Appius stood at the front of the bridge, carefully observing the lightspeed colors as they shot past the Axios. To say he was worried about this war was an understatement, as he was leading it himself in conjunction with Teebu, the House Ektrosis Quaestor.
The Proconsul’s worries had been high. When the communications were restored, they learned the horrifying truth about the destruction of the Taldryan base in the Holmes District of Port Kasiya. Fires burned and blackened the sky with ash and soot. Men and women lay dead clutching onto their weapons, their last act of defiance worthy of Clan Taldryan. The message, however, was clear, like it was written into the atmosphere itself.
Stay away, or else.
What made matters worse was that Appius had scarcely heard from the Consul in the last few days when this all began. The Grand Master requested her to assist the new Exarch with his initial duties whilst that society established itself in the Brotherhood, which left Appius in charge of Taldryan in her absence.
“Try not to burn anything down, Mandaboo.” She’d said, with as much sarcasm and derision as Appius expected from her.
Yeah… that wasn’t going so well.
Governor Yorinobu was either a madman, incredibly brave, or incredibly stupid. Not even the Caelus Government were bold enough to make a direct move against Taldryan. Ky’Lian had made that crystal clear, so why the Port Kasiya Governor thought he had a hope in hell? Appius did not have the slightest idea. The only thing he did know was leading the Clan into yet another war was entirely upon his shoulders. If anyone died, it was all his fault, and when Erinyes finally returned, he knew he was never going to hear the end of it.
Assuming she didn’t just outright kill him for insubordination, or for failing to do his job. That was also a possibility.
A security system breach, letting the enemy get the better of him inside the Ostara Citadel itself, the damage on relationships with other groups in the system this was going to have, most particularly how Chyron would interpret this. She would have plenty of ammunition to tear him a new one for the better part of a year. At least the Auxiliary Divisions were keen on the move…
Appius turned his head around to see a bridge officer behind him. “Hm?”
“I said we have twenty seconds until we arrive, sir. The rest of the fleet reports the same,” the Captain repeated.
“Very good. Take us out of lightspeed,” Appius replied with a sense of relief. The sooner this was finished, the sooner they could do damage control.
But his thoughts came to an immediate and abrupt end. No sooner than they were out of lightspeed were they already under heavy fire from a Corellian Corvette, two Nebulon-B Frigates, and a Mon Calamari MC-75 Star Cruiser.
“Shields up!” the Captain yelled. “Auxiliary power to forward shield grid!”
Appius paused for a moment as he considered the best course of action.
“Dispatch fighters. Inform Teebu he is to continue to Kasiya as planned with our ground forces. We will handle the enemy fleet on this end.” The Proconsul said, a thoughtful tone to his voice.
“Are you sure, sir? Against a Star Cruiser alone we are already matched, but with the rest…we can use the additional firepower.”
“If we split our forces, it forces the enemy to face off on two distinct theatres and pulls reinforcement pressure off of us. If all of our cards remain in play here, however, they need only push enough to stalemate us to win. The Governor is already two steps ahead. Let’s not allow him to take a third.”
“Understood. Inform the Ewok of the Proconsul’s orders. Tell the other three ships to form upon us and prepare for engagement.” The Captain told the bridge crew.
Appius waited for a few seconds until he was left alone. Immediately, the shields to the Axios were placed under direct fire, the ship rocking slightly from the harder impacts. Klaxons blared above as personnel scrambled from one station to another to enact the Proconsul’s orders. Yorinobu was smart, dangerously so. He’d planned ahead for the incoming attack and he’d caught Taldryan by surprise with a force that they hadn’t expected.
However, the Governor wasn’t the only one with an ace up his sleeve. Appius input the commands on the nearby terminal as the visage of an aged Twi’Lek General appeared into view.
“General Zentru’la,” Appius greeted. “It appears I require your services again.”
War… War never changes.
Crysenia had been through a lot in her thirty-seven years of life. She was born into the military, moulded by it. She didn’t see the day-to-day of normal civilian life until she was a teenager and by that point, she found it utterly mundane. The military was where she belonged. The field of battle was her home, and behind the control panels of a TIE Fighter was one of few prime comfort for her in such situations.
Sadly, one rarely gets the chance to pick their ideal situations when it comes to war. Her father’s death taught her that as a young girl, though Appius seemed at least confident, perhaps naively so, that they would come out on top. Granted, this wasn’t the Proconsul’s first venture with Taldryan against an enemy, hell, it wasn’t the first time a lot of Taldryanites had gone to war in the name of the Clan. There was a history entrenched by the Sons and Daughters of Taldrya themselves that spoke of the culling by former Grand Master and Justicar Jac Cotelin. Some still wouldn’t shut up about Kr’Tal…
Yet, this was Appius’ first war in command of the Clan, and for whatever reason, Crysenia couldn’t shake off the goosebumps that formed on her arms, nor her rapidly increasing heart rate. The amber-hair woman prided herself on keeping calm in such situations, she often had to, considering her career as a pilot, and the new Aedile of House Ektrosis would be damned if she was going to succumb to them!
At least Teebu seemed calm, relatively relaxed even. The newly minted Jedi Ewok sat beside the Aedile in his Grand Admiral uniform twiddling with his… hands? Paws? Crysenia didn’t know, but at least he seemed assured, perhaps a bit overconfident. Taldryan was in a mixed state of affairs in terms of its membership. Andrelious had been poisoned and was suffering from health problems, Dasha and Aylin were partially responsible for the Clawdites that infiltrated the Ostara Temple, the former of which had seemingly gone crazy. Shanree hadn’t a clue about anything until he returned with Zakai, Morax kept muttering something about information, and somehow Crysenia didn’t even want to know what that even meant…
The Aedile was suddenly broken from her train of thought when the Upsilon shook with a thunderous vibration. Red lights flashed inside the ship as klaxons blared, offending her eyes as well as the Taldryan troops being carried to their destination. Crysenia was in a prime location to see through to the cockpit, and out the window, she spotted green, red, and blue ascend into the sky, the source of which came from the Port Kasiya tower. So far, their pilot had been competent enough to manoeuvre around the deadly lasers to avoid a swift end. The same could not be said for the craft that flew beside them. One wrong move, one sorely mistimed turn resulted in an explosion that turned into a fireball right in front of their eyes. Every man and woman on the craft was now dead, turned to ash before having a chance to fight back.
That was just the nature of war, and Crysenia knew it.
But that didn’t make it any easier to deal with. Nothing ever makes it easier.
“They knew we were coming,” Teebu commented. “We need to land immediately.”
“Pilot, circle the tower and land all craft on the outskirts of the Holmes District. That tower is too heavily armed for us right now!” Crysenia barked her order right as a second ship blew apart, courtesy of high-powered ion cannons that blew apart another one of Taldryan’s transports following behind them.
“Right away, ma’am,” the pilot obeyed, not wanting to be in the firing line much longer. They lowered their attitude, out of range of the higher level turrets the tower sported as they beelined it for safety. Crysenia and Teebu arrived in the Holmes District minutes later as the ramp to the shuttle lowered with a sharp hiss. The skyline above Port Kasiya was like a sheet of darkness, utterly black without a single star twinkling above. Despite being a timid and mild atmosphere, the air felt heavy as the distant sounds of blaster fire and explosions echoed into their ears.
Luckily, Taldryan’s forces were nothing if not prepared. Artillery was near completion should the opposition approach faster than they expected. Makeshift holdups had been created from the abandoned buildings that were neglected by the citizens and civilians that abandoned Port Kasiya altogether. However, two noticeable details stuck out to both Crysenia and Teebu. The first was the presence of four clearly distinct gangs mixed in among the Taldryan military. They barely looked disciplined in the slightest, but the Ektrosis leadership had been assured by Appius that their knowledge of Port Kasiya would prove to be valuable, but they never expected them to have access to Taldryan’s Resources. The second was the man that seemingly had rallied them together. A bronze-skinned Kiffar with a smile stretched across his face. Who he was, was no secret. What he did, on the other hand, was one of Taldryan’s best-kept secrets.
The Ember Swarm.
“Jorm,” Teebu greeted cautiously. If there was one thing everyone in Taldryan knew about Jorm “The Jester” Na’trej, it was that he was so far around the bend that he approached sanity from the opposite direction. That made the Kiffar highly unpredictable, and not to mention, dangerous.
“Well, look who it is! Taldryan’s most puntable leader along with his personal assistant!” Jorm said, the smile never leaving his face.
“Is this your doing?” Crysenia asked, choosing to ignore Jorm’s little quip for the moment.
“Yep! A special delivery of information and eyes in all places, just as Appius ordered,” the Kiffar explained.
“And they are all here because?” Crysenia prodded further, pointing to individual members as they walked past.
“Appius said he wanted eyes and ears in every wall,” Jorm shrugged like it was the most obvious thing ever. “I chose to take that literally.”
“Are there any other Taldryanites here?” Teebu inquired only to receive yet another shrug from Jorm.
“Yes, they headed straight for the headquarters in the heart of the good ol’ fashioned Holmes District, but getting there now is going to be a bit of a problem.”
“And why is that?” Crysenia interrupted, arms folded across her chest.
“There are enough of the governor’s goons from here to there to cause too much grief. Even the gangs here are struggling which is why they’ve had to fall back,” Jorm explained, a pleasant lint tinting his voice. “Not to mention…”
Jorm pulled out a small, circular device and pressed the button in the middle. Immediately, the visage of a scarred woman with a mohawk and various tattoos emerged into sight. “Say hello to the constant thorn in your side! Your boys over at the OSI have identified her as Rumi Crane, the Deckers’ gang leader and the reason the remaining two gangs are being so defiant.”
The image then switched to a younger, smaller, and less blemished woman with long black hair and an elegant dress. By all accounts, she was quite beautiful.
“Zaesti Takeda. She’s the Governor’s daughter and from what we’ve seen, she’s Force-sensitive. She leads Yorinobu’s intelligence division.”
“Wait…” Teebu interrupted. “I recognise that name. Appius said the Mystics foresaw a terrible future for the Clan that involved her.”
“All the more reason that she needs to be dealt with now,” Crysenia affirmed.
“And last, but by no means least, my personal favourite…”
Jorm pressed the button as the blue-hued image switched to what could only be described as an abomination before their very eyes. What appeared to be a humanoid male in an exosuit using nine individual tendrils to eviscerate the unfortunate souls that dared to face him. Members of the Taldryan military were left as little more than husks of their former selves by the time the monstrosity was done. When the image faded, Crysenia and Teebu glanced at each other.
“The military has been having fun with that one, as you can tell,” Jorm intervened in the Ektrosis leaders’ musings. “That is Adam Masher. Yorinobu’s right-hand man and leader of his armed forces. He’s also Force-sensitive, and in command of several other Force users.”
“But I can’t sense him,” Teebu interjected. “Which means… he’s being concealed by them. We need to get to the headquarters immediately. Send out a beacon, deal with those three if we can, and get reinforcements ready and prepared to storm the tower.”
“We need a distraction,” Crysenia pointed out. It was true that if they tried to traverse the area towards the Taldryan HQ on Port Kasiya right now, they’d be caught right in the middle of an open battlefield. That was when the pair noticed that Jorm’s permanent smile had seemingly stretched further across his face.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
The Ember Swarm leader raised a hand above his head, turned towards the distance and clenched it. A thunderous roar boomed as the ruins of a small skyscraper were engulfed in a mushroom cloud of fire. The shockwave was so powerful it sent quakes through the ground for a few seconds. Teebu and Crysenia looked aghast at the destruction.
“Jorm, what did you do!?” Crysenia protested.
“Now isn’t the time!” Teebu spoke quickly and authoritatively. “We have our distraction, let’s go!”
Crysenia left first, followed by Teebu who had mounted his custom BB-8 unit to keep up with her, and as for Jorm…
He just laughed.