[Clan Scholae Palatinae - Sciences, Snipes, Floofs… and Xantros]
24 Hours Prior to Contact
The rumble of the Delta-class JV-7 escort shuttle dropping from hyperspace drew the Hybrid back to his body. The cold of the durasteel against his backside, and the fact it had grown numb only hinted at how long he had been meditating. The whispers of the Force were replaced by the whispers of his companions sat patiently about the cabin. He felt clearly the stare of his Empress at the back of his head, and knew well enough she was curious as to whether he had seen anything during his foray into the depths of the Force. He ran a hand through his shaggy, platinum blond hair, his tall, vulpine ears laid back against his skull as his body ached from sitting for so long unmoving. His ruby eyes glanced up in time to see Caleb standing before him.
Caleb; a tan complexioned, half Sephi, handed him a flask filled with water, “Almost twenty-four hours that time.” The Sephi had been appointed the Grand Admiral’s personal guard and acted in no small part as an advisor due to his experience as a front line soldier. He was also more than just an advisor and soldier to the Seer.
“Still nothing to show for it,” Mune muttered. He stretched his limbs in an attempt to get the blood flowing again.
It had not been more than seventy-two hours since the mission was put in motion. The Clan had wasted not a moment in mobilizing their forces upon word of The Collective’s move against the Brotherhood. Admittedly, the Grand Admiral had nearly wished they could have arrived quicker. However, the Clan’s interests in the Caperion System had demanded precautions be taken before their rapid flight to the Outer Rim, and the Nancora System.
“The plan will work,” Elincia spoke at Mune’s back. “Meditation is no guarantee for elating your trepidation, even if you saw something useful. The future is already changed by knowing it, after all… or so you like to repeat to your subordinates.”
“Wise words,” commented Colonel Zentru’la, a mountain of twi’lek muscle encased in the heavy armour of the Imperial Army’s top command and armed to the teeth with heavy weaponry.
“Grand Admiral, the rest of the fleet has re-entered normal space and are awaiting your command,” came the pilot’s voice over the com system.
Mune glanced over his shoulder at the Togruta Empress. He took reassurance from her confident gaze. He needed not her words. He rose to his feet and moved to one of the consoles. “We all know the plan. We move in with the rest of the fleet and make contact with the enemy’s barricade at Nancora Prime. From there, while they are distracted by the larger body of our forces, we maneuver our way through their lines. There will be no engagement with the enemy on our part. Our pilots know we are to make it to the surface.”
“If we are noticed?” Aylin queried. The slim frame of the dark green Nautolan was an unfamiliar sight to the rest of the group, but her carefree nature had helped her to fit in quickly.
Mune offered the girl a smile and offered the best he had to assurances to elate her curiosity. “We have a number of our JV-7s, similar to this one, acting as decoys. They will perform the same maneuver, a little less stealthily so as to draw attention further from us. In the chaos of combat, we are hoping we go unseen. The battle itself will serve as our cloak.”
“That is a lot of hoping,” Zehsaa added. The slenderly built, long limbed Togruta eyed the Grand Admiral, hazel eyes full of intelligence assessing the look Mune returned. Her sniper rifle lay carefully across her knees where she sat beside the final companion upon their mission, Xantros. “I mean, you are depending a fair bit on chance. A roll of the dice.”
Mune grinned impishly, “We are taking a chance, that I do not deny. Were I to gamble, however, my credits would be on us. The fleet can be very distracting. We also have intelligence that other Clans of the Brotherhood have likewise mobilized against the enemy forces.” He shifted his gaze to Elincia and spoke for only her, ”You know you may end up needing to drop the guise this time, right?” The Togruta scientist stared firmly at the Hybrid but said nothing in response to her master’s telepathic message. Mune left her alone and did not press what they both knew could well be an eventuality. They’d deal with it when the time came, they were all on a mission, an important one, and that mission came before possible hiccups in the dynamic of the team. They had assembled the team with those dynamics in mind and felt confident in the members they included.
1 Hour Prior to Contact
The desert planet grew ever larger as the Imperial Scholae Navy approached. The enemy prowled before them, a wall that appeared near impenetrable. Orders were exchanged between vessels, positions taken. The shuttle carrying the Empress and her infiltration team took up its own position using the hull of the ISN Sidious to mask their approach. For its own part, the Victory-class star destroyer kept to the core of their forces. Other JV-7s took up similar positions, hidden within the shadows of the larger vessels until it was time to attempt slipping through the enemy lines.
Tensions were high. The looming spectre of battle nearly upon them, threatening to swallow them whole. For their part, the infiltration team waited in silence. Zehsaa and Caleb both checked their firearms numerous times to ensure all was in working order. Mune sat in silent contemplation, as though the answers were just beyond the next thought. Elincia and Xantros,were the only ones speaking though in hushed tones. The typical duro, green skinned, noseless and hairless, was going over some finer details of the stealth mission with the Empress. The teen, Aylin, twitched, the only one to succumb to impatience in the drawn out calm before the storm. Zentru’la, for his part, placed a hand upon the girl’s shoulder to calm her to silence before she could speak against the quiet that had descended.
The minutes ticked by, one agonizing second after another. The silence stretched for what seemed an eternity. Tick. Tock. Seconds dragged.
“A contingent of vessels are making to intercept,” came the pilot’s voice over the com.
“The Sidious is to sit pretty until we can get closer. The Tarkin and Legacy will bring up the port and starboard.” Mune turned his attention to a console, monitoring the movement of their forces. Caleb came to stand by the Hybrid.
“The Tarkin is lagging in its positioning,” the Sephi noted.
“It is fine, I trust in our men and women.”
The first shots were fired, and the battle was joined.
30 Minutes Prior to Contact
The space above Nancora exploded into life as the first shots were fired. The Tarkin and the Legacy flanked the Sidious, bathing the black depths of space in a crimson glow as they fired at anything that moved on the Collective blockade. The infiltration team remained obscured behind the huge bulk of the Sidious, lying low as the battle raged around them.
Onboard the JV-7, Elincia heard a voice in her earpiece from the captain of the Sidious. “It’s time,” she relayed to the rest of the team. “ETA 28 minutes. Take your seats. Zehsaa, get on the aft turbolaser.” Elincia pretended she understood the Togruti response, inferring an affirmative based on her body language.
In the midst of the cacophony of the battle around them, the pilot sent the shuttle into a sharp dive towards the planet. “Fighters on our tail!” Aylin shouted across the ship, excited by the action. Next to her was Zentru’la, who felt some degree of affection towards the 18-year old girl, and a duty of protection, having missed the opportunity to watch his own daughter grow into the Empress that sat opposite him.
With a sharp eye honed by years of experience with a sniper rifle, Zehsaa was precise and quick on the turret, destroying the trailing X-Wing fighters with a volley of turbolaser bolts to applause from Aylin but the celebration was cut short by an explosion on the starboard side, sending the ship into a tailspin towards the planet.
“We’re losing control!” the pilot called across the ship as fire began to erupt on the starboard engine, leaving behind a helix of flame and smoke as he did his best to maintain control of the damaged ship as it hurtled towards the ground. The enemy fighters returned to the fray, leaving the shuttle to its fate.
Colonel Zentru’la dismissed the pilot and summoned Aylin to the co-pilot seat. While he was assigned to the mission to raid the Collective vault due to his skill with heavy weapons, this was a personal mission for him, a chance to prove his worth in the eyes of the daughter he neglected as a child. He was not going to leave his daughter’s life in the hands of a stranger.
Nancora Prime, the Badlands
The ship rocketed towards the planet, barreling out of control. Zentru’la and Aylin were fighting to get the ship in a better position before it would get into the atmosphere, else they would explode into pieces. Holding tightly onto the yokes they kept the ship from nosediving so that they wouldn crash on the surface nose first.
“Grab hold to something and don’t let go!” Zentru’la yelled to the back, trying his best to get over the scream of Aylin and the rumble of the wind rushing by. The others scrambled to their seats and strapped themselves in as fast as possible, hoping it would be enough to survive the crash.
The seconds seemed to turn into minutes as they plummeted towards the ground and then their world turned into a shaking explosion. Sparks were flying everywhere and screams of the metal tearing away was deafening. Smoke was quickly filling the hull of the JV-7 as the speed of the wreckage was slowing down and came to a halt upside-down against a few rocks.
The release of a clasp could be heard and a soft thud as someone landed on the now floor. Coughing and trying to wave the smoke away Elincia called out to the others, “Is everyone ok?”
“Sort of,” came the coughing reply of Xantros. “But our pilots didn’t make it.”
“We are both here,” replied Zentru’la, who was trying to get Aylin to let go of the yoke.
Mune also replied from a little further away, “Seems we lost the back of the ship, Zehsaa and Caleb were in that part.”
Aylin came coughing through the smoke towards the back of the ship, “Zehsaa!”
Mune placed a hand on her shoulder, “They are alive and gathering what they can.”
It didn’t take to long for the group to be complete again and gathered the remaining resources and patched up any wounds they got from the crash. They were lucky though even though they lost both pilots they only had minor injuries, but their entrance to the world was not as stealthy as they had hoped.
“So, it seems like our secret mission is no longer so secret,” grunted Xantros. Everyone was aware that he preferred working silently and completing missions before anyone could notice his presence. “Every military and civilian outpost in approximately a hundred kilometers is aware that we have crash landed here. They will send their patrols and intercept us before we even manage to reach our initial destination point.”
“You should be grateful that we are all alive and suffered only minor injuries,” replied Caleb. “If you stop complaining and start moving, we may still get there undetected, even if they find the remnants of our ship.”
Xantros sighed and looked at the Empress, awaiting her orders. She was the actual leader of the strike team and she was to make a decision about the next move.
“Everyone is ready to go?” asked Elincia.
The team members confirmed with brief nods.
“Good. We are eight clicks south from our planned landing zone. It is on our way to the complex of the Technocratic Guild, so we will reach it first and evaluate our situation there,” decided the Consul hesitantly.
“Yes, it is always good to find some extra time for thinking through our exits, especially if our primary exit lies covered in smoke,” spoke the Augur sarcastically, while carefully observing the Empress.
“Oh, shut up, you pessimistic No-Nose,” smirked Aylin. “It is time to go.”
Xantros shook his head, but he did not say anything else. It was really high time to leave the crash site, if they wished to complete their mission in a reasonable time, even though he believed that it was not going to be an easy thing. “From here on, we follow Zentru’la’s lead,” Elincia stated, ignoring Xantros’ sarcastic remark. “He’s the most experienced in military operations. Now let’s move out.”
The Badlands were cruel, unforgiving regions of Nancora where few dared to travel on foot. Dust swirled around with the wind threatening the vision of the team, reducing visibility. “Caleb, Zehsaa, you’re both carrying rifles, keep an eye out for patrols. They’re sure to be on their way any time now.” Zentru’la said as he hoisted a colossal repeating cannon onto his shoulder as if it were a plastic toy.
“There is no need,” Mune replied serenely, as if lost in thought. “We will know of any attack before the enemy does.”
Zentru’la opened his mouth to respond before realising he didn’t quite know how to deal with the mystical Grand Admiral. He was more familiar with leading armies of stormtroopers. “Best to keep an eye out anyway,” he offered as a compromise. “Everybody else, protect the Empress.”
The team began walking in the direction of the vault, Zentru’la in the lead, flanked by Zehsaa and Caleb with Elincia behind. As Mune walked he searched through the Force for any sign of life that might represent a hostile patrol.
Minutes seemed to pass like hours as the team marched through the dusty Badlands, trying their best to shield their eyes from the dust. The biggest worry was that the storms would interfere with their equipment. Communication wasn’t such an issue but many members of the strike team opted for explosives, blasters and slugthrowers as their weapons of choice.
“Wait,” Aylin suddenly said, causing the team to immediately halt at the foot of a large hill.
Zehsaa turned to her companion. “Is there something up ahead?”
“No silly, down below!” Aylin giggled. “We’re standing in a minefield.”
Mune drew up alongside Aylin and looked upon the literal minefield. Uncertainty pricked at the corners of his thoughts, for which he had no time to analyze with what time they had left to them.
“These were not laid for us,” Caleb noted where he stood nearby their Empress.
“Your observation is not incorrect, Caleb.” Zentru’la frowned deeply, lining his face with open annoyance at the latest obstacle. “We go through it. We cannot afford the time it will lose us to find a way around.”
“So we go through!” Aylin exclaimed, almost excitedly.
“Please… refrain from too much excitement,” Caleb muttered.
“If we accidentally set one off, it could mean giving away our position,” Xantros noted.
Mune grinned impishly, his eyes shining with mirth, “I think our body parts strewn across the desert is a bigger concern.” He may have been trying to make light but no one shared his amusement. The Hybrid’s grin became a bit of a pout before he swept his glance back over the minefield below. “Zentru’la, by your estimate, what margin for error are we looking at?”
“It depends on the spread of the mines,” he explained hesitantly.
“There having been no data on the minefield makes that impossible to determine.” Elincia chimed in. “Mune… You are more attuned pre cognitively to the Force.”
“So you are saying I get to walk out front.” Mune muttered, his vulpine ears twitching in abject annoyance. He sighed and took the fore, the party falling in line with him. They stepped where he stepped. Carefully, they began to pick their way through, those with the Force breaking up the line so as to maintain awareness of the possible locations of the mines and potential danger.
“Mine sniffing…” Aylin began in jest.
Mune cut her off with a hard stare before he extended his awareness outwards again and stepped gingerly forward. The obstacle took them the better part of the day to surmount. At its far edge, the Hybrid finally emerged to safety and fell upon his laurels to rest while the others caught him up. It would be but only a few more moments before all were gathered again and taking a rest. Water was shared around. Mune’s head ached horribly with exhaustion.
Elincia eyed him for a moment before her attention was caught by her father. “This puts us closer, certainly.”
“We are only six hours short of our destination, how is the Grand Admiral?”
“Over exerted. The heat and drawing on the Force to such an extended period have taken a toll. He’ll be fit for travel again in an hour, maybe two? Though, do not ask him else he’ll say he is ready now.” Elincia added the last with a note of concern.
Caleb trudged up to join the two in counsel, catching the last himself. “You are not mistaken… He is already urging we continue. I think, frankly, that we could all use a rest, out of this damnable heat.”
Zehsaa was kneeling by the Seer, forcing him to take more water. Aylin sat nearby, fanning herself while the three in counsel spoke in hushed tones. Xantros scouted a short distance from the rest of the party. Zentru’la grunted and glanced into the distance, where they destination lay. “I do recommend we continue moving. The time for rest is nearly upon us as is. Time enough to recuperate before the next phase of the plan.”
It seemed to be way too easy. Despite the tough crash landing several miles away from their chosen landing zone, when the pilots got killed, and passing through the minefield that made everyone uneasy, the strike team was lucky enough not to meet any soldier or operatives of the Collective. Their enemies were known to come to the Badlands to test their skills, so the members of the Imperial Clan were strongly surprised by the fact that they had not met any of them yet.
Despite the fact that Mune was fatigued by the effort necessary to draw the Force for long enough to find a safe passage between the mines, the Empress with Zentru’la agreed that they had to move as fast as it was only possible. They waited just for few more minutes to let Xantros return from his short scouting of the surroundings.
The Augur finally appeared among them out of the clear blue sky. He was even more serious than usual. He spoke immediately in a hushed voice, “I am afraid that I have bad news.”
“What is it, Xantros?” asked Elincia Rei.
“There is a small group of people two kilometers away from us,” explained the Augur. “They are coming our way and there is no chance to bypass them.”
“That is not good,” commented Zehsaa. “Mune is still not strong enough to move quickly, not to mention fighting.”
“We cannot afford losing the Grand Admiral,” said Caleb. “However, if we do not get rid of these cursed soldiers of the Collective, they may cause even more trouble to us.”
“I have an idea,” replied Xantros. “Just give me a moment.”
“What are…” started the Empress, but the Duros vanished into thin air, before she could finish her question. “I hate when he does that. One day, I will personally rip him apart for disappearing like that.”
“I will observe the hostile team through my sniper rifle and see what Xantros will do,” spoke Caleb.
“It’s downright creepy when he does that… what if he shows up when you don’t want it?” stated Aylin.
“He gets into trouble if he does that,” chuckled Zehsaa.
Caleb was looking through his scope and saw the group advancing slowly. From the looks it seemed like they were looking for something as one of them was holding a scanner of sorts.
“Guys… I hate to be a party pooper, but did you take a look at the sky over there?” Aylin said as she pointed to the far horizon. The sky had taken on an eerie colour, the wind began to pick up at a threatening rate.
Elincia looked up from her datapad, “Dust storm inbound in 3 minutes. We need to get out of here and fast.”
“What about Xantros, I don’t see him anywhere down there,” Caleb said, but as soon as the words left his mouth, two of the soldiers began shooting each other and a third fell over. Caleb grinned and unlocked his rifle, aimed and took out the soldier with the scanner. The last one was franticly looking around before it also fell to the ground by another shot from Caleb.
“Report,” Elincia ordered.
“The soldier group has been taken care off. I hope Xantros will be returning soon so we can get out.”
Elincia nodded and looked towards Mune, who was getting onto his feet again with the help of Zehsaa and Aylin, “We move as soon as he is back.”
Aylin looked back to the horizon, the storm was approaching quickly, “I should have brought my goggles…”
“The group has been taken care of,” said Xantros as he reappeared next to Elincia.
“Next time, tell me before you do something like that,” Elincia started.
“We have more pressing matters, we need to go,” Zentru’la urged.
Zehsaa placed her rifle on her back again and pointed not far from the dead group of soldiers, “There seems to be a tunnel of sorts down there, it must have been where they came from.”
Zentru’la nodded and got moving, “Let’s go.”
The whole group followed suit. Winds were picking up around them as the storm grew closer. Sand and dust was thrown against them. Aylin held onto Xantros as she had difficulty seeing with all the dust being whipped around them. Mune was doing his best not to slow down the group to much with the help of Zehsaa. Elincia, Caleb and Zentru’la were going some distance in front of them.
They finally made it to the entrance of the tunnel, but got to a door only a few meters from the tunnel mouth. The light dimmed fast with the onslaught of the storm, its wall of sand giving light little chance to penetrate.
“Just great, it will take time before to get through this door… unless we blow it up,” Caleb stated.
Aylin giggled, “If it has a lock, it has a computer and if it has a computer it can be sliced.” She moved closer to the door and grabbed a few tools from her belt, “If only my eyes didn’t sting that much from all the dust, I would have it opened before you knew it.”
“Need any help?” asked Caleb.
“Not really, unless you’re better than I am,” answered Aylin with a self-confident grin. “The sooner you let me do my job, the sooner we get in.”
“How long will it take us to reach our destination point?” asked Elincia Rei looking at looking at her father, but it was Mune, who answered the question.
“We are exactly at our destination point.”
Strike team members, except for Aylin, who was still busy with slicing the door, looked at the Hybrid. He returned a reassuring look at Elincia, who resigned from asking more questions. His firm smile made the Consul hope that they might find their way to their ultimate target soon.
A moment later, the doors opened with a loud sound. The Duros once again vanished into thin air to scout ahead their way. Soon, he returned and reported that he found an easily accessible ventilation shaft. He claimed that it would be reasonable to use it, in order to avoid any possible hostile soldiers.
The strike team prepared to quickly move towards the ventilation shaft. Xantros looked at Mune and offered him shoulder.
“Thank you, I am strong enough to walk,” refused the Rollmaster of the Imperial Clan. “I prefer you to be able to fight, in case that we meet the enemy on our way to the ventilation shaft.”
The Duros nodded and the team moved out. Ten minutes later, they approached the ventilation shaft. Aylin, covered by Zehsaa, managed to free the grid. All members of the team entered the shaft and they did their best to cover their presence with putting the grid back at its place. Pressing on, they decided to cease any conversations.
The strike team could hear the silent sigh made by Zentru’la, who was crawling through the ventilation shaft at the front of the group. Xantros smiled with understanding. He personally preferred acting in a quiet way and avoid bringing unnecessary attention to his actions, which often required him to use less comfortable ways of sneaking into places, just like the ventilation shaft. However, he was aware that the Colonel was a soldier and usually opted for more direct solutions than crawling through narrow shafts.
Suddenly, while moving over another room, the Consul stopped and the rest of the team followed her example, as they also heard the chatter coming from below.
“We need to put the guards here, here and here,” said a male voice. “And we need to change patrol routes and time routines, in order to increase a chance of detecting any intruders that might try to enter the complex.”
“I do not really think that it will help,” spoke another male voice. “We are fighting beings that possess supernatural powers and I am sure that they will not hesitate to use them against us.”
“I did not ask you to question my orders,” replied the first voice. “I want you to obey my orders, because I have the authority here.”
For a brief moment, there was silence in the room. Then, the team could hear loud sounds of steps and rustle of doors opening and closing. Suddenly, Zehsaa, who was crouching just next to the ventilation grate, noticed that a tall human with a cybernetic arm approached the wall just below the area, where the strike team stopped. Fortunately, it seemed that he was studying something attached to the wall.
The Togruta looked at Xantros and raised her eyebrows. The Duros nodded and focused himself on the man’s mind. A moment later, the team could hear the doors opening and closing again. Their enemy left the room, allowing them to enter it and study whatever was inside without detection.
As quietly as he possibly could, Zentru’la removed the grate, his immense physical strength making it easy to lift it aside in a slow, controlled fashion. He gestured at Caleb and Zehsaa to drop down first and train their weapons on the door. The others followed in succession, leaving Elincia and Zentru’la briefly alone in the vent. The Colonel hoisted his grenade launcher off his back and handed it to the Empress. “I have my repeater. I believe you’re familiar with this one.” Elincia took her father’s weapon before dropping down. Lastly, Zentru’la, whose heavy build was weighed down further by his armour, caused a dull thud when he hit the floor. “I hope no-one heard that,” muttered Xantros sarcastically.
Mune shot his student with a ‘when the hell did you start using those’ look, seeing how comfortable she seemed to be with the grenade launcher. “It won’t be long until they find us,” Mune said knowingly as he searched outside the room for incoming patrols. “We need to be ready to fight.”
Zentru’la approached the door cautiously, placing a laser trip mine on the entrance to the room. “They will regret coming near the Empress. Stay away from the doorway,” he growled, walking back to a safe distance before hoisting his colossal repeating cannon onto its support, training its sights on the door. Caleb, Zehsaa and Aylin followed suit, ready to pepper anything that walked in with a barrage of blaster bolts, slugthrowers and grenades.
“There’s a map here,” Elincia observed on one of the walls. “The vault isn’t far from here. Just down one corridor on the right. But I don’t see any way of getting there without shooting the whole place up. Mune, can you estimate how many guards there are?”
“About 70. But they’re scattered throughout the facility. We can expect them to come in waves.”
“So they outnumber us ten to one…” Aylin observed, holding a grenade in each hand.
“Then it’s an even fight,” Zentru’la said with a determined grit.
“I’m not here to play passenger,” Elincia said as she dropped her labcoat to the floor. Underneath was a black sith robe, tightly fitting allowing freedom of movement, and concealment under the coat. A lightsaber hung at her hip. “I’m done with hiding.”
“Patrol coming in 15 seconds.” Mune warned. “Get ready.”
They all waited for the patrol with baited breaths. The footsteps grew closer and halted before the door, there came a rustle and a few beeps before the door opened. As soon as his foot touched the laserline of the tripwire the bomb exploded, resulting in him being blasted back into the two others behind him. They caught their leader with a grunt, but were shot down before they fully understood what happened by Zehsaa and Caleb. The others from the group started to fire into the room, but were met by a barrage of shots. As soon as it started it was quiet again.
“Quickly now,” Zentru’la called and quickly moved out of the room.
The rest followed suit with Zehsaa closing the line. They were going down the corridor and were quickly met by a second group that was alarmed by the explosion. Xantros disappeared from sight and started to attack the group from the other side from the covers of shadows. Caleb and Zentru’la started to exchange shots with the guards as Aylin tossed a grenade between them. Mune and Elincia were defending their position, Mune using his lightsaber while Elincia preferred the colonel’s grenade launcher. Zehsaa glanced behind her, knowing that her long ranged weapon was not much of use now in such closed quarters.
Xantros returned with a smug grin on his face as soon as the fight was over. Elincia regarded him with a frown but said nothing as they hustled further towards the vault door.
As soon as they reached the door Aylin slipped to the front and started to work her magic on the locks. The rest set up around her to defend the corridor.
Aylin dexterously maneuvered tools into position. She manipulated the panel and connected her equipment directly. Her eyes flicked across the numerous layers of security, realizing it would not be so easy a feat as she had hoped in their current predicament. “Guys…”
“Take whatever time you need, we will not be felled here,” Mune called back to her.
He shared a look with Xantros, a quick nod and the Shadow faded from their sight. The Arcanist closed his eyes and submerged himself in the Force, letting it wash through him. He pictured himself as a vessel to be filled by it. He let his mind sink into it, Channeling the Force through his entire being.
Caleb and Zehsaa took up their positions to the right and left respectively, readying to cover fire. The Sephi reloaded his pistols before holstering them and drawing his rifle, ensuring it was ready for another round. Zehsaa did the same opposite his position, They calmed themselves, focussing on the task at hand, finding the mark and taking it out. No one would interfere with their mission. Zentru’la took up his own position, eyes set further down the corridor.
”Stay hidden my friend.” Mune opened his eyes, feeling the exhaustion that had earlier suffused him, recede. He sensed Elincia at his back. “I hope you remember how to use that lightsaber.”
“Of course… you hammered those lessons into my head.”
They could hear clearly the sound of combat boots upon the cold duracrete of the floors. It echoed through the corridors before them. Tensed muscles trembled with anticipation of battle. The first soldier came around the corner. Zehsaa pulled her trigger first and the first body was sent hurtling backwards to crash broken upon the cold floor. The second was gifted with a slug through the throat, eliciting a disturbing gurgling cry before crumbling. The two sharpshooters lined up their second shots, whistling wickedly through two more soldiers.
“Elincia, stay behind me.” Mune drew both of his lightsabers, their distinct purple and blue light sending wicked luminescence cascading upon the floors and walls around them. They carried the promise of death in their crackling whispers. Ruby eyes narrowed. He counted each shot that sped by his head to take out a soldier further down the hall. The sixth shot took one unlucky guard in the head when he dared peek around the corner. The marksmen began their reload, the soldiers made to converge on their position. Mune’s heart beat echoed in his ears, the sound of boots fading dimly into the background. Eyes narrowed, he surged forward.
The first soldier went down before he could understand that the distant ache was a purple lightsaber blade protruding from his chest. The Hybrid had taken the man full in the heart. His expression was one of confusion, then he crumbled as the plasma blade came free and took the next soldier’s leg before lopping off his head. Mune spun and another soldier was split in twain. His back faced the enemy, and Xantros was there, the shadows expelling him with his own lightsaber snapping to life to take another Human in the abdomen. Arcanist and Shadow stood back to back. They shifted positions, Mune moving with such agility to take up the position at the fore just as a volley of blaster fire rained upon them. It took but a few seconds focus before Mune forged the Force into a barrier before him. Xantros was protected by virtue of his position behind the Arcanist.
The Hybrid’s mind raced, heaping calculation upon calculation as he analyzed the lay of the corridor and the soldiers that seemed to pour forth without end. His left ear twitched, he felt the barrier give way. Time seemed to dilate. Sniper fire sped by but inches from the two Force users to take not one, two, or even three soldiers out. Six were made to be felled and created for them a pause in the blaster fire.
Xantros’ eyes snapped to the two men charging them with Z6 Riot Control Batons. He disengaged his saber, the shadows once again swallowing him. Mune sensed the movement, an impish grin playing upon his lips. His own lightsabers went quiet. He moved, knowing well Xantros mirrored him from his concealed state. The Duros struck first. The man on the left took the open hand blow to the chest. Mune drooped low under the first swing of the second’s baton. Drawing upon Shadow Step as his companion did, he wove under a second strike and with an open palm struck his opponent in the solar plexus. The Force was compacted into a vicious weapon. His strike thrust deep into the man’s body, telekinesis turned ferocious and blood foamed from the man’s mouth. The loud crack was music to the Arcanist’s ears. He followed through with a telekinetic strike to send the man sprawling back upon the cold floor.
Xantros blocked his own assailant’s fourth swing of the baton. He dodged the fifth, working to get in close. When the man misstepped in the next moment, he met the motion with a hard palm thrust to the man’s throat then a second to collapse his windpipe.
“Bingo!” Aylin called.
Both forward combatants threw themselves backwards to regain their companions. Elincia leapt forward in the same moment between them. She let go her guise in the moment, letting the Togruta fall away. Blaster fire rent the air. Rusty though she was, the Twi’lek female drew upon her Sokan training and redirected the few shots that would have taken Arcanist and Shadow both.
Mune smirked, “Impetus…”
“Master,” she returned the smirk.
Zentru’la moved with Aylin into the vault. They readied explosives with the sound of battle so near behind them. He had faith his daughter and her people would hold back the flood for as long as was needed .Diligently the two worked, wiring explosives to the surfaces of the chamber. The thermal imploder he carried, in addition to the additional explosives were more than up for the task. He had already altered the timer on the detonator and the one Caleb carried so they would not blow themselves up. “Girl, grab some of those scrolls, as many as you feel we can safely carry. We destroy the rest.”
“Almost seems a shame, think the bookish one will shed a tear?”
“The Grand Admiral?” Zentru’la queried.
“Him too. But I mean the science lady,” the girl joked. The man could tell she was making light to keep the tense situation from unnerving her. He set another detonator and glanced back out to the battle beyond the vault door.
Caleb called in around the bulkhead, “I think our welcome is worn out.” The sephi was affixing his own thermal imploder to the inside of the bulkhead.
Aylin hurried a number of scrolls into whatever safety she could after unloading her final explosive. Caleb was waving them back out, hurrying them back into the corridor. “How do you suppose we get back out?”
“We shoot our way out,” Zentru’la growled.
“Aylin, your grenade!” Mune shouted from the front. Into Zentru’la’s mind he whispered so the enemy would be unaware of the second surprise. “Zentru’la, your thermal detonator.”
The girl, without a second thought, pulled out her ion grenade. She activated it and threw it. In the same motion. Mune disengaged his lightsabers and grabbed the explosive quick with the Force and hurled it that much further out into the crowd of soldiers teaming the corridor beyond. They would try to scatter but it would prove fruitless. They tripped over each other. The ones who managed to keep their heads fired on the explosive, destroying it in a crackling roar of ionic energy.
They did not see the thermal detonator that rolled along the floor with the same telekinetic momentum from thee Seer. It rolled between their feet, coming to rest in the middle of them. The explosion came and the men were atomized.
“Move!” Zentru’la barked.
The smoke had barely cleared and the strike team broke into a run. The timer was set. Mune took the lead, trusting in the Force to guide them out of the labyrinth the tunnels made. Behind them, the thermal imploder did its work. The explosion rocked the corridors, a violent rumbling that those that understood the way the imploders worked, knew was the initial blast.
“Brace yourselves, but do not stop running,” Zentru’la warned.
The power flickered, light burst overhead. The implosion far behind them of two thermal imploders rocked the facility in its entirety. The power was knocked offline. Their escape aided by darkness they took once more to the shadows. Carefully, they picked their way through, using their temporary advantage to find their way back to the cave. The enemy was in chaos. Any strays they crossed, found their end upon the lightsabers of Xantros, Mune or Impetus. They had but one goal remaining them, extraction.
“We need one of their ships,” Zentru’la spoke as he strode up to match his daughter’s position.
“Our ship is in no proper condition for flying, I am sure in this chaos they won’t mind us nicking one of theirs.” Zehsaa noted with a hint of mirth to her voice.
“The longer we take, the greater the odds they get organized for a counter strike.” Caleb noted dryly.
Mune called up what he could recall of the layouts they had studied for the mission. He frowned, eyeing the dimly lit corridors. He motioned and they broke into a jog down the next corridor. They moved with purpose, a path woven towards where they could only hope there were still even a single ship waiting to be taken. Each corridor they found themselves in looked the same. Mune at the fore guided them as best he could through the Force. Truth was, he was exhausted.
They burst through another corridor out into a wide open bay. Aylin did not even have to think before she was splicing into the nearest panel. She worked into the system, fighting to take control of the great doors that would expose the sky above.
The few soldiers that had remained behind rather than rush to the vault turned their guns upon their unexpected guests. Impetus did not slow down, Xantros, growing tired himself, rushed the enemy with his Empress. Their sabers deflected the enemy fire. Caleb and Zehsaa brought rifles up against their shoulders and took aim, their ammunition nearly exhausted for their precision weapons. Quickly they worked, Mune covered Aylin, ensuring she could work uninterrupted. Zentru’la slipped carefully among the couple of ships to capture one that would suit their needs.
They all had their jobs. Their purpose.
“Do you have it yet?” Mune asked.
“You are covering me so I do not get interrupted, remember? Stop interrupting.” The teen snapped.
With a loud clang, then the grinding of hydraulics, the great cargo bay doors began to inch open. The team assembled, the bay temporarily clear. All of them knew it could not last long. Zentru’la took the pilot seat and Aylin joined him in the co-pilot position.
The ship’s engines fired up. The rest of the team nigh on collapsed into the seating at the back of the shuttle. The rumble of the engines droned in their ears. Ascending into the sky, Zentru’la guided the ship skillfully back into the atmosphere. Their escort rendezvoused as planned, though there was no time to rejoice. They would have the enemy on their tail if they stopped now.
“Let’s go home,” Impetus, once more in her guise of the Togruta, Elincia, spoke. She locked eyes with Zehsaa, the girl shifting uneasily before looking away. The Empress sighed and put it out of mind for the time being. For now, survival was the goal, altered feelings could be cared for later.
“Do we count this a success?” Mune asked.
“We take what we get… we survived, and the vault is destroyed. We’ll take it.” Elincia answered with a sigh.
“You are out of practice with your lightsaber,” Mune noted with a grin.
She rolled her eyes before sitting back to rest her eyes for a time. They all did.