Welcome! As the title indicates, here you will find Fiction Updates related to Clan Arcona. Enjoy!
(In which the Consul plans a party, which will surely be completely innocuous.)
Office of the Consul
Selen, Dajorra System
“Well, Junazee seems to be settling in,” Lucine said as she weighed the report in her hands. The newly minted Quaestor of Galeres had jumped in with both feet in undertaking the task of getting her new House under control, and thus far it seemed like things were going well.
She placed the report into the bin to be filed, before looking at the mountainous stacks of datapads and flimsiplasts that remained on her desk. She sighed and picked up another datapad. One task was done, but there were so many more to do.
Her sigh caught the attention of the Proconsul, who looked up from his own stack of reports. “You know, you could delegate some of that,” he said.
“Oh, you mean like when I delegated the task of hiring a Rollmaster?”
The Chiss suppressed a minuscule smile. “My dear, you are constantly going on about Strong’s many talents. I simply put them to good use for the clan.”
The Shadow Lady shifted in her seat so that she could see Rhylance around the stack of reports and shot him a glare. “There is the fact that being Rollmaster would force him to spend the bulk of his time away from the Citadel. I am certain that did not figure into the equation at all.”
“The thought never even crossed my mind,” Rhylace replied mildly, though they both knew that he was lying. In truth, it had been the primary reason why he had selected Strong.
Lucine bit back a retort. She could not deny that Strong was doing an excellent job so far, but she did not have to like it. But at least it was one less thing she had to worry about.
She rose from her seat and went to the window, which had been opened to allow in some fresh air and sunlight. Below, evidence of a variety of construction projects could be seen throughout Estle City. It seemed that something was being built on almost every street.
Kordath’s solution to the unrest had been to raid Collective ships in search of food and vital supplies. It had worked well in the short term, but would not be sustainable in the long run. And so Lucine had focused on creating jobs for the populace. After all, an employed civilian had less time to plan riots.
But all of the construction projects required money to pay for supplies and labor. Stimulating trade was a necessary next step, which was why it was so important for the trade deal with the Severian Principate to succeed. Delegates from the Severian Principate would arrive in a few days, and the trade talks would begin in earnest.
And what better way to start the talks than with a gala? It would be the perfect way to display the clan’s wealth and power. And what’s more, with all of the Arconans gathered together, she could accomplish some of her other long term goals, killing two birds with one stone.
The Sith allowed herself a small smile as she flipped through her mental to-do list. It seemed that things were well in hand. The invitations and proper apparel had been sent out. The CItadel had been scrubbed until it gleamed, and all of the rooms had been aired to get the Ryn-smell out. All of the necessary preparations had been made. So far, everything was going according to plan.
((In which the gala is an explosive success!)
Selen, Dajorra System
The magical night had begun. The guests gathered in the Citadel, dressed in their finest clothes. For the commoners, it was a rare opportunity to dine on the finest food and drink for free. For the Arconans and delegates present, it was an opportunity to make political inroads and gather potential ammunition in the trade talks that would start the next day.
Lucine Vasano was in her element. After a frantic few weeks of preparation, it was time to see if all of her carefully laid plans would bear fruit. She took a step back to survey her guests, savoring the swirl of laughter and conversation around her. Even if every single one of her plans failed, at least she could be credited with throwing a successful party.
Even the beasts seem to be having a good time, she noted as she observed two Cythrauls weaving amid the revelers. She had tasked a few of the beleaguered attendants with keeping Ivoshar and Fela away from the more allergic guests, but for the most part they were allowed free reign. Why not? Their presence seemed to put Attyiru at ease.
She scanned the crowd until she found her former Master, making her rounds with the delegates with a brooding Marick close-by. The Miraluka seemed her usual, chipper self, though she would occasionally lift her hand to touch her now short hair in the absent-minded manner. Lucine made a mental note of her former Master’s unconscious movements, before continuing her examination of the crowd.
Tali Sroka, the Qel-Droman Quaestor, appeared uncomfortable as she tried to converse with Miinu, a Severian Principate intelligence officer and mid-ranking delegate. Across the room, Yumni Ha appeared to be having similar difficulties with a Dug merchant. Near one of the snack tables that had been strategically placed around the room, Tyga made first contact with Kurfacril Fenn, a member of the Severian Principate’s security detail. Nearby, Aru Law chatted with his date, a lovely Twi’lek by the name of Amis Jumah. It seemed that the Arconans were hard at work, creating ties necessary to ensure that the upcoming trade talks would be successful.
Sensing a new presence at her elbow, Lucine turned to see her butler, Tabriss, standing beside her. “There have been reports that an uninvited guest has set up a nest on the roof of the Atyiru Caesura Memorial Hospital.”
“Excellent. I am gratified to hear that the DIA are being ever vigilant,” the Shadow Lady murmured as she scanned the crowded room. Her eyes fell upon a familiar Zabrak disappearing onto the balcony. “Be a dear and bring Sera Kaern to me. Also, remind me later to rename that hospital.”
The Chiss butler inclined his head slightly and disappeared into the crowd. As she waited for him, Lucine moved to a place in the room where she could easily see the hospital through the window while still being shielded by party-goers.
Sera appeared a few minutes later. She cut a striking figure in her pristine white dress that pulled double duty of making the Zabrak look virtuous and approachable at the same time. Sera was accompanied by a susurrus of whispers and admiring looks as those present noted her arrival. Clearly the Zabrak was making a name for herself with all of her recent heroics, a situation that pleased the Shadow Lady to no end. Sera, however, seemed less pleased. She looked decidedly uncomfortable with all of the attention being afforded to her.
“Having fun, darling?” Lucine asked.
“Uhm… yes,” Sera replied as she watched the sideways glances and adoring smiles. “It sure seems like I’m popular.”
“It certainly seems that way,” Lucine agreed pleasantly. “It appears that your recent heroics have earned you quite the reputation. But you do not seem to be enjoying the attention. Would you mind doing me a small favor? It will get you away from the party and out of the limelight for a bit.”
The Zabrak’s hesitation was just long enough to be telling, just long enough to cause Lucine to raise her eyebrows. “Sure. What do you need?” Sera asked at last, trying to hide her discomfiture by brushing away an invisible speck of dust from her dress.
“There are reports that there is a sniper on the roof of the Atyiru Caesura Memorial Hospital. Would you be a dear and remove them before they hurt someone?”
“Oh! Yes, I can do that,” Sera replied, her relief visible in how quickly and brightly she responded to the request. She lightly patted the knife that was strapped too her thigh. It occurred to Lucine that Sera never seemed to be without it, making her suspect that it was something more than a cutting edge fashion accessory.
“What? Did you think I was going to ask you to do something awful?” the Shadow Lady asked sweetly.
“No, of course not!”
“Of course not,” Lucine echoed. “Well, have fun, darling. I am certain that the adoring masses will have forgotten all about you by the time you return!”
The Zabrak smiled brightly at the prospect and hurried off to embark upon her mission. Lucine smiled at Sera’s earnestness. Yes, she will do nicely.
But the redhead’s internal gloating was abruptly cut short with the approach of a slender, bespectacled Chiss. “Rhylance! It appears the gala is going well so far, wouldn’t you agree?”
“It appears to be the case,” the Proconsul replied with the barest hint of a smile, before switching to Cheunh. “It appears we may have a problem.”
“Alaisy just informed me that she has discovered some sort of plot to poison certain members of our delegation,” Rhylance said.
“That is awful! I trust you allayed her concerns?”
“Quite the contrary. I encouraged her to investigate further,” the Proconsul said, pushing his glasses up in a manner that caused the light to glint off of the lenses.
Lucine raised her eyebrows at his response. “And what happens if she discovers our own plot to drug certain members of the Principate delegation?”
“She is looking in the wrong direction. I’ll make sure that she continues to do so,” Rhylance said. “In the meantime, our friend from the Severian Principate is enjoying the cocktails I sent him.”
“Fantastic, then I will make a point to talk to him in the very near future.” Lucine started to say more, but her eyes fell upon Tali. Apparently, the negotiations were complete for the moment, as she had found her way onto the dance floor and into a slow dance with Strong.
“They look cozy,” Rhylance pointed out, having figured out exactly what the redhead was looking at. “I am gratified to see that Strong is working hard to develop good working relationships with members of the House Summits.”
“Indeed,” Lucine replied through gritted teeth. She took a deep breath, and pasted a courtier’s smile on her face. “And speaking of which, it is time for me to develop some working relationships as well.”
Lucine glanced at her chrono. It was almost midnight. Soon the gala would end, and the various delegates would retire to prepare for the long days of negotiations ahead.
So far, the party could be considered a success. Diplomatic ties had been established, preliminary agreements had been made. Sera had returned from her task, and even Tali and Yumni appeared to have some success in their discussions. At least, that was the assumption, given how much time Tali and Strong spent together during the latter part of the evening.
Lucine herself had personally ensured that she had spoken with every member of the Severian Principate’s delegation, including one very special person.
In the days leading up to the gala, the most difficult task for the Shadow Lady and Shadow Scion was to find the person who would play the central role in their scheme. It had taken hours of scouring the roster of Severian Principate delegates and DIA intelligence before they found a suitable individual. But they finally did: Gavin Hamich, a low ranking official with a dead-end career and Collective sympathies.
It was this man whom Lucine sought out, making sure that she spoke with a number of other people before and after him to prevent suspicion. When she finally did speak with him, she used a combination of the Force and honeyed words to plant a series of suggestions in the man’s mind.
He left the party shortly after their little talk, wearing an odd, determined expression on his face. His departure was barely noticed, due to the appearance of a half-Iridonian clone. Though the clone sparked Rhylance’s interest, Atyiru quickly took charge of her, forcing the Shadow Scion to return to his duties as one of the party’s hosts.
The evening passed pleasantly, and as the final minute of the day wound down, the delegates of both groups gathered for the final toast of the party. The first indication that something was wrong came when Hamich rudely shoved his way through the crowd, breaking Principate etiquette to place himself closer to the Arconan delegation.
Before anyone could chastise him for his rudeness, he began to shout. “TRAITORS! YOU DINE WITH MURDERS! FOR LYRA! FOR FREEDOM! FOR THE COLLECTIVE! UNTIL ALL CHAINS ARE BROKEN!” He then tore open his suit coat to reveal the explosives that were strapped to his body.
The resulting explosion sent those nearest to him sprawling, some with worse injuries than others. Lucine herself found herself sprawled a few feet away from where she had previously stood, bruised and covered in a substance that she did not want to think too much about. She could vaguely hear moans and cries of pain over the ringing of her ears. A number of people were huddled on the ground, but most appeared to be still alive. Atyiru worked her way among the huddled forms, doing what she could to heal and comfort the wounded even despite her own injuries.
Nearby, the leader of the Severian Principate’s delegation surveyed the chaos with a stunned expression. Lucine fully intended to take her to task later, for bringing a terrorist to their peaceful negotiations. It would put Arcona at a significant advantage in the trade talks. All at the cost of a single Collective supporter’s life, and a few minor injuries.
Everything had gone according to plan.
In the earliest hours of the morning, Lucine Vasano reclined back in her office chair with what, by courtier standards, could nearly be called a sigh. From her, it was but a delicate exhale and a long blink of emerald eyes that, in the privacy of her own space, actually appeared tired. Her manicured fingers paused in their marathon of typing at her datapad as she sipped her drink, contemplating.
It had already been quite a long night, but there was still more to be done, and so she would see to it. The Consul of the First Clan could not simply dally.
She set aside her teacup, and Tabriss, because he was one hell of a Butler and ever dutiful, stepped forward to refill it immediately. The waft of steam filled her lungs with a brief sensation of bliss and slightly abated her headache with the promise of more caffeine. Lucine awarded him a soft word of thanks, and the Chiss bowed primly before stepping back without a sound. He would see to her every need in silence, and the aides would not disturb her unless it was emergent, at her order. She simply had too much to attend to.
This was the problem with managing fringe elements before they grew to be more than just that; finding a path forward that would benefit the whole and accomplish what needed be accomplished without extremists too badly persuading the outcomes.
The redhead’s hand fell subconsciously to the Sith dagger on her belt, stroking it briefly, gaze drifting marginally from her desk. Extremists indeed.
Really, there were very few who openly opposed her. In fact, in that regard, there was…Satsi, damn her, and what vitriol the woman tried to spread amongst her confidants. That was easy to understand. The two’s hatred of one another was a mutual thing born of their respective tendencies to eliminate threats to themselves thoroughly. Even Karran, on whom Tameike’s mutterings has no doubt left their impression, had only recently shown any hint of insubordination, and his feelings were actually somewhat admirable, if predictable. The Voidbreaker Captain simply cared more for the personal bonds between his crew than either the Clan or the chain of command that preserved it. It was a common enough trait among lower leadership, and worked perfectly well in smuggling crews and the like, but would not do for a structure as complicated and necessary as Arcona, where cohesiveness was how they would inevitably live or die through all the external trials they faced.
Lucine sighed again, tapping one manicured fingertip on the dagger hilt, sensing the hunger within.
It had been a simple move, if slightly cruel, to disrupt Karran’s little bubble — and not even particularly cruel at that, given he already expected it of her and would view her actions with enmity regardless of their intent or effectiveness. More importantly, moving Sera Kaern to Selen gave Spectre Cell a new fount of tireless energy to lead them, and would ensure the wayward Voidbreakers felt some ties back to their home planet and Clan when being isolated on their ship had otherwise eroded that kinship; such was the way of soldiers stationed abroad too long.
Indeed, the whole thing had inspired another similar move, because no matter how small that amount of dissent, Lucine knew it would only grow if left unchecked. Some in the Clan saw her as threatening despite all her efforts to keep Qel-Droma thriving every step of the way no matter what it took, from Battleteam Leader to Aedile to Quaestor. Now, the Consul sought to make sure her entire people saw its day in the sun — metaphorically, of course. They were the Shadow Clan, after all — and if in doing so she had to make some more personal and political sacrifices, then so be it.
Rhylance, for all his own efforts and interests in Arcona’s wellbeing, was little trusted. It was easy to blame the doctor for just about anything that went wrong with one wild theory about mad scientists or another. Moreover, there was some discomfort at their mutual rise to power; most Quaestor and Aedile pairs were not so effective nor so agreeable as to advance together, and rarely was there such a need in the power structure at once. Kordath’s ill-fated attempted assassination had shoved such circumstances upon them — though at least his paranoia was mollified by his new position as the Director of the Dajorra Intelligence Agency. Others, however, were not.
And so, while Lucine relied on the doctor as a right hand in many things and found his mind useful, the whispers remained. Whispers she needed to assuage. Merely reassigning the Chiss to his research wouldn’t be enough though. She still needed a second, preferably one whose ideologies and appearance was more directly opposed to her own, someone who could be seen as balancing her, so long as they shared her goal of Arconan success. That would go a long way in curbing any brewing dissent among the ranks, small though it was.
Hope that the people love you better, Deshra, she thought at the Human’s face as she closed her last report on supply designations for Eldar and manufacturing manifests from Ol’Val, instead pulling up his dossier. Aiden Lee was not well known amongst the Clan, despite his quiet presence for some time, but he did have a reputation as a moderate man and a devout of the Force. He proclaimed beliefs in justice, fairness, the like, and was a fresher face. A solid choice.
A painful choice, but a necessary one.
Lucine flicked her fingers irritably, flicking that thought away. She could not afford to dwell on her own feelings of isolation or her stress in her position. Too much to be done. So much, if the Clan were to succeed. And that, that she would do whatever she needed to do to ensure.
“Arcona Invicta,” the woman murmured in her High Coruscanti tones, without a hint of irony, waving at Tabriss so he would brew another pot. She was going to need it.
The Shadow Lady picked her datapad back up. Outside, birds finally began stirring with the dawn.
There was work to be done.
I have so much work to do.
Such was Sera’s thought as she strode to the sparring rings, the ocean breeze not doing much to halt the unrelenting sun. Though there was only one, it felt like there had to be three. Or like she was in a sauna. Her home was a desert world, and both the Voidbreaker and Port Ol’Val had been climate-controlled. Meanwhile, Selen’s tropical beauty had more water than she could really wrap her head or horns around, and she’d probably sweated out two of herself just this morning.
Oh, well. Just another challenge to beat! One more for the list!
A…long list. Oh, boy.
She’d only been in charge maybe a week now, but in that time she’d been welcomed to Selen by Satsi’s…uniquely threatening brand of offering help, attended small meet-and-greet party that devolved into a dramatic disaster, and organized a good old training session that had ended in a screaming match between two of the attendants. And they weren’t even technically part of her team. Or so Strong liked to keep reminding her. He thought she should focus more narrowly. Sera thought these zerkas needed a good kick in the head and a talking to about how to treat their friends; because that’s what teams — tribes, whatever you called them — were: friends.
Spectre Cell, and Galereians in general, she was finding, were not very good at that part. Really very scarily effective killers and fighters, obviously effective as the strike team needed to be, but not much for camaraderie. Not at all like her family on the Voidbreaker. Well, she would fix that! She was determined! They’d practice and try until they became more than just a miniature army all their own. They’d be a team.
Smiling her bright, toothy grin, Sera waved as she spotted her normally-grumpy Aedile, Skar, already at the training grounds with the odd little half-Zabrak he called his niece, Aay’han. Aay’han waved back furiously, her own smile present, little red horns spots of color on her, and called a greeting in Zabraki that Sera had started teaching the young girl. Beaming, Sera shouted one back.
“Hey, everyone!” the new commander greeted, offering waves to Qyreia where she was talking to Xenna, to Vai, who seemed to be discussing something about civil services with Tyga — and Sera had a proposal from him to read about a fire brigade, oops — and to the quiet Barabel who’d been brought to Arcona just recently from that terrible prison on Tenixir. Only some of them waved back, but others nodded, and Sera just smiled wider. That was a start! And a start was all she needed. Drug operation to bust up? Civilization to rebuild? Pirate butt to kick? Didn’t matter! Together, they could all do anything.
She’d make sure of it.
“Now, like this, see?”
A clattering noise, shuffled steps, a squeal of approval.
“Yes, just like that! Perfect form, Ziggydiggy.”
“Wynning,” the man emphasized, repeating the action of double finger-guns and winking. The Zygerrian followed suit. “Yas, girl! See, with moves like this and your awesome zabbing, Tall, Shiny, and Scary won’t be able to take her eyes off yo— owwww, ow ow, ow, no. Why?”
Zig had punched him in the arm. Hard.
Nearby, Karran hissed at them.
“Zig, Wyn, please. Tali will be here at any moment to make her announcement and we do not need to be rude.”
“Sorry, Cap,” Zig replied, though Tyris just tipped his hat — where had he even gotten this one, and what had he traded for it? Looked like it had come from the trash. Karran mentally noted to check none of his valuables were missing later. “We’ll be good, don’t worry.” Then, she lowered her voice not much at all and stage-whispered to Wyn, “He’s just mad 'cause he misses Serry.”
“Oh, is that all? Hang on, I’ll get a dagger and fill in, I make a great lady—”
“Vhat vas that?” asked a pretty accented voice as their Quaestor stepped into the small meeting room, dressed in her robes, lekku tumbling gracefully over her shoulders. Aru Law followed after her, head held high.
“My Lady,” Karran greeted, bowing his head. Walking over with a deadly click of knife-sharp heels and so tall her ponytail brushed the ceiling came Alaisy, to whom Aru bowed himself.
“Mistress! It is good to see you!”
“Hello, Apprentice,” replied the Sith from behind her helmet.
“Shall ve commence?” asked Tali, ever amicable in her calm command, gliding over to the head of the table. Aru straightened and followed her. “Everyone has gatheredt?”
“Yes, Quaestor,” Karran said, only to be interrupted by a loud crunching noise. Everyone glanced over to where Sulith sat, newly scarred and still adjusting to a prosthetic arm, but not at all so deterred as to keep him from his popcorn addiction. He munched a tub by handfuls, with which he gave a friendly if messy wave.
“Hello again Miss Sroka!”
Tali smiled. “Hello, Sully. I am pleasedt to see you vell. Now, to business.”
With a gesture, she pulled up a holographic map of the asteroid they stood on.
“To begin, please velcome Aru to his first meeting as your new Aedile. Give him all your respect.” Salutes and nods went up, and the Quaestor stepped back.
Aedile Law stepped forward. “Good afternoon, everyone. I shall endeavor to serve you to my utmost ability, that we may all do our best for Arcona. To that very end, we would like to compliment you on your efforts so far as a crew. They have been remarkable. All of you have done well aboard the Voidbreaker, and Qel-Droma is stronger for your works and for those of our Housemates on Tenixir. Magik, Archian, thank you for your successes there.” He nodded to each man in turn. “That said, we have decided it would be best to focus on our home front for a time. All the Voidbreaker’s time so far has been largely drawn off world, be it for slave rebellions or tearing down Sith temples,” he explained, pride in his tone. “But now the port needs us.”
“Ve vill take this time to establish more footholdts andt rebuild our assets as the Blindt Man,” Tali took up. “Marick and Atyriu have already agreedt to lendt their home, apothecary, andt clinic as a safehouse to any Qel-Droman in needt. Our other past contacts have grown veaker, however. Let us remindt them of our bondts andt form some new ones, that our position andt our home here may prosper. Yes?”
A chorus of agreement answered her.
Will of our Lady
Just outside the Dajorra System
Marick Tyris stood in silent vigil against the wall of Medbay 1-Aurek, studying his surroundings with the practiced eye of a master spy. The medical bay was packed full of wounded from the conflict with the Collective. All of the private rooms held triple or even quadruple their occupancy, and pallets had been set up in the hallways to allow even more of the wounded to be treated.
He kept his sharp too-blue eyes moving, taking in every detail. The cries and groans of the injured, the metallic tang of blood mixed with the odor of antiseptic and bacta, the harried expressions and hollow eyes of the medics as they moved from one patient to the next. He missed nothing, not even as the Duros ‘orderly’ who kept wheeling his cart past the room where Marick was keeping watch.
As if summoned, the Duros appeared once more, pushing a cart laden with clean bed linens, seemingly unmindful of the cart’s squeaky front-left wheel. The bug-eyed humanoid’s gaze was constantly moving, searching for threats. The lines of his blaster were invisible to all but the trained eyes of a professional. He stopped periodically, ostensibly to check on one of the patients in the hallway, though he would invariably glance toward the room where Marick stood guard.
Their eyes briefly met, and it was the Duros who looked away first. No words were exchanged as the ‘orderly’ continued down the hall on his rounds. Marick could appreciate that bit of professionalism, at least.
He turned his gaze back to the closed door. It was the only room in the medbay that had a single occupant. It was being attended by only a single doctor, one who had a reputation for being discreet. And he had counted at least three others like the Duros, men and women with hard eyes and hidden weapons who had obviously been assigned to quietly guard the room. Summit guard, perhaps, or DIA.
Before the Duros, or any of the other guards could come back around, the door slid open to reveal a blindfolded Miraluka. Atyiru’s face turned toward him, and she gave him a warm smile in greeting.
“He’s resting now,” she said in response to his unspoken question as she gave him a weary smile. “I think we’re through the worst of it, thank Ashla and Bogan.”
The fact that the mysterious patient was alive at all was thanks to Atyiru, first for saving him and then for spending the long hours healing him. His injuries had been severe, so much so that most would have given up on him. But with her usual tireless determination, she had brought him back from the brink of death. And, while Marick was proud of her and her accomplishment, he was also glad that she would finally be able to get some rest.
But instead of turning toward the medbay doors, she bent over one of the patients that lay sprawled in the hallway. “Atyiru,” he said reproachfully. “That is enough for one day.”
“They need me, Marry,” the Miraluka replied. “I can help them.”
“The medics here are doing a fine job. You are no good to them if you are exhausted,” Marick replied. “You need your rest. Both of you do.”
At his words, a smile shone past Atty’s weariness as her hand fluttered, just for an instant, to her flat stomach. But still, she protested. “Just one or two?” she asked, even as she stifled a yawn.
“Perhaps later," the Hapan replied as he gently took her arm. He could smell the scent of wildflowers in her hair, even here, light years away from any plant life. There had been a time recently that he had thought he had lost her forever. Now that she had returned, he would do anything to protect her.
As he led her away, he cast his gaze over his shoulder at the room Atyiru had just emerged from. The meaning of his look was clear: Do not fail in your duties. He could only hope that her decision to spare its occupant was not one that she, that they, would regret.
Qyreia Arronen leaned back in her chair and breathed a contented sigh. Now that she was alone in her temporary quarters, she felt like she could finally relax. With the war finally over, she was looking forward to some R&R. No higher-ups asking things of her, no Force-Users to babysit, and more importantly, no Collective frack-heads shooting at her. It sounded like a wonderful time.
Much better than what the higher-ups had planned for when they returned to Selen. Apparently, someone had decided that it would be a good idea to send the Arconans to some ritzy resort as a reward for kicking ass during the war. Hobnobbing with rich schuttas didn’t sound ideal, but at least the bar would probably be fully stocked, and the holos of the beach looked beautiful.
The Zeltron’s chain of thought was interrupted by a chime from her personal datapad, and Qyreia suppressed a grin. That was likely Keira, demanding an update on how her recovery was going. She rose and stretched, feeling the dull ache from sore muscles and healing wounds. She’d been lucky this time around, and had only suffered minor injuries from the conflict.
But as she opened up the interface, she saw that the call was not from her fiance, but from an old friend. “Hey Qyreia! How’s it going?” the Human’s deeply tanned face split into a broad grin after she accepted the call.
“No complaints here. What about you, kid?” Qyreia asked, returning his grin with an easy smile of her own. She had first met Jace during her days as Quaestor, when he had been little more than a fresh-faced recruit. He had looked up to her, and in turn she had tried to show him the ropes so that he wouldn’t get himself killed on his first foray.
Apparently, the lessons took. The kid had grown in both maturity and skill under Qyreia’s guidance. The boy had grown into a man, and though he was no longer under her direct command, they still made an effort to keep in touch, not unlike some of the other military personalities between the AEF and DDF…
The next few minutes passed in pleasant conversation, as they got caught up. Word had already reached Jace about some of Qyreia’s exploits during the most recent conflicts with the Collective, and he congratulated her on their most recent victory.
“What about you, kid?” the Zeltron asked.
“Nothing as exciting as you,” Jace replied. “I’ve been assigned to guard some of the brains at SIMASS. I’ve been sitting around on some island on Selen, watching them poke at some old ruins. The beach has been nice, but I’m bored to tears out here.”
“Hah. I wish I had your problems,” the merc replied dryly. “What’re they looking for, anyway?”
“Hell if I know,” Jace said with a shrug and an eyeroll. “They don’t really talk to me. I’m just the muscle. We’ve been touring a whole bunch of ruins, but they got really excited about this one for some reason. We’ve been dug in here in ever since.”
“Well, I wouldn’t get too relaxed. Those science frackers can get up to some pretty nasty stuff when they put their minds to it,” Qyreia said.
“I’ll keep that in mind. But really, these people just seem like a bunch of history nerds. It’s almost funny how excited they are getting about these old ruins,” Jace replied.
From there, the conversation meandered on, ending with the two of them making plans to get together next time Jace had some leave. “I’m pretty sure I still owe you a few drinks from all the times you saved my ass.”
“Damn right you do,” Qyreia replied with a grin. “All right, kid. I’ll see you around.” The call disconnected, and she leaned back in her chair, smiling faintly as she recalled the conversation. But her smile faded slightly as she wondered, what could those SIMASS scientists be up to this time? And why did they need military personnel around while they were doing it?
Alaisy Tir’eivra stood at the viewport, gazing thoughtfully at the starfield beyond the transparisteel. Stars and distant planets sparkled with cold light amid an icy and uncaring void. Here in the Dajorra system she knew the positions of the stars better than anything else, largely due to the countless hours she spent studying them. Gradually, they had given up their secrets to her, secrets that hinted at vast knowledge and unlimited power.
Her smoky grey eyes went directly to Ereboros, which was still only a pale yellow spark in the distance. In a few weeks time, three of its moons would be in direct alignment, during a time when Ereboros itself would be in conjunction with Selen. It was a rare astronomical event, and her divinations told her that it would lead to a period of upheaval and opportunity within the Dajorra system.
She gave the distant planet one last look before turning away from the viewport. She strode back to her quarters, moving with unnatural grace in her tall boots. The war had come at an inconvenient time. There was still so much research left to do if she wanted to be prepared for the upcoming celestial event. But at least it had one benefit: she had managed to obtain a few resources from the Shadow Academy that would help her research significantly.
As the door of her quarters slid shut behind her, she engaged the locking mechanism before breathing a quiet sigh. Alone at last, and away from distractions.
“P.H.I.L.,” she murmured to the combat droid, “Prepare some tea. I suspect this is going to be a long night.” As the droid moved to comply, she retrieved her notes and the stolen artifacts from hidden compartments in her luggage. As she did so, she could feel anticipation starting to build. A slow, cool smile spread across her lips. What would her research reveal? And how could she best capitalize on it?
“I cannot believe how much this is going to cost. And you say the resort owner is cutting you a deal?” Aiden Lee Deshra said as he stared reproachfully at the datapad interface. Unfortunately, his glare didn’t make the cost any less expensive.
“Yes, darling, the proprietor owed me a favor, and so he is giving us a more favorable rate,” Lucine Vasano replied with a shrug. “I do not know what you were expecting. This is the most exclusive resort on Selen. Of course it is going to be expensive.”
“I thought we were trying to get Estle City’s economy back on track, and needed every credit to do it,” Aiden grumbled. The Proconsul shook his head as he closed the expense file. “This just seems like an unnecessary expense.”
“Yes, that is a priority. But the funds we received from our exploits during the war means that we can afford some extravagance. The fact is that our people performed exceptionally well during the conflict, and therefore deserve to be rewarded,” Lucine said.
“I would think they’d prefer to have their monthly stipends increased, or perhaps have a larger allocation for resources,” the Proconsul said dryly.
The redhead offered him a sweet smile. “I am told by the very gifted and competent accountants that we employ that we can afford to do both.” She picked up her personal datapad and spun in her overstuffed chair so that she was facing away from him. “Now, is there anything else? If not, then there are other matters that require my attention.”
Aiden frowned slightly at her words. Her tone had already taken on a distracted quality, one that he had heard many times over the past few months. Though he did not know Lucine very well, he was beginning to become concerned. “Yes, actually. On my way in Bly handed me a datapad to give to you. He said it was for Project Buried Shadow?”
Aiden was not sure if the small sound she made was understanding, or a prompt to continue speaking. He pressed on. “I’m not familiar with that particular operation. What is it?”
A pale, slender hand appeared over the chair, giving a dismissive wave. “I have some sociologists out of SIMASS studying the local culture. Myths, legends, architecture, that sort of thing. The idea is to see if there are aspects of Selenian culture that we can use to further solidify our control over the planet.”
Aiden’s eyes narrowed. “That seems really unethical.”
Lucine spun in her chair to face him once more. “I suppose some might consider it to be so. But consider this. A little over a year ago, the Selenians were rioting. If we can find a common link that will allow us to live peaceably together, then where is the harm?”
The Grey Jedi studied the redhead closely. On its face, the explanation seemed reasonable. But he could not shake the feeling that she was not being entirely forthcoming. “And that’s all it is?”
The redhead raised her eyebrows at him, before sighing. “I do tire of everyone immediately thinking that I am plotting nefarious deeds.” After a moment, she tapped on her datapad. He glanced down at his own device to see that she was transmitting a file to him. “Here, darling. That is everything I have regarding Project Buried Shadow. Feel free to review it.”
Aiden opened the file to reveal holos of architectural ruins. He glanced up at Lucine to find him studying him with an unreadable expression. “All right, I will,” he said.
“Fabulous. I personally found it to be rather dry reading, but perhaps you will enjoy it,” the redhead said, leaning back in her chair. Aiden turned to leave. With his back to her, he failed to see the slow, calculating smile that spread across her face.
Lieutenant Jace Irunel slung his repeating blaster rifle and mopped the sweat from his brow. The oppressive heat was starting to abate as the sun slid toward the horizon, but he knew better than to hope for any semblance of comfort now that night was falling. The humidity would remain, and with the darkness would come large, hungry insects that were impervious to pesticides.
He couldn’t say this was his most miserable assignment, but it definitely made the top three.
He scanned the jungles that surrounded the temple ruins, searching for movement in the growing shadows between the trees. He could not detect any threats, and he knew that the communications techs would inform him if anything appeared on the scanners. Though there were a few large predators that lurked beneath the jungle canopy, they gave the ruins a wide berth. In a way, Jace could not blame them. There was something unsettling about the temple. He could not say what exactly was wrong. It was like there was something old and evil and hungry lurking inside. Jace could not suppress his feelings of dread, which had grown so much over the past few days that he occasionally found himself jumping at shadows.
Some of the others sensed it too. He could see in in the pale, drawn faces of some of his DDF squad members. Some had dark rings under their eyes from lack of sleep. Others constantly kept their heads on a swivel, as if they expected an attack to come at any minute.
If anyone from SIMASS sensed any danger, no one showed it. They continued their work, busily trying everything they could think of to gain access to the temple. Jace suppressed a sigh as he scanned the jungle once more before turning to watch the scientists.
A few of them were clustered around the heavy stone doors that served as the only visible entrance to the ziggurat. The doors appeared to be made of a thick, heavy sandstone which apparently was not indigenous to the planet. They were covered in ancient Seleniian hieroglyphs, though exposure to the elements had obliterated many of the carvings.
As Jace watched, one of the assistants held a datapad up to take images of the hieroglyphs. They had been there for over a month, and the scientists had not even managed to make it past the front doors. The stone had stood in defiance against their tools, and were apparently too heavy to pry apart. And of course, the ruins had been deemed to be a cultural heritage site, as it had once been a temple devoted to a Selenian goddess, Alla’su. He had no idea why it was so culturally important, but it meant they would not use explosives to simply blow the doors open, for fear that it might damage something important.
Some genius had suggested that maybe the carvings on the door might have a clue, so some of the assistants were holding datapads up, capturing images of the old carvings. Someone else pressed a piece of flimsiplast to a part of the wall, and was rubbing it with charcoal, trying to discern some of the shallower depressions.
Abruptly, the area was flooded with light. Jace jumped, instinctively swinging his blaster rifle into a low ready position as he scanned the area for the threat. But there was nothing. After a moment, he let out his breath in an explosive sigh, even as he cursed himself as an idiot. It was just the lamps. The scientists had covered the area in a lighting system that would allow them to continue their work late into the night.
Grumbling under his breath, Jace stalked a bit further away from the temple and turned his attention back to the jungle. There’s no reason to be this jumpy, he told himself. We’ve been here over a month and nothing’s happened. Nothing’s gonna happen, either.
The sun sank below the horizon, painting the sky in a gradient of brilliant oranges, purples and blues as day gave way to night. Tali Sroka reclined on her towel, watching as a number of people from the resort staff dragged dried branches and other pieces of wood onto the beach in preparation for a bonfire.
She gave a contented sigh. At this hour, the beach was much less crowded than it had been during the daylight hours. But it was not completely deserted. She could see two familiar Zabraks walking along the shallow surf. She was too far away to hear what they were saying, but she could see the look of camaraderie on their faces, even as they abruptly set themselves into some sort of sparring match.
Further past them, in the deeper waters, Strong was giving a swimming lesson to a pack of giggling Selenian girls. Ever the gentleman, he was so focused on giving good instruction that he apparently didn’t notice that they seemed to catch on remarkably quickly. It was almost as if they knew how to swim quite well, and were simply pretending to be utterly inept. But who would do something silly like that?
As the stars began to wink into existence overhead, the resort staff managed to get the bonfire lit, fanning the flames until it cast a comforting light over the darkened beach. A laughing Aru approached the fire. He was accompanied by a lovely blue Twi’lek with purple markings, and a tall, burly Zeltron. Tyga arrived shortly afterward, clad in a pair of boardshorts and a brightly-colored shirt.
Further down the beach, Qyreia and Keira walked hand in hand. As they drew nearer to the bonfire, a particularly tall and handsome golden-haired male Selenian raised his hand in friendly greeting, which was cheerfully returned by the Zeltron and the half Umbaran.
That must be Sehf Nedrin, Tali thought as she studied the Selenian. Qyreia had spoken quite highly of her earlier surfing lessons with him. As she studied his well-toned physique, she began to understand why.
Further up the beach, Tali could see a well-dressed Jax walking with Kobign. The Zygerrian seemed to be dressed with even more care than usual, and the pair were engaged in what appeared to be a deep conversation. A date, perhaps.
Looking around, Tali realized that there were more Arconans on the beach than she had initially thought. In fact, the vast majority of the people present seemed to belong to the Clan. Members from both Houses were there, all of them well-trained and disciplined warriors.
If there was any trouble, this is probably the safest place to be. The thought came unbidden to her mind, and was accompanied by a shiver.
Far above, the celestial bodies spun in their endless dance. Six moons circled around Ereboros, each following their own path. Gradually, the paths of Riquis, D’Eraii and Agenar carried them into direct alignment, even as Ereboros slipped into alignment with Selen itself.
At that moment, the ancient locks that had held for centuries opened in response to the shift of energies. And deep within the temple, the creatures that had been trapped began to hiss and slather with anticipation. Soon, their hunger would be sated.
Jace was patrolling the perimeter, where the light from the floodlamps began to give way to gloomy shadows and jungle, when he heard a loud grinding noise coming from the temple. He instinctively tightened his grip on his blaster rifle as he turned toward the temple to see what was happening.
The doors were opening.
Even at this distance, the earth beneath him trembled as the two heavy stones slid slowly apart. The assistant who was closest was the one who had been performing the charcoal rub, and she had a confused look on her face as she scuttled a few steps back from the massive doorway. The grinding sound continued until the doors were fully open; only then did the noise cease with a massive THOOM as the slabs stopped moving.
Silence fell over the research site. It was as if those present, scientist and soldier alike, held their breath in anticipation of what was to come. The very air was charged with apprehension and curiousity.
From where he stood, Jace couldn’t see inside the temple; it was as if the entrance was nothing more than a rectangle of inky blackness. Apparently, the researcher closest to the door fared little better. She took a few hesitant steps closer to get a better look inside.
Suddenly, a taloned claw shot out of the darkness. It was large enough to wrap entirely around the researcher’s head, before jerking her into the temple. The researcher’s scream was shrill and short, ending abruptly with a wet, crunching sound.
“Karking franger!” he swore. Years of training kicked in and he was moving, ducking into cover behind one of the jungle trees even as shapes exploded from the shadowy temple. Time seemed to slow down, giving him ample time to notice details. The creatures were humanoid-ish, somewhere between beast and biped. Two arms, two legs, fingers and toes tipped in wickedly sharp talons. But their heads were anything but human; inky black and varied in shape. Some looked like they had the heads of insects, others animals. They moved with preternatural speed on all fours to leap upon the surprised scientists and soldiers.
Jace pulled the trigger, sending blaster bolts into the nearest creature even as it landed on top of one of the scientists and began to rend him with its claws. The first few shots went wide, allowing the monster time to bury its fangs into the scientist’s exposed abdomen with a sickening tearing sound.
Damn it, get it together! Jace gritted his teeth and adjusted his aim, trying to tune out the screams and the sound of the feasting creature. He squeezed the trigger once more, and this time his aim was true. The red bolds tore through the beast’s pallid flesh, and it gave a rasping scream of pain. It raised its head to glare at Jace, but he kept firing until it fell into a heap on top of the scientist’s writhing form.
Though every aspect of his training screamed for him not to do it, he scuttled out of cover to push the beasts’s bulk off of the fallen man. The scientist’s blood was soaking into the ground around him, and his screams were already starting to quiet as shock started to set in. “Hang on, man, we’re going to get you help,” Jace said, more to himself than to the scientist.
But as he looked around, he realized that getting help would be more difficult than he had originally thought. The scene was nothing but chaos. Monsters were continuing to pour out of the temple to attack the people present. He could see a number of people on the ground, large parts of them having been devoured. Even more disturbing was the fact that many of the creatures had already disappeared into the jungle.
One thing was for certain, there were significantly more of them than there were DDF soldiers. What was more, the creatures had the advantage of speed, while they were at a disadvantage as they were clustered in an area with little in way of cover.
“Get to the comm station!” he snapped into his communicator as he opened fire on the creature nearest him. It was the nearest, most defensible structure. They were sitting ducks in the open, but maybe they could stand a chance in there.
It was as if someone had taken a blanket soaked in ice-cold water and thrown it over top of her. Tali looked away from the bonfire and into the dark jungle, frowning at the sensations that she felt through the Force. Fear, pain and anger, never a good combination.
She could tell from the troubled expressions of others that she was not the only one who sensed it. But before she could open her mouth too say something, a shape burst out of the jungle. It raced toward them, moving unnervingly quickly on four legs. And worse, the evil feeling that was emanating from the jungle grew as it drew closer.
Instinctively, she reached for the lightsaber on her hip, but it wasn’t there. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a number of other people reaching for weapons as well.
Twin slugthrowers roared thunderously. The creature twisted and fell, skidding to a halt just inside the circle of firelight. It was vaguely humanoid, with unnaturally long arms and ghostly pale skin on its torso and limbs. Icy blue eyes glowed within its horned, ebony skull as it gnashed its fangs at those nearest it. Though it clawed at the sand, nothing below its waist moved, and a black ichor oozed from its back, where the slugthrower bolts had emerged.
“Do forgive the interruption,” Tabriss said as he stepped into the firelight from the opposite direction from which the monster had come. As he spoke, he took careful aim on the creature as it scrabbled at the sand, trying to reach one of the recoiling tourists. “The Lady requests your presence back at the resort.” To punctuate his words, he pulled the trigger. The creature shrieked, jerked once, and then lay still. “Quickly, if you please. I am afraid these things are all over the island.”