Naga Sadow Fiction Repository (37 ABY - 39 ABY)

This was originally posted by @XunerHolst in a report on May 2nd, 2019, in:
The First of Hopefully Many


You return home from [a mission, training, shopping, etc.] to find a datapad and a holoprojector laid out before you. The holoprojector appeared to be in a state of near death, seen by the many cracks along the frame and glass lens. On the other hand, the datapad is in pristine condition, a complete antithesis to the projector. You activate the datapad and the holoprojector slowly flickers to life. Revealed before you is a Sith Human Male. His pale face destroyed by scarring, his eyes burning as if his soul was lit aflame, faintly hiding a glance of suffering within. A smile, sickening like a plague, carved into his face staring deeply into space. His hulking frame dominates over you. With a quick twitch of his head, his voice cracking from his throat.

“Hello. I have yet to properly introduce myself. For that, I apologize. Let us rectify that, shall we? I am Xuner Holst. I am the new Aedile of House Shar Dakhan and Blackguard to the Overlord of Naga Sadow, Bentre Stahoes. I live to serve; to fight; to kill.” The final words were spoken by Xuner in a deep rumbling manner, emphasizing his favored role and purpose. His head jerked to the left, this time with more force as his neck uttered an audible crack.

“And now, you will too. More than before.” The holoprojector sputtered and short-circuited, dying out like an old source of light.

A joint effort by @TashavelVersea and @Xolarin in the May 2019 HMR report and as a result of the Scrounging comp series.


Ryloth
37ABY

It had been far too long since Tasha’Vel had last been down into the deep dark depths of her Estate. She walked down the dark hallway towards the artifact’s room and opened the door. Inside were several rows of various Rylothian historical artifacts, several different trinkets, old heirlooms, and various other items on the shelves in front of her. As interesting as these items were, there was one artifact that she was looking for. She turned to the left of the room and walked forwards a couple steps towards a glass pedestal holding a dark brown box that was covered by a glass display casing.

She removed the glass casing and carefully lifted the dark brown box from its holding place. She blew off the dust as she opened the lid. Inside a purple velvet lining, lay a beautifully designed dagger.

The Dagger

The dagger had a dark grey blade with a golden hilt. The hilt itself had a crimson serpent wrapped around it that seemed to be glaring at whoever opened the box. As she looked to the side there was an haiku inscription written in beautiful calligraphy. It read:

“Darkness closes in
Insurmountable rage builds
Fear soon grips the heart”

This was no ordinary dagger. Tasha’Vel gently lifted the blade from the box and held it. Almost instantly she could feel a dark energy pulsating within the dagger as if it were alive.

“It has been awhile since I went searching for you Chyria. I never thought I would find you again after I finished that escapade with Morriban. Xolarin is going to love seeing you.”

She gently tucked the blade back into its protective case and closed the lid of the dark brown box. The Rollmaster carried the box back with her to The RavenBloodStar, her T70 starship.

Clan Naga Sadow Fleet

Soon she was flying back from her native home of Ryloth back towards the Naga Sadow Fleet. Turning on her communicator she called the Marka Ragnos Aedile.

“Greeting Xolarin, I have come with a nice surprise for you when I come aboard. If you could meet me in the hangar bay, I would love to show you what I found in my little collection of artifacts.”

“Sounds great, I will be waiting.”

After a few moments of catching up to the flagship, she landed in the hangar. She saw the tan-skinned, mostly bald human waiting for her in the docking bay. After jumping out of her ship, she greeted Xolarin and brought out the dark brown box.

‘It took me a long while to find this artifact, but it is an old Sith Dagger from Morriband that had a haiku inscription about the dark side within this box. I know you were wanting some artifacts, so I thought I would let you have the one I found a long time ago.”

The human smiled as he carefully took the dark brown box from the Twi’lek.

“Thank you Lady Tasha, I will be sure and add it to my own collection. So what are your plans now?”

The Marauder smiled back as she walked alongside him.

“To train up the new journeyman and prepare for the time when we will return to our home.”

Xolarin’s Sanctum
Corvette Remorseless
Clan Naga Sadow Fleet

As a student of dark rituals and lately artifacts, Xolarin loved the gift his superior gave him. Or rather gave the House. Xolarin would be the new caretaker, but its purpose was for Marka Ragnos.

Xolarin sat in the middle of the floor of his office, which he had started to call his sanctum aboard the ship, the Remorseless he had sort of claimed. He was in an was an office, with a small meeting room, a meditation chamber like he was in now, and adjacent quarters. It had a quick route to a small hangar bay where he landed his Panther Delta shuttle. But the Mystic meditated, using tools from his old Jedi training to focus on the artifact Tasha had given him.

He was studying it, diving into it with his mind, following the tendrils of the Force as they flowed through the object and in and around it. The dagger was old, and had great value to those who created it, later to those who inscribed it, and especially to those who imbued it with dark energies. It was a powerful object.

This would not have been as great a find as what the two clans found during their major operation, but it was a great find for the House and for Xolarin. It would help fuel him as he served the great Muz, it would help fuel the troops, officers, agents, and heroes of House Marka Ragnos.

After probably hours of study and meditation on the dagger, the fallen Jedi muttered some words out loud, barely having a chance to echo off the walls. “Darkness closes in…” Xolarin’s eyes shot open and he grasped the dagger from its floating position in front of him. He looked at it, set it down in the box, and breathed in deeply to let out a sigh.

Moments later he was heading to The Panther and had opened a comm signal to the command deck. “Inform Grand Master Muz I will be joining him within the hour.”

The Dark Jedi went towards the shuttle, the brown box in hand to keep safely with him for now. The omen was clear to him now, and the House and Clan needed to act.

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Deep Space

HSD Command Ship

The Quaestor sat at his desk, reviewing the current transfer requests that he had just received. Surprisingly to him, his Apprentice, Battle Team Leader Hector (Calenhad) Cal Ricmore has decided to leave CNS to discover his bounty hunter desires. Along with veteran Jurden Krennel is requesting the same. It was a cloudy review as the Battlelord blew smoke from his cigar, the essence filled the room as his two housemates entered his office.

The two Dakhanian’s approached DarkHawk and rendered formal courtesies.

“I have received your transfer requests, reluctantly I have concurred on them as well as letters of recommendations on you both to your new Proconsul. I hate losing you two, but you both know I would not stand in the way of your growth. You will both be sorely missed here in HSD, remember that you will always be welcomed here as well as have a home amongst us.”

Both Cal and Jurden bowed, Cal turned and headed towards the door, abruptly stopping and making his way back to his Master, he extended his hand, “Master, I can not thank you enough for what you have done for me, I hope that you will reach out to me whenever you need an extra gun on your missions.”

DarkHawk rose from his chair, returned the courtesy, “Cal, you know I will, your my weapons expert, always in need of those my friend. The same goes for you.”

Before Jurdan Krennel walked out of his Quaestor’s office, “Before the two of you escape us, I have been informed Summit may be on their way to see you off formally…”

Just then the EAM system sounded, “Quaestor Takagari, we have an incoming message from Clan Summit” the voice boomed.

“Copy send it…”

“Summit is requesting the ship to this location and requires your presence in the hangar bay for Summit arrival.”

“Copy that, what is our ETA to coordinates?” asked DarkHawk

“Twenty mic Sir…”

“Make it ten…” DarkHawk said sternly.

“Copy that Sir”

DarkHawk excused himself and left to gather his Aedile, Xuner had already heard the EAM and met the Quaestor at the turbolift.

“What do you think this is about Boss?” asked Xuner.

“I am sure we are about to get a new set of orders…” replied DarkHawk.

“Must be big time if the Summit is bringing them personally.”

“That could be worrisome XO.”

The two House leaders made it to the hangar, Xuner took it upon himself to snag the rest of the House when the EAM message hit. The rest of the House was waiting, within minutes the bay Chief was already making adjustments, coinciding his activities with bridge personnel who put into position.

“Sir, we have two ships on approach…” said the Hangar Chief.

“Two…?” DarkHawk said to himself.

The hangar doors opened, a Lambada Class shuttle approached first and made its way down the tarmac, followed by a blacked out VT-49 Decimator. The shuttle set itself down in one of the DV spots, and the Decimator held steady and parked its nose directly in front of the Quaestor.

The shuttle party disembarked first, consisting of the CNS Consul, Proconsul and the Rollmaster. The Summit approached the HSD Counsel, DarkHawk dropped to one knee to pay respect, the House members followed suit.
“We bring good news to you DH, and to the House of Shar Dakhan,” Bentre said enthusiastically.

“We are here to serve your bidding my Liege.”

“We have news and a mission for you all,” Ashia Keibatsu said.

The Keibatsu handed DarkHawk a mission packet, the heading of it read Rebels and Ruins. “for your reading pleasure good Sir…” the Keibatsu said.

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

Bentre moved in front of the House and began to speak. “Before we get into our new assignment, I have to address an important occasion within the Clan. Both HSD and HMR has been operating under extreme conditions. Your House has always succeeded, despite what has been thrown at you, HSD finds a way to be successful. We are well aware of this fact, your Proconsul and I are looking at ways to help alleviate some of those constraints. However, we have two significant members leaving us, which always comes with some cost to the Houses. It is both a somber and joyous feeling for us when members leave, somber because the loss of a member is always bitter. However, today, it is also joyous as we watch two of our members grow into more significant members of the Brotherhood. You will be grossly missed, unfortunately for you HSD, we have a new mission
and we need your undivided attention to garner our success.”

“Thank you, Sir, we are always able and willing to eradicate or enemies,” Xuner said.

Both DarkHawk and Xuner bowed once again to their Summit.

“Better yet DH, something else I think you will certainly enjoy…” said Battlelord Tasha Versea.

The cargo ramp of the Decimator opened, a dark clad figure walked down the ramp and on to the tarmac. The Lion himself, Grand Master Muz Keibatsu, made his way towards the Clan Summit. All members of Clan Naga Sadow bowed before the Grand Master. He motioned for all to rise, gesturing DarkHawk forward, the Equite without hesitation made his way towards the Lion of Tarthos.

“In the days of the past, it was customary and an honor to receive a Decimator. We want to continue to uphold that tradition. So it is with great pleasure that we present this brand new Decimator to DarkHawk…” Ashia Keibatsu said ecstatically.

The Grand Master’s black and purple sleeve billowed as he gestured towards the Decimator.

“What was once mine, is now yours…” the Lion said in a low daunting voice.

“It has been fitted with the modifications that you requested.” Ashia Keibatsu stated.

“Ma’am I just put that request recently…?"

“One does not ascend to Grand Master, without knowing how to bypass bureaucracy…” said the Lion.

DarkHawk knelt once again before his Grand Master, “This is so cool Sir! How can I ever repay you?”

The Lion of Tarthos walked past his still kneeling Equite, stopped momentarily and whispered, “By unleashing what is inside you…”

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(Originally a CNS Clan Summit fiction as reported here)

YT-1300 Emerald Dragon
Landing Zone
Yavin IV

Ashia took a moment to listen to the birds and hear the sway of the trees in the breeze around them. She let out a sigh and returned her gaze to the datapad she held in her hands.

“All the crates have been unloaded, ma’am.” The Proconsul winced at the title. She hated ma’am. She hated all of the military formalities her position required. She was nobody’s ‘ma’am’.

“Thank you, Sergeant. Let’s get the rest of these drones in the air.” The man saluted her and moved off.

“So where do you want me to put these…ma’am? Hehehe!” Sully chuckled as he set a box down nearby.

The Lasat turned around to find Ashia glaring at him coldly which only made him chuckle again.

“I hope this works and works quickly.” The Keibatsu commented as she looked over her datapad. “We just received word that the Collective are starting to stir again. It won’t be long before they kick the hornets nest and we have to move again on Telaris’s orders.”

“Ma’am! We have a problem. The scanner droids are dropping off. Something is taking them out.” The Sergeant spoke hurriedly as he trotted quickly to her position.

“How many have we lost?” The Nightsister furrowed her brow in consternation.

“About a dozen so far, but more keep going off line. It seems to be centered deep in the temple somewhere.” He stopped and waited for further instructions.

“Ah, Frell! Bentre is not going to be happy about this. Where’s Muz?” Ashia punched some info into her datapad.

“No one has seen Grand Master Keibatsu in some time, ma’am. It’s possible he’s in the temple.”

“Possible? Why don’t you find out for sure. We’re going to need him to figure out what’s happening to those drones.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The Sergeant scurried away from her for the second time that afternoon.

She looked around then reached out with the Force. Her husband had disappeared.
Sully moved up to stand next to her.
“What do you think it is?” He looked at her nervously.

“I don’t know, but I don’t like it.” The Keibatsu let out an exasperated sigh.

Western Reach
Temple Approach
Yavin IV

The forest opened up to a wide field, overgrown with weeds and wild grasses in the decades since the expanse was used as a makeshift runway. Tasha’Vel parted the rushes slowly, peeking out as she tried to focus on the figures in the distance before reaching into her pack for the electrobinoculars stowed away there.

The hiss of some chemical or other escaped a vent on the Madman’s armor, expelling something that smelled halfway between death and wishing to be. She wrenched her nose up, looking up at the Sith’s helmeted face. “Did you really have to?”

“Better out there than in here.” He chuckled, stepping forward heavily, boots smashing delicate plants to the soil. “It was starting to remind me of that mission Raistlin had sent me on.”

The Twi’Lek sighed, pulling the optics to her eyes, fast fingers dialing in the focus. White. Muddy, used, but white. That lined up with the comms they had intercepted, but it still didn’t make sense. They moved erratically, like tangled marionnettes. Like those things on Moriband.

“Stormtroopers.” The word escaped her lips.

“More than that.” Macron made a sound, but the vocoder distorted it with electronic ghosts. “Reach out.”

“She closed her eyes momentarily, letting her senses swell, only to have the screaming hum of energized kyber burn through her ears. Eyes slamming open, she watched as the madman’s weapon scorched through the air at the Stormtroopers, the crimson blade arcing through the night sky, then down as Macron twitched his hands, stepping forward slowly.

“I thought you said reach out?” She jumped to her feet, an incredulous tone in her voice that got buried in the hum of her own blade’s ignition.

“And you thought I meant with your mind?” Macron laughed.

Second Level Audience Chamber
Temple
Yavin IV

DarkHawk straightened up, stretching his back as he shrugged off the fatigue. He regarded his handiwork, a pair of souls that the Empire forgot all those years ago, but the Force did not. The Dark Side did not. They would twist no more. He looked to his companion as he raised the commlink back to base. “I think that covers the second floor. Send them in.”

“Roger that. Sending Cesh crate now.” The disembodied voice from base echoed in the chamber, making Ciara wince a touch. It wasn’t terribly difficult getting this far, which always begged the question as to why. There was something more, something deeper at play here, urging them forward, past all of the warning signs. Lesser folks turned into shells, corrupted by essences of dead lords. The markings, bloody and foul that told the tale. The abandoned datapads, batteries long since corroded, smeared with mud and coated in dust, wedged between crumbling stones. Everything told them to leave.

Ciara smiled, watching her charge carefully. He was more than a vessel, the proverbial bird in the gas mine. There was a reason she was asked to keep an eye on him, and to deny that mystery…well, she would have absolutely none of that.

The tinny hum of the scanning droids grew closer, their miniaturized repulsordrives buzzing as they breached the halls, separating as the fine green scanning optic lights measured and mapped every bit of the ancient room. It was quick work, the busy drones zooming about the chamber then onward toward the next hallway, stopping only momentarily at the dead at the far side of the room, before continuing on.

Darkhawk smiled at her, nodding toward that direction. “Well, Muz must have gone that way, soooo…”

Ciara nodded, pointing an arm toward the other hall. “May as well chart new territory, then.” She chuckled as two of the drones fell in line behind her, bobbing and humming like cheerful little pets.

Southeastern Woodlands
Temple Approach
Yavin IV

Hades chuffed air through his teeth as his eyes darted across the treeline. “Tactical pause my…” The words froze in his throat as he heard movement, just past the clearing. A quick hand gesture shot up, his old friend snapping to attention as quickly as in the good old days. Back before they both got old, back before…

It wasn’t like the white buckets they had heard about on the secure comms. No, these were a bit different, more modern, advanced. Something seemed off here, and as Hades shot a quick look at Pel, he knew he could feel it, too.

They darted off to the side, using dusk and foliage for cover as quietly as they could muster as the sound grew louder, closer. Old habits died hard, their breathing slowing, growing more shallow to obscure themselves. The Jedi would have called it an art. Hades just called it practical.

By the time a black boot crossed into the clearing, Hades had found the flavor in his mouth. Cupric and raw, he restrained a sneer. They wore old Iron Throne special forces armor. More than that, they bore the insignia of one he despised.

He all but spat the name.

Pel reached up, his hand on the older man’s arm. “We don’t know why they are here.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Hades whispered back. “Lords and Kings will play their games.”

Pel nodded as Hades stepped into the clearing, his blade screaming out in rage more than he would allow himself to.

Revenge was no game.

Fifth Sublevel Vault
Temple
Yavin IV

The drones had cost more than a fair bit, but when Bentre had told him the idea, he gladly made the purchase. The clan took his family off of the Wave when they were drowning, and he was glad to pay it back. He watched as the final scan of the stone figures completed, the drone buzzing past him as he stepped away, his warcoat tracing lines in the dust behind him. He felt the artifact move, the golden eyepiece pulling the Shaevelian further into himself. There was a few other artifacts, dusty tomes and half-demolished holocrons hardly worth much. What he was looking for wasn’t here.

Except that it was.

“I think we are done here.” Muz clicked off the commlink, his arm sliding back closed as the hologram faded from view. He turned toward the last frieze, the stone having gone untouched for eons. He knew the story well, the horned master, the greedy apprentice, the fearful rival. It had been reduced to legends over time and retellings, legends now firming up into truths as their drones seemed to ricochet around the temple, recording every corner, every speck of dust.

It was a bold plan, he had to admit, but these were times for bold people.

Muz smiled, the chamber closing behind him as he left the old Sith Empire for the New.

Consul’s Office
ISD-II Perdition
Yavin IV low orbit

Ashia leaned over the desk, watching the computer compile all of the data from the drones, assembling chunks of blue light that hovered in the air between them. The ancient temple slowly completed, the interiors fading behind the outside textures before their eyes.

“I don’t want to say it.” The Nightsister half smiled, half grimaced at the completed map.

“Then don’t.” Bentre knew exactly what she meant. Their pessimism had been accurate enough in the past that it only seemed prudent. He rested his hands on the desk before turning his attention to the datafeed. “Seems we may need to make another stop before we go.”

Ashia lowered her head a degree, shoulders slumping for a moment before looking up. “What now?”

He turned the datapad around, the symbol of the Iron Throne emblazoned across the communique.

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(From October HMR Report)


Deep Space, Naga Sadow Flee, 37ABY

The hallway seemed cold as the hooded figure approached his destination. Or maybe it was in his head. But the one he was coming to see could be very imposing and affectual, as if Xolarin could feel the power, a palpable representation of the deep thought of the Grand Master.

Xolarin had shuttled over from the Remorseless to the Fallen Spear to visit his master and superior Muz. In light of the recent war and Xolarin’s findings, there was something to share between the two.

The Mystic came to a halt at the doors and they hissed open seconds later. His presence was welcome, most of the time, in Muz’s frontal chambers. He strode forward to greet his master, and took a knee with a bow. “Grand Master,” he said, rising quickly without waiting for a reply per se.

Muz turned and saw the genuflect and gave a grin at his Aedile. He said nothing at first, but relished in Xolarin’s apparent, almost obvious excitement. The master gave a nod and motioned with his hand for Xolarin to step forward.

”I found several items that might interest you,” started Xolarin. He stepped up to the table nearby and laid out a couple items: a stone tablet, an old malfunctioning spanner, and two rings that had corroded quite a bit. “I have more, but these specimens seemed quite… potent.”

Muz moved and ran his hand across the tablet, taking note of the symbology and runish markings. An audible “hmm” came from his chest before he nodded and then chortled. “I can show you potent.”

The Aedile cocked his head, looking over at Muz. “Oh?”

”You have no idea,” responded the grand master. He floated over to the console nearby and on top of the table a hologram appeared showing a massive structure, a temple or cathedral, with ‘layers’ below. He manipulated the controls and zoomed in on the top level, showing a magnificent display of paintings, tablets, statues, encased jewels, and more, all along the walls and adorning corners and doorways. The cathedral was full of them.

Xolarin’s eyes popped as he looked at the apparent trove of artifacts and such. “Wh- Where?” is all he could manage.

”You’ve not been to Orian yet.” Muz turned off the hologram and went back over to the tablet, tapping on it. “These are nothing. What I can show you will be… enthralling, to say the least.” The excitement in the room grew, and the ‘cold’ Xolarin felt fumed to a warmth. There was even more reason for the Mystic to want to hit Orian sooner than later.

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Aeotheran
Low Orbit

DarkHawk intently watched the last of the HSD drop ships barrel towards the city of Seng Karash. The ground assault launched from the battered ships of the House’s fleet, as they limped in orbit above the city. Warlord Bloodfyre had already made contact just a few minutes earlier. Reporting boots were on the ground, Collective agents were already being engaged.
“Ground One, this is Command actual, how copy? DarkHawk spoke sternly into the commlink.

“Command actual this is Ground One, we copy loud and clear,” the familiar voice of the House Aedile, Major Xuner Holst, bellowed over the communications system.

“Ground One, what is your locale?” asked DarkHawk.

“Command actual, we are making our final approach into the city how copy?” replied Xuner.

“Affirmative, air support on your tail. Instruct the bombers to blow the top of the dome in Karash Park. We will stage the fleet from inside the dome. How copy?”.

“Copy, we are LnC on insertion…” replied Xuner.

Meanwhile…

Three YWings came into view of the Aedile’s viewport. The bombers flew in standard bombing run formation. The LAAT pilot veered his ship away from the bombers, the other LAAT’s in formation followed the lead ship allowing the bombers to lineup and strike their target.

The YWings yawed to the left, positioning themselves in front of the LAAT’s. The lead LAAT pilot and his co-pilot work in unison with one another. The pilot instinctively pulled back on the throttle quadrant and increased the flaps, slowing the gunship down. Simultaneously as the pilot put his years of training to practical use, the co-pilot was doing the same. Instructing the rest of the gunships to decrease airspeed, giving the bomber’s room for their run.

Augur Locke was in one of the three LAAT’s. The Sadow watched the surface of the planet race through his viewport. Beams of sunlight briefly rested across his face, highlighting the already deep jade color of his eyes. Locke gripped his rifle as he repositioned himself in his jumpseat. Scanning through the compartments of the gunship, the Augur could almost feel the anxiety across the many faces of the HSD troops. A look that is never easy to take in, but necessary for what must be done. The Sadow knew as well as the others beside him, a hefty price was about to be paid.

“BOMBS AWAY!” the pilot’s voice boomed over the ship’s intercom. Muffled explosions could be heard over the whining roar of the gunship’s engines. The Augur happened to look up towards the flight deck only to see the rapid flashes of explosions filling the flight deck with dancing luminosity.

The YWings veered off from the massive dome, clearing the way for the LAAT’s to make their final approach. Dark smoke filled the sky spewing from the top of the dome, climbing upward The LAAT’s moved in closer to assess the approach pattern. Dakhani fighters screamed by heading in the direction of Collective air patrols off to the west.

The newly created void in the top of the dome, allowed the gunship to contrive a textbook combat insertion. The lead LAAT pilot came in hot and swung the rear of the gunship around, completing a three-sixty maneuver. The engines strained under the load of the procedure, the captain finally stabilizing the gunship, began its vertical descent inside the dome. The other gunships came in as a pair and mimicked their lead’s flight path. Alarm bells boomed through the gunship, the crew chief hit the switch and the doors began to open.

“Lock and load Dakhani, weapons hot!” barked the young crew chief.

The gunship set down inside the dome, Dakhani troops disembarked at a rapid pace. The remaining gunships landed alongside their lead. Troops and equipment unloaded from the LAAT’s and began to push their assault into the city. The gunships engines spooled up once again and exited the dome to bring back more Dakhani forces.

From the north, the whine of an APC could be heard approaching. Xuner’s and Locke’s commlink squawked to life.

“Ground one, this is Sword actual how copy?”

Sword actual, this is Ground one. We have you loud and clear.” Xuner replied.

“I am inbound…with a welcome party in pursuit! I am going to lead them right to you…”

“Copy that Sword actual, we have you covered. Bring them to us,” replied Xuner.

Xuner pointed to the Sergeant Major to his left. Immediately the hardened soldier began barking orders at his troops.

“Alpha and Bravo teams flank the north quadrant. Push them into a choke point. Fighter support is en route. I want an elevated position for all you dirt merchants, take no prisoners…”

Immediately the two groups of troops hastily moved out of the dome and positioned themselves as instructed. The sound of the APC was getting louder, closer. Within moments the APC raced out of the congested streets of the city and into the open park grounds. Coming to an abrupt stop about thirty yards deep into the parkway. Whipping the APC around facing the street it just exited, Warlord Etah Bloodfyre disembarked the vehicle. His cloak billowing in the light breeze, the Warlord ignited his saber and brought it to the ready.

“As soon as they enter the parkway, light them up Hippolyta…” Etah’s voice growled behind his Sith helm.

“With pleasure…” the Kiffar responded.

Seng Karash Park
North Entrance

The Collective unit moved with a calculated and precise purpose through the street. The elite group of the Collective wanted the man standing in front of the APC dead. Before the main Dakhani landing, Etah and his team already had boots on the ground. The Warlord’s welcoming committee was a small unit of these Collective elites. The Warlord and his crew were able to cut down their adversary, only to encounter more enemy resistance to reinforce their brethren.

The Warlord could now see the approaching scout walker, with its minions scurrying behind its mechanical legs. A devilish grin formed behind the helm. Drawing from the Force, the Warlord steadied his heart rate. Effortlessly repositioning his right leg, Etah could sense the thick blades of grass under his boot. Finally planting his foot behind his mass, transitioning himself into a back stance. His saber hummed, arcing in the crisp morning air, slowly dropping the blade in front of his body.

The walker continued closing in and started firing a volley of blaster fire towards the former Quaestor. The shots fell short of both the Warlord and the APC, mounds of dirt and grass exploded just in front of its intended target. The walker pushed forward closing in on what its driver assuredly thought would be an easy kill.

Just as the Sergeant Major had instructed, Dakhani forces had perched themselves above the street. Covering both sides of the street leading into the park grounds, the Collective were nearly in perfect position to open fire. The Sergeant Major smiled as he gave the silent signal to open fire.

Two Blocks Over
HSD Aedile: Major Xuner Holst

The Aedile sat quietly before the solid wall as blaster fire roared around, his soldiers braving the risk of death to deliver the same unto the enemies of Sadow’s empire. Xuner casually rose up from cover, risking his life to scope the situation as his head peeked out. In response, the enemy’s attention almost snapped to him. Blaster bolts tore either into the cover in front of him, missing his throat and head by inches, or flew passively by his head. A series of head tilts by the Aedile angered his enemies, as they saw this simple gesture as an insult to their attempts to end his already prolonged life.

After assessing the area around him, he turned back into cover. He turned his towards the Sergeant Major, who had just loaded a fresh gas canister into his rifle. Before he could re-engage the enemies, the Sadowan gently tugged on the young soldier by his collar.
“Shift fire high right, gun team setting up in the balcony to your two o’clock.”

"Roger. Sir, would you kindly? Please keep your head down. Summit can’t afford to lose its Aedile,” despite soldiers from The Collective screaming as they charged mindlessly into blaster fire and death, the Sergeant Major spoke calmly to the Sadowan officer. More so to the men rather than to the Summit, the death of an Aedile would have severe demoralising effects.

"If they can’t afford to lose me, then why am I here on the line?" This wasn’t the first time such a heretical thought to enter the mind of this loyal subject. For it was not the first time he had been sent to fight instead of bringing his near brilliance of tactical skill to bear on a command bridge.

The risks were apparent, charging feet first into war. Yet to the Major, his service as another menial footslogger when he could use his skills as a tactician to lead the armies of Sadow made it apparent of how his Summit thought of him.The sounds of Chaos seemed dull to the Major’s ears as he pondered.

The deep reverberating sounds of ships carrying the assault team passing over head seemed to have snapped him out of his focus, for the moment. For now, he needed to focus on pushing forward into the city.

Discussing his future in the Empire would have to come later, should he survive. With a slight grunt and a bit more strain, the veteran slowly picked himself up. Bringing his rifle to bear, with his booming voice heard by all, he shouted his order.

“Into the city! For Sadow! For the Empire!”

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Collective Strategic Command Outpost
Orian System
Tarthos
60 km outside of Markosian City

Colonel Efrary Hinsrich was hunched over the intelligence map of the Orian system. Nothing about this fight seemed to make sense. The hold of the Collective had been in a solid position for months. Almost no word or sight of the damned Force Users had surfaced in the Orian system they had booted out. The Collective had taken measures to ensure the populace were sated, with varying degrees of success. It had taken a measure of care, a measure of force, and a measure of cunning. This whole situation had been a farce.

The Technocrats had taken a vested interest in the Orian system since the foothold had been secured. Still, the Colonel had had all measure of plans. The histories spoke of the Dlarit Corporation and its projects. Surely, there were more facilities to be unearthed, or rediscovered. The system had resources that could be tapped in to. With time, with work, the system could have made a notable outpost for the Collective. He had dared to hope that even Varryn Antillus would one day consider their work a worthy contribution to the Collective.

The ice ball that was Tarthos had served as his home for months. It might serve as his home yet, for Tarthos was not a complete loss… Some key points in the city had been seized. Several ships had been lost to the split fleet assets of the Sadowans. The strikes by the fleet at Tarthos had thrown the Collective into temporary chaos.

The bigger issue was that multiple points had been struck. Part of the fleet had been spotted approaching the planet Sepros, where the Sadowans had once held their seat of power. Facilities across the system had been operating with skeleton crews,so their status was still unknown. There had been a power loss on Aeotheran which had halted many facilities in the city, just before the Colonel lost.contact with it’s outpost.

He would be expected to rally the remaining forces on the surface. Those in command would doubtless prefer he eat a blaster bolt before the Collective gave up any ground. Hinsrich had heard about what had occurred in the Lyra system, even if he had been restricted to the Orian system. However, it did not matter if he fell in the line of duty. The Collective would persevere.

The comm system pinged twice, drawing the eyes of several officers in the outpost. “Sir, we have an incoming transmission. The encryption codes indicate Sector Command.”

Efrary stiffened in preparation for his orders. Bringing his hands together, he forced a smile full of false confidence. “Go ahead and patch it through.”

A distinctly feminine cough sounded through the comm. “Colonel. I assume that while others have failed, you stand prepared?”

The question felt like a trap. The officer gave a chuckle. “As is the way of the Collective, I serve the greater good. Against Force Users, against the corrupt, against the-”

“We received your reports. Are you prepared to move?”

Efrary’s face fell, but he kept the composure of his voice, injecting more false cheer. “Mam, I will have our huntresses, soldiers, zealots and whatever you will grant us. We will retake the system with the greatest haste.”

“You will need strength for the conflicts to come.”

“Just direct me, and I will serve.” Despite his insistence, his voice faltered.

“Withdraw from the cities. Minimize losses. Regroup.” The female commander became more demanding with each sentence. “Move operators to the ground. Inform loyalists and implant yourself into the populace.”

“If the cultists are back, they will bring with them more death. I thought we were supposed to protect our territories against the Sith and the Jedi and their flunkies. I was informed this position was supposed to be a permanent position!”

There was a long silence. “If that Clan has returned, and if they find you, do you think that your position will be any less permanent, Colonel Hinrich? Death is pretty permanent. Do not worry for the greater mission. We are pulling our remaining resources to more successful projects. You are not being unseated, we are just changing your mission parameters.”

“I did not think that retreat was an option.”

“This is not a retreat. This is a mere reallocation of resources.”

“Yes mam,” the Colonel spoke the words slowly. “I will give you updates as I am able.”

“Just be sure that you continue your mission. Use the populace, use your wits, and continue the mission. Operate under a cover of secrecy, with what we can leave you. Even without the fleet assets, you should have enough arms and explosives to impede the Naga Sadow cultists. Just remember, one day, we will be free of the tyranny of these Force Users. Your battlefield has just changed. We continue to fight with you, Until every cage is broken.

Until every cage is broken.

As the frequency closed, the Colonel’s thoughts began to race. There were several smaller outposts across the system. If he worked quickly, they might be able to bury moles throughout Orian. This temporary setback could be recovered. It would just take time.

“Open a commlink to Inos Outpost Besh.” He pointed to the comm officer. “You heard the woman. Apparently, command isn’t done with us yet. And I am not about to let these Sadowans go without paying them back for what happened today. ”



Bentre Sadow walked through the trees of Sepros, flanked on either side by an honor guard of Warhost soldiers. Normally, he would have been guarded by Xuner Holst and Ashia would be flanked by Kojiro. Both Black Guard were committed to their respective operations, and Ashia would come along in her own time. As seemed normal, the Proconsul seemed to have a bit of her own machinations going on in the background.

The conflict with the Collective had been dirty. Things had been remarkably easier than the Overlord had expected. The Sadowans had been fortunate. Or perhaps, the members of the Clan were more skilled than he had given them credit. Or perhaps the Collective had grown particularly lax in their absence. Regardless of the cause, there were so many places that the retaking of the Orian system could have gone wrong.

The initial attacks had been fortunate. The Sadowan empire had been quite fortunate overall. For once, they might be able to operate as a proper empire again. In time, they would expand their territory, would strengthen their position, and make Orian at least a minor power in the sector.

There is much to prepare for. The gravity of the situation was starting to sink in as he was smothered by the humidity of the jungle planet’s surface. It was miserable compared to the bridge of the Perdition. He was alone almost, save for his thoughts. In spite of my own pride, in spite of my own foolishness, we were successful.

“Sir,” one of the soldiers, a Shistavean, raised her hand, seeking the Overlord’s attention. “We are approaching the location of the temple. Please hold here.”

The Corellian nodded briefly. He would make a tempting target. “Both of you, go ahead and scout out the old home. I will review the feed from the Houses.” The soldiers looked at each other in uncertainty for a moment before. The Shistavean shrugged at her Mirlian counterpart, and the pair stalked through the trees with their weapons at the ready.

Ashia would call you a fool, you realize? Do you really think it is worth all the trouble if you get struck down by some lucky idiot so close to your former throne?

The thought brought a bitter smile to the Sadowan’s lips as he lifted his data pad and started poking at its surface. Reports began streaming across the screen detailing how the fleet headed by Hades had struck at Tarthos. It continued to describe how they had joined briefly with the Dakhani Quaestor above Aeotheran. Rather than being satisfied with these victorious maneuvers alone, the Markosian fleet had even managed to slip away again. Rather than withdrawing or repositioning, Hades had moved to help soften up the forces poised over the jungle world. It had certainly been impressive.

It was as impressive as the Markosian attempts on the ground to seize the Cathedral. Though, Bentre mused he should have expected as much where Xolarin, Ciara and Kojiro had been concerned. He was sure that Muz had played his own part in things as well. He would have to make a point of consulting with the Grand Master later about the next stage in their plans.

Takagari KogaRyu, more commonly known as Darkhawk, had worked to ensure Dakhani success on the ground and in space as well. He had directed the House as Macron Goura softened up targets and rent flesh upon the surface. He had directed the House as Locke and Sanguinius deployed upon the surface, and as Malisane worked to bring the city under some tenuous control.

This crusade for their home had been more than merely remarkable. Ashura Isradia and Sith Bloodfyre had appeared and worked upon Tarthos, to great effect. The reports continued on, and Bentre had not made his way through a quarter of their contents before the Milirian soldier had returned.

“We have secured the location, sir. If you can please follow me.”

The Corellian Sith nodded, lowering his datapad. This was a moment he had been planning for several months, and had been dreaming of for months before that. He had been anticipating it since they had first left. He felt a waves of emotion wash over him as he walked through the jungle. When he finally stepped out of the trees, he looked up and locked eyes upon the familiar site of the Temple of Sorrow.

The name seemed more fitting than ever before. While he knew that each of the temples had served a purpose in their own time, the Sadowan Palace was the one temple that had been reinforced and used by the Clan regularly. The rest had been left in ruins. Now, as he looked across the main entrance of the temple, his heart sank.

The main entrance of the Temple of Sorrow had been left in greater ruin than he had remembered. The damage from the Collective’s explosives had left rubble everywhere. Columns had been toppled. The roof had collapsed in several areas. A few columns had remained in place, but not enough to matter. The interior of the hall was a mixture of wreckage, roof tile, floor tile and dust.

There were some passages that appeared to be somewhat intact, but they were littered with electronic scrap. The Overlord recognized portions of the remains of the Sadowan former holonet relay. Pieces of smashed Sith-inspired statuary and artwork littered what little had not been buried beneath the collapsed roof of the main hall.

When Muz Ashen and Takagari landed, they would bring supplies and the pair could help him to fully figure the extent of the damages. Although he had schemes, they would need a temporary headquarters to operate from, and the Perdition would need to serve a peace-keeping role in the case the Collective did come back.

Given the floorplan of the Temple, he was sure the office of the Overlord would be absolutely trashed, if not outright buried under rubble.It was true that it would never have been Bentre’s office, but it did add some melancholy to his return. The office had been a remnant of an older time. Astronicus had once kept office in the Temple of Sorrows. It had been left alone for some time before the Collective attack. While he did not concern himself with the location of the living “descendant” of Sadow, he did wish that the temple could have been saved.

Now, one day the Dlarit might return. One day, the Corellian Sith might have to pay for his choice. He had reclaimed the title for the good of Clan Naga Sadow. The title of Overlord was one that demanded to be defended. Though, he supposed, might made right, and tradition for tradition’s own sake was useless and sentimental. Besides, he figured that Ashia Kagan would appreciate having such a spacious office to herself in his former working area.

Eventually, the temple would need to be repaired. The Clan would put their roots down again in their homeworld. In spite of Bentre’s attitudes, in spite of his foolishness, the Clan had survived. The action in Lyra had served as proof of Naga Sadow’s might. Along with his Proconsul, with the cooperation of the Quaestors, with the Sons and Daughters as allies, the Overlord would work hard. Clan Naga Sadow was capable, but the Collective had proved that they were not invulnerable.

They would have to grow their economy, again. They would have to become a power in the system, again. The Clan absolutely could not operate in a bubble. If they did not build, if they did not improve, if they did not learn from the errors of the past, the Clan would fade into history. Bentre Sadow absolutely would not allow that to occur. They were a family of sorts. Even more, Clan Naga Sadow was not just any empire. They would build things bigger and stronger. They would be more efficient. They would be more powerful.

“Clan Naga Sadow will start acting like a proper Sith Empire.”

“Sir?” The Shistavean cocked his head sideways.

“The Clan. We are going to create something bigger than what Astronicus ever accomplished, despite his prattle about being a physical descendent of Sadow. We are not like the other Clans. We will be a real Sith empire.” The Son of Sadow spun the piece of chalk he had brought to mark points of weakness in the temple. The job of evaluating the damage was going to be significant. His mind was already whirring with the possibilities and obstacles. “Ring up the Quaestors, and tell them that I want progress reports as soon as possible.” He knelt down and began to write furiously on an area of floor that was roughly clear with the piece of chalk. “We have a lot of work to do.”



Elsewhere…

The cold air of Tarthos whipped around the Cathedral, pulling at the edges of the old warcoat. He had been watching the city from the top of the Cathedral. The fighting was not over, for just the Cathedral had been secured at this point. However, a demanding beep had drawn a momentary, piercing glance from the Lion of Tarthos.

Ah. The Consul would be expecting an answer. Of course. The beeps continued. Looking back, Muz Ashen considered the Cathedral of Ragnos. The Keibatsu Grand Master was commonly being sought for advice or insight from the one now calling himself Overlord. The Consul had great expectations. Besides Bentre, Xolarin had already been chomping at the bit to start delving into the secrets of the old Markosian structure.

There was work to be done, yet.

Without a word, the Lion of Tarthos descended into the Cathedral.

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This fiction was originally written up in a Quaestor report written by Muz Ashen Keibatsu on March 1st, 2020. The fiction totals 964 words.



Private Offices
The Cathedral
Kar Alabrek, Tarthos

He ran his hand over the top of his head, feeling the stubble as he drew his fingers to the back of his neck. It made sense, after a fashion. Pieces of the puzzle seemed to be missing though. Xolarin leaned forward, making notes in his datapad as he shifted his gaze back to the old tome. There was something about it, the rumors and conspiracy theories that missed the mark broadly, but left the truth somehow unobscured. The idea seemed to take root in his mind, twisting his perceptions in ways that itched him something terrible. It was an enigma, and the aedile couldn’t leave it be.

He paused, leaning back in his seat, then brought himself to his feet slowly. Eyes drifted off from the book, from the smell of old leather and parchment to the quiet hum of the seeker droid. “Dina?”

The black droid turned, optical sensor aimed at him in response. “I need to talk to him.”

**Construction Site 1138 **
Sepros

The construction had begun almost as soon as the area had been cleared. The area was old growth forest at the edges, but substantially newer in the center, begging the question of all of them as they worked on the project. The droids laid in the start of the foundation, leaving the gaps for the more modern aspects of what would otherwise be a perfect reproduction. The scans they had taken from far-flung worlds all across the galaxy were finally bearing fruit. They had overthought their plans, their ideas, their needs for far too long. The alternate designs were made, compared, tweaked, before they finally settled on what in retrospect would be the obvious solution.

Ashia uncrossed her arms, feeling the breeze, the scent of jungle flowers dancing behind the metallic tinged dust of the site. She let a smile creep out at the corner of her lips. They had a plan, they had the will and the strength. And they had Orian once again. She turned, stepping away from the site, feeling the pull of the trees, beckoning her back into the wild. It never got easier, he had told her. But that was okay. The wheels were already in motion.

Even now, the place looked like what it was to become, an echo of Yavin, of Sadow’s temple. The heart of their Ancient Empire.

Quaestor’s Office
The Cathedral
Kar Alabrek, Tarthos

“I am a Krath, Ashen, born and bred on Loki.” The hologram sneered at him, white whiskers twitching below purple eyes. “You know how we see betrayal, how we see abandonment.”

Xolarin moved through the door silently, keeping himself back and out of the range of the comm. Muz tilted his head a degree, considering his next words carefully. “Not all…”

“I know, I know.” The figure broke apart for a second, wisps of projected light reforming from a cloud of distortion. “We saw you. But you are not the clan.” He paused for a moment, leaning on his staff more than Muz remembered in the past. “I don’t know that they will accept this.”

“They will.” Muz leaned forward, resting his arms on the desk as he stared into the glow. “Or not.” He let the words hang in the air, watching the figure blink, then slowly nod before the connection evaporated, the light slurping back into the commlink.

He looked up, watching the Aedile step closer. “That seemed…tense.” He pulled a chair out from the desk, settling himself down into it. “Anything I need to be concerned about?”

Muz nodded, standing up and turning toward the display behind his desk. The old frieze had been recovered from Nfolgai, the figures encircling a person hunched over, arms raised. The words inscribed had been long lost to erosion, secrets buried in the sand of time. Muz let his eyes glide over the artifact, his mind running. They had returned to their home. Construction had begun on the new temple, and the clan was healthier than it had been in some time, no longer running and hiding. He half smiled at the thought.

“I have questions.” Xolarin cleared his throat. “About Stheno.”

Muz raised an eyebrow, looking back at his aedile.

“If I’m right, I want to help.” He leaned forward, eyes wide, heart threatening to leap into his throat. He had played this conversation out a thousand times in his head, but he still couldn’t be sure that the Lion wouldn’t just carve him to bits at the suggestion. “I want to be part of it, I just don’t know how.”

“Hold the Cathedral.”

“Of course.” He nodded, words sticking slightly in his throat. That was part of being aedile, and the facility was more than he had dreamed of in their time floating through the void. Muz shook his head slowly, reaching over and sliding the encrypted datapad over to him, the seal of the Quaestor’s office emblazoned on the top.

“Wait, does this…” Xolarin looked at it sideways, then back up at the Grand Master.

Muz nodded once, moving to the side of the frieze, fingers pulling aside a tapestry to expose a hidden door, turning to look at Xolarin before vanishing through it. He scrambled to his feet, stepping quickly to follow him. His eyes took a moment to adjust, the dark room lit by a miniaturized version of the hologram projector from the war room, the pale blue showing the orbits of the Orian system and fleet positions.

The chirp of Ashen’s arm bounced in the area, the voice of Blackwind filling their ears. “I just got a pickup request on Sepros. Are you ready?” Muz looked at Xolarin, then stepped forward and reached out, clasping him at the wrist, keeping eye contact.

“Yes.”

Initially from Quaestor report on this day, 11 Mar 2020.


Quaestor’s Office
The Cathedral
Kar Alabrek, Tarthos

Xolarin was in his new chambers, a hidden room behind the main office of the Quaestor’s seat, still reeling from the absence of Grand Master Muz. His mentor, master, and commander had helped him grow and focus so much over the last while that it was hard to imagine him gone. He knew how to get ahold of the legend, as he wasn’t disappearing into the nethers. But it was still a gap that would be palpable for some time.

The growth Xolarin saw was in his ever-present efforts to control his own destiny. The deep-seated need to see his father’s killers, the desires from his early days in the Brotherhood, had slowly waned in light of a general wanton for power and control. This desire was not a wild fervor to rule the galaxy as so many had failed to achieve in the past. But there was much more to life than that sort of crazy.

Xolarin eventually stood up from his meditation, a Jedi practice he still used to the day, and went out into the office proper. Soon enough, another thud could be barely heard and felt, a sign of reconstruction beginning on the surface above. This was likely one of the AAC turrets or ion canons being put back into place. And as if on cue, a few of his trusted officials entered the office, taking small bows of respect and politeness.

”Welcome.” Xolarin said simply, bowing his head slowly to return their gesture.

”Quaestor,” came Hades’ voice. “The House fleet is still giving chase to some Collective stragglers, and is making sweeps of the system. I hope to have a full report in the next day or two.”

Without a pause, their newly-promoted Verpine chimed in, his accent and way with words obvious. “Core system and commune networks are in place almost, master.”

Xolarin would listen to the others report in on various tasks going on, including troop morale, asset status, diplomatic talks with local officials, and more. He would need help, especially in these initial weeks. And the rest of the House still had to settle into their homes back here on Tarthos. It would not be an easy path.

Before they could get finished with all the business, their comm units all buzzed at once, including the main console in the office. Xolarin looked at them all with a squint, and then tapped a button to show the incoming message on the large screen. It would seem the Dark Council was reaching out to the entire Brotherhood - not through Clan channels but an ALCON. This was highly unusual, but would prove to be an intriguing opportunity for all.

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HSD Journal
Entry: Day One

The liberation of Seng Karash had begun. Dakhani forces were already engaging the Collective throughout the city. Warlord Etah Obsidyn and Major Xuner Holst were among the first members of House Shar Dakhan to engage the Collective on the ground. Etah had encountered one of the Collective’s elite units within the city while scouting enemy troop movements. The Warlord made his presence known and the enemy unit gave chase. Staying just out of the range of an enemy scout walker, the Warlord led his pursuers to the city park. Which just so happened to be the drop point for incoming Dakhani forces.
Major Holst had embedded himself in with one of the ground units staging an ambush. Now, along with Warlord Obsidyn and his band of raiders, the trap has been set for the incoming Collective unit. A small smirk ran across the face of the Major as he gave the signal to open fire.

Inside the Dome
Seng Karash
Locke waved his lightsaber in the air, pointed toward the top of the dome and arced it toward the next intersection, sunfire blade gleaming among the smoke and brief glimpses of sunlight in the air.

“Onward!” he yelled, “for Sadow and Dakhan.” His voice seemed lost among the cacophony of battle; the sound amplified inside the broken dome. Those accompanying him did not charge, save for Sanguinius, who planted himself in front of the other man, lightsaber deflecting the inevitable blaster that served as the Collective’s only answer. The Sadowans returned in kind, striking down those they could before they advanced.

This is really your plan, Sang sent with the Force, shaking his head. You’re lucky I’m here.

He referred to Locke’s brazen action of standing in the center of the street. It seemed foolhardy, true, but today was not a day for caution. This was Seng Karash, the seat of Shar Dakhan, and both the Collective and Warhost had to see his resolve, had to witness the assurance that they would succeed. He wondered how many knew that his fellow Augur served as an impenetrable wall that no weapon was likely to penetrate.

And for their part, the Collective were intent on continuing to reveal their positions by trying to take him down.

Igniting the other end of his double-bladed lightsaber, Locke held one arm up high and spun it in his fingers as he slowly advanced forward. He summoned the Force, enhancing lungs and his throat. When he next spoke, his voice boomed loud enough to be heard.

Is this the best you’ve got, Collective? Is this all?

He was finally forced to deflect a blaster shot, then another, and another, as the drizzle of enemy fire turned to a tempest. He found himself back to back with Sang, laughing at their enemy’s attempts to kill them. He’d never felt so invincible. He looked back the way they had come, to where the Collective had closed the gap.

Then their ranks fell forward, Collective infantry and Jedi Hunters collapsing as if hit from behind. In their place stood the remaining members of the Disciples of Dakhan, those without their own assignments or missions, like Malik up on one of their warships.
Locke smiled and pointed turned his lightsaber toward the opposite direction.

“Onward!” shouted again. “Let us reclaim that which is our right!”

Seng Karash
City Streets
Laser and canon fire blasted through the buildings sending fragments of brick and mortar cutting through the air. Shards cut like knives, slicing through any organic material that came within its path. The Dakhani assault pushed hard against the Collective. The two opposing forces collided with one another at nearly every street corner. Slowly the Dakhani troops pushed their way deeper into the city. Dakhani forces advanced through the streets, building to building, engaging in close-quarter combat.

Dakhani air support filled the skies over the city. Completing strafing runs to clear out Collective armor within the city streets. The Collective strategically had set up anti-aircraft cannons atop of some of the high rises throughout the city. X-Wings and Y-Wings took the brunt of that defensive posturing as they made attempts to eliminate those hardened emplacements. Most of the Collective’s air support was eliminated when their orbiting carrier was destroyed earlier in the battle. Dakhani air support found themselves with little resistance in the way of opposing ships, allowing pilots to make some uncontested runs at eliminating the ground armaments.

Members of House Shar Dakhan moved through the streets, engaging the Collective with extreme prejudice. Savant Scarlet Agna and her two apprentices Rosie Dawn and Malevek, cut through a squad of Collective soldiers. Their methodical saber strikes deprived the soldiers of any mercy. The Quaestor of House Shar Dakhan was occupied on the rooftops engaging Collective troops that would otherwise have a tactical advantage from their elevated perches. Peering over the building ledge, the Shaevalian watched as one of the Sons of Sadow, Battlelord Malisane Sadow and Hunter Sulxiros, engaging with several enemy troops. Malisane deflected blaster bolts with his saber, reversing their trajectory. The Collective shooters had no time to react as their blaster fire burned through their torsos. Malisane moved with nimble precision as he closed the gap on his last shooter. A quick upstroke with his saber cut the rifle in two, followed by a wide arching backstroke of his silver blade severed the man’s body in two. Sulxiros took cover behind a pile of broken concrete, returning fire with his E-11 blaster rifle. Blaster fire whizzed overhead of the Hunter, as he crouched down behind his cover. Sulxiros took in a deep breath and rolled out behind his protective barrier. Coming out of the roll and up to one knee, the Hunter locked in on two enemy troops and opened fire. Blaster fire burned through the trooper’s torso’s, Sulxiros did not stop firing until they hit the ground.

DarkHawk alerted to the movement of Collective troops two buildings away. Racing across the rooftops, the Battlelord closed the gap that separated the two. The last four meters between the Equite and his targets, DarkHawk launched himself into a Force aided jump. Descending upon his prey, the twin crimson blades sprung to life. DarkHawk wasted no time eliminating the gunmen, clearing another rooftop.

Augur Sanguinius Entar and Adept Malik Sadow, along with a squad of Dakhani soldiers, were engaging in a noxious firefight. The two Sons of Sadow were out front deflecting blaster fire back at their aggressors. The Dakhani forces were unleashing a barrage of heavy blaster fire, to give the two Sadows cover. The close proximity of the buildings amplified the sound of blaster fire, muffling communications. Adept Malik Sadow, managed to get within range of one of the Collective’s heavy gunners, slicing the weapon in half and severing the man’s appendages.

Movement from down the street caught the Quaestor’s attention, as another group of Collective forces was attempting to flank the Dakhani forces. Running across the rooftop ledge, the Equite moved into position. Activating his Nightsisters bow, DarkHawk drew the weapon back and took aim. Just as he was about to release a plasma arrow, a familiar presence grabbed hold of him through the Force. From the adjacent alley, a behemoth of a Tuk’ata plowed through the group of soldiers. The impact sent them tumbling across the street, abruptly splatting against the sides of buildings.

The beast wasted no time devouring the flesh of the soldiers it caught in its massive jaws. Whipping its tail around with deadly accuracy, the Tuk’ata impaled one of the remaining soldiers square in the chest. A mist of blood hovered over the man as he gasped for breath, then fell to the street. Emerging from the alley, Warlord Kojiro Keibatsu whirled his double-bladed saber around with deadly accuracy. Severing heads and limbs from Collective soldiers.

The Keibatsu gestured to his pet, causing the Tuk’ata to roar and returned to his master’s side, the Warlord stroked his pet’s head in appreciation. The Warlord and his beast marched toward the rest of the Dakhani forces. One of the Collective soldiers the Tuk’ata had attacked was making his way to his feet, struggling to bring his rifle up to fire. The Keibatsu looked up towards the rooftops to see DarkHawk drawback on his bow and fire off two quick shots. The plasma arrows sunk into the Collective agent’s chest, sending him slumping to the bloody street. The Warlord paused for a moment, looked back at the dead soldier then returned his gaze at his Quaestor, Kojiro acknowledged with a simple nod.

HSD Journal
Entry: Day Four
The last few days have been much of the same. Dakhani forces had been relentlessly sweeping the inner city streets driving the Collective out. The firefights had been brutal, but so far, HSD forces have imposed their will on the city’s oppressors. Our air support has been able to either destroy or disable most of their armor throughout the city. Their remaining troops have averted to guerrilla warfare tactics, ambushing our forces and supply chains.

Regular patrols have been revolving around the clock, one relieving the other for some much need rest and resupply before going back out on patrol. Bounty’s have been established on two Collective Lieutenants that Intel supports are still hiding here within the city. Since the Dakhani fleet had severed the Collective’s fleet, our fighter patrols have been keeping a keen eye for any fleeing vessels. The only ships that have been able to come remotely close to Aeotheran have been our supply ships. Our capital ship and their crews have been working tirelessly repairing the damages sustained during the initial attack of the planet.

Intel reports just now coming in, state that the two Lieutenants were seen last in the east quadrant of the city. Two strike teams have been deployed to scout the area to confirm and apprehend.

HSD Journal
Entry: Day Five
So far, the strike teams have not flushed out our two Lieutenants. Fighter patrols around the city, nor in orbit, have sighted or encountered any ships other than the Clan’s or the House’s. No other reports of sightings since yesterday, most likely, they managed to smuggle themselves somehow out of the city and headed for the coast. Summit will discuss broadening patrols outside of the city.

My Master, Sanguinius Entar, visited me today. It seems that the Seng Karash high council and a resident politician, request our presence at the governor’s palace. Most likely, the start of negotiations. Bringing in a politician will be a slippery slope for any arbitration, to say the least. There must be some angle we can utilize to swing these talks to our favor.

Going out on patrol today, one more sweep of the city, what could go wrong? Collective sympathizers seem to be peeking out of the shadows now. I have a feeling that these will continue until the local government announces which way they are going to lean in regards to us. Instructions have been delegated down within the ranks, that no civilians are to be terminated unless it’s a last resort. The last thing we need is civilian casualties, which would diminish any negotiations.

Seng Karash Park
Mobile Command Center
DarkHawk sat at the head of the table regarding the assembled senior members of House Shar Dakhan. Xuner, the Aedile, sat quietly in his chair to the left of the Quaestor, opposite Locke as the leader of the Disciples of Dakhan. The rest of the table was occupied by the House’s Sons and Daughters of Sadow, and other members of the House.

The Quaestor looked around at the assembled members. “We have reclaimed our system and our world. The local government has requested negotiations to begin immediately. However, now Xuner and I have discussed our future. Too long, our members and our soldiers have been nomads, living in and out of ships, cramped together with whatever facilities we had and rare rest stops where we could find them.”

“You’re telling me,” Macron replied with feeling, “It has not exactly been comfortable.”
“Our House needs a home,” DarkHawk added, “Somewhere for us to rest, to be safe from outsiders, to train our new members and a base of operations to build from.”

“We had one,” Locke replied, “However the Lion’s Tooth was destroyed in the original razing of Seng Karash.” He looked meaningfully across the table at his fellow Sadow.

Sanguinius shrugged, “Desperate times call for desperate measures Locke, as I am sure you are aware.”

“It was never a suitable home anyway,” Macron added, “And the Collective did not feel the need to restore it when they rebuilt the city.”

“Is there no other recourse left?” Xuner told them. The Aedile glanced at his Quaestor.
DarkHawk nodded. “We have considered them, the Governor’s Palace in Seng Karash, the Bastion fortress, several facilities at Kel Rasha. None of them suits our needs, especially with our expanded fleet. Do any of you have a suggestion?”

“I have one,” a voice replied from the far end of the table. They looked around at the member who had arrived late and sat quietly throughout.

“Well, Malisane?” DarkHawk asked patiently as the scarred features of the Battlelord looked back at him.

“In your data banks should be the coordinates for the planet Kangaras. Take us there and you shall see.”

One of the Ensigns entered the makeshift command room and handed a piece of paper to the Quaestor. “How old is this Intel Ensign?” asked the Quaestor.

“Just received it, Sir.” replied the Ensign.

“Well, it seems our two targets have been seen at the Pandemonium docks. We need strike teams geared and ready and down there immediately.” announced DarkHawk.

HSD Vindicator
Kangaras Orbit
Unknown System
DarkHawk sat in his chair, the Aedile and the Sadows stood around him as they waited patiently while the vessel began its final approach to the planets orbit. “I have heard of Kangaras,” he said curiously, “From stories of the Clan and the True Brotherhood. I thought it was abandoned.”

Macron nodded. “Mostly, Malisane and I have a castle there, but the rest of the planet is an unexplored jungle populated by vicious and dangerous creatures the likes of which you can not imagine.” He turned to his fellow Sadow. “Malisane, Kangaras is not a suitable House base for any number of reasons.”

“That is not my intention,” the Battlelord replied, “Take us closer.”

“As you wish,” DarkHawk replied with a nod at the Captain.

“Bring up Usharak Keep on the screen,” Malisane ordered, “It should be coming up now.”
They looked at the dark, squat keep, and then the view panned upwards to above the structure.

Macron’s mouth opened. “Is that what I think it is?”

Locke stepped forward. “I have not seen it in so long, since I was a Journeyman.”

DarkHawk glanced at Xuner and Sanguinius, who both shrugged. “What is it?”

Malisane stepped forward. “For years, I was gone from Orian. I searched, I infiltrated, I served, I killed and I worked long and hard. All that was in the name of making up for a crime I had inflicted on the Clan and our House. Then I left it here until it was needed most.”

DarkHawk, Xuner and Sanguinius looked at the view on the screen of the massive disc hovering and rotating above the keep. It’s lights flickering on and off as it orbited silently, illuminating the hangar bays. Weapons turrets and silos dotted across its otherwise smooth surface.

Malisane continued. “To House Shar Dakhan, I formally return the Marakith Skyhook.”

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The Government District

Seng Karash

Aeotheran.

The crowd in the square at the steps for the former Governor’s palace watched eagerly but cautiously as the smiling man behind the podium began to speak.

“My fellow citizens. It is my pleasure to address you as your interim first senator. This has been a difficult time for all of us but this is also a time that will go down in the history of our city and our world.”

There was a burst of brief applause and flashes of press cameras.

“I imagine to many of you the events of the past few months have been distressing and confusing and we have not been able to reveal too much. Now we are pleased to.” He paused and studied the crowd. “As you know for the last two years our world, and the system beyond, was occupied by the forces of the Collective. At first many of us were pleased, they brought order after the actions of the Orian Assembly on that horrendous day when they unleashed their weapons on our city, killing many of our fathers, mothers, sons and daughters and causing incalculable damage. And the Collective rebuilt with surprising efficiency, but they have imposed further restrictions on us, with travel banned to but a few, curfews, arrests and interrogations and controls on local business and the wider mining industry that has lead to job losses and poverty. There have also been rumours of disappearances and experimentations.”

He paused. The crowd were listening intently, and the cameras around him focused on him, broadcasting the footage to those watching at home, and to people across the planet in Kel Rasha and other places. “And now, we are free. And I will tell you how. A faction of those of us who served within the government have long fostered a plan to free our world. We have secretly contacted and engaged in negotiations with a force from outside our system, and it is with our request they have engaged the Collective forces and have driven them away or into hiding. And in return we have engaged them as protection for our world, in return for the right to call this their home.”

He sensed some confused murmuring in the crowd and he continued. “So now you may be wondering what is next for our city and world. Well we have suffered under others for too long, the decadence of the Dlarit Corporation and the restrictive regime of the Collective. Instead we will be a free and prosperous world. We will soon be opening elections to the Senate. We will rebuild our businesses and create jobs and invest in our public services. And we will invite investment that will bring prosperity and a healthy future for our children, safe under a strong defence force. This is just the beginning of a new Seng Karash and a new Aeotheran!”

This time the cheering was more enthusiastic, and he paused before continuing to speak. The cameras continued to record his every word as he began to outline the Senate’s plan for economic recovery in more detail.

Vindicator Light of Orion.

Aoetheran Orbit.

Orion Space

“I have seen enough,” the Quaestor said quietly.

Major Xuner Holst waved at an attending crewman who switched off the screen. “Senator Kaelen did well,” he commented, “the people react to him, as do the rest of the Senate. Or at least most of them do. The Inquisitorious trained him well.”

“He has performed adequately,” Malisane replied, “he will need to continue to do so. This is no small lie we are serving them.”

The Aedile shrugged. “If we bring them wealth and prosperity they will believe the lie, or enough of them will.”

Malisane met his gaze. “We believed that before Major. This time we will need to do better. We have a fleet to pay for, and a need for crews and soldiers for our forces, and the Summit expects much more of the same sent their way. We were exiles for far too long. We need to rebuild our strength. That requires stability. We must not lose what is ours ever again.”

Xuner was about to reply when the door slid open and a guard stepped inside.

“Commander Krill is here, Quaestor.”

Xuner glanced at the Quaestor then replied. “He may enter.”

An officer entered the room, moved towards the table and saluted, standing to attention. “Reporting for duty as ordered, Quaestor.” He fixed his gaze on the opposite wall.

Malisane studied him for a few seconds. “I have been studying your file. Your record is more than acceptable. Your service to the Warhost and Shar Dakhan has gained you a great deal of praise from my predecessors. I would not put much stock in the opinions of others until I had seen for myself. However you come with a recommendation from one of the few this Clan I have the utmost respect for, Araic Simonetti. If I had doubts about you, that by itself would settle them.”

“That is gratifying, Quaestor,” Auturra Krill replied with a nod.

Malisane looked at the Aedile who took over the briefing. “You are to be reassigned, Commander,” Xuner told him. “ As you will be aware during our years of exile our military forces came under the command of the House Summit. However with our return to our system we have wider and more taxing duties to attend to, so the need has arisen to appoint a permanent authority over the House fleet.”

As Krill’s eyes briefly widened at the implication, Malisane leaned forward and fixed the officer with a stare. “You will assess the readiness of the fleet, it’s officers and it’s crews. You will improve where needed, reprimand where needed and dismiss where you deem appropriate. You will not disappoint us, Commodore Krill.”

Krill’s face revealed nothing of his emotions at his sudden change of rank and responsibility. “You can be assured of that Quaestor.”

“Good.”

At that moment the guard by the door spoke up, “We have received a message from bridge Quaestor, Task Force Aurek is returning.”

“Excellent,” Malisane replied, standing and moving to the large screen, the Aedile and Commodore following.

For a few minutes then they watched the empty space in front of them, and then with a flicker a corvette left hyperspace, the Wyrm, followed a second later by the Hydra. Between them the larger form of the Dakhan’s Fist appeared, the Strike Cruiser making an impressive sight. As the three watched for a few more seconds, an even larger mass flickered into normal space, an immense disc with it’s lights flickering on and off as it followed the task force, surrounded by the small dots of escorting fighter craft. As the Dahkan’s Fist began to turn towards the atmosphere the two corvettes dropped back to flank the disc as Marakith made its ponderous course corrections to follow the Strike Cruiser into orbit. Malisane watched in satisfaction and a rare feeling of pride. “Take us into dock,” he ordered, “now we are home.”

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Ragnos Cathedral
Kal Alabrek, Tarthos
38ABY

An air of success and victory consumed the Cathedral area as the capital city of Tarthos regained a certain amount of control. The return home had not been as easy as some had thought, and the Markosians fought hard and long to earn back their home. And yet it was not over.

Yes, they claimed a win, but they had much to do. The spoils of war and the cost of multiple empires controlling the system over the years had made for a divided people. Sure, the Sadowans now ran the system, but they answered to the troubled sentiments of its citizens. It was not all orbaks and rainbows.

Xolarin was in his chamber when the chime came that his guest had arrived. He quickly got out of his meditation pose and went out into the entrance, which also served as a planning and conference room. The space had views on one side of the city and was very open and airy. The fallen Jedi spent most of his time in his secluded chamber or down in the depths of the cathedral.

As he came into the main room, Xolarin greeted Hades. “Battlelord, thank you for coming.”

“My pleasure, Quaestor Xolarin.” Hades said with a slight nod of his head. Even though he briefly remembers the young Mystic from his very short stint in Tarentum, he has seen good things from him since Hades arrival in this clan. Still, Hades shows respect where due even though he has not yet sized the man up fully.

“How can I aid you this day?”

“I need a favor,” Xolarin replied. He had worked with Hades a bit back in the Tarentum days, but it had been a while. It was some sort of fate that they would land here on Orian this day. “Now that I have been given responsibility for managing the house, I need some help.”

Xolarin moved over to the circular table in the middle, with a holomap coming up showing a 3D view of the cathedral and city. The map slowly zoomed out to the planet Tarthos and then a bit farther to illuminate the Marka Ragnos fleet in the area.

“You’ve been manning our fleet for the most part, and now I need your experience manning the rest of our house. We have a lot going on here, as you can probably see, with restoration and resettling. Things are not exactly all bliss yet.”

He stopped there, taking his eyes off Hades and gazing at the holomap projected before them.

Hades tilted his head at the newer Quaestor, gazing towards the projection. “So I’ve been hearing.”

Xolarin nodded slowly, maintaining his stare at the table. “I need you to step up as my Aedile,” he said bluntly.

“My lord?” It was odd for Hades to use that title, but it was appropriate for the position. He was younger than Xolarin, but had been at this game for quite a bit longer. For now, that didn’t matter.

“Yes, your experience would be invaluable, to say the least. I have a decent understanding of things, thanks in large part to Master Muz. But your mind will only strengthen our house in this manner.”

Xolarin rotated the view, obviously looking for something as he peered in closer to the display.

“Word has it that Warlord Ciara is heading off to the Dark Council. And Reaver Kojiro has shifted over to Shar Dakhan. Those were two key individuals that have been impactful in recent months. Their absence will be felt.

“That said, I should say that we have a great many things to be thankful for. Mystic Hilgrif is still manning much of our troops, and we have a few new arrivals in Cymbre, Zekk, Nelios, and Welshman. I have high hopes for everyone.” He went silent, still examining the Tarthos system display.

Hades looks between the display and Xolarin’s features, then back. He nodded slightly, if only to himself. He began to calculate and compile issues and items that needed attention within the house, from personnel to equipment and from security to tactics. Once finished he looked at Xolarin once more.

“Ciara and Kojiro are great losses, indeed. However, we are still a strong house. One with a decent grasp on our holdings thus far. There is always room for improvement.” Hades nods once more, and visibly towards Xolarin. “I accept. What are your more pressing concerns right now, Quaestor?”

“I need able lieutenants. Able generals and soldiers and Sadowans and Markosians.” Xolarin nodded at his own words. “I know we have strong leaders, but when two leave, we need the gaps filled.”

Xolarin looked up at Hades. “Other than that?” He paused, gazing back at the table. “The will of the Force shall yield…” A low growl of a hum came from his throat as that last word slowly crept out of his mouth. His deep-rooted need for control bled through quite clearly here, although he wouldn’t ever let it get the better of him. In theory.

Hades understood the Quaestor’s predicament. Knew the pressure riding on those shoulders. He has had that same pressure on him, many years ago.

“I will begin speaking with our people. With a little coercing, inspire them to go above and beyond to help this house, and this planet, succeed.” Xolarin looked at him for a moment and nodded before turning away from his new Aedile, signaling the end of the meeting. Hades bowed slightly and turned, exiting the office and making his way back to the starfighter he rarely is able to enjoy. Lifting off he started a slow circuit around the area before making for the black. He pulled up his comm unit, there were several people he needed to speak to.

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Night Time

Seng Karash

Aeotheran

The sound of klaxons cut through the air, and then the calm but authoritative female voice sounded through the night air. “Good evening citizens. This is your reminder that the curfew begins at twenty three hundred hours. Anyone who does not have legitimate business in the city should return to their homes until six hundred hours. Anyone found in the streets after this time will be detained by the Aeotheran Security Force. Thank you for your cooperation.”

Tonvas hurried through the streets, three of his minders behind him. He was furious. This had been the case for several weeks now. He had barely finished his meeting with his associate when last orders had been called in the bar. “This can not go on,” he swore quietly, “the situation is intolerable. Not even the Collective would have imposed this.”

“It’s hitting everyone boss,” Gramik replied, “ they shut down Pevonas. The ASF raided his premises and dragged him and five of his people off. He’s not been seen since.”

“Pevonas was an idiot,” Tonvas replied, “he tried to keep his club open with the alleyway entrance. He under estimated them.”

“Well he isn’t now boss.”

Tonvas reached the back door of his house and waited while one of his minders opened it for him. He hurried inside. “I will not tolerate this. The local dealers are hiding or left the city. Revenue in my businesses has collapsed with this curfew, I’m loosing money hand over fist. We need to do something, lean on someone, bribe someone in this new administration.”

“They don’t take bribes now boss, those who have tried also disappeared.”

Tonvas spun around. “Then maybe a direct approach will work, find out who these new minsters are , and who their families are.”

“Yes boss.”

“I’m going to my office. I do not want to be disturbed.”

Without waiting for a reply he walked upstairs, pushed open the door of his office and strode inside. Then he stopped. His chair was facing away from the desk. Slowly it spun around to reveal a tall woman, with long red hair. She smiled coldly at him. “Thank you for joining us.”

“Who the hell are you, and what are you doing in my office?”

Her smile did not waver and her green eyes bore into him, “We wanted a word with you, didn’t we Malevek?”

Tonvas spun to see a sandy haired young man in the corner leaning against the wall, a hand resting on a weapon at his belt. “We did indeed,” he replied.

The crime boss turned back to the woman sat in his chair. “You are making a mistake, you do not know who you are dealing with!”

Scarlet leaned forward. “On the contrary, we know exactly who we are dealing with,” she said calmly, “as soon will you.”

Yamfianta

Lor Zatean
Aeotheran

Once this had been the party hub of the Orian system. Its’ hotels had been packed with young fun and sun seekers by day and by night the bars and clubs had been gyrated to loud music and any entertainment imaginable. Now with it’s buildings empty and crumbling a new group had come here. With the Collective forces driven out of the main cities they had retreated to here and to other locations to hide and regroup. The officers and soldiers went about their business waiting for reinforcements to come that would drive the heretics back out of the system. So far they were alone.

Captain Liessa walked through the streets leading her patrol. She did not want to be here. Word had filtered into the system of the invasion and loss at Arx by the Collective forces and she should have been there fighting with them, instead of hiding in this decadent wasteland that spoke of the excesses of the heretics and their willing slaves.

Suddenly she looked up at the whine of engines and saw with horror a line of fighters and bombers approaching the former resort. The air begin to fill with noise as warning klaxons sounded before explosions started to sound through the air as the attackers dropped their deadly payloads and the defenders opened fire with their heavy weapons. Hurriedly she broke into a run, heading for the edge of the resort with her troops following.

On board the Arquitens cruiser moving slowly through the low atmosphere a figure sat calmly in a chair on the bridge, his eyes closed in calm concentration compared with the crew who feverishly went about their duty. To the Neti this was just another battle, a minor matter to the ancient. The fighters and bombers, the suddenly panicking enemy, the allied forces below awaiting their turn, they were all just pieces in a game and he could sense them all as part of a pattern. The only emotion he felt was a satisfaction that all was going as planned. Without opening his eyes Malik calmly spoke.

“Commence the artillery bombardment.”

Raistlin stood impatiently on the floor on the rocky outcrop near the ruins of what had once been the private Dlarit Beach resort before the struggle between the Clan forces and the Voice of Justice had obliterated it. He looked in pride at the assembled artillery lines, the sun shining off each large deadly weapon. “Does everyone have their target designation?”
Rivio nodded. Like the Seer the young Knight was eager to play his part in this attack. “We just await the order to proceed,” he replied. He looked intensely across the desert to the resort of Yamfianta, with the specks of the fighters and bombers flying like small birds above it and explosions rattling back across the desert. Like Raistlin his gaze turned to the J-1 proton cannons and the AT-DTs, the explosions would be much larger soon, they would not know what hit them.

Raistlin put his hand to his helmet, listening, and then spoke loudly into the communicator. “Give them hell!” he ordered.

Immediately the air was filled by the sound of weapon fire, and a hail of plasma shells burst into the upwards, sailing smoothly over the desert towards the waiting resort. Both the Seer and the knight watched as flame and burning debris burst from amongst the buildings, and a few seconds later the sound hit them like a wave as it rocked back across the desert. The Seer and the Knight watched with fascination as the cannons fired again.

Sanguinius stood watching the destruction of Yamfianta from the leading LAAT as they moved across the desert. Around him the rest carried the deadly force that would go in and mop up the Collective forces before leaving the holiday resort as a deserted tomb. He did not particularly enjoy watching and sensing the death ahead of him or the many more than would come but he was determined to play his part. The Aedile knew his duty and would carry it out to the fullest. He watched as a large hotel that towered over the rest shook, and then slowly collapsed as the damage became too great. His face became grim. He spoke into his communicator. “Etah, give the order to deploy.”

“Yes Aedile.”

The LAAT’s and shuttles lowered as they approached the destruction and began to dis-engorge assault and drop troopers, and the deadly 2-M hover tanks, AT-TE and AT-STs that would go in and mop up what remained of the enemy. Among them the Sakiyan Warlord stood eagerly as he watched them organise themselves into a formation that would efficiently combine into a deadly force. The battle of Yamfianta was entering it’s final stage. Etah moved to the front of the force as the troops, tanks and walkers assembled and he lead them onward towards the enemy.

Mine Krenth

Aeotheran

Javrick Revar strode across the sea of workers and droids that scuttled here and there as he approached the Lambda shuttle as it made it’s final approach. He brushed the dirt from his uniform and stood to attention.

Slowly the ramp descended and a figure left the shuttle, wearing dark mottled robes and with short brown hair. He stopped and his green eyes took in the administrator.

Javrick took a deep breath. “You honour us with your presence.”

Locke’s gaze left the man and slowly took in the chaos around him. “I am here to review your progress Javrick,” he replied, “we are concerned by the lack of it.”

“We are doing our best with the resources we have,” the administrator replied, “the neglect here during the Collective’s rule shut the place down. I need more time.”

The Augur’s eyes bore into him. “We have been generous with you Javrick,” he said calmly, “you have a privileged position here, your family have a nice house in the city, and your children attend the best school. We now feel you are taking our generosity for granted with your lack of effort.”

“I do not,” Javrick replied quickly, “I am doing my best. The work will be completed at the earliest time. I will not fail you.”

“You had better not,” Locke replied, “we do not give second chances. If we do not see a greatly improved progress here your position, and perhaps other things, will be in jeopardy. Is that clear?”

“Yes I understand.”
“Good.”

Marakith Skyhook

Aeotheran.

The tatooed man made his way into the dimly lit suite, as the dying sun filtered through the glass windows. He looked curiously at the creature perched on the stand, and the porg’s eyes reflected the light as it watched him passively, it’s head turning to regard his progress.

Macron strode forward and heard the sound of conversation. “You have your orders Commodore.”

“I am unclear about them Quaestor,” Auturra Krill’s voice replied, “you have sent me with Task Force Aurek and an entire battalion to search the moons of Inos without even an indication of what we are looking for.”

“You will know when you find it Commodore.”

“And supposing we find nothing?” the officer asked.

“Then you will go back to the beginning and start again. Is that clear?”

“Yes Quaestor, I understand.”

Malisane switched off the communicator and regarded the Adept. “What brings you here Macron?”

“I was passing through,” Macron replied.

Malisane stood up from his desk. “Would you like a drink?”

Macron smiled. “I would not say no.” He turned to the creature whose eyes still regarded him curiously. “I did not know you kept a porg.”

“I was supplied one in error,” the Quaestor replied. “They are interesting creatures. Loyal, and adaptable.”

“Weak and fragile though,” the Adept mused.

Malisane handed the Adept a glass. “Could you improve them?”

Macron’s eyes narrowed in thought. “Possibly,” he replied, “they could be enhanced, strengthened, made more aggressive. We still have our equipment on Kangaras. Are you thinking what I am thinking?”

The Quaestor’s eyes glittered beneath his dark lenses. “Sith…”

“Spawn…” Macron added.

“Porg!” they said together.

Kel Rasha Docks

Aeotheran

0100 Hours

Sren Virak watched impatiently as the menial workers went about their duties in the warehouse, under a watchful eye of the armed security patrolling the warehouse’s walkways above them. The last shipment was nearly ready, and after this they would close down and relocate, perhaps to Myrmidon or even Kar Alabrek. Sren’s informants had hinted the ASF were aware of the facility and it was a matter of time until they came knocking. He glanced at the display on his wrist chronometer. “Get a move on people,” he shouted, “time is money!” The workers looked up briefly as their boss spoke, and then their gazes dropped obediently to their tasks. Most of them were on minimum wage, or had been brought into the Orian System in return for working their debt off by their employer. They kept their mouths shut and worked in the hope of a better life.

Sven looked them over, and then he suddenly turned in puzzlement as the doors at one end began to rise, with an ominous whirr of machinery. A pair of his security guards appeared either side of him, gripping their blaster as the door continued to rise to reveal a cloaked and armoured figure. His head was bare and Sren took in the features of the man lit by the torch above his head. His skin was pale and burned, the scar tissue permanent, and between the ripped ears and the lipless mouth two dark eyes regarded the scene.

“Who the hell are you?” the crime boss demanded.

The man looked at him, his fingers gripping a hilt that suddenly emitted a glowing red blade. The ruined mouth opened revealing broken teeth and a sound emerged. “RAAARRGGGH!” Before they had time to react, he leapt forward towards them.

As the Aeotheran Security Force officers approached the burning building, a bloody figure emerged from the door, his cloak on fire. He hit the ground hard and rolled several times smothering the flames, then lay still. A few seconds later an explosion rocked within the building and more flames burst from the door, followed by the roof collapsing. Quickly they moved forward and surrounded the figure, scanning him. Then they signalled to a medical transport that was slowly descending towards them.

Marakith Skyhook

Aeotheran Orbit

0500 Hours.

Sanguinius looked up as the Augur entered the office. “How is the patient?” Locke asked.

The Aedile shrugged. “Stable, he ought to be up on his feet in a few days. It is fortunate he is resilient, I suppose.”

Locke noted his colleagues tone. “What happened exactly?”

“He got bored, I imagine,” Sanguinius replied, “it is not the first time. The Aeotheran Security Force reported the existence of the narcotics operation yesterday evening. They were planning a raid. It seems our Quaestor decided not to wait.”

Locke rolled his eyes. “He needs watching.”

“He is being,” Sanguinius replied, “for someone with no obvious subtlety he is remarkably adept at avoiding surveillance.”

Locke sighed. “We warned the Summit of this. You read his file, as did I. They brought him in to organise the development of Aeotheran. Despite his issues.”

The Aedile looked out of the windows at the planet below. “He is manageable. If he becomes too problematic we can suggest he return to his cave until he is needed again.”

“And if he does not want to?”

Sanguinius turned to his fellow Sadow. “They we can suggest more firmly.”

Marakith Hangar

0700 Hours

Irritation was heavy in the air as the Aedile and the Disciples leader entered the hangar. As one the members of House Shar Dakhan turned. “About time,” Malik snapped, unusually waspishly.

Sanguinius smiled. “Good, you are all here.”

Jade Sadow looked coldly at him. “For half an hour,” she replied.

The Aedile indicated the large shuttle parked at the end of the bay near the doors. “Our transport awaits. All aboard.”

Etah looked past them, the Sakiyan giving off a faint hint of suspicion, “Where is the QUA?”

Sanguinius smile faded for a second, and he glanced at Locke who gave an almost imperceptible shrug. “He is indisposed. He is happy for Locke and myself to show you to our destination, while he deals with other business.”

“And time is pressing,” Locke added.

With another few glances the members made their way up the ramp into the vessel, which opened up to reveal a comfortable interior with a window by each seat. The last to board was Mactire, the Mystic finding himself a seat at the back on his own and strapping in. Locke banged on the side and the ramp closed.

“Is this journey going to be long?” Scarlet asked from her seat. “some of us did not sleep well. Work on the living areas already seems to have begun, and a droid turned up at five am to measure my quarters for conversion to two smaller ones. I was less than impressed.”

“Not long,” Sanguinius replied, “the process we are undergoing is on a tight schedule. We are sure you will be happy with the results.”

The members looked out of the window as the immense skyhook and the city below grew smaller behind them, and the ahead was the jungle terrain of the planet and the blue of the ocean. They watched as the shuttle accelerated, heading towards the water. To the south they could just make out the small dots of the Gilded Archipelago and further south east the lights of Kel Rasha could just be made out in the clear morning.

Macron looked at the screen at the front of the cabin that showed the view ahead. Another smaller continent could be seen in the distance to the east. “Those are the Centrepoint Mountains,” he observed as a series of peaks could be seen rising ahead.

Rivio sat up slightly in his chair. “Is there much there?” the Knight asked as he studied the screen.

“Not really,” Raistlin replied quietly, “the entire place is uninhabited, aside from the few creatures that scratch an existence there. During the Primus Goluud days we used to take new recruits on survival courses. They did not all return.”

“We will,” Locke told them mysteriously.

They were over the peaks now, skimming the tops of them with scenic views below. Ahead a single mountain rose amongst the rest, possibly the tallest natural point on the planet. The shuttle slowed and turned ninety degrees, the windows on the right hand side of the shuttle facing the peak.

“We are here.” Sanguinius told them.

The members looked through the glass at the mountain. The sides were craggy and ancient, and on the peak a light snow fall had turned it white. Their gazes panned downwards as they strained to see any signs of life or construction. There were none.

Malik’s gaze turned to the Aedile who was now stood passively at the front of the cabin, still smiling at them. “I think you may have been spending a little too much time with our Quaestor Sanginius,” the neti said coldly.

Raistlin nodded, “If this a joke I am sure we are all eager to hear the punchline.”
“As you wish,” Sanginius replied, He pressed the communication button on the wall next to him. “This is the Aedile. Knock, knock.”

For a few seconds nothing happened. Then from outside the shuttle an immense rumbling sound rose through the air, picked up by the ship’s sensors. The Shar Dakhan members watched as cracks begun to appear in the top third of the mountain. Firstly small panels begun to shift and then retract into the surface, and turbolaser and ion cannon turrets emerged, gleaming in the morning light, as did surface to air launchers. Then the rumbling intensified and entire sections separated, rising up and then sliding effortlessly into the mountain, revealing balconies and walkways, and entire terraces with benches and tables and even small gardens. As lights along the balcony rails lit and in the rooms beyond, there was a slight shimmer over each as forcefields activated covering them.

As they looked up the top of the mountain split and slid downwards, revealing a glass building on top with more weapons and a large telescope pointing up at the sky. Finally the largest panel slid open, directly in front of them revealing the entrance to an immense hangar. The shuttle turned again and powered forward as the members watched the hangar entrance grow larger and they entered the cavernous interior.

Once they landed the ramp slid down and the Aedile and Battleteam leader led them into the hangar. It was mostly empty save for a few other shuttles, and several hundred crewmembers and Dakhan troopers in gleaming armour standing to attention in ranks.

As they looked around curiously Sanginius smiled once more. “Welcome home.”

Etah turned to him. “What is this one called?” he asked, “The Lion’s Tail?”

“The Neti’s Twig?” Macron suggested, and received a sharp look from his fellow Adept.

“Our Quaestor is a man of few words,” Locke told them, “it is simply called Mount Dakhan.”

The Inos Incursion

Part I - The Locked Ship Mystery


Strike Cruiser Dakhan’s Fist

Approaching Inos Thirteen

“You have your orders Commodore.”

“I am unclear about them, Quaestor,” Auturra Krill’s voice replied, “you have sent me with an entire task force and battalion to search the moons of Inos without even an indication of what we are looking for.”

“You will know when you find it.”

“And supposing we find nothing?” the officer asked.

“Then you will go back to the beginning and start again. Is that clear?”

Auturra Krill’s mind snapped back to the present as he observed the image of the corvette growing larger on the view screen. He frowned as he observed the Hydra rotating, lights flashing on and off along its surface indicating that something was wrong - at least some parts of the ship still had power.

“Are they still failing to respond to hails?” he asked.

A crewmember turned to him. “Not so far, Commodore,” she replied, “the scanners detect systems are reporting as normal.”

Krill turned to the passive figure sitting next to him. “Is there anything you can tell us?”

Malik opened his eyes. “I sense nothing,” he replied.

“Nothing?”

The Neti turned to him. “More accurately, I can feel yourself, those on this ship around us, and that is all, Commodore.”

Krill frowned. “Bring us into range of Hydra and prepare the boarding party. Order Wyrm to hold position to support where necessary.”


With a burst of sparks the heavy hatch finally opened, and a few seconds later Locke led the Disciples of Dakhan through the airlock. “Be careful everyone, we do not know what to expect here. Keep your helmets on, even if the power is on there may be airborne contaminants.”

He led the members into the corridor and they stopped, looking around them in surprise. The corridor was still brightly lit and revealed a grisly sight. Along the floor and splashed on the walls were trails of red and other colours of various species’ blood and above along the surface of the walls were black scorch marks, the telltale signs of blaster fire. Scattered about the floor were also several discarded weapons, but of the owners there was no sign.

“What happened here?” Scarlet asked, as her gaze took in the scene.

“I think we can confirm this was more than a simple communications problem,” Etah added drily.

Macron moved forward and removed his molecular analyser from his belt, kneeling by some of the blood trails. “This is fresh, coagulation shows this has been here less than twelve hours. It matches species registered among House personnel.”

“That matches the timing of the distress signal, Augur,” the quiet voice of the short woman in the Warhost flight suit reported to Locke, “what we received of it anyway.”

“We need to move out and secure the bridge and the hangar,” Locke reported, “Macron, Rivio, with me. Etah, Scarlet and Malevek proceed to the hangar, I want regular reports. Captain Dagen you will accompany us and stay in the middle. If there is trouble keep low and let us handle it.”

“That’s an affirmative, Augur,” the diminutive officer replied quietly.

Locke led them slowly along the corridor, passing through an open doorway, Macron still holding his analyser in one hand and his saber in the other. “Still no bodies,” the Adept commented quietly as he observed the trail of the presumed fighting, “on either side.”

“They may be holed up somewhere,” Rivio replied. “It seems odd though there was no sign of entry or exit from the exterior views.”

“They may have entered and left by the hangar, hopefully we will learn more.”

“Hold up,” Macron told them suddenly as he studied the wall, “there’s scratch marks here.”

“Caused by what?” Locke demanded as he turned to the Alchemist.

“Looks like they’re claw marks,” Macron replied, “the analyser isn’t picking up any DNA though.”

“Augur,” Captain Dagen said suddenly, “there is a substance here I do not recognise.” She knelt by the floor.

Locke came over and knelt by it. “It looks luminous? Macron?”

The Adept joined them and waved the analyser over it, studying the readings. “It has a cell structure that matches known species blood types, however the analyser fails to match its components to any known element.”

“Is that possible?” Rivio asked.

Macron shrugged. “It ought not to be. I need to get a sample back to the laboratory for deeper analysis.”

Locke led them further into the ship, heading for the bridge. The three disciples and their warhost companion kept their eyes peeled and their weapons ready as they turned a corner. Then a voice came over the communicator.

“Etah to Locke.”

“I hear you Etah. Report.”

“We are at the hangar. There are major signs of battle here and damage, but the doors are sealed and pressurised. Nothing has entered or left the ship through here in the last twenty four hours.”

“Alright, keep me posted,” the Augur replied.

“That raises a serious question, Augur,” Captain Dagen said quietly, “if they were attacked, how did anything enter and leave, including the crew? We are talking about ninety four personnel.”

“And forty troopers,” Rivo added darkly.

Without replying Locke led them through the door onto the corvette’s bridge. Like before there were signs of a struggle and blood, and several of the terminals were damaged. Captain Dagen moved forward, and the Miraluka sat at a terminal. “All core systems report as functional, Augur,” she reported, “it appears they were already in a stationary orbit when whatever happened. There is computer damage though, something may have hit the main terminal. I am unable to access logs or security footage.”

“They are a priority once we get the ship back to Aeotheran,” Locke replied, “we need a better idea what happened. I will message the Commodore to send a skeleton relief crew and troopers to continue the search.”


Commodore Krill listened and nodded. “Affirmative, Augur,” he replied, “they will be with you in ten minutes.”

There was a sudden voice from behind him. “We must depart. Signal Hydra.”

Krill turned to the Neti, “I beg your pardon Adept?”

“Now Commodore!” Malik said urgently.

“Sir, we are detecting a gravitational field from the moon,” a bridge officer reported a second later, “growing in intensity. Hydra’s orbit is beginning to decay.”

The Commodore looked up at the screen where the Hydra was beginning to drift downwards towards the moon. “Hydra this is Dakhan’s Fist, your orbit is decaying. You must fire up your engines.”

“We are!” Locke’s voice came back.

"Hydra’s engine’s are at full power sir,” the officer told him, “they are still losing altitude.”

“We must assist them,” Malik said quickly.

Krill nodded. “Bring us closer to Hydra and engage the tractor beam. Order Wyrm to assist.”

“Sir we may be caught in the same field,” the officer replied, “we may not be able to escape.”

“We will take that risk,” Krill replied, “proceed.”


“Are we at full power?” Locke demanded as the view showed the moon behind them, growing slowly larger. The rest of the team had joined them and were now strapped into chairs on the bridge.

Captain Dagen nodded, “I’ve diverted it from everything but the shields,” the Miraluka replied, “our descent speed has slowed but we can not escape. Additionally the engines will not take this pressure for long.”


“Tractor beam locked, Commodore,” the bridge officer reported, “we are also now experiencing the same gravitational pull but we are compensating.”

“Keep us in synchronous orbit with Hydra,” Krill ordered, “full power to engines and tractor beam.”

“We have them sir,” the reply came, “their descent is stabilized. We are trying to pull clear.”

“Where is Wyrm?” Malik asked.

“Moving into position now,” the officer replied, “they are locking onto Hydra.”

Malik closed his eyes, the Neti reaching out focusing his thoughts on the crews of the ships, synchronizing them to one purpose.

Hydra is beginning to ascend, Commodore,” the officer reported.

“Keep going,” Krill ordered, “shut down all non essential systems.”

“Acknowledged.”


Locke sat with the rest of the team on Hydra’s bridge, feeling the vibrations and hearing the scream of the engines as they fought to escape. The view screen had been powered off, leaving them blind except for the sensors. He glanced at the Warhost officer who was sat quietly, her hands flickering over the controls. “Report.”

“Nearly there, the field is weakening,” she replied, “systems are critical however. I am still having to maximise our velocity even with the cruiser and Wyrm’s assistance.”

They waited a few more agonising minutes, then Captain Dagen reported. “We are clear, Augur. The only force on us is the tractor beam.”

“That was close.” Locke replied.

A few seconds later there was a final grinding noise across the ship and then the bridge went dark, except for the team’s personal lights. Dagen tried a few switches. “We’ve lost everything, Augur. Controls are negative.”

Locke nodded. A voice appeared in his head in the crisp tones of the Neti. “We still have you,” Malik told him, “a repair crew will be with you presently.” The Augur relayed the message to the rest of the team.

“None of this makes sense,” Etah commented, “the attack, the lack of bodies, that gravity field.”

“We will find out,” Macron replied, the Alchemist sounding thoughtful, “I suspect this is only the beginning.”

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Part II - Now, Matters Are Worse


The Cathedral of Ragnos

Tarthos

Two Weeks Later

The assembled Ragnos members sat in the briefing room watching the hologramatic images flicker and rotate one by one.

The Quaestor looked around the table. “As you can see following the recovery of our fellow House’s corvette matters have taken a turn for the worst. Reports have been coming in from attacks on Aeotheran, and we have put all facilities here on Tarthos on the highest alert level.”

Kojiro sat quietly studying the images through his sightless eyes. He was fascinated by the creatures, probably more than most. “You say these images were created from survivors statements? Why is that?” he asked.

Hades turned to him. “This is what the Dakhan Summit relayed to us this morning.”

“I think what he means is why do we just have what appear to be artists’ impressions?” Corvo added, “You said they had recorded footage.”

The Quaestor nodded. “I think it would be better if I showed you.”

They watched the display in the middle of the table, which displayed a large hall, with comfortable seating and tables and a large reception desk at one end next to a pair of revolving doors. People in casual wear calmly sat and talked and drank. Others walked back and forth at a relaxed pace exploring.

“That’s Pandaemonium,” Cymbre noted quietly, the diminutive Krath leaning forward curiously, “I have stayed there several times.”

Hades gave her a quick nod as the video continued. The image flicked to the exterior where more people were laid on loungers or swimming in the pool. Suddenly a waiter in a white suit looked up and gave a silent scream, flinching backwards at something in the sky. A second later he was lifted into the air and his torso burst blood that fell to the ground as he was disemboweled. As people got to their feet and looked in horror or began to run several were born down to the floor, claw marks ripping across their backs or their throats being torn open. As the panicked holiday guests began to run or die several security guards ran onto the scene and opened fire with blaster rifles that scorched through the air, missing or hitting before they suddenly struggled in the grip of something that effortlessly lifted, squeezed and then snapped their bodies.

The view flicked back to the reception area where guests and staff alike abandoned the dead and the dying and made for the doors. Then they stopped and cowered as the glass next to the door smashed inwards. As the impact scattered shards everywhere something large bore down on them. The Ragnos members watched with morbid fascination as the carnage continued by the pool, in the reception or in the dining room where tables were smashed aside as the guests tried to cower behind them. When it was over there was a mass of blood and bodily fluids, and several abandoned bodies. Most of them had been taken.

“Fascinating,” Kojiro observed.

“That is one word for it,” Ashia said flashing her fellow Keibatsu a glance, “are we talking about invisible creatures here?”

Hades shook his head. “No, from the footage and witness statements the victims clearly saw their attackers. For reasons no one has so far explained they do not appear on recordings. This is consistent across all sightings.”

Corvo sat thinking quietly. “Did they find any trace of the attackers that might be useful?” he asked.

“The forensic teams have been over the attack sites with a fine groomer,” Hades replied, “in attacks where the defenders managed to put up a notional resistance they found traces of the same blood substance the Alchemist found on the corvette, with several variations. That and the witness images suggests variants of the same species.”

“Well, if they bleed we can kill them,” Kojiro said quietly.

“We can hope that is the case,” Hades replied.


Mallie Tam carried the tray across the quiet kitchen. She was tired but the meats were prepared for the feast later and she was proud of her work. A few hours of marinating and they would be ready to cook when the rest of the evening shift arrived. She had earned herself a drink and a read in the gardens until then.

She reached the larder door and waited until it slid open and she entered, feeling the familiar cold of the store. She walked forward and turned walking down the shelves of food. Suddenly she stopped as she heard a noise and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. “Hello?” she asked quietly. There was no response. She put the tray of meat on a shelf and turned slowly. She was just able to scream before the jaws ripped into her throat silencing her forever.


The gardens were quiet, the afternoon sun casting shadows across the pathways and beds of flowers of numberless species brought in across the galaxy to make this probably the most beatific location in the entire Orian system. Here and there off duty soldiers and staff and junior House members sat on the basalt benches listening to the sound of the fountains or relaxing in the shade of the trees.

Sergeant Knox sat with a cold beer in his hand and his eyes shut as the sun warmed him, the veteran confident that no one would disturb him unless it was serious. He frowned as a shadow passed over him and his eyes opened in irritation as he looked up, putting a hand slightly over his eyes to see what was disturbing his view. He frowned as the large creature flapped its leathery wings as it surveyed the scene, then its black eyes met the sergeants before it swooped down towards him and he felt a stab of pain as claws dug into his shoulders and he was lifted into the air.

As he raised his arms in struggle he heard screaming and looked down as large hound-like creatures suddenly bounded across the gardens, leaping on unsuspecting victims, their teeth ripping into flesh. As troopers around the garden began to duck and fire at the intruders as a large and heavy one eyed biped materialised amongst them, charging forward and roaring, smashing through a fountain spraying water everywhere. Then Knox’s chest burst in agony and he passed out.


Corvo frowned. “So the probes have found nothing on Inos Thirteen?”

Hades shook his head. “Not so far. Either the gravitational forces render them useless or the interference blocks their transmissions.”

Ashia considered this. “And no one has tried to land on the surface?”

“Taking into consideration the gravitational disturbances, until we have more intel it would be suicide,” the Quaestor replied.

Ashia was about to reply when a loud growling noise sounded from the corner of the room. As they turned Tar’Sharov was rising to its feet, the tuk’atas eyes angry and curious.

“What is it?” Kojiro asked quickly as he got to his feet.

A second later alarms began to sound throughout the building, the sound nearly deafening.

“What the hell?” Cymbre shouted over the din.

Hades clicked a button on the terminal in front of his chair and the display flicked to the gardens, showing the fighting as civilians scattered and a diminishing number of troopers fought against an invisible enemy. “With me!” he ordered.

The Quaestor led them towards the main hall as they ran, the tuk’ata bounding alongside its master. As they passed junctions Ragnos troopers fell into step, adding to their numbers. They reached the entrance hall balcony, with its curving steps down to the floor and the Quaestor noted in approval that his soldiers were forming a guard around the heavy main doors leading to the gardens. An officer saluted him. “We have sealed the exterior Quaestor. We await your orders.”

Hades turned as the doors suddenly shook, cracks appearing in them. “They’re coming through, everybody ready.”

The Ragnosians filtered amongst their soldiers, either at the front ready to take the brunt of the attack or in strategic positions to add support. The tuk’ata growled loudly and its master placed a hand on its head.

The doors shook once more and then burst open and an immense brute entered, roaring loudly. As the Ragnos forces opened fire at it there was a distortion next to it, and hounds materialised and bounded forward, their mouths open revealing rows of teeth. As the soldiers directed their fire at them leathery flyers also appeared from the roof of the hall, swooping down towards the troopers. Hades looked up and frowned as he saw the flyers briefly flicker and fade as blaster fire aimed at them, appearing several metres along their descending path. “Keep your fire on them!” he ordered.

Ashia and Kojiro stood side by side, the Matriarch holding her sabers as she slashed at a hound that bounded towards them, the first slicing through thin air as it flicked in and out of their plane, before the second cut deep into its body, spewing luminescent liquid before falling. She glanced at the Warlord whose sightless eyes were closed as he concentrated. He reached his hands up and blasted a swooping flyer that came close to them with lightning, and then he lowered his hands, concentrating again.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I am trying to get through to that brute,” he replied quietly

Ashia glanced at the large creature that was still moving forward, as blaster fire struck its chest. “Any joy?”

“No, I do not know what it is but its mind is resisting. Help me.” Ashia nodded and they both backed off, troopers forming a shield in front of them.

Cymbre fought alongside the Battle Team Leader, her blade slicing amongst the hounds that surrounded them as troopers armed with close combat weapons supported them. The Battlelord’s left hand emitted lightning as her saber slashed at anything that came close. As a creature bound towards her she stepped back smoothly and angled her body as its claws ripped past her arm, before she sliced her saber into it.

Beside her Corvo looked up as a flyer swooped towards him, and as he ducked he slashed his saber upwards, slicing through a wing as the creature missed and hit the floor, its body flickering. A second later a trooper beside him gasped as a hound hit him, its claws ripping through the armour and finding the victim’s vitals.

Corvo turned as he heard the roar and he looked upwards at the armoured brute towering over them, its long arms sweeping down and smashing several troopers aside. The Knight and the Battlelord backed off, aiming their sabers at its body as the blades sliced at its flesh but made no purchase. They heard a second growl from behind them and then a shape bounded over them, launching itself at the brute. They looked up as Tar’Sharov’s teeth bit into the brute’s arm, teeth tearing into flesh as it hung, its claws slashing as the Knight and the Battlelord added their saber blows to its attack. Then the tuk’ata’s teeth closed around nothingness as the beast flickered out of existence and Tar’Sharov fell, before a second later the suddenly substantial creature’s arm smashed into the tuk’ata sending it tumbling through the air. As Cymbre and Corvo backed off they heard the Quaestors’ voice. “Retreat to the stairs!”

Hades backed off, his slugthrower rifle booming as he focused on the enemy. He watched as Cymbre and Corvo retreated towards him as they fell back before the brute. He saw it stop and roar, and glanced upwards at the two Keibatsu now stood on the balcony above focusing on the creature who fought against their control. He nodded in approval and then kept firing as the troopers around him joined, fighting a retreat against the hounds and flyers that bounded or swooped towards them before they fell under the blaster fire. The Knight and the Battlelord joined him, their sabers raised as they backed off carefully up the stairs, troopers forming a fighting barrier in front of them. They reached the top and troopers under the Quaestors direction formed along the balcony, firing at the attackers who flickered in and out of existence to avoid the shots from the defenders. The brute slashed its arms back and forth as it fought to escape its controllers who both now had sweat on their brows as they focused on it.

Hades was calm now, as he directed the fire. He raised his oathbreaker and aimed at the prone brute which now looked up at him furiously, and fired. The shot took it in its one central eye and it roared and then fell twitching. He felt a surge of triumph as a cheer came from the defenders, and then the Quaestor’s gaze switched to the doorway, where a black creature entered and crouched on eight legs, and their gazes met. Suddenly the House leader grasped the sides of his head as agony swept through him and he fell to his knees, his body shaking. Exhausted by their mental fight against the brute Ashia and Kojiro also fell as the creatures gaze swept to them, trying to block the sudden mental attack, before the troopers firing began to slow as they also fought.

Incensed by this, the hounds began to bound up the stairs, their teeth ripping into troopers who desperately turned to them and tried to fire through the pain that ripped into their heads, before teeth and claws hit them. Hades opened his mouth to give an order as he saw Corvo and Cymbre nearby on their knees, but he was unable to even speak as he saw flyers swooping down, lashing their claws into his soldiers.

As the psionic moved forward on its legs, something moved in the shadows of the room, lifting itself up and shaking its head angrily. And then it bound forward and leapt. The psionic suddenly emitted a piercing scream as Tar’Sharov hit it, its legs spasming as the heavy tuk’ata’s weight pushed it down and teeth and claws sliced into its vulnerable flesh. On the balcony the defenders suddenly rose and began to fight back at the hounds and flyers, anger and determination now driving back the hounds and flyers who previously had been massacring them. Tar’Sharov’s claws dug deeper into the weakening psionic before it stopped moving, and its body faded. Across the room the rest of the creatures did likewise, leaving the hall in silence.

Hades moved down the stairs, his saber now in his hand as he looked around the room at the bodies of his troopers. He was exhausted. More than a hundred brave Ragnos men and women had died in the assault and the entrance hall stank of blood

“I guess we won,” Corvo said quietly from beside him.

Kojiro pushed past them, wanting to be outside in the fresh air. He moved through the smashed door way and then stopped, taking in the devastation outside. Ashia joined him wearily as the tuk’ata stood beside its master. “There’s no bodies out here, just blood,” she called, “they’ve taken them.”

Hades walked forward, Cymbre and Corvo joining him, removing their helmets and breathing in. “They will pay for this, for what they have done today,” the Ragnos Quaestor told them, “For every one of our people who died here we will have vengeance. Whatever these things are they will be destroyed.”


Signs of rockfall could be seen amongst the crack in the surface, suggesting recent tectonic movement. Around the top of the crack flyers swooped, flicking in and out of the plane, and down in its darkness hounds and brutes bound or stood around the slowly growing portal, which was now fifty feet across. On the other side of the portal a mass could be seen, creatures moving amongst each other, snapping as another came too close, as dozens, hundreds, thousands, and more waited for their turn, and towering way above them as an immense black form watched hungrily back through the portal, waiting to join her children. Her eyes suddenly focused angrily as she sensed the intruder and her mind lashed out.

The man awoke in his bed as he spasmed, and gasped for breath as he looked round at the darkness, clutching his head as his heart thudded in his chest beneath his scarred flesh. It was several minutes before he got to his feet and dressed, his limbs shaking.

Twenty minutes later he left the laboratory, guiding the sled on its repulsors into the lift. Once in the hangar bay he quickly loaded the equipment into the shuttle. After a quick check he strapped himself into the cockpit and guided the shuttle out of the hangar doors. He clicked the transmit button on the communicator. “This is a message for the Clan and House Summits. I am stepping down as the Quaestor of House Ludo…,” he paused and gathered his thoughts taking a deep breath, “of House Shar Dakhan with immediate effect. Command authority has been transferred to the Aedile.” With that done he piloted the shuttle up into the atmosphere.

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III -This Competition Just Got Real

Inos Thirteen

Orian Space

The shuttle moved quietly through the darkness of space towards the barren moon. The former Quaestor sat at the controls watching the scanner. After a few minutes a dot appeared on it. He looked through the view screen and in the distance the CRV Wyrm was visible. His communicator lit up as a hail from the Dakhan vessel reached him. He ignored it. He kept the shuttle on course as the moon grew in his vision through the reinforced cockpit. He glanced at the scanner and displays, the distance indicator counting down as he approached. Finally, just outside the safe range he brought the shuttle to a halt, leaving the engines maintaining the ship’s current position. Then he locked the autopilot and got up from his seat.

Ten minutes later he shuffled to the doorway, his usual inquisitor armour now burdened with the equipment he had strapped to his chest, back and legs. He looked down as much as the helmet would allow to see that the devices were flashing to indicate they were functioning. He turned to the R2 unit secured to the wall and plugged into the computer. “Droid, relay my signals to the nearby corvette as long as you receive them. Seal the door when I have left.” He waited for the responding beep of acknowledgement, and then pushed the hatch release and was sucked out into space as the cabin depressurized. As the hatch shut behind him he looked through his helmet eye sockets at the moon and touched a button on his waist, the jetpack on his back bursting into life and pushing his bulky form forward towards the moon.

He let himself be powered forward, the moon growing bigger, and then he felt a force on himself. He deactivated the jetpack and put his arms to his sides. He began to drift faster towards the moon, his body beginning to accelerate. He glanced down again to make sure the flashing lights on his recording equipment were still active, and then took a deep breath and calmed himself as the moon grew bigger and he felt the gravity begin to intensify. He felt a wave of dizziness as his speed increased and continued his calm breathing.

The planet’s surface was growing larger now and features on the surface were becoming visible. As his velocity increased his body began to shake as he was buffeted about and a sickness hit him. His vision was becoming blurred as he focused on the ground ahead, where a large and strangely familiar crack in the planet’s surface was visible in the distance. As it grew larger he began to gasp more and more for breath as he accelerated, and pain shot through his head and limbs and he could just make out dots around the crack of flyers. For a second he could just make out a bright light emerging from the crack before he passed out and everything went dark.


Sadow Palace

Sepros

Orian System

The members of Clan Naga Sadow slowly filtered into the room and took their seats facing the table at the front, behind which sat the Overlord, his Pro Consul and Rollmaster, and the Quaestor of Marka Ragnos and the Aedile of Shar Dakhan. The mood in the room ranged from curiosity to anger or concern. Bentre sat waiting patiently until they had settled.

“Members of Clan Naga Sadow. You are all aware of the ongoing threat emanating from the moon Inos Thirteen. You have heard about or witnessed the attack on our ships and our facilities including the recent events at the Cathedral of Ragnos. We believe the escalation of this situation threatens our very existence and way of life here in the Orian System. For the last week following the attack on the Cathedral, and an increasing number of events since, the Clan Summit has met with members of our intelligence and scientific services, along with relevant experts amongst our clan. We now intend to strike at the source with an intention to eliminate it.”

He paused while there was a murmur around the room. “As you will be aware any attempts to send probes or scan the surface of Inos Thirteen from orbit have failed. However several days ago the former Quaestor of Shar Dakhan made a solo descent to the moon and has relayed us back intelligence which has provided us with hope of ending this crisis.”

From amongst the members Raistlin Sadow raised a hand. “What has happened to Malisane?”

From beside the Overlord the Proconsul spoke up. “From the recordings received we have no reason to believe the Shar Dakhan Quaestor has survived. The Aedile, Augur Sanguinius Entar, has agreed to lead the House until we can make a permanent appointment, once this matter has been resolved.”

Bentre waited until DarkHawk had finished speaking and then continued. “Our focus is the matter at hand. I will be leading a force down to Inos Thirteen to investigate the source of these attacks and disable it by whatever means necessary.” He paused again. “I will now turn the briefing over to Lieutenant Colonel Senth of the Warhost Intelligence Service.”

They waited while a uniformed officer entered and bowed to the Summit. Then he waved a hand and a hologram appeared between the Summit and the members, rotating between images of the creatures. “As the Overlord has stated the threat we face appears to be from a hostile alien species emanating from the moon of Inos Thirteen. From biological analysis provided by a team led by Adept Macron Sadow, we know them to be variants of what they have designated Xenotype Sigma, or Sigmas as they have become known. They have the ability to appear from a limited time period at some considerable distance from Inos Thirteen, such as the planets Aeotheran and Tarthos. Though there is no discernable pattern to these incursions, the common theme is they are removing the bodies of victims from the scene for a purpose we can only guess at. More biological details can be seen in the information packs you have been sent pertaining to behavior and known weaknesses of each variant. We advise you to study these in preparation.”

“Preparation for what exactly?” Pel Tarantae asked, “the Consul said he intends to lead a mission to stop these creatures but how exactly are we supposed to do that?”

After a glance at the Overlord Senth continued. “We were unsure of that ourselves until we received the recorded data relayed from the apparently late Quaestor.” The hologramatic display changed to display the barren moon, and then pan downwards to reveal the crack in the surface. “The Quaestor appears to have been drawn to this aperture. From comparing the images to historical surveys this is a new formation and appears to be a result of seismic shifts. From the recordings and patterns in the increased gravitational forces on the moon this has been confirmed as the nexus of the disturbances.”

The image focused and then stopped showing a bright and blurred light. “As far as we can determine from the data received it appears to be a fissure in reality that leads to the source of the Sigmas’ incursions into our universe. This is an unconfirmed theory but it is the best assessment we are able to make.”

“So if that is a portal how do we close or destroy it?” Mystic Kristeva asked, as she studied the image in front of them.

The Overlord waved the officer into silence as he was about to reply. “We will be honest with you, you all deserve that. We do not know what it will take to stop this. We only have the intelligence available, and we lost a Quaestor to obtain that. This is a critical mission. If we do nothing and these attacks continue to increase at their present rate we may have to accept the possibility of abandoning Orian once more. After what it took to get it back that is not an option. So we go down there, we work out how to stop it, and then it stops.”

The Warhost officer waited a few seconds and then continued. “The problem we have is the gravitational disturbances on the planet make a safe landing extremely difficult, and departing or being retrieved practically an impossibility. We have obtained and fitted out a number of heavily reinforced dropships to be deployed from the Perdition. From the recordings received, we have determined the best course and velocity to make as safe a landing as possible two miles from the aperture we believe to contain the portal. A drop company led by myself will support the main force led by the Overlord.”

There was a pause as the members considered this. Bentre looked round the room. “To answer your questions, this is a life or death mission. If we succeed we will be safely retrieved from the surface once the gravitational disturbances have ceased.” He paused for a few more seconds. “If we fail is highly unlikely we leave Inos Thirteen alive.”

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IV - The Heroes of Inos

Portal Fissure

Inos 13

Orian System

“Keep on them!” Bentre roared as the members of Clan Naga Sadow battled on the ground beneath the glowing portal. Around him as his saber slashed at a hound that bounded near, he could sense his fellow Clan members fighting for their lives against the enemy that seemed endless. Near him Augur Locke Sonjie fought alongside his fellow Sadow, as Sanguinius stood back to back with him slicing his saber into any creature that got too close. The two Aediles made a deadly team. Bentre turned quickly as a brute loomed over him, and he quickly raised his saber as it raised a clawed limb preparing to strike, before it stopped. As the creature seemed to struggle Bentre thrust his saber upwards, aiming his blade at it’s eye and it fell.

The Consul’s gaze turned to where his former Pro Consul was standing looking in his direction and he gave her a quick nod of thanks. Ashia and her fellow Keibatsu used their force abilities to provide support against the creatures, as Kojiro focused on the flyers that swooped down against the Sadow forces, disrupting their attacks before they were picked off by the Warhost troopers that formed a ring around them. Leading them was the heavily armoured form of Raistlin, the veteran Seer recognised the value of protecting their support and fought to defend them against any enemy that got too close.

From nearby a psionic scuttled over on it’s eight legs, righting itself and preparing to launch a devastating mind attack against the Sadowans and Warhost soldiers that were beginning to win. As it began to gather it’s strength a figure detached itself from the shadows behind it, and a saber hacked downwards, driving through its brain and causing it to collapse. DarkHawk allowed himself a tight grin. After fighting across the surface the Sigmas were becoming easier to predict. Then the Pro Consul’s eyes gazed upwards at the glowing portal and they narrowed. From it one impossibly long claw began to emerge, and then another. The Battlelord watched in horror as a multi eyed black head emerged from the portal, it’s furious gaze taking in the scene as it fought to escape from the entrance that was slightly too small. He glanced over to where the Consul and Tasha’vael fought to drive back a group of hounds. “Overlord, we have a problem.”

Bentre moved back from his opponent and seeing several hounds bounding towards his wife who fought nearby, he moved quickly over, as Tasha’Vael focused on blocking attacks and countering with deadly strikes. The Consul speared a hound and then his gaze turned to the terrifying head that was still pushing forward towards them. “Everyone away from the portal!”, he ordered, “Ashia, can you drive it back?”

She glanced at Kojiro who shook his head. “Against that thing, no,” she replied.

Bentre and Tasha’Vael backed off as they were joined by the two Aediles, the four of them forming a defensive wall backed up by the remaining Warhost troopers. Sensing their queen the hounds and brutes moved forward, roaring in renewed triumph.

“You must call in the reinforcements,” the Rollmaster urged her husband.

Bentre nodded. “Colonel, Major, we need you.”

Above them in the sloping paths down into the fissure more Warhost soldiers appeared, amongst them the calm figure of Lieutenant Colonel Senth. The intelligence officer directed his forces to attack, and blaster, rocket and grenade fire began to pour down into the fissure, striking the portal and the Queen whose gaze took them in and a high pitched scream of defiance filled the air.
From the opposite side Vosiri joined the attack, the Major focusing on the largest enemy and adding his forces to the deady barrage that tried to drive her back. A flyer swooped at the Major and Vosiri waited angling his body, before smashing a gloved fist straight into it’s fanged mouth, which emitted a scream of pain before it fell.

DarkHawk watched as the Consul, Rollmaster and the two Aediles backed off towards the Keibatsu and their supporting troops, as he looked up at the portal that seemed to distort and glitter. He did not know how but he could sense it’s structure was weakening, between the blaster and explosive attacks and the mass of the Sigma Queen that fought to stretch and widen it. Seeing his fellow Sadowans battle the Pro Consul fought for calm, his mind racing. Then looked up at the portal and he raised his energy bow to add his support to the Warhost trooper fire. Then he felt something heavy hit him from behind, and claws ripped across his armour until they found the weak spots. As he struggled he felt a stab of pain from his sides as the claws sliced deep into his flesh. He continued to struggle as they dug deeper and agony turned to weakness and he collapsed and lost consciousness.

“How the hell do we stop that thing?” Sanguinius demanded as he and Locke fought alongside Bentre and Tasha’Vael against the creatures, as Raistlin stepped forward to join them with the few remaining Warhost Troopers. Behind them Ashia and Kojiro used the last of their strength to disrupt and confuse the foes making them easier targets.

“I do not know,” Locke replied, “if we do not succeed it will escape and who knows what will happen to the Orian system then.”

“I doubt we will see it,” Tasha’Vael added, “though hopefully the rest of the members on Aeotheran and Tarthos will form a second front.”

“We are not done yet,” Raistlin muttered behind them.

Bentre’s eyes narrowed as the creatures attacking them faltered, and then began to back off slowly, eyes bearing into the Sadowans cautiously as if waiting.

“It’s planning something,” Vosiri said into his communicator above the noise of his troopers’ blaster fire.

“Keep focusing your attacks,” the voice of Senth replied, “maybe enough will drive it back.”

“I’m not so sure,” the Major replied. He watched as the Queens head rotated slightly, seemingly ignoring the attacks that hit her as if they were harmless. Then her multiple eyes narrowed.

Vosiri grasped his head and he fell to his knees as a powerful attack struck his mind, and he heard gasps as the troopers around him dropped their weapons as they fell twitching, and then were still. As Senth’s forces also began to fall the clone commando hit the controls on his vambraces, and the jetpack on his back blasted him upwards as pain wracked his head, before it began to fade as he gained height. As he rose up the gravitational forces buffeted him and he fought his controls, as he watched the fissure in horror.

“Fight against it!,” Bentre ordered as he writhed on the ground. His fellow Sadowans did their best, using everything they had learned over the years from the Shadow Academy onwards to fight against the powerful attack.

Locke and Sanguinius lay side by side, as above them Raislin knelt with his hands pressed against his helmet, waves of pain and nausea racing through him.

Tasha’Vael lay near her husband, feeling his pain alongside her own and she tried to block out his pain as well as hers.

Kojrio and Ashia stood side by side still, the two Keibatsu using the defences they had patiently learned from the Grandmaster to block and try and repulse against the assault but they could do nothing. Their strength was nearly gone.

Above Vosiri lay helpless amongst his dying troopers, his heart racing and his body convulsing.

Bentre opened his eyes against the agony and his eyes drifted over his Clan members. After all these years this was it. He had gambled and led his followers to their death. He could see the forms of the hounds and brutes moving forward now, moving in for the kill.

DarkHawk looked around in confusion. The scene had changed. The fissure was gone and all was calm. The only sound was the burning of the flickering torches on the black walls. He was sitting on a stone bench and he felt no pain. He looked down and saw his armour was gone and he was wearing a simple black robe. His hands went to his sides and found no trace of his injuries. Carefully he stood.

“Takagari.” a voice said quietly.

The Battlelord turned and his eyes opened wide as a Shaevalian figure stood before him, similarly robed. There was something familiar about him, and perception filled in the gap “Father?”

“No,” the figure replied, “though we find a familiar form is useful.”

“Where am I, and what are you?”

“Those are not easy questions to answer Takagari,” the figure replied, “and time is short. For you at least.”

“What do you want from me?”

“The one who has served us is unreachable, and we need another. You are chosen.”

“Chosen to do what?”

“We can give you purpose, strength, though the trials will be hard and failure means death or worse. Should you succeed you will not be the man you are now. However in the short term we can aid you to save your fellows.”

DarkHawk’s mind raced, and in a second he knew he had no choice. “I accept.”

“Once this is over, you will seek out the one who can guide you. He may take some persuading, but he will relent and show you the way.”

DarkHawk nodded. “I understand.”

Senth watched helplessly from above as the Queen continued her attack, and the members below continued to writhe in agony as her creatures moved forward to finish them. The two Keibatsu, the last standing, finally fell. The former DAC felt helpless. He had been created to serve, and at seemingly their darkest hour he could do nothing. His life was a failure.

Then movement caught his eye and he focused his gaze down to a figure in torn black armour slowly and painfully climbing up the rock to the left of the portal. He seemed oblivious to the chaos around him and focused on his task. He continued to climb as Senth watched in fascination. Seeing the flyers move close to the climbing man, the clone raised his blaster carbine and fired at them, giving the figure some cover as he climbed higher. He was still ignoring the immense Queen below who once more fought to free herself from the portal and fully enter the new world her and her children had come to make their own.

Senth heard a beep from his backpack and knew the power was failing, but he continued to watch in fascination as he now recognised the figure that reached the top of the portal and clung to the rocks. DarkHawk looked across at a point above the portal, and then as his saber ignited, he stabbed it into the rock and hit something that exploded with a flash, showering the Queen with pieces of rock and broken crystal. Then the Pro Consul lost his grip and fell to the floor, landing hard.

Bentre felt the pressure on his mind cease and he slowly moved his head towards the portal. It was at critical point now, as the crystal that had stabilised it still scattered in pieces onto the ground below. The Queen began to roar in pain as the portal began to shrink and collapse trapping her, and her piercing voice filled the area, not in anger but now in agony. The creatures before them paused now, turning to watch their mother as her body began to convulse. Slowly the Consul began to rise on his wearing limbs, as the rest of the party fought to do likewise.

They watched in fascination, their other attackers forgotten as the Queen roared as she fought to free herself either backwards into her universe or forward into the new one, and then there was a burst of translucent blood as her neck burst open, and her head fell to the ground. Her limbs twitched and then were still.

Bentre and the rest watched, raising their weapons. The creatures surrounding them continued to regard their queen, and then from near the portal a lone psionic moved forward, and stopped, and as one the creatures turned at it’s silent command and began to advance.

The Sadowans braced themselves wearily. The Queens attack had taken a lot out of them, but they were determined to fight as one. The Rollmaster formed up alongside her husband, as Raistlin joined on the other side, followed by Locke and Sangunius, and on each far side Ashia and Kojiro prepared their diminished mental strengths. Bentre heard a noise behind them as Vosiri reached the fissure floor, his troopers now dead or useless but he was still determined to fight.

“Come on then,” the Consul said quietly as the first of two brutes moved towards them. He could see the portal behind them, now scarcely more than man sized as it crackled and pulsated. Then he saw it shimmer and a figure fell from it to land unsteadily on the ground and stagger. His previously battered armour was now shredded, and it was soaked with both translucent Sigma blood and red human. As the Consul watched in surprise the figure straightened, and then took in the scene. Then the helmet of the barely recognisable Inquisitor armour turned towards the black spider like psionic. He leapt forward, a white bladed saber igniting and driving down into the creature, who screamed and collapsed. A second later the portal shimmered once more and disappeared.

Bentre felt the atmosphere change and his gaze met the one eyed brute that towered over him. It looked back into his eyes, and as he stood facing it it growled. Then it leaned forward, and as the Clan leader prepared itself it sniffed, and then made another growl. The members around them watched cautiously as the creatures began to slowly back away, the hounds surrounding the brutes as they turned and made their way across the fissure floor, pushing through a gap at the end as flyers swooped above them.

Seeing the unconscious Pro Consul, Ashia and Vosiri moved towards him to tend his wounds, as Senth landed to help. Bentre then turned to the figure in the shredded armour who stood wearily, his saber still in his hand. “Your resignation is refused, Quaestor.”

Malisane nodded, and then in a sudden movement he collapsed to his knees, and then the floor.

Bentre sighed. “Someone pick him up.” He activated his communicator. “Come in Perdition. The gravity should be stabilizing. We need shuttles to my coordinates and a medical team.”

“Acknowledged Overlord,” the reply came.

The Consul looked around at the Sadowans. “It’s time to go home.”

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Sector Five

Refuge

Somewhere Along The Daragon Trail

Chemlos Dak looked out of the viewport at hyperspace moving past. Due to the sheer size of the station exterior quarters were a luxury, but as she was one of the sectors most powerful bosses she had her pick of this area. She turned to her lieutenant. “We ought to be stopping again soon Vilthas,” she commented, “have our people ready to move out. We’re near Orian.”

The twilek glanced at his datapad, focusing on the light of the screen in the dark quarters. “We might have to be careful here boss,” he replied, “the Collective might be gone but whoever has moved in there seems to be turning the screw on lucrative opportunities.”

Chemlos smiled, though it added little warmth to her Umbaran features. “They will be like anyone else, on the outside severe and confident of their defences, but on the inside as weak and decadent as anyone else. A few bribes and threats and our product will move as easily there as elsewhere.”

Vilthas nodded and left. Chemlos turned back to the viewport through the tinted glass. There was a shudder as the immense station slowed and returned to normal space. A few moments later she could make out a flotilla of ships waiting to dock, and others leaving the station for the local sectors. Her own would be on their way.


Malvic was bored. He made his way along the corridor of sector five, his blaster rifle held in his hand as the few servants of their gang moved aside as he passed. Many of the gang’s people had departed on the shuttles and he had wanted to go with them, at least to get himself away from the station and in some fresh air. He did not usually complain, the pay was good, Chemlos Dak rewarded her people well, but he wanted a change, maybe some merc work that would take him elsewhere.

He passed through a doorway, and stopped at a noise nearby, and looked around at the chamber he had entered. There were several shelves with boxes and jars of various substances. The room appeared empty. Curiously he walked amongst the shelves, keeping his finger on his trigger. There was nothing of interest. He frowned, and then turned back to leave. Then he stopped. Stood in the doorway was a female figure, in black and blue mottled armour. As Malvic raised the rifle her hand rose and the weapon was wrenched from his grip to land in hers, and as he gasped in surprise, she casually brought he heavy weapon round to smash into his face.

Kristeva dumped the unconsious body in the corner behind the shelves, tied his hands with cables, and then made her way out of the storeroom. She spoke quietly into her helmet. “Perimeter guard one neutralised Aedile.”


Raistlin entered the room calmly, looking around him at the half dozen men and women sat at the tables, who had stopped eating and stared at him. He walked forward confidently, glancing back as a second figure entered, wearing plain clothing and a pair of heavy gloves. As the Seer moved forward Vosiri loitered at the back of the room by the door, seemingly taking interest of the view out of the window.

A heavy set man got to his feet, his hand going down to the blaster at his side. “Who the hell are you two?”

Raistlin smiled at him. “We’re new, arrived when we stopped. The boss is busy and told us to get some food.”

The air in the room fizzled with suspicion as more of the gang members hands reached for weapons. The heavy man stared into the Seer’s face as doubt and suspicion passed over it. “Oh yeah, we heard nothing about that, did we?”

“I am telling you now,” Raistlin replied as he looked back at the man, “I am sure she will fill you in later.”

The man sneered “I think I had better check with her now.” His hand went to a communicator and he began to raise his hand. Raistlin watched him and then raised his own hand, a small dart emitting from his left vambrace, pulling a thin but strong cord looping around the suddenly helpless man pinning his arms before the Seer dragged him forward and down to meet a rising armoured knee. As the communicator hit the floor the Seer stepped on it.

The entire attack had taken mere seconds, and as the gang members stood from their tables, knocking trays flying, Raistlin fired a dart from his other vambrace, It hit a woman and she gasped in pain, before collapsing to the ground and convulsing. As more moved to attack him a figure leapt forward from behind, as the Commander athletically landed amongst the gang members, his gloved hands lashing out with devastating speed, knocking down two in quick succession as the shocking power of his gloves left them stunned and twitching. Raistlin moved in to support him. A few seconds later it was over.

“I said you would not be able to convince them,” Vosiri commented drily.

“It got me close enough, didn’t it?” Raistlin replied. He raised his own communicator. “Raistlin here. Mess room taken care of, no fatalities.”


“i am getting hungry,” Solthis complained as she shifted her rifle into a more comfortable position.

Galtris shrugged. “We’ve got an hour yet.”

She turned to him. “An hour? This is ridiculous, it doesn’t take two of us to guard a door.”

“You know the rules,” he replied, “Vilthas said two of us at all times. Some of the other gangs are getting ambitious. If you want you can argue with him.”

“Ten minutes,” she countered, “i’ll bring you something back or you can go after.”

“No, I like this job.”

She sighed, and her gaze swept along the corridor, and then stopped. A figure was stood quietly watching them, wearing a brown cloak over armour. Her eyes opened wider as she took in the strange barkish skin and the oddly branch like hair emerging from the hood slightly. She opened her mouth and then a strange confusion overtook her. Doubt overtook her mind as the world seemed to slow and as she tried to raise the blaster rifle her muscles struggled to respond, as if she had been sleeping on them. Dizziness overtook her as she fought to move as she could just sense Galtris sluggishly turning as the strange disorientating power overtook him.

From the other direction Sanguinius moved quickly forward, his hands rising and firing two stun shots at the guards who were struggling to react. Then he gave an approving glance at the Neti. “So it still works without the meditation chamber then?”

Malik shrugged. “Of course.”

The Aedile smiled. “I’ll have the others cover the doorway. I think it’s time for a friendly word.”


The Umbaran looked up as the twilek entered the room slowly, his hands raised. She glanced from Vilthas to the two figures walking in behind him. They were nearly identically dressed in matching armour and robes but could not be more different. One was a tall man with short hair holding a pair of pistols, the other a bark skinned Neti. The first man indicated the twilek should kneel, and then regarded Chemlos calmly as he slid the pistols back into his belt.

“Who the hell are you?” she asked coldly.

“We’re from Aeotheran in the Orian system,” the man replied, “where you have decided to take your dubious business to without our permission, and to try and corrupt our people. We are two of the reinstated rulers of the planet Aeotheran where your agents have been sent. We thought this was a good time for a friendly word.”

“Your people are fine by the way,” the Neti added calmly, “neither of us particularly enjoys unnecessary slaughter, though the same can not be said for the rest of our number. Your shuttles have also been intercepted.”

The Umbaran looked from one to the other, and to where her useless twilek lieutenant knelt with his eyes closed. “So you came here to do what exactly?”

“To give you a friendly reminder not to interfere in our territory,” the human told her, “Our leader, for want of a better word, is not like us. To be honest he is an amoral brute we do our best to tolerate. He wanted to come here and made an example of you, a noisy, messy and explosive example to the other leaders here. We persuaded him that you would respond better to patient diplomacy.”

“This time anyway, “ the Neti replied, “next time I imagine we will not be able to restrain him or the others like him. And I am afraid that is where it will be messy, and probably explosive.”

“I see,” Chemlos replied looking from one to the other. There was something deeply disturbing about their passive demeanour, and a concealed power she could just sense hints of. “Very well. We will keep our people away from your planet, and system.”

“Good,” the man replied, “do not forget that.” He glanced at the Neti. “Come along my friend. We should leave.”

She watched them leave and then sat back in her chair, before she glanced at the cowering twilek. “Get up cowardly filth. I want to know more about those people. We must be cautious with them.”

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Independent Freighter Fires of Liberty
39 ABY

“You have been selected for random inspection! Come out with hands up!” The gruff voice of the security officer echoed through the small Corellian freighter, accompanied with the sound of boots on the metallic deck plates. The pair of human security officers were flanking a human in surprisingly casual-clothing given the sharp looks he kept shooting about the ill-kept vessel. A KX-series droid followed the slender, brown-haired fellow.

“A 1300 series ship. A filthy antique.” The man shook his head. “They are well-known for smuggling compartments. Make sure that you are thorough.” The Equite motioned toward the direction of the vessel’s cockpit. One of the officers turned, giving the barest glance of concern at the abnormally-dressed Loyalist and droid before saluting and stalking off with a worn E-11 blaster rifle raised to his shoulder.

“Commander Lightcrest,” the other security officer held back. There was concern in the eyes of this younger man. “What if there turns out to be no cargo?”

The Weapon Specialists’ blue eyes sparkled as he gave a haughty but thin smile. “Well, in that case, we may have to interrogate them upon the location of the contraband. This vessel was reported by a loyal citizen to be smuggling death sticks without licensing or tax. If the Sadow Empire is rule properly over the Orian system, we have to bring law and order to the system. I would be careful about questioning your superiors in the field, by the way. I don’t believe that the system’s Overlord or his constituents are going to smile at you making the Sadow look bad.”

“I meant nothing by it, sir.” The younger man straightened up as he spoke the words, drawing his own weapon closer, but not bringing it up at the ready. He took a tentative step backward. “Permission to continue duties as ordered?”

“Granted. Just try not make the Sith Empire look bad in front of the criminals.” Vosiri was calling the words into the back of the retreating security officer, but he still smiled to himself. He didn’t have long to enjoy his mirth. Both security officers came back more quickly, with the older holding a dirty-faced Zabrak by both arms in a crab-like grip and the younger with his blaster aimed sideways at the prisoner.

“We only found one on the vessel, sir. This one was found hiding in the cargo bay. You were right about the smuggling compartments. He was a bit clumsy and left the floor plate covering the opening was askew.” The older man pulled the Zabrak forward, causing the youth to give a sound of discomfort.

Vosiri looked the man over. Dirty clothes, dirty face, no visible weapons and yet a fire in his eyes. He took two, slow steps forward to close the remaining space between Commander and arrested, looking into the alien’s brown eyes. The eyes seemed to challenge him to make the first move.

So Vosiri did just that. The Equite turned sideway and in one smooth motion, drove his elbow into the gut of the rebellious youth. The Zabrak’s eyes widened in surprise as he slumped in the hold of the older security officer.

“That,” the Commander leaned forward as he spoke, “is a mere taste of the fun we are going to have if you are not going to cooperate with us. If you prefer, you can give us some names, some locations and maybe you will be leaving our company today. If not, I am sure these fine officers will be happy to impound your ship.”

“This has never been the way that things were done.” The youth spat the words.

“The Overlord has pivoted to a new way of doing things. This is a Sith Empire. You don’t faff about in the Sadowan Empire. We are in charge, and if you want to keep operating in any capacity in this system you had best get used to it. You think that I am bad? Keep going down this path, and you will see how patient I am being.” He tilted his head in a mocking gesture, before driving another punch into the side of the Zabrak with a grunt of satisfaction. The alien doubled over in pain as the security officer released his shoulders. Vosiri peered down. “So you best give us names, now.”

“Do I need to activate my incendiary weaponry, or shall I remain on standby?” The droid stood rigidly, but there was an almost hungry intonation to the question.

“We will see, KX.” Vosiri leaned down and put a firm hand on the Zabrak’s arm. “Let’s see how cooperative our new friend will be, first.


Tarthos
39 ABY

“I am telling you,” an excited young Rodian waved a hand in the air, “it was an old ship of war! Seriously, we were skimming the Inos asteroids, and we saw a Carrack cruiser! I thought we were dead.” There were some general sounds of discontent and cajoling. “Seriously though, seriously!”

“Is that where you and Kodo go on the weekends?” A sweaty Gamorrean female leaned forward listening to the story.

“Yeah, that spot. You know that spot where we go racing between the edges of asteroids? I have been planning a race with some of the guys in a couple of weeks. Well, anyway we had taken a wide turn around one of the larger rocks, and like I said there it was, larger than life. So Kodo shrinks down in his seat with this kind of little squeak, and sure enough the thing started to turn. Now, what would you expect us to do but to start spinning up our hyperspace engines. If a ship that size decided to turn its guns on something like a UT-60D, we would be space dust.”

“So let me guess, you turned tail and ran? Or did you stand and fight?” The Gamorrean let out a guffaw before throwing her head back with her glass and drinking deeply from the container of intoxicant.

“Now, you see that is the really crazy part. I am sweating slugs and Kodo is freaking out. My life is flashing before my eyes and I am wondering what my mother will think if they don’t recover my body and then suddenly, things went black."

“You passed out?” There was more laughter.

“No no not this time. I mean it was just gone. The ship just jumped out of sight. It was the most bizarre thing. No local fleet markings, plain gray siding. No idea where it had gone, but the weirdest thing was before we left. I could have sworn I saw and identical Carrack jumping back in right as we initiated our jump out.”

There was more laughter and buying of drinks. The rowdy group became louder. However, Ashia was quietly sipping her drink. The whole conversation she had been sitting silent and watching from afar.

Kojiro and Muz had set out on a trip to gather supplies and presumably lots of drink for some project or another. Ashia had hoped to relax. All she had wanted was to pop in for a quick drink. The Zabrak swirled her drink for a moment as she considered what she had over-heard. Taking a long sip, she watched the rodian and his friends leaving the bar stumbling and laughing. Tilting the cup, she considered the turn of events. The lady Keibatsu languished slightly as she considered the alternatives before she lifted her commlink.

The Summit was going to want to hear about this.


Warhost fleet vessel, Peridition
39 ABY

A number of beeps pulled the Sadowan Consul from his reverie. He had been reading over notes on ancient Sithspawning experiments when the call had first come through. There were always things, large or small that interrupted his work. In what seemed like a long time ago it had been his daughter’s visits, but Tasha’Vel had sent her off with family, to keep her from the dangers of war or something. With a sigh, he laid the hardback volume down before giving an exaggerated stretch and a yawn.

He felt as though he had spent too much time in space. It had changed his perceptions. When it came to time to return to the surface of the Orian worlds, the self-styled Overlord had found the planet Sepros a bit too open for his tastes. Even as the construction on the Massassi-styled replica of the Yavin temple had come to completion, Bentre still found himself coming to the Perdition when it came time to work.

He even had arranged a spacious office in the new temple where he could display his museum pieces and war trophies. Though his desires and conveniences needed were few, he had been afforded more than enough to meet his simple comforts in the office. He had even set up a small bar area for promotions, or for when he was in a particular mood. The office was perfect for his needs. Yet, he found himself returning the warship that had served as his home during his times away from Orian. He should have felt at home on Sepros, but instead it remained a place of surprisingly painful memories.

It was not all bad, though. Since the Sadowans had made themselves public, Bentre had delegated much of the day to day operations of the Clan and Sadow Empire to his Proconsul and Quaestors. After all, he figured, the Quaestors were more in touch with what sticks and what carrots best worked with their respective planetary populaces. As for his Proconsul, well perhaps there was just a hint of cruelty in that.

Picking up the commlink that lay on the study desk before him with an almost lazy air, Bentre saw the name of Takagari flashing at the top. That was typical. The red, flashing urgent symbol was however quite atypical. This has piqued the Corellian Sith’s curiosity enough to overcome his laziness. He lifted the device, and opened the channel.

“This is Consul Stahoes.”

“Sir, we have a situation.” The curt professional tone of the Shaevalian-hybrid betrayed a great deal of stress.”

“I am sure that you are more than up to the task, Takagari. I have been reading this absolutely enthralling passage and-”

“We have unidentified ships in Orian space, sir.”

These words brought Bentre’s glib tone to a dead stop. He paused for a moment before dropping a fist to the desk. “ I assume that these aren’t just smugglers, though?”

“Smugglers don’t fly Carrack cruisers, sir.”

“By the nine hells. Okay, meet me in Meeting Room Kressh, and call the Quaestors together. I will call the Rollmaster. Hopefully we can avoid another incident.”