed that Lavar would be unable to fight back, as he tossed his rifle aside and pulled a short sword from his belt. Lavar's first couple of attacks confirmed what he figured – the blade was made of some sort of lightsaber-resistant material. Otherwise, pulling it out would have been pointless. Lavar focused on his opponent, the short movements of Soresu keeping the Mandalorian's physical blade at bay, while any attacks Lavar tried to slip in were similarly parried.
Lavar grimaced. This was not going to be easy...
Ronovi’s hands fidgeted on the hilt of her sapphire blade as she used it to casually clear a dangling tree limb from her path. Looking over her shoulder, she could see Solus only a few meters behind her, the mild sheen of his Mandalorian breastplate being the most noticeable object on him as he crept through the brush. The grass was painfully dry, crackling against fabric and under boots, and made far too much noise for the Epicanthix to tolerate.
The twelve Cresh scouts ahead of them had stretched themselves out in a thin, wavering crescent. Ten of them carried A2-95s on them, while one carried a sniper version of the same weapon and another bore a light repeater, shaking in the lukewarm shade. They would be the first to spot any enemy, let alone Mandalorians, and alert the two Dark Jedi in their presence to begin their sneak attacks. It was a very simple tactic - and one, to Ronovi’s satisfaction, that would prove the scouts to be excellent meat shields as well.
The sun was heavy on the leaves of the tall trees, and scattered light lit the east with specks of dirty gold. Moving past a mosaic of foliage, Ronovi pressed an index finger to her left ear.
“Patchy to NCO. How far now?”
The deep and hollow voice of Duros NCO Stazi responded coolly. “Nine more klicks until we reach the crash site. No attempts at communication from our lost team thus far.”
“Yeah, I figured,” Ronovi said, watching as Solus approached her by one particular growth of swollen branches. “Keep to formation. Contact me if anything else arises.”
“It’s nice to have a somewhat competent scout leader,” Solus briskly commented as Ronovi removed her finger from her earlobe and brandished her blade.
“Stazi’s good, yes,” she replied. “Almost too good. Makes him expendable.”
“Ooh, foreshadowing,” said Solus, a bit more light-heartedly than his usual tone conversation. “My favorite.”
They swept a somewhat heavy green clearing after that, noticing the stretched burn marks across the knoll. The scars of gunfire darkened the space but offered very little in terms of clues. Not even the Force exactly helped in truly tracing Mandos in the area; it served its purpose only if they were nearby. They moved too fast, and Ronovi, for the life of her, couldn’t keep up mentally.
She knelt down beside one particular crater and drew a piece of shrapnel from the gaping wound. Beside her, the tree trunks were scorched and battered from laser attacks, bits of bark peeling from their bodies like dead skin. Pressing the tip of her sapphire sword into the ground, Ronovi began to trace something in the softened dirt, drawing the scene around her as if to remember it. She only stopped when she saw the skeptical look on Solus’s face.
“I’m being a tactician. Lay off me.”
“Even tacticians need to keep walking,” Solus replied.
Sighing, the Epicanthix rose to her feet and sheathed her weapon. Then the sudden rattle of branches above her drew her eyes to the horizon, just before a barrage of fire rained down upon the shrubbery nearby.
“What the f - ”
She ripped up the dirt as she ran, Solus tailing after her and shouting nondescript warnings. The sting of leaves and nettle danced along her face, and her heart jumped out of her ribcage as another shower of laser fire bristled the brush before it was set slight. Then the entire forest canopy was darkened momentarily as a small metal body hurtled past the sun, tongues of flame dancing above their heads as the dropship turned in its past and made its descent just ahead.
Ronovi cussed loudly as she pushed herself past two closely growing tree trunks to find the Cresh scouts huddled about their NCO. The forest floor was littered with burnt offerings and shards of missile residue, and Stazi breathed harshly while another scout poorly attempted to cover up the gaping gun wound in his chest.
“What are you doing?!” Ronovi roared. “Get away from him!”
The soldier barely had time to react or move altogether, instead shrieking as the woman’s hand clamped down on his collar and tossed him to the side like a rag doll. Solus, having caught up to the team, knelt beside Stazi, who coughed and spluttered as he tried to speak. His words fell strained from his lips, as if someone were drawing the life out of him like a string.
“Shuttle...attack...they targeted us...may be headed toward crash zone...”
“Did you get a glimpse of their crest? Was it Ordo?”
“Couldn’t...say...for su - ”
Then he choked on the last word, his large bulbous eyes closing, as his blue head lulled back into a mat of leaves.
Ronovi and Solus exchanged looks, unsure of whether they should pay homage to the now dead NCO or keep moving. Deciding with the latter, Solus turned to another Cresh scout, whose jaw was heavily scarred under his helmet.
“You. You’re in charge from now on, until you’re dead or until higher ups say otherwise,” he said.
The scout, who Ronovi decided to call “Joe” due to the initials “J.O.” that were tattooed in his right hand, saluted. “Yes, sir!”
“The rest of you, move out,” Solus said. His next comment was aimed at Ronovi. “We’re going to find that shuttle and see if there are any Mandos coming our way.”
Ronovi could still smell the hot engine of the dropship as she darted past the trees, the skeletal frame sitting pseudo-harmlessly in the clearing. As she moved to unclasp her lightsaber from her belt, she bit her lip at the idea that she saw no one exiting the vessel. If they were not careful, they would be jumped by whoever or whatever was in there. But they had to know who it was, and whether that someone posed a threat to any Shadow Gate survivors.
She broadly gestured for Solus to flank her, tilting her head to one side to alert Joe that it was time to push forward. The click of blaster rifles was dampened in the thick air of the forest as twelve wet metallic muzzles panted for sustenance. The remaining eleven Cresh scouts shuffled about the perimeters, moving in a circular fashion around the vessel’s steel flanks until there was little possibility of the passengers fleeing without getting shot.
Breathing deeply, Ronovi stepped out of her hiding place with her saber hilt clutched tightly in her fist. She dug her boots sharply into the dirt so as to muffle her footfalls, although that strategy may have been planned out a little too late. For as Solus and she walked past Joe and his crew, the door to the shuttle hissed open slowly and a simple shadowy figure emerged in the entryway.
One moment, the air was alight and alive with gunfire as bolts whipped past Ronovi’s head toward the shuttle door. The next, a gurgling, wide-eyed grunt toppled and pitched face-forward into a rather muddy patch of ground.
Silence pervaded the space, thick enough to waft into their noses. Ronovi didn’t move at first. She held her saber horizontally now, across her chest, and felt her nostrils flare from anticipation. Her eyes fell upon the uniform of the dead soldier, narrowed at first, then stretching to full capacity when she recognized the insignia on the garb.
“You have got to be kidding me.”
The next noise was shouting. It came first from the ship, as about half a dozen men and women in dark robes and cloaks hurtled outside with soldiers supporting them. No shots were fired, but the din was too much, too erratic. Everyone from miles away could probably hear the tornado of questions and demands, accusations and death threats. And then Ronovi heard the angry whir of her saber as she ignited it and pointed one of the plasma blades at one particular woman’s chest.
“All right, shut up!” she screamed. “Shut up! Before we all get ourselves slaughtered!”
The chaos didn’t die down immediately, but the sight of a lightsaber must have appeased the Dark Jedi before them somewhat. In one wave, each blaster was partially lowered, though the hired men never fully recoiled from their offensive stances. Ronovi’s eyes flickered from one warrior to the next, daring any of them to speak first. A voice to the right was harsh enough to defy her.
“You!” Ronovi turned her head. The hooded woman who had challenged her held out a lit blue lightsaber, her Lekku noticeably twitching under her cloak. “You who dare challenge the house of darkness...state your name!”
Great. A Twi’lek. Ronovi rolled her eyes at first before surveying the group. She recognized the large Dashade almost immediately, as well as his brother, standing somberly and baring their large clustered teeth. The others, however, were new faces - probably raw Yridian recruits scraped from the bowels of Eden City. It was strange to see her former unit members before her, threatening her - and for a minute, she wondered if the Romanaes were refusing to identify her.
“Hey!” the Twi’lek shouted. “I said state your name and your business!”
Ronovi turned to look at Solus. He gave a solemn nod in return. Not lowering her saber, she spoke firmly but not nearly as loudly as the Twi’lek.
“Ronovi Tavisaen, Centurion of Qel-Droma, of the Shadow Clan,” she declared. She then cast a sharp eye on the Dashades. “I would think some of you already knew me.”
The glares softened, but only a little bit. The unknown Twi’lek, however, expressed more confusion than her counterparts.
“Tavisaen?” she repeated. “Ronovi Tavisaen? The former Prince of Yridia?”
“Yes, I’m aware of my time on the throne,” snapped Ronovi.
It was clear to everyone on the team now - though Solus and Ronovi were already aware - that their presumed enemies were Tarenti. The two Arconans had obviously been former members of the unit, while it had been a clan as well, and they harbored their own reasons for departing. In the Exarch’s case, it was more personal than anything, and she felt a sudden quake of loathing in her stomach at the sight of people who were meant to be her current clan’s allies.
“You fired on my men,” she continued, her voice pressed in a cruel whisper. “You killed a prized NCO. Tell me why we shouldn’t kill you here and now.”
“Just a minute, Tavisaen,” Frosty barked, the first time he had spoken since the confrontation. “You are just as aware as I am about the Estle-Eden Axis.”
“Oh, really?” Ronovi demanded. “Then why did you shoot at us?”
“A grave misunderstanding,” piped up an unfamiliar face. “We thought you were Mandalorians on the ground. All of our attacks were defensive moves alone.”
No one else must have expected Ronovi’s response save for Solus, for as a snarl ripped from her throat, he reached out and seized the raging Epicanthix by the sleeve, stopping her momentum as she attempted to swing her saber at the man’s head.
“I have no tolerance for idiocy such as yours, Tarenti!”
“Easy, Ronovi,” Solus coaxed. “They’re not worth it.”
“They cost us a good man!” Ronovi growled through clenched teeth. “I’m not going to pardon them just yet!”
“It seems, Tavisaen, that your temper hasn’t cooled since your departure from Yridian space,” Frosty sneered. “Reckless as always.”
“And Tarentum hasn’t changed much either in its backwards thinking, I imagine!”
Solus’s grip tightened. Ronovi felt a sudden coldness on her brow, like ice being pressed to her temples. Her muscles loosened, and her heartbeat slowed. The redness in her face dissipated as she breathed and Solus spoke.
“We’re not here to rekindle old fires,” he said. “We’re here to serve the Iron Throne and destroy Odan-Urr. Is that not correct?”
There was a silent consent, and even Ronovi, though she snorted loudly in derision, had to back down. Solus approached the Twi’lek, who lowered her saber.
“I am Solus Gar of Qel-Droma,” he said calmly, coolly, his eyes frozen in his face. “We’ve been sent out to retrieve members of our house who had the misfortune of crashing nearby. May I ask why you’ve been deployed to these woods?”
“Border patrol,” the Twi’lek replied, a small yet malicious smile twisting her lips. “We received word that Clan Ordo’s forces may be building fortifications here, so we’ve come to root them out. Saronyx’s the name, by the way. Apologies again for the...miscommunication.”
“Understood. We fight as allies, not enemies.” Solus looked sharply at Ronovi as he said this, and the ex-Tarenti beside him silently scoffed. So much for letting go of grudges. “Perhaps you can help us.”
“Help you recover your men?” Saronyx repeated. “I don’t know if we - ”
She was cut off mid-sentence as Frosty cleared his throat. He trudged slowly up to Solus, perusing his face and looking up and down at his breastplate.
“If your men need help, then Tarentum is obligated to assist Arcona,” he grunted. “Who knows, maybe we can root out some Mandalorians together.”
Solus smiled thinly. “Maybe,” he muttered, “but you have your primary mission and we have ours. All we ask for is a small group of your men, as back-up.”
“We have a few men to spare.”
“Excellent. In which case, you should send your shuttle off now so as not to cause further detection. We don’t need any other traces of our existence.”
“We’ll send it off shortly,” Frosty agreed.
Ronovi said nothing throughout the exchange. Although she was not embarrassed in the least about her actions, she did hold a slight aura of exasperation about her. She knew she had to work with Tarentum as allies to defeat the Mandalorians, but it was so difficult to do so without going back into her past and remembering what she perceived to be Sith King’s injustices against her. Still, it was time to swallow back her ego and comply. And so she did, deactivating her saber and approaching the Dashade Tarentae.
“Maybe we can work together,” she said, then added coyly, “but just this once.”
Frosty’s eyes glinted with muted amusement. “Just this once.”
The First thing Mazer did after the crash was to make sure he didn’t have major injuries, besides a plethora of scratches, and a bruise the size of the empty space in a Gungun’s head.. The third thing he did was to check his Charric pistol was undamaged, and scanned the perimeter. The third thing he did was to pull out his unconscious master from the wreckage, and take Dalk’s lightsaber, just in case and leaving the stirring forms of everyone else in the wreckage. “Sang must be getting old,” he thought, “normally he would be the first up.”
After pulling his master from the wreckage, he sat down and reached out with the force. It was only logical that someone would have seen the smoke, and sure enough after a minute of waiting, he felt several presences in the force, mercenaries by the feel of them. Having nothing better to do until he received orders from his unconscious master, the Acolyte decided to set an ambush. He used the force, clearing away the distractions caused by the vibrant life forms to focus on the two mercenaries, in order to discover what direction they were coming from.
After choosing a tree to use as a sniper point, he sat and waited. Not long after, he heard two people clomping through the woods as if they had heavy armor on. Getting into the ready position, he waited a bit longer, to discover that the mercenaries were Mandos. Mazer panicked. It was for a moment, but he panicked. It was his first time in real combat, and it was against not one, but two Mandos, in what appeared to be full Beskar armor, one with the color of blood, and the other, more dangerous adversary, was in an old, orange armor that had been passed down from father to son.
Knowing that if he waited any longer, his chance of discovery would go up, he made his move. From his perch in the tree, he took aim at the thin small area between the red Mando’s helmet and back plate, and trusting in the force fired. HE dropped with hardly a sound. However, the other Mando was experienced enough that, as his partner was still falling, turned around let his flame thrower go to hell on Mazer’s tree. Mazer jumped down spreading a deadly hail of blue from his Charric as he fell. The veteran merely started returning his fire with a projectile weapon. After the first couple shots, Mazer knew he was in trouble because the stolen lightsaber he had would not work against projectiles, at least not in the hands of someone inexperienced as him.
Mazer knew things were getting desperate. And in desperate times desperate called for desperate measures. Steeling himself, he whirled around the tree he was using to take cover, only to be greeted not by a hail of bullets, but the familiar snap-hiss of a lightsaber. “Dalk said he wants his lightsaber back,” called Master Sang’s familiar voice.
“There was no need to help me, I had it under control.”
“Obviously,” came the sarcastic reply. “Anyways I want you on patrol while Dalk and I plan our next move and wait for the others to gain consciousness.”
“No buts, now GO!”
Approaching the Galeres LZ
Owyhyee, New Tython
“Jedi Shuul, is this wise? Are you sure we can make a difference?”
Nusatra Shuul, Senior Knight of House Odan-Urr, sighed and lowered the binoculars she was using to observe one of the landing zones of the Sith’s invasion fleet.
“Yes, Padawan Tavros,” she replied tersely, “I’m quite sure. I know the power and malice of the Dark Brotherhood first hand.”
“But…” Tavros began to argue, but was cut off by the other Jedi Knight in Shuul’s small team.
“Padawan, silence your tongue! Jedi Shuul was put in charge, due to her higher rank and expertise, so you will listen to her and follow her orders” Jedi Knight Quir Ranson chided, cuffing the belligerent apprentice on the head.
From where she was standing at the front of her four-man team, Nusatra threw a beautiful smile to Ranson in thanks, knowing of his strong feelings for her.
“It’s almost a pity,” Shuul thought to herself, “If I was still Reya Nuul…still one of them, I would take Quir to bed with me, just to further cement his loyalties.”
Despite herself, Shuul became lost in her memories as Krath Priestess Reya Nuul of the Dark Brotherhood, member of Clan –“
“Jedi Shuul…Nusatra? Should we not continue?”Quir Ranson asked, carefully shaking Shuul on the shoulder and bringing her back to the present.
“Wha-? Oh yes, let us go. New Tython isn’t going to save itself, after all” she said quickly, pushing the thoughts of her past from her mind and fixing her team with a shaky smile.
With that, the four Jedi, two Knights and two Padawans, turned and called upon the Force to enhance their speed as they closed on the landing zone of Clan Arcona’s Warrior House.
…They had no idea that they were running right into death’s embrace…
“…and here they come, master” Socorra shouted down from where she was perched high up in the limbs of a tree.
Down from he was conferring with Kratus on the ground, the Templar looked up and gave his apprentice a thumbs up.
“Ok, Kratus, now is the time for us to deal with these traitors. Let us wash away the stain that they have put on our Brotherhood with their own blood. You know the plan”
Kratus Vahillus took one last look at the diagram that Talos had etched in the ground before replying.
“Yes, let us. By the time we leave this garden world, there will be no one to carry on the name of Odan-Urr” Vahillus growled, palming his lightsaber.
The cyborg pirate got up from where he had been seated and held out his forearm, which Talos grasped warmly, before the two Equites moved off to where their respective charges had hunkered down; for Kratus, that was behind a small knoll with Aveira Iraedi, while Talos tapped into the Force and leaped up into the branches of Socorra’s tree.
“Are you ready, Socorra?” the Aedile asked of his apprentice, looking down at the nomad and trying to smile warmly, something that was difficult for the veteran whenever he was in ‘war-mode’.
Socorra looked up at her master, her eyes hard and ready for whatever was to come. “I am, master. At this point, it’s the waiting that’s killing me” she said.
Talos chuckled dryly. “Well the waiting is just about over. Remember what we discussed and we’ll both be fine” he jerked his head in the direction of the four Jedi, their brown robes now easily visible.
“Yes, master, of that I have no doubt” she replied, reaching down to her toned thighs and withdrawing the two DL-18 blaster pistols that rested there.
The Jedi ambush team came into the forested clearing exactly seven minutes later and had stopped for a brief rest when the hulking form of Kratus Vahillus stepped into their path, seemingly coming from nowhere.
“Well, hello there” the pirate captain greeted amiably, though anyone with even an iota of Force Sensitivity could detect the darkness that rolled off of him.
To her credit, Senior Knight Nusatra Shuul reacted extremely quickly. “Cover my six, Ranson! Tovras and Culpa, get between us!” she ordered, the emerald blade of her lightsaber flaring to life. Another snap-hiss from behind her let signaled that Quir had done likewise with his own weapon.
Slightly impressed, Kratus merely crossed his arms and cocked his head to the side. “Are you sure that’s…wise?”
Nusatra Shuul felt the death of Jedi Padawan Tavros a split second before it happened; in horror, she turned just in time to see a black-clad figure jump down from the trees and bring his crimson lightsaber cutting through the Padawan’s head.
Her insides crying out, Shuul turned to face Kratus once more but found the cyborg right in front of her. “Lets dance” he spat, activating his own lightsaber.
While Kratus engaged the one known as Nusatra Shuul, Talos Erinos had closed in on the second Padawan, the one that Shuul had called ‘Culpa’. But, just as he had predicated, before Talos could even so much as raise his humming blade, the second Jedi Knight had leaped in front of the Padawan.
“In the name of the House of Odan-Urr, stop!” Quir Ranson said, rather foolishly.
Talos let out a harsh laugh and angled his blade in one of the offensive positions of Shii-Cho, the simplest but one of the most effective forms of lightsaber combat.
“Why bother? That didn’t stop me from dealing with your other charge” Talos gestured to the nearly decapitated corpse of Padawan Tavros.
“I am giving you a chance to live, sir! Lay down your weapon, make yourself my prisoner, and see the Light.”
The Erinos pretended to consider the offer, even letting the tip of his blade dip slightly; but then in a rush of Dark Side power, the Templar was on the Jedi.
“No” he growled, whipping his saber around towards the Knight’s exposed flank.
Quir Ranson, while weaker than his superior Jedi Shuul, was no novice to blade combat; with little effort, the Shi’do met Talos’ attack with his own blade, the crimson and sapphire colliding in a shower of sparks.
As the two duelists conducted their colorful dance of weaves and bobs, ducks and jumps, punches and kicks, the Aedile reached out in the Force and nudged the Force-Signature of his apprentice.
'Now' was his simple command.
From high up in the tree line, Socorra watched Talos duel the Shi’do Jedi Knight, fascinated by how her master channeled the raw power she sensed in him into such grace. Mesmerized as she was by the red-and-blue exchange, the Soccoran almost missed her master’s order to eliminate the remaining Jedi.
Tuning into the Force, Socorra found Aveira Iraedi, who was sneaking around where Kratus and Nusatra Shuul were engaged in a duel similar to Talos and Ranson’s, albeit one far more vicious.
'Yeah?' the newest Galerian replied after a moment.
'The Aedile’s given the order. Time for this Culpa guy to join his friend'
Extracting her mind from the telepathic connection, the Black Banshee snuck along the tree limbs until she was right above where the Padawan was cowering behind a bush. Seeing Aveira in position below and to the left, Socorra breathed in deep, twirled her twin DL-18 pistols around once and then squeezed the triggers, spraying the forest floor with a ridiculous amount of crimson plasma.
The sudden attack sent Padawan Culpa leaping up in surprise and so intent was he on getting away from the ambush, Culpa didn’t even see Aveira Iraedi step out from behind a tree and swing her arm into his neck, effectively ‘clothes lining’ him.
Unhurt but considerably weakened, Culpa gasped for breath and rolled over, desperately scrambling for his own lightsaber. But the Padawan, inducted into the Jedi Order only three weeks before, was to slow and in a similar fashion to that of her master, Socorra jumped down from the tree line. She landed on, and subsequently broke, both of the Human Padawan’s legs.
Effectively immobilized, Socorra tossed one of her DL-18s to the other Journeyman and in a move that defined their growing power in the Dark Side, the duo pressed the muzzles of their pistols to Culpa’s head and depressed the triggers.
Socorra and Aveira’s murder of the last Padawan gave their respective masters the advantage they needed; attached as they were to each other, both Jedi Shuul and Jedi Ranson turned to where the two women were crouched over Culpa’s corpse…and therefore, didn’t even see their own deaths coming until it was too late.
In a flurry of crimson, Talos Erinos separated Quir Ranson’s head from his shoulders while at almost the exact same moment, Kratus Vahillus brutally shoved his blue saber into Nusatra Shuul’s chest. Both Jedi Knights fell to the forest floor, dead as doornails, and left only the quartet of Dark Jedi standing, all unharmed except for their shortness of breath.
“Good work” Talos said simply after a few minutes of silence had passed; without saying anything else, the Templar reached down and grabbed Ranson’s saber, attaching it firmly to his belt. Kratus followed suite, with Socorra commandeering Culpa’s saber and Aveira pocketing Tovras’.
Their bounties collected, the four Galerians had no sooner set off towards the eastern flank, where the Galerian main effort was located, when Talos’ comlink buzzed.
“Talos! Where the frak are you?!” Celahir Erinos demanded mere seconds after Talos had answered.
“Cel, I have a good excu—“ Talos began but his brother and boss wasn’t having any of it.
“I don’t care!,” the Quaestor retorted, “Do you know how hard it is to command over 1,000 soldiers and, oh I dunno, billions of credits worth of war machines, when we're being attacked by MANDALORIANS?!"
“Err…not really, boss. I’m only a Captain”
“Well, I’m only a Major. But together, we should be able to figure this thing out and devise some new tactics, seeing as ours just got shot to osik! So get back here! Now”
The Erinos opened his mouth to reply but Celahir had already ended the call.
“Err…right,” Talos muttered sheepishly, “We’re heading to the FOB. Time for a Mandalorian face-off".
Owyhyee, New Tython
Approaching Menat Ombo
The seven current and former members of Oblivion made their way east, through the fields. They all used various force abilities to obfuscate their presence and they moved forward in a practiced manner. One or two moved swiftly and silently ahead. Then they would plant themselves around the best cover or concealment they could find and protect the next group that would move in front of them. Tactically it would be considered a loose bounding overwatch, but it was second nature to the group more than anything else.
The seven Dark Jedi was able to see fighting off in the distance, but their orders were to move behind and flank. So they couldn't engage, even if they saw comrades fall to Mandalorian forces. This mission was much more important.
Etah utilizing the force to make himself invisible. Up close the ability was of limited utility, but from a distance it was perfect. As long as the Sakiyan avoided making any blunders that would result in sounds that could be heard at a distance he would be OK.
Moving forward the Prelate stepped intentionally, looking at the ground for mines or traps as well as sensing the area immediately around him. Holding onto his invisibility, while sensing the area around him, combined with the attention he was applying to watching and moving and the adrenaline association with potential danger, he managed to miss a lone figure.
The man was wearing the Mando shock armor that all of the mercenaries were and was crouched down in the brush, a radio in his hand. He was obviously a picket. A scout sent to watch a groups flanks. Before the Sakiyan could react there was slight movement behind him and then the radio was broken in two, followed by blood pouring from the mans throat. As he lay gargling to death, Etah noticed no indication that he had even been aware of the teams presence.
The Prelate looked quickly back and Timeros and Strategos both nodded in his direction, in a glib manner suggesting that they had protected him and he would later be made fun of vigorously, should they survive this operation.
Etah took a few more steps before kneeling at the base of a large tree. Timeros stood and began to briskly stride past his longtime friend and student.
Cethgus watched as the shuttle entered the planet, knowing that the rest of the Arconan armies would be assembling. He walked up to the front of the shuttle and looked towards the pilot, a smirk on his lips as he wondered what glory awaited his team down on the surface. Knowing that this was their biggest test yet, and a test at which he was sure they would be able to succeed, he felt more confident than he would have expected.
“Flight Lieutenant, how close are we to the forward operations base?” Cethgus questioned the man with a friendlier tone.
“We should be arriving in a few minutes, sir. I don’t expect us to have an easy landing, but the flight path looks clear enough that I can drop you just outside of the forward operations base.” The pilot turned his head slightly to look at the expression on the Exarch’s face.
Cethgus simply nodded to the man and headed back to look at the rest of his team. He smiled to himself and brought a smoke out from his pocket, instantly lighting it up and taking a drag, allowing the smoke to filter into his lungs as he pondered his next words.
“Right, listen up all of you. We will be landing soon and I expect you all to be ready, to do anything that is required of you. This might be your first time seeing combat for some. For others, well, we are used to this. Right now, though, I need all of you to be ready and to perform to the standards I have come to expect from each of you. Believe me when I say, you make one mistake on the field of battle and it could be death of you.” Cethgus allowed his voice to echo around as he took another drag from his smoke.
Smirking to himself, he felt the shuttle complete a circle as it came down towards its landing zone. Before finally touching down onto the ground, instantly the Exarch moved to the door as it began to lower. Cethgus was the first to move off as he walked off with his team, a smile coming to his lips. He instantly headed towards the command centre to retrieve orders as well as find out the current ground situation. On his way through Cethgus saw Talos and, to his annoyance, Kratus with the other Journeymen Talos had accompanying him. Cethgus changed his course to intercept them as they seemed to be heading in the same direction.
Without so much as a word, the Exarch grabbed Kratus and threw the male into the ranks of the battle team. He needed to sort this out before he got to the forward operations base. Looking at the figure of Kratus, now in the ranks of his team members, a grim expression on the Exarch’s face as he turned back to his Aedile.
“Talos, I am going to say that Kratus is back with the team he belongs in. I hope you do not mind this matter?” Cethgus’s voice was somewhat different when addressing his superior.
“Of course.” Talos began to walk towards the command center as Cethgus followed in trail, wondering where his team would be sent. At the same time a small part of him longed to be on the front lines fighting against whatever opponent was brave or stupid enough to cross his path.
Kratus was now back with the team and would stay there for the duration of the war. The Exarch would not lose a single man if he could help it. Walking towards the base, the Exarch looked over towards Talos and wondered how he had found things so far. At the same time he couldn’t help but find himself remembering what his previous wars had been like. His steps were slow, but keeping with the fellow members. Cethgus entered the operation base at the same time, Cethgus stood there, leaving his team outside, and waited patiently for his orders.
Talos quickly strode up to the command building, his apprentice keeping in step at his side.
“Wait here,” the master ordered, halting her at the entrance. He then ducked inside, leaving her to her own devices. Socorra turned and watched the hubbub with curiosity. Military officers were barking orders and soldiers were quickly moving about the base. Every one of their strides showed purpose. Slackers do not exist in this clan, she thought.
Talos finally emerged and stopped midway through the exit, turning to address the Protector. “Come. The Proconsul wants to see you.”
The young woman raised an eyebrow and pointed to herself, mouthing the question, ”Me?” The master began waving her over, indicating the need for her to hurry.
Socorra quickly followed him in and immediately took in the scene of the command center. Monitors, computers, portable transmitter devices, and holoprojectors were hastily stationed in rows, with commissioned officers, communications staff, and Dark Jedi moving about them.
The tall, imposing figure of Wuntila stood looking over tactical displays before him on a table, his blue arms crossed over his broad chest. His dark cerulean eyes remained locked on the table until the pair arrived in front of him. Peering up, he addressed the Journeyman. “The file from your...interrogation,” he paused, throwing a look to Talos, “mentioned that you were an information broker and an analyst. Is this correct?”
Socorra nodded, her waist-long raven hair bobbing and weaving with the motion. “Yes, sir.”
“Good, you’re with me, then.”
Talos frowned a bit, appearing to be none-too-pleased. “Sir, Socorra is my apprentice. She is inexperienced in warfare, and I believe she will learn the most at my side.”
“She will gain command experience by remaining here with me. Now go, Captain, your Quaestor is awaiting your ‘field trip’ report.” Stern finality and a trace of scolding were represented in the Proconsul’s voice and expression.
Socorra felt awkward being the subject of an argument, but her pale eyes were not averted in embarrassment. She was, instead, intently studying their monitors, bringing herself up to speed on their troops without a word being spoken. The young woman was not a war tactician by any means; however, she was highly intelligent and was able to analyze most, if not all, of the information that was displayed on his table as well as the screens throughout the center, and burn it all into memory.
Talos was perplexed. He had promised the young Journeyman that she would see the war, not be stuck behind metal walls, viewing it from a distance like a holovid. He turned and watched her scan the room, an innocent air about her as she methodically took in and deciphered the controlled chaos around them.
The Master’s brows furrowed in frustration. As much as he knew his student could take care of herself, and would be safe here on base, something still nagged at him. It was partially what prompted him to give her the ring earlier, so that he may track her.
Talos finally spoke, consciously controlling these emotions in his voice inflection. “Will you be alright?” he asked simply.
For a moment, Socorra blinked at his odd choice of words. Her master was the one going out into the fray. Would he be alright? She almost voiced the question but held her tongue instead- his superior was still towering over them. This situation would be rather strange. The master/apprentice pair had been constant companions since the day they met in another warzone, where he had thrust his rifle in her face upon first sight...and subsequently interrogated her. Now, when trust and loyalty counted the most, they would be separated.
All that aside, this would be an interesting twist. “Yes, master,” she replied, just as simply, her azure orbs greeting his.
“Alright. I will check in periodically. Be good for him.” He turned to leave.
“As opposed to what, master? Being naughty?” Socorra tried to hide a tiny mischievous smirk...and the dirty thoughts surrounding it.
In the middle of war, where stress of command and thoughts of his comrades dying on the field as well as the safety of his charge were in Talos’s conscious thoughts and partially in his expression, somehow the tanned-skinned desert nomad managed to bring a bright smile to his face. “Indeed, apprentice, indeed.”
He nodded to Wuntila and promptly left the room.
The Prelate looked down to the young woman, who was half his weight and almost an entire foot below him in height. He spoke clearly and precisely, his charisma overshadowing any stress the Human-Theelin may be hiding.
“The information you laid out for us on New Tython has proved useful. However, our gameplan has changed. Suffice to say, we were not expecting House Odan-Urr to employ mercenaries. I do not know how much you know of Mandalorians, but anything would be helpful, as our Mandos are about to be or are currently in the field.”
Socorra peered upwards to him, which was quite a stretch, so that she could speak to the Proconsul without awkwardness between them. “With all due respect, Sir, calling them mercenaries is like calling someone’s mother a whore.”
Wun’s dark brows raised sharply, clearly surprised by either her knowledge or her...language.
He smiled slightly. A true Arconan, he thought.
“I know enough to get around; I was contracted by quite a few Mandalorians over the years. They don’t underestimate the value of a good information specialist, and generally did not try to blackmail me like some scumbags did.”
Socorra’s lack of social skills was beginning to emerge, she felt, so the info junkie abruptly stopped speaking at that point.
“Good to have you aboard, then.” Wun pointed to a couple officers working in the background and beckoned them over. “These two will see to it that you get settled here. Your first task is to find everything you can on these Mandos. You report directly to me, and all of our resources are yours, Protector. Understood?”
Cethgus looked around for anyone that could even hold the slightest hint of giving him the orders. He wanted to get his team marching towards war. As he watched the busy hustle of the command post, a smile came to his lips. He wondered what awaited them out there - anything was better than sitting here waiting for results of battle.
“Here are your orders,” a man briskly walked up to the Exarch and handed him a datapad, allowing him to study it. A small smile coming to his lips. He handed the datapad back to the man and nodded. Turning on his heels the Exarch exited the Operation Base and walked towards his team.
“Looks like we have our orders. We are going straight to the front lines, make sure you are ready, we will be leaving now, and we will bring them the war they hunger for. Leave no one alive that stands in your path, take no prisoner, give no quarter, and I promise to bring you all home the same way you entered this war. Am I understood?” His voice echoed with years of command experience behind it, as his eyes lay onto the team that stood before him, he trusted each one of them with his life.
“Understood sir” the team replied almost instantly as their commander nodded back, before walking towards their point of engagement. He knew that it would be a quick move into the field of battle, though the risk that the Exarch was taking was one he hoped would pay off. As he walked his team towards a waiting LAAT, he knew that this would drop them off just before the main combat, giving them an advantage if they managed to pull off a charge.
Moving his team into the LAAT he allowed the pilot to take off with a quick nod, instantly watching as it rose from the ground. Beginning its approach vector towards the main battlefield, Cethgus looked at his team knowing that they would live up to his expectations or die on this field of battle. It was one of their biggest tests that they had yet to face. Instantly, the Exarch’s eyes noticed the explosions and combat that was taking place exactly where the datapad had specified the battle to be.
The ship began to come down low towards the ground, as the fighting got closer the Exarch he knew that it wouldn’t be long before they had to get off the LAAT and begin their advance into the enemy lines. His hand instantly reached down to his belt as he felt the cold metal of his trusted lightsaber, unclipping it and gripping it firmly in his hand, ready to be activated. The shuttle slowed down and allowed the members of the team to get out as close to the enemy lines as possible without endangering the ship itself. Looking forward Cethgus knew that they had little time.
“Let’s do this,” his voice passed over each member of his team as his saber hissed into life.
The team charged forward, lead by the Zabrak who dove head first into combat. The team instantly hit the lines in front of them, joining the countless others currently fighting against the Mercenaries and Jedi. Cethgus brought his saber through the back of the first unsuspecting Mandalorian that was in his path, sending the man down to the ground with a cry of agony.
The team moved in quickly, keeping close to each other but wreaking havoc to the enemy lines. As they charged forward, the Exarch made sure that his eyes were always checking up on members from his team to make sure that they were doing ok. His saber twirled into a oncoming blaster shot, deflecting the bolt neatly into the air. Letting out a battlecry, he marched forward, determined to cleave through the Mandalorian's helmet with his saber. He was now on a rampage, his anger swelling and unleashing through augmented might in his swings, killing anything or anyone that stood in his way. This was what the Exarch longed for, this was his element, chaos and destruction.
Invictus eyed the former members of the Oblivion Brigade as they drew further away from the Landing Zone. The terrain they would have to traverse was the worst sort. A dozen tributaries crisscrossed the land, turning it into a morass of sawgrass and typhas. Only a handful of predators were known to inhabit the marshes, but those few that had survived the combined might of evolution and colonization were all the more lethal for it. Still, if giant sleens were the worst that Marick’s squad had to face, Invictus would consider them all lucky. His biggest concern, and the reason the Chiss had argued so vehemently against landing to the west of Menat Ombo, was the opportunity it presented their enemy to ambush them. With the grasses reaching to just over a meter in height, there was no way for a moving band to stay concealed. By the same token, the Tythonian defenders needed only crouch to become invisible amongst the rushes and streams that filled the fen.
Still, the Aedile silently mused, they can take care of themselves.
Turning back to the LZ, the only truly solid ground between the capital and the coast, Invictus studied the flurry of ensuing activity. The soldiers were well-trained, competent men all, and had spread out in fireteams to ring the clearing. Likewise, the more experienced Dark Jedi had dispersed to survey the perimeter. Inahj stood sentry to the south, James to the north, and Bloodfyre, the Tarentae Master, to the west. Giovanni, newly raised to Dark Jedi Knight, was speaking in hushed tones to a clustered group of Protectors, gesticulating wildly. The Chiss spared one last glance towards the eastern horizon before approaching the group. He moved quietly, out of habit, and none noted his approach.
“...Give a wit how fancy your robe is, Palermo! Take your new lightsaber and...”
The words cut off into a choking gurgle as Invictus channeled the Force to lift the Protector off of his feet, increasing the pressure as he rose. The human twisted in the grip, spinning until he was looking into the Aedile’s eyes. Though the once-solid scarlet had grown mottled with green and blue and grey, the look of lethal intent was still as clear as ever. Instinct took over, and the Chiss’s apprentice opened his mouth to explain, only realizing after the fact that he lacked the air necessary to do so. The Battlemaster knew Kerr’ek’s vision had begun to darken when the attempts to speak ended and convulsions began.
Invictus let him hang in the air a moment longer, then drew back his right arm - the added weight of his lightsaber grasped firmly in his fist - and backhanded the Protector. The blow cracked viciously against the side of his face, splintering his high cheekbone and throwing him several meters through the air. The Chiss gazed at the young man impassively as he slowly rose to his feet. Kerr’ek stood up straight, despite the obvious pain, and nodded deferentially to his Master. Knowing he had quelled any further objections, Invictus turned back to Giovanni and the knot of Protectors.
“Carry on, Knight.”
The middle-aged Obelisk continued as if the interruption had never taken place, the clipped tones of Commenor still evident in his voice after so long in the Outer Rim.
“Fan out with the troops. Attach yourselves to a fireteam and stick with them like your lives depended on it. They just might. The Mando’ade are probably better armed and armored than we are, and have the element of surprise in their favor. We have to find them before they find us. That’s your task. Trust the Force and it will see us to victory.”
The half dozen protectors and a handful of Novices and Acolytes saluted, fists to their hearts, then moved off to carry out their orders. Invictus opened his mouth to comment, but the whir of airborne engines caught his attention and he gestured instead, beckoning the Knight to follow him back to the clearing’s eastern edge. Several LAAT/i’s set down in the newly vacated area, disgorging troops, machinery, and the handful of Dark Jedi who hadn’t been part of the initial descent. Their commanders, having the benefit of solid intel from the first wave, had already given them final orders. The resulting disembarkation was more orderly than Invictus had anticipated, and he took advantage of the time it afforded him.
The Sith relaxed his body, letting his mind be subsumed in the Force, and stretched out, seeking a vision of the future. A kaleidoscope of scenes crashed through his consciousness. They overwhelmed thought, drowning notions of time and place and self.
Dismembered soldiers blown dozens of meters by an explosion.
Marick, wounded, bleeding out on shattered cobblestones.
Mazer, disguised as an enemy soldier, a flurry of blaster bolts converging on him.
Timeros’s lightsaber at Strategos’s throat, a hairsbreadth from burning through his neck.
Himself, collapsed over a console, scarlet blood matting his blue-black hair and trailing down the back of his black jumpsuit.
The Battlemaster gasped, the flood of images receding from his mind, leaving him kneeling in the trampled grass. A hand was there before he could speak - if he could speak - offering assistance in rising. Invictus, never one to put pride before utility, took it. He brushed off the knees of his combat jumpsuit, strangely taken aback in the wake of the vision by the cerulean flesh against sable fabric.The Sith composed his features and looked up, meeting Oberst’s knowing gaze.
“It hits hard like that, at times,” murmured the Tarentii liaison quietly. “When you try and force the Force. Looking For Trouble, I call it. You hardly ever see what you want, or even what you need.”
Invictus thought about his words and nodded slowly, pushing away the vivid images that the vision had left in its wake. He looked the Dark Adept in the eyes for a long moment, grateful for the advice but unsure how to express it. Before he could find a way, the Adept cleared his throat and held out a datapad. The Sith looked over it, scanning the sensor data.
It appeared that a group of Mandalorians had splintered off from the main host, gathering north of where the downed LAAT/i had crashed. Apprehension filled him momentarily, until he saw the timestamp on the SatRec images. They were hours old!
If the mercenaries weren’t after the transport, though... The Sith shook his head, knowing there was an answer to be found, but equally sure he laked the time to find it. Fierfek! We should have seen this before we launched, he thought, vehemently. Invictus handed the report back to the Tarentae, shaking his head.
“When I find out who slipped up, I’m feeding him his own scrotum. Literally.”
Cursing under his breath, he turned slowly to face the center of the clearing and the soldiers arrayed around it.
“Odan-Urr’s FOB is a dozen klicks to the east, just outside Menat Ombo. We’ll approach in Shen formation, ten meter spread between each team, two hundred meters long. The Tarentae Elders and I will take point, the artillery center. I want a Knight or higher between every squad, with Journeymen filling in the gaps.”
The Aedile paused, giving the assembled forces a moment to absorb his words and figure out exactly where they would fit into the crescent formation. His gaze swept over them as he waited, noting the resigned endurance of veterans and the eager blood thirst of raw recruits. The Dark Jedi themselves were almost impassive by comparison, but beneath the surface was a boiling cauldron of emotions waiting to be tapped. Invictus nodded once, sharply, before continuing.
“Battle Droids and militia await us, and an entire Clan of Mandalorians whose only purpose is to see each and every one of us dead. There is one thing, though, that none of you can afford to forget. Beyond militia and machines and mercenary machinations, we shall meet our true enemy. This world, so close to our homes, belongs to the Jedi! They have persecuted us! They have hunted us! They have done everything in their power to purge us from this galaxy that we’ve built and shaped for millennia! They eschew our beliefs. They destroy our homes. They kill us over and over again. Today isn’t a day of glory, or territory, or riches. Today is a the day we draw a line in the sand. Today is the day we say ‘This far, no farther.’ Today is the day we show them the horror they have shown.”
Invictus took a breath, feeling the emotions rise before him, orchestral strings upon which he plucked the chords which would sound the Qel-Dromans to war. He took a breath. He smiled. And a shout roared from his lips, echoed in the hearts of those assembled before him.
“Today is the day of vengeance!“
Forest Near Shadowgate Crash Site
Moving through the dense undergrowth, three Arconan Dark Jedi traveled with a purpose in their step born of urgency. Having come upon a injured and combat scarred Kant Lavar on their way to locate the crashed dropship, Ronovi and Solus realized that the number of Mandalorians operating in the area made their mission all the more urgent. Kant had been able to dispatch two of their number in close combat but was unsure if either of his opponents had been able to relay a message to their command. If so, there would be armored commandos descending like a swarm of Corellian gluttonbugs. The Force allowed the Jedi to maintain their pace and vitality while the Arconan and Tarentum soldiers struggled to keep up.
Suddenly, the silence of the forest was shattered by the scream of repulsorlift engines powering up. With a quick glance at one another, the Force users broke into a run and within a few meters broke out into a clearing almost unexpectedly. A small Mandalorian shuttle was several meters in the air, rising from the ground in the center of the clearing. Of much more immediate import, however, were the six supercommandos at the tree line on the opposite side of the clearing.
Solus let the Force flow through him as the enemy weapons swung up to face him, time seeming to stretch to a crawl. Crimson bolts crossed the intervening distance in a heartbeat, met easily by the long topaz colored blade held in Solus’s Soresu grip.
“Any help would be appreciated!” Solus barked at the soldiers behind him.
Using his flashing blade as cover, the armed men fanned out to both of the Sith’s flanks and turned the clearing into a withering crossfire. The Mandolorians took cover behind trees and debris, the metal likely shed from the dropship that rested like a broken, discarded toy several meters to their left. With their superior positioning and cover, Solus knew the Mandolorians were in position to pick off his mixed Arconan and Tarenti detachment unless the Dark Jedi acted to tip the scales.
Just as Solus began to wonder where Ronovi and Lavar were, they were both among the enemy troopers. Taken unaware and unprepared, the first two fell before they even sensed the danger. Lavar’s movement to his next target was awkward and slow as a result of his injury, but Ronovi was a blur of sapphire energy. Her double bladed saber moved from one Mandalorian to another with nary a wasted movement. A second and then third fell, the latter with his head cleanly parted from the rest of his body. Kant had dealt with his second, leaving behind only one of the six still alive.
Ronovi was not going to get to her last target before he could bring his weapon in line, however, and her blade was not in a position to block his shot. Solus reached out with the Force, projecting a telekinetic blast across the clearing that ripped the rifle from the soldier’s hands just in time. Without a weapon, the Mandalorian was left to raise his hands in an ineffectual defense against Ronovi’s saber. The forward blade sliced his arms off just below his elbows, and the return swing of her saber staff cleaved him like a tree at his waist, leaving his torso to fall one way and his legs the other.
“I had him!” Ronovi called to Solus as she deactivated her blade.
“I’m sure you did,” Solus replied, “but I couldn’t let you have all the fun.”
Now that the immediate threat was past, Solus was free to take stock of his surroundings. The Mando shuttle was retreating in the distance, heading farther away from friendly lines. The LAAT/i was a total loss, wings ripped from it as it had crashed along with several sections of hull plating. There were several bodies beside the crashed ship, all of them wearing Arconan uniforms. A number of other corpses littered the clearing in the armor of the Mandalorian clan that opposed them.
“At least they took a few of the enemy with them,” Solus said as he walked towards the downed craft. “It doesn’t look like any of Shadow Gate is among the dead.”
A rustle in the undergrowth caused Solus to whirl and ignite his saber once more, but the battered figure that stepped out of the trees wasn’t the enemy.
“Khaer Sordar,” he reported, the Protector looking happy to see a friendly face.
“What happened here?” Ronovi asked him, stepping up beside the former Mandalorian.
“We were pulling ourselves back together after the crash,” Khaer explained. “We’d even managed to take care of a couple of Mandos. But then that shuttle turned up.”
Solus crossed his arms, hoping the Journeyman’s story wasn’t going where he suspected.
“Sang rallied us into the trees,” Khaer continued, “but we didn’t notice he wasn’t with us, distracted as we were moving the wounded.”
“You were doing what you needed to,” Solus insisted.
“I think that was Sang’s intention,” Khaer said with a nod. “As they poured out of the shuttle, he held them off long enough for us to get away. Took a couple of them kriffing Mandos down before they dropped him.”
“Dead?” Lavar inquired, joining the conversation.
“No,” Khaer responded, “they stunned him and loaded him in their shuttle. That’s about where you folks entered into it.”
“All right, let’s see if we can get you and the rest of your team out of here,” Solus said, grabbing his comm unit from his belt.
Twenty minutes yielded another LAAT/i, this one undamaged and flight worthy. The Arconan and Tarenti soldiers along with the remaining members of Shadow Gate had been loaded onto the ship, leaving only Solus and Ronovi. Before they could board, however, the pilot poked his head out of the crew door and held up a hand.
“Message for you,” he reported.
Tuning his comm to the ships frequency, Solus was surprised to hear the voice of the Qel-Droman Aedile.
“Ronovi, Solus. Your mission to recover Sang is going to have to wait,” Invictus instructed. “I have a new assignment for you. I’ve just come into the possession of some surveillance data that shows a unit of Mandolorians several klicks north of you, and they’ve been there since before we landed.”
Ronovi and Solus looked at one another, the latter raising his brows.
“There’s nothing up there save empty forest, no reason to assign an entire unit,” Solus said.
“My thoughts exactly. I don’t have anyone else to spare, but I need somebody to get out there and determine what it is. If it’s a concentration of troops, we need to know about it. I don’t want to have Mandalorians hitting us from the flank as we’re assaulting Menat Ombo.”
“Understood,” Solus replied. “Lavar and the rest will have to handle Sang’s retrieval.”
“That they will. Now get going,” Invictus ordered before the line went dead.
Ronovi turned to the pilot. “Lieutenant, we’ll be seeing you.”
The Sith and the Obelisk turned away from the dropship and headed north as the ship lifted off and blasted away. Without having to say it, the two knew that they could travel faster without having to slow their pace to allow those not gifted with the Force to keep up with them.
“We’re going to be a little shorter on eyes,” Ronovi said, responding to the silent shared thought as they passed beneath the trees.
“Not really,” Solus replied.
Before Ronovi could ask for clarification, the air behind him seemed to ripple and darken. Three shadows that resembled the enemy Mandalorian commandos solidified out of the growing darkness.
“Aurek, Besh, and Cresh,” Solus said with a smirk. “An trio of additional eyes and ears.”
Ronovi smiled in response as she watched the three Force Wraiths move off into the trees in different directions.
"Impressive," Ronovi remarked.
She wasn't exaggerating. The wavering silhouettes of Aurek, Besh, and Cresh had assisted greatly in their journey, not so much as physical guides as much as mental guides. As she watched them move, she felt as if her vision had been greatly extended without much exertion, the perimeters glistening in her periphery with activity and direction. Ronovi had cast a thin smile at Solus as they had walked, but he had fallen into a resigned concentration until they had reached what was presumedly their mark.
"You thinking the same thing I am?" she asked as she parted a dense wall of branches and leaves with her fingers. Solus had pulled his wraiths back, allowing the three Mandalorians to fade and disappear into the oncoming mist of the woods.
"Probably. About these troops?"
"Yeah. The idea that maybe they were purposefully put out here."
Solus inhaled sharply, his fingers curling over his sleeping saber hilt. "Protecting something, then?"
"Let's find out."
The slick slurp of metal from a scabbard became scattered clattering in the dense forest. Then the flurry of shredding leaves decorated the air in colored specks, wood crunching bitterly as it was split apart. When a large enough hole was made in the tall foliage, Ronovi returned her blade to her belt, moving her hand to her side.
"What are you..." Solus began, just before he saw the glint of an SSK-7 emerging from its holster. "Oh. Of course."
Grinning, Ronovi put a finger to her lips and then crouched right beside the cleared space of the forest "barricade" where the brush and plants grew thick and were difficult to navigate through. Then the two heard what they expected: Footsteps. At least three people approaching the vulnerable spot. And Mando'a crept into their ears melodically, if not hushed.
"If it's those damn jetiise again..."
"Get your pistols," Ronovi whispered to Solus, beckoning him over to her.
He did not draw them yet, instead letting his hands rest upon them delicately, his wrists at an angle, his elbows pointed. There was a soft shuffling, then more muttering. And the next moment, Ronovi pointed her SSK-7 toward an emerging helmeted head, burrowing a bolt into his exposed neck before his rifle reached her first. He toppled face forward like a rag doll, arms pitifully splayed out like the wings of a skewered bird.
The response was expected and quick, as two more Mandalorians, most likely patrol officers, ripped through the hole in the branches with fire ripping from their blasters. Letting his hands move in a spiral as he drew his pistols in a twist formation, Solus fired two shots, one deflecting off a visor but the other drilling its way into the clothed flesh just above the collarbone. The gurgling that followed was a delightful sound in Ronovi's ears, just as she dodged a large slug of plasma from the sole survivor's rifle and rolled across the dirt so that her free hand could latch around his ankle and yank him to the ground. He was on his stomach like a floundering fish, just as he felt his jugular vein bursting in a small bloody nova as the bolt disintegrated his larynx.
There was silence for a moment. Then a slight moan. Solus sighed and fired another shot at the persistent soldier, watching his head twitch before lying still as stone. He gave Ronovi a look as she let her strong arm fall to her side.
"Any more?" he asked.
Ronovi shook her head. "Not that I can sense. Honestly, you think these guys would do something about that weak spot in their armor. Put a collar around their necks or something, you know?"
"That aside, I can't believe that actually worked," Solus said. "But don't you think that was a bit too drawn out?"
"Just charging them gets boring after a while, you know that."
The two traipsed the perimeter of what appeared to be a small, nondescript bunker, looking aged and run down as if it had seen a few wars already. The mossy walls, the rusted windows, and the green corners of the place bore the burden of time, weariness pervading its cracks and fissures. Ronovi began to theorize that perhaps this fortification belonged to the Harakoans or the colonists, rather than the actual Jedi of Odan-Urr who may not have found use for it. Then again, if Clan Ordo had been dispatched here, then maybe it was more important to them than she imagined.
Solus and Ronovi kept their firearms drawn, pinching their grips with white fingers, as they circled the bunker. They expected someone, anyone, to pop through the doorway from underground with all weapons drawn. But no one came. No one challenged them. No one but the meager trio that the two Arconans had casually offed.
"What do you think is in there?" Ronovi asked as she rounded the last corner, seeing Solus in front of her.
"I'm not going to guess, but if Mandos were blocking this place, there's bound to be something good." Solus lowered his pistol as he spoke. "Something valuable."
"Well, we can't just infiltrate, that'd just be silly," muttered Ronovi. "What do we do?"
Solus gave her a look wrought with iron skepticism. "Really?"
Sighing, Ronovi re-holstered her SSK-7 and approached one of the bunker walls, Solus doing the same. They stayed a few meters apart, their fingers tracing the aged steel and stone of the edifice. The Exarch knew very well what they could do, and now couldn't be a better time to show off some Force prowess.
She closed her eyes. Breathed in. Breathed out. She felt the pulse of air around her quicken. She focused on whatever objects could be down in that bunker, what stories they told. What they could show her. Soon, the images assaulted her consciousness, flashes of distorted color and shapes moving in frightening freeze frames in her mind's eye.
Ronovi recoiled, dramatically. She didn't mean to. Her hand had begun to grow rigid on the stone and she had started hyperventilating. She had seen scattered appendages missing their owners, then their owners lying in piles of flesh and organs on the ground. She counted at least thirty of them from her memory. Maybe three dozen at most. And they were all dead.
Taking a slow step backward, Ronovi raised her head to the leafy skies and let her chest rise and fall as she regained her calm. Then she looked at her fellow Qel-Droman.
"Did you see it?" she asked. First in a murmur, then in a growl. "Did you see it, Solus?"
"The dead soldiers, you mean?" Solus peeled himself away from the bunker wall. "Yes. Not the work of any Odanite, or Mando."
"Obviously not." Ronovi was still trying to breathe. She had grown accustomed to seeing the dead - usually after having killing them - but all of the thoughts zipping in her mind had been overwhelming to say the very least. "Did you see anything else?"
"Not much. I figured you were a little more in touch with psychometry than I am."
"Yes, but..." Ronovi blinked. She paused and pursed her lips. "There was something else. Or someone else. Now we know for sure that something's valuable in there because otherwise those Mandos wouldn't have been slaughtered. That means that if we were out to find it..."
Solus finished her thought. "...then someone got here first."
The two exchanged a brief glance before moving in one solid stride into the bunker, descending into the damp underground corridors and vaults with their lightsabers serving as their torches. They leapt over steps to avoid noise, muffling other sounds they made as they soon came into contact with the very bodies they had witnessed in their psyches. It was somehow more tolerable to see them in reality than through psychometry, though at least the latter didn't provide much of the odor. And as Ronovi pressed herself against a wall near one cluster of decaying Mandos, her organic eye widened as she took a strong whiff of the burnt aroma.
"Solus," she whispered. "They haven't been dead for long. They've just been killed."
"Solus..." Ronovi felt her arms stiffen. "Whoever killed them is still here."
"I said, whoever killed them is still - "
The sudden onslaught of belching green light consumed Ronovi's vision, as she whipped her lance of cerulean outward and let one blade of her saber squeal against the enemy. Her vision was cast into dark viridian blots for a moment, and she tried to keep her balance as she shoved against whoever had attempted to kill her, the sight in her electronic eyepatch hazy and disorienting. Then came the plasma roar as Solus swung his saber upward to make the strike, and all at once, the three colors met together to create an eerie palette painting the space like a dank canvas.
Ronovi's jaw tightened. Her attacker bore the small emblem of Taldryan on his shoulder, glowing blue, green, and topaz on his long-sleeved black tunic. But his red hair and cybernetic green eyes were somewhat more significant to her.
"Dralin," the Epicanthix breathed in disbelief. "You have got to be kidding me."
12 klicks from Arconan Forward Operating Base.
Sanguinius massaged his forehead in despair; being shot down again during a major war? This was becoming something of a regular occurrence. Just like Zandro always getting kidnapped. The Sergeant sighed in resignation.
“Dalk, how are the others doing?” he inquired.
The Protector looked up from where he squatted over the unconscious Walker Boh. “The Zabrak ain’t moving for a while, several broken ribs and a major concussion.” He pointed at Khaer, “This guy shouldn’t have too many complaints, just a pounding head.”
“Fair enough,” Sanguinius smiled, always happy to find the silver lining in any situation.
Investigating the smoking ruins of the crashed shuttle, the Templar had counted in the Gatekeepers. Only one was missing; Kant Lavar, who had been thrown from the LAAT/i when the missile had impacted. A familiar presence was felt by the Obelisk’s side.
“Logic dictates we move from this site, the enemy will eventually investigate the crash site and look for survivors,” Vassan reported.
“Wise words, Rokir. Only problem is, we’ve got casualties and I’m not exactly callous enough to leave them behind.” Sanguinius gestured towards the injured flight crew. “They’ll have to learn to keep up; besides, we can probably carry Protector Boh amongst ourselves.”
Cyberguy wandered over to the two Equites. “I’ll carry him if we need to,” he offered.
Sanguinius smiled, he knew that he could always rely on his fellow Qel-Dromans. “Good, let’s do it.” The Entar looked over towards his apprentice. “MAZER!” he bellowed, making himself heard over the relentless thump of mortar fire and the screech of laser fire.
His apprentice turned and sprinted towards him. “Yes Master?” he asked.
“We’re moving out, gather up ammo and supplies. Until Walker recovers, you hold onto his saber.”
A wide grin split the Acolyte’s face. “Right away, Master.”
Directing his attention to his surroundings, the Templar grimaced at the rolling hills and long grass. According to his mini nav-computer, Shadow Gate had crashed twelve klicks from their target, and now they were out in the middle of hostile territory with marauding Mandalorians, angry Militia, and outraged Jedi all around them. Things would be tough even if he had the full might of Qel-Droma with him, yet all he had was some injured Journeymen, an exasperated former Consul, and an Elder who could prove to be the deciding factor on whether they lived or died here today.
Sanguinius knew that he had two options: Continue on foot towards their target and hope to slip by enemy patrols, or return to base in shame. Honour dictated only one course of action: Shadow Gate would attempt to complete their mission. He conversed with the Gatekeepers and laid out the plan. All were in agreement, determined to complete their orders.
Mazer appeared at Sanguinius’ side. “Master, troops are approaching. I don’t think they’re quite that friendly.”
“What makes you think that, Mazer?” The Anaxsi inquired.
“Well, they started shooting at me when I was spotted,” the Acolyte joked.
Sanguinius smirked. Nothing wrong with humour in the middle of a crisis.
“Alright men, we’ve got to withdraw from the crash site before the enemy gets here. Grab what you can and let’s......”
Sanguinius stopped in mid-sentence as a shuttle roared overhead, passing over them once before turning around to come back towards the wrecked LAAT/i. He looked up to follow its path, trying to find any identifying markings. The Templar’s eyes widened in recognition and worry, “GET THE FETH OUT OF HERE!” he bellowed. Shadow Gate was in no condition to fight a full unit of the mercenaries.
The Mandalorians had already arrived.
* * * * * * * * * *
Shadow Gate fled towards the nearby woods, as the injured Arconan Expeditionary Force troopers attempted to hold off the Mandalorian assault. An attempt doomed to fail.
Sanguinius turned at bay as he felt the presences of his troopers blink out one by one. He had always hated excessive loss of life, and the thought of sacrificing men he was honour bound to protect stuck in his throat. He watched as the green and blue suited mercenaries poured blaster fire into the squaddies. Time seemed to slow for the Anaxsi as he saw the injured co-pilot get dispatched mercilessly by a vibro-knife being pushed slowly through his throat.
Mazer noticed that his Master was no longer with the Gatekeepers. If anyone was going to kill the Obelisk, it would be him in the long run. Seeing Sanguinius standing there, watching the slaughter, he ran up and grabbed the Anaxsi by his arm,
“Master Tsucyra, we must flee!” He cried, eager for his teacher to follow him.
Sanguinius smiled as he made up his mind. He knew that if he didn’t delay the Mandalorians, they would easily catch up with Shadow Gate before they were able to regroup. Pushing Mazer forwards towards the woods, he uttered what he considered to be his last words to his student. “Bad luck, guess you don’t get to push the knife in after all, eh?”
He sprinted towards the nearest Mandalorian, who was blue helmeted and wore yellow armour with a bloody handprint plastered on his helmet. Sanguinius dropped down to his knees in a skid, sliding along the ground to stop right at the mercenary’s feet. As he flew across the floor, the Templar drew his blasters and unleashed a flurry of orange bolts point blank at the shock trooper. Dents appeared in the durasteel armour and drove the trooper staggering back. Taking the chance to get up, the Sergeant back-flipped off the ground and began to run back towards the trees, pinging off shots as he went.
Sanguinius’ heart soared in relief as he saw the declining shadows of the Gatekeepers disappear into the dark clutches of the woods. His relief was short-lived as the danger warnings spiked; he automatically leapt sideways in the air as the grenade at his feet exploded. Holstering his Westar 34 blasters, Sanguinius grabbed his cloak and tore it off. In no way could he fight a unit of Mandos and win, but he’d give it a damned good go. He hurled the cloak at a charging merc, embroiling him with it as he wrapped it around his arms and head with the Force, impeding the Mandalorian. Igniting his saber, the Entar charged forward, the aquamarine blade sinking home into the now blind Mandalorian’s unprotected neck.
Another merc came for him: red helmet, brown armour. Sanguinius flinched as an armoured fist smacked into his face, breaking his nose and bruising his lips. Blood poured down his face, making the injury look worse than it was. He gestured with his free hand towards the Mandalorian, hurling him backwards with one concentrated thought. Sang brought his lightsaber up to block another attack and the blade carved through the durasteel; severing an arm and sending the offending owner reeling back in pain. A booted foot lashed out, smashing into the back of the Templar.
Too many! The Arconan panicked as he rolled with the kick.
The Mandalorian shuttle loomed above him, blisteringly white in the New Tython sunlight. Sanguinius struggled to get off the ground. He sensed a malign presence behind him, and he kicked out with a Force-aided strike. The opponent’s leg snapped in the joint, making the mercenary drop to one knee. The Arconan rotated around and thrust his bright cerulean blade through the armour and burned durasteel and flesh. As he grinned in triumph, a blaster rifle butt slammed into the back of the Qel-Droman’s neck, stunning him and sprawling him out on the ground. Sanguinius dropped his saber into the dirt the blade disengaging as his thumb left the pressure pad.
The Entar turned over to see a helmeted silhouette standing over him, quickly joined by a second and a third.
A dry humourless voice issued forth. “Ke nu jurkad sha Mando'ade, burc'ya!”
Sanguinius’ mind instantly translated the Mando’a; his time spent around his friend Celahir Erinos aided him in this regard. “Don't mess with Mandos, mate!"
The Obelisk grinned before the speaker lashed out with a boot to the head, knocking the Entar out cold.
They bundled him into the waiting dropship, the engines spooling up as the Ge’tal Gaan took their prisoner for questioning.
Galeres Operations Center
“What do you mean Sashar and Zandro are missing!?!” Quaestor Celahir Erinos demanded, his tattooed face turning a deep shade of red.
“Err..they…umm,” Socorra stammered nervously, shooting a glance to her master, Talos Erinos, who had his head down on the map table, “they were engaged with Mandalorians about forty klicks away when they…got introduced to a thermal detonator.”
“Oh for the love of slice,” Celahir fumed, turning on his heel and throwing up his hands, “This is not what the war effort needs!”
Socorra took a step away from the Obelisk Prelate and allowed him room to pace before continuing. “But, sir, the good news is that both Sergeant Erinos and the Consul are alive, the Proconsul can sense their presences in the Force.”
At this, Talos raised his head and locked eyes with his apprentice. “So the two di’kuts got captured…again?”
The Protector nodded. “Aye, master, I’ve just briefed General Trepidus on the situation and he’s rallying Soulfire Strike Team to the pair’s last known position.”
“Then we’re going with them” Talos said, rising from his chair and turning towards the door. Before he could take a step however, his apprentice shut him down with her next words.
“Ahh, master, that may not be a good idea. Proconsul Entar said, and so I quote, ‘that Talos and Celahir are under no circumstances to leave their posts in the Ops Center.’”
The white-haired Aedile stiffened and slowly turned to face the Journeyman prodigy. “He said what?”
Socorra was about to repeat herself when she was cut off:
“Don’t waste your breath, Protector, the Aedile heard you” a new voice said from behind the group.
The Dark Jedi trio turned and immediately dropped to their knees as Dark Jedi Master Korras, the Master-at-Arms of the Dark Jedi Brotherhood, entered the Operations Center.
“Rise,” the Obelisk Councilor ordered, gesturing with a black gloved hand.
The Arconans did as they were told, though all three kept their heads slightly inclined as the Master-at-Arms began to speak.
“Now, as an officer of the Dark Lord and one who is a proponent of following a proper chain-of-command, I would normally never override a Proconsul’s authority,” Korras explained, clasping his hands behind his back and surveying the bustling room. The Master-at-Arms paused and cracked his neck.
“But I can’t even begin to tell you how hard it is to find a good Praetor for my Office. But yet, Sashar Erinos Arconae has proven himself to be one of the best and I really do not want to have to spend time replacing him. Therefore, I want any and all brethren who have any personal stake in his rescue to go out with Soulfire Strike Team…that’s you two”
“Lord Korras, I appreciate the trust you have placed in us, but Proconsul Entar is already short one House Summit…” Talos began, knowing that he ran the risk of sounding like a pathetic sycophant.
“Don’t take it personally Aedile Erinos, but I believe that I can cover your absences quite well. I’ve been doing this whole command thing far longer than you two have. Now go”
Celahir and Talos exchanged glances and tapped into the Erinos Force-Meld:
‘Well?’ Talos asked.
‘I hate to make Wun mad, but Korras is the Master-at-Arms and he does have years of experience on us. Besides, we’re both itching for a fight’ Celahir replied
‘So we go?’
‘Aye, we go’
No sooner had Talos and Celahir emerged from the Force-Meld than the two were out the door, the Aedile pausing only to give his apprentice a reassuring smile.
Approaching Consul’s Last-Known-Position
The matte black LAAT/i, or Low Altitude Assault Transport Infantry, zipped across what had once been lush green fields but now were little more than scorched killing grounds.
“Now how the hell did you two get added to this mission?” Malidir shouted over the howl of the wind from the open troop bay door, the Soulfire executive officer twiddling with his KX-80 assault rifle.
“It helps to have friends in high places, Mali’ika!” Celahir joked from where he was seated in a bucket seat, tapping the side of his head in what would appear to be a random and creepy tick if the Strike Team members hadn’t known that within the Kiffar’s skull was a Psicom 1206 interface module, one of the most expensive and state-of-the-art subdermal implants on the market.
From the opposite bay door, a boisterous and youthful laugh floated through the troop bay. “What are you talking about Cela’ika?,” Teroch Erinos said, “Tal’ika doesn’t have any friends. He’s way to Army officer for that”
The rest of the Strike Team laughed in good humor, including Talos, but that didn’t stop the former covert agent from sending back a sizzling retort. “I dunno, Ter’ika,” he said amiably, “ you talk to me”
“Well what can I say, coz…the Army’s given you some pretty nice muscles” Sashar’s son shot the Aedile a wink.
Talos would have continued the banter, but the mechanical voice of the larty’s pilot chose that moment to interrupt.
“Alright commandos,” the pilot said, “We’re two klicks out from the Lord Consul’s LKP. You’re green to fast rope in 30 seconds, but you’ll have to do it fast…the LKP is right in the middle of a Mandalorian strongpoint.”
Similar to the flipping a switch, the men of Soulfire Strike Team went from being relaxed and cheery to grim and focused, sliding on their black helmets and doing a final check on their weapons before making their way to the LAAT/I’s ventral doors.
“It’s a pity that our armor isn’t more flattering, you know? Intimidating, sure, but I can’t show my natural guns” Talos quipped as he stepped behind Teroch and linked his high-tensile rappelling rope to the static line above.
“Well, Talos, you could always go without your chest plate. I sure wouldn’t mind” came Teroch’s reply, some of the effect dulled by the helmet’s mechanical vocabulators.
“Oh shut it you di’kut,” Talos laughed, slapping the Soulfire analyst on the helmet, “I’m not that vain”
“Ok, vode, get set,” Malidir Erinos, di Tenebrous Arconae said from the opposite door, “5..4..3..2..1..GO GO GO!”
As the XO’s order reverberated around the gunship, the commandos of Soulfire Strike Team went flying out of the larty one-by-one, into the hail of blasterfire, explosions, and the shouts of battle. But whereas normal soldiers might have balked or frozen, the eight special operators paid it no heed, focused on only one thing…finding and rescuing their Consul and Sergeant, no matter the cost.
Ge’tal Gaan Temporary Detention Facility
Unknown Location, New Tython
Within the duracrete walls of the Temporary Detention Facility, Sashar Erinos, di Tenebrous Arconae was in rare form…he was whining.
“Vod, this sucks” Sashar spat, kicking at the far wall with his boot, “How can you stand this, time after time?”
“You get used to it, I guess.” Zandro replied nonchalantly, the Consul of the best Clan in the Brotherhood content to simply stare up at the ceiling.
Sashar stopped his assault of the wall and half-turned to his brother, who he had been through thick and thin with, and studied the Yaga Minorian. “But really, what is there to do? I mean, you’re the pro at this, what do you normally do when you get captured?”
Meeting the Sergeant of Soulfire Strike Team’s gaze, Zandro Savric Erinos, di Tenebrous Arconae’s smirked.
“Well…I touch myself”
Sashar’s face paled to a color that wasn’t much darker than his armor. “Are you serious?”
The Consul nodded, clearly enjoying the situation.
"It passes the time, plus its frakking hilarious to see the guards' reactions when they realize what you're doing. Then they have that whole routine of ‘do we watch to make sure he isn't doing anything to escape or should we look away for his privacy?’. It’s a fantastic distraction technique"
Sashar bit his lower lip in thought before replying. “Good point. You first…though we better hurry up, if we want to escape before Soulfire has the privilege of rescuing us.”
“Ah, true, true” Zandro mused, “Well, this is their head start. If they’re not at least breaking into this complex by the time we’re breaking out, I want you to doubl—no, triple the intensity of their training”
“Consider it done”
Western Operation Base
Sirah Zen’s amphibious black eyes sifted through the various numbers, reports, and information scrolling across the monitor before her. Her smooth pale green skin showed little hints of aging, her slender arms resting casually behind her back. She wore a bodysuit that accentuated the curves of her figure, her brown Jedi robes covering just enough to tease any onlookers. Tendrils of various length ran down to her back, a longer pair stretching down to her stomach.
Sitting in meditative trances on the deck below her station, a trio of Jedi welcomed the soothing wave, bolstering their connection with the various Mandalorian strike teams out on the battlefield. The Mando’a were formidable in their own right, but with the aid of Jedi battle-melding they were keeping their attackers from making any advancements. It would only be a matter of time before their forces depleted. It was clear that they had not been expecting this type of resistance.
Sirah smiled slightly, proud of her troops’ progress. She radiated a confidence that seemed to accompany those who had a strong affinity with the Force, skills honed to rival the ranks of the top Equites that the Dark Brotherhood kept as pets. Her smile faded at the thought of the Dark Jedi polluting their planet.
“Lady Zen, we have captured one of the enemy Sergeants,” Lt. Marvin Sten reported, drawing the Nautolan from her thoughts. His face was hidden behind his beskar helmet, but she could sense his excitement.
“Excellent, Lieutenant. Have him put in cell four. Make sure he’s kept under sedation and constant guard.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Sten replied with a salute.
“I assume what’s left of his squad will come to retrieve him,” she added casually. “Make sure we have a proper welcome party ready for them.”
“As you say, Command--”
Sirah swayed as unseen bullet darted through her mind. Her fingers dug against the side of her head as she groaned. Something was wrong - a disturbance in the Force. Calming her breathing, she walked over to one of the three meditating Jedi and placed a hand atop his head. Tilting her head down, she allowed their minds to become one, creating one omniscient vision of the entire battlefield. She could not sense any danger coming from their flank - but through the visions of one dying Mandalorian she caught a glimpse of a small cadre of robed beings making their way towards the command center through the western flank. The reading was faint, and anyone besides the experienced Nautolan would have most likely missed it. The Force was with her, however, and would help her overcome these dark invaders.
She pulled her hand away and let out a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding. Turning slowly to a somewhat confused Lt. Sten, she spoke quickly with the same confident tone she had moments before.
“Double the guard at our western flank.”
“As you say, Commander.” Sten replied curtly, taking his leave.
Grim determination set over Sirah’s face. She was ready for whatever the Dark Jedi threw at her.
The former members of Oblivion Brigade continued on their way through the morass of sawgrass and typhas, the tricky terrain doing little to slow the unit down. They stayed in a tight “diamond” formation - Marick Del’Abbot at its point with Timeros and Lan pacing evenly a few steps behind their Quaestor’s respective shoulders. All three had their sabers at the ready to deflect any incoming attacks. Closing off the triangle, Strategos brought up the rear.
Stretching out with enhanced senses, the Elder Entar searched the trees and their surroundings for any possible threats - fleshing out targets for the two rifleman in front of him who subsequently remained in the center of the diamond. Legorii and Etah kept the barrels of their Blaster Rifles on swivels, squeezing off precise bursts at any targets Strategos painted for their minds.
They found an elevated piece of terrain as the foliage began to let up, breaking formation and taking cover behind a fallen tree trunk. Through a pair of macrobinoculars, Marick was able to make out a lightly guarded path leading to a massive durasteel door. Above it, a large command center with automated turrets and sentries posted all over stood amongst an encampment of supply depots, barracks, and landing pads. A series of watch towers jutted from the earth, each with a set of rifleman and spotters. To top it off, a platoon of Mandalorians sprinkled with Jedi marched on patrol.
“Brilliant,” the Hapan murmured, handing the macrobinoculars off to Legorii.
Marick looked over at Timeros, searching his stoic visage for any clues. The Arconae turned to his brother, Strategos, and the two shared a private conversation of face and hand gestures that Marick wasn’t going to bother deciphering. After a few moments, Timeros turned back to his former pupil and nodded.
“It seems simple to me, Marick,” Timeros replied before gesturing to Strategos and Lan. “We will create a diversion for you, Etah and Legorii.”
Marick started to protest but then stopped. The all too familiar crease in his former Master’s brow reminded the Hapan what happened whenever someone challenged the Arconae’s logic.
“All right, then.”
Arcona LAAT/i Gamma-Seven
New Tython, south of Menat Ombo
Lavar kept a grip on the Dark Side as the transport lifted off from the crash site. He was using it to Force his body to heal faster - if he was supposed to be leading this rescue mission, he couldn't afford to be slowed down. Especially not when almost half his team was made up of Tarentai personnel. Thinking objectively, chances were that they'd support enough of the mission to weaken the Jedi and Mandalorian forces, and then try and stick the dagger in the Arconans' backs. They'd bear watching... if Lavar had the people to spare to do so.
"Sir," the pilot turned to face the Knight standing behind him. "We've got confirmation from the Abyss. They've isolated the shuttle that took Templar Entar to the Mando FOB." As the pilot filled Lavar in on the last hours' developments, the Arconan larty dropped down to treetop level as it came around twoard the enemy FOB.
Once the thumbnail briefing was complete, Lavar headed back into the troop compartment. Glancing at the Tarentai, he started giving a... somewhat less detailed version of events. "Okay, people, listen up. Sang got grabbed by the Mandos and taken to the local FOB. We're going after him. Orbital scans show the place as damn fortified. We're not going to be subtle. The transport is going to drop us a half-klick out, we run to the treeline, and then the larty makes an attack run to blow lots of stuff up but - most importantly - blasting a hole in the outer wall for us to go and break in. We go, we kill Mandalorians, we kill Jedi, we find Sang, we get him out. After that, we may either go back in and kill some more, or we may end up clearing out so one of our orbiting warships can have some gunnery practice. Either way, we're bringing our Sergeant out of there. Are we clear?"
At the others' assenting nods, Lavar took a deep breath, focusing on the Dark Side as the transport slowed, approaching the drop point. It had been a while since he'd led anyone in combat, and longer still since it had been against enemies as dangerous as Jedi Knights and Mandalorian supercommandos. The light above the hatchways flipped from red to green as the transport stabilized a couple of feet above the ground, and the Brotherhood force jumped out in a matter of seconds, moving with all available speed towards their next objective.
House Odan Urr’s Forward Operating Base
Sanguinius’ ears rang as the heavy handed blow slammed into the side of his head, bringing him back to consciousness. They had been at it for what seemed eternity now, ever since the Ge’tal Gaan had captured him and borne him back to Odan Urr’s forward operating base for questioning. The Mandalorians had beaten him, half-drowned him, had even water boarded the Templar. Yet all he had given them was his name. Sanguinius Tsucyra Entar.
The Arconan didn’t need to open his eyes to know what the room he was in looked like. He had seen it when he had been dragged in here: Cold dull grey walls, a wooden table and chair and bright harsh lighting illuminated the room.
“Who are you?” A disembodied voice came from one of the Mandalorians.
Sanguinius ignored the question.
“What are you doing here?”
“Well I was doing your mother.....” The Entar quipped.
The Anaxsi spat blood as an armoured fist smashed into his mouth; he let out a groaning chuckle as he stared up at the interrogators. “Feth you!” He snapped.
The mercenaries came for him again, beating and kicking him back into unconsciousness.
* * * * * * * * * *
The darkness was all consuming. Sanguinius welcomed it. It hid his injuries from his eyes, but he could feel them all the same. His Shadesworn robes had been stripped off him and he was huddled shivering, into a ball on the cold steel floor wearing only flannel trousers. His weapons were gone, proud trophies for some Mandalorians.
The cold pervaded the Arconan’s body, sapping his focus and resolve. His sense of time was destroyed in this cold, dark cell. Steps echoed outside the door to his room, a guard patrolling the corridor. He had resisted, well, for as long as he could before he broke down. The Gatewarden may have been trained in resisting interrogation techniques, but the Mercenaries were masters at their trade.
The irony of the torture amused the Qel-Droman, he bet the Jedi themselves had no idea what the Mandalorians had done to him. Or perhaps they had and were just ignoring it, hoping that the act wouldn’t taint them if they didn’t acknowledge it. He was sure he would get a visitor soon, probably someone he knew.
He had broken, that much was true. He had told his interrogators everything....Everything they had wanted to hear. Sanguinius smiled in the darkness, he had told them about Ascero. How he had come to New Tython almost a year ago when Brotherhood members started to vanish. Arcona had given him the task of tracking down an errant member; Jafits Skumm. The Templar had tracked him down of course, to New Tython. Where he discovered the existence of the Jedi, under the pretence of being a redeemed Jedi, the Entar had created a persona as a settler named Ascero to stir up unrest between the settlers and the natives. He had been successful enough for the Jedi Council to get involved and be discovered.
He had fled, escaping from the High Councillor’s and his pet Shard’s grasp by the skin of his teeth. Thanks to his brother; Timeros, and his friends and allies; Celahir and Sashar Erinos. He had told them all that, hoping for an audience with one of the lightsiders. But the Obelisk hoped for one in particular.
Another set of footfalls echoed down the corridor, stopping in front of his door. Existence flared into being as the lights were turned on, searing Sanguinius’ eyes and making him see white spots for several seconds. He rubbed his eyes with his hands, bruises and cuts decorating his arms. The Anaxsi heard the door whoosh open and close behind the newcomer.
“Hello Sang,” a melodic voice rang out.
The Sergeant smiled, recognising the voice. “Hello Kaira.”
* * * * * * * * * *
The LAAT/i hovered half a metre off the ground, the engines straining to keep the shuttle upright as the Qel-Dromans and the troopers jumped off the edge of the troop compartment. Cyberguy waved to the pilot once they had all jumped off, allowing the Lieutenant to pull back on the joystick and lift the craft up into the air.
The shuttle unleashed a salvo of fire into the wall of the base, smashing the structure apart and allowing access to the Gatekeepers. Alarms blared as blocks tumbled down to smash into an unfortunate militia patrol, crushing them to death. Their agonised screams could be heard over the roar of the explosion, sending shivers down Ryan Neale’s spine.
The Arconans and their Tarenti trooper allies stormed forward, supported by fire from the larty and their recon troops.The storm of laser fire unleashed from the shuttle drove the enemy back towards the base and cleared them off the walls. Kant waved over the Tarenti sergeant, pointing towards the breach.
“Lay down covering fire.” He ordered.
The NCO swiftly saluted before turning to make hand signals to his squad, ordering them to carry out the Knight’s orders.
Kant grinned as he grasped the hilt of his saber, squeezing it in his hand to reassure him. He jumped up and sprinted through the breach into the chaos beyond it, closely followed by his fellow Arconans and the supporting soldiers.
* * * * * * * * * *
“It’s been a long time hasn’t it Sang?” The melodic voice asked.
Sanguinius studied the woman before him, he knew her from long ago when he had first joined the Brotherhood. Back when he was still in Clan Plagueis as a young Journeyman, wet behind the ears and eager for knowledge and power. However he had fled from the so-called Ascendant Clan. Having sided with Braecen against Alaris’ coup, the Knight had fled retribution at the hands of the Twi’lek and had somehow wound up in the Dajorra system thanks to a friend.
That had been almost four years ago. A long time indeed, yet the Arconan had a strange relationship with this Jedi. Ever since they had met, they had been enemies. Back when they were both Plagueians, and that had blossomed into a fiery rivalry that had seen the Anaxsi challenge the Krath to single combat on many occasions. Yet each time, one or the other of them had always managed to cheat death.
Sanguinius’ tongue probed his broken teeth, before he uttered a reply. “Indeed.”
“So, you’re still up to your old tricks?”
“I suppose so,” the Templar chuckled. “I guess I know why you’re here.”
The Acolyte of Odan Urr looked pityingly at the Sergeant. “It’s never too late you know Sang, you can repent.”
“Repent?” He spat a gobbet of blood at the ground. “I’ll never repent, woman.”
The Archpriestess bent her knees to look at Sang in the eye, “I did; now my daughter is safe, not from lack of you trying though.”
He stared back at Kaira with a gleam of amusement in the corner of his eyes. “I heard your husband left you. He fell, so can you.”
The Corellian recoiled in shame and sadness. “He was weak; I wasn’t....there for him.”
Sanguinius sneered at Kaira, “He was weak? You were weak. You failed him. It was your entire fault.”
“No,” the Jedi stood up, stepping backwards from Sang in denial. “No....”
“You know its true Kaira, why else would he leave? You were happily married with a daughter and he just up and left. Tell me why he would?”
“ENOUGH!” Kaira shouted, losing her temper at Sang’s taunting. She slapped him, stinging his cheek red.
He laughed at his small victory, ignoring the pain he was in. “Is that it?” he grinned.
Kaira raised her hand for another blow when an explosion ripped through the wall, the alarms blared in sympathy to the blast.
“What the....?” she stuttered before Sanguinius launched himself up off the floor, colliding with the Equite and slamming her into the adjacent wall. The Sergeant’s movements were powered through the Force as he ignored his injuries. His face millimetres away from hers, the Anaxsi whispered, his words full of malice and hate. “I’ll be coming for your daughter Kaira. I won’t rest until I rip her from your grasp and raise her in the arts of the Dark Side.” He grasped her throat, the Jedi paralysed in shock as he continued. “And when she’s old enough, I’m going to have her track you down and kill you. The last thing you’ll see before you die is your daughter with hate in her eyes.” He laughed hard, before he erupted into a coughing fit.
As the smoke cleared, the Templar could see shadows moving beyond the wall in the corridor. He grinned as he released his grip on Kaira and she slumped to the floor, fighting the urge inside herself to tap into her anger and attack Sang. She refused to turn to the Dark Side, images of her daughter helping her.
Sang staggered across to the breach in the wall. The fatigue and pain from his incarceration catching up with him as he collapsed onto the corridor floor. A figure in beskar armour bent down to lift the Equite up, and dragged him alongside him, arm over shoulder.
Mazer, disguised in the Mandalorian armor, ran with wide eyes filled with worry as he struggled along the corridor carrying the dead weight of his Master. Blaster fire erupted as militia came across the pair, several errant blasts passing close to the two Arconans before the guns were silenced by the Tarenti troopers moving up past them to put down covering fire.
Sanguinius opened his eyes to see Mazer, “What the hell took you so long?” he demanded.
“I’m sorry Master, but I had to borrow a uniform.” Sang looked down to see the Chiss was dressed in militia kit.
“Seriously? How the hell did you get in here wearing that? Must’ve been idiots manning the defences.” The Templar was amused; surely no intelligent soldier would recognise Mazer as friendly. Chiss weren’t the type to go settling on a planet like New Tython.
“Well, we had a little trouble with the front door, they were refusing us entry.” The Sith joked.
“Enough chatter,” barked Kant as his saber deflected blaster fire up into the ceiling. “Now we’ve got to get out of here.”
* * * * * * * * *
It was hell unleashed as a squad of Get’al Gaan appeared, nine fully armed pissed off Mandalorians looking to kick some ’shebs’. They joined the milling crowd of confused Tythonian militia who hadn’t been trained for this kind of gutter fighting. The Qel-Dromans took to it like a duck to water. Vassan blasted through a squad of troopers in the time it took Mazer to drag Sang across the killing ground, their backs protected by the three Protectors who batted away any shots that got too close.
Kant and Sarek fought in unison against a Jedi Knight that had appeared, preventing her from rallying the panicked militia. Their joint sabers cutting the woman down as they penetrated her defence.
Cyberguy smashed into the squad of mercs, his ameythyst saber flashing through the air, bisecting one before pushing out with his free hand to hurl Force lightning at the others. It passed from one to another, cooking the Mandalorians in their armour, before dropping them to the ground.
The smell of burning flesh pervaded Sanguinius’ smell, making the Templar queasy. The LAAT/i came around for another pass, its heavy lasers blasting away. The Tarenti troopers had lost three of their number to enemy fire as they retreated across the open ground.
The shuttle came in for another pass, swooping low and coming to a stop, hovering just off the ground outside the base’s wall. Mazer pushed his weakened Master onto the ship, closely followed by the retreating Qel-Dromans. Kant shoved their allies on board, turning to deflect blasterfire from a couple of Tythonian soldiers.
“Let’s go!” He shouted.
Sanguinius raised his head, his vision blurred as he stared at the fiery tableau of destruction in front of him. A figure in full Beskar’garm stood eclipsed by the background, his silhouette dark against the flare of fire. “Mazer....Why are you standing there? Get on board,” the Templar croaked.
“I’m sorry Master, but I’ve got some infiltrating to do.” The Chiss chuckled, before sprinting off towards the base.
“WHAT IN THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!” Bellowed Kant at the retreating figure as the shuttle lifted up off the ground, it’s engines groaning with the strain of a full troop compartment.
“Let him go,” the Entar whispered, a small smile and a look of serenity on his face. “He’s got some Jedi to infiltrate the feth out of.”
Forward Operations Base
Three Klicks outside of Menat Ombo
A resonant blast filled the air. The Proconsul removed his fist from a perfectly formed hole in the durasteel hull of the LAAT/i. He gritted his teeth and threw another Force-enhanced piston into the frail metal shell.
“This is not how war is conducted!” Wuntila spun and barked at the Journeyman who approached.
“With all due respect, Sir, your authority was overruled.” Socorra folded thin arms across a narrow chest; Wuntila could not tell if she was responding defensively or if she felt threatened.
“I am more than aware of that,” Wuntila spat venomously, “but our Galereian front line is now in the hands of Korras and Revenance. They effectively have no chain of military command. It is negligent to remove the Quaestor and Aedile from their duty” He sat down on the lip of the LAAT/i’s cargo platform. “Socorra, make sure the T’ad Summit Guard are ready, they’re coming with us.”
“Coming with us?” Socorra’s face paled.
“Mobilise the entire Forward Operation Base. We’re dropping on the eastern flank and joining the final charge with Galeres.” Wuntila stood and ran his fingers through his silky black hair. “See if you can establish a radio link from the others. We have been sitting here for far too long.”
“Wasn’t Revenance dropped in on the eastern flank less than 20 minutes ago, Sir?”
“They were, but that drug-addled cacophony can only tear up the enemy, they can’t lead a House into battle. I expect to be within the walls of Menat Ombo before nightfall, so hurry yourself.”
“As you wish.” Socorra seemed to float back into the fray within the Operations Base before disappearing into a hurried crowd of faces.
The wind tugged at Wuntila’s cloak as he hung out of the transport bay of the LAAT/i and saw the picture below. The formation of LAAT/i’s were skimming over the lush green fields of New Tython, rising and falling with the hilly terrain. As much as Wuntila did not want to admit it, New Tython was a beautiful place. Panoramic views of magnificent, deep blue oceans lined by white, sandy beaches popped into views as they bobbed up and down in the transport. Expansive thickets of forest and woodland overwhelmed the horizon, glowing as the sun crested the mountains once inhabited by small tribal villages with wooden shacks and communal fires. Scarred were these lands now, the tranquillity broken beyond repair. Corpses lay strewn through the once peaceful fields with crows picking at their remains.
“E.T.A, Pilot.” Wuntila spoke over the intercom; there was no way the pilot would hear him otherwise.
“Three minutes until Landing Zone, Sir.”
“Make it sooner,” Wuntila replied, turning to Socorra and Felix, the Captain of the T’ad Summit guard. “It’s going to get rough, Felix, lead the T’ad in behind the Galereian forces. The likelihood is the battle will be in full swing already. We will nip in at the back, slice through the ranks and push to the fore. From there we can put the Mandos and the Jedi on the backfoot.”
“Understood, Sir,” the two said in synchronicity.
They swooped down into a shallow valley, filled with tall, slender trees, and emerged on the crest of a plateau on the other side. In the distance, the sandstone shadow of Menat Ombo lurked, guarding the horizon. That was their target. Wuntila smiled and looked down, only to see Galeres in all out attack on a defensive Jedi unit. Needle-like shafts of brilliant light in an assortment of hues punctuated a writhing sea of combatants. Blaster bolts shot across the battlefield so swiftly that Wuntila could not tell which way they had come from. From what the Proconsul could tell, Galeres was doing surprisingly well, but they of all people know how the tide of battle can change almost instantaneously. He glanced up and saw a cloud hovering over the battle, as if the polarity of the concentrated light and dark Force energy was waging its own war in the air above.
“Pilot, drop behind the battle. Notify the other transports to do the same.” Wuntila let his hand slide to his waist, his fingers wrapping around the hilt of Veracity. He caressed the ignition button; he could almost smell the victory. “Socorra. Don’t fall behind.”
“What happens if I do?” Socorra’s voice twanged with anxiety.
“You will be left for the crows like the others.”
The transport banked hard left as it approached the battlefield, falling in behind the back lines of the Galeres attack. It spun 180 degrees and hovered over the floor. Wuntila was the first to depart. He threw his cloak on the floor of the LAAT/i and leapt from the door. Before he struck the flattened grass below, he thumbed the ignition on his lightsaber. It was almost as if he floating down as his fall, his landing, and his eruption into battle seemed to flow into one fluid motion.
He sprinted through the ranks towards the front line, people thrown off balance by his cumbersome mass. The others had deployed and were following in his wake, Socorra was at the head, with the T’ad Summit Guard behind her, and the rest of the reinforcements behind them. Wuntila emerged at the crest of battle with an almighty swing, hewing one of the Mandalorians in two with a diagonal cut through his chest. He sliced through another two attackers and quickly glanced around to find Socorra.
She had disappeared.
As he turned back to the fray, one of the Jedi – a Padawan by the look of his training plait – swung for the Proconsul. The Human-Theelin sidestepped, allowing the Jedi to overextend. His overextension allowed one of the Mandalorians behind him to fire a few misguided bolts off, however. Wuntila batted the bolts back effortlessly and, ducking under a right hook from another of the Mandalorians, drove his Lightsaber through the chest of the recovering Jedi.
He righted himself, cut short the life of his current Mandalorian attacker, and channelled the Force energy into his legs. He felt the power surge in his thighs as he charged into the Jedi ranks like a freighter. He stopped in the middle of the formation and looked around to see a storm of blaster bolts raining down on him from what was left of the defence force.
Wuntila smiled and tapped into the Force once more. He held his hands out, creating a ball with his palms and fingers, inside of which grew a dark sphere of energy. The ball of energy imploded on itself and then erupted into an expanding ball of dense kinetic energy. The attackers within a fifteen-meter radius flew lifelessly back into their allies.
As if on cue, Revenance Virtuom, with Cethgus Entar at their lead, burst into the fray. Wuntila hated the experimental adrenaline-based super drug they used, but he certainly let his opinions slide as they tore through the ranks of the attackers like a stampede of Nexu.
Wuntila backed off as the few remaining attackers retreated from the field. He felt the fatigue burning in his muscles but it was a pain he relished with a sadistic delight. He let out the breath he did not realise he had been holding and turned to see his brother, who was wiping the blood from his face with what seemed to be a swatch of Jedi robe, walking towards him.
“Cethgus,” Wuntila said as he walked to meet him, “Thank you, brother.”
“You’re welcome. I couldn’t let you have all the fun, could I?” Cethgus threw the bloodied rag on top of the corpse of the Jedi Wuntila had slain only minutes earlier.
“Order the front line forces to chase the remaining few down. Have you seen Socorra?”
“I’m here, Sir,” a small voice was barely audible over the microphone chatter. Wuntila turned to see Socorra, hair matted with dark, drying blood, and her hands full.
“What are you holding?”
“I heard trophies were on offer. I decided to lead a small group of the unit into the back of the attack force. I managed to get these.” Socorra opened two white-knuckled hands to reveal two Jedi Lightsaber hilts.
“Remarkable skill, Socorra. Congratulations.” Wuntila felt a prideful smile tease at the corners of his mouth.
“Thank you. In all honesty, they were only Padawans, and one of them was killed by the blaster bolts…”
“It doesn’t matter. You’ve claimed the kill. Two did you say? Congratulations, you are now, in title and practice, a Jedi Hunter.”
“Excuse me, Sir?” Socorra’s voice was a mix of confusion and anxiety.
“You’ve just been promoted. Twice. Good work, now mobilise the House – we haven’t the time to stop. We make for Menat Ombo in 10 minutes.” Wuntila walked away with his brother toward a clearing where the LAAT/i’s had landed, leaving Socorra to stand on her own in a field of corpses.
Unfazed, Socorra smiled to herself and began barking orders over the communications channel.
Andrelious Inahj sighed. He had been back in Qel-Droma for mere hours when war broke out and he had not even had time to get familiar with any of the newer members. It had come particularly as a shock to find a new Aedile, but he sensed he could trust Invictus, at least for now. His speech about the Jedi had certainly helped that.
Moving into formation as instructed, the Battlelord drew his lightsaber, the crimson blade sliding out of the hilt with a snap-hiss. The men assembled around Inahj readied their own weapons, the formation preparing for battle.
“You!” the Sith called to a nearby soldier who was looking a little concerned. “If you don’t fight to the best of your ability, I will destroy your insides from sixty feet away. Got it?” He growled, glaring at the young man. Feeling intimidated by the short yet powerful Inahj, the soldier readied his weapon, any sign of fear rapidly disappearing from his face.
If he had been honest, Inahj would have preferred to have been up in space, directing the battle from one of the capital ships, or flying one of the many TIE Avengers that belonged to Clan Arcona. He hadn’t had the time, however, to become properly re-integrated into the Clan’s forces, and so had to settle for a ground battle. This suited the Sith just as much, though he was an ex-Imperial pilot, he had really begun to enjoy ground combat since joining the Brotherhood. He was wearing his old Imperial pilot’s space suit, as usual, and his lightsaber was made from the hull of an old TIE starfighter, the alloy having proven perfect for a weapon.
As the formation prepared to move towards the enemy, Andrel and Invictus sensed something. Diving forward, they missed being caught in the fireball of a large explosion by mere seconds.
Western Operation Base
Exterior Command Center
The massive durasteel door slid open to let out more reinforcements. Marick, Legorii, and Etah waited patiently under the cloaked veils of the Force. The last trooper exited and found himself hurled through the air by an unseen hand, no doubt the doing of Timeros, Lan, or Strategos. Before the heavy door could slide closed, the invisible trio cast aside their shrouds and dove into headlong rolls.
They came up on the other side of the door with weapons at the ready - Marick’s saber radiating its cyan glow while Legorii and Etah’s rifles swiveled for any signs of resistance. A loud thud resounded behind them as the door slammed shut and mechanical locks clicked into place. Two simultaneous blasts sounded from Etah and Legorii’s rifles as an unfortunate pair of security camera’s frizzled out. No other immediate threats presented themselves, the command center no doubt preoccupied.
Step one had been successful and now it was time for step two. Marick wasn’t exactly sure what that step was, but usually step three meant profit. That meant the complete elimination of the enemy leaders and the Jedi helping coordinate the attack.
The three former members of Oblivion Brigade had the opportunity to save the lives of many of their brethren. The Quaestor was willing to trade his own life for any of his clansmen, especially those who looked up to him as a leader. With that personal vow hovering freshly in the back of his mind, Marick motioned for his comrades to move in and do what they did best.
Western Operation Base
Sirah Zen knew something was wrong. She could sense devastating fissures in the streams of the Force as malicious glee and the helpless cries of death and destruction assaulted her senses. The Dark Jedi did not seem to care about anything other than death. It was a feeling that she had not felt before - even when she had found herself in the midst of a Yuuzhan Vong invasion or one of the other countless horrors she had encountered in her career. No, this was just pure, simplistic slaughter.
Gripping at the sleeves of her robe, her mind began to race. She studied the data on her display screen and could not relocate any of her forces - all of which were tied up either out on the front lines or desperately trying to protect the command center. She could go out and face the Dark Jedi herself, but she could not leave Jax, Sonya, and Eddie unguarded. The three meditating Jedi Knights could very well be the key to surviving this war.
Sirah grit her teeth as she resigned to staying put, her amphibious black eyes glued to the blue dots and on her screen that displayed the sensor data of her troops while red triangles depicted the enemies.
“Sithspit,” she murmured.
Marick found a terminal to slice into and downloaded a partial schematic of the building. It wasn’t the latest file but was more than enough to give the Arconans an idea of where they were going. Guided by the tiny holo-projected map displayed on Marick’s wrist-comm, the Hapan, Anzat, and Sakiyan made their way noiselessly through the winding corridors of the command center.
A pair of Mandalorians rounded one of the corners ahead, Legorii and Etah snapping off a volley of lasers from their rifles. The Mando’s beskar armor deflected the bolts as they fired back in response. Marick’s shoto saber spun in a series of blurring arcs to meet the encroaching blaster bolts, batting them aside with practiced ease and a nudge from the Force. Legorii and Etah shouldered their rifles and drew their respective sabers, both bounding through the air with preternatural grace, landing directly in front of each of the Mandalorians.
The Mandalorian in front of Legorii jabbed the butt of his rifle at the Anzat’s face, only to have it cleaved in two by his humming saber. The Mando’a dropped back and pulleda serrated knife from his belt, aiming a gash for the Krath’s jugular. The Entar sidestepped the blade and countered with a swipe of his own blade, the saber’s plasma failing to penetrate the beskar armor. With a defiant grow, Legorri thrust his open palm into the Mando’s face, unleashing a blast of violent energy that shattered his visor and sent him hurtling through the air and slamming into a wall.
The second Mando’a lasted a little longer, retreating a few steps back before Etah had touched down. The trooper depressed the trigger of his blaster rifle in hopes of shredding the Sakiyan into strings of flesh. The Prelate flashed a disappointed sneer as he strafed out of the laser fire’s way and hopped up to run along the side of the durasteel wall. Etah only needed a few quick steps to close the distance and pushed off the wall with his right leg. The inertia-driven boot of that same leg collided with the Mandalorian’s visor, knocking him down on his back. Etah’s next movement drove his saber down into the fallen Mandalorian’s helmet, the violet blade piercing the T-shaped visor.
Marick blinked once, almost upset that his brothers had left nothing for him. A proud smile tugged at the corner of his lip. His smile vanished abruptly as a twinge of premonition darted across his senses - a flicker in the Force. He saw a flash of an explosion and the blurred figure of Sanguinius stumbling out, being carried by a Mandalorian. Marick calmed his breathing and concentrated, stretching out with the Force to get a reading on the Gatewarden. He was met instead with a feeling of reassurance from his old and trusted friend, Kant Lavar.
It’s is fine, go, Lavar’s voice echoed bluntly.
Legorii and Etah had both sensed it too and fell into stride. They said nothing as they fell in behind their Quaestor, making their way for the command room.
They skidded to a halt as pair of Mandalorians stood in their path, led by a Jedi Knight and his apprentice. The center Mando’a bore the insignia of a Major, his helmet covered with dull red tick marks to depict his kill-count. The Arconans overheard something on one of their comms.
“Sir, we’ve moved into position to flank the enemy’s frontal assault.”
Marick reached out with the Force, hoping to send a quick message to Invictus. He prayed that the Battlemaster would get it.
Legorii and Etah looked at each other, then nodded to Marick. The Hapan didn’t want to leave his brother’s sides, but he knew that he had to go on and complete the mission. His entire House was depending on him.
The Anzat and Sakyian charged forward, Marick augmenting his speed to preternatural levels as he slipped right past the blockade. He heard the angry hiss of sabers clashing and blasters barking behind him, but he tuned it out. He had to keep going.
“What do you MEAN they’ve escaped?” Sirah spat, unable to control the desperation in her voice.
The Mandalorian in front of her looked calm on the surface, but she could sense his fear beneath the armor. She caught herself freaking out and ran her mind through a series of Jedi relaxation techniques. She had to stay calm. Right before the Mandalorian Lieutenant's eyes, she was back in control.
“I want you to to relay orders to Major Deacon. Tell him there is a-”
She was cut off mid-sentence as the door to the command room flung open. Through it, a pair of troopers flew backwards, groaning as they went limp. A slender figure stepped through the doorway, clad in a white cloak. He did not radiate any malice, but he certainly was not a Jedi. Even with her training, she was not able to ignore his handsome appearance.
“Who are you,” she asked, taking a step towards the Hapan. She kept her hands clasped casually behind her back.
“Obelisk Prelate Marick Del’Abbot,” the man replied curtly, his eyes panning momentarily to the three meditating Jedi before sliding back to meet the woman’s gaze. He snapped his saber to life, a shoto by the looks of it. “And you?”
“Sentinel Sirah Zen,” she replied in a low voice, her violet saber snapping to life.
No more words were needed. The two leaders each knew what needed to be done.
Marick struck first, heightening his natural speed with Force. The Sentinel bent her knees and welcomed the attack, batting aside the Prelate’s first two strikes. Marick ducked under her riposte and swept his leg across her ankles. The Nautolan hopped over the sweep and danced back on her toes, slicing her blade in an “X” in front of her. The Hapan feinted left, then right, narrowly avoiding each slash.
Sirah’s left hand shot forward and unleashed a wave of telekinetic energy that caught Marick in the chest and sent him flying backwards into a wall. Marick coughed and spat out blood as he climbed back to his feet, his anger swelling. He pushed away any pain or fatigue and focused only on his battle. No one toyed with him, especially a woman, and even more espeically a Jedi woman .
With the Force flowing freely through his being, Marick burst into a vicious flurry, his body no more than a blur of black hair, white robes, and cyan plasma. Sirah fell into the Force as well, nimbly weaving her way in and out of the Hapan’s attacks. Marick kept his emotions in check, using them to fuel his adrenaline. He alternated which hand he kept his shoto saber in, his mastery of Makashi clashing against her apparent mastery of Ataru.
Sirah stepped back from a pair of Marick’s cuts. The Hapan countered by lashing out with his free hand, sending a single string of lightning at the Sentinel. Sirah moved her blade to intercept the slender line of concentrated dark energy, effectively grounding it.
This was all the distraction Marick needed. In one quick movement he circled around the Jedi’s flank, thrusting his blade into her ribcage. The Nautolan dodged at the last possible second. Another push from her open palm sent Marick tumbling backwards into a durasteel railing, the weight of the blast sending shock waves through his entire body.
Sirah Zen panted heavily and slowly moved towards the downed the Dark Jedi.
“There is still a chance for you. There is redemption in the light. I can show you,” she said through labored breath.
Marick chuckled as he spat blood to the side, realising that his ribs had cracked and his mobility would be severely limited. So he did the only thing he could think of.
“Redemption? I have nothing to repent for. You Jedi think you are so noble in your quest to save the galaxy, ignorant to anyone else’s way of thinking other than your own. No thank you, I want no part in any of that.”
The Prelate winced in pain as he released an invisible lattice of dark energy, wrapping it around Sirah’s waist.
The Sentinal grit her teeth as she felt the Obelisk Snare sever her connection with the Force. Suddenly, all the color in her world seemed to drain, the voices of fallen comrades no longer echoing in her mind. She fought against it but felt her strength sapping away.
Rising to his feet, Marick slowly made his way towards the Jedi. She tried to move her saber defensively in front of her, but the Prelate sidestepped and grabbed her forearm, twisting with Force-fueled strength while simultaneously ramming the butt of his saber hilt into the tendons on the underside of her wrist. Her grip on the saber loosened, and with another bit of applied pressure the cylindrical hilt clattered to the floor and disengaged.
“Light is limited. Darkness is infinite,” he growled before thrusting the tip of his saber into her chest.
Sirah Zen’s amphibious eyes fluttered as she slumped forward to her knees before the Hapan. Marick savored the moment, watching as the Sentinel then fell face first to the floor.
Panting heavily, Marick turned his attention to the trio of Jedi in Battle meditation. Two of them had woken up and, though groggy, ignited their sabers. The Quaestor chuckled slightly, knowing full well that he could not fight two Jedi Knights in that state.
I guess this is it... he thought to himself, readying his saber, defiant to the end.
Suddenly, a single Mandalorian soldier burst in through the door on the far side of the room. The Jedi paid no heed, assuming the trooper was there to aid them in avenging their fallen leader. They were gravely mistaken.
The trooper moved his repeating blaster towards the pair of Jedi and opened fire. They managed to deflect one or two of the golden energy bullets, but they ultimately failed. They slumped to the floor in a hole-riddled mess. The last Jedi, still in meditation, could only sense his death coming.
Marick blinked multiple times, staring dumbfounded at the Mandalorian trooper. The soldier removed his helmet, a confident smile beaming on his cerulean face. It couldn’t be.
“Accolyte Mazer awaiting further commands, sir,” the Chiss said, snapping into a salute.
It took the Quaestor a few moments to process everything before he let out a painful chuckle, the pain in his ribs shooting up through his body. Legorii and Etah rushed in through the other door, drenched in the blood of their enemies. Typically, lightsabers didn’t leave much in the way of bloodshed, but knowing the d’Tana and Entar, he wasn’t all that surprised to see them make a mess.
Marick smiled as he leaned against the railing for support and placed two fingers against his own temple and concentrated. He sent out a message to all of his troops through the Force.
“Qel-Dromans. The Western Operation Base is ours. Prepare for enemy surrender, rendezvous with Galeres, and let’s get ready to finish this fight.”
The air was far too still for Ronovi to bear, and she felt her words hover in the air like fog refusing to dissipate. Dralin Fortea looked at her blankly, emotionlessly - something she had become accustomed to that usually wasn’t directed at her. Solus, recognizing Ronovi’s inability to speak any further, took up the charge.
“Just what are you doing here, Fortea?” he asked, his eyes narrowed as he kept his lightsaber readily pointed at the assassin’s throat. “Being Taldryan’s busboy, I imagine?”
“Very funny, Gar,” muttered the ex-Arconan. “I’m simply following orders. My allies heard you coming and sent me out to take care of you.”
“Are you serious?”
“Do I sound like I’m making a joke?”
A light snicker slipped from Ronovi, her shoulders shaking slightly as she regained footing. “You’re telling me that your Tally friends basically sent you - alone - to take care of some Dark Jedi intruders?”
While Dralin did not flinch, Ronovi knew very well that he understood just what his circumstances were. The Taldryanites had dealt with a newcomer to their group rather appropriately in terms of their atmosphere - they were practically hazing him. But as the Coruscanti didn’t have much of a choice, he now faced two Arconans - one equal to his rank and one above him - while his buddies took off with the prize. And Ronovi was hellbent on knowing what that prize was.
“Taldryan was in this bunker for a reason.” Ronovi teasingly nudged Dralin’s sternum with her index finger, never lowering her double-bladed saber locked in her strong hand. “Mind telling me why?”
“I have nothing to say to you,” snapped Dralin.
“You don’t have much of a choice, Fortea,” pressed Solus. “You may be good at interrogation, but Ronnie and I can play that game, too.”
Dralin pursed his lips. Even if he lied, the two Dark Jedi before him could figure that out, too.
“Odan-Urr left a holocron,” he explained curtly, “long ago. The Holocron of Antiquities. It was in the hands of the Acolytes until they learned of the Brotherhood invasion. So they hid it in this bunker in hopes that no one would find it. But Taldryan did.”
“Wait,” Ronovi said. “Taldryan had all this information on this holocron...and no one else knew about it?”
“Yes,” relied Dralin, and Ronovi could see his knees slightly bending in her peripheral vision. “And I plan to keep it that way.”
Ronovi gritted her teeth as she drew in the reality of the situation. If Dralin was so intent on either fleeing or attempting to cut her down, she would possibly have to execute who she considered to be a close friend. Since his departure from the Shadow Clan, however, there had been little to no contact, and the subtle bitterness she harbored for people she didn’t fully trust had begun to emerge, like a wire continually fraying in her brain. However, she was not quite ready yet to remove the red-haired man’s head from his shoulders.
She nodded to Solus slowly, who brandished her saber with vigor.
“Take him alive.”
There was a sudden cascade of footsteps over their heads, and Ronovi’s mind was barraged with harried thoughts and mild currents of panic. Pushing into psychometry again, Ronovi tried to focus on the upstairs part of the bunker, whatever objects lying around there ready to give her the picture. She saw, in return...
“Lightsabers.” Ronovi cast a stark look at Solus. “Solus, the Jedi are here!”
Then another rush of energy as, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted three silhouettes darting up another flight of stairs seemingly hidden away in the western walls. No doubt Dralin’s allies, hightailing it with the Holocron. They had to have known this place inside out, its secret exists and entrances, giving them the advantage of leaving without a fight. But now, Ronovi and Solus had no other choice. They backed away quickly, pressing against the furthest side of the wall and ignoring the scattered Mandalorian corpses, and listened as the footsteps of four Jedi pervaded their ears.
“Sithspit. They’re dead. They’re all dead!”
“Someone got here before we did. That only means one thing.”
Shoving herself away from the dank duracrete, Ronovi positioned herself at the right side of the stairwell. She held her saber behind her back, the two blue blades bursting from both sides of her backs and giving her the look of a cross. Solus took the opportunity to unceremoniously seize Dralin under the arm and pull him towards his chest, his feet firmly planted on the floor and refusing to move.
“You go first,” he hissed into the assassin’s ear, who did not struggle but was resonating with spite.
The three waited for some time, sensing the presence of all four Jedi but not daring to meet them. Ronovi felt her heart freeze behind her ribs. She could nearly see her breath billow from her mouth.
And then her ears nearly split open as the firestorm of a detonator tore down the steps and into the lower floor.
Ronovi tucked herself into a roll and dodged the strike, sinking to the floor with her knees to her stomach and her breaths harsh and vicious. Her left ear had gone totally dead, her right ear rattling with a ringing sound as the Jedi appeared from the resulting smoke. She struggled to her feet, remembering her saber, and watched as Solus threw Dralin toward the Jedi.
The Arkanian Jedi, appearing to be a padawan given his wide-eyed expression, did not expect to find a red-haired Dark Jedi flying toward him like a javelin, the green saber serving as the tip. As the blade of plasma disappeared into the brown robes of the Jedi, the choking Arkanian was shoved to the ground under Dralin’s weight, dropping into the entrails from one particular Mandalorian’s hollowed out stomach. The other three Jedi - a padawan and two Knights, from the looks of it - ignited their sabers and aimed them at Ronovi and Solus.
“The Brotherhood,” breathed the remaining padawan, a Bothan. “I should’ve known.”
“You here for your precious holocron?” Ronovi sneered. “It’s not here anymore. It was stolen.”
“Give it back, then.”
“Don’t be stupid - you think we’d still be here if we had it?” demanded Solus. “May as well run back to your Councilor before we sent you back in bags.”
“You don’t intimidate us. We are warriors of the li - AGGGH!”
The Bothan Knight was somewhat rudely interrupted by a blur of green severing his calf from his knee, causing him to topple backward as a dagger flashed in the recovered Dralin’s grip. As the blade punctured his shoulder blade, Ronovi remembered just how Dralin was with poison.
“There,” the Coruscanti whispered to the moaning Bothan. “You don’t feel it now, but very soon it’ll be as soon your innards are slowly being eaten away. I hope you find that to be a comforting thought before you pass on.”
“Barbarians,” snarled one of the remaining Knights, and the two Human Jedi leaped into the air in a duet of movement.
Sensing that one of the Knights would land saber first on Dralin’s back, Ronovi acted quickly. She launched herself into the brutal choreography of Juyo, the blades of her saber whirling around her head and shoulder like a pinwheel of death. She bounced off the Jedi’s swinging saber and sent him off-course, leaving him to land a few meters away before she parried a thrust from him. When he cut, she riposted, using her saber as a shield and a sword. By this point, her ears popped, and the sudden chaos of blades enveloped her and fully submerged her into her rage.
Solus had taken on the other Knight, saber spinning like a buzz saw as he landed a Makashi-fueled blow against the Jedi’s vulnerable left shoulder. He allowed the Force to surge through him like an electrical current, throwing his weight into his opponent and watching as the air carried him the rest of the way. The Human Odanite’s head smacked into the wall, blood beginning to form in a cowlick on the back of his head, as Solus brought his saber back. He then stopped, smiled, and grabbed the dazed Jedi’s wrist, forcefully removing the lightsaber from his shaking fingers.
“I’ll be taking this,” he said, just as he sliced the Knight in half from left to right, from his chin to his hip, and watched his body fall in two pieces onto a nearby carcass.
Ronovi had landed blow by blow against the remaining Jedi’s blue blade, the Guardian refusing to be brought down just yet. But the Epicanthix was unfazed. Suddenly deactivated her lightsaber as its blades screeched against her opponent’s weapon, she feinted and ducked below the uncoordinated reaction and slammed the empty hilt viciously into the man’s windpipe. She could hear the crackling of the trachea and the larynx as he squeaked for air, blood beginning to color his face and spurt from his nose at random intervals. Seeing the man choke on his own lifeforce was a thrill for Ronovi, and she was tempted to just leave him there to die slowly and painfully like his assumed padawan with the toxin staining his veins.
And then she decided to follow said temptation and snatched up the trophy saber with glee.
There appeared to be no other Jedi approaching, which bemused the Exarch but also rang a clear note in her head. If the Jedi forces were becoming smaller, it meant that the war was in their favor. Arcona, up above, was probably at the frontlines now, Shikyo and Korras leading the fray with the summit’s remaining leaders. Solus and Ronovi would have to join them, as well as inform them of their little adventure.
But first things first. Ronovi heard a shout and watched as Solus threw Dralin to the ground, the latter having tried to run out of the bunker. A blow to head with a saber hilt sufficed as Solus dragged his limp body over to the Epicanthix.
“You carry him,” he muttered, allowing Ronovi to begrudgingly sling her former ally and friend over her shoulder. “We need to get back to the other troops. And in one piece.”
As the ensuing battle around them had broken down, Cassandra’s adrenaline subsided with pain. Her shoulder was gashed with a burn caused by a blaster shot and her body felt sluggish from her frantic use of Ataru. But there was no time to rest as Revenance Virtuom was ordered to regroup for the final attack on Menat Ombo. She glanced at Kratus to see him stricken with splatters of blood, and then there was Inarya to his side who was cradling her abdomen. But as she heard a male groan behind her, the Sith felt her stomach churn to see Saarin Vahn collapsed on the ground. The right side of his frame was scorched, and his stern face was traumatized with bruises. Cassandra drop to the floor and embraced her comrade, trying her best to get him to his feet.
“Thank you for saving me, Cassie,” the injured journeyman murmured, and his voice was weak as if he had to heave his words from his chest.
She remembered running to Vahn’s side, as blaster rounds were scattering in the air around him and then a blaze of fire that would have swallowed him. Cassandra had tackled the Journeyman to the ground just in time. Then as she got back up to her feet, the Sith decapitated the body of the nearest Mandalorian. The second closest foe was struck with a well-aimed Locust Knife to the throat by Cassandra’s throw.
“Kratus! Get the Hell over here, will you? Saarin’s injured!” the Equite shrieked, knowing full well that the Templar could twist the Force to heal others.
Cethgus glared at them with irritation, as he had expected his Battle Team to come through the fight unharmed and raring for more. But as Kratus managed to heal his injured comrade’s burns to deep inflamed scars, they had gotten the Jedi Hunter back to his feet.
“Looking good as new,” Cassandra chuckled as Saarin supported his weight on her and Kratus.
The three Dark Jedi made it back to the rest of the team with some struggle. Although they had come back into one of their battleteam leader’s rants, Cassandra, Saarin and Kratus recovered from the high rush of combat and the fatigue that flooded their bodies.
“I expect better next time,Saarin, especially from a member of this team!” Cethgus snapped as the Jedi Hunter stood before his leader.
“Shut it, Ceth! It wasn’t his fault! I should have had his back. If you need to blame someone, blame me!”
Cassandra words were bitter as she spoke, but as she expected, her Master only replied with a glare of disapproval and the lighting of another cigarra. He took a deep puff before breathing out fumes of smoke, and smell made the girl want to hurl.
“Just be sure you’re all ready to move out in less than ten, are we clear?” Cethgus muttered before he looked up to the sky, watching as the reinforcements from Qel-Droma begin to arrive.
SBM Cassandra El'sin
Cethgus felt the brain on his body through the use of drugs as he looked over to his brother. Though his annoyance with Cassie through the injuries Saarin had sustained was still there. Looking over his shoulder at his team, he walked with Wuntila towards the landing craft. He couldn’t help but feel annoyed - they had come so close to having no injuries, shrugging the thought out of his mind, Cethgus looked at his brother a small smirk coming to his lips as he pondered what to say. His eyes glimpsed back at Socorra before he looked at the LAAT waiting for them.
“Something tells me we can expect great things from her in the future” Cethgus voice showed signs of his fatigue.
“Possibly. We shall see” Wuntila replied to the Exarch.
“Agreed. As for my team, Saarin’s injuries are being dealt with.” His voice was sharp with annoyance.
“You push too hard sometimes, Cethgus” As the transport’s doors opened and waited for them to board, the Exarch turned back to his team.
Socorra was instantly moving up to the Proconsul as Cethgus stood beside him. Looking out onto a pile of corpse,s his eyes glistened with joy as he knew that this was the fight he had been waiting for. He was currently surrounded by war, and slaughter was one thing at which the Exarch excelled.
“I will meet back up with you at Menat Ombo.” Cethgus allowed a small nod towards the direction of the newly promoted Jedi Hunter.
“Take care, brother.” Wuntila’s voice could be heard before he climbed onboard of the LAAT, allowing the shuttle to take off with both him and Socorra aboard.
Instantly, Cethgus turned and walked towards his team, looking at them and knowing the synthesized drug the team used was taking its toll on all of them. He allowed a grin to come to his lips. There was yet more work that had to be done, and Revenance Virtoum would be the ones to do it.
“Right, don’t get too relaxed. We’re moving out. We are to meet up with others at Menat Ombo.” Cethgus voice was snappy, expecting much from the team.
Cethgus knew that his request for a LAAT/i would soon be responded to, as he saw the craft moving closer to the Landing Zone. Revenance Virtoum moved towards it quickly and efficiently.
Seeing the ship touch down, the team boarded it, like a well trained machine. The Exarch was the last to board, and as he looked at each of them a grim expression hugged his lips.
“This is it, the finale. We will have to make sure we are prepared for anything. Am I understood?” His voice sounded over the drone of the engines as the shuttle lurched itself towards the meeting point.
“Understood, sir!” replied the team in unison.
The Exarch allowed himself to reach into his pocket and grab a smoke. Knowing what was about to come to the team, he had little doubt it would be one of their most difficult challenges yet. They had to be on top form, and constant fighting had the ability to degrade one’s stamina and mind.
Looking around, he surveyed each of his members and allowed himself time to think over what would be the best possible course of action. Then the shuttle began to bank, making its way to the landing zone, and he knew his time was nearly up.
“Kratus, Cassie: make sure you cover everyone. This won’t be easy, our orders will be probably hard, but as long as we stick together we will make it through this. I am counting on both of you.”
His voice quieted, and he knew that they were finally nearing their goal.
“Oh, Shab this.” Sashar proclaimed abruptly and stood up.
“Udesii, ner’vod. I’m the Consul. Help is on the way. If we try and break out, we’ll be in danger. Here, we’re safe. Wait for the cavalry to arrive.” Zandro soothed.
Sashar snorted and started drawing on the Force, letting the familiar tendrils of power seep into him and bind his consciousness to three of his Wraiths – the Bat, the Hunter and the Runt. They barely fit into the cramped cell, but it didn’t take long for the Force Wraiths to materialize.
“Come on, Sash. We don’t need to break out yet. They’ll send Soulfire. I’m the Consul-”
“And Wuntila’s your second. You don’t think he hasn’t thought about what happens if you’re killed? He controls Arcona. Not many people would willingly give that up. He may order Soulfire not to come.” Sashar retorted, opening his eyes.
Zandro snorted in contempt. “Think it through, ner’vod, they’re Soulfire. Since when do they give a mott’s backside about what they’re ordered to do? Their Sergeant and Consul, both of whom they’re incredibly loyal to, are in danger. They’ll drop everything to save us, not out of some matter of honor, but because we’re their brothers. It’s a family matter. They’re coming.”
Sashar conceded the point, but he wasn’t about to give up. “Look, I’m not planning on breaking us out completely, I just want to make sure that nobody we don’t like can get in. These di’kutse haven’t got a single foxtrot on the base. They’re all busy presumably having it handed to them out in the field, which means we have the reserves made of their...militia, and probably some of the Ge’tal Gaan. My Wraiths can handle that.”
Zandro sighed, but waved a hand, signalling his brother to go ahead. Sashar grinned ferally, and let his Wraiths pass through the prison cell’s door, out into the detention complex.
“Oya!” Malidir roared over Soulfire’s tactical frequency as he gunned down the last of the militiamen overlooking the bailey the team had landed in. As one, the rest of the squad answered his call, signalling the all clear.
He hefted his BFG around, taking in the scene, checking to see if anyone had sustained any injuries. They hadn’t. “Right, Split off into teams. Tal, your callsign is temporarily SF 10. Cel, likewise, you’re now SF 11. We do a room-by-room sweep until we locate them. I’ll take Two, Three and Five. Eleven, you take Six, Seven, Nine and Ten. Sound out if you have hard contact.”
Malidir ordered curtly. Celahir nodded, taking Celevon, Xar’Kahn, Teroch and Talos with him, whilst Xathia, Juda and Kieran followed Malidir in the opposite direction, their weapons raised and ready.
They needn’t have bothered. The entire facility was a bloodbath. Whatever had been through the halls had torn the guards apart with reckless and relentless abandon. corpses littered the corridors and chambers with huge gashes across their chests and faces, bite marks on their limbs, and often-as-not, signs of broken necks or bruises around their necks signalling strangulation. The entire detention facility was bereft of life, and whatever had torn through the place had clearly been the stuff of nightmares.
“Three guesses as to what caused this.” Juda murmured, knowing the work of his elder brother’s Force Wraiths when he saw it.
“Yeah, I’d say Sashar was pissed. He’d better still be here.” Xathia replied.
As if on cue, a reinforced doorway down the hall exploded outwards, dented and crumpling as if a rancor had just punted it. Sashar and Zandro strolled out, grinning.
“Su’cuy. Copaani gaan?” The Sergeant asked amiably.
“Funny. I was about to ask you the same thing. We’re here to escort you both back to the FCP, on orders of the Master-at-arms.” Malidir replied, ignoring the fact that both the ‘prisoners’ were clad only in boxer briefs and tank tops, having been stripped of their weapons and armour when they were captured.
“Korras sent you? I didn’t know he cared.”
Zandro’s expression was dark. “And why weren’t you sent here by the Proconsul?”
Malidir shrugged, apparently unconcerned. “Orders are orders. Doesn’t matter either way. With or without the go ahead, we’d have come to get you.”
Sashar patted Mal on the shoulder, then took stock of only half his squad standing before him. “Where’s the rest of you?”
“They’re searching the rest of the facility for you. Talos and Celahir came, too.”
“You can bet Talos just came along to hit on Teroch.” Sashar murmured under his breath, however Zandro took charge.
“Okay Soulfire, listen up. We need to get our gear back and get the hell out of here. I still believe there’s a war to win, and I’d rather not stand in my bare feet in drying blood any longer than absolutely necessary...”
Celahir’s voice crackled over the helmet comlinks. “Four, this is Eleven. No sign of them, but we’ve found their gear. Sashar’s armour’s pretty messed up. He’s probably going to need to grab a spare Das’Verd suit from the Larty.”
“Roger that, eleven. We’ve got them safe and sound. bring the gear and call down the Larty to the bailey. We’ll RV there in three.” Malidir replied quietly, whilst Zandro continued his motivational speech, oblivious to the conversation Mal was having behind his faceplate.
“...So let’s get moving. Oya!” The cycloptic Consul concluded, evoking a series of half-hearted ‘Oyas!’ in return.
Teroch, upon seeing his father safe and sound, risked a quick hug, which Sashar returned warmly, then slapped him upside the head, reminding him to maintain discipline. The LAAT/i touched down moments later, and the Squad climbed on board. The Battle to the East was still ongoing, however, encouragingly, House Qel-Droma’s conflict to the West of Menat Ombo was all but won, judging from the sounds echoing over the rooftops.
That, however, was not what held Zandro, Celahir and Malidir’s attention. No, they were looking to the North, where a massive Mandalorian Force was approaching across the plains complete with portable shield generators, saving the armour, infantry and artillery from being orbitally bombarded. It was easily enough to overwhelm Arcona’s forces in the North of the City - the sheer size of the Force made that abundantly clear. It was the Get’al Gaan’s reserve force.”
Teroch joined his uncles and stared out over the vista. “We are so dead.”
OOC: Soulfire Roster and Callsigns
Soulfire 1/Lead: Sashar - Sergeant, Tech specialist
Soulfire 2: Xathia - Slicer
Soulfire 3: Juda - Medic
Soulfire 4: Malidir - 2IC/Heavy Weapons
Soulfire 5: Kieran - Demolitions/Quartermaster/Drill Sergeant
Soulfire 6: Celevon - Sniper
Soulfire 7: Xar'Kahn - Heavy Weapons
Soulfire 8: Socorra - Analyst
Soulfire 9: Teroch - Scout/Analyst
Soulfire 10: Talos -
Soulfire 11: Celahir - Slicer
A blood-curdling scream cut through the din of the It’kla District, drowning out blasterfire and explosions and the frenzied drumming of armored boots on pavement. It was pain indescribable. It was anguish given form. It was music to the Sith’s ears.
A feral grin creased Invictus’s lips as the few bits of flesh exposed beneath the Mandalorian’s armor split and cracked, the inky darkness of the Wraith leaking out and coalescing before the shredded mercenary. The ethereal creature was tinted crimson from the Mando’ade’s blood, lending color to what would otherwise be darkness given form. Another time, the sight might have sickened the Aedile.
But this was war.
Strategos stretched out with the Force, his powerful mind blanketing the entire district. Marick, Timeros, and the others surrounded him, moving in unison, repainting their surroundings in crisp, warm blood. A small part of the Adept’s mind raged, screaming to be let loose upon their foes. It would be a simple matter for the ancient Elder to bathe their enemies in a cascade of lightning, snuffing out the pitiful sparks they called lives. The others could handle that, though. What they couldn’t do, for all their prowess, was coordinate with the other Arconans converging on the marketplace. The distance was too great, or the conditions too tumultuous, for them to manage. So, it fell to him.
Briefly, his mind touched that of his Aedile, seeing through the Chiss’s eyes. The younger Journeymen of Qel-Droma had been left in his care, and Invictus was keeping them to the rear, surrounded by the Tarentii troops that had joined them. A full three dozen Mandalorians surrounded him, but his expression was surprisingly nonchalant. Carbines raised to gun down the Equite and Strategos felt his chest tighten anxiously. Suddenly, a wave of Dark Side energy rippled out, throwing back the soldiers with such Force that they flew through the walls of nearby buildings. The Battlemaster turned his head briefly, Oberst coming into view, and nodded.
Breathing a sigh of relief, the Entar dispelled the vision and cast his net wider, seeking out the rest of his brethren.
The Epicanthix screwed the cap back on her flask, securing it once more to her belt as the whiskey warmed its war down her throat. The glow of her dual-bladed lightsaber bathed her pale features cyan and brightened the shadowed alley. A soft groan sounded from her right and she made a dismissive motion towards Solus, reminding him to keep silent his charge. The meaty thwack of the Battlemaster’s booted toe striking the Taldryanite’s side should have bothered her, yet she found herself unmoved by his pain. He was, after all, a traitor. The Summit had been given little choice but to let Dralin leave. Peace carried certain expectations. That peace, however, was now shattered. Ronovi would bring the former Qel-Droman to Wuntila, to do with as he wished. Technically, the entire Brotherhood was united during the invasion - but, especially in war, accidents happened.
The Markets were just ahead, and the Obelisk wanted little more than to rush forward into battle and lay waste to the foes that awaited them. Still, she held herself back. Strategos’s instructions had been quite clear. There was a plan, even if she hadn’t been told the details, and it required simultaneity. So she waited, and she tried not to worry. But with each drink, both tasks grew harder.
The shuttle banked sharply, narrowly avoiding the shoulder-mounted Surface-to-Air Missile that had threatened to down them. The Battleteam Leader swore under his breath at the near-miss, reminding himself to break Sarek’s neck the moment they landed. Trying to bring them down in the center of the marketplace was quite possibly the most foolish thing Sang had seen this entire operation. Their impromptu course correction took them east, hugging the rooftops to avoid any long-range fire.
With neither intention nor warning, the Templar felt his mouth open. It wasn’t until the words spilled forth in a near-mechanical that he realized they weren’t his own.
“Tabanne, veer 15 degrees starboard. You’ll pass an empty intersection in three hundred meters. Put down on one of the rooftops and join up with Galares. They will be there shortly.”
The Dark Jedi pilot turned his head briefly, looking questioningly at his Obelisk commander. He had heard the oddity in the man’s voice, and was clearly unsure how to react. Sanguinius, on the other hand, knew precisely what was expected of them.
“You heard me, Knight. 15 degrees starboard. Three hundred meters. Let’s land this dewback of a ship and kill us some Jedi!”
Invictus spotted a cerulean blur across the plaza and, decapitating the Jedi before him without so much as a flourish, rushed to his Proconsul’s side. Closing down his lightsaber, he brought a gauntleted fist to his heart and nodded briskly.
Wuntila returned his nod then, unable to speak intelligibly above the roar of battle, pointed overhead. A lone LAAT/i was descending upon the battle with a familiar group of Mandalorians hanging halfway out of the transport’s open hatch. The troops below took note and scattered, and the larty unceremoniously crushed the three or four Jedi that had, moments before, been surrounded.
The Qel-Droman Aedile turned back to Wuntila and grinned. “I guess that’s all of them.”
The half-Theelin opened his mouth, but a sharp voice cut in before he could speak.
“Don’t be too sure about there. Massive reinforcements inbound from the north. Even with the loan of troops from Tarentum, they outnumber us three to one.”
Invictus stared mutely at Sashar, hoping desperately he was joking. They had just won. The mercenaries and soldiers were wiped out, the majority of the Jedi were killed or fled. Surely it was over. The rest of the Arconan Summit joined them, sensing that the former Consul brought troubling news, if not the actual content thereof.
Finally, the bronze-skinned Jedi Hunter at Wuntila’s side spoke for all of them.
Visulu Market/Traders Forum
Talos was out of the LAAT/I mere seconds after Sashar and made a beeline for his apprentice while the Soulfire Sergeant veered off to deliver the news of the Ge’tal Gaan’s reserve force to Wuntila.
“Protector…Socorra...are you alright?” he asked fervently, taking hold of her hand and checking to see that the Blood Trail ring he had given her was still intact – it was.
The Black Banshee looked up at the armored form of her master and nodded, pale eyes studying his helmet. “I’m fine, master, although...” she said, a sly smile creeping across her lips, “...it is Jedi Huntress now.”
The Journeyman reached into the side pocket of her trousers and withdrew two cylindrical objects, similar to the one hanging from Talos’ own utility belt – lightsaber hilts.
The Galerian Aedile removed his helmet to reveal the shock that was written across his young features; eyebrows raised, eyes wide, and mouth hanging open, he stared at his apprentice’s trophies, and then slowly raked his eyes up to her feminine face, and then her long, raven hair, which was matted with blood.
“What?! You were a Protector barely 4 hours ago…I…I don’t know what to say; I’m…so proud. We will celebrate, I promise, once we take this planet for our own,” Talos finally rasped, after he opened and closed his mouth several times trying to form words. Socorra smiled and allowed herself a rare display of positive emotion, crimson color tingeing her bronzed cheeks ever so slightly.
“But now, tell me,” the Equite continued, “is that blood yours?” he asked, pointing at the sanguine liquid that had pasted Socorra’s hair down in several places.
She shrugged. “Some of it,” she said amiably.
As if my apprentice’s double-promotion wasn’t enough to give me gray hair, he thought. Socorra was about to explain the promotion when the baritone of Wuntila Zratian Entar cut through the pair’s reunion.
“Aedile Erinos! Here, now! And don’t you dare think you can shirk duty this time!” the Dragon of Selen boomed and the Templar’s face flushed in embarrassment, something that made his Jedi Huntress apprentice crack a smirk.
“Right, we’ll finish this little debrief/celebration later,” Talos exclaimed, turning to where Wuntila, Zandro, Sashar, and Invictus Trandyr had gathered by a market stall. He took three steps towards them, leaving her behind, but then suddenly swung back around. “Actually, come with me. You’ve helped the Proconsul all day and done remarkably well…no one can say you don’t deserve to be in on the final stages of this war.”
The impromptu war council was short and to the point, so much so that ten minutes found Talos escorting his two adopted brothers and “cousin” back to Soulfire’s LAAT/i, the gunship still idling over the corpses of the three Jedi that it had crushed upon Soulfire’s arrival in the central point of the Jedi city.
“Sorry that you can’t come back out with us, Tal’ika,” Teroch Erinos said wistfully, jumping into the troop bay of the gunship.
“Me too, Teroch,” Talos replied, “but I’ve had my outing with Soulfire this war. Time to go be a responsible leader. Besides, I think you’ll approve of Celahir and my replacements,” he said as Korras, the Master-at-Arms, and the Herald Shikyo Keibatsu Sadow, climbed into the LAAT/i.
The two youngest Erinos shared a laugh before Sashar’s son vanished into the troop bay and was replaced by his father. “Remember, Tal, look for our green smoke when we’ve cleaned up these Ge’tal Gaan di’kuts,” the Sergeant reminded his protégée.
“I got it, chief. We’ll see you all soon,” the Templar said by way of farewell, waving his hand dismissively and drawing the iconic smirk from his brother.
“No hug goodbye, Tal’ika?” Sashar quipped, to which Talos merely rolled his eyes.
“Oh get out of here, you di’kut.”
“I am, I am. But first...Huntress Socorra!” the Elder yelled. “Front and center!”
Startled, the Journeyman jogged over to where he was hanging out of the larty. “Yessir?”
Sashar Erinos looked down at the newest recruit to his squad and tutted that Wuntila had used his position to make her his personal assistant for the war’s duration.
“I just wanted to say bloody good job thus far. I’m sorry that I haven’t really formally introduced myself, but there will be time for that later."
"Oh, um, thank you, Sir," Socorra replied with a salute with a blood-caked hand and blushing again for the second time in the war. Seeing as their Sergeant was preparing to leave, she drug up vocabulary from her expansive memory and said a farewell in Mando'a: "Re'turcye mhi."
A bit surprised, he nodded to her but then directly pointed to Talos. "She's a keeper, vod. Don't let her go. Now, I’ve got some shebs to kick..good luck you two!”
With that, the leader of Clan Arcona’s elite unit slammed his gauntleted fist against the hull of the larty and the gunship shot up into the air, turned to the northwest and jetted out of Menat Ombo’s boundaries.
Once the gunship was just a black speck in the cerulean sky, the other Erinos turned around to face his apprentice, an eyebrow lifted, but a wry smirk on his face. "Well now, you've got some explaining to do. But later. Let's go."
"What'd I do," she replied innocently, sticking her tongue out at him playfully. He chuckled and moved back to rejoin the rest of Arcona’s Summit.
“Alright, you heard the Lord Consul,” Wuntila Entar said, easily slipping into the position of authority, “Marick and Invictus will take House Qel-Droma and secure the Jedi Library. Celahir and Talos will lead the effort to finish cleaning up the Ooroo Abbey…some weird shit has been going on up there. After that – Cel, are you alright?” the Proconsul suddenly cut off his orders as the Galerian Quaestor put a hand to his temple and stepped away from the Summit circle.
After a few seconds, Celahir lowered his hand and pulled out his datapad, into which he quickly tapped a series of commands and held it for the Summit plus one to hear.
“Regulator 1, this is Phoenix 1. Be advised: we are moving to the eastern side of the city and preparing to infiltrate. Over.”
“Phoenix 1, heard and understood. We are now moving through the It’kla District, with intent to come up on the west side and shake those Arconan rats from their place in the Traders Forum. Over and out.”
The datapad went quiet, but the same couldn’t be said for Talos and Wuntila; both knew exactly who “Regulator 1 and Phoenix 1” were and what it meant…they were the Battleteam Leaders of the Regulators and Phoenix Phyle, the Battleteams of Clan Naga Sadow and House Taldryan respectively.
“FRELL!” the blue beast seethed, pacing back and forth, ignorant of the Jedi corpse he kept trotting on.
“What’s the issue, Wun?” asked Marick Del’Abbot, the Qel-Droman Quaestor unaware of what those two Battleteams represented.
Contorted with rage, the newest Entar was unable to speak. He motioned for Talos to fill the Hapan in.
“Phoenix Phyle is the Battleteam of House Taldryan, not counting the Old Folks Home. The Regulators are the Battleteam of one of Naga Sadow’s Houses. And they’re both in Menat Ombo, which means that the rest of their units aren’t far behind,” Talos explained.
“Exactly,” the Proconsul agreed, having tamped down on his rage, “which also means that your orders are now scrapped.”
The Dragon of Selen turned from the Summit and let his Force presence whittle its way into the minds of all the personnel gathered in the marketplace.
“Arconans and Tarentii! We are about to be ambushed by the combined might of Clan Naga Sadow and House Taldryan. Consider any orders you received prior to this message now defunct. Conceal yourselves as best as you can and prepare to fight tooth and nail. Arcona Invicta!”
Wuntila had barely extracted his presence from the minds of his subordinates, when the mass of Dark Jedi and non-Sensitive soldiers surged, all rushing to conceal themselves behind market stalls, buildings, piles of debris, and even the corpses of the newly slain.
Acolyte Bruudo, Tyro and pointman of the Regulators Battleteam, strode confidently through the alleyways that would lead him to the center market of the Traders Forum, tossing the two lightsaber hilts he had found on the bodies of Jedi in the It’kla Residential District. The Acolyte had only been a member of the Brotherhood for a few months before War had engulfed his new home and despite his lack of power and knowledge, the Journeyman was inordinately pleased with his performance thus far.
Which was probably why Bruudo didn’t see his death coming.
As the Acolyte stepped out of the alleyway and into the empty marketplace, the first he noticed was exactly that…that the marketplace, where the joint-forces of Clan Arcona and House Tarentum were supposed to be, was deserted.
That was the first thing he saw, but the first thing he felt was a searing heat at his neck as a beam of pure plasma cut through his neck. The Sadowan remained conscious for a brief second, just enough time to grab at his neck, before his head disconnected from his shoulders and Bruudo fell to his knees, his trophy lightsabers rolling from his now dead fingers.
“Why hello there,” Celahir Erinos said sarcastically, stepping out from his hiding place and angling his lightsaber up in the offensive position of Shii-Cho.
Regulator Sergeant Roxas Buurenar’s mouth dropped open as he looked from the body of his pointman, to the Arconan Prelate standing in front of him, and then he whirled around as another Arconan walked up from behind House Shar Dakhan’s Battleteam.
“We’d say that you totally caught us by surprise, but then we’d be lying,” Talos Erinos said, his own lightsaber flaring to life and painting the walls of the alley a bright crimson.
“Orders, Sergeant?” one of the Regulators said, swiveling his blaster carbine from one Erinos to the other.
“Forget the plans! Get these two bastards!” Roxas screamed and the Dark Jedi Knight and a Jedi Hunter charged towards Celahir while the rest of the Regulators turned to where Talos was…or had been.
The five Journeyman Regulators, only two of which were armed with Armory Lightsabers, didn’t even see the true Mandalorian drop down from his Force-Jump until his crimson lightsaber was sweeping through their midsections.
To the Sadowan unit’s credit, they lasted a total of seven minutes before Talos dispatched the last Protector, scooped up the Jedi lightsaber she had in her possession and turned to where his brother and superior was in the middle of cutting off Sergeant Buurenar’s left arm. The Sadowan Mandalorian screamed in pain and sank to his knees before the Quaestor of House Galeres delivered a roundhouse kick to Roxas’ face and sent him tumbling into unconsciousness.
“The Fist would have my balls if I killed him,” Celahir said by way of explanation when Talos shot himself a quizzical glance.
“So maiming him is ok?”
“Well yeah…this is war, after all.”
Celahir had just finished his sentence when, like a chorus of Force-Sensitive angels, the sounds of numerous lightsabers activating reached their ears.
“I’d say that the rest of the ‘ambush’ has begun,” Talos said rather obviously.
“You think?” Celahir shot back jokingly, before turning serious, “we should be getting back there…I kind of like this whole lightsaber combat thing.”
Never one to let a brother have the last laugh, Talos sprinted ahead of the Kiffar, throwing back a retort as he did so.
The four sided battle between the Jedi and soldiers of Clan Arcona and House Tarentum against the Jedi and soldiers of Clan Naga Sadow and House Taldryan was, to put it nicely, a blood bath. Screams rent the air and various body parts littered the ground within minutes of the two forces colliding.
Talos and Celahir were separated almost immediately upon joining the main effort and the Templar’s thoughts turned only to one thing…his apprentice.
‘Socorra!’ he yelled through the Force, his heart going cold when he didn’t get a reply. But then, he felt her pulse out in the Force.
‘Here, master!’ The Aedile quickly triangulated her presence as being right in the middle of the melee.
‘On my way!’ Talos thought back and he took a step forward, only to trip over a Jedi’s corpse and nearly fall face first into the violet beam of a Taldryanite’s lightsaber.
“Scum!” the Taldryanite screamed, swinging his lightsaber wildly.
“Really?” Talos said as he ducked under a sloppy overhand cut and then hopped over a cruddy undercut, “have you looked in the mirror?” The Galerian Aedile drove his crimson sword into the abdomen of the Taldryanite and then pulled it out.
He was gone, wading through the mass of bodies, both those of the living and dead, before his victim had fallen to the ground.
The Erinos finally caught up with his apprentice, after having dodged several hundred blaster bolts and seven lightsabers, claiming two lives and sustaining two minor cuts on his right cheek. Socorra was about in the same shape, with bruises to her cheeks and a bloody lip, but otherwise unharmed.
“Master!” she cried in joy, genuinely happy to see the Erinos, but never stopping her whirling cyclone of death as she spun, weaved, bobbed, and jumped, her fingers constantly squeezing the triggers of her DL-18 blaster pistols.
“You seem to be taking care of yourself, Socorra!” Talos replied, reactivating his lightsaber just in time to ward off a blow from a Knight bearing the symbol of Sadow.
“I’m doing my best,” the Jedi Huntress laughed, pausing in her symphony of death to toss a throwing knife into the eye socket of an approaching Taldryanite Novice.
“Well,” Talos grunted as he and the Sadowan Knight exchanged a flurry of strikes, “you’ve got my respect.”
Socorra turned to face her master, or at least his backside as he fell into a saberlock with the Sadowan. “I’m honored, master.”
Talos spun 180 degrees, held up a single finger in a motion to ‘wait’, and then turned the other 180, ducking down as he did so and separating the Knight’s legs from his torso.
“I’m glad. You’ve more than earne—Get down!” Talos ordered, whipping his lightsaber over Socorra’s head to meet the saber of an unknown enemy who had been about to introduce his blade into his apprentice’s spine.
Talos successfully pushed the blow back and threw the attacker away with a shove from the Force, only to see the Lethan Twi’lek stand fast. He smirked at the Aedile and took a step forward, but then grunted as a blue lightsaber, followed by a sapphire gladius, passed through his neck.
Standing behind the Force-resistant, and now dead, Dark Jedi was the Arconan Proconsul. Wuntila Zratian Entar twirled his dual weapons, gave both Talos and Socorra a nod, and then vanished back into the fray.
“Let’s save the compliments for after we’re back on the Darkest Night, aye?” Talos rasped.
“Aye,” was Socorra’s simple response as she leaned into her master’s chest and took a deep breath.
Sufficiently recovered, as much as an all-out melee would allow anyway, the master and apprentice went back-to-back and resumed their path of destruction, the apprentice’s crimson blaster bolts spewing in every direction while the master’s crimson lightsaber flicked here and there, leaving scorched scars and corpses in its wake.
The Visulu Market Bloodbath, as it would later be called, raged on for nearly two hours and filled the traders forum with piles of corpses so high that the Dark Jedi who had the skill found themselves dancing their duels of death atop mounds of their fallen enemies and allies.
Talos found himself in such a situation, pitting his crimson lightsaber against the dual yellow and green blades of his enemy. Below him, Socorra was providing suppressive covering fire as she emptied plasma pak after plasma pak into the weaker Dark Jedi and troopers of the Naga Sadow and Taldryan alliance.
Suddenly, Talos’ opponent stumbled and the Erinos was about to bring his lightsaber down in a brutal, Djem So-powered overhand cut when a Force-Scream ripped through Talos’ skull.
“BROTHERS!” Sashar’s voice echoed in the Aedile’s mind, “WE NEED HELP. THE RESERVIST FORCES ARE MUCH LARGER THAN WE FIRST THOUGHT! COORDINATES ARE TO THE NORTHWEST, AXIS LIMA 2-9-5-1”
Such was the power and intensity of Sashar’s plea, that Talos pitched forward, his left hand being seared by his enemy’s yellow blade; in pain and with a massive headache, the Templar fell off of the pile of bodies. Rolling to the ground, the Erinos groaned and opened his eyes to see his opponent standing triumphant…until two dozen crimson blaster bolts slammed into his exposed flank and he fell back, tumbling down the opposite side of the pile.
“Master!” Socorra yelled in concern, slaying one last Dlarit trooper before running over to Talos and cradling his burnt and blackened hand. Fumbling quickly through her utility pack she was about to slap it with bacta salve but Talos shook his head and shakily stood up.
“No, there’s no time,” he hissed. “Sashar and Soulfire are in major osik. We need to find the Proconsul and the Summit…get an LAAT/i…and go help our brethren.”
Talos took a few shaky steps forward, the Black Banshee keeping pace and holding her arms out in case he fell. “Are you sure, master? What about the fight?”
The Obelisk paused and swept his sapphire eyes across the Visulu Marketplace; there was still some intense fighting going on in the far side of the market, but nothing compared to what it had been.
“I’m sure,” Talos nodded, “it’ll just be me, you, and the Summit who goes, along with some of the Summit Guard. I have no doubt that Tarentum, Revenance Virtuom, and the standard membership can finish this.”
The Galerian Aedile straightened his back and resumed his shaky steps, sweeping his eyes across the killing ground until he found a face he recognized, to some degree; underneath the swollen eye, cut lip, and purple bruises, the handsome features of Marick Del’Abbot showed through.
“Cap’n,” Talos grunted in greeting, “did you hear that?”
Marick's former deputy didn’t have to explain what he meant, as the nobleman already knew.
“I did,” he said, his voice laced with pain and concern. “We have to go.”
The Markets had begun to rain fire when Ronovi and Solus arrived. The chaos had started slowly at first, trickling into the seemingly silent catacombs that had been raised from the war. Then it was complete inferno. Enough red and smoke and screams to throw Ronovi off balance as the weight of whiskey plowed her forehead and eyes.
She wove into an alleyway with Solus alongside her, deflecting blaster bolts with a flailing lightsaber, propping a dazed Dralin against the wall. She heard strangled words from her commlink - things were moving too fast. She couldn't tell who were Jedi and who were Dark Jedi in the fray, and who she was meant to kill, and where she was meant to go.
The sweat copulating on her brow, Ronovi pressed her hand against the wall of a dilapidated building to steady herself. A stray soldier, shrieking with blood staining his eyes, stumbled toward her with his blaster roaring off-kilter shots. She impaled him on her lightsaber and took a deep breath as the body thumped to the ground.
"We can't go on like this," she wheezed to Solus. "What did you get out of your commlink?"
Solus's visage was more than disconcerting. "If Sashar and Soulfire are truly in danger, then the rest of Galeres will go after them. Marick may wish for us to follow."
"That, or he'll want us to stifle the conflict here with the reservists," Ronovi murmured. "Decisions, decisions..."
She wanted to take Dralin further, carry him back to the landing zone where whatever barracks and medivacs awaited Arcona's return. But she knew she couldn't. Not like this, anyway. She thought about stirring him and rouse him into action, but against who? He would not dare slaughter any of Taldryan. Even Naga Sadow was off-limits to him. Perhaps any remaining Mandalorian loyalists, as well as the GG reservists that they had been notified about, but at this rate the battle was so thick that it was like struggling in fog. No way to go but by cutting through the din.
Ronovi sighed and shook her head. Dralin had gotten himself into this - he would now be responsible for getting himself out. She and Solus would have to scrape their way through the markets just to get Dralin to Arcona intact. Now it was unclear whether or not they could commit to such a task. Maybe it didn't matter. Maybe in the end Dralin or Solus or Ronovi would be dead. But theorizing about it was enough to get the Epicanthix's adrenaline raging again.
Shuffling toward the narrow opening back into the markets, Ronovi poked her head out for one short moment before dodging a red beam intended for her head. Her eyes fluttered as she sensed the shady silhouette of her opponent. Her lightsaber was brought to bear. The cerulean claws full blazen.
"C'mon, Solus," was all she said.
Then Ronovi Tavisaen threw herself into the chaos, plasma to armor and fist to chin, blood and cartilage spilling about her. She returned to war then, uncertain of all things but her own well-being. Uncertain of Solus's presence. Uncertain of her clanmates' fates. Uncertain of whether or not a Jedi would come to try to poison her again. She had evaded all possible conversion this time, and she was sure to fight it tooth and nail if it happened again.
Not that theory mattered anymore. All that was left was the fight. And as the sun of New Tython bore down on her head like the enormous eye of an unknown deity, Ronovi never felt so alive.
Scarlet squirted from his neck as he fell heavy to his knees. A glazed, vacant stare misted his eyes and he toppled forward into the warm bed of corpses. Grabbing a handful of his cape, Wuntila wiped the blood from is Sapphire Blade. The Sadowan Novice had charged recklessly towards the Proconsul; as quick as his attack had started, he had fallen to Wuntila’s swordsmanship.
“Fool,” the Human-Theelin muttered under his breath.
The anarchy still raged around him, but the Proconsul had no time for mindless slaughter. He had a job to do. The radio transmission had caught him off-guard, nearly costing him his life as a Taldryanite lunged for him in an overhead arcing sweep. The Proconsul’s reflexes had saved him as he met the plasma blade with his own and drove his Gladius hilt-deep into his attacker’s chest. It was the call he had both dreaded and anticipated.
He glanced over the sea of bloodied faces and caught the ruby gaze of the Qel-Droman Aedile, Invictus. For a moment, the two shared the same look of anxiety before Invictus was pulled back into the carnage, and yet another of the Light Jedi attackers met Wuntila. He was becoming fatigued now, drained by the relentless fervour of combat, and it had begun to show. Although he was still at the top of his form, he had resorted to his sheer strength over fundamental Lightsaber combat, throwing people to the floor and hurling wrecking ball fists into their faces in order to weaken them, rather than subduing them to his mastery of the blade. Now his attacker, fresh and eager, pressed him like a Rancor baiter, attempting to evoke a feral response. The Proconsul cooled his boiling blood and his iron fist met a glass jaw. The attacker stumbled back and wiped crimson from his grinning lips. But before he could reply, the Human-Theelin finished the confrontation with a Force guided throw of his Gladius. It lodged within the attacker’s stomach and Wuntila watched as the Jedi dropped his hilt and opened himself up to death.
The Proconsul had no time to spare, however. He jogged past his recently fallen foe, ripping his Gladius from the corpse’s abdomen and picking up the Jedi’s hilt before he leaped into the air and caught the lip of a building just outside the market. He pulled himself up onto the roof and saw Marick and Talos, fighting towards a LAAT/i balanced on top of one of the roofs on the northern side of the market. Behind them, Invictus carved a path through for him, Felix and Captain Bly, along with what remained of the Solus and T’ad Summit Guard.
Wuntila jumped down from the small roof on which he perched and bulldozed his way through the fighting. Arconans, Taldryanites, Sadowans, Tarenti and Jedi were all thrown aside as the Proconsul, aided by his Force affinity, sprinted for the LAAT/i. As he reached the building supporting the LAAT/i’s makeshift landing pad, Wuntila saw Invictus boarding the ship. With surprising agility, Wuntila jumped up and grabbed a window ledge, pulled himself up and gripped the lip of the roof. With all his strength, he heaved his dense muscular physique up onto the plateau. He turned, batted a runaway blaster bolt back to its original shooter, and jumped into the already levitating Transport ship.
“Sitrep,” Wuntila rasped as he pushed himself back up off the floor.
“Not good,” Celahir emerged from the cockpit as Invictus pulled the Proconsul to his feet, “Look over there. That’s Soulfire.”
Wuntila followed the Galereian Quaestor’s finger and saw a small circle of troops, surrounding two wounded in the middle. Sashar and Zandro were pressed back into the formation, frantically releasing short burst of Force energy before having to deflect another hail of bolts and fall back onto the defensive.
They were in serious trouble and everyone could sense it.
“Celahir, try and get in radio contact with Malidir or Sashar. Marick, brief the Summit Guard. Everyone else, you know what to do. We’ve got a Consul and some Arconae to save.” Wuntila pulled on his helmet and thumbed the ignition on his lightsaber. He gripped one of the straps overhead with his right hand and leant out of the open transport doors, eager to get down there and help his kin.
“Wun…” Talos said nervously, “Look…”
“Oh hellfire!” Wuntila barked, “Pilot! Get us down there. NOW!”
Every bone and joint in Marick’s body ached. The humming of the Larty’s engines swelled in his ears as his eyes scanned the battlefield below. The young Hapan had lost count of how many soldiers, brothers, and sisters he’d lost back down on that battlefield - but he knew that he had to keep fighting. He owed to each of them.
Wuntila suddenly moved to the front of the LAAT/i and stared out into the distance. For all his courage and strength, he was unable to hide the look of dread on his cerulean visage. Moving up besides his Proconsul, the Hapan suddenly understood why. From their aerial view, The Ge'Tal reinforcements looked like a wave of fire creepers skittering towards the Market.
Marick narrowed his eyes and looked up at his old friend, fully comprehending now the scale of things going around him. It was time for him to truly step up, and to be a leader. He had a good role model in Wuntila, one of the best.
"We need to get down there," the Hapan stated, glancing a look over Invictus who seemed to agree.
"Stang! There's no way our forces are going hold up against that," Wuntila contemplated for a year-long second. "Fine. Go. Lead the Clan to safety."
Marick placed a hand on Wuntila's back, giving his Proconsul the best and most confident grin he could.
"See you back on the Abyss."
The Larty swung into a circle, giving the Chiss and Hapan duo an easy jump down to the streets south of the main battlefront. Like a pair of ghosts, Invictus and Marick made their way through the ruble and destruction of the streets, taking to the rooftops and letting the Force flow through their bodies. With preternatural grace, they leaped and climbed their way back towards the troops, ignoring any fatigue that attempted to slow them down.
They stopped when they came to a cluster of Qel-Dromans and Galerians fighting back to back with a ferocity and tenacity Marick had grown to love about the members of Clan Arcona.
Placing two fingers against their respective temples, Invictus and Marick reached out for the minds of all Arconan troops.
Fall back, retreat now to the south!
A shower of crimson rained down around Zandro and Sashar, effectively killing off any opposition the duo were battling. Wuntila hadn’t even raised a hand before the brothers double-timed it into the Larty, shortly followed by the rest of Soulfire and signalled the pilot to take off.
Handshakes and shoulder pats were exchanged quickly as the Summit sans Marick and Invictus gathered around in a circle. Wuntila pulled up a holo-map and laid it down for all to see.
“We can’t let our men die out there,” Talos Erinos was first to jump in, anger swelling in his tone. “Even with a full retreat, there’s still just too many of them!” Nearly clinging to his side like a shadow, Jedi Huntress Socorra kept quiet as she looked up at her Masters face.
Zandro raised a hand to calm the younger and newest Erinos, his face stoic and stern with the resolve of a true leader. He turned to his Proconsul.
“We need to call in an Orbital Bombardment,” The cycloptic Consul explained, slamming his fist into his open palm for emphasis.
“I’ll make the ca-” Wuntila started to say, but was cut off by a crackle over the Larty’s radio.
Sensors … Jamming … Abyss …. unable.... assist....
“OSIK!” Sashar spat, nearly smashing the holo-maps projector unit.
The Summit went quiet. Zandro looked around at each of his brothers, each of his friends. He could see the weariness in each of their eyes, could sense their anger and despair through the Force.
“Pilot! Set us down over there in the bombed out warehouse. We need a moment to think this through.” Zandro ordered, his mind already heavy with myriad ideas and strategies to save his Clan.
The Arconan troops were in full retreat, the fist line laying down cover fire while the second made a run for it, before switching places and repeating the process. Marick and Invictus, sabers at the ready, deflected as many stray blaster bolts as they could, Invictus leading the retreat while Marick held up the rear, making sure no one got left behind.
He knew his troops would be fine at this point. Marick glanced up into the distance and spotted the Summit’s distinctive black LAAT/i, a sudden premonition of dread flooding his senses and causing his stomach to churn.
“We have to bombard the city; it’s the only way we can take out the majority of the Ge’tal Gaan’s forces in one hit.” Celahir insisted.
Wuntila shook his head, rage causing his body to tremble “The gunners can’t breach the sensor jamming, and we don’t have time to locate the source of the jamming itself. It’s not an option.”
Sashar spoke for the first time since the impromptu war council had begun. “Actually, there is a way. If we use a holonet transceiver, we can use it as a sensor beacon, which the guns could lock onto. They have such a tower at the top of the Abbey.”
Zandro looked over him, his one eye glinting in the flickering light of a fire burning itself out in the corner of the bombed-out room. “Such a target would be vunerable. Incredibly so, and if it were taken out, we’d be back to square one. Namely; screwed.”
Sashar sighed, closing his eyes. “I know. It’ll require someone to stay behind and defend it.”
“I’ve never ordered anyone to certain death before, and I’m not about to start now. I’ll stay behind.” Zandro said without hesitation.
A chorus of shouts came up from the assembled summit members.
“Absolutely not. You’re the Consul. You’re the most important person in the Clan.” Celahir stated firmly, crossing his arms over his chest.
“If I don’t do this, there won’t be a Clan. Besides, with the exception of Sashar, I’m the strongest person here. I stand the best chance, and he’s too valuable to send to his death.”
Sashar snorted in amusement. “Ner’vod, you think too highly of both yourself and me. Everyone here is expendable, but on your own, you wouldn’t be able to do it. You and I make the best tag-team I’ve seen. If we both go, we can conceivably defend it long enough for the Arconan forces to withdraw. If it was anyone else, they’d fail.”
“I can’t lose two of my brothers-“ Celahir began, but was cut off by Zandro.
“The decision is made. Sashar and I will go to Oroo Abbey and get the transceiver set up to broadcast its location to the Fleet. The rest of you, make sure that Arcona survives. Wuntila, you have the Clan now.”
The Dragon of Selen looked at Zandro’s face, gauging his seriousness. He then nodded in acceptance. “Very well. I take it you’ll want the Larty?”
“Yeah. I’m afraid you’ll need to hoof it to get out. Excuse me, I’m just going to say goodbye to my squad.” Sashar slipped out of the ruined doorway, only half-covered by a ragged curtain.
The summit seemed too shell-shocked to answer, and all eyes turned back to Zandro.
“I’m not a man of many words, nor am I great at giving speeches…or goodbyes, so I’ll make this quick. Serving with you all has been the greatest honour of my life, and I’m proud of all we’ve accomplished together. Serve Arcona with everything you’ve got and die well.”
He pulled Celahir into a brief hug, ruffled Talos’s short hair, then stepped out to join his brother.
Wuntila watched him go, then nodded once more, as if reassuring himself that this was really happening. “Okay, you heard the man. We leave in five minutes with Soulfire. Our objective is to catch up to Marick and Invictus, who should be reaching the market soon. If you need to say your goodbyes, make it quick.”
“Okay, lads. Listen up. Zandro and I are going back to Oroo Abbey to pick something up. Your job is to protect Wuntila and the rest of the summit, and get them out of the city. You’ll be proceeding on foot. We need the Larty. Sorry.” He flashed a grin, which nobody bought.
Malidir glanced over at Teroch, adjusted the cigar clenched between his teeth, and said nothing. He knew very well what Sashar and Zandro planned to do, but didn’t want to upset the youth. The look on Talos and Celahir’s faces as they came out confirmed his suspicions. Sashar matted Malidir on the shoulder, grateful for his silence, then hugged them both briefly, muttering something quiet, before crossing over to Teroch.
“Ter, why don’t you take charge of the Squad on the way back? You need a little practice leading a squad. They’ll listen to you.”
“Oya. Sure thing, buir.”
“Make me proud, ad’ika.” Sashar grinned and cuffed his son around the side of the head, then turned to Zandro, who was talking quietly with Malidir.
The Abbey had not held up well in the battle. Large portions of it had been entirely blown away, however, Sashar had been right; there was an intact holonet relay dish atop one of the towers. He’d reconfigured as soon as the LAAT/i had dropped the pair off, however an inconcievably large contingent of the Ge’tal Gaan were already surrounding the Abbey, now bereft of Jedi. There were half a dozen Canderous Tanks, hundreds of Mandalorian troops, and even a few antique basilisk war droids.
Zandro looked south, spotting the Arconan forces moving slowly through the city.
“We’ll need to buy them at least fifteen minutes before they’re clear.” He commented quietly, drawing his saber.
Sashar said nothing, but instead knelt down and called on the Force, summoning all five of his Wraiths. They could give Arcona fifteen minutes. No problem.
Zandro looked down at the armoury of weapons he had brought with him to the Abbey, his face showing little expression. A lightsaber wouldn't be much use yet, and keeping the enemies at range for as long as possible would be the best course of action. He had expected to be scared but for some reason, all that the Consul felt was a resounding calm, as if he were doing nothing more than practising on the firing range. Putting his lightsaber back onto his belt, Zandro picked up a missile launcher and hefted it onto his shoulder, aiming down the sights at one of the Canderous tanks sitting outside the abbey. He could sense his brother next to him and felt a pang of sympathy for his nephew, the boy being a matter of minutes away from losing both his father and his uncle.
Fourteen minutes and fifty three seconds.
The Sith pulled the trigger and sent a missile hurtling towards the tank he was aiming at, allowing himself a small grin of triumph as the vehicle exploded with gusto. Dropping the weapon, Zandro instead sent a surge of Force energy into the ether, calling out to his Wraith and summoning it into being. Reality tore as a shadowy Wyrm forced it's way into existence from beyond, snaking through the tear and emerging to encircle the one-eyed Clan leader. The Arconae turned to Sashar and his five Wraiths and spoke up, his tone mocking.
“Having more doesn't make them better vod, stop trying so hard.”
Sashar smirked at the comment and shook his head slightly, his eyes remaining fixed on the Mandalorian troops that were surging towards the Abbey that the two Arconans had been tasked with holding.
“We'll see if you're still saying that when I kill more of those troops than you do.”
Zandro turned his attention down to the ground and ordered his Wraith to attack the men below them with a thought.
Malidir sped up slightly and approached his Proconsul, tapping the blue humanoid on the shoulder so as to get his attention. Wuntila turned and found something being handed to him, looking down as Malidir spoke.
“Zandro told me to give you this, he said you'd understand the significance.”
Wuntila nodded at the man and turned his attention back to the item he had been handed by the large Soulfirian; Zandro's eyepatch. Closing his fingers around the item, the Entar allowed a small smile to tug at his mouth as he placed the keepsake into a pouch on his belt before continuing on, his mind already returning to the task at hand; getting the fuck out of dodge.
The Pit Wyrm gambolled through the Mandalorian lines, shrieking as it tore through armour and flesh leaving corpses in it's wake. Zandro watched from his vantage point and felt a surge of pride as he watched his Wraith cutting through the enemy troops.
“I seem to be winning bro, looks like the numbers over size is working well for me.”
Zandro bit back a response as he looked down at the carnage outside the Abbey, a frown creasing his brow as he realised something.
“They're breaching the Abbey, I think it's time to go down and meet them face to face.”
Sashar looked over at the last remaining basilisk and sent all five of his Wraiths towards the craft, tearing into it with ethereal claws and causing the craft to fall out of the sky and explode on the ground, taking another of the Canderous tanks out in the process.
“Now we can go.”
The rendezvous was brief as Wuntila and his contingent met up with Marick, Invictus and their troops. The Hapan House leader looked at the group with a critical eye before speaking, his voice conveying some of the exhaustion he was feeling.
“Where are Zandro and Sashar?”
Wuntila looked at the two men with a grim expression, his voice calm as he spoke.
“They stayed back to take care of business. We need to get out of the city and up towards the fleet now, let's go.”
Nine more minutes, that's all we need.
Zandro's lightsaber stabbed up into the armpit of the Mandalorian in front of him, snuffing out the man's life as the Sith retreated a few steps towards the staircase, his weapon a veritable wall of energy as it blocked a flurry of incoming shots. He and his brother had taken down many of the troops who were storming the building, but the sheer number of enemies was beginning to take it's toll. The duo had already retreated up to the second floor of the Abbey and it looked like they would have to fall back once more.
“Sashar, up the stairs!”
Zandro could sense his brother making his way up to the next floor and the Consul slowly moved backwards, parrying aside blaster bolts as he retreated. He inched up the stairs and chucked his last remaining frag grenade behind him as he came onto the landing and joined his brother on the next floor. The cycloptic Arconae wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his hand and pulled a Westar-34 from the holster at his hip, holding it in his left hand and his lightsaber in his right as he waited for the enemy troops to make their way up the stairs to resume the conflict.
“Only a few more minutes now, it's nearly time.”
Zandro grunted in response and at the sight of a helmeted head on the staircase, opened fire.
Wuntila looked out of the LAAT/i he was standing in and surveyed the city that was flashing past as the craft high-tailed it out of the combat zone. He felt the presence of someone coming up behind him but didn't turn around, his view never leaving the vista outside the transport.
“We're out of range now.”
The statement by Talos was followed by a moment of silence before the order came.
“Tell the fleet to open fire.”
Teroch's shout echoed through the compartment as he stormed over to his Proconsul.
“They're still in the city, they won't have enough time to get out. You're going to kill them!”
Still the blue-skinned humanoid stared out at the city, his face set.
“We...left...zone...-ire when...repeat, fire...ready.”
The communications officer turned to the Captain and shouted, his voice cutting through the noise on the bridge.
“The team is clear sir.”
“Open fire on the location of the sensor beacon.”
Zandro was tired. In truth, he was at the point of exhaustion and it was an effort to even keep his lightsaber moving. He had been fighting for too long and the prospect of it simply stopping almost felt like a relief. He could finally rest.
It was only seconds now.
“It's been a blast vod, I hope you know that.”
“Of course, same to you. Didn't picture it ending this way but there are worse things.”
Zandro chuckled, shaking his head slightly as he dropped his lightsaber to the ground and unholstered his second Westar-34, dual-wielding the weapons and levelling them in front of him.
“Yeah, the dream of a sex-induced heart attack was an unrealistic one you have to admit.”
The Arconae's grin faded and he turned to his brother one last time.
“I'll see you on the fli-”
A thunderous sound ripped through his sentence and suddenly everything erupted. Finally, Zandro Savric Erinos Arconae could rest.