[GJW XIV] Taldryan Run-On

The Tavros team quickly advanced through the Dreadnaught. Any resistance they found were either quickly cut down on or riddled with blaster fire. When they finally got to engineering Aylin had the task of first opening the heavy blast doors that they had closed to keep the invaders out.

Plugging her spikes into the system, Aylin quickly started to work on the door’s security systems. As she was working the pressure on the others to keep her safe increased with each reinforcement that arrived at their location.

“We can’t hold them off all day, Aylin,” Zentru’la urged her.

“I’m doing my best!” Aylin said as she ducked from a stray shot coming her way, “Seems they updated their systems since last time, though.”

As Aylin kept slicing away, Ankira, Zentru’la and Meleu kept fighting off the reinforcements. Meleu was often a blur with a streak of red weaving between the incoming guards while Zentru’la and Ankira released salvoes of blaster fire at them.

“Yes! I’m in!” Aylin yelled above the blaster noise and the door that hissed open.

Pulling the spikes out of the controls, she tossed a flash grenade inside as shots started to pour out the room.

Ankira quickly followed inside after the grenade exploded and took out the few people inside within quick succession. “Clear!” she shouted and the rest quickly followed inside.

Aylin hurried over to the larger consoles and stretched her fingers, a big grin starting on her lips as she started to type away at the console and plugged her spikes into the system again.

The others closed the doors and set up a defensive line. Zentru’la glanced towards Aylin and saw the determined grin on her face and the furious typing on the keyboards and panels.

“Will she be able to get control of the ship?” Meleu asked.

“I’m sure she will, she knows her way about computer systems more than anything,” Ankira replied. Even though she didn’t know her that long, she had seen more than once what she was capable of.

Aylin kept frantically typing away at the station, a few mutters and Nautolan curses escaped her lips more than once, but finally she had the ship in control.

With a wide grin she looked to the others. “First mate reporting for duty, sir captain Zentru’la. Where do you want this baddy to go?”

“Do you have control of everything?” Zentru’la asked as he turned towards her.

“Of course… except the living things. Droids and the likes can be used as well by me.”

“Turn those against the crew of the ship and undock it, we are going to join the party.”

“Right away,” Aylin said with a chuckle and typed away again.

“And that is why I don’t trust droids,” Ankira muttered as she heard panic erupt from the other side of the doors.

“When in position, open all cannons at the other dreadnaughts,” Zentru’la ordered.

Giggling, Aylin cheerfully replied, “One large firework coming up.”

Typing away, the cannons turned towards the other dreadnaughts and one huge fire salvo erupted from theirs, hitting the closest one full in the flank of the dreadnaught.

Corridor BC-2, Deck 2
Mattock Station

Zxyl leaned his armored form around the corner of the Arx Capital Exchange space station’s corridor, firing three shots in rapid succession from the Dur-24 Wrist Laser built into his left vambrace. The vambrace’s main offensive weapon sent crimson bolts of superheated plasma careening down the hallway at flank speed, with the Proconsul of Taldryan quickly flipping back around the corner for cover… A split second after the final blast left his wrist, Venzos flipped back around the corner. The newest Taldrya was seeing immense resistance inside Mattock Station as he and the Principate representatives slowly inched their way throughout the shipyard.

The group was pinned down, stuck in an access corridor with no-where to go. Both sides of the hallway they were currently in had collapsed due to intense physical damage, leaving only a small nook and corner for the Mandalorian and members of the Principate to shield themselves with. Nearly all of the Severian Principate representatives’ own accompanying security forces had been wiped out, eliminated by the Collective forces swarming the station. The ones who were still alive were getting more and more frightened about the grim reality of their own fate.

Once blaster fire had been returned down at the end of their corridor, Zxyl leaned out again to fire off a couple more shots from his Mandalorian vambrace. He loved these multi-function weapons. As he did so a bolt of plasma fired from the enemy combatants grazed the body glove of his left bicep below the shoulder pauldron, creating a cauterized channel of burnt flesh that crossed his arm horizontally. His nervous system immediately sent flashes of pain up from the wound into his brain, the tendons and nerves in Venzos’ bicep spasming as another level of adrenaline kicked in and his teeth clamped together hard.

“Ack!” the Mercenary cringed as the channel where his flesh had once been smoked slightly. He still managed to let off a couple shots, swiftly twisting back around the corner to avoid any more incoming fire his way. Immediately after, a small group of Liberation Front soldiers began to push forward down the corridor - soles clanking against the metal floor of Mattock Station.

“Zxyl, come in,” requested Vodo Biask Taldrya over the comm-channel, “We’re nearing your position, but there’s heavy resistance between us. Is there a way for you to move away from your current position?” The Mandalorian looked down at his right vambrace for a moment, before shaking his head at the current situation.

“No,” replied the Mandalorian as he tapped on the screen of his right vambrace, activating the microphone on his comlink, “They have us pinned in a corridor, with no way out except through them.”

“Very well,” came Vodo’s cold voice over the earpiece, “Then we go through them. On the count of three, we’ll all flank them.” Zxyl nodded to himself, and reached down to remove his custom crossguard lightsaber Valyr from his left hip. Placing his right hand on the upper portion of the grip and left on the lower, he waited patiently as the more elder Taldrya began his countdown.

The footsteps continued to get louder as the armored Zabrak-Human half-breed prepared to step out. Once the word three filled his earpiece, the Mandalorian gripped his spoonbender weapon tight to trip the pressure sensor in the hilt and activate the brilliant sun-yellow blade. With a double snap-hiss the weapon burst to life, the main unstable blade activating a split second before the two crossguards. Venzos brought the weapon above his head before stepping clear of the corner’s safe enclosure and out into the open, swinging it back down directly towards a Collective soldier.

The poor soul who was first in the advancing party lost an arm, screaming out in pain momentarily before that was silenced from the loss of his head. Two of the Principate’s remaining three guards stepped out with the Proconsul, having grown a set in this do-or-die moment. Blaster fire erupted on both ends of the corridor as the Ektrosian combatants advanced on their position, the group’s lightsabers swinging wildly and cutting through the Collective forces between them. The Mandalorian pushed forward, even with his injured arm tingling and searing at the damaged bicep.

As the Principate representatives cowered behind the safety of the corner, it did not take long for the Collective force centered between Zxyl’s group and the Ektrosian search party to be dispatched now that they were being flanked on either side, many going down with a brilliant show of fight. The two guards that had stepped out into the conflict with Venzos didn’t make it, removed from the plane of the living by Collective blaster fire.

The Corsair and Aedile of Ektrosis, Appius Wight, reached the final target at the same time. The two nodded at each other from either side, the Collective soldier realizing his time was at an end. As both of their lightsabers pierced the body of the final combatant he was rendered limp, slumping sideways to the floor like a sack of stones.

The reunited group of Taldryanites relaxed for a moment, before the Severian entourage exited their hole of safety and proceeded over.

“Our forces are en -route and will be here soon,” stated the head representative matter-of-factly. There was a hint of annoyance in his voice, as if the Brotherhood forces were somehow in immense fault over the appearance of The Collective at Arx. Not that they weren’t.

“Oh, so you’re good then?” Zxyl asked sarcastically, pointing a thumb over his shoulder “You won’t mind if we just peace out then, would you?” As the members of the Principate struggled to form coherent words in a response, Zxyl shook his head and raised his hand to quiet them.

“Lets go,” he sighed, just wishing to be rid of these useless hams of flesh. Moments later, the newly formed group of both Taldryanites and Principatriots took off for hangar bay area towards the Karufr Knight.

ACE Shipyards
Arx System

“On your left!”

The Nomad banked right in time for Onecup and the Pathfinder to cut through oncoming enemies, lighting up the sky with a string of explosions. It looked like those simulations had paid off alright. The Rodian was truly coming into his own as a pilot. Bale sunk back in his seat, puffing his cheeks and blowing out. This had to be the fifth time the kid saved his backside in this skirmish. He reckoned he’d never hear the end of it.

They weren’t out of the woods just yet. The Spear, Tavros’ Marauder-class flagship, had been taking heavy fire since coming out of hyperspace and guiding Zentru’la and his team to the Durga. Helos Squadron was down to half-strength and the Nomad had taken more than its share of hits. In fact, his backend was smoking like a Gamorrean steam bath.

Bale flipped the comms and contacted Erinyes.

“Andros here, we gotta pull out or we’re pfassked, boss,” he announced, ashamed of the sudden squeak in his usual gravitas.

There was no immediate response. By the amount of explosions and turbolasers filling the sky over Arx, he didn’t blame her. If she wasn’t already a carbonized smear on the galactic background, she was fighting not to become one. Just like he was. He hoped she was faring better.

He switched the comms back to squadron frequency and announced, “Onecup, bring her around. Helos, on me. Sandflies on the Bantha. Spear, begin away maneuvers. We’re done here.”

Helos Squadron and Onecup came up on the Nomad and they swerved as one, gunning down the enemy resistance. One of his guys went up in flames, and another lost his thrusters and ended his flight against the Spear’s hull. Onecup took a glancing hit, then another, then whipped out of a third shot’s trajectory, nearly colliding with a Helos Z-95. Bale hissed under his breath.

Something caught the corner of his eye, the flare of engines leaving one of the Collective frigates. He craned in his seat. There was definitely something out there and it didn’t look like starfighters. He punched a command into the Nomad’s computers and brought the radar up on screen.

Shiess.

“Onecup, are you seeing this?” he asked.

“What’s that, boss?” The Rodian sounded confused.

“Transports, starboard side.”

“Copy. I see them. Looks like they’re heading for—”

“The Durga.

Shiess,” Onecup answered, echoing his thoughts.

Bale punched the dashboard, then kicked it. Then he called the ground team.

“Alright, Zen. We’ve got troop transports heading your way. We are moving to intercept,” he announced. He was half-surprised by his own words. If they didn’t get out of there now, they likely weren’t leaving. “Better ready yourselves.”

“Copy that, Andros. Thanks for the heads up,” answered Zentru’la’s controlled baritone. The man never lost his cool, no matter the circumstance. Bale didn’t know if he liked that or if it annoyed the ever living milk out of him. He reckoned it was probably both.

He turned his attention to the task at hand. “Spear continue away maneuvers but don’t jump yet. Helos, we have a new target. Onecup, dock with the Spear.

“Not a chance,” was the Rodian’s response.

A big, toothy grin split the Zabrak’s face. Guess the kid didn’t forget his coonies after all! He didn’t like the thought of Onecup getting blown up, but then the boy was his own master. “You’re choice, kid.”

There were six enemy transports on intercept trajectory with the Durga, with a full squadron of fighters running point. The odds weren’t good for Helos, but then, when were they ever? Bale, for his part, did what he did best: he ran headfirst into the fray guns blazing and yelling obscenities at the enemy. His squadron did the same. It was like flying into a flock of birds, except the birds were shooting back. He held the yoke white-knuckle tight, dodged left and right as turbolasers grazed the Nomad. He swung again and this time rammed one of the oncoming fighters, the Nomad’s reinforced hull tearing through the weaker ship like a wrecking ball.

Bale burst through the escort, his guns trained directly on the front transport. He flicked a switch then slammed his hand down on the away button. A missile shot out of the Nomad’s retrofitted launcher. It struck the enemy ship head on, which belched black smoke and spun off course right into the trajectory of an Helos fighter. Both ships disintegrated on impact. Onecup shot past the Nomad cannons blazing. Despite the VCX starfighter’s lesser agility, the Rodian kid managed to take out the second ship’s propulsors. Helos fighters finished the job.

They destroyed a third ship before everything went sideways and the enemy escort came back around. This time they were ready. They shredded through Helos Squadron like a Sith did through soldiers in a hallway. They didn’t stand a blasted chance. The Nomad took another hit, shuddered and Bale braced himself. It didn’t blow up. That’s a relief, he thought.

“Head for the Spear! Head for the Spear!” he shouted again and again.

What remained of Helos Squadron veered away from the fight, Bale and Onecup in tow. They flew for the Spear, thrusters blazing, but the enemy wasn’t done with them. The Marauder-class warship’s cover fire did little to dissuade the Collective. When the Nomad finally landed inside the ship’s hangar bay, there were only four of them left.

“Alright folks. We make for the Bulwark. Regroup. Resupply. This battle is just beginning. Let’s get ready for round two.”

None of this sat well with him, not with his folks still on the Durga but he reckoned he didn’t have much of a choice.

“Good luck, old man. Be safe.”

Pfassk, I need a drink.

Mattock Station

During the fight pincering the Collective, Jala spotted an access a control panel nearby and sought to see about slicing through the system to see about any and all updates to the Mattock Station, but failed to do more than get an updated map of the station onto her datapad and a table of where various ships are currently docked.

As the team escorted the representatives through the halls, the stunted Sephi continued to trot near the rear. She shrugged off some concerned looks as the representatives seemed to pass gazes down at her smaller size.

Soon, they could see the closed hangar doors to their exfiltration point when a disconcerting fizzle was heard and the station shook violently beneath their feet. Everyone glanced out a nearby hangar bay window from their hallway to match screams to an inferno and the shadow of Collective Dreadnaughts just beyond it.

Vodo swore under his breath, looking none too pleased, while Zxyl turned to “reassure” the representatives who were starting to make a small bit of a ruckus about “professionalism”. Appius on the other hand, turned to Jala to ask, “We’ll be right here, can you find another-” He stopped as he saw that she had already started trotting off, her nose in her datapad with a map of the station up. The only hint that he had of her hearing him was one of her slender ears twitching towards him.

** A short time later… **

The Sephi’s ears flicked about as she made turns through the hallways, picking out the safer routes as she headed towards another hangar bay. Occasionally, she ducked into rooms and doors and locked them while waiting for patrols to pass, not knowing if they were friendly or hostile.

Left turn, right turn, right turn, left turn. Some non-combative workers in a hurry to protect their own lives sometimes passed by but paid no attention to the child-like figure with a cloak; after all, the Sephi seemed more like an older child trying to run to safety.

She neared another hangar bay where another Taldryan transport was supposed to be and peeked through the corner of a window to find a Collective transport ship on their way in through the bay doors while the Taldryan transport was sitting closed surrounded by a large swarm of enemy soldiers.

Jala’s ears pinned, unsure if it was a good idea to guide the others here as the next hangar bay was a large distance away. Just to be sure, she stayed to the lower corner of one large window and started tapping away at her datapad, noting down numbers, types, and other information of all the enemies she spotted.

She grimaced as she did a last overall count. Not even a trap by the hangar bay door would help. Then, she spotted an in-station vehicle that would definitely speed up travel; so she dashed off to the next hangar bay. A thought crossed her mind, “Could I stall them long enough for us to reach the other hangar bay?”

Carefully, she hurried over to the bay door connecting the ships to the station and found it unguarded… for now. The Collective must’ve just landed and were preparing to set out. With her tools, she tried to slice into the control panel to lock the door by initializing the airlock breach protocols.

Alarms went off as large shutters closed over the windows. No doubt the station closed itself off from the hangar bay due to safety concerns via protocols. Seeing as it was fine for now, she started running off to check the next transport.

At the next hangar bay, it seemed unaffected by combat for now. The transport ship seemed to be perfectly fine and the Collective seemed to be nowhere in sight. Breathing heavily, she whipped out her Advanced scanner and continued cautiously around the perimeter to find that the bay and nearby area had been evacuated.

And as she hoped… There was a larger version of the in-station vehicles sitting right there with the keys in the ignition. It wouldn’t take long for there to be dents and scratch marks on both walls and the vehicle… actually less than 3 turns. The only thing people within earshot would hear would be a lot of metal-on-metal screeching sounds that quickly were hidden amongst the battles both in and out of the station.

** Meanwhile… **

While Jala was away, the team stood attentively at the location when most of the team sensed a group of people coming their way. Vodo summarized his orders to the veterans, prompting each to move into action. Rian ushered the representatives behind cover while Vodo, Appius, and Zxyl prepared for battle.

A group of Collective Fanatics had found them; one stayed back to call for reinforcements while the others began their approach. If it weren’t for needing to stay on the defensive, the fight wouldn’t even have been a contest. Soon other scouts began to show from adjacent hallways — most of whom met the same fate, intimidating the remaining lesser trained soldiers, who soon ran for their lives.

With a slight lull in the battle as confusion and panic in their enemies set in, Vodo looked around to make sure his team was alright and the representatives unharmed. His attention quickly went back to his surroundings as the group heard the banging and screeching of metal starting to get closer. That was when a grin appeared on the corner of Appius’ lips.

For an unfortunate couple of the fleeing stragglers, a battered in-station taxi was screaming down the hall. They flew back into view of the team before one was road-killed underneath during the vehicle’s drift and the other was crushed as the vehicle side-slammed a wall of the station. The driver seemed invisible, but then a familiar voice said, “I found one!”

Dreadnaught-class Collective a70 Heavy Cruiser Durga

“Excellent work Aylin,” Zentru’la acknowledged as the Durga launched another broadside attack against its former allies, orchestrated by the staccato rhythm of Aylin’s fingertips on the terminal. “But it won’t take them long to work out what’s going on, everyone, defensive positions.”

Zentru’la lifted his blaster support off his back, taking a low firing position behind Aylin. Beside him, Ankira stood ready with her twin pistols trained on the open blast door, and Meleu stood relaxed, his crimson blade ignited and ready for combat.

“Fifteen seconds,” the General growled with grim determination, training his sights on the door.

“How do you know that?” Ankira questioned.

Zentru’la tapped his helmet. “Motion detector.” He gestured with his giant armoured hand. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. “Suppressive fire!” A barrage of firepower was unleashed at the blast door. Zentru’la’s cannon launched a continuous stream of high power rounds, Ankira’s twin blasters covered every angle not covered by the twi’lek’s cannon, and for good measure, Meleu’s lightsaber curved in a smooth arc, outside the door and back again, spinning violently and cutting everyone that got in its way before returning to its master’s hand.

“Reloading!” shouted Ankira, as she emptied another two clips.

“We can’t hold here forever!” shouted Zentru’la as he two needed a rare moment to reload.

The break in fire allowed Collective assault troops to funnel in, but their shots only landed glancing blows on Zentru’la, whose powerful armour was up to the challenge. Meleu launched into action as they breached the door, slicing up the remainder of the wave of troops before they could take aim at Aylin.

As the last troop fell to the ground, the world suddenly lurched to one side. Zentru’la could barely hold his balance. “What happened?”

“I’ve set the autopilot to ram one of the other dreadnaughts!” Aylin smiled. “We probably shouldn’t be here when it does.”

There was a moment of silence while everyone digested that Aylin just plotted the ship they were on to crash. “Rohla! Come in for evac! ASAP!” Zentru’la shouted down the commlink. “No! No more drinks! Now!”

Meleu led the charge back towards the hangar. It would be a race against time to get back there before the Durga finished it’s self-destruct course.

Mattock Station

The air around them had quickly become dense with blaster fire from Collective Partisans swarming in on their position. To their own detriment, the zealots seemed to be completely ignorant of the fact that the magical weapons of the spoonbenders could not only be used offensively. Towering in front of the Principate representatives, Rian let his lightsabers weave intricate patterns through the air, sending bolt after bolt back at the Collective soldiers. In the meantime, those Collective soldiers daring enough to engage the Taldryan group head-on, hoping to overwhelm them through sheer numbers, soon found themselves within reach of the blazing blades of the four other Taldryanites.

Just when another wave of Partisans burst around the corner with their blaster rifles spitting superheated plasma, the sound of their weapons was drowned by the sound of metal screeching against metal growing nearer. For a brief moment, everyone—Taldryanites and Partisans alike—stopped in their tracks, trying to determine where the sickening sound had come from.

The question was solved when a battered skiff came around a corner, mowing down an unlucky Partisan and making the hovering vehicle wobble as it raced over his form. When it came to a skittering halt in front of the Taldryanites, the pointy-eared head of Jala poked out from behind the vehicle’s controls, calling out happily: “I found one!”

Rian chuckled, lowering his blades. “Well done, Jala. Okay everyone, that’s our ride. Everyone aboard.”

Hesitantly, the representatives left their cover and sat down onto the center of the skiff while the Taldryanites all took the seats on the outside—except Zakai, who sat at the helm beside Jala. “I hope you don’t mind me taking over controls from now on.”

Jala moved over, and Zakai turned the vehicle to face the direction it had come from. She had to admire the skills of the young hybrid as he raced the vehicle through the corridors without even scraping a single wall on their way back.

Coming around the last junction before their new exfiltration point, they could already see that the Collective had moved more troops to take over Mattock Station, and were currently deploying cyborg shocktroopers from a recently arrived transport ship. Suddenly, the speeder was hit by an explosion, and immediately the vehicle tipped to one side. Zakai tried fighting the momentum, but the vehicle went into an uncontrollable skid until it crashed into a nearby wall.

Shaken but unharmed, the group left the vehicle and found itself in front of a group of Collective soldiers advancing to their position at the edge of the hangar bay.

“Looks like we will have to fight our way out,” Vodo grunted.

“Indeed. Jala and Zxyl, take the representatives and Zakai and try to sneak into the transport. The rest of us will go straight for the Collective,” Rian ordered, the irresistible feeling of motivation emanating from him as the Mirialan spoke.

The group acknowledged Rian’s orders and formed up to move out, with Appius, Rian, and Vodo taking the lead. As they neared the first line of elite soldiers, the three fanned out, the lightsabers in their hand bursting to life as they charged.

Within mere seconds, the hangar bay became a fierce battlefield, with blaster bolts crisscrossing from all directions as the majority of deployed shocktroopers met the Taldryanites. Rian’s blades split the air, cutting across the chest of the nearest cyborg with one blade while deflecting blaster fire with his other.

To the Elder’s left, Vodo sent a cyborg he had impaled with his lightsaber just a second ago into a nearby group of running towards his position, tossing them over like pins. To Rian’s right, however, Appius found himself pinned against a wall with at least a dozen artificially enhanced soldiers firing at him. Yet he held his ground, deflecting the blaster bolts sent into his direction.

Though everything in his mind shouted for him to join his brothers as they charged the Collective shocktroopers, Zxyl knew that although he had a lightsaber at his disposal and was more than capable of using it as a melee weapon, without a connection to the Force, there was no way he could use the sun-colored blade to protect others. Rather, it was Zakai who protected the representatives from incoming blaster fire as they circled around the edge of the battle.

After what felt like an eternity, the representatives and their escort reached the ship Jala had discovered—and from Zxyl’s perspective, it couldn’t have happened at a better moment. Looking through the hangar, he saw several groups of freshly deployed soldiers starting to erect E-Web heavy repeating blaster cannons.

Turning away from the rest of the group, Zxyl said, “Zakai, prime the ship. I will help the others.” He charged the nearest group of Collective troops, sweeping the first soldier from his feet with his grappling line before unleashing a volley of blaster-fire from his bracers. The last one, however, managed to duck under the blaster fire and charged the Mandalorian with his electro-stave in his hand. Zxyl rolled under the first slash, coming up only to see the stave thrusting towards his chest. Activating the flamethrower in his vambraces, he engulfed the cyborg. Seeing his opponent tumbling back ablaze, Zxyl turned to his intended target. Lifting the E-Web from its stand, he swung the repeating blaster around, opening fire at the shocktroopers.

Missile warning! Key to target?

“I know,” Erinyes growled over the warning klaxon that rang through the cockpit. She threw the control stick to one side, sending her TIE/D Defender into a corkscrew turn for what seemed like the hundredth time since she’d launched. The status reports she’d heard over the course of the battle weren’t nearly as positive as she’d hoped. The Collective was gaining the upper hand by sheer weight of numbers, and Taldryan’s most effective counter to them—the twelve squadrons of TIE/D Defenders that normally filled the Resurgent’s hangars—were stuck on the other side of Arx’s shield gate.

Several seconds later, once the concussion missile dogging her wake had run out of fuel and detonated, Erinyes hit the targeting control that would lock on to the fighter attacking her. The image of another T-70 came up on her targeting computer’s screen, but vanished into a fireball a moment later, after one of the Consul’s fellow pilots descended on it. When another sensor pass showed that nothing else was actively attacking her, Erinyes fired up her comm system. “Bastion, give me a status update, over.”

“Hellcat, this is Bastion. We’re below fifty percent hull integrity. Valor’s weapons are offline. Dawn and Vein have taken critical damage and need to retreat. Over.”

Erinyes cursed. If they’d had their fighters on field, the Dreadnaughts that were savaging Taldryan’s capital fleet would’ve been destroyed by now. “Bastion, report status of hostile fleet, over.”

“Four Dreadnaughts and two Strike Cruisers still on field, over.”

The Consul swore again, louder this time, and pulled back on her control stick to guide her ship towards the still-idle Resurgent. "Standby, Bastion. Out. " After changing comm frequencies, she opened another channel. “Arx Control, this is Consul Ténama. I’ve got eight squadrons of fighters ready to face-frak the Collective fleet. Get that shield gate open.”

The communications technician who replied was so monotone that Erinyes wondered if he was actually a droid. “Consul, this is Arx Control. We’re under orders not to open the shield gate without prior authorisation due to the risk of Collective forces making planetfall,” Control said.

“That’s my point, Control. If you let my squadrons through the shield gate, there won’t be any Collective forces left to make planetfall.” Erinyes rolled her eyes, wondering when the Iron Legion had started manning their control tower with school-aged children.

“Like I said, Consul, we’re under orders–”

Erinyes cut him off with an annoyed huff. “Look, there are two ways this can happen: Either you open the shield gate and let my pilots do their jobs, or I tell the Grand Master we lost Mattock Station because some pissant watch officer wouldn’t let us deploy our fighters. Which one of those options do you think will go better for you?”

For several seconds, the only sound in Erinyes’ helmet was that of her own breathing. “Very well, Consul. The shield gate will open in ten seconds for a window of one minute.”

“Acknowledged.” Without waiting for an answer, Erinyes toggled her Defender’s comm system over to the Taldryan command channel. “All squadrons, this is Hellcat. The shield gate will be open in ten seconds. I want rockets on those Dreadnaughts within the next two minutes. Dreadnaught Durga should be your last target. Tavros, haul ass, you’re about to have incoming. Over.”

“Roger. Out.” The reply was as speedy as it was terse. Erinyes didn’t know whether that was just Zentru’la being his usual laconic self, or if Tavros was in trouble. Over the next few seconds, the rest of the Resurgent’s squadron leaders sounded off.

The instant the shield gate opened, a cloud of TIE/D Defenders poured out of the opening like killer insects from a hive. Blue-white engine trails flared behind them as they swarmed over the Collective Dreadnaughts, releasing pinpoints of amber light that blossomed into massive explosions when they struck the capital ships’ hulls. As two of the remaining four Dreadnaughts were engulfed in flames, the remaining Collective capital ships began to maneuver away from Mattock Station, likely in preparation for a retreat.

Erinyes had let out a victory cheer when she saw the first Dreadnaught break in two, but the expression cut short when the Consul saw the Dreadnaught’s front half descending toward Mattock Station, rapidly picking up speed thanks to Arx’s gravity well. “Mattock, collision incoming, get your shields up!”

“Acknowledged, Hellcat. We’ll do what we can.” An incandescent field glimmered to life around one section of the shipyard, then let out a bright flash as the Dreadnaught debris glanced off it.

The impact seemed to divert the hulk away from the shipyard’s core—and to Erinyes’ dismay, instead set it on a collision course with the unprotected Resurgent. “Mattock, get your shields back up!”

“Negative, Hellcat. The emitters are burned out.”

Erinyes sputtered in disbelief, then slammed her fist against the Defender’s controls and hauled back on the stick. Briefly, she considered trying to blow up the piece of Dreadnaught with her own laser cannons, but there was too much metal and too little time. A few moments after she moved her fighter out of its path, the Dreadnaught’s bow slammed into the Resurgent, knocking it free from its moorings. Both ships tumbled toward Arx, and erupted into a brilliant fireball as they slammed into the planetary shield.

For several moments, Erinyes sat stunned, until she heard a transmission over her comm system. “Brotherhood forces, this is the Star Destroyer Lurio of the Principate Seventh Fleet. Requesting status report, over.”

Fraking… Now they show up, Erinyes thought, bitterly. “Lurio, this is Hellcat One. You’re late.”

Dreadnaught-class Heavy Cruiser Durga

The Taldyran ensemble raced towards their exfiltration point, the Collective response force hot on their heels. As they rounded the corner towards the hangar, the bay doors slammed shut, and churning sounds emitted from the locking mechanism from inside. This section of the corridor was much larger than most, clearly the section that the scout mech platoon transport their walkers through.

“I’ve got it! You guys cover me,“ Aylin called out to the rest of the troupe as she bundled herself in the direction of the door console.

Meleu simply nodded to the others, spun on his heel and marched back along the route they had just taken. General Zentru’la gestured to Ankira to cover the Sith Battlemaster in front of them.

Meleu stopped in his tracks. His senses immediately heightened by the Force as danger was imminent. Without hesitation, nor caution, the Collective troops hustled around the corner and immediately began raining fire upon the enemy in front. Meleu expertly batted away the first grouping before leaping in the air. Almost like clockwork, his two ranged allies behind him returned fire; Zentru’la’s heavy repeating blaster cutting through several of the foe before Meleu had even landed. As the Sith planted his feet on the ground, he discharged the kinetic energy absorbed as he touched down. Whilst not strong, it temporarily unbalanced many of the soldiers that now encircled him. Without delay, Meleu erupted into a wild frenzy of unpredictable and cyclonic movements with his crimson-red saber. The blaster-armed combatants around him stood no chance, especially with Ankira picking off any that came close with precision shots from her blaster pistols in each hand.

The first wave was easy. The Taldryan quartet had a short respite before more Collective soldiers arrived.

“Aylin, status report?” the Twi’lek General barked.

“Lookin’ good on my end, give me another couple of minutes. Watch my back!” Aylin chirped in response.

Meleu took this time to ensure each of the soldiers lying motionless on the ground were in fact dead, plunging his saber through each of their hearts. His fellow Taldryanites did not even blink as he carried out his murderous executions; in fact, Ankira couldn’t hide the smirk on her face.

The momentary breather ended almost as soon as it had started. More shouting broke out not too far away from the Taldryanites’ location. Mechanical clanking sounds followed; yet another scout walker was closing in on their location.

“Right. Meleu, take this mine and place it on the wall. I’ll control it from here.” the General threw the explosive to an ungrateful Meleu.

The Human was silent; even his usual quips and witty remarks had no place at this moment in time. He cautiously caught the explosive lure and placed it on the wall, finishing with a nod in the direction of the Twi’lek.

Once again, the rhythm of battle marching approached the group. Meleu braced himself once more - this time he wanted to have more fun. He unsheathed his electro-sword and with a simple flick, it hummed to life in his left hand. This quickly turned out to work in his favour as Collective soldiers poured around the corner. The Battlemaster raised his lightsaber as a signal for his two fighting companions behind him to get ready. Heavily armoured shocktroopers stormed down the corridor, electrostaves in hand. They had come prepared.

The Sith adherent paused a second to relax, took a deep breath through his nose and closed his eyes; this had to be fought differently than the last skirmish. He invited the horde of zealots to attack him rashly due to his lackadaisical stance. When the first electrostave swept towards him, he ducked, then came back up with a similar manoeuvre to the one he had just avoided - instead aimed at the shocktrooper’s legs - instantly amputating them. The man’s body collapsed, followed by a scream. Meleu couldn’t take notice of this however; an incoming barrage of electrostave attacks were the focus of his attention now.

The locking mechanism of the hangar bay door started whirring, and Aylin jumped up in excitement. “We’re in business guys, let’s go!”

Meleu did not hear Aylin’s call, but he was forced to retreat towards the open door regardless as he continued to defend against the advanced shocktroopers. Zentru’la and Ankira continued to support the Human with their meticulous sharpshooting abilities, however even they could realise their fellow Taldyranite was in danger. The General hurried forward, shouting at the Sith to withdraw.

“BLOW IT NOW!” Meleu screamed as he tossed his electro-sword onto the ground and broke out into an all out sprint towards the hangar, Zentru’la close behind. Several of the shocktroopers followed with their electrostaves, while others swapped melee for their accurate blaster pistols and began shooting down the corridor.

Just as a bipedal walker aligned itself for a clear shot at its target, the lure mine exploded and collapsed the ceiling section above where it had been placed, cutting off the ranged forces of the Collective and leaving the few melee warriors to chase after the now fleeing Taldryanites.

Meanwhile, the Harbinger was waiting for them. Aylin had already made her way to the boarding ramp. Ankira had gotten behind cover by the hangar bay doors and was easily dispatching of the remnants of the pursuing Collective troops.

As Meleu and Zentru’la ran past her, she joined on the tail of the line and the three of them joined Aylin on the ramp of the Upsilon-class command shuttle. The ramp began to rise back into the ship’s hull as the starship rose from the ground and turned towards the hangar bay shield - shooting off towards the Bastion.

Mattock Station Hangar

The scene in the hangar was devolving into chaos. The Collective soldiers seemed to be emerging from every entrance to the hangar, threatening to envelop the Taldryanites. Vodo cursed loudly as he pulled a pile of barrels towards his ship, the Karufr Knight, with the Force to provide some cover to the others. He sensed Rian doing the same, followed shortly thereafter by Appius when he was able to get out from underneath sustained fire. Zakai, Vodo’s son, kept his guard high and deftly deflected blaster bolts as they’d practiced innumerable times. Redirecting one of his own, Vodo thought he sensed a determined need to protect someone from the boy, and saw the skittish Dasha behind Zakai.

“They aren’t going to give us time to board and take off!” Zyxl shouted to Vodo.The Proconsul had herded the Principate’s delegates aboard the shuttle, losing one at the foot of the boarding ramp, and was now firing his E-web blaster at the Collective’s attackers.

Vodo brought his wristlink to his mouth while briefly taking cover. “Colonel Gerherdt, if you take much longer there won’t be a trap to spring.”

Joachim Gerherdt was a hardened soldier, a veteran of many of Taldryan’s wars, and the senior commander between the 1/10 and 1/9 Assault Battalions. “Understood, Lord Biask. The Collective is just proving a bit more stubborn than they have a right to.”
“Lord Biask, this is Derriphan 6,” a new voice came over the comnet—Colonel Daxton, the commander of the 1st/9th and the operational XO, “My companies are in position.”

“Do it now," Vodo barked.

While much of the 1st/10th set about attempting to secure the whole of Mattock Station, the 1st/9th had secured their flank, and was now in position behind the Collective forces assaulting the hangar. The Taldryan soldiers scythed through their enemies, who suddenly found an entire hostile formation hitting them where they were least prepared.

Vodo watched curiously from cover as the cyborg fighters arrayed against them reacted to the new threat, almost as one. It wasn’t that they all moved at the same time, but rather in groups of three or four at a time in a way that reminded him more of bonded Force Users than well-drilled warriors. He filed that information away for later.

“Rian!” Vodo shouted.

The man nodded his understanding. “Got it.”

Together, the two of them moved away from the ship and drew attention to themselves. Rian bellowed as he charged a nearby soldier and crashed, shoulder-first, into him. Vodo, trailing shortly behind, beheaded another and disarmed a third. The two Taldrya fought like a well-oiled machine, and together they tore a hole into the Collective’s position.

At the far end of the hangar, a small group of Collective fighters ran through an entrance, fleeing the approaching Taldryan soldiers. Zyxl swung the cannon in his hands around and laid into the unsuspecting troops.

“Alright! We’ve got them on the run," the Pronconsul said. “Let’s get this ship out of here!!”

Rian nodded to Vodo, and the two of them beat a hasty retreat to the Karufr Knight. Vodo stood by the boarding ramp, batting away the now-fewer blaster bolts sent their way. Taldryan soldiers were pouring from several of the entrances to the hangars and soon the room was secured. The cyborg soldiers Vodo had noticed had had to be killed to a man, never surrendering, while some of the more run-of-the-mill troops had tossed their weapons down and gave themselves over to the advancing troopers.

An officer trotted over to where the Quaestor was and saluted Vodo, “My Lord. Captain Dagos: Besh Company, 1/9th. Colonel Daxton sends his regards.”

“Very good, Captain. Inform the Colonel that he can turn his attention to Mattock Station. My team will regroup here.” Vodo dismissed the man, who ran back off to his formation.

The Karufr Knight, already prepped for take off by its pilot—a Torgruta officer wearing the Taldryan uniform, and assisted by Zakai, who was suppressing his frustration not to be in command of what he saw as his ship—rose and turned for the atmospheric containment shield. The half-Hapan, half-Twi’lek boy watched his father as the ship rotated around, and felt an odd sensation. It was foreboding but he shook it off, eager to prove his courage to the pilot and his father.

Zakai flipped a few switches on the com-panel and spoke into his headset, “Hyperion 1, this is Karufr Knight heavy. Departing Mattock Station, over.”

The words, so professional, sounded strange coming out of the mouth of a 14 year old but he was an old hand at the etiquette of radio usage by now. The com buzzed as the aging ace pilot Andan Marshall replied, “I got you, ’Knight’. We’re swinging in from above to escort you out. Make for Principate Destroyer Lurio, over.”

Sure enough a flight of TIE Defenders descended from a higher orbit and took up a protective position around the Upsilon-class shuttle.

Appius approached Vodo and together they watched the shuttle leave. “He’s a hell of a fighter, that kid.”

The Quaestor looked over his Aedile appraisingly, noting several carbon scoring marks on the man’s armor, “As well he should be. I trained him. Get yourself squared away; the supply cache should have some more blaster packs.”

Rian and Zyxl greeted the Aedile amiably as he went over to them. Dasha watched the ship leave a bit longer as well, which Vodo noted and related to the feelings his son had radiated earlier. He’d keep an eye on those two. The immediate action dealt with, he turned his attention to the battle which still raged across the station. The Collective was still not beat, and the Taldryan forces had more to do.

Command Bridge, VSD Bastion
Arx Orbit, Arx System

With Principate forces on field and the Collective’s Battle Group Scargill mauled and in full retreat, the recapture of Mattock Station was a simple, if tedious, affair. Clan Taldryan’s members and their military forces, supported by a full regiment of Principate soldiers, had scoured the shipyards from top to bottom and wiped out any remaining Collective intruders. Meanwhile, Taldryan’s naval forces—what was left of them, anyway—had limped into the few free berths that the ACE shipyards could provide.

Now, though, Erinyes had a different problem: the Dark Council.

“Consul! Glad to hear from you. Sorry to hear about the Resurgent. She was a fine ship, the few times I was aboard her,” Justinios chattered. His usual unnaturally cheerful demeanour had been replaced with something more frenetic, which Erinyes took as a sign that the stress of the Collective attack was taking its toll on the Aleena. “I have your next set of orders from the Grand Master, regarding where Taldryan’s ground forces should be deployed to secure the Brotherhood’s infrastructure on Arx. Sending them now.”

“No,” Erinyes said.

Justinios frowned, and hesitated for the briefest of moments—an eternity by his standards—before answering. “I don’t understand what you mean. Is the Bastion’s communications system unable to maintain a direct data link, or have you already received the orders from a different source?”

“I mean ‘no, we’re not going’. Taldryan’s already pulled one Dark Council member’s ass out of the proverbial fire today. I’m not sacrificing thousands more lives and millions more credits because nobody in the Iron Legion thought to leave a garrison on Arx,” Erinyes said.

“I’m sure the Grand Master will be willing to make some kind of arrangement with you after the Collective attack has been repelled,” Justinios said, in the smooth, steady tones of someone who was used to being caught between a rock and a hard place. “But if we don’t get those forces in position now, we’re not going to have anything left for him to make an arrangement with.”

Erinyes snorted. “That sounds like Mav’s problem to me.”

“When the Collective’s done with Arx, they’re going to come for the Clans next,” Justinios said.

“All the more reason for me to preserve what forces I have left, then, considering the Iron Legion didn’t bother showing up when we had an entire Collective battle group in the system next door. We’re going to need some way to fight back, now that we don’t have a fleet.” The Consul folded her arms across her chest.

Justinios blew out an audible breath, somewhere between a huff and a sigh. “What’s it going to take to get Taldryan’s army on the field?”

“First of all, my people need time to rest and resupply. It’s going to take our forces a few hours to get into position no matter where they’re deployed, so if you want our help, you’ll have to make sure that the quartermasters on Mattock Station put Taldryan’s forces at the front of the queue.”

“That’s Atra’s call, not mine. I don’t run Mattock Station,” the Aleena protested.

“I have every confidence that you’ll work something out. The other condition is that if you want our help, you get it on our terms. Everyone in Taldryan is sick of having the Collective hanging around our necks, and we’re sick of always being on the defensive. If we’re going to fight Oligard’s fanatics, we’re going on the offensive, and we’re going to slaughter them to the last cyborg.”

“Well, when you put it that way… the Iron Legion’s HQ is under siege by a Collective regiment. I assume you won’t have any difficulty resolving that situation in the Brotherhood’s favour.”

Erinyes smirked. “Consider them dead.” Justinios nodded, and after a few more pleasantries, ended the transmission. Erinyes activated her wrist comlink. “All Ektrosis and Tavros personnel, be in briefing room Aurek in ten minutes.”

Briefing Room Aurek
VSD Bastion

To Erinyes’ mild surprise, the entire group had ambled into the briefing room by the appointed time—probably because everyone was still jittery after the battle for Mattock Station. They didn’t waste any time before they started discussing how best to approach the orders that Justinios had given Erinyes. After receiving and processing each participant’s input. Erinyes announced her final decision on how the Taldryanites would be deployed.

“First, Rian, Zentru’la, Appius, and Meleu will join Typhojem and Derriphan Battalions and deploy into the Iron Legion headquarters by air, to reinforce the troops already present. Their job will be to hold long enough for us to get the rest of the army into position.” Erinyes grinned when she spotted Meleu’s frown at being given guard duty. “Oh, don’t be so cranky. Just park yourself in front of a breach in the walls and see how many kills you can rack up.” The suggestion brightened the junior Marauder’s mood considerably.

“Anyway. Vodo will lead a covert-action team to infiltrate the Collective’s staging area and wreak as much havoc as possible. Nihlus has been working on ways that we can disrupt the Collective’s control over their new hive-mind cyborgs, so he’ll be joining the infiltration team, along with Aylin and Dasha. They’ll be accompanied by our forward observers, who will designate targets for artillery and air strikes.” The covert-action team nodded, though Erinyes could sense Dasha’s skittishness already.

“Finally, Bale and I will lead the spearhead against the Collective. I hear the Vornskrs’ mechanics managed to modify a 2-M repulsortank so that Bale can actually fit inside it.” Erinyes smirked when she saw Bale’s face split open in a grin, and sensed the surprise and dismay hidden behind Zentru’la’s typically stoic demeanour. “I’ll be deploying with the Dark Fire Brigade, because I’m sick of being cooped up on a ship. Questions?”

There were none.

“Good. You’ve all got two hours to rest and restock your supplies before our transports launch. It’s time we started fighting this war for real.”

Planet Arx
Elos Vrai
1km from Collective Encampment

Dasha shivered in the predawn air. She crouched next to her Quaestor, who was so still that he seemed to be made of stone. Vodo peered through the borrowed quadnoculars at the enemy emplacement and frowned. The Collective had brought an entire regiment to assault the Iron Legion’s fortress. Zentru’la and Rian were organizing the defense, as it seemed the Grand Master’s forces were less fearsome than the Clans had been led to believe. Vodo handed the young woman the quadnoculars and pointed to the dry river bed that approached the Collective’s position.

“Use the terrain to your advantage. I’m confident you know how to remain unseen, but I won’t have you getting caught or killed; the paperwork would take valuable time out of my schedule. Sergeant Kline and his team will accompany you." Vodo indicated to a twenty-something year old man behind them and his six-man squad, part of the 1st Fire Control Company.

Dasha, for her part, decided some snarky quip was probably not what the grim-faced Sith wanted to hear and nodded. “Got it, uhh, my Lord.”

“And Dasha?” Vodo said firmly.

The young woman swallowed a lump in her throat. “Yes?”

“Stay away from my Apprentice.” Vodo’s voice was not cold, but it was iron, brooking no protest or reply.

The young Nautolan woman, Aylin Sajark, was close enough to hear and was indignant on Dasha’s behalf. Vodo could feel it radiating through the Force, but paid her no mind. Zakai’s training would not be derailed by adolescent hormones.

It was to Nihlus and Aylin that he turned to next.“You two already know where you’re headed. Take your teams and get moving. We want to be in position before sun up. Mission start is 0600 per the Consul’s orders. Bombardment to commence at 0700, so be clear by the time the shells start dropping.” Vodo stared into the faceless obsidian mask of his former Apprentice, Nihlus, who stared back at him impassively.

Dasha, Aylin, and Nihlus all went their own ways, leaving Vodo on his own for a moment. The air was cool, though he barely felt it under the growing excitement he felt in his blood. There were few joys in life so rewarding as organizing and executing military operations. The thrill of a battle, so thoroughly dominated before it even started, was second only to that of discovering lost secrets of Force Mystics and Sith of centuries long past. Here he was in his element, surrounded by professionals and deadly men and women of every flavor. Though he could taste his anticipation on the wind, there was an unfamiliar sense of foreboding in his chest that Vodo did not care for. He’d faced death and danger an untold number of times. He and they were old acquaintances by now, long past the time when he considered them enemies, but that did not mean the dread they conjured in others was welcome.

Vodo backed away from his observation place and trotted over to where Captain Jor’rod waited. The Chiss was a formal man, in his late twenties, and a consummate professional. Vodo liked him, as he did most military men, and gave the officer a respectful nod as he approached. The man returned the nod and pulled out his datapad.

“The 5th is ready when you are, My Lord.”

“Good. Let’s be on our way, then.”

The 1st and 5th Fire Control Companies were veteran forward observation units of the 1/9th Battalion. Vodo’s orders from Seraine were straight-forward enough: scout the enemy forces, identify targets of opportunity and value, mark them for artillery barrage, and disappear. The others had their own objectives but he was taking the majority of the company with him. Platoon leaders began marching their troopers into the early-morning darkness followed by the command section with Vodo and Captain Jor’ord. They moved quietly, expertly, through the dark across wooded terrain to the edge of the Collective encampment.

There was, of course, an established perimeter around the encampment, with regular patrols of men and droids. Captain Jor’rod nominated the crest of a hill as his command post where he had a good overview of the area in which his men would be infiltrating. From here they could see a great number of prefab shelters, cargo containers, disassembled equipment, and a handful of sensor aerials on booms and masts. Of more concern was an area of construction to the rear of the base which the Captain drew Vodo’s attention to.

“There, My Lord." he handed the Warlord a pair of quadnoculars. “What do you make of that?”

The construction was hard to make out in detail. “Whatever it is, it appears they’re building it from scratch.”

The Captain agreed, taking the device back when it was offered, “There’s six of them, whatever they are. The ones on the far end appear to be the most complete and if I had to venture a guess… They look like linear rifles to me.”

“Surely the Collective has artillery of their own. They don’t need to construct slapdash pieces,” Vodo said, more to himself than to the officer beside him. “What’s that object behind them, with the hoses connected to it?”

The Captain looked through his quadnoculars once more. “I would guess that’s the power source—a big one, by the looks of it. Now that I’m seeing the completed ones more clearly, their bores are enormous. Whatever they intend to launch from those things, it’s not a shell of any sort I’m familiar with, My Lord.”

Never underestimate the capacity of the enemy to surprise you. The words echoed in Vodo’s mind, something his mentor Halcyon had once said to him on another battlefield years before. “Whatever they are, they need to be marked for bombardment. If your men can’t do it, I’ll attend to it myself.”

Eos City, Elos Vrai
Arx

The Harbinger swooped over the Iron Legion HQ as it made its approach. An imposing square structure, the Iron Legion HQ rose up to ten stories high, clad in black reinforced armour, surrounding a central courtyard. The only gap in the structure was blocked by a gate of thick, blast-proof durasteel to allow vehicles in and out of the courtyard. Anti-air turrets lining the roof pointed to the sky, interspersed with snipers and laser cannons scanning the ground from their high vantage point. Platoons of Iron Legion AT-ATs and AT-STs stood ready around the outside of the base, on a constant state of alert in preparation for the impending Collective attack.

Rian, Appius, and Meleu, three Force-users, armed with lightsabers, sat with Zentru’la in the Harbinger as Rohla brought the ship in to land on a landing pad outside the HQ. Meleu had already proven his combat proficiency aboard the Durga. He knew Rian and Appius by reputation, which was surely a mutual sentiment. “Let me sort out the troops,” said Zentru’la. “We need you three causing as much damage as possible on the front lines.”

“Works for me.” Meleu smiled. It wasn’t often that guard duty led to an encouragement to cause chaos.

“The Typhojem and Derriphan Battalions will arrive by air in five minutes,” said Rian, the Elder in constant contact with the Taldryan Army top command.

“The Vornskr Battalion will arrive shortly after,” replied Zentru’la.

“Are they ready to fight?” Appius’ question was fair. The Vornskr Battalion was a brand new private military company, and this was to be their first major engagement. In truth, Zentru’la didn’t know. Most of his men were new recruits.

“They’re all talented, but some have never seen live combat,” said the general. “Sometimes, one’s true character is only revealed on the battlefield.”

Some people didn’t need an official title to command. Zentru’la was one of them. The General immediately began barking orders at the Iron Legion troops the moment he set foot on the ground. It didn’t matter if he had no place in their chain of command and no official authority over them. AT-AT platoons and their supporting soldiers began mobilising to better defensive positions, orchestrated by the General-in-shining-white-armour’s booming voice.

The rest of the Taldryan support forces arrived shortly afterwards. The Taldryan Army, mostly troopers equipped with stormtrooper armour and blaster rifles, detachment dropped in by air. Zentru’la’s Vornskr Battalion stood out like a sore thumb when they arrived by a mixture of walkers and hover tanks. The private military company was far from the finished product, armed and armoured with a mix of standard-issue military equipment and their own personal gear.

“Support Rian, Appius, and Meleu,” Zentru’la ordered his men. In their semi-trained, semi-organised state, chaos suited the Vornskr Battalion more than fighting alongside traditional, regimented military units, so he had them support the professional bringers of chaos. With the troops and hardware organised in their optimal defensive positions, all that was left was to stand ready for combat at a moment’s notice.

Collective Encampment, Elos Vrai
Arx

Dasha, Sergeant Kline and his team made last-minute checks on their gear. The young Sephi had no clue what to even say to these people placed under her, and they looked down at her with why-are-we-taking-orders-from-a-child glares. All she could mutter was, “Don’t get caught.” Before they moved down to the riverbed where Dasha, with her far lighter gear, quickly and quietly jogged to her destination. Leaving the men struggling to stay quiet with their heavy armor.

Annoyed, Dasha made sure to stop and wait for the men just before their destination, where their equipment wouldn’t be heard. She had to walk from here, it seemed, or leave the men behind.

By the time they got to the edge of the encampment, Dasha was already fed up with the slow pace. She turned to the sergeant, “Set up things over in this region as you see fit. Traps and the like, so if they need to use the area… they’ll end up regretting it. Just don’t make it obvious. Meet me back here before dawn.” Then, she took off before he could reply.

She pulled her cloak close then made her way further down the riverbed before finding a spot to get into the camp and starting her own task of finding backup communications equipment. Thinking about things further, she decided to ensure her escape as she searched.

Dasha swiftly went from various vehicles and stacks of cargo, fiddling with one thing or another. A small tweak to this vehicle by snipping a wire, whisking explosives for doors away to be set on long timers in other boxes, emptying out an unsuspecting canteen or flask left carelessly about… oh, spilt fuel canister there…

She zig-zagged and left some things behind as needed, knowing full well she would probably need those distractions to escape after she found the backup communications equipment and supplies that Vodo wanted her to sabotage.

Medical Section, Collective Encampment
Elos Vrai, Arx

Tensions in the camp were high as everyone was doing preparations for the day. Deciding to dig a bit deeper while it was still dark, Dasha found a region with neatly organized large tents with a lot of activity with red crosses, medical zone.

The young girl peeked inside one and found lined-up cots and medical supplies. Medics ran about preparing each station and talking about where to get what. The one that seemed to be calling the shots kept yelling into his radio about needing more supplies.

Looking around, the supplies seemed neatly stacked in another centralized tent including gas tanks and crates. Her eyes narrowed into a squint to see that the tanks were filled with medical-grade oxygen and nitrogen amongst various other useful gases. With a grin, she ducked inside the tent and loosened a couple of seals at random before making her way to another area of the camp.

Stockpile Area B, Collective Encampment
Elos Vrai, Arx

It was still dark, there was still time. Dasha continued moving past various tents probably to bunker troops in case of a drawn out siege with a large vehicle area next to it with mechanics all milling about servicing and prepping the vehicles. It was too obvious to get spotted here.

Dasha continued on to find a medium traffic area filled with large crates. Her eyes lit up as she made her way around various boxes and peeked inside; a grin appeared on her face as she snatched some strong, timed explosives. Her work had just started as she went around distributing said explosives set for approximately when the bombardments would start.

Finally, traffic died down once more in the most frequented set of large crates, and to her pleasure she found some equipment with antennas sticking out of them. It wouldn’t take her long to surgically add mechanical issues to each before she started making her way back to the riverbed before the sun rose.

Outskirts of Collective Encampment
Elos Vrai, Arx

The sun was starting to rise, and the bombardments would commence soon. She looked around for the sergeant and his team; but they weren’t by the riverbed.

The Sephi made her way towards another part of the camp nearest to the riverbed meeting point when she heard a commotion from within the camp. Looking back, Dasha noted that the temporary hospital had caught fire. Soldiers ran towards the burning building to help put out the flames and pull people away. Those rescued seem to be clumsily stumbling about.

During the chaos, Dasha saw seven men were making their way towards her location. Had she been spotted? She lowered herself slightly in case they started shooting. Suddenly,tents started to collapse within the camp.

The group heading towards the riverbed dove to the safety and looked back at their work; some struggling to catch their breath first before taking a peek. The sergeant looked over at the cloaked Dasha and grinned. “Wait till the bombardments start, they’ll think we have invisible missiles.”

Dasha just watched the chaos before her as she couldn’t get deeper than the general outskirts of the camp. As soon as the morning rays started peeking over the horizon all she could say was, “Let’s go back. I don’t know what we’re supposed to do when the battle starts.”

Sergeant Kline raised an eyebrow, “We spotted a cavernous area over there. It’s a small climb behind some rocks so we can stay hidden, high enough to watch, and close to the riverbed in case we need to run. Perhaps, we can watch from there and come back to do some more work once things here settle down.”

Dasha looked over at the sergeant and shrugged, “Okay.”

Outside Iron Legion Headquarter
Elos Vrai, Arx

Watching the scene from some distance, Rian had to admire how the Twi’lek general orchestrated the troops. They both were men of great tactical knowledge, but as much as Rian had learned over the years, his knowledge relied heavily on how to react to a situation from moment to moment rather than setting up a battlefield. Zentru’la however, easily realigned the position of the different units present on the courtyard of the Iron Legion Headquarter as if he was setting up the figures on a dejarik board.

At last, the time had come. Rian felt the unmistakable mix of anxiety and excitement among the soldiers. Turning back from the General to the group he was standing with, the sound of business around the headquarter was broken by the whining sound of engines rushing the sky over their heads. Anti-air turrets immediately swiveled around, opening fire at the incoming airspeeders.

One of the speeders got hit and blossomed into a ball of fire. The next one crashed into the dark walls of the facility as it tried to evade the explosion. Turning to the crash site, Meleu said, "Looks like that is our signal."Rian nodded in agreement, gesturing at the Taldryan soldiers to move out.

“Rian, we are receiving distress calls from within the headquarters. It looks as if a group of Collective soldiers has managed to slip through the defense grid,” Zentru’la said over the comlink.

“Copy that,” Rian replied. “Meleu, take the Derriphan and stop them.”

“On my way.” The Sith turned to relay the orders to Commander Krays, who immediately called up his troops to fall back.

Appius and Rian along with the troops of Typhojem and Vornskr continued their advance toward the frontline covered by a group of imposing AT-AT’s.

###===###===###

This felt much more like what Meleu had expected. It may not lead to scoring as many kills in his book, but now, he was on the hunt. Bursting into the building, he opened a channel on Zentru’la’s frequency. “ General, any updates on the Collective’s location?"

“Currently Level 5,” Zentru’la replied, voice booming from Meleu’s comlink. “We are slowing them down by closing the blast doors in their path but still they already managed to descend two levels.”

“Any chance you know where they are heading?”

“Based on their current location, Command assumes they are heading for the Fist’s office on the Ground Level. The fastest way to get there would be through the courtyard.” Zentru’la said, anticipating the next question from the Sith.

“Thank you, General.” Meleu ended the call, with Krays standing at his side already gesturing in the direction of the large blast door leading into the courtyard. Approaching the door, Meleu expanded his mind, examining the courtyard with his mind. Nodding at the leading trooper, the Advanced Recon Commando pushed the lever and stepped out into the courtyard only to have his head disappear in a cloud of blood and broken beta-plast.

“Get back inside!” Meleu shouted to the rest of the troops. He should have expected that, with the General having deactivated all blast doors, the Collective would set traps for those trying to get to the Fist’s office as quickly as possible. Meleu re-opened the channel to Zentru’la. “General, the courtyard is under enemy control, I repeat, the Courtyard is under enemy control. We need an alternative route to the target.”

“Negative, all blast doors have been sealed to slow the enemy,” Zentru’la replied.

“It’s that or getting shot from behind by some skulkers camping on a higher level,” Meleu growled. For a brief moment, there was silence, then a red light above a distant door turned to green. “Thank you, General. We’re moving again.”

Meleu and what was left of the Derriphan ARC’s arrived just in time as the Collective just managed to tear a hole into the door leading into the Fist’s office. The Sith’s crimson blade burst to life when the first of the Collective Jedi Hunters, stepped through and into the office of the Fist, while his comrades opened fire at the nearing Taldryan Forces. The Force surged through the Meleu as he dodged the incoming blaster fire before carving a deadly swath into the enemy line.

The battle outside the office was short-lived, and soon, Meleu and his Commandos had taken out the Collective soldiers protecting the hole that was once the door leading into Justinios Drake’s personal office. Inside, a lone Collective Jedi Hunter was stuck working the encryption of the Fist’s personal computer terminal. Watching the progress bar on the computer spike crawl from left to right, he was suddenly grabbed by an invisible hand and torn forcefully through the transparisteel window and into the courtyard.

Eight stories above the office, cyborgs that had been given a single order took aim. By the time they recognized the fallen soldier as one of their own, the trooper in the courtyard had been hit by at least half a dozen high-energy blaster bolts.

###===###===###

Outside the Iron Legion Headquarters, Appius, Rian, and the soldiers of Typhojem and Vornskr were caught in a fierce battle. The Collective had brought up packs of small, agile walkers, making life difficult for the Legion’s heavy artillery.

While most of the Collective Walkers were only armed with lighter cannons, some of them were equipped with multi-rocket launchers. One of them launched a volley of rockets at the leg of an AT-AT, but the Taldrya Elder stood in between, pushing out both hands, reversing the direction of the rockets back to the walker that had fired them. Breathing heavily from the exertion, Rian looked over the battlefield, hoping the rest of the Clan would soon be ready to unleash hell upon the enemy.

Aylin glanced at Nihlus for what had to be the hundredth time. She didn’t mind working with someone else, but he was a Space Wizard—and even worse, he kept his face hidden behind a mask. She shook her head and sighed, reminding herself to keep focused on the mission.

When they got near the camp it was time to do their best not to get caught in the activities of the Collective soldiers. Aylin had snuck up to a crate, and frowned when she glanced back to see no one. She was sure Nihlus was behind her a moment ago.

“Great…” she whispered to herself.

Glancing around the corner of the crate, she made sure everything was safe before she continued on towards the next hiding spot. She continued this until she got near one of the communication towers. Taking the code cylinder from her remote code pad, she plugged that into the tower comm port and glanced at the little screen to make sure it was working before moving on towards the operations tent.

Hiding between the next set of crates and close to the thick cables running from the tent, she made a cut in the tarp and carefully snuck into the tent, ending up behind the consoles.

Taking out her other slicing tool she started to take away a back panel of the console and plugged in her tools. Just when she glanced around the corner of the consoles she spotted Nihlus and nearly had a heart attack.

“Sheesh. You scared me there for a second. What have you been up to?” Aylin whispered.

“Making sure we could get here safely,” Nihlus replied with a mechanical voice.

Aylin frowned for a bit and then shrugged, “As long as we are safe, I guess. I got myself into the first layer of the systems. So far their defences aren’t that difficult to break, but I guess we will find more resistance when we find the more interesting parts.”

Nihlus gave a slight nod and joined her slicing work at a different console.

Aylin’s eyes widened when she found something that came from the Mindbreakers. “Well, this will be painful if they get it into play.”

“What did you find?” Nihlus asked as he glanced towards her.

“A group called the Mindbreakers have a bioweapon and they are constructing it here somewhere.”Glancing at her remote datapad, she smirked, “It also seems the chaos has started.”

“Time for us to hurry up, then.”

Aylin nodded and got back to work, her fingers racing over the keyboard to find more information that could stall the Collective. As she worked her magic, she got into the deeper security layers, where she found even more interesting information.

Arx Battleground
Elos Vrai
0730

No plan survives first contact with the enemy.

Vodo had set out alone. On his hip was a single thermal detonator Captain Jor’rod had given him, “just in case”. Down the hill he flew, as fast as his mechanical legs could carry him, his cape billowing behind him like some winged creature out of a horror story. He cloaked himself in the Force so that to the unaided eye he probably appeared as no more than a thermal of air. He moved swiftly and with confidence, his meter long lightsaber held in his right hand, ready to activate and bisect the first unfortunate being to identify him.

He moved through the enemy camp quickly. Deciding he couldn’t rely upon his illusions much longer, Vodo sought higher ground to get a better view. Summoning the Force, he leapt atop a cargo container and jumped from there to the top of a double stack next to it. He crouched, and when there were no calls of alarm, he peered around. A short ways off, he could see Collective personnel milling about the weapons. Now that he was closer, Vodo could clearly see that the weapons were indeed linear rifles of some sort—electromagnetic launchers. Piled beside each weapon’s breech were man-sized aerodynamic canisters bearing toxic warning symbols. Vodo was still unsure what was in them, but the weapons appeared to be nearing completion—and they were clearly aimed at the Iron Legion’s Headquarters, where the greater portion of Taldryan and its armed forces were.

With so many armed personnel nearby there was no way he could put all six of the weapons out of action by himself. The Sith studied the launchers for a long moment before his eyes were drawn back to the great hose-like cables that had previously caught his attention. He’d only just seen them through the quadnoculars but now he could clearly see that each cable led back to what appeared to be a ship’s matter reactor that had been repurposed as a power source. If he could disable that, it would put all the launchers out of action simultaneously.

Using every ounce of his cunning, Vodo crept a long way around until he was beside the generator. The ground was heavily trodden here, ground to a silty mud by hundreds of feet passing by, and his mechanical feet squelched with every step. He was alone, for the moment, and looking for a means by which to disable the gargantuan thing. There was the detonator on his hip, a device he’d only taken with hesitation and sneering pride, but now saw as being his best option. He looked for the perfect place to set his explosive and grinned when he spotted it. It was where one of the banks of cables plugged into the generator there was a rather large external capacitor. He was no engineer, but he knew that power levels of this magnitude, without a moderating influence like a capacitor, tended to cause significant damage when let loose.

Vodo pulled out the detonator and approached the spot. He placed it carefully in a nook where it would take out as much of the machinery here as possible. Just as he took his hand off of it he felt a familiar tingle along the length of his Lekku. It was a warning to dodge he’d long since learned to heed. Vodo ducked and heard the scream of a blaster bolt and felt the puff of ionizing metal behind him where it struck the bulkhead of the generator. He instinctively pulled out his lightsaber and intercepted the next couple shots fired in his direction. This was bad. Everyone was now alerted to his presence. He glanced backward at his thermal detonator and was dismayed to see the activator switch was damaged, probably by the first shot that he had dodged. More shots began firing his direction as voices called out that there was a Jedi nearby. He blocked those he could and felt the sting of several more through his synthweave cloak and chest armor. He looked around and saw that he was trapped. Behind him was the generator, and before him were the enemy in ever increasing numbers.

The foreboding feeling from earlier now made sense; he wasn’t going to make it out of here.

His arms moved, weaving the lightsaber about defensively but his mind was already somewhere else. He dwelt on his legacy, what he would leave behind. He thought of his son, whose training would be left unfinished. Vodo saw a glimpse of the ring on his finger bearing the clan’s emblem and recalled his decades of service and leadership, of sacrifice and struggle on its behalf. He remembered the honor he’d felt as he knelt and accepted the Clan’s name as his own and then he knew what his legacy truly would be. He had to protect Taldryan. Vodo would do his duty to the Clan unto his last moment.

He turned and raised his saber high into the air, ignoring the biting pain of the blaster bolts impacting against his back, and swung it downwards into the capacitor. The thing exploded in a white-hot mess of shrapnel followed shortly after by a much larger, deeper rumble as the generator exploded. Everything within a hundred meters was obliterated, and everything up to three times that distance was knocked flat to the ground. The blast could be heard for kilometers.

Around the Battle of Arx, several people stopped. The Force whispered to them as a cool wind blew past: Vodo Biask was dead. Rian Taldrya felt a chill down his spine. Nihlus Vexrii’s blood ran ice-cold. Andan Taldrya momentarily forgot he was flying a ship. Zakai Biask felt tears streaming down his face. All of them heard what the wind had said.

Axios.

The Sith had been typing furiously at the Collective access terminal when a shockwave of pain and defiance tore into his mind through the Force. The sensation of death ran through his body, piercing his chest like a sub-zero spear and causing his breathing to freeze. It was not his death that caused this sensation. His finger finished striking one of the terminal’s keys, lagging there momentarily before the armored hand turned into a fist and slammed into the computer’s chassis with a heavy thud . Nihlus looked down at his hand, which had dented the thin metallic casing of the terminal with the additional energy he had subconsciously expelled through the Force. At first, it felt as though he had frozen completely solid, his veins and muscles filled with ice. Then the ice turned to flame, and he was boiling.

Biask.

Vexrii shook with visible rage for a moment as he grappled with the reality of what had just transpired. Though he did not know how it had happened, the Sith had certainly felt the passing of his former teacher. The two had a unique, hate-hate relationship which caused them to loathe each other but also had given them an unshakeable bond. Though Vodo Biask would no longer be a thorn in his own plans, the passing of this titan would not be in vain. I will not allow it, the Umbaran swore to himself. Somehow, the Battelord would avenge the fallen Taldrya—for the Twi’lek had been meant to die at his hands, and his alone.

Aylin turned her head from her own work over to the armoured entourage at her right pausing for a moment once she had recognized his immense stillness and lack of typing at the terminal.

“Nihlus, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” came the cold, modulated reply. Vexrii would not allow his emotions to betray him.

Space Wizards are straight-up weird, the Nautolan mused. “I’ve found something interesting while slicing their system,” she said.

Curiosity grabbed the Sith’s attention immediately. Anything interesting on the Collective to Aylin would certainly be of interest to him as well. After all, it wasn’t like Clan Taldryan couldn’t use a win in this seige, after the destruction of the Resurgent in orbit. By now, any pieces of her that had not disintegrated when she exploded during the shield gate collision would have fallen to the planet’s surface with the planetary shield down. There would be a memorial for the skeleton maintenance crew that had been aboard her later down the road, and a small recovery effort for any sensitive data should the Dark Council permit it.

After a couple moments of reviewing the information and data provided, Nihlus made a discovery. One that may shift the tide of the conflict in favor of Taldryan, and even Brotherhood forces in general. After successfully brute forcing her way into the Collective’s main military network from her terminal, Aylin had uncovered the frequencies and base data on the protocols powering the Hive Mind soldiers. Not only was this a great discovery in terms of this conflict, it would be a gold mine for understanding the Technocratic Union’s prowess and technological successes.

“Interesting. Very interesting. Can you get me inside the hive mind’s communication network?” queried the Sith’s mechanical voice as he intently studied the information. Aylin nodded an affirmative, and began typing furiously at the terminal.

The Sith initiated contact with the Consul immediately. Someone in the thick of things needed to know about their limited opportunity.

“Report,” came her initial statement to the conversation, quick and direct. There was a siege of the planet going on, after all.

“Erinyes, we have a limited advantage,” Nihlus began, taking a moment for a modulated breath, “Aylin uncovered some data on the hive mind, and we managed to temporarily disrupt their networking.”

“How long do we have?” the Zeltron asked as the comlink crackled with a bit of static.

“They’ll be fighting with minimal efficiency for the next twenty minutes,” Nihlus responded, before a Collective soldier entered the tent and reached for his weapon. Vexrii’s head snapped to the side, the faceless onyx viewplate of his helmet staring directly into the man’s face. Clenching his left fist, miniature bolts of lightning danced around his hand and singed at the armor plating. Nihlus would kill every single one of them he came across. Letting the anger and frustration with Biask’s death re-boil to the surface, the Sith harnessed the darkest of his emotions and reached out with his right hand to grasp the newcomer with the Force.

The enemy was not able to reach his weapon in time, having been preoccupied with clawing at his neck while invisible hands squeezed the life from him, before being dragged with his feet scraping the dirt by his throat across the tent. Unable to speak thanks to the compression on his throat, the man began to squirm like an insect caught in a trap as he began to lift off the ground.

The Sith allowed the man’s fear to take hold and his life to flash before his eyes. He wanted them to suffer, and that’s exactly what they were going to do. Reaching out towards the helpless levitating Collective soldier with his free left hand, scores of blue lightning erupted from his fingertips and began frying the man. Screams erupted inside the tent as the enemy combatant was literally burned alive inside his organization’s own camp. One of the tendrils struck the tent, causing a portion of the canopy to become ablaze.

After the man had stopped screaming and squirming, the Sith used one last bout of his anger-fueled telekinesis to throw the crispy-burnt, lifeless husk from the tent entrance and into the camp.

“The time for covert action is over,” Vexrii declared, activating the amethyst blade from his lightsaber and leaving the tent. Aylin followed suit, her own weapon at the ready.

Iron Legion Headquarters
Elos Vrai, Arx

By this point, the Collective forces had been pranked, shelled, hacked and the Hive-Mind Marines brain-slapped to high hell. Vodo was dead, and so far the Collective’s advance had been stalled. It didn’t take long before the war-shouts and hard blaster fire began to ring out against the Iron Legion headquarters walls and gate in a hard effort to try to break through and secure victory.

“Well, this is surprising!” Rian joked, no matter the situation, the former Consul always seemed to have a smile on his face.

The Ektrosis Aedile remained still as he observed the advancing legions of Collective walkers slowly close the distance between them. Hornet swarms of high pressure blaster fire kicked up debris and dust along the way whilst much of what remained of Typhojem’s forces hid behind whatever cover they could.

That was when a lightbulb flashed inside Appius’ head. He had an idea. It was stupid, even downright foolhardy—but in his experience, the best kind of plan was one the enemy never saw coming.

“Rian,” Appius said to the Mirialan Juggernaut beside him, his blue and amber blades still burned brightly in the Arx sunlight. “Whatever happens, don’t try to stop me.” Without further warning, his jetpack flared to life, kicking up a cloud of dust and dirt and launching him into the air with great speed.

“Appius, wait!” Rian protested, but it was too late. The Sorcerer had already landed on the wall that held the gate up against the Collective forces. Taldryan and Iron Legion forces moved around cautiously to get a better view of the situation and see firsthand what the Ektrosis Aedile was about to do.

Appius stood above the gate and saw an endless sea of Collective rushing at them. The artillery was proving effective in tearing holes through them, but they had walkers and bigger numbers. They needed more. Much more.

With the Force on his side, he felt the muscles in his throat get immediately stronger, and took as deep a breath he could.

“COLLECTIVE!” he bellowed, his voice piercing loud over the carnage that rained around them. Many stopped what they were doing to look at the strange man who dared leave himself so exposed.

“IT’S OVER,” he continued, throwing his arms out to his sides in a display of invincibility, looking as vaguely heroic as he possibly could. “I HAVE THE HIGH GROUND!”

The entire battlefield seemed to go silent. Down below, Rian chuckled and rubbed the side of his head with his index finger. Just when he thought he’d seen everything, this happens.

Suddenly, the Collective open fired at the Mandalorian Force-user above them, prompting Appius to draw his lightsaber. An emerald blade erupted out of the hilt with a distinctive snap-hiss. He began to reactively and instinctively repel deadly bolts of plasma away from him, keeping the blade as close to his body as possible, falling into the flow of the Force and allowing it to direct his motions. He sensed an opening, and summoned forth a powerful jet of electricity out of the tips in his fingers towards a random group of Collective soldiers below. This attack gained their immediate attention as orders erupted amongst them to kill the Force-using scum.

Danger blared at the back of Appius’ mind, and his jetpack roared to life once again, lifting him out of the way of a rocket that threatened to end his existence with a bang. Quite literally. It crashed into the wall where he’d been standing, sending a shower of debris from the top careening to the ground below.

Appius continued his momentum and flew to the next available spot where he could effectively mount a defence and keep the Collective’s eyes on him. He was essentially playing a game of cat and mouse with them in an attempt to distract them as long as possible. The streams of electricity he threw down from atop the fortress wall proved effective in holding the Collective’s attention.

Back on the ground, some of the Iron Legion forces along with several Taldryanites began to cheer at the display of bravado, or perhaps stupidity, that was on display. That was when Rian felt a vibration at his hip. He retrieved his comlink and activated it, and the voice of Taldryan’s Consul rang in his ears. He smiled and turned to the soldiers behind them.

“It’s time everyone!” He yelled. “Let’s give them hell!”

Taldryan Army Staging Area
Elos Vrai, Arx

Axios.

Erinyes’ head snapped up from her datapad when Vodo’s voice rolled through her mind. Through the AT-AT’s cockpit viewport, she saw a blazing blue-white column erupt from inside the Collective camp. In the Force, a locus of darkness vanished. Behind her, the transport’s communications officer spoke up. “Consul, we’ve lost contact with Warlord Biask–”

“He’s dead.” Erinyes rose from her chair and stepped as close to the cockpit viewscreen as the control consoles would allow, her gaze transfixed on the explosion. She absent-mindedly lifted her wrist comlink when it chirped about an incoming transmission. “Report.”

Nihlus’ voice crackled from the comlink. “Erinyes, we have a limited advantage. Aylin uncovered some data on the hive mind, and we managed to temporarily disrupt their networking.”

The Consul quirked an eyebrow. “How long do we have?”

“They’ll be fighting with minimal efficiency for the next twenty minutes.” The transmission cut off, leaving Erinyes to wonder whether Nihlus was busy or simply anti-social.

Erinyes didn’t really have time to worry about it either way, with her newly-announced deadline, and turned to her communications officer. “How much longer until we’re ready?”

“Five minutes at most.”

Before the Consul could reply, her earpiece comlink crackled to life. “Erinyes, it’s Aylin. There was a massive explosion, and now Nihlus is going on a rampage and I can’t reach Vodo. What should I do?”

“Get out of there. Nihlus can handle himself.” Or at least, Erinyes knew the Battlelord wasn’t going to answer his comlink so she could tell him to stand down, so there was no point in wasting time on it. After hearing Aylin’s acknowledgement, Erinyes cut the link and turned to the communications officer. “The Hive Mind is offline for another fifteen minutes. I want us moving ASAP.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The communications officer set about relaying the message, and Erinyes returned to gazing out the cockpit window, wishing she could survey her troops like a general in a fantasy holovid. Alas, the AT-AT she was riding in was part of Taldryan’s vanguard, assigned to spearhead the assault along with the Taldryan and Vornskr tank companies. It was hard to gaze out the front window at your army when most of it was behind you.

Within minutes, Erinyes heard the faint boom of artillery reverberate through the AT-AT’s walls. The plasma shells were followed moments later by enormous bolts of coherent energy, fired from a quartet of AT-M6 artillery walkers and timed to land at exactly the same moment as the rest of the barrage. More fires erupted across the Collective base where waves of plasma washed over tents that weren’t quite flame-resistant enough, and plumes of dirt rose high enough into the air that Erinyes could see them from the Taldryan staging point.

Erinyes instinctively ducked as a black-and-grey blur shot out above the walker’s cockpit; a TIE/sk atmospheric fighter, she belatedly realised, on its way to rain proton-bomb death on the Collective. Then another signal came through Erinyes’ earpiece, and the tank platoons lined up in front of the AT-ATs began trundling forward, followed closely by the rest of Taldryan’s armoured vehicles.

It didn’t take long for the Collective to respond to Taldryan’s attack. Trails of orange-white exhaust rose from the enemy camp and streaked through the sky, followed by blue-white beams lancing through the air, several of which struck Taldryan’s AT-ATs. The walker to Erinyes’ left exploded when a turbolaser cannon blast struck its power generator, and the debris pelted Erinyes’ walker like a horizontal hailstorm, each impact echoing through the cabin. The blast was soon followed by a salvo of concussion missiles slamming into the ground and detonating, blowing a pair of Taldryan tanks to pieces and sending shrapnel bouncing off the AT-AT’s cockpit.

If this is what it looks like after we hit their artillery, I would’ve hated to see how it’d have been if we hadn’t, Erinyes mused. Meanwhile, streaks of orange and green light flickered above the Collective camp, followed by several fireballs that seemed to appear spontaneously in mid-air—signs that not all of the Collective’s combat speeders had been caught in the Taldryan artillery barrage. At this distance, though, the Consul couldn’t be sure which side’s pilots were dying.

It took several more tense, interminable minutes before the remaining AT-ATs—several more of which had fallen to Collective turbolasers—arrived at their objective and began disgorging their troops. Erinyes was one of the last ones out, and slowed her fall with the Force rather than occupy her hands by holding on to a zip-line. The twenty-odd-metre fall gave her plenty of time to watch as Taldryan’s tanks and walkers saturated the encampment with laser cannon fire, shooting through or over the prefabricated plasticrete wall panels as though they weren’t there.

The walkers, being the largest and most accessible targets, took the brunt of the Collective’s return fire. Salvos of concussion missiles from the Collective assault walkers slammed into the AT-ATs’ heads and bodies, silencing their guns with massive fireballs. As the remaining troops of the 11th Walker Assault Battalion rushed forward, Erinyes shouted into her commlink. “Frag the missile walkers before they cut us to pieces!”

“You got it, boss! Woohoo!” To Erinyes’ surprise, a 2-M repulsortank in Vornskr colours went sailing over the wall of the encampment, doing a donut in midair as it fired its own lasers and missile launchers. Then it vanished behind the wall, and the whine of its engines disappeared in the direction of the Collective assault walkers. The Consul stared dumbfounded for a moment as the rest of the Vornskr Battalion armour followed the leader, whose gravelly war-whoops filled her earpiece until they were overridden by Zentru’la’s dour baritone.

“Bale, your mic is hot.”

The battle-cry abruptly cut off, but the Iridonian Hammer’s exuberance had already energised his comrades. Leading the charge with lightsaber held high, Erinyes shouted her own rallying call across the Collective’s battlements.

Taldryan!

Iron Legion Headquarters
Elois Vrai, Arx

Beads of sweat poured down the forehead of Meleu Karthdo. After every other slash attack with his saber, he raised his wrist to his eyes and wiped perspiration away. He needed a break. It had been a long day already, and since he had been reassigned back to defending the headquarters’ walls, killing had stopped being fun. It felt like work, something he didn’t like at all.

The Battlemaster stood firm in the small opening an explosion had created in the wall, battled a small number of Collective troops away before retreating back behind cover. The small number of Derriphan ARC troopers still assigned to him took over the defense of the breach whilst Meleu rejuvenated his stamina levels and began a Force-based reparation process on minute wounds he had succumbed to during the day.

“It’s time everyone! Let’s give them hell!” Rian Taldrya’s voice echoed through the courtyard of the walled Iron Legion Headquarters. Mere seconds later, a collection of explosions rang out in the distance. Meleu peeked the corner to see Collective troops in disarray. Clusters of eruptions swarmed closer and closer with every passing second as waves of Taldryan Artillery strikes pounded into the ground, ever so slowly towards the western flank of the assaulting Collective forces.

Meleu raised his saber in the air once again, angling it forward directly towards the opposing forces, gesturing for the combined Iron Legion and Taldryan forces to begin a counter-attack. Across the walled compound, other members of Taldryan had the same idea and began rallying the pockets of ground units around them towards the palisades. The call-to-arms worked, especially since the artillery fire had now reached the backline of Collective troops. Veteran Taldryan soldiers alongside the mostly new recruits of the Iron Legion began raining a hellish barrage of blaster bolts from above upon the now-disorganised enemy.

“Now!” With his saber raised the Sith Battlemaster dashed through the opening in the wall and began carving a line through the confused opposition. The remainder of the Derriphan Commandos and a hodgepodge of other soldiers followed him out in what seemed to be a slightly suicidal counter-offensive. The view on the other side of the wall was one to admire: a small minority of Collective troops had already begun a retreat whilst their commanding officers barked at them to fall back in line. The artillery fire from Taldryan’s heavy bombardment line continued, rolling through the Collective formations. As the barrage neared the walls of the Iron Legion Headquarters, the number of explosions lessened, as well as the accuracy. One or two stray blasts hit the wall directly, forcing several friendly soldiers backwards off the wall and down onto the floor, likely to their deaths.

When the artillery stopped, a wall of smoke shrouded the Taldryan Army that had begun the bombardment. The enemy forces were pinned, and their officers were forced to make rapid tactical decisions to both defend their exposed flank and try to continue their offensive on the Iron Legion Headquarters. Collective soldiers spun their mounted blaster turrets around to face the smoke, and their comrades scrambled to find more anti-vehicle weaponry, but it wouldn’t matter.

Suddenly, three TIE/sk atmospheric fighters spat out from the top of the smoke, dived down and opened fire with their heavy laser cannons towards the now-cowering masses of Collective troops. Simultaneously, Taldryan’s TX-225 Combat Assault Tanks appeared at speed from the cloud of smoke and barreled towards the Collective lines, each tank firing off all three laser cannons at the same time, struggling to miss with any shots as they neared the enemy. Behind them, monolithic AT-AT walkers and HAVw A6 Juggernaut troop transport tanks rumbled forward in a much slower fashion due to their heavy armour.

Upon seeing this, small groups of Brotherhood soldiers around the compound began to jump down from the fortifications or make their way through breaches in the walls to join Meleu Karthdo, who had already carved his way through dozens of Collective forces. Appius was the first Force-using Taldryanite to join the Battlemaster on the other side of the wall. His crazy antics in the minutes leading up to the push from the Taldryan Army had caused a significant amount of damage to both the Collective foe in his vicinity and also the section of wall he was standing upon. As he hopped down to join Meleu, he heard an ever-so-familiar voice,

“Let’s go finish them off, you crazy bugger!” Rian Taldrya called out with a laugh, running out through one of the openings in the wall. The three Taldryanites rushed forward in unison. In the background, General Zentru’la stepped out from a building within the compound, just in time to hear a loud horn blaring from inside the Collective camp.

The enemy was retreating.