Zoso looked in the direction the shuttle landed, her eyes flat and unfriendly. “This isn’t going to end well. It feels like a lump of metal in my stomach.”
She reached up and unwrapped the little girl’s arms from around her broad shoulders. The Soldier pointed at the bartender and spoke softly. “I want you to go with him. There is a small group of people that will make sure you stay safe. I do not want you around when the one in that shuttle gets here, okay?”
The small human looked up at her imploringly, still seemingly unable to speak. The Mirialan’s heart softened slightly and she smiled at the waif. She stood up, shrugged out of her combat shirt and draped it over the child’s shoulders, then pulled her hat off and placed it on the girl’s head.
“Keep those safe for me, okay? I’ll come back for them when I’m done, and then we can go find a place for you to live. I think you’re gonna need someone to take care of you now.”
The young girl smiled and nodded, before putting on a serious look, trying to imitate the giantess’s scowl. Quinn laughed softly and spoke to the bartender. “A few blocks from your bar is a fortified warehouse. The little blue one is in charge, tell him I sent you.”
The man nodded quickly and shuffled most of the remaining civilians away. The golden warrior turned back to the direction of her ominous feeling. Zoso shook her head and sighed. Her words were soft, almost kind as she spoke to the others behind her. “I would suggest most of you leave as well. This is a dying ground and only the hardest of us should go.”
The raven-haired woman scoffed at the comment and shook her head stubbornly. “Do you have any idea what she would do to me if I let you get yourself killed? She might not always show that she cares, but she hates losing people.”
The Marksman also raised an eyebrow before checking his weapon. “I’m easily as hard as you, Miss War Veteran. I’m not some soft recruit, you know.”
The Mechanic snuffled a soft laugh and stepped forward as well, flanked by Liam and Tisto. The Kiffar spoke haltingly, clearly intimidated by the angry woman. “You are not the only one who can fight, Lieutenant Colonel. We will stand as one or not at all.”
The Mirialan looked over her shoulder and raised and eyebrow with a light smile. “Maybe there’s hope for you after all. Provided any of us survive.”
Quinn turned back towards their collective fate and strode resolutely toward her own doom. She hoped that many made it out, but old soldiers were always broken shadows of their former selves and the Mirialan never wanted that for herself. The human child had given her a sense of hope and she had felt her own heart soften slightly towards the girl. Being a mother was never in her plan either. Glory and honor and all things gained by combat, but never a family. Her mind flashed to Morgan and a pang of sadness welled up in her. Even this woman was intended to be no more than a distraction. Something to pass the time. She had treated everyone around her as a tool, something useful that served a purpose, but when that purpose was over she tossed them aside and found a new one.
The sounds of footfalls coming towards them jerked them all into a state of hyperawareness, as they scanned in all directions for the source. A dark cloaked figure, in a hooded robe, approached them cautiously, his posture tense but non-threatening. His voice was almost sibilant. “I think that we should work together. I know something about the Dark and that might just help you.”
The meaning behind his words was not lost on the Jedi in their little group, but Zoso shook her head slightly. “I will take what I can get as long as it doesn’t get me killed faster. Never turn away a willing soldier.”
The figure pushed back his hood, revealing his reptilian features. The Falleen touched his hand to his chest and nodded. “I am skilled, so there is no fear of that. I am-”
He was cut off by the others turning away to face the other end of the plaza. A small contingent had entered and stood watching. The man in the center pushed his way past the others and stood staring at the gathered allies. “I am Torrek Marth. I claim this city and its inhabitants. Those who submit will be spared the agony of death.”
Quinn’s eyes narrowed as she heard the man speak. Her muscles tensed and rippled as she stood there staring at the man. She felt fear grip her heart and finally understood. Everything must come full circle. “Everyone, escape while you can. I will buy you as much time as I can.”
Tisto stared at her. “Quinn, that’s suicide! If we work together, we can take him!”
Zoso shook her head. “No, we can’t. One dies or we all die. I’m not so noble as to sacrifice myself easily, but I swore to protect everyone I can. Right now, that means you. Go now. Look after them. Morgan, make sure they leave and give the General my regrets.”
Morgan stepped forward as well, her eyes hard. She gripped her lightsabers with a scowl. “You can tell her yourself. I’m not your messenger.”
The gathered Jedi stared at her. This woman was clearly outmatched and outgunned, intent on standing against a man who worried even Liam. Tisto seemed like he was going to say something and then turned away. “Come on, guys. We…we retreat for now.”
As one, the others turned away and began to walk off except for Torin. “I’m staying, Quinn. The two of us give them a better chance. Besides, I didn’t expect to make it out of this anyway. Everything means something right?”
The Soldier turned and looked at her companion sadly. “I like to think so, Ardell. Maybe when they tell this story, we’ll be more heroic than we were in the past. We all have sins to atone for and perhaps this is a way to do just that.”
The Marksman laughed softly and readied his weapon. “I’ll provide support as I can.”
Around the corner, Lucia stopped them, her features set and disgusted. “What are we doing? Running away like cowards? Those are our friends and we’re just going to let them die without a fight? How can we look at ourselves after this if we let it happen?”
Tisto looked at the woman and shook his head. “We won’t. But, you heard her. We will all die there if we stay.”
Lucia growled at the Kiffar and shook her head, lekku twitching aggravatedly. “The chance is there. But, if we leave them, they will. They have no chance of getting out alive.”
Liam spoke in a soft voice. “We do what we must. The Force will always guide us.”
The looked around at each other and turned as one to return to their companions’ aid.
The Soldier flexed her fists as she walked forward confidently, nodding to Torin. As deadly eyes locked on her opponents ahead of her, fear evaporated, anxiety became an afterthought and every fiber of her being shuddered at one thought - she lived for combat. Death was irrelevant and falling in battle was an honor. Exhaustion ebbed away from her as the thrill of battle descended into her adrenaline-filled veins. She half-smiled as she stopped near the center of the plaza, her voice clear. “Make it worth my time.”
A shimmer of black hair next to Quinn made her smile as Morgan came to a stop next to her. Even though it was never intended, she found that she was quite fond of the woman, and her presence emboldened her; possibly even gave her a reason to fight. Morgan was more than a tool, more than…something. She couldn’t quite place the woman, but she knew Morgan was worth protecting.
The soldiers of Torrek Marth leveled their weapons, only to freeze in place, as if the Force itself pressed down on them. Marth frightened them, but something primordial creeped into their bones, penetrating their most intimate fears. Even Zoso and Torin felt a sudden ripple of fear as they observed the former pirate. The soldiers reflexively stepped back from her gaze, before Marth took control again. “What’re you waiting for!? Fire!” More in panic than discipline, the soldiers fired at the trio before them.
No great insults, no grand explanations, no memorable speeches. The pitched battle began because someone was afraid. It was always like that, but this time, there was little chance of survival. Quinn strode forward, unconcerned about the blaster bolts lancing the air around her. She had nothing to lose. Nothing left to give and it was time to rest. One last thing to do.
Without warning, Morgan walked in front of her, lightsaber moving quickly to deflect several well-aimed shots. A bolt reflected back at to its origin, burning the man’s face into muck. Torin took to the flank, giving the women some much needed respite from the barrage. Fully half of the detachment aimed at him as Morgan pulled Zoso into cover.
“Are you trying to die?” she asked, with only a grunt as a reply. She pulled out her blaster and handed it to the Mirialan. “Take this, I’ll make a hole and distract the frakker. You handle the rest. Now watch this.” She smirked confidently as she leapt over her cover, deflecting several bolts in midair.
The Marksman held true to his nickname, firing shots rapidly with unerring precision into the bodies of armed men. His cover was not ideal, but it afforded him the ability to be as small of a target as possible. The Soldier gripped her blaster with trained hands and fired over the small barricade she was thrown behind. Morgan focused on the group directly around Marth, her eyes glinting. Suddenly, her body seemed to split into a half dozen copies as she surged forward. Her lightsaber flashed dangerously, slashing and deflecting incoming blaster fire. The opposing soldiers continued to die. The former pirate outstretched her hand and purple forks of electricity shot forward into the chest of the closest standing soldier, his body jerking up straight before spasming as the electricity sparked and arced away from him before he collapsed into a smoking heap.
Several soldiers turned and leveled their weapons at Morgan, who had become the greater threat, causing her to dive behind the low wall of a nearby fountain. The Soldier and the Marksman resumed firing to relieve the attention the raven-haired woman was now receiving. Their shots hit both their targets and the ground around them, some enemy combatants fell to the ground and writhed in agony, while others fell dead from their wounds. Marth’s force was dwindling, but all he did was stand there, unconcerned. Their lives meant nothing to him, he could always find more. There was always a pool of men who felt they had been wronged by the government and his words offered respite from that, a place in the hierarchy to come.
Quinn got to her feet, created a target of herself and drew the remaining attention from Morgan. The Dark Sider stood once more, her eyes frosty as that all too familiar creeping fear continued to drench the gathered members in the stark clarity of fear. Morgan stepped forward her features flat and unforgiving. Several soldiers stared at her as a look of terror crossed their features. Another step from the woman and their nerve broke. They threw down their weapons and turned away to run.
The soldiers turned and found themselves face to face with Marth, who sneered at them and quickly cut them down with his own lightsaber. “Pathetic.”
Morgan sagged slightly, but ran forward to strike directly at the soldiers. Her fiery orange blade struck lethal blows on those gathered around her. Cleaved in twain, the soldiers fell, their cohorts turned as one and leveled their weapons at the woman.
The Soldier leapt over the barricade and charged forward, throwing the blaster in her hands at the group of men. They flinched as it hit the ground, their nerves already tight from the battle and that primordial fear that exuded from the pale woman. Now there was also an enraged Mirialan charging them, her fists clenched in hate. Several remained focused on Morgan, but the others turned to face Quinn as Torin once again fired into the group. Marth looked over at the building the Marksman was firing from and thrust his face forward. From the outstretched palm, a dreadful blast of energy screamed forward, knocking the wall into the building and caused it to collapse.
Torin screamed for a moment, but the sound was quickly drowned out by both debris and noise of the destruction. The Soldier turned and looked at the building in horror for a moment before turning back toward the man who had likely killed a man that had watched her back several times. As she turned, a blaster bolt arced through her vision and struck the right side of her face, burning away flesh and a single violet orb. Howling in pain, the war veteran fell to her knees with a hand covering the side of her face.
The soldiers took notice of this and leveled their weapons at the alien, their faces intent and triumphant. Marth laughed softly, his deep baritone voice seemed to boom. “And the defenders are beaten. And now they die, just as they always should have.”
Zoso heard the audible click of triggers, but there was nothing. No pain, but the smell of burnt flesh filled her senses and smoke filled her limited eyesight. She looked at Morgan curiously, her features racked with pain. “I told you I wasn’t going to let you just get yourself killed.”
The raven-haired woman slumped forward, landing roughly against the kneeling Mirialan, who wrapped her arms gently around the injured woman. Several blaster bolts had struck her in the back and legs, charring the flesh and exposing deep red musculature beneath. Morgan closed her eyes and fell unconscious. The ice covering the Soldier’s heart continued to melt. This woman had just used her own body to shield the Mirialan. Quinn placed her forehead against the top of Morgan’s head for a moment, her body shuddering as years of isolation and insulation from others began to crumble around her. She would not allow this woman’s sacrifice to be in vain. She would fight, she would survive. The Mirialan made a quick note in her mind to address this with her companion. Quinn looked up at Marth, her remaining eye filling with tears and defiance. She rose to her feet, gently cradling the fallen partner. “You will not get away with this!”
The man laughed stridently at the woman’s words, his eyes flat and unfeeling. “I have-”
As though their shared pain summoned them, a group of Jedi burst from an alley on the far side of the plaza behind the wounded Soldier. Marth looked up at the group and glared, his eyes filled with hate and rage.