[GJW XIV] Arcona Run On

Team Aurek

With a curt nod, the Twi’lek sidled up to the hulking Chiss, his lightsaber humming away at his side. Tyga watched as the researchers, and their assistants, hurriedly packed artefacts into heavy crates and protective bags for transport off-station. Sounds of the battle emanated from beyond the temporary defence that was the partially-closed blast doors in the compartment.

Being told to stay close, and out of combat was something he was not accustomed to hearing, but thought it would be better to stay on the Chiss’ good side for this fight since the Collective forces were out for Arcona’s blood. One of the assistants struggled to load texts into a crate, so Tyga switched off the lightsaber, holstered it on his belt and helped out.

“Hmmm, these certainly do look familiar,” he said to the assistant, as he carefully packed the texts into the crate, the covers and writing reminding him of some of Clan Nilim’s tomes.

Soon, the crate was full and ready to be moved to a waiting transport. Using a hover-jack, the assistant left the room, so Tyga thought it would be best if he escorted the assistants and their precious cargoes to the ships. Here was hoping that the Collective were not waiting around the next corner. He approached Strong and looked at him, hearing the battle go up one notch.

Nudging the hulking Chiss, the Twi’lek looked up at his clanmate. “I’ll help them escort the artefacts to the ships,” Tyga unholstered his lightsaber, ignited the bright orange blade and he took the point ahead of the researchers, assistants and cargo, following the route by memory.

Checking every nook and cranny on the route, Tyga breathed a sigh of relief. The Collective must have been heavily distracted by Magik and Skar. The group arrived at a docking station, where the researchers and assistants boarded the transport, while its droids took the artefacts aboard. Tyga felt quite chuffed with himself in regard to his mission; he had more than likely saved important texts from being captured or destroyed and could be preserved once more.

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Team Dorn

Sera had never thought that getting to the damned battle was going to be the hard part.

Their objective, as laid out by Lucine, was painfully simple. Move in, assist station security, protect the administrators, and prevent the Nesolat’s administration and observation facility from falling into enemy hands. Her team was incredibly well suited to the task. Spectre Cell was the pride of the AAF, or so Sera liked to think. Properly placed, she was sure that they would prevail over the Collective. They’d done it before, right?

Sera clenched her jaw tight as The Lady’s Flower rattled around her, rocked by some unseen impact against the vessel’s deflector shields. Strapped into her seat, bundled with her armaments and shining bronzed armor, there wasn’t much that she could do but sit in trust in Diy’s skill… which she did implicitly. Taking a deep breath, her blue-eyed gaze swivelled around to check up on those under her command. Three others joined her, strapped into their own seats. Dax and Zodac were jawing along without a care in the world. Imperial veterans, this wasn’t their first hot drop, and obviously neither of them thought it would be their last. Then, there was Luka. The human was slightly green in the face, though they seemed mostly occupied by scritching at the Nexu head currently sprawled, purring, in their lap. Bico, as she’d been introduced, seemed like it could care less about the battle raging outside the hull. In fact, it seemed to enjoy how the rumble of the deck underneath its grey-furred belly.

That left…the droids.

“I can’t wait to be scrapped when your veggie-headed bimbo crashes us, 4R,” spat Motraka, the B1’s modulated whine cutting through the silence near the back of the vessel. Even as the ancient battledroid was surrounded on all sides by KX droids double its size and half its age, it didn’t seem to care.

“Lady Diyrian is not a bimbo,” one responded indignantly, its shining gold and silver frame seeming to shake with irritation. “She is a fantastic pilot, more than you deserve. Besides…”

”You already look like a scrap-heap,” interjected the other two droids in unison, before high-fiving each other with robotic gusto. That spurred another reply from Motraka -something about their female creators and his ferrofluid injector- before all four fell into argument, eventually devolving into a storm of binary.

Another explosion rocked the vessel. Sera just sighed, pushing the restraint bar from her shoulders and moving -unsteadily- to her feet, the crisp white cloth of her cloak swaying behind her. “I’m gonna check on Diy,” she offered to the others. “If anyone needs something…”

“You wanna drink, lass?” Zodac piped up, his sagging, scarred skin warping into a grin. Furtively, he revealed a flask that had been hidden under the dun cloth of his poncho, the grin widening. “Don’t tell. S’good, old Imperial stuff. Dax is a fan.”

“‘Course I’m a fan!” interjected the other old soldier, pulling the flask from Zodac’s hand and swilling it back. “Ginger isn’t payin’ me enough to try and do this job sober. Besides, a drink helps dull the edge of a hot landing like nothin’ else,” he finished with a half-smile, offering the flask to Sera. The Zabrak gave a huffing laugh, folding her face into her gauntleted hands.

“…you know how much trouble you’d be in if I brought this up later? I’m supposed to be leading you guys,” she stated, a toothy smile creeping across her features. Zodac just laughed.

“Think we care?”

“Nope. Probably not. Gimme,” she stated, holding her hand out.

He never managed to give it to her. Before she could close her grasp over the flask, something slammed into the hull, and the terrible screech of rending metal filled their ears. A moment later, the red flash of warning lights filled the Flower’s interior, accompanied by a warbling siren.

“…Sithspit!” Sera breathed, eyes going wide. Then, without another moment of hesitation, she turned on her heel and sprinted for the cockpit, her cloak flaring out behind her.

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Karran Val’teo regarded his proconsul with a discerning eye. He had not yet had the opportunity to interact very much with the human, but his reputation spoke volumes. A capable warrior, and talented in the Force. But the Zabrak was unsure if Aiden had the stomach for the kind of fight they would be heading into.

He turned to the other two members of his team. Two Togorians. Karran had fought beside Sulith more times than he could count and counted them as one of his most trusted allies and friends. The other, Tybalt, was a bit more of an unknown factor. He was obviously large and strong, as well as a Force User, but beyond that, he could not be sure.

As Aiden rejoined their group, Karran gave a respectful nod. “As you heard the proconsul say, we will be mounting a counterattack against the Collective forces already on board. They may have struck first, but we will strike back. We will strike hard. We will show no mercy. We take no prisoners and give no quarter. If they had their way, they would see Force Users wiped from the face of the galaxy, and we will show them the same courtesy.”

Sulith shifted on their feet. The idea of showing no mercy was discomforting. But Karran had never led them astray before. The Togorian looked to their captain, “Even if they surrender?”

“Based on everything I have seen of the Collective, if their troops surrender, it is more than likely a trap.”

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Team Dorn

Heart pounding in her ears, Diyrian could hardly hear the claxons ringing in the background, excluded by her adrenaline. She peeled her hands from the pilot controls, slumping back against her chair while the last minute flashed in her mind.

Seconds after popping out of hyperdrive, the Collective forces had jumped on them — a squadron of headhunters. Diy had been in a scrap or a few in space and her co-pilot lacked combat experience, yet together they made a cocksure team. Trusting in the heart of The Lady’s Flower, she dug deep into its capabilities, pulling on those thrusters and taking speed in the game of tail chasing. With the cannons on this bird forward facing, she had to loop back in attempts to get a few good hits in. Those starfighter stuck like glue to her rear though, crimson lasers grazing the shields of the KST-100 as they careened closer to their destination.

Diy spotted the quadrijets seconds before L4-C1A had her bright idea, commandeering control and driving the fight into the midst of bomb-packed space tugs. Zelosian curses laid on thick, the Kiffar had yanked them sideways, just clearing between two when a headhunter collided into them. The explosion detonated licked up much of the Lady’s remaining shields. Gritting her teeth, Diy brought the ship into the nearest Nesolat hangar fast and hot.

You are welcome,” a electronic voice snapped her focus. A wide grin splayed across her face as the Zelosian-wannabe panted.

“I’d said ‘let’s lose these nerfherders,’ not drive through a space minefield,” she addressed, blue-green eyes looking to the interface that flashed under the crimson lights.

Your limitations on strategic flight maneuvers was minimizing our chances of survival. You are welcome,” smugly replied L4-C1A, the droid brain and co-pilot — or as it preferred the head pilot — of the ship.

“Oh yeah, basic pilot?” Diy rolled her eyes as she shot back her jokeful taunt on the Droid’s programming. The sharp sound of her harness’ buckles clanged against the metal back of the chair and she bounced to her feet, fingers administering a quick code on the terminal before ruffling in a nearby panel compartment.

The door to the cockpit hissed open as Sera rushed in, white cloak flowing behind her. The Zabrack’s proud brow was set with a mix of concern, seriousness, and anticipation. “What happened?”

Diyrian flashed a toothy grin, taking a couple tabs of Vutalamine before replying, “Had some friends pop in, weren’t real respectful of personal space—”

The cockpit shifted under foot, causing the pair to catch their balance as the surviving landing gears propped up the ship at an awkward angle. L4-C1A interjected, “The hatch has fifty percent of available clearance available for exit now.

But neither of the organic women seemed to be paying attention. The settling of the landing gear had drew their attention to the hanger outside. Among the destroyed crates, crushed drones, and the x-wing pinned in front of the KST-100, figures shifted into cover and formation. It was hard to tell whether or not they were Collective or the Nesolat station forces.

“Showtime?” Diy smiled, pulling one of her pistols from the belt attached around her flight suit and twirling it.

Sera nodded and, despite the seriousness of the stakes and the lives endangered she felt, was eager to head into the fight, trusting fully in their ability to help. “Let’s grab the others.”

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Team Besh

Archive 4549 Besh

“Frak this damned commlink!” Aru Law threw away the innocent piece of technology and ducked from the incoming enemy volley.

Next to him were several scholars, one of which was very old. He had been helping the Jedi secure the classified documents on this section of the Archives when they got pinned. It was unexpected. Aru didn’t believe them to arrive that quickly.

“What are we going to do Master Law?” The old man questioned.

The dark-haired Human looked around the red flashing room. It was heavily reinforced with durasteel walls. The only way in was the breached door, blasted open with a heavy impact grenade. Besides both walls of the door, several transparisteel showcases with various artifacts and datapads stood in line. Focusing on two of those showcases, Aru reached out to the Force and pulled them together, blocking the entrance.

“That’ll slow them down,” he remarked, reaching for his tabac case, “at least for a while.” The Human used his lightsaber to light his tabac and enjoyed a few puffs amidst all that chaos. For a moment, his mind felt calm and nothing could disturb him.

Hangar

“How should we proceed Master?” Archian inquired Tali Sroka. His first big assignment couldn’t be harsher on the Shistavanen. A war on a yet to be knighted Arconan.

“I say we head straight down that corridor, slice every one that gets in the way and save that good for nothing Aedile.” Said Aay’han, her hands twitching to get some action. She was clearly disappointed by not having found anyone protecting the hangar.

“As much as I agree with you about Aru,” Qyreia intervened, “heading straight down that corridor doesn’t seem like the best option.” Tali looked at both with a disapproving gaze. “What? He’s a flamboyant peacock!”

“And loud.” Aay’han added.

“Andt deadt if ve don’t get there in time.” The Qel-Droman Quaestor replied. “I do agree vith Qyreia on that matter. The corridors aren’t the best option.”

“What about the service ducts?” Archian pointed towards the hanging panel that once covered the entrance to the service ducts.

“Is the doctor afraid of encountering some baddies?” Aay’han mocked and mimicked crying with her hands.

“Let’s all stop with the banter.” Tali said. “That’s a goodt idea. Ve have the map of it andt can headt straight towards Aru vithout tiring ourselves out needlessly.”

Aay’han was forced to agree and follow the group as they made their way inside the service ducts. The first few meters weren’t that bad. The lighting was still good, and some air flowed. But after the first turns, the ducts became smaller, and tighter, and the air felt heavy. Qyreia was leading the group, followed by Tali, Archian, and lastly, Aay’han.

The light was very dim now. Tali dared not turning her sabers on, the risk of hurting someone being too great. Every now and then, someone would bump into another, which was followed by a whispered ‘sorry’. But progress was being made and the team pressed on.

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Team Besh

They were slowly moving forward. They all started to sweat in a very humid atmosphere around them. The air conditioning systems were probably damaged, which meant that breathing quickly started to become difficult. Archian was still suffering from the loss of his fur, precious hair which helped him make almost no sound, and camouflage if one had the knowledge how to use it.

He was last in line. His master Tali was leading the group. Behind her Qyreia was following the Twi’lek’s steps. That left himself and Aay’han to bring up the rear. didn’t want to leave Aay’han as last for two reasons. First, she was an experienced warrior — for sure more than him — but she was still immature. Second, he was worried about his tail, he had a feeling that she would try to cut it off from boredom and without a fight around. So, he’d elected to act as tail for them all.

The corridor to which they proceeded started to narrow down. There was only enough space to crawl on their knees and try not to look at each other’s butts. Suddenly he felt a very fast but delicate change of the air stream. A moment later, air pressure started to change and he smelled small particles of smoke coming to his nose.

''We have to get out of here," he said quickly.

''Are you getting scared?" asked Aay’han.

He looked at her, didn’t even shake his head, just repeated to Tali and Qyreia who turned around.“We have to get out to the main corridor if we don’t want to be like fried and smoked Bogan’s Brown Nafen”.

They looked at him like they didn’t understand a word which came out off his mouth. “Fire is coming,” he told them.

Now they felt it, and a black cloud started to come at them. They rushed to the nearest passage and together Qyreia and Archian pushed the cover. When they moved away Tali stopped before going to the other side of it.

“This is a definite trap, gear yourself and prepare for a fight, this time we won’t avoid it”. Tali told everyone.

Aay’han’s smile widened when she heard it, and grabbed her Knight silver lightsaber more firmly.

Tali at first looked around the corner but no one was there. Empty corridor without sign of life, but with two wrecked and damaged droids on the decking. Qyreia checked them. “They were cut by vibroswords.” She went silent for a second. “I’ve never seen Collective goons do this good work. Be on Your guard.”. Qyreia added taking deep breath after that long sentence.

“By information from Aru, ve are quarter away from his last position,” confirmed Tali after checking marks at the walls. “Let’s headt on, but as quiet as ve can.”

Every next step was felt, like done in slow motion. Sounds were heard from down the corridor, before ceasing abruptly into silence. The next moment, from total silence to stunning blast, ventilation covers exploded with fire. Aay’han didn’t wait and started running forward, avoiding the fire erupting from the air condition covers above their heads. Qyreia followed her quickly. Tali and her apprentice ran to them, and all together passed the deadly part of the station’s labyrinth.

They stood in front of four Collective soldiers waiting for them like rats in the cage with bait. Aay’han took her blaster quickly from under the coat and shot one of them in the head.

“Now it’s getting started”.

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Team Besh

Blaster fire quickly erupted from both sides as the Arconans and Collective dashed for cover rather than stand out in the open, save for the Twi’lek, whose yellow lightsabers burts to life, batting aside the incoming fire. The Force user’s defense quickly turned to offense as she stepped forward, bouncing left and right like a dance that wove through the criss-crossing bolts of colored energy. The closer Tali got though, the more intense the fire was concentrated on her. That gave Qyreia ample ability to scope out one of the Collective shooters and level him with a well-placed shot.

The Arconans bounded forward behind the cover of the twirling lightsabers, throwing the occasional bolt past their purple-skinned ally to force their opponents’ heads down. Before the closest one realized, the Twi’lek was already on top of him, striking across his chest with a saber and leaving a glowing trench in his chest as she passed. She bounded back, giving Archian and Qyreia some room to approach, laying into the final soldier with withering blaster fire.

“Tell me again why we were in the vents?” Qyreia asked as they consolidated in the wake of the fight. “I’ll take this Sithspit over getting into another cramped tube.”

“You pulled up the map,” Aay’han observed. “Seems like you have yourself to thank.”

“S’cuse you, schutta, but I didn’t pick the route.”

Tali growled at the arguing, and again the Zeltron’s word choice. “Vill you two quit your bickering? Ve have more important things to be vorrying about.”

“Agreed,” their Shistavanen intoned, heeding his master’s words. “Aru still awaits us. And imminently, if his last message was any indicator.”

“Then let’s mooove, mutha frackahs,” the Zeltron goaded, stepping ahead of the group, turning their huddle into a brisk walk.

Sector seven, sublevel Cresh. That was where their erstwhile counterpart aboard the station had given as his last known location. Now in sector seven, it was only a matter of finding a way there from level Esk, where they were. Qyreia suggested cutting through the floor into the levels above. Tali countered with the real possibilities that they could run into a corridor that had been breached and was now a vacuum, or happen upon an entire squad of Collective agents. On the first point, everyone agreed; on the second, there were some who thought that might not be such a bad thing. It would make for one hell of an ambush.

Caution won out over bravado, though, and they opted instead for taking a service ladder up past sublevel Dorn and on to Cresh. Their arrival was timely, though less pleasant than they might have expected.

Sputters of blaster fire erupted from one end of the room to be answered by another burst from the opposite side; back and forth. When the Arconan team was fully piled into the room though, the attention garnered from the movement intensified the dwindling action on both sides. The quartet took cover behind several empty display cases, the thin transparisteel that once held artifacts and tomes within shattered or melted by apparent blaster fire, empty of their contents.

Qyreia’s eyes darted from one side to the other. “How do we know which group is friendly?” she barked over the din of combat. “I can’t see kark through all these displays.”

“Aru. Vhere are you? Ve’re on the main floor of your last location.”

Archian growled in frustration as he debated which way to shoot. “He may not be able to speak due to the combat.”

“He a Force user?” Qyreia belted angrily as the case just above her head erupted into smoking shards. “Tell him to wave his damn glowbat around!”

“That would give his position away,” Nath argued.

“Well both sides are shooting at us right now, kark-face! I think dividing that number in half is more important! Don’t you?!”

Tali’s brow furrowed, frustrated at the arguing and the overhead shooting and so much else right now. “Aru,” she called over the comm again, “can you signal us in any vay? Show us your lightsaber.”

Moments later, a brilliant green blade emerged from behind a sturdy-looking desk, given the number of scorch marks on its surface, waving slightly before disappearing again. That was their cue, and enough for Tali to reignite her own sabers, darting through the cases and desks toward their Collective foe, Aay’han close behind, her features highlighted by the red glow of her own blade.

“Space wizards, am I right?” Qyreia asked Archian amiably. He only ignored her and ventured on to assist the others. “Arright, fine. We’ll play it that way.”

The scattered line of Arconans pushed into their enemy’s left flank, their weapons and movements relieving them of the hostile fire they’d been receiving from their own lines. While the Force users pushed forward, their medic close behind, Qyreia provided accurate covering fire from her rifle. A wry grin crept over Aay’han’s face, taking advantage of the break in fire to pause, concentrating on a nearby desk to wrench it free from the floor. Several panicked screams could be heard as the Collective soldiers began to scramble away from the heavy, floating furniture, only to go silent as it crashed down on top of them.

Archian sped past, still hot on his master’s tail, watching her cut through display stands to reach the enemies hidden behind them. Closer now, and with a clearer view of the Collective troops, he drew his bow and unleashed arrows at his targets, most meeting armor and flesh with a deep, meaty thunk. As the tide turned, the Brotherhood troops behind them started to rally, giving Aru a proper chance to strike back.

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Team Besh

Finally changing from defence to offence, Aru sheathed his saber and grabbed his brand new pair of blaster pistols, custom made to his personal taste. He fired bolt after bolt, aided by Qyreia, which allowed the rest of the group to rally behind them.

“Took you long enough!” The Gray Jedi stated, another volley of bolts being fired.

“Ve hadt some problems on the vay,” Tali explained.

“You don’t seem too distressed to be honest,” Qyreia argued, panting from all the running they had been through.

“I’m just happy to see you all! I missed those purple lekku,” the Human flirted with his Quaestor.

“You’ve been on this station for a few hours at most,” Tali said while rolling her eyes, “vhat happendt here? Your comms vere down.”

While Aru explained everything to Tali, Aay’han and Archian were still firing on Collective forces. The Zabrak seemed to be enjoying the shootout, though she prefered to be closer to the action.

“Can we leave yet?” sShe asked, itching to draw her lightsaber.

“One moment please,” Aru replied., Oonce more he turned to Tali and Qyreia. “As I was saying, Mister slowpoke here,” the Jedi gestured towards the head researcher of that sector of the academy, “insisted on salvaging as many holocrons, artifacts and datapads that we possibly can.”

Tali and Qyreia peered behind the academics. They were in fact loading two big repulsor trolleys with carefully packaged artifacts, and several industrial sized holocron tubes.

“Ve have to leave immediately to the central core,” Tali informed, haste in her tone. “The Nesolat is definitely going down andt ve don’t vanna be here vhen it happens.”

“Tell that to him! He won’t listen despite me having made clear that I am a Magistrate.”

With a quick movement, Qyreia grabbed the scholar by his shirt and pushed him back. Knocking him against a wall, she pointed her blaster to his face.

“Listen up schutta!” she yelled, causing fear amidst the academics present. “We are leaving now, or you’re not leaving at all! Got it?”

“Y-yes ma’am!” The old man squeaked.

Qyreia then released him, and he fell on his knees. Still static from the experience, all he could do was nod to his peers, signaling them to obey Qyreia.

“I think I got that covered.” The red Zeltron smiled.

“Remind me to never get on your bad side,” Aru quipped.

More Collective forces were gathering on the corridor they had come in through. Archian and Aay’han were still fighting them, but some were managing to avoid their fire.

“They’re too much!” Archian yelled. “We cannot hold them for long.”

“I’ll go help the kids.” Qyreia announced, raising her blaster and moving to a vantage point behind a big crate. “You, hurry up!”

“She’s right Aru. Ve needt to go,” the Twi’lek stated as Aru scratched his beard.

“Not yet. Before you came in, I received a message from Ciara,” The Human explained. “She knew I was in this sector and ordered me to retrieve some specific high value holocrons.”

“Andt vhere are those holocrons?”

“In the back.”

Tali and Aru quickly made their way towards the back corridor of the archives. In order to enter, they needed a high level clearance pass which was not a problem due to Aru’s very recent new post in the Shadow Academy.

“Right, vhat are the holocrons ve needt?” Tali asked. She could sense something in the Force, a different feeling she hadn’t felt in a long time. Before she could fully focus in determining its origin, Aru’s voice broke her connection.

“Yes, we need secret files Shadowcast, Lightsbane, Immortalis, Honeybadger…"

“Vait, vhat?!” The purple Twi’lek was confused.

“That’s what it says, file name: Honeybadger.

“… I don’t know vhat that is about, but ve have to have it!”

Aru paused for a moment, weighing his options.

“Alright, I suppose I can tell Ciara the file was lost in the fighting.”

“Vhat a nice Aedile!” Tali smiled. The feeling invaded her mind again, this time stronger. She turned around and could almost smell the Force, like it wanted her to follow the scent. She did.

A few meters away, Tali crouched and looked behind the shelves full of holocrons. A glimmer in the distance spiked her interest. She pushed several of those holocrons away and, with aid from the Force, pulled the strange object that glittered towards her.

“What is that?” Aru asked. He could now feel a disturbance in the Force.

Tali didn’t answer. She was fully focused on the object. It looked like a small plant, though it was made of kyber crystals of different colors. The leaves it possessed were emanating an enticing smell, both to Tali’s nose and her mind, through the Force.

“Hey.” Aru touched Tali’s shoulder, breaking her trancse. “We should probably isolate this.”

Feeling numb and disorientated, Tali was forced to kneel down. She handed the plant to Aru who was careful not to touch it for too long. Immediately he placed it inside a thick durasteel container, commonly used by the academy to transport sensible loads.

“Are you alright?” He asked, helping his Quaestor up.

“Yes. My stomach’s just a little upset.” The Twi’lek replied. “Ve needt to go, now. Ve’ve delayedt for too long.”

Aru agreed with her. When they left the archives, Qyreia was being pinned behind the crate she had been covering by. Archian was patching up some injured scholars, and Aay’han was nowhere to be seen.

Tali rushed to his apprentice and Aru started firing upon the Collective, giving Qyreia a chance to rejoin them.

“Vhere’s Aay’han?” Tali inquired the Shistavanen.

“She was yelling something about being too bored,” he explained between pants and bandaging someone, “and grabbed her lightsaber, and then she jumped towards the Collective agents and that’s the last I saw of her.”

“You didt goodt. It’s time to leave.” Tali told him, proud of her apprentice.

Meanwhile, Aru was ordering the scholars around. They fired up the repulsor trolleys and prepared to leave.

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Team Besh

Violence. Raw, unbridled violence flowed through her. It flowed from her lightsaber and blaster in equal measure, the crimson plasma dispensed by bolt and blade mirroring the scarlet of her Force bled eyes. Aay’han Agrona was an avatar of rage and for the first time since setting foot upon this blasted archival station she felt truly alive.

Panicked screams from hapless militants, barely trained meat shields misguided into thinking they’d ever have the power to face a true Sith, filled her ears with a delicious tune of raw emotion that made her spine tingle. Her every motion was powerful, deliberate, decisive. She pounced from prey to prey, slashing, shooting, smashing. It was glorious–and over too abruptly.

There was no shouted order, no clicking of blasters to the ready. Only the shrill premonition of a gruesome death upon the Force and the methodical staccato of overwhelming blaster fire. Her indulgent rout of Collective armsmen turned upon its head in an instant, a cacophony of explosions from corkscrewing wrist rockets throwing her off her feet and slamming her into a bulkhead that almost shattered a budding horn. The gash on her forehead wept crimson, and for a moment it clouded her vision as copper lingered on her tongue.

Then the moment passed, and the frantic messages over her communicator finally registered with her mind.

“Aay’han, ve are leaving! Meet us at the central module, or fendt for yourself.”

Awfully harsh and uncaring words from a Jedi, Aay’han mused, though the sudden clink of thrown explosives behind her proved a persuasive argument to follow the Twi’lek’s command. She’d exact her vengeance next time.

==

“Did she respond?” Aru Law inquired; one hand wrapped firmly around the shoulder of the archivist to ensure he kept up a decent pace.

“You’re patchedt to the same network,” Tali responded dryly. “I got the impression Aay’han doesn’t exactly enjoy informing others of her comings andt goings.”

“Assuming the schutta is still alive,” Qyreia said in passing, earning herself a collective stare. “What?!” the red skinned woman scoffed. “We were all thinking it.”

“Well, let us all hope miss Argona is safe and sound,” Archian said with his best attempt at diplomacy. “She seemed like a resourceful and capable woman, after all.”

“She’s a hot-headed schutta too enamored with shooting what she can’t stab,” Qyreia spat dismissively. “Sith like her? Decicred a dozen.”

“Glad to know-“ a huff of exhaustion, “-you hold me in such high regard, merc.” Emerging from the shadows of a narrow passageway, the Zabrak was clearly out of breath and her creamy white complexion marred by streaks of dried blood.

“Had your fill?” the Zeltron inquired, seemingly unphased by the Sith’s sudden reappearance. “Or is it just a Zabrak thing to always get their heads kicked in?”

“Zip it, Q,” Tali grunted and turned to Archian. “Patch her up as best you can. Ve needt to keep moving. Lucine’s statedt ve are going planetside aboardt the administrative module. Some teams may already be there, so let’s hurry. Ve don’t vant to be left behindt.” The last words were pointed at the various academics who’d developed a steadily growing chorus of grumblings about the quick pace they’d kept. A few huddled exchanges later, they decided that exhaustion was preferable to extinction, none wishing to test the competing hypothesis.

==

The road to the administrative module was arduous, but largely uneventful. Using passageways mostly reserved for the senior researchers, the mismatched procession of Arconan and Shadow Academy representatives managed to bypass at least two major firefights between Collective boarders and Brotherhood security details. Aay’han wasn’t pleased, but the Twi’lek’s insistence on avoiding combat held sway-for now.

“We are nearing the module,” the senior archivist pointed out, struggling to not sound as winded as he looked. “The hangar bay ought to be nearby. Perhaps we can acquire a shuttle and…”

The muffled double-clap of a sonic imploder going off just beyond where the Archivist had pointed snapped everyone to alertness. Tali closed her eyes for a moment, sensing out for what was going on. She didn’t have time for much, but the Force whispered urgency.

“You know how to get to safety?”

“Well, I…”

“Goodt, then go!” She pulled her saber off her belt and glanced at her team. “I don’t know vhat that vas, but ve are neededt.”

“Finally!” Aay’han grunted.

“As you wish, Master,” Archian nodded, though timid at yet more violence.

“Was getting tired of nursing relics anyway,” Qyreia scoffed.

“You mean the artifacts or the researchers?” Aru inquired. The Zeltron only grinned.

Hurrying up to the hangar doors, the sounds of combat intensified. Screams, explosions, and the unmistakable humming of lightsabers. Whoever were inside, they fought for the Brotherhood. That meant allies, at least nominally.

“Sounds like our help is neededt,” Tali motioned at the door controls. “Can you get through?” She glanced at her Aedile.

“I don’t have access here with this,” Aru held up his key card, “but I can try this.” The Knight held a computer spike and a mischievous grin. A breach of protocol and information security later, he gave a thumbs up. “In like sin!”

“Let’s go kick some Collective butt!” Aay’han exclaimed, first through the door though barely open.

Tali moved in behind her, her saber flaring to life with a golden hue even as a resounding battlecry echoed from beyond the Collective troopers. It was one they all recognized immediately, and joined in a chorus—save for one.

“INVICTA!” they cried.

The Zeltron’s lips pressed in a line.

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Team Dorn

Well. It certainly wasn’t Shadow Academy staff waiting for them in the hangar. Things just got better and better. At least The Collective was always good for a warm welcome.

“They aren’t paying me enough for this Sithspit!” Dax spat at no one in particular as he ducked under a stream of crimson blaster-fire, a few stray shots sparking off the edge of his cloak. They’d been pinned down in the center of the hangar, just a few dozen feet away from the downed Lady’s Flower. A full platoon of Collective partisans was closing in around them, threatening to surround their position. Not that he was worried. He’d seen far worse before. Grumbling under his breath, the old soldier ripped the pin from his sonic imploder, tossing it blindly over the edge of his cover. The deafening double-detonation followed moments later, pierced through by the sounds of ragged screams and broken bones.

“Are you kidding me? I ain’t had this much fun since the Battle o’ Mimban!” Zodiac laughed from Dax’s side, his mane of greying hair shaking. Popping to his feet, the ex-Imperial let loose a salvo of slugs, smoothly picking off the soldiers that Dax had stunned, gunshots cutting through the air.

“You fought at the battle of Mimban?” Luka questioned, narrowing their eyes. Crouched behind a shattered crate, they crooned softly under their breath as they wound a tight bandage Bico’s paw, tending a wound that had been dealt during the initial fighting.

“No, but I drank during it!”

“I’ll drink on your Mimban!” Diy interjected, flashing Zodac a sultry grin, before spinning Whyell around in her hand and smashing a Partisan in the jaw as he tried to vault over her cover, following the blow by kneeing him harshly in the groin. The Kiffar brought Whynetta around in her other hand, and the man was dead before he hit the floor, a smoking hole between his eyes.

One member of the team, however, did not join in the joking… though she certainly wanted to. But, someone had to keep them alive. Even as the Arconans laughed and joked and rambled, not seeming to take the fight at all seriously… they fought like a well oiled machine, like a single entity. Their movements were timed together, running like clockwork: when Dax moved to launch a wrist-rocket into a pocket of Partisans, Diy was already spraying cover fire. When a few well-aimed bolts almost sped for Zodac’s throat, Luka was there, saber reflecting the shots away.

It was efficiency. Synthesis. Harmony. It protected Sera’s team. That was all that mattered to her. Crouched just behind Diy, the Zabrak’s eyes were tightly shut, her hearts pounding to the rhythm of the Force, her lips murmuring a silent prayer to her ancestors. Even with her eyes closed, she could feel Diy standing over her protectively, sense Dax and Zodac as they reloaded their weapons, discern Bico’s pain and Luka’s worry.

There was more. She could feel the minds of the people that they were fighting, their fear. And… she could feel something approaching from behind them. A familiar presence drawing closer, from deeper within the station. It put a smile on her face.

“On my word,” Sera murmured, breaking her silence. “We charge them. Head on.” Breaking her meditation, the Zabrak moved to one knee, her amber saber igniting.

“Are you crazy, Baldy?” Dax shot back, his brow rising incredulously. “There’s still a dozen of ‘em out there, we’ll be running to our death.”

“Just trust me,” she responded, giving him a bright, sunny grin, nonchalantly ducking as a stream of crimson fire hissed over her scalp. “We’ve got help coming up right behind them. We attack, they’ll fall back. It’s our best chance.”

Diy smiled, hefting her blasters. Luke shrugged, brandishing their saber. Zodac chuckled, pulling deeply from his flask… and Dax just sighed.

“I’ll give you a little bonus…” Sera promised, her smile growing wider.

“…right. Just give damn the word.”

“Sweet! Now…ARCONA INVICTA!” the Zabrak cried, raising her golden saber high. Bursting into a sprint, she vaulted over her cover, listening as her team poured out behind her…

And just beyond the enemy’s line, she saw another shining yellow saber ignite.

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Team Esk


Agreed on a course of action, the team refrained from any further chatter as their VT-Decimator hurled from the hangar when their turn came, leaving the pattern and the safety of the Will of Our Lady’s shields behind.

The thrust of their boosters gave them gravity, pressing each Arconan and the pilots into their seats, but they endured with steady breaths and clenched jaws as the immediate chaos of entering a live fire zone began. The skilled naval officers navigated them this way and that, their course set for docking with the Nesolat at the nearest available point of ingress, but a lot of plasma and shrapnel between them and it. They pitched and rolled, dodging fire, their own [guns] heaving with a heavy retort occasionally, either to scatter enemy vessels or clear a path through the debris field of the Nesolat’s increasingly overwhelmed defenses. Chatter across the comms indicated some of their own fighter screens being engaged, while other assault and rescue teams had already made a successful approach to the docking towers and breached.

To Marick, the Force suddenly screamed. The Hapan inhaled, head whipping around.

“Incoming!” he snapped, like the sharp crack of an ice crag splitting at a seam.

They braced, hands reaching for straps, feet stamping. But not Atyiru. Her hands clasped in prayer, her silver brows plummeting like fallen stars, sepia face scrunching under them.

Boomboomboomboom-boomboom.

The marrow of their bones reverberated as the volley of laserfire rocked against something…but not against the hull. Not directly. Instead, a protective corona, limned in starlight, surrounded the whole of the small vessel. Or it did, until a half heartbeat later, when two more impacts came as the ship pinwheeled through the plasma-lit voidscape. One, fainter. The second, not at all. Their transport shuddered hard, metal screeching, klaxons blaring.

The Miraluka cried out a gasp. The copilot belted, “Grazing shot to the starboard thruster! Not gone yet but it will be! Hold on!”

Atyiru groaned lowly, sweat beading her brow. “So much stronger than a blaster. I can’t block them…”

Her murmuration was lost to the noise of the battered ship spiraling to and fro, the hum of engines and cannons and barked communications. They heard none of the so very deadly shots that passed by them, their fury lost to the silence of space when they didn’t impact with the vessel.

“Coming in hot, brace for impact!”

The scream of metal on metal filled their ears, though they felt more than heard the contact when it came, grinding and vibrating through their bones to the marrow, through their teeth in their gums. For a few moments everything ached.

But then they could all feel the slow of their momentum, the inevitable grate to a halt, and all had a moment of relief that they hadn’t crashed into anything.

Marick and Emere were the first out of their seats, one utterly unruffled thanks to all his training, the other a soldier of enough battles to recover fast. The Hapan unbuckled Atyiru while Emere aided her fellow Human. Once on their feet, the medic rushed to check the two pilots, and altogether they piled off the ship lest it be about to explode before she began first aid for sprains and scrapes.

A quick check of both senses and sightlines revealed them alone in the hangar. Nonetheless, the others stood armed and ready while the Miraluka administered hyposprays and bandages.

“Are you not an adept of the healing arts?” Alaisy’s modulated tones asked.

“Indeed, my friend, but I have to save my energy more these days. Who knows when we may need it most on this mission?” She finished quickly and stood again. Atyiru’s comm crackled as she activated it, hailing the Will of Our Lady, whose communications officers would route every team’s transmissions. “This is Team Esk. We’ve landed, but our transport won’t be returning. We’re on,” she paused.

Marick’s icy eyes flitted to the various designation markings on the hangar’s walls that she could not read. “The seventeenth level, Hangar Senth-Twenty,” he murmured. There were signs of some struggle, technicians on the floor here and there who may have been preparing for evacuation or flight, but not many. The control center was a spray of red on glass. Personal ships sat silent and untouched. It seemed no one had made it here en masse to join the fray before the enemy had.

“We’re on the seventeenth level. Proceeding with the mission. We will make way to the rendezvous site once we’ve secured the civilians.”

She knew they were here. If not on this floor, then close. Their cries echoed in her head.

A brief reply of confirmation followed. It seemed they were one of the last to arrive, likely on account of the damage they’d taken; but they were alive and in position, so that was what mattered.

The pilots were already grabbing equipment and armaments from the cooled ship as they removed their flight gear, ready to proceed as well. Blasters in hand, a quick word decided that one would go with each group. They took a well-placed spray of plasma fire to the Decimator’s controls and databank and hurried away, crossing the mostly-empty hangar in tense alertness.

The hallway just outside the blast doors was empty, yawning long in either direction, scuffs and smears on the floor. It was quiet, but that didn’t mean much. The group paused a moment more.

“Well, let us be gone then,” Alaisy decided, and began to flow away down one side of the hall, swaying with each predatory, knife-sharp step. Emere turned for the opposite, mouth firm, gun ready.

Atyiru took a step towards Marick, briefly clutched at his cloak. Touched her forehead to his again. “We’ll be safe,” she murmured, and he nodded back. Then, the assassin slipped away, following like a shadow in Alaisy’s wake along with their pilot.

The Miraluka joined her own companions and set off into the dark.

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Team Esk


The hallway was lit with a single crimson emergency light on the ceiling that pulsed from beginning to the end. Glossy walls bounced it around, creating an ominous, mirror-like atmosphere. Marick kept his eyes peeled and took each pause between the tall woman’s click-clacking heels and the pilot’s combat boots to listen for any permeating sounds. The aviator kept himself several steps away from the Shadow’s shimmer at the back of the group.

Pockets of untouched relics were on display on each side of the hallway, locked away behind transparisteel. One could break through the walls themselves to reach for those glittering prizes, but even the Sith woman did not slow down her stride. Alaisy realized that any artifacts so early in sight would not be worth the trouble, while Marick was about to grind his molars as he readied himself to elucidate her and found that he did not have to.

As they made their way further, they could all hear an artificial voice in the distance. The message was concise and repeated itself over and over.

“Security breach detected, all personnel are to follow the designated red lights for artifact recovery as per protocol Leth-36,” the robotic, male-sounding voice repeated.

Some scrapes were starting to show on the walls ahead and further away bright white light beckoned them. Blood and burn marks became more apparent until they finally reached a three-way crossing. The way to the left was blocked by a malfunctioning blast door, the middle was closed up with a bottom part missing and a crushed Acolyte’s arm squished underneath it. The only remaining route was to the right, which incidentally also had a flickering and swirling red light adorning it.

“This leaves us little choice. You heard the announcement, follow the scarlet trail,” the latex clad woman said with amusement in her modulated voice. A voice command in ancient Sith activated her self-contained breathing apparatus as she noticed the air filled with smoke when the door slid open.

“Just smoke. We are not alone,” Marick’s aristocratic voice hushed quietly.

As both Force Users stepped through the opening, the pilot donned a breathing mask as he heard the hissing from Alaisy’s mask, following her example. His hands tightened around his blaster as the atmosphere itself felt disturbed. The broadcast from earlier was gone, only the sound of small fires and cut electric wires filling the corridor.

Broken droids littered the first few steps out of the entryway. Blaster marks on the walls and cracked durasteel plates from explosives followed. A quartet of incinerated bodies lay next to a shattered cavity in the wall.

“Debris from a possible former artifact, perhaps?” The pilot suggested as he turned his head away from the pile of bodies with disgust and pointed at the shard filled gap. Marick’s shimmer faded and his form showed himself to the pilot for just a moment as he nodded, then gestured to move on.

Two tiles away from the pile, in the middle of the path, an amputated droid piqued Alaisy’s interest. With grey eyes behind her transparisteel visor she blinked and noticed the eye sockets of the droid flickering on and off.

The Sith’s pupils grew as she curiously tapped her boot against its cranium. The bot’s sensors picked up on it and a robotic voice sputtered to life.

“Require assistance, security compromised, enemy utilized scorched earth tactics. My circuits estimate with an eighty-eight-point-nine-nine percent certainty that they will be stuck two blocks ahead. Caution advised. Recommend extraction of artifacts. Protocol dict—" the last of its power drained away as its damaged battery could no longer sustain the bot’s vocal emitter. Moments later its mechanical eyes dimmed out for good.

“Good droid, looks like there are visitors after all,” she bent over just to pat the droid on the head.

“I concur. I hear plasma torches ahead of us,” Marick interjected.

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Team Esk


Emere was on high alert as she and Atyiru traversed to where the literal smoke was the thickest. The blaring alarms and evidence of preceding skirmishes were more than enough of an indicator for the major. The Miraluka was guided by the sense of life and fear to which she offered simple directions of ‘this way’ or ‘that way’. There were a few disapproving grunts that left Galo but she had no protest otherwise. The deeper they delved into the ship, the more carnage and bodies of Brotherhood personnel they saw. Both women were disturbed by the sight but in different ways. Atyiru wished they had arrived sooner to save them but to the soldier, it was fuel for her inner fire toward the Collective.

“Wait,” the Adept said tersely and reached out and grabbed Emere’s arm gently before she rounded a corner. “There’s a patrol of Collective soldiers ahead. They are on high alert and they’re…” She paused, seemingly in deep thought. “Guarding something— no… they’re guarding hostages.”

Shrugging the hand away, Emere asked, “How many?” Atyriu inhaled, her brow furrowing to gauge for a number.

“Six… but there may be more out of my range.”

Emere readied her rifle with fire in her eyes before she muttered, “Good.” The Miraluka was not taken back by the soldier’s willingness to kill but, perhaps, she could change her mind.

“We should see if they can be reasoned with first. They may have valuable intel that could give us an advantage in this war.”

As though she’d drank a vile of poison, Emere shook her head vehemently. “No.” Her jaw was taut as her teeth became mortar and pestle. “They didn’t reason with our people, most of which were unarmed, who are now dead. They need to pay.” No amount of negotiation would back the dead so blood for blood was the most logical outcome in the Major’s mind. Of course, the chance for intel was a compelling argument but it would be a disservice to the perished.

“Very well,” the Arconae said solemnly with a gentle smile on her lips. Before she spoke again, she heard Emere’s heavy boots hitting steel fading away, the sound obviously alerting the patrol. The Miraluka heard the first blaster shot and instinctively readied Seraphim.

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Team Esk

There was a clarity in battle. Normally, that clarity was an anchor to Emere. It was familiar, just like the oceans of her homeworld. The ocean did not care for anything, it just was. It would uplift travelers or drown fools, and it was up to anyone interacting with it to know well enough and respect it. The mission was her ocean. Kill the bastards who had massacred their people. Protect her team. Save the Academy staff.

Atyiru took her clarity and threw it out the window.

“‘Very well,’” she’d said. Bunch of kark, Emere thought, furious, as one second she was lining up a clear shot around the wall where she ducked for cover and the next second there was a blur of white and rainbow getting in her way. The staff-like lightsaber spun up, flashed, and the headshot she’d been aiming bounced away into the wall.

“Out of the way!” Galo shouted, but Atyiru just cartwheeled towards the enemy line and the hostages. Growling to herself as they focused on the woman coming at them, Emere stepped into the open and lined up another shot carefully, mindful of where Atyiru was poking holes in a Partisan’s knees. She pulled the trigger.

And watched what would have been a chest-shot deflected, this time into another enemy soldier’s leg. He buckled to join his friend without kneecaps.

“Non-lethal!” the Adept called out as their pilot joined Emere, raising his own weapon.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! the Major wanted to scream, but contained herself. She couldn’t afford to waste any time or risk friendly damage. Galo aimed her next shots for a thigh, an arm, a hand. They flew true. Atyiru danced between the enemy and them, batting away bolts, an unceasing twirl.

A few more moments and it was over, the group of Collective downed, the researchers huddled and mostly unharmed. Atyiru stilled at last. Emere marched up to her, intent on snapping, but noticed a smoldering rip in her robes.

“Were you hit?” she barked.

The eyeless woman ghosted a smile.

“I don’t bleed,” she said.

“That doesn’t make any sense.” The Human’s expression twisted in anger, flavoring a cocktail of adrenaline and battle-focus.

“We Force-Users need not make sense.”

“Were you hit or not, Atyiru.”

“Alright, yes, yes, I healed it though.”

“You—” Galo cut herself off. She had to focus on the mission, or she’d erupt at the infuriating woman in command. Working her jaw, she marched over to the enemy and began taking away their weapons and tying them in place with brutal efficiency, yanking on wounded limbs when needed. The Miraluka radiated disapproval but busied helping the hostages.

“You are going to answer my questions,” Galo informed one Partisan, who spat at her. She buried her thumb in the surgically-precise lightsaber cut in his knee.

A bit of wiggling didn’t quite get him talking, but Atyiru coming over and whispering, power in her words, “Tell us everything,” encouraged.

That was when they heard the robotic drumming of heavily booted steps. A squadron rounded the corner, all armored in black, armed.

Emere’s rifle rose before anyone could react. The rapport hissed down the hall and burned into the flattened, pallid white face of one unhelmeted marine. He dropped, and in synchronicity, the other three marines stepped around him.

“No!” wailed one student, while a Liberation Front member began to laugh wildly. The major’s eyes narrowed. Atyiru shrieked.

The downed marine erupted into a tidal wave of flame and force, secondary detonations from the other three and all their belted explosives following. The explosion ripped down the hallway to consume them—

And broke, flaring, around the bubble of a barrier. The students and researchers screamed. The enemy forces howled in outrage.

Emere gasped, “That was too close, ma’am.”

“That wasn’t me,” Atyiru answered with a panic-tightened tone, straightening again from where she’d curled in on herself. “It was—”

“DUH, WYNNING!” cried a voice as a tall, slender figure slid powerfully around the corner of the hallway, the tails of the lab coat he wore fluttering behind him like a cape, spotlighted by the dying flames. “It was me! The great and Wyniful!”

“Wyn!” the Miraluka cried, the barriers having dropped as the heat faded. The entire section in front of them was just gone, slagged durasteel dripping at the edges of beams below and above that composed the next layers of the ship, walls punched out in concave from the concussive force, red-hot and making the air waver to those with eyes. Wyndell Tyris ignored it all gleefully as he took a running, Force-enhanced leap to clear the gap and dramatically roll to his feet in front of the huddled group. Only the immediate area around them was clear of scorch. They would have been incinerated.

“Hey sis!” chirped the Human happily.

“What are you doing here, Wynnie?”

“Looking out for my favorite sissy! Have no fear, for Uncle Wyn is here!”

Emere’s gaze sharpened, like two chips of obsidian in the sand. “What do you mean ‘uncle?’”

“Why, of my very special future niece, of course!” Wyn’s smile was, well. Winning.

Emere did not find it so. A muscle in her jaw twitched violently as her head whipped around to look at Atyiru. The Miraluka’s face was a dusty rose pink, and she was scowling with her eyebrows at her in-law.

Emere’s eyes narrowed at her, then widened.

“Have to save my energy more these days…”

“…We’ll be safe…”

…braced, curled in on herself, curled around her stomach…

“You’re pregnant?!” the Human woman growled, stabbing a finger at the healer. Her own daughter’s face flashed in her mind. “And on a combat operation? You’ve been out front this whole time!” She swore in her homeworld’s tongue. “That’s it. I’m taking point. You, other Tyris, fall in at the back. Ma’am, between us.”

“That is hardly necessary—”

"Between us. That goes for everyone. The enemy is staying here. No arguments. Move."

Her commands were obviously final.

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Team Esk

The artificial air had grown stale with the emergency and backup systems working overtime to compensate for rapid loss of oxygen and pressure throughout the station. Marick wore no helmet, but the Elder managed to control his breathing in time with only what he needed to move and think. His cloak through the Force would be moot in moments, but he could get one more quick use out of it.

“Tir’eivra, point,” Marick said as he disappeared from sight.

Alaisy nodded, pulling the jagged hilt of her vicious-looking saberstaff and simultaneously igniting each of the crimson blades. She needed little motivation to meet the anticipated threat head on.

Sure enough, as Marick had predicted, a raiding party of Technocratic Guild soldiers and Liberation Front partisans kicked through an improvised doorway, compliments of a plasma cutter. As the first one stepped through, however, Alaisy reached out with a clawed hand and made a quick yanking motion to one side. The first Liberation Front partisan through the breach was ripped from his feet by an unseen hand that mirrored the Sith woman’s gesture, sending him hurtling into a durasteel wall.

“Sith scum!” another Liberation Front partisan yelled as he trained his blaster rifle on the tall, latex-clad woman.

“Stand behind me,” Alaisy’s modulated voice ordered the pilot, who seemed more than eager to comply.

As the rest of the raiding party focused their fire on Alaisy, the Sith spun her double-bladed saber adroitly like a pinwheel, deflecting away the barrage of blaster bolts.

Even if the remaining five Collective raiders had not been focused on Alaisy, it was unlikely they would have noticed Marick stalking up on their exposed flank.

The Elder Shadow suddenly materialized into view to the left of one of the Technocratic Guild soldiers. The hidden blade in his gauntlet extended and in one smooth motion stabbed up through the bottom of the soldier’s jaw and up into his skull. The stiletto blade retreated as quickly as it had arrived, leaving the mouth of the Technocratic Guild soldier’s agape and sparking with electric current from a shattered cybernetic implant.

Whether the Technocratic Guild soldier could fight after a strike like that mattered little. Marick grabbed hold of the soldier with his free hand and shoved him bodily into the remaining cluster of Collective raiders.

The Liberation Front partisan yelped as he caught his assaulted ally while the remaining three raiders seemed to be calculating which threat was more immediate to them.

The black-cored blade of Marick’s ultraviolet lightsaber stabbed through the back of the first Technocratic Guild soldier. Its dual-phase length pierced right through its chest cavity and into the Liberation Front partisan that had caught it.

The lightsaber deactivated, hissing at it retreated back into its hilt and left the two skewered Collective bodies slump to the floor.

The next Collective raider swiveled their blaster combine into Marick’s face. Before he could pull the trigger, however, Marick became a blur of motion, side-stepping the carbine and again striking with the hidden blade in his wrist bracer. The stiletto tip jabbed into the raider’s eye, blood spraying and squirting around it. As they reflexively dropped their weapon to cover the wound, a deft twist of the wrist brought the wrist-blade down and then across the Collective raider’s neck. More blood, one more target down.

Two left, a distant part of Marick’s mind counted.

The first used the time her allies’ demise had afforded her to brandish a riot-baton. She let out a feral battle cry as she lunged forward, swinging with purpose for the Hapan’s head. Marick dipped, ducked, and dove to the side, reaching to his hip and drawing an obsidian dagger free from his belt. Rising to one knee, the Assassin hurled the dagger into the chest of the Collective raider with the baton with preternatural precision.

As she gurgled blood and dropped to her knees, the last remaining Collective raider charged the prone Shadow and went to run him through with the bayonet-like attachment on their rifle. Marick was off balance slightly and was not sure he’d be able to react in time.

He didn’t have to. Before the Collective raider could strike him, Marick’s eyes caught the trail of a crimson lightsaber cleaning separating their head from their soldiers.

Marick worked to control his breathing, and idly wondered if he’d lost a step. Alaisy stepped towards him, shrugging casually at the soldier she had just decapitated. She offered a gauntleted hand to the Hapan.

He was not going to say thank you, verbally, but he did take the hand and let the towering woman help him back to his feet.

As they stepped through the improvised entryway created by the Collective raiding party, Marick’s too-blue eyes spotted a huddled form behind a stack of supply crates. “Those aren’t Collective,” he murmured without looking back at the Sith woman.

“Students, it seems,” Alaisy’s modulated voice agreed. “We should leave them. They will only slow us down.”

Marick started to nod, but then felt something pierce through his dispassionate discipline like a blade through cloth. It was almost as if he could see Atyiru’s frown, even though he knew she would support him no matter what he decided to do. He looked closer and noticed one of the students had stark-white hair and a tight braid. Something in his perfectly organized mind slipped out of place, and he tipped his chin up at Alaisy.

“No. They come with us,” Marick said with iron in his voice. “Let’s go.”

“Ughh, fine, but if one sprains their ankle they get their life essence drained for a little pick me up,” the Sith muttered but nodded and fell into step behind him.

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Team Esk

It was not more enemies they encountered when they reached the floor’s largest archive room, but familiar faces who had followed a trail of red lights.

“Marry,” Atyiru called. They didn’t run to each other, but Emere noticed a subtle loosening of posture in both of them as the two groups approached. She glared harder. “And more friends. I’m so glad.”

“The rest of the surviving staff is inside,” Galo said, right to business. Alaisy’s visored head titled as her clacking steps stopped. The people they escorted huddled well away from her, hanging back with the pilot, though they cheered at seeing more of their own with Atyiru and Emere.

“As are the most valuable artifacts,” replied modulated Imperial tones. “We should enter and be done with this floor.”

“The door is trapped. High yield explosives, maybe thermal detonators.”

“Then we go in from the side,” Marick intonded, quiet but decisive as stone. He did not seem surprised to see his brother had joined them, only long-suffering.

“That’s what she—” Wyn began, and was promptly cut off by Atyiru’s finger smushing into the side of his face instead of over his lips, shushing blindly.

The adjoining rooms were empty, save for some more unfortunate corpses. Emere and both pilots kept a watch on the halls at either end, while Wyn gathered the growing group of civilians and began chattering at them to keep them calm. Meanwhile, Atyiru, Marick, and Alaisy activated their various lightsabers and began cutting through the wall that one study shared with the archive. It was slow going through durasteel, even with plasma, and they had to telekinetically extract one layer of plating before they could continue cutting all the way through to the other side. Atyiru sensed the alarm that caused those inside, and focused on mentally soothing the emotions in the trapped academics while Marick and Alaisy finished their work.

The slab of metal lifted free, and the Miraluka was the first to step through the new entrance and into the archive. She was met with over two dozen researchers, students, staffers, and professors, all huddled in various spots behind tables or cases, some clutching one another, some clutching datapads. All save one, a small girl with dark curls and brown eyes. She ran forward as soon as Atyiru appeared, and Atyiru opened her arms to catch her.

"Oh, Violet," the Miraluka sighed, hugging the slip of a woman to her. The researcher was in tears, stifling a sob into white robes. “I am so very sorry, my sweet. You’ve just come back from that horrible prison, and now this? It is not very kind or very fair at all. But Ashla and Bogan are with us. I am here. I have got you. Everything will be alright. Look, these are my friends, Marick and Alaisy. And there’s Emere and Wyndell, and our pilots, Reinel and Wista. We’re going to take you home. All of you. I promise it.”

“I knew it was you, M-m-miss At-yiru,” Violet cried. “W-when I felt you doing that thing, I knew— we were s-s-saved.”

Alaisy and Marick stepped through next, followed by Wyn.

“Lord Voice!” the academics cried out in relieved recognition. “You came!”

“Everyone, come,” the Hapan ordered, not correcting them. “Extraction is at the administrative section. If you have wounded who cannot move, tell us now. Minor wounds must wait. Time is of the essence.”

A few spoke up. Atyiru shushed and let go of Violet to go heal the invalids. Alaisy began prowling the archive.

“Hello there,” Wyn said, taking Violet’s hand and bowing over it with the perfect poise of a born and raised High Courscanti courtier. “I like your shades! I’m Wyn. What’s your name?”

“U-uhm, Violet D’slan, my L-Lord.” She touched the dark visors in her breast pocket. “Ah, L-Lady Vasano commanded I never take them off, but it made it hard t-to read so I use my g-glasses when inside. I and t-three others were allowed to study the Ordu Aspectu…I-I argued for it, because they k-kept asking me about them when we were i-imprisoned. It seemed important. More than the Sith artifacts. We were reporting to the Headmistress but then when the attack began, we joined, um, everyone here…I know this can help us! I know it can. We just had to wait for Miss Atyiru and…everything would be okay.”

“Well I bet if you thought it was important, it is! Gotta tell the people up top right away, right? Let’s grab all your stuff and get you safe and sound!” He winked, smiling. Violet went scarlet.

“Enough flirting,” Emere snapped, head and shoulders sticking through the door. “We need to go. Those who can walk, follow me.” She began herding the staff out into the hallway to join the rest.

In quick enough order everyone was through, carrying what artifacts or research they could, refusing outright to be parted with it. The amount of civilians in the group was burgeoningly large by now compared to their defensive force, but they had expected that; and it would only be growing larger once they cleared out level eighteen on their way to nineteen and the administration section. Atyiru could easily sense many more alive up there, both enemy and not.

“There’s other Clans’ forces…some of our forces…many Collective…more staff,” she murmured as their team planned, the academics milling in various stages of fright. “More of those marines too. We must be careful.”

“Then let’s go. And you,” Emere pointed at the Miraluka yet again. “Stay in the middle of the pack with the civs. You’re support. Other Tyris, you too. You said you’ve got defensive skills, use them. Lord Tyris, you scout ahead. Tir’ierva, in the back with one ensign, the other up front with me.”

Everyone nodded along, even Marick deferring once Atyiru did. Alaisy seemed most interested now in protecting their researchers, and drew her whip along with her saber.

“Move out.”

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Team Dorn and Besh

As the battle cry echoed from both ends of the hangar, bisecting the blaster-fire laden space, the Collective Partisans’ attention was torn between the two groups of Arconans. A quick snap of their platoon leader’s glove instructed them to cluster up protectively, and their split groups started banding together like nerfs versus a pack of akk dogs. They didn’t have much time before the swift Aay’han slipped past their bolts, leaping and bringing down a ferocious crimson strike upon the nearest soldier. With a burnt hole in his chest, the man slid to the ground just as Tali and Sera joined the fray. Their three amber sabers were a cyclonic force, slashing into their opponents in an overwhelming whirlwind.

A growl erupted across the hanger as both Bico and Luka charged the other group of soldiers. The nexu lunged and pinned one soldier to the ground beneath her weight, teeth gnashing on the partisan’s blaster while she ignored her earlier injury. With a flourish and vibrate hum, the Arcanist finished them with their familiar dual-bladed vibrosword, face grimacing with reluctance. They had moved to face their next opponent when a large bulking figure loomed beside them, blaster trained point-blank. Adrenaline calling forth the Force to their muscles to dodge the incoming shot, they were surprised as the large man fell to the ground — an arrow embedded in his back. Archain shifted his attention to his next target with only a swift nod to the Human before notching his bow. A heavy boot stomped on the dead collective’s head as Dax Ryder let loose a burst of flame upon the deceased’s friends, muttering about the worth of his pay.

Qyreia and Aru laid down cover from the blaster doors. The Zeltron’s eye for a scope honed in on targets quickly, while the Human’s fire from the hip methodology scored himself a kill. Unable to stay still and giddy with some ‘gods damn action,’ Dyrian jogged and rolled between the action — peppering the crowded enemy with bolts while risking friendly fire. Slugs tore into a partisan’s armor as Zodac shot from behind his riot shield. It was not long before the Collective unit had dwindled.

Death will rain on thee, you Force Karkers!” hollered one of the last soldiers, her cybermoduled voice crackling. She pulled a comrade behind her as she retreated, lifting her blaster towards Sera.

A streak of crimson darted through the air and, without thinking, Dyrian jumped in front of the Zabrak. The bolt grazed her side, scorching through her pilot suit and roasting her skin. Before anyone else could react, the sound of metal striking flesh with a solid crack could be heard as K-8-O caved the partisan’s skull with its fist. The remaining enemy was shocked to unconsciousness by Dax’s KX Security Droid as the bots returned from their own collective fray. 4R-7H3R scoped Diy into his functioning arm, the other damaged severely.

Sera opened her mouth to say something, state she had dodged in time? Offer to heal the wound? — but the crisp voice of the Shadow Lady over the comms urging all to get to the administration section took priority. She reached a maroon tattooed hand out to fist bump the Kiffar with a nod of thanks, before turning to the others.

“Ve got to go,” Tali instructed first, beckoning them to the entrance deeper into the Shadow Academy.

“I suggest we do it now, cus it sounds like a whole lotta schutta’s coming this way to feck our day,” Qyreia relayed, pulling Aay’han back as she moved eagerly in said direction.

The group filed out of the body and rubble hued hanger, and through the passages at a brisk pace. Whatever resistance they found along the way was removed swiftly, either with blaster or saber. They had rounded the final bend to the Administration and Observation Section when four cyborgs stepped from a side hall behind them. They moved with precision so unnatural and inorganic, synchronized like machines — and their mindscape felt as such to Sera and Tali who reached out quickly to sense, only to recoil.

Here, Miss Diyrian, go on ahead and I will defend this hall,” 4R-7H3R stated, setting the woman to her feet awkwardly and pulling the electroripper staff from his back.

Aw, scorch my circuits. We are committing this course of action?” DN-32 asked, it’s staff crackling to life as K-8-O raises its fists. Motraka uttered a stream of organic slurs towards various parentage of the fleshies behind it as it hosted its blaster.

Zodac gave a pat on ‘Kato’’s metal shoulder before turning to the rest, “Well, ya heard the men! Let’s go!”

The ten Arconans rushed to the safety of the administration section, sliding through partially held doors as the galvanized four droids sacrificed themselves.

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It’d come in waves, the Collective troops forcing them back to the administrative section of the station. Although it had been the plan the whole time to evacuate to the detachable part of Nesolat and ride it down to Arx, they hadn’t expected to be herded.

Blasterfire echoed down the halls, smoke filled the air, and the emergency lighting was failing. Slowly but surely each entrance to the section was being shut down, blast doors sliding into place and controls disabled. A half dozen Arconans and many rescuees in varying degrees of wounded were being seen to off to one side by the blindfold-wearing Arconae, while others were reporting progress to the Shadow Lady.

General Garmis stood, staring out a viewport into the disturbingly lively void of space. The station’s defences were failing, and less and less laser fire was being sent towards the Collective fleet pounding it. Ships from multiple Clans were harrying the Collective Dreadnaughts, but it was too late for anything to matter.

The station was going down. Soon. There was no stopping it at this point; they just had to hope they had salvaged as much as they could.

“Separation protocols activated, clear section entrances, separation protocols are now active,” came an automated, droning voice over the intercoms.

The Chiss glanced at the wounded, eyes tight as he took in the sight of several Journeymen among them. People he was responsible for training.

“Arconans, be ready to depart when we make planetfall,” came the insistent voice of their Consul, enhanced by the Force to carry over the sounds of the station coming apart around them.

The separated portion of the station began to drift towards the planetary shield, and Strong could feel sweat trickling down his back. They were exposed, vulnerable, and with limited support. He could pick out friendly fighters driving off enemy craft, speeding past viewports, but Arx felt very far away. He kept waiting for the alarms signalling decompression, the final blast of oxygen being ripped out of the vessel they found themselves on. Turbolaser fire flashed past, splashing against their shields, but most seemed to go wide.

Perhaps our targeting profile is so odd that their systems are incapable, mused the man as they passed, finally, through the shield ring. He let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.

Then the shield flickered and died. Dropships and transports flew past, diving towards the surface. Bombers and starfighters followed, Brotherhood forces in pursuit.

Moments later there was a gasp from the ad hoc first aid station, and all eyes turned to an ashen-faced Atyiru, eyelss stare directed at the surface below.

“They’re just…slaughtering people,” she whispered.

Lucine looked at her old master, then glanced around the compartment, a comlink in her hand.

“It seems Collective forces have breached the planet’s defenses. I’m told we are landing near Eos City. Anyone able to fight…prepare to defend the city until reinforcements can arrive to secure it,” she ordered, sounding uncharacteristically grim. In the background they heard the section land, the shudder of landing gear and airlocks hissing open, and fresh smoke from burning buildings filling their senses.

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Team Besh

Out of one fire and into another. Nesolat Station’s administrative module had landed without too much issue, save for the fly-swarms of Collective ships careening through the atmosphere — just as they were — pecking and poking away at the hull and limited shields. Between the researchers and the Arconans, being on the Arx proper seemed a welcome reprieve for many compared to the space foray.

“Oh, I never thought I’d be so glad to see solid ground,” Qyreia said, drooping down to run her hand along the dirt and duracrete.

Aru looked at her curiously. “Aren’t you supposed to be a spacer? A pilot?”

“Yeah, and I feel fine when I’m the one piloting. Hurtling through the atmosphere in a giant repulsor-brick, not so much.”

“Ve needt to hurry,” Tali interjected, pushing past the conversationalists. “The Collective are already attacking the city vall.”

Archian sniffed the air and surveyed their surroundings, looking curiously at the distant gray line that was the defensive wall in question. “Will we have some sort of transport there? That seems a long way to walk.”

The Twi’lek pointed out a whole line of transport speeders, with soldiers and warriors of all types piling in. Their Arconan brethren that had joined them in space prior to the module jettisoning into the atmosphere were boarding multiple craft, headed for different sectors of the city. Led on by the purple Quaestor, the quintet soon found themselves holding onto the rungs inside as the speeder, packed full of soldiers, rushed to the front lines. Overhead, those near the armored slats that served as windows could see Eos City’s defensive guns firing at the Collective ships that dared to approach too close or directly overhead. Few were so bold, but occasionally the observers would be witness to small explosions, fireballs hurtling deep into the urban landscape, and occasionally starfighters and transports disabled by ion cannons tumbling out of the air to land beyond the wall.

There was a certain uneasiness in the thick air inside the transport, almost as oppressive as the humidity of so many breathing, sweating, battle-worn bodies packed so close together. It bespoke of violence, lidded and simmering since the fight for Nesolat Station was finished, waiting expectantly for it to resume again.

“You okay there, Aay’han?”

“Yes. Why?” Her expression didn’t quite match the supposed curiosity in her voice, drawing quiet attention beyond that of the Zeltron.

“Uh… no reason.”

Fortunately for everyone, this tension didn’t last too long. The closer they came to the wall, the more the sounds of turbolasers and ion cannons were replaced by the dull cacophony of blasters and small explosions. Nearer still, they could hear voices — shouts of commands and panicked lamentations — mixed in among the weapons fire.

No sooner had the transports stopped and the doors opened than they were met with a small crowd of people. Some were wounded soldiers, most were fleeing civilians, and all were vying to board the transport the Arconans were on.

In the midst of it all were soldiers, directing the flow of traffic in repetitive, methodical yells. “Those who just arrived, get off the transports! Once empty, wounded load first! Refugees load after all wounded are aboard!”

“Well this is karkin’ grim,” Qyreia muttered as they disembarked, the group practically shoved along toward what could only be the ongoing fight.

“That is var for you.”

“No I mean… Nancora was practically devoid of non-combatants, and just about all the other fights we’ve had with the Collective — the big ones, anyway — were nothing but their troops and ships.”

Tali pointedly recalled how the ex-Quaestor was not present for the Brotherhood’s introduction to the Principate: the miners and the salvage yard workers that became part of the collateral. Still, no need to hold that over the Zeltron’s head. The purple-skinned Force user kept quiet instead, focusing more on not getting trampled and making their way to the open space beyond the crowds. Something tugged at her lekku though. Something that was sensory; phantasmic. Her eyes darted around, noting the group members’ faces, and seeing the look of nervous hesitance on Aay’han’s face. For half a heartbeat, the world felt dangerously quiet.

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Team Besh

The explosion was sudden. Not even a whistle of dropping explosives could be heard. Explosion was close enough that the schockwave threw everyone to the ground.

Confusion effected by aftershock passed. Everyone checked their surroundings for the next possible missile or explosion. Almost no recognisable bodies remained at the impact site, and red smears of blood were everywhere. The ground had effectively changed into a mass grave.

Archian, still confused and on his knees looked at the damaged transport. He slowly stood, giving his body a few seconds to show signs of any wounds. Once sure that nothing serious was wrong with him, he started back to the vehicle. A strong grasp stopped him — his Master’s hand. He looked at her — she shook her head.

“Ve can’t do anything! Ve have to go andt take our positions at the valls.”

Rational explanation of his Master convinced him to turn away from the vehicle, but after a few steps the smell of the blood caught his nose.

Before Tali could do anything, he was running to the vehicle. “Stupid fracker!” shot Qyreia in his direction, still sweeping off pieces of flesh from her clothes, while Aru was checking on Aay’han.

Tali looked at her apprentice and wanted to stop him again but at that moment Aru’s said “Let him go, he must learn what war means.”

"You are right, let’s keep going. Ve von’t be far vhen he vill be ready to join us.”

They were slowly moving forward but Aay’han was lagging behind.

Qyreia was suspicious of the young Zabrak - ordinarily full of energy, she was always at the front of the line or at least by the side of the group to have better view of any oncoming danger.

They reached top of uphill road. Behind it was a big market square in front of them, where they could be an easy target for Collective ships and snipers. They could already see the walls, it was no more than a few minutes — but this square didn’t promise safety.

To the West of them Aru spotted a ditch which could make for good cover.
“It’s risky but I think we should follow the ditch. It should take us straight to one of the watchtowers at the walls.” He said. Qyreia looked at him a bit annoyed." Last time when we picked the safer way we were almost fried like a chicken if I can quote our missing Puppy. By the way where is he? ".
Tali was hoping that he survived alone and was on their heels, but she had to keep the others alive, so she stayed focused on their destination and how reach it. “He vill findt us,” she said with fake confidence.

With big risk of ambush but lower risk of dying by simple bomb dropped from the ship, they walked between the rocks.
Tali was up front, and Aay’han was closing the line. Aru’s and Qyreia’s task was to look above at concrete walls of sewege.

Tali felt that something was wrong and showed everyone the sign to stay silent.
There was a split of the corridor . Tali wanted to check them so she made a three steps forward.

From both sides came out ten collective troops surrounding her “Frak” she swore.
Those words didn’t help much, as three soldiers come out behind them. “Sithspit - never again the ‘safer’ way” Qyreia whispered in frustration. Aru’s eyes passed soldiers behind them and said " This is not over yet". He was right. High posture showed up and they recognised single Hive Mind Marine. He stood a few steps back of group of three other soldiers . Aay’han didn’t move and said anything, she was only staring at each enemy soldier one by another, but nothing more.

Corridor walls were too high to climb, and group was blocked. Fight was unavoidable.
Collective troops started to step closer, they shooted single laser shoots, but Aru’s and Tali’s lightsabers easily took them down and defence from damage, as each of them took one side to defence.
"Aay’han defend Yourself " Commanded Tali, but Aay’han didn’t move.

Both forces were staring at each other and measuring chances, and trying to find out how to win. Tali felt something approaching their position, but couldn’t focus on it as enemies in front of her started to shoot faster and stepped closer. Qyreia took her Heavy Blaster Pistol and returned fire, supporting Tali. When Zeltron took down one of them with a few clear shots, shadow appeared above them. Someone was standing at the top of the corridor wall, and looked like enjoying view of the fight.
“Hey! Take cover or You will die!” shouted Aru in direction of mystery persona. Troops started shooting at new target, but they missed, even though stranger didn’t move.

Suddenly Hive Mind Marine shoot stranger into head. Body starts to fall and roll down the wall. It didn’t fall far away from collective troops so two of them checked remainings. It was a body parts glued together with Syncflesh Dispenser.

Arrow landed in one of the puzzled soldiers backs. Then second one missed chest of another soldier, stopping in his forearm. He tried to took it out, but that was mistake.
He touched the detonator of thermal bomb glued into arrow and explosion ripped his body apart and took a slab of concrete wall down, buring other soldiers. At the same time smoke bomb exploded next to Hive Mind Marine and other three soldiers.

Shistaven slide down of wall and landed between Aru and Aay’han. “Apologise for delay Master” . He directed words to Tali. Zeltron used this seconds to grab Zabrak and said to her with poison in her words " Do You want us to die? ".

" Leave her alone," Archian snapped, “I found You only because she’s bleeding.”

Shots came out from behind the smoke. “So what do we do now?” he asked his Master

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