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\--Record Found: SCH-12681-Aurek
The flames burned brightly. All-consuming.
She could see them still; they flickered and danced in the reflection of her amber eyes. Alara closed her eyes tightly and turned away from the viewport before letting them open once more. She knew it was only a trick of her mind. The endless nothing of space allowed visions to afflict her addled mind. Yet it was no illusion that Judecca had burned...and so too did her anger. The well that fueled her power was all but overflowing.
She couldn't sit back and wait for what was to come. She had a part to play as Aedile. Even if she hadn't, the half-Sephi would have found an outlet for her fury. Alara's nostrils flared as she exhaled and tossed the braided, golden strands of her long hair over her shoulder. She needed to scout out potential grounds to start over. A new home for Scholae Palatinae.
"Prepare for arrival," a distorted voice announced through the shuttle's comm system.
About time. Alara made a quick inventory of her equipment, ensuring her weapons were right where she expected them to be. Then she rose from her seat and positioned herself near the boarding ramp. The g-forces began to rock the shuttle around her as they broke through the atmosphere, causing the Aedile to reach out to the nearby handrail for support.
The half-Sephi toggled the nearby intercom, opening up a connection to the pilot. "Drop me just outside the spaceport," Alara instructed.
"There's nowhere to land," came the static-tinged reply.
Alara's eyes narrowed and a low sigh escaped her barely parted lips. It was probably for the best the man on the other end of the comm wasn't within arm's reach. "Then don't land. Just get me there and open the ramp," she said. Not willing to entertain any debate in the matter, the Aedile de-activated the panel and waited for the pilot's compliance.
A yellow light flared to life above her. A cautionary mark just as the durasteel doors hissed open and extended out. Now exposed to the elements, Alara's braid whipped around alongside the cloak that had been resting along her shoulders. The half-breed had to shield her eyes with her forearm as the biting wind caused them to water.
She could see the forest rushing past below her as a green blur. Above the horizon, the sky was coated in dark, angry clouds that threatened to release a storm upon the land below. No wonder the atmospheric entry had been so bumpy. Alara's attention drifted back to the ground as she noticed the shuttle slowing. Smart move by the pilot.
Alara's chest rose and fell as she took a deep breath, steeling herself for what she was about to do. She reached into the Force and bound it to her will. The fiery tendrils of power shot through her body, goosebumps following in its wake. She felt her muscles coil with unnatural strength as she enhanced her body past its limits.
And then she jumped.
Her cloak billowed behind her as she fell, fully revealing her bodysuit which didn't provide much in the way of drag. The drop wasn't quite as low as would be preferable. The wind felt like daggers against her exposed skin, only to be replaced by the sharp branches of the trees as she broke through the canopy. Focused on maintaining her concentration and relaxing her body, Alara extended feet first and prepared to land. Her knees buckled at the point of impact while most of the force was dispersed through her reinforced body.
Despite herself, Alara fell forward and had to prop herself up with a hand. Fresh blood dripped just below her eyes from several cuts on her cheek. She brushed it away with the side of her hand in an act of indifference. Her amber eyes were already scanning the expanse around her. Such a place felt familiar. Relaxing. Yet, it wasn't why she had come. Alara still had a job to do.
"Proceed to the starport. I'll notify you for extraction," the Aedile said into a commlink.
Alara took another breath and began her march through the thicket towards the starport. Trust was a fickle thing. Even more so for her. There was no way she would just show up to meet with a contact under any terms but her own. A little pain was a small price to pay for taking matters into her own hands.
It definitely took a lot longer than Alara had expected, however. Either the pilot had let her off too early or she had miscalculated the distance. As it was, she could feel the sweat beading along her forehead and causing a few strands of hair to stick to her cheek. Her gaze snapped skyward as a crash of thunder declared the storm's growing intent. Rain wasn't going to make things easier.
Alara pulled her hood up and listened to the rumbling clouds above. She broke through the foliage and caught sight of the starport just as the rain began to fall. Fat, heavy drops splashed against the ground, turning the dirt to mud. It coated the edges of her cloak and boots as the half-breed ground her teeth together and crossed the remaining distance to the port's waiting archway.
"Welcome to Tunaria! Do you like swords?" a raspy voice called out over sound of the rain.
Alara tilted her head to see past the corner of her hood. She spotted the short, disheveled man in front of a covered stall of hastily stacked swords in various states of disrepair—a few vibroswords stood out prominently. The man himself looked like he could do with a lot more than a rain shower. His clothes were patched together and his hair was a greasy mess. Then again, as Alara glanced around, most of the crowd shared similar traits.
Due to the quantity of stalls lining the street, it seemed like the starport doubled as a market of sorts. That made sense. Lots of people passing through would lend itself to potential sales. This wasn't where she was supposed to meet her contact though, whom she knew only by the handle 'Nemeth'. They had agreed to a quick transaction. A face to face at the landing pad itself.
Nothing about the place looked amiss. Well, no more than any other shady, backwater spaceport. Yet Alara couldn't shake a feeling of unease. The half-Sephi moved from stall to stall as she watched the sky. The storm didn't look like it would be letting up any time soon. A dreary setting, to say the least.
As luck would have it, Alara didn't have to really engage with any of the locals to find where she needed to go. The port was small and the landing pads stuck out like a sore thumb. Still, it didn't stop them from trying to sell to her. She felt the corner of her lip tug several times as she barely contained a snarl of annoyance.
Finally, she made it to a cluster of shops across the street from what appeared to be the main entrance to the landing pads. Alara quickly glanced both ways before grabbing onto the edges of her hood to hold it in place and running across the mud-soaked surface. The attempt wasn't completely perfect, as her boot got stuck for a moment just as she reached the other side. The sudden shift in her momentum caused the Aedile to pivot about and she ended up half-stumbling with her back to the entrance.
"Th' kriff ya doin', runt? Scram!" a large Devaronian snarled. There weren't many run-of-the-mill helmets that accommodated the male's horns, so his red-skinned face was on full display. He was ugly. Not in terms of aesthetics but the kind of ugly that befell those who led the hardest of lives. Scars and burns weaved a mangled tapestry across his features.
"This is the port, isn't it?" Alara inquired as she turned towards him, keeping her face mostly hidden beneath her hood.
"Aye. An' th' dock be closed," the Devaronian said with a grunt. He shifted his weight back and forth which caused his plated armor to clink together while he made a show of adjusting his rifle's scope. A clear warning. "None be goin' in'r'out."
The benefit of having trust issues, clearly, was that one was so rarely surprised by betrayal. People started to expect it. Armed goons locking down the landing pad where the meeting was supposed to be taking place? If it looks like a loth cat, then it's probably a loth cat.
This Nemeth had set her up.
Perhaps he had been preparing a perimeter to keep people out while they concluded their business. That was possible, but Alara had already been on edge and didn't spare even a thought on alternatives. Anger welled up within her and set her sense alight. Alara's hands grabbed the hilts clipped to her belt and brought them across her front with a yell. She toggled the weapons mid-swing, brilliant beams of gold formed deadly blades with a twin snap-hiss. The lightsabers cut through the door with ease...and the Devaronian that had been guarding it.
Molten edges glowed orange as the pieces fell to the ground. The light of her weapons glistened like living flames in Alara's amber eyes and she wasted no time. She merely stepped over the body and through the entrance beyond. The corridor itself was dimly lit. It probably didn't need much lighting anyway, as it was more or less a straight and short path to the landing pads beyond. The half-breed disengaged her weapons and retrieved her commlink. "Ready for extraction, copy?" Alara asked.
Silence hung heavy as her answer. The pilot knew better than to ignore her. He should have been ready and waiting. So, it was a trap after all. Alara unclasped her cloak and let it fall to the ground, freeing up her movements as she crouched low and creeped out of the corridor. Her eyes took a moment to adjust but the scene before her was pretty clear.
"Well, this is just downright boring. Not to mention expensive. You know these guys get paid by the hour? Who does that?" a robed man complained as he paced back and forth near Alara's shuttle.
The rain had begun to settle, yet seemed to have no intention of relenting entirely. A semi-circle of humanoids stood off to the side. These ones had helmets, but otherwise appeared much the same as the Devaronian she had killed. Part of the same mercenary unit, most likely.
"Daily rates! Flat fees! These are the keys to business," the man in the center continued. "Cost and profit! Do you understand?"
At first Alara thought he was merely monologuing, but the sudden question and turn brought her attention towards the kneeling forms of the shuttle's pilot and navigator. They were fully suited, as expected of those in the service of Palatinae, but their helmets were off to the side. The pilot had tightly cropped, greying hair and a mustache that seemed to be taking on an existence all his own. The navigator, on the other hand, looked like a fairly young man with dirty blonde hair.
"Hm, perhaps you don't. They point and you fly them there, after all. And since you won't tell me where my date ran off to—" The man—clearly Nemeth—interrupted himself by pressing a blaster pistol to the back of the navigator's head and squeezing the trigger.
Another vein of anger shot through Alara from where she was crouched, hiding behind a series of crates. The navigator crumpled forward with a charred hole in the back of his head and faint tendrils of smoke wafting into the air.
"—where's the profit in keeping you both around, eh?"
The half-Sephi's breathing deepened as she began to seethe. The world turned red, as the saying goes, and her mind began to hone in on the singular thought of killing that man.
"Now, I ask you again, Mr. Pilot. And might I remind you what befell the Cocytus system," Nemeth said. "Where is Alara Deathbane?"
A yell of rage interrupted them as Alara bounded over the containers, leaping off the edge and landing with both her blades impaling the closest of the mercs. She looked up with an almost feral look in her eyes as she remained in an animalistic crouch above her victim.
The remaining combatants shuffled back in search of cover while training their rifles on the half-Sephi. The blasters roared to life and sent a cascade of streaking plasma towards her. Alara brought her weapons up and weaved them through the air in a quick kata that deflect the more dangerous of the shots before rolling to the side.
"There she is! How rude of you to keep me waiting. I thought you wanted information about this system, did you not? To find yourselves a new little rock to crawl under," Nemeth shouted over the sudden chaos. He put his back to the pilot, no longer affording him any attention now that the Aedile had arrived. That gave him the chance to slink away and get to cover of his own.
Finding herself under concentrated fire, Alara pivoted out of view and pressed her back to some boxes. She quickly glanced out in an attempt to take stock of the situation. Three mercs remained and one Nemeth. If she could, she'd be saving him for last. Alara took advantage of a brief pause and slipped around the corner. She willed herself to move faster and faster, channeling the Force into her legs.
Alara broke out into a full run, announcing her charge with another anger-filled yell. She lept into the air with a pivot and swung her leg around, kicking at one of the mercs. He yelped in surprise as he found his rifle soaring out of his grasp from the collision and skidding across the durasteel panels beneath their feet. He reached for his sidearm just as Alara fell upon him. A whirlwind of golden hair and lightsabers blurred in front of him and the merc's helmet fell to the ground, not exactly empty of its contents.
At the back of her mind, Alara was dimly aware of a warning shouted through the Force. She didn't have time to react so she merely pressed forward. Always forward. A series of blaster bolts shot over her shoulder and plastered against the chest panel of a merc who was lining up a shot behind her. She glanced to the source of the shots and saw the pilot lying prone with one of the mercs' rifles in his grasp.
He was already aiming for another target, forcing one of the two remaining mercs into hiding. Alara was still charging, dropping onto her knees and letting her momentum slide her forward. She thrust her sabers forward and watched as the tips plunged into the container with bright orange rings around them. The cry from the other side meant she had found her mark.
A cable suddenly wrapped around the half-Sephi, constricting her arms against her sides before locking in place against itself. She turned her head with a snarl and spotted the cable extending from Nemeth's left wrist.
"I mean, I probably should thank you for letting me off the hook for paying those folks, but I can't just sit here and let you rampage," he said. His face wasn't visible beneath his hood, but she could tell he was grinning. "I wonder what information I can squeeze out of you...or how much I'm going to have to hurt you to make you break."
Confident that Alara was secure, Nemeth glanced up and aimed his pistol, quickly taking care of the remaining merc himself. The pilot was still armed, however, and took several shots at Nemeth. The man activated his rocket boots and kicked off the ground. He slid into cover, dragging Alara roughly across the ground. She winced and ground her teeth together to keep from biting her own tongue.
Another series of shots cascaded against the crate protecting Nemeth. He poked his head around just enough to shout across the landing pad. "Come on, Mr. Pilot! You don't have to die here. Loyalty doesn't pay... except when it does. Then it can pay quite a lot actually. But this isn't one of those times!"
"I'm not going to die," the man shouted back. His baritone was a lot richer than it had been over the comm system. "You're gonna pay for what you did to my navigator, though." He continued to fire, seemingly wildly as shots ricocheted or missed entirely.
"Really? How you gonna do that if you can't even hit me?!"
"Wasn't aiming for you," the pilot answered.
Nemeth paused for a moment before realizing the cable at his wrist had grown remarkably slack. "Oh, hell—"
Alara was upon him with a howl of pure, animalistic rage. Her fury had consumed her entirely and burned within every inch of her muscles. She raked her nails across his face, catching skin and blood beneath them. Nemeth tried to raise his arms defensively but she merely took the opportunity to grasp onto his forearm and bicep before snapping his joint in a direction it wasn't meant to go.
It was Nemeth's turn to howl. To cry out in pain. Mounted atop him, Alara continued to slam a series of hammer fists against his chest. Again and again she pounded against him with his body caving more with each strike. He coughed up blood, unable to do anything more than lie there while the half-Sephi quite literally crushed his chest inward.
She was panting then. Her nostrils flaring as she inhaled in before letting out a ragged breath through her open mouth. Alara felt weak and sick all at once, but found herself unable to move as her power seeped away. She was locked in place by her own body.
"I think he's dead, ma'am," the pilot announced, far closer than the half-breed remembered him being.
She blinked and looked up at him with her amber eyes, trying to say something but only a hoarse whisper escaped. Alara swallowed hard and winced at the pain of it. She licked her lips before trying again. "Prepare...the shuttle," she managed.
"Aye," he acknowledged with a quick salute before complying.
Alara sank back as he left, reclaiming some control over her body. She wiped her arm across her forehead and let out a long exhale. She ached all over and just wanted to sleep. That was something she could do in the shuttle. First, she had to at least try to see if anything could be salvaged from this excursion.
The half-Sephi began peeling away layers of Nemeth's clothing, looking for anything she could take with her. Perhaps even a datachip. Instead, she found his encrypted datapad still secured to his belt. That could prove even more useful. Especially if the information he had claimed to possess about the nearby systems proved to be more than immaterial bait.
That was something, at least. Enough to justify it. Alara groaned and found her footing, making her way to the shuttle.
Maybe it would be worth it in the end.
\--End Of Record...