Contained in this subject will be a a record of Clan fiction for Clan Naga Sadow. This record will begin in 37 ABY.
Naga Sadow Fiction Repository (37 ABY - 40 ABY)
“So it falls to you again.” Bentre’s face evaporated in the swirl of holographic light, the projector dimming as he looked on. He turned briefly, black eyes falling upon the former Consul as he clasped his hands behind his back.
“Not entirely surprising, I suppose.”
Muz nodded, turning back to the device in front of them, a wounded bit of ancient technology, bleeding tiny nibs of crystals onto the workbench. He hadn’t really considered that Kojiro would retire so soon. Not that he blamed him. The scenario had changed so much, and the evacuation of their home system had taken a lot out of him. The counterstrike against Meridian station… Well, it was a good thing that Sadow had not gone alone. He picked up a non-conductive probe, gently prodding past the failing matrices, trying to nudge what seemed to be a poorly aligned power supply back onto the contacts as Locke stared on intently.
The warbling tone of waiting communication scraped across their ear. Then another. Then another. Locke smiled as the frequency changed, missives from the clan rerouting to the Lion’s datapad explaining and informing of the everchanging situation in the clan, the house. His house.
He set down the probe, turning to the datapad and keying in his access code. The datastream flew down the screen, his fingers stopping the feed suddenly. There were new names. He narrowed his eyes, reading the transcripts from the Shadow Academy. The man was a little old compared to some of those still studying at the academy, but the Brotherhood did not have the reach that the Republic, or even the Empire once had. Quentinshadows still had managed to make quick work of the lessons placed before him, and the reports showed an interest in some studies that would have flagged him for… inquisitorius attention under Pravus. Muz noted the dossier when the chirp came again. A new sensitive soldier, a Verpine with Force Affinity, already stacking up quite the kill count from the field reports. Hilgrif. Muz stared at the name, debating pronunciation options before the torrent of chirps came again. More names, familiar ones, unfamiliar ones. Finally, a live urgent. He thumbed the play key, the image flashing on the datapad rather than the holo.
Locke turned from the artifact, looking at the Lion, then at the datapad. “That code looks…” His eyes narrowed.
“It’s not fake, just very old.” Muz stared at it, his memory putting together the pieces. “The Mystics.” The words slipped from Muz’s mouth as realization hit him. The image shifted, the lines converting to a woman’s face, dark wavy hair and a half-smirk.
“Requesting Asylum, code Trill Aurek Resh three five nine.” The image broke up momentarily before reforming. Muz paused. Tarentum. It had been a while.
Muz tapped a command on his arm, the message sent to the bridge of the ship, telling them to prepare for a docking. “Situation?”
She paused, a hitch in her voice swallowed down before she continued. “My clan is gone. The castle is a ruin. The order has fallen. I am sorry, but the old alliance, we hoped that Sadow would honor it.”
Muz leaned forward. “Order?”
“Yridia was a waste, so we went to Antei. The Temple of Tiamat is a tomb. The Krath are gone.”
Muz stared directly back. “No, we are not.”
This fiction was by @LockeSonjie from the Night Hawk’s Report on February 4, 2019.
Baleen-class freighter Behemoth
The aging freighter’s command cabin was cramped and quiet, except for the quiet beeping of a console and the wave-like sound of the holo-projection in the center of the cabin. Locke Sonjie bowed to Muz’s surreal blue visage before making his report.
“The Journeymen you have placed in the 'Hawks service have performed well. Already, the Verpine’s - Hilgrif, was it? - mechanical skills have kept our transports flying when we thought we didn’t have the parts to keep them space-worthy. And the other, well, I walked into a cantina the other day and overheard a story of how Dakor saved a family from slavers and was rewarded by the regional government. Apparently, he’s quite the hero around this region of space.”
"It is not the preferred path," Muz said, "but it gets the job done."
“Indeed,” Locke agreed. “We will need allies and resources for the days ahead. I’ve let the Night Hawks serve in their own ways for now as you’ve instructed.”
Muz did not mince words. "We will need to focus the team as a sharpened blade in the future, but for now, keep it up."
Locke nodded and the holo-projection winked out, leaving the cabin dark. The Augur looked out at the stars, imagining that he could pick out Orian. They would return and take back what was their’s, sooner or later.
This was from Xolarin’s first HMR report on February 16, 2019.
District IV, Warehouse 89
Eden City, Yridia IX
The dingy warehouse was full of crates, many dusty. It wasn’t as if they couldn’t be moved, but there was a lull in the operation. The scouts were out, bounties were being made and found, and there were customers for the goods. But something was amiss.
Xolarin strode across the small office, mumbling to himself as he thought back on the neglect he had caused with the small syndicate he had formed long ago. He slammed his fist on the desk nearest him. “It’s got to be out there,” he said to himself. And then out loud to no one, “I’ll find it, then we can move on with things here.”
His partner and main investor had backed out. Initially Xolarin did not need the money, but after the events of Clan Tarentum in the Brotherhood, financial assistance was required. So without that backing, it was easy to see that his business would crumble. He didn’t need any farsight for that. But his focus on dark artifacts were blinding him to other eventualities. What he didn’t see is that he needed guidance along with that fervent focus, lest he waste away in an alley.
Starport outside District I
One more planet he told himself. This was the last effort before he would give up and try something else. Maybe another object, maybe sync back up with the Brotherhood, maybe back to looking for details about his father or Turel or Dael.
“Nonesense!” Xolarin said out loud. A few nearby gave him a funny look but he didn’t care. His current state dictated a carelessness in many situations. His perceptive mind was still finely acute, but he couldn’t care less for the plebes around him in this city.
The cloaked Xolarin moved towards the main gate area for transports off the planet. It was a fairly busy day, comparatively speaking. That made it easier for him to blend in and make his way out without distractions from probing eyes or even competitors’ spies.
As he strode by a passer-by they bumped shoulders. A cold chill ran down his arm and torso and Xolarin looked back. The other cloaked figure looked back at Xolarin and eventually faced him. Xolarin cocked his eyes and squinted. There was something strange and yet familiar about the man.
“Lost?,” came a voice under the hood.
Xolarin continued his odd glare. “No.” So hard to read the man, no matter how hard he probed. Something was… different, for sure.
Xolarin chortled at the notion. What did this guy know? He had his act together just fine. “I’m focused.”
The figure shook his head. “Let me help you. Focus your… focus.” He paused. “Xolarin.”
Xolarin suddenly felt a sort of calm within the chilled aura around the two of them. It almost felt like everything else went slow motion beyond their conversation. He spoke, slowly and now somber himself, the focus of his artifact waning just a tad. “How…” shaking his head but remaining hooked on the man. He knew there was truth to what the man offered. “What do…”
The other man grinned and interrupted. “Don’t be foolish. Follow me and get out of this pit.”
Xolarin was reticent at first, as he really didn’t feel Eden was a pit. Of course then he realized the man meant Xolarin’s work here or his constant searching. The fallen Jedi nodded eventually, intrigued about this far more than his other projects for sure. “Who are you?”
“Muz Ashen Keibatsu,” he said as he turned and began walking.
Xolarin’s eyes widened, knowing well the name, and eventually began to follow. This was NOT how he thought the day would go.
This was originally from a report by @MuzKeibatsu on February 28, 2019.
ASD Fallen Spear
en route to landing zone
The static interfered with the transmission only for a moment. The scarred eye seemed to pulse as he thought it over, his voice slowly creaking back. “I’ve been…busy. But…”
Muz nodded at the man. He understood the feeling all too well, and would not have bothered him, were it not for…well, for what he sensed was down there in the dust. Kojiro would know that of him, after the past several years of working so closely with him personally. The former soldier nodded back, the hologram fading from view as he terminated the connection. Nothing more needed to be said.
About that anyway.
Muz turned from his desk, staring at the ancient frieze that hung behind him. figures, long dead, immortalized in the metal, locked forever in the pattern that kep their names known for centuries before becoming a footnote somewhere. Neglected, forgotten. It was a reminder to him, one pressing heavily on him ever since…
Xolarin cleared his throat, flipping through the feed. “Beside the Verpine Knight…” The datapad flickered, the incoming message icon playing across the man’s eyes. “Well, apparently, Plagueis is down there, too.”
Muz’s eyebrow raised.
"Seems that they are equally interested in whatever there is to take from this backwater. And…" Muz turned, facing the aedile, bidding without words for the man to continue. "You should read what Tavisaen has said…"
Muz stepped past the man, pausing as the door slid open, then stepping out into the hallway, making his way to the turbolift. "Unimportant." He let the word slip past his lips as he tilted his head. There was enough to do, and not enough time to do it. And if what Macron had felt corresponded to the itch he was starting to feel at the edges of his awareness…
The datapad chirped again, and Xolarin’s eyes flitted across the screen. “Locke.”
House Shar Dakhan Veiled Curtain fiction can be found here
spanning January 11 through March 12, 2019. These were authored in Discourse by @MacronGoura and @Takagari .
From Tasha on 3/6
A cold chill permeated throughout the air as pairs of boots pattered heavily across marbled stone. It was dimly lit and one could feel a surge of dark energy surrounding the room. There were several marbled pillars that lined the walls and a few pedestals with Sith artifacts displayed. Angry humming could be heard from a nearby Sith Holocron and a statue with red crystal eyes seem to stare at two figures approaching the large marble doors with Sith symbols etched into them.
Both figures walked silently through the doors, one in full Sith armor decorated from head to toe and masked so none could see his face. The other dressed as a Mandalorian. As they passed through, they could feel an intimidating presence before them. Koji knew this feeling well, it was the Lion of Tarthos. Xuner also knew better than to disrespect the authority before him. Both were humbled in his presence and respectively bowed.
Muz however, was not the only one watching them, a human Corellian with a glowing-red Tukatan eye glared down towards the pair as he sat down on an antique chair, as though it were the finest throne. To his right, his auburn-haired Proconsul looked on silently. To the left of the seat, a hooded figure stood, her blue lekku hanging down freely. Meanwhile, across from the Lion of Tarthos stood another humanoid, this one clad in black stylized armor. The Clan Summit had been called, and the pair stood before the assembly.
Suddenly a commanding female voice split the silence as Tasha’Vel stood and walked towards Xuner and Kojiro.
“You have both performed admirably well and successfully completed your mission. Therefore as Captain of the Blackguards you are both hereby promoted to the status of blackguard. Kojiro, you have been a blackguard before and are familiar with combat, therefore I will be assigning you to guard Ashia Keibatsu.” She then turned towards Xuner.
“You have shown exceptional skill-” She was then interrupted by Bentre.
“You have shown,” Bentre interrupted, making a whimsical grasping motion in the air as he sought the words, “exceptional valor and spunk. As such, I am claiming you as my Black Guard. You can ask your fellows before you, I will likely abuse my authority over you over the course of this arrangement.” The Warlord pointed at Xuner expectantly. “You have shown proficiency. To those who show capability, more is expected. It’s a blessing, it’s a curse, it’s a pain in the arse. I will be taking time to help refine you into a tool, for the good of the Clan, for the good of our Empire, and to your own gain.”
Stahoes waved a hand dismissively as he flashed an aloof smile… "For now though, both of you will go with the nice blue lady with the head tentacles. I am sure she has some tasks before you get released to my tender care of myself and Ashia…"
The Twi’lek looked up at the Consul, her face twisting just slightly from the playful jab.
“Right, as Bentre stated you will become his Blackguard, Xuner. Congratulations on achieving this status. I look forward to how you will deal with those who oppose our Clan’s leaders. For now you are both dismissed.”
From Tasha on 3/11:
A hot sun sat high in the sky above the as of yet unnamed planet, beating down on the desert area below. On the surface of the planet, surrounded by sand as far as the eye could see, were a few broken pillars and pieces of stone that marked the entrance to an ancient temple of sorts that dove deep, deep underground. Tasha’Vel wiped some sweat off her brow as she walked along the surface, checking out some of the Sith symbols etched on one of the pillars. Throwing her lekku back, she examined the symbols a bit closer. Meanwhile, nearby a Kel Dor was leaned up partly against the door of their transport. He flipped his trusty blaster a few times in his hand before adjusting the brim of his hat. Both of them had been assigned to help the other teams with extraction from the planet. After reading the symbols for a few moments, Tasha’Vel turned around to her counterpart and smiled a bit.
“That’s a nice blaster you have. How good is your aim?” she asked as she picked up a nearby small boulder and tossed it up into the air.
The boulder exploded into a puff of grey dust and rubble as the Raider instinctively fired his blaster at the airborne target.
“Good enough,” he answered.
Just then, the ground began to shake violently, as both Rollmaster and Quaestor struggled to stay upright.
“What in the nine - ”
Tasha’Vel was cut short as several droids emerged from underground and began to shoot hot plasma at the pair. She leaped to the side towards a huge marble pillar as TuQ’uan tucked and rolled against a huge boulder opposite of her.
“I don’t know what exactly happened, but I think we somehow tripped the self defense systems of this temple!” Tasha’Vel yelled out as she pulled out her lightsaber and ignited it with a crackling snap-hiss.
“Let’s see if they like fresh hot lightsaber.”
She then threw her violet whirling lightsaber towards one of the droids approaching and sliced it in half.
“That’s one!” the Marauder exclaimed as the blade went into an arc, taking out the one next to it as it flew back to the Twi’lek’s hand.
There were still eight droids out there firing at both of them. The Infiltrator pulled out a small round electromagnetic pulse grenade and threw it into the midst of the droids. A blue electric field blasted through all of the droids as it detonated, rendering them useless. They all fell over in a heap.
“Eight,” replied the Reaver.
The Twi’lek grinned as she made her way from behind the marble pillar and inspected the pile of trashed droids. “Well now, I guess you win that round. I just hope we don’t trip any more defense systems unless you can do that trick a second time. So we still going to keep count then, winner buys the other a drink?”
TuQ’uan nodded. “Sure, sounds good to me.”
The mercenary surveyed the pile of antique droids that now littered the ground, they were rusted and falling apart but surprisingly quite functional for something so old and not maintained.
“First pirates, now droids. Honestly, this planet is much more interesting than I thought it would be.” He gave a quiet chuckle before remembering the mission at hand and activating his comlink. “All teams, report in. What’s going on in there?”
A flurry of noise filtered through their comms as the teams in the temple below attempted to report their situations simultaneously. Between the overlapping chatter and the blaster fire filtering through in the background the Kel Dor could make out only one thing repeated over and over. Droids. Lots of droids.
Tasha’Vel and TuQ’uan were shaken from the distraction as another quake rocked the ground beneath the unlikely duo followed. This time however it was followed by a steady rumble as another, larger wave of droids emerged from the temple entrance.
“We….ot…thing big. R…turning…ow,” an indecipherable voice called out through the comchannel.
“Repeat that, you’re breaking up,” TuQ’uan growled as the comms went dead.
The Marauder’s cheerful demeanor halted slightly at the disruption. Her thoughts turned towards the teams trying to get out. Hilgrif would be making his way out, as well as Scudi on Plagueis’s side not to mention many others. Shaking her head to clear her mind a bit, the Twi’lek readied herself.
“Well, it looks like you might be buying the drinks,” Tasha’Vel smirked, her reignited lightsaber swinging down in a powerful arc as she leapt into the fray.
“Oh, I don’t think so!” he cried out and fired off a volley of plasma, joining the fight side by side with a friend.
Originally posted in a HMR March report.
Planet of Investigation
Things were happening. And not just in a dingy office or mediocre apartment in Eden City. This was big, almost as big as the last great war in which Xolarin participated more actively. But of course this was far more positive - there was very little carnage going on during these days and weeks.
The fallen Jedi was at a console in a forward operating station on the surface. The reports were still coming in and things were looking good. There was no super weapon or galactic-ruling artifact glowing in power. But tips and hints and actual pieces were coming in for investigation. Mid-stream his holoprojector chimed. “Yes, my lord?” It was Muz.
”Report,” came the voice of the image of his master in the House. It wasn’t demanding or cold, just to the point.
”Looking good, master.” Xolarin tapped a few buttons on his console to send a brief summary so far. “I think we may have a few items, or at least some some prospects. I know if I can just–”
Muz interrupted. “But what do you feel?”
Xolarin paused a moment, perplexed. With all of Xolarin’s powers, he could sift through the findings in no time, but… a light bulb went off, though. He breathed in deeply and exhaled audibly. “We have something,” he responded, pausing again. Was it a real feeling or wishful thinking? Either way, something told him that last statement was right.
Before Xolarin could respond, Muz spoke again. “Any prospects for the Night Hawks?”
Xolarin chortled a bit to himself, having been thinking about it as well. “A couple.”
Originally posted by @TashavelVersea via CNS RM report.
Tasha’Vel looked over the rising sun as she wiped some sweat from her brow. She turned to her Kel’dor friend in the wide brim hat and nodded as she closed the hatch to the transport.
“That’s the last of them. Let’s get out of here!”
The transport roared to life, as Hilgrif, Calenhad, Ciara, and a few others buckled in.
“Ladies and Gents, congratulations you have made it out alive and secured some goodies. Now take a breather. TuQ’uan and I have got your backs. We will be back to our respective fleets soon.”
The transport had left the planet and stars could be seen out of the transport windows. It had been a long haul, but the job was finished. Tasha’Vel smiled at the two clan groups. They had done well and together they accomplished their goals. She hoped to see more interactions with the fellow Plagueans in the future. Perhaps they would be great allies.
Only the future could tell. For now she leaned back against her seat and let out a relieved sigh. TuQ’uan chuckled to himself as gave his trusty blaster one more spin in his hand before holstering it.
“So about that bet.”
Tasha’Vel put a hand to her head.
“Right, I will be sure to take you out to your favorite bar when we get back.”
This was initially written by @Takagari in the HSD Report from 22 April 2019.
Mauder Class Corvette Daragon
Orbiting Planet Reliquary
The Quaestor ubruptly left the bridge after starring at the large main viewing screen for hours. DarkHawk had been studying the planet and monitoring the orbital scans to gauge his next move. After the joint endeavor of both Clan Naga Sadow and Plagueis, the newly discovered world is ripe for the taking of its resources as well as the secrets it holds. DarkHawk, convinced something of significant importance is hidden somewhere on its surface. After exploring the planet with fellow Sith brethren Wrathus of Clan Plagueis, encountering insurgents, the indigenous people and the militant forces that had been engaged, something was being protected, DarkHawk just knew it.
As DarkHawk left the bridge, he pondered the last twenty four hours. Earlier Master Sanguinius Entar had dispatched Knight Xuner Holst along with a squad of Shar Dakhan’s resident SPECOPS Rangers back to Reliquary for a bit of a more in-depth exploration mission. Xuner had radioed back to Daragon over an hour ago informing the command ship of the team’s return.
DarkHawk headed towards his Aedile’s office, the Sith wondered why the return was taking so long, no hailing frequencies were getting through. The Quaestor reached the Aedile’s office and a single solid knock broke the silence of the corridor.
“Enter…” a muffled voice stated.
DarkHawk entered the office to find his Master diligently shuffling through a stack of papers.
“Ahh DH, any progress as of yet?
“No Master, Xuner should have been back by now.”
A small smile broke across the Augur’s face, “I don’t know who is more excited, you or him…”
“Its both bitter sweet Master…”
Just then a COMM hail filled the Aedile’s office, “Augur Entar, we have exploration team on radar, we will be starting landing Sequence directly…”
“Very well, inform Knight Xuner to report to my office immediately the Quaestor and I will be waiting…” the Son of Sadow stated.
Shortly after the communications call, another solid knock came over the Aedile’s office door. The Augur permitted the visitor to enter, the door slid open, Xuner reluctantly entered the room.
“How was the mission…? asked the Augur.
“Sir, I am happy to report our findings, several different types of significant mineral deposits that are already in the process of being mined. We could not get close to the Citadel as opposing forces…”
“Do you think the mission was a failure…? Asked DarkHawk
“I don’t understand Sir…” Xuner replied.
“It’s a simple question Xuner, do you think the mission was a failure?
Xuner took a moment to ponder the question and still could not completely understand where his Quaestor was coming from.
“Well Sir, in the means of coming back with resources, then yes, the Decimator was not the correct choice of ship for a supply run, as far as the mission, I would say no. I do have more intel on the Citadel to aide in our infiltration mission , we can however claim those mineral resources for ourselves immediately…”
The Augur stood up from his desk, “Xuner you have come a long way, I will keep an eye on you as I step back from my duties here.” Sanguinius said.
“I don’t understand Sir…”
Sanguinius gestured to the adjoining door to the House’s main briefing room. As the door whisked open, Xuner saw most of his House member standing at attention. “Xuner if you please…” DarkHawk said gesturing his Knight to enter.
The three men entered the briefing room and stood in front of the stoic House members.
DarkHawk took control of the room and spoke, “As you all may know, my Master, our Aedile, has decided to step down and pass on his duties. Though it is a loss for the House and the Clan to lose such leadership, we are garnering another to help lead this House into our new horizons. Master Sang will continue to be present to counsel the House, his expertise and leadership will not be far any of the Clan Summits. That being said, I would like for all you to recognize and welcome House Shar Dakhan’s newest Aedile, Knight Xuner Holst…!"
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.
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 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.”
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.
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…”
(Originally a CNS Clan Summit fiction as reported here)
YT-1300 Emerald Dragon
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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
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!”
Collective Strategic Command Outpost
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.”
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.
This fiction was originally written up in a Quaestor report written by Muz Ashen Keibatsu on March 1st, 2020. The fiction totals 964 words.
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 **
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.
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.
Initially from Quaestor report on this day, 11 Mar 2020.
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.
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
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
The Government District
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.
“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.”
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.”
Kal Alabrek, Tarthos
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
Part II - Now, Matters Are Worse
The Cathedral of Ragnos
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.
III -This Competition Just Got Real
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.
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.”
IV - The Heroes of Inos
“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.”
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.”
Independent Freighter Fires of Liberty
“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.
“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
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.”
Arquitens Cruiser Satyr
Aeoetheran Low Orbit
“Are your people in place Malik?”
The Neti Adept glanced at the Aedile and then back at the screen in front of him. “They are ready and willing,” he replied calmly.
Sanguinius nodded. “Then proceed.”
Malik nodded. “This is Sapphire Command to all operatives. You have your orders and briefing details of the target has been relayed to your data pads. The target is live and the threat is unconfirmed. Detaining them alive is preferable, however if necessary a termination is authorised. Command out.”
His fellow Adept hummed. “I am not sure whether a capture or termination is most desirable in this case Malik, considering the target.”
A slight smile touched the Neti’s lips. “The parameters of this operation were authorised by the Quaestor, Sanguinius,” he replied, “we will follow his wishes.”
Aeotheran Security Force Headquarters
The tall Augur stood calmly watching the screens in front of him. Raistlin glanced down at the corporal sat at the desk. “Timing is of the essence here,” he said firmly, “you have been supplied with the best equipment available, you had better not disappoint.”
“We are searching sir,” the man replied as the screens continued to flicker, scanning each person walking down the street for height and weight and any distinguishing features. Then it suddenly focused in on an individual figure, and numbers appeared next to them, followed by the word “match”. “There sir.”
Raistlin nodded. He raised his communicator. “Command, Krenth here. Target has been acquired on ninth street, coordinates 369,146. Relaying them to you now.”
“Acknowledged Krenth, relaying them to ground agents. Keep watching them.”
The Leisure District
The tall woman walked slowly down the street, a plain grey cloak covering her light Inquisitor armour. The night was cool and there was a slight breeze, and her long red hair had been pinned back. She drew a few glances from passers by as she proceeded past the open bars and restaurants. It was nearly twenty two hundred hours and all but the most essential would close soon, and the streets would fill with people rushing home before the curfew started. Scarlet knew this was the best time to find the target before that happened and the crowds made it impossible.
“Isk, this is Sapphire Command, do you have the target?”
“Not yet Command,” she replied as she let he senses add to her gaze as her eyes flickered up and down the street. Then she stopped as she focused on a tall heavily built figure in a plain cloak. “Target confirmed Command,” she replied, “heading to end of Ninth towards the park. Greyscale cloak, black hood, face covered. I am following.”
“Keep your distance Isk, we do not want to spook the target.”
Scarlet nodded. “I am aware of that.” She pulled her cloak closer and slightly increased her pace, maintaining the distance to her prey.
Park South Entrance
The brown unmarked truck sat by the side of the road near the entrance to the domed park. Inside a dozen black armoured troopers sat, along with one Sakiyan equite. He glanced at the image being relayed to him on his datapad.
“Sapphire Command to Peth.”
“Peth here,” Etah replied.
“Target approaching your location. Image being relayed to you now. Isk is following and Aurek is proceeding to North entrance with a second squad.”
“Acknowledged Command,” he replied, “do we detain target?”
“Negative Peth,” Malik’s voice replied, “if target is carrying IED then best to let them enter park. The area is more open with less people.”
“If whatever they are carrying is bad enough that will not matter Command,” Etah replied.
“Agreed,” the Sapphire leader replied, “however proceed as planned. If they enter the park then seal the entrance and follow. If they proceed past then lethal takedown is authorised.”
“Acknowledged,” the Sakiyan replied. His datapad view switched to the trucks external camera. He waited while the target turned and then entered the park. With a sigh of relief he relayed this to command.
Near the side of the path leading from the south entrance a small hot food cart was slowly cooling from a days trade. A lean man with black hair was stood industriously cleaning it with a cloth. He was not actually the owner of the cart, they had been politely but firmly instructed to take a half hour comfort break.
“Mern, this is Command. Target is approaching your location. Park entrance sensors did not detect device. This requires confirmation.”
“Mern here,” Rivio replied, “I am ready.”
“It is essential you confirm IED presence Mern,” Malik replied, “if you are unable to lethal takedown will be necessary.”
“Acknowledged,” Rivio replied as he continued to wipe the grill. He glanced at the scanner concealed under it and waited. He could sense the approach of the target. The park was quiet now and most people were heading for its exits as the curfew grew nearer. He kept cleaning as the figure in the cloak walked past him, and glanced at the scanner device as the display flickered with numbers and figures. Rivio waited until the target was past. “Mern here Command,” he said quietly, “IED presence is negative, repeat, negative.”
“Acknowledged Mern,” the team leader replied, “wait sixty seconds then follow. Isk and Peth are also moving to your location.
Near the Monorail Station
Seng Karash Park
A figure crouched on a ledge below the support column, watching the park below. The lights of the tall street lamps had come on, and the path below and the trees were lit in pools of light. If you were disposed towards such things then it was quite picturesque, even romantic. However the figure was not in the mood for such things at the moment. She watched the path like a hawk, ignoring the slight hum of the live rail above her head. At her instruction the signal above was red, the train heading towards the station had been blocked from entering the park until the current matter was resolved. Then she spotted her target.
“Command this is Xesh,” Kristeva said, raising her voice just enough to be heard over the hum of electric, “I have the target approaching now.”
“Acknowledged Xesh,” the leader replied, “can you see Isk and Mern?”
“If that is who it is then yes,” Kristeva replied as her view focused, “I can also see a ring of troopers spreading from each direction.”
“Aurek and Peth,” Malik replied, “wait until the are in position then intercept the target. Backup will move to support and contain.”
She nodded. “Acknowledged.”
The figure stopped suddenly in the middle of the path, as a pool of light cast their shadow across the dark grass to their left. They remained still then the hooded head turned, glancing behind them and then up. Suddenly they saw a figure falling towards them and bolted for the shadows. As Kristeva hit the ground, blaster pistol in hand, the target began to run, and then beams of lights from the troopers blasters lit the area, as search lights from the dome above began to sweep back and forth. As Kristeva moved to follow Rivio and Scarlet joined the pursuit, weapons drawn. They were tensed to fire, their weapons on stun but ready to be flicked into lethal mode if necessary.
As the figure reached a large hut they leapt onto the roof, and Etah’s troopers surrounded the hut. Scarlet, Kristeva and Rivio quickly followed, keeping a distance between them and panning out to the left and right of the hut, filling gaps between the troopers.
“Surrender, or we will use lethal force,” Etah’s voice boomed across the area as the Sakiyan directed his troops. The figure tensed, and then leapt from the roof away from the pursuit, running across the grass at an impressive speed. Etah spoke into his communicator. “Aurek he is heading your way, close the trap.”
“Aurek here, acknowledged.”
The figure stopped and looked behind them at the moving lights of the pursuers. There was a column supporting the monorail a short distance away with a ladder, and they headed towards it. Then another figure dropped down from it and stood blocking the way. The target raised a slugthrower pistol and fired, and as the weapon boomed the other man raised a hand calmly and a shimmering barrier appeared, the shot hitting it and crackling before it disapated. Macron’s tattooed face smiled slightly then keeping his hand raised he dragged at the pistol, wrenching it from the targets grip. The target emitted an angry snarl and then moved towards. Macron noted the approach from each direction of his fellow members with weapons raised and calmly drew his saber, igniting it. “Do not be stupid,” the Adept ordered, “surrender or die.”
The figure paused for a few seconds, and then calmly raised their hands. “I surrender,” a deep voice replied.
Macron smiled as Kristeva, Scarlet, Rivo and Etah approached surrounding them. “Remove your hood, slowly.”
The figure raised one hand and then pulled the black hood off their head, revealing the burned and ravaged features below. There was a range of surprise and amusement from those surrounding as they recognised their Quaestor.
Macron raised his communicator. “Command, this Aurek, we have the target. Do we terminate or detain them?”
“Let him go,” Malik replied, “return to your preset locations. An individual assessment will be sent to each of you.”
Malisane watched each of them turn and leave. The test had been a simple one but they had coordinated well together. Next time it would be harder. Realising the tattooed elder had kept his pistol, he set off in pursuit of Macron.
The Quaestor looked out over the mountains through the snow that had been falling all day. He stood on the balcony of his quarters on top of the mountain, oblivious to the cold in his robes, cloak and hood. He was in a typically dark mood, though perhaps worse than usual. He could sense betrayal, and it put a cold fury within him.
He turned as he heard a noise behind him, and observed the protocol droid standing nervously in his room. “Your guests are here, Quaestor.”
He stepped through the open door. “Show them in.”
He took his place at the small table as three figures entered the room. Deckard Kaelen, First Minister of the Aeotheran Government, Commodore Auturra Krill, commander of the Shar Dakhan fleet, and Lt Colonel Kala Miros, who held the same role with the ground forces. Each had two things in common. They were the highest rank in their respective area, and they owed their appointment to the current leader of the House and its territory.
“Be seated,” the Quaestor ordered. He turned to the minister. “Report.”
Deckard Kaelen wiped his eyes wearily. “It is as we feared Quaestor” he replied, “Esk Sector has declared independence. They have closed all routes into the main hub and are now refusing entrance, until we negotiate terms with them.”
“What is the atmosphere within the settlement?” the Quaestor asked.
Commodore Krill spoke up, “Our overhead surveillance reports the mood to be one of celebration,” he said quietly, “most of the citizens seem to support the rebellion. Anyone who does not is remaining quiet or has fled.”
“There is a worse matter, Quaestor,” Kala Miros added, “intelligence suggests the majority of the local Aeotheran Security Force have joined the rebellion. There has been sporadic fighting with the minority who stayed loyal…”
“Can your forces retake the sector Colonel?” Minister Kaelen asked.
She considered it. “Not easily,” she replied with a glance at the Commodore, “there are just over ninety thousand citizens in the sector, and around a thousand former ASF personnel. They will hold out against any bombardment hoping other sectors will join them.” Commodore Krill nodded in agreement with her words.
“That can not be allowed,” the Quaestor replied, “we have invested too much stabilising this world and making it profitable for traitors to destroy that. We must take direct action to lance this.”
Arquitens Cruiser Satyr
Near Esk Sector
Adept Malik Sadow sat in the command chair of the cruiser watching the displays in front of him. Around him the crew sat quietly at their console, knowing the Neti’s preference for quiet efficiency. Whatever happened in the mess and the personal quarters on Sapphire Squadron’s vessel, silence and obedience were strict on the bridge. His eyes took in the data in front of him, reports from across the planet and the system, both from his own agents and the civilian and military intelligence services. Right now one of the screens showed recent footage on the events of the Esk sector, and population and production data.
His head turned slightly at the sound of armoured footsteps behind him, as three of his team members entered the bridge. Warlord Etah Obsidian, Augur Raistlin Sadow, and Mystic Kristeva.
“Welcome,” Malik greeted them quietly.
Etah looked at the screens curiously. “Are the reports true about the uprising at Esk?” he asked.
“They are,” the Adept replied, “we are monitoring the situation.”
“Is that all?” Raistlin asked in surprise, “what are our orders?”
“We have none.”
The three other Sapphire members glanced at each other. “We should be doing something,” Kristeva pointed out, “have you contacted the Summit?”
There was a slight noise of disapproval from the Neti. “The Aedile is at Arx on other duties,” he told them, “he is not expected back for several days. I have sent him an update.”
“And what about the Quaestor?” Raistlin demanded, “he should be directing this.”
Malik glanced at the crew who were busy with their duties. “Our Quaestor has not responded,” he told them, “as you may have noticed he has become increasingly withdrawn since the invasion by the Unchained, the loss of Marakith, and the Clan splitting to support the Severians and the Tenixir.”
“We have,” Etah responded, a dark look passing over the former Quaestor’s features, “rumour has it he speaks only to his puppet leaders.”
“That can not be right,” Kristeva argued, “he re-established Sapphire Squadron as the House’s primary defence. Surely he can’t be ghosting us now?”
“That appears to have changed,” Raistlin said thoughtfully, “our Quaestor has been unpredictable for as long as I have known him. Since he took over a year ago he has been busy building up the population and production on the planet. Alongside that, has also replaced most of the officers and civilian personnel in the military and the administration.”
“Except for the Satyr,” Malik replied, glancing around the bridge, “I made sure of that. You are correct though. All of our recent assignments have come from Sanguinius or myself, not the Quaestor.”
“If he is side-lining the members we should contact the Clan Summit,” Etah suggested.
Malik shook his head. “Production and taxation revenues are rising steadily, as are recruits to the Warhost. Currently I suspect the Quaestor has their full support.”
They were about to reply when one of the bridge crew spoke up. “We have a contact approaching Adept,” she reported from her station.
“Identify them,” Malik ordered.
“Vindicator class cruiser, she identifies as the Light of Orian.”
“What is she doing here?” Etah asked, the Warlord looking puzzled.
“Hail them,” the Neti ordered.
“We receive no response Adept,” the crew member replied after a few seconds.
“What is happening?” Kristeva demanded as she went over to study the terminal. After a few seconds the Mystic frowned. “They are broadcasting.”
“To us?” Etah asked.
“To everyone,” Kristeva replied, “on all state and civilian channels across the planet and San Korinar.”
“Put it on the main screen,” Malik ordered.
There was a pause, and then the burned and mutilated features of the Quaestor filled the screen. “This is a communication from your Governor,” he announced, “many of you may have heard about the events at Sector Esk. As of eighteen hundred hours yesterday, the population has rebelled against the right and lawful rule on this planet, and traitors now hold the sector. As you will all be aware, since we took over this planet we have brought a stable rule, jobs with respectable wages, housing and healthcare for yourselves and your families, education for your children, and security to keep you safe. The overwhelming majority of you have responded with loyalty and hard work and obedience to the law. However the population of the Esk Sector have broken from that, and their treachery will not be tolerated.”
“What do you think that means?” Etah asked.
“I guess we will see,” Raistlin responded.
“This treachery must be dealt with firmly,” the broadcast continued, “or it will spread and those of you who wish only to live and work in a safe world will be swept under by it. So it ends here. However I will not risk the lives of brave and loyal sons and daughters of Aeotheran who serve in our military to take the sector back. So we must use alternate means. I hope this will serve as a lesson to others who put themselves above the peaceful citizens on this planet.” There was a pause and then the Quaestor disappeared, to be replaced by a view of the main hub of Esk Sector.
Kristeva looked up from the terminal she was sharing with the crewmember. “Light of Orian is manoeuvring and powering up her weapons.”
Etah looked sharply at the Neti Adept. “We must act. This is not the way of doing things!”
The Neti watched the screen passively, his features inscrutable. “We can do nothing.”
They watched as the Vindicator cruiser, the flagship of the Dakhan fleet, descended through the atmosphere, and then there was a burst of turbo laser fire. The Sapphire members watched as death began to rain down on the sector hub below, buildings exploding and collapsing, people running in terror through the streets before being vaporised, metal and plastic, and even masonry being melted and fused by the powerful energy weapons. All of it was being broadcast across the cities of Seng Karash and Kel Rasha and San Korinar, the military garrison at Mymiddon, the holiday resorts of Lor Zatean and Pandemonium, and dozens of other sectors across the planet.
“We have to stop this!” Raistlin urged.
“This is not the time,” Malik replied. The Adept kept his tone passive, he had seen this many times before down the centuries, the aggression and foolishness of the younger races.
They watched as it continued, the turbo laser fire raking down the streets, targeting the buildings that were still standing, and each of the force users could feel the waves of death and horror rising from below. Finally when there was just a smoking, fused mass where a settlement of ninety thousand had been minutes earlier, the transmission shut off.
Its work done, the Light of Orian began to rise up away from the surface. The four Sapphire members watched it leave as it gained speed, then jumped out of the atmosphere. There was no further discussion. Each was considering what they had seen, and how they should respond.
The Quaestor stepped off the shuttle and made his way across the hangar. He felt no satisfaction about what had happened. It had merely been necessary. He knew from past experience how quickly things could fall apart if the citizens did not know who ruled them.
When he reached his quarters he noticed the door was open, and cautiously walked inside. An armoured and robed twilek was waiting for him by his desk. He frowned. “Rollmaster. What brings you here?”
She turned to him. “I am no longer the Clan Rollmaster. The Overlord has decided to dissolve the position for the foreseeable future.”
“So you intend to join Shar Dakhan?” he asked her.
A faint smile touched Tasha’Vel’s features. “Indeed. I am your new Aedile.”
New Sadow Temple
The Proconsul thumbed through the intel report, carefully processing his findings. The Inquisitorious are very detailed with their report findings. “The Adept should find this most intriguing,” Darkhawk mused to himself.
The Clan had been quiet over the last full moons of Sepros. Operations had been pretty day-to-day and tonight was the fourth such occasion that Sepros Minor was in full view, hovering over the temple like a beacon. The Adept has been engrossed in a search for certain artifacts. He had been researching and cataloging his findings for the last two full cycles of those moons.
Learning to utilize such old Sith magic and relics always garnered DarkHawk’s attention as he immersed himself into their teachings. He became especially astute when Bentre acquired partial scrolls relating to the Trayas Academy.
Whilst Bentre was deep in the confines of his experiments, DarkHawk was able to allocate his full attention on completing one of the Consul’s assigned tasks. Not having to request authorizations, the assassin exhausted every possible effort to keep project status from the Consul. DarkHawk maintained a high level of discretion throughout, going so far as personally seeing to an engineer’s untimely demise for insisting to brief Bentre of certain obstacles within the build itself. The incident was deemed a work related accident, however it irrefutably secured silence within the construction process.
Despite all this, this newest intel report is a cause for the Adept to raise a brow. DarkHawk was genuinely concerned at how the Consul would react should what his eyes were reading be accurate. In all its intensive purposes, Inquisitorious reports were notorious for being deadly accurate.
“No better time than now to get this to Bentre,” DarkHawk said.
Standing up from his chair, the loud squawk of the commlink sounded. The Sadowan Proconsul pressed a button on his desk’s control panel, answering the hail.
“This is the Proconsul,” DarkHawk said stoutly.
“Sir, you have an incoming Holonet message from engineering.”
“Affirmative, patch it through on the Summit secure channel," the Proconsul responded.
“Copy that. Switching over to the secure channel and transmitting now.”
DarkHawk opened the channel and the blue-hued image of a rather regal Mon Calamari Colonel dressed in a gray command suit appeared in front of him. Beside him stood a human female Commander, dressed in a science division uniform.
“Proconsul, the Commander and I would like to inform you that the facility is now one hundred percent online. We have approved our final walkthrough inspection and the first phase of fleet isochronal inspection was safely escorted into the facility earlier today. We await Summit’s arrival for final inspection.”
"That is excellent news, Colonel. You and the Commander’s superintendence of this facility has been phenomenal. I am sure the Consul will be pleased,” DarkHawk paused before speaking again. “The Consul and I will leave within the hour. Colonel, ready the escorts.”
“As you wish, Proconsul.”
The Son of Sadow closed out the Holonet and headed out of his office with purpose. Activating his personal comlink, the Shaevalian instructed his ship be readied for departure. Making his way towards the Consul’s chambers, DarkHawk wondered what new discoveries Bentre would have discovered, the mere thought excited him.
Entering the Consul’s chambers, DarkHawk could see the Correllian behind a stack of books thumbing through their pages. Multiple viewing screens illuminated the immediate area with a light cobalt hue.
He approached the Consul’s desk, stopping short before dropping to a knee. Moments passed and the Consul’s acknowledgement never arrived. DarkHawk looked up to see Bentre’s attention still adhered to the books in front of him.
“My Liege,” DarkHawk’s voice carried a tone of concern.
Bentre finally blinked, “DarkHawk, what can I do for you?”
The Shaevalian stood tall before speaking, “If I may your Adeptness, I believe I have some favorable news to show you.”
Bentre raised his eyes from his sooty covered book, “Let’s see it, my good man,” the Consul said curiously.
“Well sir, that is just it, I need to take you to it. I have my ship ready to depart immediately.”
Bentre had his legs kicked up on his desk, he let them fall to the floor with a loud thump. Sitting up in his chair, he folded his hands in front of his face. “And where exactly might you be taking your Consul?” Bentre questioned.
“Sir, the projects you tasked me with, I have just been informed that one is operational and ready for our final inspection," DarkHawk answered.
Bentre sat for a moment, ‘Has it been that long?’ he thought. The Consul shook the thought from his mind.
“Ah yes, great news DarkHawk,” Bentre stood and gestured for the door, “Let us go see this marvel you’ve allocated so much of our resources toward.”
DarkHawk did his best to maintain a stoic expression as the two left the Consul’s chambers. “I may be distracted ol’ boy, but not enough not to notice how you complete my tasks.”
DarkHawk nodded to his Consul.
“You’re learning…good," Bentre stated, allowing a small smirk to grace his face.
Dentavii Asteroid Field
The Decimator broke out of hyperspeed as Tytus O’Baieron, the esteemed Duros pilot of the Tãron pulled the throttles back on the ship’s hyperdrive control quadrant. Ellee, the ship’s pilot droid, sat to the left of the pilot in the copilot’s chair. The mechanical entity promptly activated the toggle switches on the copilots control panel, purging the ship of its excess gasses. Bursts of mists expelled out from the ship’s pilot tubes, evaporating into the darkness of space.
Just as Ellee deactivated the purging system the incoming transmission alarm blared throughout the flight deck.
“Tãron, this is Commander Jyrss Eszu and Lieutenant Commander Kassava Lahil, we are here to escort you safely to the facility.”
“Safely to the facility? Who the bloody hell does this tossa think he is dealing with!?” exclaimed Ellee.
“Easy lass, protocols and all,” Ty smoothly stated in his regal voice. Ellee turned her head and stared at the Duros. While brazenly holding a one fingered salute towards the flight deck’s main viewport.
“Commander, this is Tãron. We read you loud and clear. We will follow your lead once we have visual,” replied Ty.
“Coming up alongside your three o’clock” replied Commander Eszu. Two TIE/SF’s appeared in the flight deck’s starboard viewports.
The TIEs pulled ahead and began to enter the outskirts of the asteroid field first. Ty cinched up the seat’s safety harness, and told everyone to strap in.
Bentre pulled the harness over his seat and fastened it around him, giving a tug to the shoulder straps locking the inertia reel of the harness system. DarkHawk did the same then settled deeper into his seat.
The ships weaved in and out of rocks, spiraling and jinking clear of debris. The second pilot of each TIE worked to man their respective ship’s turret and blasted rocks as they flew, clearing a path through the obstacles. As the ships trekked deeper into the asteroid field, the gravitational pull increased dramatically. Hurdling rocks in every direction, slamming them against one another, splintering them off into more deadly projectiles. Waves of reverberation stretched out and rocked the ships along their path.
The TIE’s pulled up and over a corvette sized boulder, momentarily going out of sight. Ty ratcheted the throttles forward and pulled back on the yoke, yawing the ship to the right. Ty corkscrewed up and over the boulder, spiraling the ship downward lining up on the tail of the Lieutenant Commander’s ship.
Both Commanders made an immediate hard turn to port, barrel rolling upwards and away from colliding boulders. Ty ably maneuvered the Decimator on the same flight path as his escorts avoiding the major debris. From the stern of the ship the echo of small boulders careening off the ship’s hull was nearly deafening. Ty continued to mimic the Commanders movements until their target came into sight.
Like the eye of a hurricane, the center of the storm is the calmest. There, hidden in the middle of the asteroid field, a 970 km (diameter) rock was their destination. The escort ships slipped back alongside the Decimator.
“Some nice flying Sir,” the Lieutenant Commander said. “We will be landing in hangar two, on the east side of the facility.”
The facility’s command and control section cleared the incoming ships for landing. The ships banked around the facility and lined up for a direct approach. One of four enormous magnetic shield doors began to illuminate its landing lights and the ships entered. Ty sat the Decimator down on the LZ adorning the Naga Sadow symbol, while the two TIE’s landed beside the Tãron.
The Consul and his XO disembarked their transport, a small welcoming committee patiently waited to greet the Consul. A tall slender Mon Calamari Colonel, a human female Commander, and a Falleen Colonel comprised the committee.
The Mon Calamari was the first to greet the Consul.
“Consul, I am Colonel Pezol Drex, Chief Engineer for the facility. This is your Chief Science Officer Commander Carthia Braell. I would also like to introduce you to your security Commander, Colonel Gad Trask. We welcome you to your new repair facility,” the Mon Calamari said.
The two TIE pilots made their way from their ships, joining the welcoming committee. “Ah yes, I believe you have already met Commander Jyrss Eszu, callsign ‘Viper’ and Lieutenant Commander Kassava Lahill, callsign ‘Peppa’. They command the Terrenes Ravagers,” said Colonel Drex. The Kal Dor Commander and Chiss Lieutenant Commander paid their respects to the Summit.
Bentre strolled away from the party and took in the sight before him. He had been here years ago, when the facility had no heartbeat. A stagnant titan of a rock, lifeless in the middle of space. What the Consul saw before him now was a far cry from that baron image. Returning back to the awaiting entourage, Bentre directed his attention towards his Proconsul.
“DarkHawk, what I see so far is astonishing. Now I understand your discretion during this build. The Clan certainly will get its use out of this. Impressive," Bentre approved.
“Consul, with your permission, Commander Braell will give you a tour of the rest of the facility. I think you will be equally impressed,” said the Colonel.
“Before you take the Consul away, I need a moment of your time sir.”
DarkHawk and Bentre slithered over to the other side of the Decimator. “My apologies sir, I wanted to get this to you earlier. These are my recommendations for command personnel for the facility. The last one sir, you may want to take a close look at.” handing the Consul the three data files. Two had the names of personnel affixed to them, the third was labeled Hydian Protocol: Refuge.
Bentre opened the file and sifted through its beginning contents. An eyebrow raised, then there was both a level of marvel and resentment expressed by the Adept. “Who else knows of this?”
“Just us sir," DarkHawk answered.
“I will investigate this matter personally. Until then, silence is a virtue.”
Temple of Darkness, Consul’s Office
Another set of parameters. Another fruitless search. More time spent pouring through the archives. He had plumbed through the Shadow Academy’s virtual stacks, plundered his own stores as Master of Holocrons, and gone through the Clan archives for good measure.
It was for naught. There were a lot of sketchy leads out there, but nothing that the Corellian was quite willing to send members of the Clan out upon. As much as he wished for it, the resources of the Clan were not limitless, and he didn’t think the populace would forever support his ventures without some greater incentive than the wishes of their dark Overlord.
If only he had the sort of time that he had once possessed, then Bentre Sadow might have taken time to depart the Orian System, to explore the galaxy on his own, to brush shoulders with the common populace. With a grunt, the Consul pushed away the small keyboard so hard that it came to a stop, the cord attaching the device to his console pulling taut. Between Clan business and the albatross of these Children of Mortis the Dark Council had told him about, he had to stay close to Sepros for now.
There would be plenty of time for him to wander at some point, he hoped. The Dark Council’s directive concerning the crystals had been both a boon and a lodestone. It wasn’t as though the Sadow hated the opportunity to conduct such research. He had considered taking a very personal stake in the research. As a matter of fact, he was sure that Tasha’Vel would grow quite angry when he heard a few of the things that her husband had planned.
I mean, I remember how much she lost it when I told her about how we could protect Lyna’Vel. I mean, a child with poison glands and stingers in her braintails would be the last thing a child-napper would be expecting, right?
Looking sideways, his eyes came to rest upon a thick tome. While it might have been antiquated to create a literal tome, he had started to scrawl down his own research. For a moment, he even considered reviewing over his Alchemical notes for some sort of inspiration. He ran a finger over the cover of the flimsiplast book briefly before two tones sounded out.
“Enter.” The Sith looked up, his features hardening.
“Overlord.” The voice was immediately familiar, yet Bentre’s face did not shift. Darkhawk stepped into the room with a brief, respectful tilting of his head. At this, Bentre raised an eyebrow, the barest hint of a smile in his gaze. At least he had gotten the Proconsul to stop bowing all the time.
“I presume that something interesting has happened.” The Overlord raised a hand, pointing with a single finger at a point behind Darkhawk. Scrunching his finger back towards his palm, the Adept gave a half smile before closing his hand. Bentre tilted his head in a nod towards the padded seat that had skidded across the floor plates to rest just behind his second in command. “Take a seat. And please, for all the Force and stars, don’t tell me somebody has tried to blow up Markosian City again.”
This statement caused a pause from Darkhawk.
“It’s a joke, Takagari. What do you have for us, today?”
“We have a contact request that came through official channels for you, sir.”
Bentre considered telling Darkhawk to can the sir stuff in private, but his interest was piqued. “Are the locals in Telos wanting something from the great Sadowan Empire?” He paused thoughtfully, losing some of the mirth in his voice. “Or is this from another of the Clans?” A mischievous smile split the facade of aloof disinterest that he had been trying to maintain. “Or do the Jedi in Odan-Urr want to schedule a playdate with the big, bad Sith in hopes that we will do a heel-face turn?”
Darkhawk blinked twice before continuing. “No, sir. There is a party from a station that wants to speak to you, personally. They say they have something that you might want.”
Those words actually caused Bentre to lean forward. “I want a lot of things, Takagari. What sort of things are we talking?”
“That is all they told us. The sender refused to tell us more if we were unwilling to give them an audience.” The Shistavean paused. “They are currently awaiting a response.”
“Make it so.”
A holoprojector atop the Consul’s workstation whirred to life, projecting the image of a lanky Chiss female onto the table, floating centimeters above the table. “Overlord Stahoes, of the illustrious Orian Empire. We send greetings.”
“And I grant you ten minutes to explain the occasion for this call.” Bentre’s tone was neither unkind or gruff. “Our empire requires constant attentions or else we start getting some undesirable elements mucking up our streets and making us spill excess blood. A real waste of resources,” the Consul nodded, “I am sure you understand.”
“Of course.” Nothing in the response or the stance of the alien expressed any discomfort with the emphasis given. “Word of some of your developments have stretched up and down the Hydian. Some of our people have reported back sightings on Yavin IV, for example. Which is what brings us to this day.” The alien raised a datapad, tapping at its surface. “We here on the Refuge understand that your empire possesses a keen interest in certain oddities and antiques. You appreciate some of the finer things in life. You appreciate objects of value.”
“My time is valuable.” Bentre’s tone was pleasant, but his eyes flashed with emotion. “As I am sure that you are not merely here to make idle observations, I am curious to hear what you have to offer.” He nodded. “That is what you were about to do, wasn’t it? To offer me some object as a show of tribute?”
The Chiss gave a nod. “Tribute paid to another does not pad one’s pockets, Overlord. We offer an opportunity. If you will review the file that I have just sent you, I think that you will find at least a few objects of interest.”
The eyes of both Bentre and Darkhawk stared past the holographic projection to focus on the scrolling list on the screen. Several objects were interesting, this was true. Many were merely the sorts of objects that the Overlord had taken to collecting. While several were more obscure, few seemed particularly rare or pertinent to the Clan’s immediate needs.
Suddenly, a line item caused Bentre’s eyes to bug out, and he pointed a finger. “Lot Sixteen.” He looked at Darkhawk, who gave a nod. Then the Consul turned back to the small, glowing hologram. “What is your asking price?”
“That is where the second part of our message comes to light, Overlord Stahoes. We want to invite you and a party of your choosing. We invite you all to Refuge. An auction will occur in a week’s time, where all these objects and more will be displayed and bid upon.” The Chiss made a sweeping gesture. “If Lot Sixteen is of interest, I wish you all the greatest luck in winning it. We do wish to reiterate. You and yours are cordially invited. Join us to wine, dine and party. You get some fine food, a chance to win some art and antiques to brag to other dignitaries about, and you help us to fund our latest leg on the Hydian Way.” The Chiss gave a slight bow. “I just need to know if we can expect you.”
“A party of our people?” Bentre raised an eyebrow as he scratched at his nose. “Do you have any particular limits to this party size? Are all the tin-plated dictators going to have their own honor guard?”
“Your fellow dignitaries will have their own parties of course.” The representative raised her hands in a placatary manner. “Do not worry though! Refuge is a station of considerable size, Overlord. I am sure we will be able to accommodate you all. You have no need to worry about that.”
The Consul pretended to consider the invitation. He stared off for a whole forty-five seconds, waiting for some sign of impatience on the part of the Refuge’s representative. When he brought his gaze back to focus, he could see the representative standing with a pleasant smile, at rapt attention. “I suppose that we could entertain such an invitation.”
“We will transmit our planned stop for the auction in a week’s time, then. Good day, and good luck at the auction!” With these words, the hologram winked out of existence.
Darkhawk stepped forward, turning to face the Consul. “So, we are taking the Clan to a party?”
“Well, why not?” Bentre smiled. “After all, we are going to have a couple of new pieces by next week. By next month, I fully expect we will have our finest Novitiate polishing our newest find!" Bentre waved a hand in the air. “But first things first, please call up Raistlin, Quentin, and Kojiro.” A brief wave of confusion washed over Darkhawk’s face and rippled in the Force, causing the Overlord to raise a hand in supplication. “We might win the auction. We might not. Either way, I am leaving nothing to chance. Whether we party and auction, smash and grab, or steal it from under their noses, we will have our prize. Three members, leading three teams.” Bentre smiled. “Should be pure pazaak.”
Along the Hydian Way
Rendezvous Point Bantha Bantha Desh 350112240
1042 Coruscant Standard Time
Ships. Ships. Ships.
There were always ships sprawled about the Refuge on stops. This week’s stop was almost something altogether different, though. Yes, there were the normal riff-raff and regulars who were arrayed around the station itself. There were also several splashes of color here and there in space. Those peculiarly flashy vessels were doubtlessly from the ‘dignitaries’ that had been invited to the station.
Navigation Controller Bruks’n tapped on the comm connection to one of the smaller freighters. “Thanks for your patience, Moonbeams of Yavin, you may proceed to the docking point being sent to your navigation computers-” she slid a finger across the console’s face to tap a button, “-just now. Please watch for your fellow guests and the patrols, and respect the station’s rules.”
Despite the chaotic spread of ships about the station, things remained orderly. Despite the large variety in ships, the freighters, fighters and even the small capital ships proceeded according to the directions delivered by her fellow Controllers. Despite the chaos within the galaxy, and even the chaos surrounding the Refuge, the Selonian found a peace of her own. Her job was to direct the chaos. All seemed to be the way it should be.
A white shape slipped into the abyss of space beyond the glut of ships surrounding the Refuge. It was one of many ships of its size, but this vessel seemed to rush forward to meet with the cloud of other ships.
“Greetings from the Orian system!” The excited tones of a deep voice filled the small room, practically trumpeting from the comm speakers. The Controllers scrambled to turn the volume from the connection down. Gathering her composure, Bruks’n brushed her fur down, glancing down at her console to find the Friend-or-Foe Identifier tag data on the CR-90 that was now seemed to be slowly floating towards the station.
“Hyperion, please refrain from shouting into the comm. We can hear you just fine.” Letting out a grunt, the Selonian woman leaned back in her seat. There was some rustling, and further noise.
This time, the low intonations of another distinct voice came over the commlink. “Hyperion acknowledges. Our Overlord gets a little over-excited sometimes, mam. Our apologies for the inconvenience.”
“Just-” the Navigation Controller paused, smiling to herself, “wait for your time in the line please, Hyperion. Respect the Refuge. Enjoy your time here, and just don’t do anything that you will regret.”
Bridge of the Hyperion
1204 Coruscant Standard Time
“Don’t. Do. Anything. We. Will. Regret?” Bentre Sadow spoke each word carefully, only changing in intonation as he drew the last word up in a question. “Does anyone else think that is a bit overly dramatic?” The Consul looked from Takagari, to the others currently sitting on the bridge of the Corvette. As he looked from the middle-aged Knight, to the tall Epicanthix, to the Firrerreo Mercenary. Kojiro did not seem amused by the course of events, putting his attention into looking over his equipment.
“There are explicit instructions for visitors to Refuge.” Darkhawk’s voice was full of patience, in contrast to the now-irritated Consul. “The punishments for the breach of the station’s laws are as severe as some of its inhabitants.”
This statement prompted a scoff from the Mandalorian-armored Keibatsu. “Is that why we were called here?” There was an edge to the words. “To make sure that we behave?”
“Well, no sir, it is-”
Bentre waved a hand. “I just want you all to know that I trust the three of you. You have each shown some particular skill or just proven your own tenacity.” At this, both the Proconsul and Consul smiled at the still-freshly-Knighted Quentin. “Three objectives have been sent out to all the Sadowans who have come along. I could assign each of you to a team, but I trust that you each know what direction would best serve our interests. Would best serve your interests.”
Raistlin was staring at his hands, his face turned up in thought. Appearing to come to a decision, he looked the Corellian Consul in the eyes. “Your plan is to give us a lack of a plan?” The Epicanthix smiled, his voice possessing more than a trace of challenge. “How do you expect that to work out for you? Are you looking to cash in on our ingenuity?”
The self-declared Overlord of the Orian system seemed to be put on the spot for a moment. His eyes searched those of both his fellow Sadow as he considered his next words. This moment of vulnerability was fleeting, quickly replaced with an overly self-pleased smile. “I just know about how pointless it can be to try to direct a Sith. Giving our members an increased level of self-determination in how to complete the desired effect seemed the best way to maximize Clan-wide effectiveness. All I am asking is that the three of you act as a focus for the rest of the Clan.”
“Hyperion,” the voice of a Controller buzzed from the comm station of the bridge, “proceed to your assigned docking point now, and please enjoy the party.”
“Alright.” The single word from Quentin belted out, earning a glance and a nod from the cocky Consul. The Knight rose to his feet, starting to move. Kojiro and Raistlin looked towards the door, looking ready to make their own way towards the exit.
Looks were exchanged between Takagari and Bentre. A silent discussion seemed to fly between the two in that moment, before the Corellian Sith turned away to consider the station floating in the middle of the transparisteel display window.
1226 Coruscant Standard Time
As the ramp of the consular ship descended, the lights and sounds of station-city washed over the Sadowan contingency. Lights, music and exotic scents intermingled with the grease and grime that one would expect of a coalition of “free traders”. There was a sickening sweetness to the atmosphere, and yet an infectious allure. It was clear that some aboard Refuge had taken the task of welcoming the guests from Orian and elsewhere to heart.
Yet there was something decidedly sinister to the whole affair. Darkhawk Sadow glanced at his Consul, who seemed both enthralled and repulsed by what he saw. He stared hard at his direct superior, darkly wondering what was going on in the twisted mind of his Consul.
What are you thinking, Bentre? This thought, initially unbidden, permeated out into the Force. For a moment, the hulking Shaevalian considered taking a more direct approach, demanding an explanation from the Consul.
I am always plotting, my dear Takagari. Trust the plan. The man’s eyes flashed as the two made eye contact. Between the Keibatsu, our Summit, and our Clan as a whole this guarantees to be an interesting evening. The Adept cocked his head to one side, as though listening for something. His eyes widened, and a playful smile tickled at his cheeks. Do you sense that?
The Assassin paused to dip his own figurative finger into the Force. He shook his head in visible confusion which caused his Consul to nod.
“There is a good fortune on the wind, and a party to boot." The Corellian’s smile was almost whimsical. "Let us just hope it doesn’t come back to bite us.”
The promises of the evening were, much like their hosts, fraught with a sense of barely-concealed danger. As Darkhawk descended the ramp to join the rest of his Clan-folk in the festivities, he couldn’t shake his own feelings of unease.
Near Seng Karash
The two Aeotheran Security Force officers approached the new prefabricated structure suspiciously. It was a neat building, with three levels, including a darkened top level. Outside several armed and armoured guards kept a passive but determined watch, keeping the nearby homeless at a distance. A delta shuttle was parked nearby, with a group of white uniformed workers unpacking crates and containers.
Sergeant Knox approached one of the guards. “Do you have a permit to be here?”
The guard looked at him suspiciously, and a second later a white uniformed Epicantrix female came out of the building and approached them. She smiled. “I am Chief Administrator Vaan. We did send a message to your Ministry of Health and Education. We are a charity dispensing medical care where needed. We are simply here to help.”
The sergeant looked at the facility again, especially the guards. “Some of your people seem heavily armed.”
Administrator Vaan gave a regretful smile. “Unfortunately people often do not want to wait for care in an orderly manner,” she replied, “and a lot of our equipment and medicines are expensive. We maintain a basic security presence to protect us. I trust that is acceptable.”
“I will have to report it,” Knox replied, hefting his rifle.
“Of course,” she replied, “if any of your officials wish to visit our facility and hear more about our work we will be happy to give them a tour and explain our mission and ethics.” She gave another wider smile. “After all, we are just here to help.”
“I see,” the sergeant replied. He was trying to find an excuse to find fault, and failing. “We’ll be in touch.”
A day later Chief Administrator Vaan was showing three local officials around the hospital, ostensibly from the Ministry of Health and Education. They were an assorted group, a pale and grey haired middle aged man, a petite woman with shoulder length red hair, and a tall and clearly ancient but athletic Neti.
“You seem to have ample resources judging from the extent and newness of your equipment,” the Neti commented quietly as he and the others studied their surroundings.
“We have a number of benefactors,” Vaan explained, “a number of larger corporations appear to like to help fund us to help their corporate image, or to assay their guilt at how much pollution they produce or how questionable their labour practises are.”
“You do not have a problem with that?” the red haired woman asked sharply.
Vaan shook her head. “It is not ideal, but for our work to continue we have to take funding where we can find it. There is only so much you can raise with local fundraising and rattling tins under peoples noses.”
“Is your group widespread?” the grey haired man asked, as the Neti seemed to take an interest in some equipment in a chamber at one end of the large room they were in.
“We are operating on several worlds at the present time,” she replied, ``we go where we are needed. We have no permanent base aside from our transport and medical ships.”
“So what brings you here in particular?” the Neti asked, turning suddenly and studying her, “this is not a war zone or disaster area.”
“No but we heard of your government’s,” she paused for a second, “liberation of this system. We appreciate you are probably putting a great deal of effort into rebuilding and stabilising. The refugee problem does still seem to be bad here though and we thought we could help ease some of the issues here.”
“And if you were asked to leave?” the red haired woman asked.
“Then we would leave,” Vaan replied, “we do not go where we are not wanted.”
The neti gave a final look around and then nodded. “We have seen all we need to. We will study your efforts with interest. There may be ways we can assist your work here.”
Vaan smiled. “Of course, we would be grateful.”
She waited until they had left, and then turned as white cloaked Kel’Dor entered. He looked at the door. “That was them, was it not?”
Vaan nodded. “It was indeed. I thought they would be along. Their grip on this system is intense. I sensed some power from the humans and suspicion, though the Neti is far harder to read. I did not sense any aggression from him though.”
“Should we report that they have made contact?” the Kel’Dor asked.
“Not as yet,” she replied, “ I will handle it. We can continue to bring our people in and see what else we can learn. Then we will progress to the next stage.”
Kristeva and Quentin followed Malik towards the shuttle, escorted by several Aeotheran Security Force officers. “I did not notice anything suspicious,” Kristeva commented, “except them being here seems odd. It is what you said, why here, not a war zone or a stateless planet?”
“Their setup seems well constructed if they are not what they seem,” Quentin added.
“We do not have to wonder about them,” Kristeva replied, “if we even suspect they are going to be a nuisance the ASF can clear them out and off the planet by tomorrow.”
The Adept stopped, and turned to look back at the hospital building. “We will observe them,” he replied quietly, “should they prove to not be what they say we can deal with them. If they are then perhaps they will help out in an area the Clan has previously neglected and still seems determined to.”
As they reached the shuttle Quentin asked. “So do we report this to the House Summit?”
“No,” the Adept replied, “we need not bother them with this. I will monitor the situation.”
Written by Darkhawk Sadow in January 2022
Station-City Hangar Bay
A tall thin Pau’an was first to greet the Consul. “Ahh, thank you Overlord Stahoes for gracing us with your presence. I am Tezeib Jul, curator of the auction house here on the Refuge." Tezeib greeted the Overlord with a note of aristocratic condictation.
A well built Devaronian stepped into view from behind one of the hangar’s support stanchions. Taking his place beside Tezeib the curator introduced his associate, “This is Jallok Bruel, one of the Counsel of Seven who is currently overseeing the Refuge.”
Adept Keibatsu came alongside his Proconsul, “DH, that Devaronian is one of the Warlord’s on Mustafar,” he said just above a whisper.
Jallok’s gaze caught the two clanmates’ exchange. Slowly, Jallok moved his hand closer towards his holstered blaster. Before he could get any closer to his weapon, Jallok felt something graze past his head. A loud THUD! followed. Jallok’s hand movement came to an abrupt stop. Immediately identifying the throwing knife lodged into the stanchion behind him.
Quickly Tezeib intervened, “Gentlemen, gentlemen. I assure you there is no need for hostilities here! You are all dignitaries and shall be treated as such,” he said, waving to his cohort to stand down. Jallok slowly did just that, crossing his hand in front of him.
“Please Overlord if I may, my sincere apologies for my associate’s behavior. Security is always, shall we say, heightened on these occasions. I have your VIP lounge in the upper level of the auction house ready for you. I am sure your delegates could use a moment to settle in after your long journey. You may indulge yourselves with drink and food until the auction begins. We will be entering Hydian’s Way momentarily”
“You mean the auction is not taking place here?” asked Bentre.
“Of course Overlord. Just not here. With the Refuge entering Hydian’s Way, this ensures our patron’s the necessary security assurances there are no disruptions from say…hostile takeovers.” Tezeib said assuredly.
“And once the auction is over?” Bentre said in a slight sarcastic tone.
“Once the auction is over and transactions are final, we will promptly return everyone to the rendezvous coordinates.” replied Tezeib.
The party followed Tezeib into a turbolift and up several levels. The doors whisked open leading into a very large, three story deep oval room. At the very bottom, a handcrafted wood stage with markings from the Wroshyr tree centered the room. On the stage was a podium and a large display case projecting holographic images within its sealed glass shell. Seats and private loge’s surrounded the room, all overlooking the stage.
The top floor in which the party just exited the turbolift from, housed a very swank cantina with viewports nearly all the way around. This seemed to be the main focal point of the room, sparing no expense to entice their patrons with the galaxy’s most exquisite of drinks and a buffet of illicit pleasures. A good marketing strategy, the more inebriated, the more zealous the bidder becomes.
Tezeib led the party around to an upper level private lodge. “I hope this accommodation suffices for you Overlord Stahoes. The rest of your party have the entire row just below. Please relax and have a drink, the auction will begin within the hour.”
“Well I damn sure could use a drink and I see a stocked bar,” exclaimed Quinten.
Tezeib and his muscle left the Sadow party and returned to the turbolift. The doors whisked shut and Jallok finally spoke. “You should have let me kill them.”
“In due time…” replied Tezeib.
Bentre dispersed his entourage instructing everyone to take up posts other than in front of the assigned lodge. The room was occupied with the systems most nefarious of deviants. From smugglers to murderers, sprinkled with drug dealers and crime syndicate leaders. A bounty hunter’s dream commission, surely everyone in the room had an exorbitant bounty on their head. “Not a great place to get into a firefight,” Bentre thought.
Bentre took his seat and began to sift through the provided datapad. Locking in on item sixteen, his eyes narrowed in on the datapad’s high resolution image. It was so close, the Adept could feel his need to possess his trinquet swirling inside him, pounding at his chest like crashing waves.
The rest of the crew took up posts throughout the room. Each of the Overlord’s agents made mental notes of the occupants within the auction chamber. Sizing up their future prey, prioritizing targets when this goes awry.
Quinten was first to report in over comms, “I have eyes on two exits on the south second floor.”
The Sadowans took posts near or around exits and entrances at all three levels. Adept Keibatsu leaned up against the main bar and ordered a whiskey. A young Twi’lek waitress placed a large glass of top shelf libation in front of him as she walked by with a tray full of drinks. The Elder caught a glimpse of the Twi’lek serving a dark haired Cathar. He sat alone at the back of the room, seemingly lurking within the dim lighting. The Cathar’s eerie yellow eyes glued directly on the Keibatsu. The two momentarily studied one another, before the Cathar moved his attention to the rest of the newcomers to the room.
The auction bells began to chime, the lights went dim except for a lone spotlight planted over the podium. Tezeib appeared behind the podium, raising his arms in a welcoming gesture.
“Welcome all to another illustrious evening aboard the Refuge’s auction house. Soon you will try your luck to procure several jewels from throughout the galaxy. As a reminder, the house will start each item with an opening bid. Once bidding begins you simply have to outlast your competitors. When all items have been sold and should you be so lucky to be one of the winning bids. You will be called on by item line numbers before being escorted to our vault for item confirmation and finally payment. Once payments are verified, your winnings will be available to you. In the meantime, enjoy the auction and may luck be with you all.”
Bentre sat back in his seat, “There is no luck today, no matter what happens, that artifact belongs to CNS,” he thought to himself.
Tezeib left the stage only to be replaced by a Lasat wearing white formal attire. Announcing the first item up for bid, its image projected boldly across the display case. The auctioneer spoke in a clear distinct tone, “Opening bid will begin at one hundred and fifty thousand credits!” slamming his gavel down against its sound block.
Tezeib pressed a button activating the chiming Holonet control panel. “Yes Master,” he said bowing. A large cloaked translucent figure flickered in and out of focus, standing before the gray skinned curator. Only deep blue eyes peered back from the depths of the cloaked hood.
“Have all my parameters been established?” a silky baritone voice boomed.
“Indeed Master, the Sadowans have accepted our invitation and have arrived as you predetermined.”
“And the relic?”
“Secured in our vault. I have also established extra security protocols to ensure its safety.”
The figure responded with a slight nod. The image continued to flicker as the voice rang loud and clear. “My agents are in place and will ensure that the item goes for a premium.”
“I have personally seen to it that your representatives have been extended the highest form of customs and courtesies.”
“You would do well to do so. If this does not go as exactly as planned. I will make sure that my envoy sees to it that your little haven you are so coveted of is reduced to debris!”
The curator bowed as the Holonet image disappeared. Standing upright his eyes narrowed and a small smirk bestowed across his long face.
Tezeib then switched the comlink’s channel selector. An audible beep buzzed momentarily, then suddenly “Security, Captain Lavell.”
“Lavell, ensure our items are accounted for and secured. Report back to me immediately!”
Captain Lavell began barking orders. Squads of men began scurrying towards the far end of the room. His minions formed two lines before snapping to attention. The Captain walked through his ranks approaching a massive open vault door. Directly behind the vault door, six large durasteel bars blocked the entrance to the vault. Lavell punched in his personal security code on the control panel and the bars began to rise upward and he entered the vault.
All auction items were nestled upon their own platform. Each item had an armed security officer standing guard. Lavell held a datapad in his hand and was checking off each item as he walked past. When he arrived at item sixteen he stopped short and faced its security officer.
“Officer, what is your name?”
The officer’s silver-blue eyes locked on to the captain’s steely frown, “Zjen Kur sir.”
“Who assigned you to this station?” Lavell sneered.
The young security officer remained stoic as he was questioned. Levell never took his eyes off the bearded sentry’s pale face. Not noticing the officer’s trigger finger circling the outline of his rifle’s trigger guard.
The officer concentrated, putting the correct words together before he spoke. “Why, you did Captain. I am assigned to the additional security detail requested by curator Tezeib.”
Levell’s frown subsided, only to raise his brows in recognition, “Yes, of course. This item in particular has the curator’s utmost attention”. Pausing for a moment, the Captain seemed to be studying his previous response, "Carry on…”
The Captain turned to leave, correcting a quick stagger in his facing movement. Then continued checking off the remainder of the auction items.
Once the Captain verified his inventory, he exited the vault inputting his code once again closing the steel bars behind him, Activating his comlink, the curator answered his hail.
“Yes Captain?” Tezeib said pompously.
“All items are secured and accounted for.” Levell said.
“Excellent Captain, excellent.” Tezeib said before shutting off the comlink.
Going Viking - The Introduction
Vindicator Cruiser Profit.
Captain Naris’Kilth’Aress sat at her chair on the bridge, idly watching the display in front of her as it flickered through images. She sipped her hot drink as she watched the view change from the exterior space shots, to a view of Kinestia City below. As the view focused on the settlement, she noted as ever that “city” was a generous term for it. In reality it was a collection of refineries, warehouses, cheap prefabricated accommodation stacks, and bars and eateries and a small star port. It was not well laid out and planned, like many similar mining hubs were, and buildings appeared to have been dropped where there was space and then covered by a giant dome to keep the air in. All in all, it was not an attractive place. It was however the only major settlement on the moon, the centre of a spider’s web of transit tubes carrying ore and people across the barren surface to and from the mines. From Kinestia City the ore was first processed, and then transported across the galaxy to the Andoria Federations customers. Rough as it may look, it was highly profitable.
The captain was not happy though. Her crew and those of the fighters that guarded the planet were allowed weekly leave to go down to the city for rest and relaxation and did so, but she avoided it. There was nowhere she considered decent enough to be worth the journey. Thankfully she had another month and she would be leaving for her next assignment. So far it had been an uneventful assignment. The cruiser was only really here to provide a visible presence to patrol and investigate pirate activity. The true defence of the mining system were the defence platforms circling the planet, capable of dispensing laser, missile or ion strikes at any incoming enemy, or anyone trying to sneak resources off the planet and run the blockade. A few had tried, and died.
She looked up as an alarm went off at one of the crew’s terminals nearby. “Report,” she ordered.
The crewman was pressing buttons. “We have a vessel leaving hyperspace sir, in Sector Four.”
“Put it on screen and identify,” the captain ordered. Sector four was near to the moon’s orbit. “Raider class corvette maam, wait we have another three. Same sector. They do not identify as friendlies.”
The captain stood up, walking closer to the screen where the ships were showing.
“Now detecting multiple DP20 gunships, and two Carrack cruisers. Wait, now we have an Acclamator. They are on a direct vector to this location.
Captain Kilth nodded grimly. “Activate the planetary defence grid, and have us take up a stationary position between them and have the fighter squadrons take up a defensive screen. Also, send a distress signal to the beacon.” As she watched her orders being relayed and the Profit began to manoeuvre, she knew any force that received the signal would be too slow to respond. She watched as the presumably enemy ships drew closer.
Approaching Kinestia Blockade.
Araic Simonetti sat on the bridge in the command chair, focused on the view of the planetoid ahead, a small moon orbiting a glowing gas giant. To his left sat a silent Neti, the ancient’s eyes closed as he focused on linking the forces.
The Admiral looked at the displays from the rest of the rapid taskforce. The crews were so far performing to his expectations. “Have the corvettes form on our flanks and watch out for incoming fighters. Bomber groups and fighter escorts move in to target the defence grid. Dauntless and Defiant are to target the enemy cruiser and destroy it. The gunship group are to follow them in.”
He watched as the ships manoeuvred to follow his orders, as the Neti Adept focused on keeping them together in whatever way he managed with the force. He watched the smaller ships advance and begin to target the defence platforms, as a multitude of missile and laser fire targeted the advancing ships. The two Carrack cruisers moved ahead, flanked by the gunships. This was to be a quick and deadly assault and he wanted no failures.
Down in the Acclamator’s immense hangar bay a host of Sadowan forces waited in neat formations, companies forming battalions and battalions forming regiments. A host of shuttles and landing craft were also waiting in the hangar. In front of them stood the members of Clan Naga Sadow, in a less organised line but eagerly watching the platform in front of them. Standing on it were the Quaestors of Marka Ragnos and Shar Dakhan, and in between them the Sadow Pro Consul, and finally the Overlord of Clan, proudly looking at his forces
“My fellow Sadowans,” he began, “we stand here together ready to strike at our enemies. For too long since the recapture of our system have we been forced to defend it, or to go into battle at the bequest or orders of the Dark Council. Now we strike out on our own. Ahead is a rich and decadent moon, packed with treasures and resources that they think are safe behind their weak defences. We will relieve them of that wealth for our Clan, to use to strengthen our fleet, to develop our worlds in our vision, and to demonstrate that Naga Sadow can easily take what others have so that they might fear us. Out there the brave men and women of our fleet will eliminate their defences, and then we will land from this ship. We will take what we want and we will punish anyone who dares to try and stop us. For Sadow!”
There was a cheer from the assembled forces that rippled round the hangar. As it died, the Pro Consul began to speak. “You have all seen the map of the city below. It is a wretched place, a poor imitation of our own mining constructions and networks in the Orian system. But as the Overlord has said there is wealth there for the taking. Each battalion has its own area of the city to assault. You will move quickly, eliminating any armed resistance and securing warehouses and factories first, and ensuring that the civilian population is driven away from them, with as much force as you think necessary. This is not an invasion, this is a rapid and efficient raid.”
DarkHawk paused as he watched the reaction to his orders. The troopers waited silently, awaiting further briefing. He leaned forward. “As I said, this is a raid. And we are on a schedule here. We believe that it will take eighteen hours for relief forces from the Andoria Federation to arrive. Their forces are strong, and we want a smooth departure before then. No lingering and no excuses.”
Simonetti allowed himself a brief smile as he watched the enemy Vindicator burning in space, and then his gaze moved to take in the explosions of the final defence platforms. A list of destroyed Sadowan fighters scrolled up the display in the corner of the screen, but it was an acceptable number considering the enemy. The only other damage was minor, one of Carracks and two of the DP20s were damaged but undergoing repairs.
“Move us into orbit and begin our descent, remaining fighter squadrons to follow us in. Inform our passengers to prepare for ground assault.”
He continued to study the display as the Harbinger descended towards Kinestia City, the dome glittering as the lights of the ships and the buildings below shone on. When they reached the optimum distance, the Admiral made a gesture and the gunnery crews on the Acclamator opened fire, turbolaser fire hitting the dome which shuddered and shook under the onslaught. Simonetti noted with satisfaction the streets were mostly empty beneath the dome. Aside from the local defence force, the populace had taken cover where they could. Though he had acquired a strong stomach from years of service to Naga Sadow, the Admiral did not approve of unnecessary slaughter. Finally, the dome cracked and then shattered.
As shards of it fell on the empty streets and buildings, the Acclamator began to manoeuvre into its final position as fighters flew over the city, seeking any further defences. There was a slight shimmering as backup magnetic shielding activated but this was no obstacle to the immense transport. When it had reached its final position Simonetti checked everything was to his specifications. “Commence disembarkation.”
As the ramps slowly descended, firstly a swarm of shuttles and LAATs flew out of the hangar, moving quickly across the city to secure key locations. Then a small group of robed and armoured figures descended the ramps, followed by gleaming rank after rank of marching Sadow troopers, ready to spread out across the city, stamp out any defences, and take what wealth they could to take back to the Orian System.