[GJW XIV] Taldryan Run-On

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.

Collective Encampment
Elos Vrai, Arx

Erinyes let out a long, ragged sigh as pieces of the cyborg she’d just bisected clattered to the ground. Her legs were wobbly with fatigue after the prolonged bout of constant fighting, but her exhaustion paled next to the triumph she felt as she surveyed the ruined battlefield. The ground was strewn with burned-out vehicles and broken bodies, including some—more than Erinyes would’ve liked—wearing Taldryan livery. Still, the price the Clan had paid was worth it for the opportunity to deal the Collective a heavy blow. The enemy regiment had shattered under the weight of Taldryan’s more-and-bigger guns, not to mention its elite members. Erinyes had been delighted to channel her fury at Vodo’s death and the Resurgent’s destruction into massacring as many Collective troops as her lightsabers could reach.

“Hellcat, this is Banner,” the commander of Taldryan’s forces—or rather, the commander’s communications operator—said through Erinyes’ earpiece. “Hostile forces are in full retreat.”

“Finish off as many of them as you can, Banner.” The more Collective troops they killed now, Erinyes reasoned, the fewer they’d run into later. If nothing else, it sounded better than wanting to make the zealots suffer.

With the enemy shattered and no easy targets in the vicinity, Erinyes turned her mind to other priorities. She reached out with the Force, seeking the last remnants of the darkness that had disintegrated before the battle. When it brushed the edge of her senses, the Adept followed, wandering through the encampment with half-closed eyes while she tracked the disturbance to its source.

The ruin wreaked upon the area surrounding the Dark Side nexus was impressive, even compared to the damage inflicted on the rest of the camp. The debris and corpses gave way to blackened, misshapen lumps of detritus, acrid smoke filled the air, and the ground crunched under Erinyes’ boots, its moisture having been flash-evaporated by whatever cataclysm had transpired. Maybe the other presence she had sensed would know more. “Nihlus.”

“Insufferable prick. He couldn’t even survive long enough for me to kill him.” Even the modulator in Nihlus’s helmet couldn’t suppress the venom in the Battlelord’s voice.

Erinyes chuckled. It seemed that not even death couldn’t get in the way of Nihlus’ rivalry with his former master. “What happened?”

“There was an explosion.” Nihlus shrugged.

“You don’t say.”

The Battlelord turned to his Consul, masked visage as impassive as ever. “There aren’t exactly labels to read. Some of this debris looks like parts of launcher assemblies, and there are traces of a biological substance that my scanners don’t recognise. Best guess, Biask found some bio-weapon the Collective was planning to use and decided to destroy the payload, and blew himself up like a moron in the process.”

“Thus saving hundreds of Taldryan and Brotherhood lives. I never expected him to be the self-sacrificing type.” Erinyes took a slug from her flask of tsiraki.

“He wasn’t.”

Erinyes smirked. “I’m pretty sure the fact that he’s dead proves you wrong.” Nihlus met the quip with sullen silence. Meanwhile, the Consul poured the rest of her flask out over what seemed to be the epicentre of the blast—the closest thing they’d get to Vodo’s grave.

After a moment of silence, the two Sith turned to leave, until Nihlus abruptly stopped and bent over to retrieve something from the ground. “Huh.” He held the item up for Erinyes to see: a ring, one of the ones awarded to Sons and Daughters of Taldryan. The trinket’s face was cracked through the middle of the Clan logo, but had somehow remained whole.

“How metaphorical. We’ll have to give it to Zakai or something.” Erinyes caught the ring when Nihlus tossed it to her, then tucked it into a belt pouch as the pair left to rejoin their Clan.

Mattock Station
Arx Orbit
Three Days Later

In the midst of the flurries of activity that came with being a wartime shipyard—one that had suffered its own attack, no less—the briefing room that Erinyes had commandeered was one of few places aboard Mattock Station that maintained a semblance of quiet. A handful of Taldryan members had gathered to pay their final respects to Vodo Biask Taldrya, represented in absentia by a holo-pic and his Clan heirloom ring. There’d been the obligatory speech about how Vodo was a pillar of Taldryan and how much he’d contributed to the Clan, and a few fumbling attempts to comfort Vodo’s son, made awkward by the fact that Zakai seemed more relieved than upset by his father’s death. He hadn’t wanted Vodo’s ring, either, so Erinyes had claimed the item herself to be stored in the Taldryan Citadel.

As usually happened at Taldryan gatherings, when the ceremonies were over, the attendees turned to drinking. Zakai hadn’t stayed for that, either; Erinyes spotted the young man slipping out as the first round of bottles was opened. Dasha, visibly torn between wanting to look after Zakai and wanting to give him his space, followed a few steps behind. After the kids had left, Vodo had several toasts raised in his honour, as did the Resurgent and the rest of the Taldryan personnel who’d perished in the battle for Arx.

Sometime during the wake, a message from Taldryan Navy Command crossed Erinyes’ datapad. The Regent’s Office had responded to their requisition for a new Star Destroyer to replace the Resurgent, and all that was left before the records were updated was to give the new flagship a name. Normally, Erinyes would’ve discussed the question of what to call one of the most visible symbols of Taldryan’s power with the rest of the Summit—but this time, the answer sprang to mind before she’d even finished reading the message, and her reply consisted of a single word.

Axios.