Sins of the Past - Plot Updates

T+00:12:37
The Citadel, Estle City
Selen
Dajorra System

“No other explosions reported?” the blindfolded Seer inquired.

“None,” replied Braecen.

“And the warehouses in Korda that were hit? The wounded?”

“Emergency responders have all left the scene as clean-up crews report in. Styx is overseeing them. All civilian casualties have been taken to medcenters as you ordered, my Lady. Our own injured were few, and recover in bacta tanks as we speak. A few of our people are still missing in action.” Keys tapped, clack-clack-clack. “Young Knight Sang-Kalinor is stable, yes?”

“He was burned badly and lost limbs…but nothing I and bacta cannot attempt to mend. Once he awakens, perhaps we can finally have some more answers.”

“Should I call Argona?” The dark-haired, violet-eyed Kaeth paused. “Either — well, any — of them?”

“Ashla and Bogan, no, Starbuck. He needs rest, not an interrogation. Zakky and the others have plenty to apply themselves as is,” the Shadow Lady responded, distaste at the prospect evident in her tone. She swiveled her sightless gaze to her other Quaestor. “Alright, then, and what of our databases, our security? Our funds?”

The Erinos gave a half-shrug. “Not quite robbed as blind as—”

“Celahir, dear, much as I enjoy the jokes…”

“We’ve been set back,” the Qel-Droman went on more seriously, fingers flitting over the datapad in his hands. “Particularly in munitions when those warehouses went up. It looks like they might’ve accessed several of our databanks too, and the DIA is still investigating what intel, exactly, might’ve slipped. However,” he offered with a grin, “we managed to contain most of the damage and kick those di’kuts in their teeth before they could do more.”

“Uji?” The Miraluka turned to her Scion, who stood beside her at the head of the table, neglecting his own seat to her right. “Enemy movements?”

“The DDF has successfully routed this Lorden’s Horizon-class Star Yacht out of Dajorran space. They are in pursuit now. Officer Marinus is due to report shortly, as are Timeros and Sashar,” stated the Sentinel, his narrow eyes fixed on the holoprojections of Korda and Estle City that hovered above the meeting table. His tone was cold steel. As if Pravus’ tyrannical madness wasn’t enough to combat, now they suffered this attack as well. The Proconsul’s stance remained calm, but his gaze was constantly flickering these days, belaying a mind now consumed with strategies, defenses and all manner of war.

“For it to truly be that damnable Muun behind this debacle…” ground out the blue bulk of a man nearly too tall and wide for his chair, his maw-toothed helm on the table before him. Though Wuntila had calmed in his time away, his promise still carried conviction. “It is an insult. I shall crush him.”

“Yeah, and, uh, for those of us who ain’t been at this kark for ages, who the ‘ell is that, again?” called a voice from the door. Kordath, a towel slung over his shoulders and a finger stuck twisting in his ear, stepped inside, his hair still dripping.

The Ryn had been present at the start of the meeting but, for the sake of the lungs and lifespans of all those present, had been asked to go bathe as soon as his report was finished. He’d delivered it in an exhausted slur — he and his Fades had tracked the warehouse bombers down and seized the cabal for interrogation by the DIA. The “testimonies” of the bombers had further corroborated what Arconan agents had already decrypted from the anomalous gravitational wave readings they’d picked up: the man behind this insurrection was a Muun named Tehr Lorden, and he was not, in fact, unfamiliar to the Shadow Clan.

Several noses still curled as the Rollmaster flopped into a seat. He gave the room an irritated glare. “Oi, ya dinnae get to complain about wet rat smell if yer gonna make me shower first. So…?”

“Lorden,” the Galeren Aedile and Arconae began, “was the Chief Financial Officer of Naruba Investments, one of our front establishments, if you will recall. After Aneti’s fall, under Timeros’ reign, he was decommissioned.”

No one present had to ask for clarification on the meaning of that particular statement.

“He fled into exile, and evaded numerous assassins. He was nothing, forgotten. An afterthought.”

“Got a bit of a bite for an afterthought, eh, mate?” Kordath scathed, tail twitching. “Bloody arrogant…”

“Gentlemen, please,” Atyiru interrupted, flowing gently to her feet, her command swift and smooth. “Our concerns, our lives, are here, today. And today, we may be thankful for these small victories.”

“The point is,” piped up Terran Koul in an overly cordial drawl, kicking his boots up on the tabletop and causing the projection to fuzz momentarily. “that we won. Maybe, gents, lady, we could forget the brooding long enough to enjoy that a bit, hmm?”

“GREAT IDEA!”

A silent sigh seemed to pass through most of the gathered Summit as the doors were flung open with yet another disturbance, the Summit guardsmen bowing to two new figures. Timeros Caesus Entar strode in like a ghost, chill and imposing, while a lavander mass of veritable madness skipped along beside him, her heels clicking.

K’tana’s palms slammed down on the table as she half-tripped to a stop, her lekku thrown over her shoulders. She pointed at no one in particular and declared, “I. Am. BORED. And you’re all boring, and are we done yet? Shouldn’t we be celebrating? Drinks, glitter, SOMETHING!”

“K’tana,” Timeros murmured, dread rolling off him in waves, causing the Rollmaster to cringe while the Gatewardeness merely grinned.

“Is right? I knoooow.”

“K’tana,” the Consul called, more gently, and the Twi’lek’s demeanor blinked away as she dipped her head in supplication. “Calm a moment more, please. Brother, your report?”

“Our mission to Boral is completed,” the Entar answered mechanically. Uji waved to Kaeth, who then waved to his Aedile, to take note. “Fruitfully. I have compiled a summary and accorded the DIA custody of our prisoners for further interrogation.”

“Following your own, I presume?”

“Yes.”

“Very well.” The Shadow Lady’s hands folded, prayer like, in her lap as she observed the room, the Force swirling around them to a heartbeat rhythm.

“So again, what you’re saying is, we won,” Terran repeated, drawing a snort from Celahir.

“There are no victors in war or death,” Atyiru whispered, then shook her head and gave a smile that burned brightly. “But so to say, yes, my friends…in this, we’ve won.”

T+00:12:04
Horizon - class Star Yatch Momo Neymopro Blems
Dajorra System

The stars stretched to contrails around the sleek hull of the Momo Neymopro Blems as the ship jumped to hyperspace. Tehr Lorden wiped a few beads of sweat from his brow as he observed his Sullustan companion. They Horizon-class Star Yacht had been detected leaving the Dajorra system, but they had made the jump before their pursuers could get within firing range. Barely. With Laiv bent over the helm’s terminal, no doubt triple checking the course for the second leg of their journey, the Muun businessman allowed himself the briefest hint of smile. Conscientious to a fault - that was Laiv. It was why the Muun had recruited him so many years ago. Always pick the right tool for the job.

A chirrirp from his personal commlink brought Tehr Lorden from his reverie, and he quickly stood and strode from the ship’s bridge into its elongated galley. Taking a seat at the Dejarik table in the corner, Lorden keyed in an intricate sequence of symbols on the table’s controls. A few moments passed as the encryption module in the table validated the passcode and prepared a secure channel, then the holo-emitters sparked to azure life. A now-familiar figure, half a meter in height, seemed to perch atop the table. Though shrouded, as usual, by a cloak, the tell-tale crimson eyes glowed from beneath the hologram’s hood.

“Report, Mr. Gray.” The words were the same as before, and their tone close enough to have been a recording. Nonetheless, the voice continued to tickle at the Muun’s memory, a mystery begging to be unraveled. But not here. And not now.

“The plan succeeded without deviation, sir. It appears that we even managed to injure a few of the Arconans with our little surprise. We’re en-route now, though with our circuitous path, it’ll be several hours before we make the rendezvous.”

“As expected, Mr. Gray. What of Strike Team Esk?”

“Laiv forged identities for them planet-side. They’ve joined one of the construction crews tasked with clean-up on the site above the facility we uncovered. We’ve arranged dead-drops for them should they learn anything useful.”

The figure’s hood dipped as he nodded in acknowledgement, then steepled his fingers in front of him. “And they spotted you leaving the system?”

“They did. We were running a false transponder, but I suspect they’ll see through the deception in short order. Is Phase Two ready?”

“It will be soon. I’m just sharpening the knife. While Arcona is still off balance, we’ll shove it in and twist.”

“As you say, Mr. Blue.” Lorden grinned toothily at the thought, and there was nothing brief about it. First Arcona, then this Mr. Blue. Once they’re out of the way, I’ll have Dajorra in the palm of my hand.

Crawl
Plaintext Version

T+12:07:34
YT-2400 - class Freighter Dragon’s Wings
Dajorra System

Klaxons filled the small cockpit and the freighter pilot’s youthful complexion grew worried. His blue eyes darted to the ship’s control board as he took a step towards his seat, but the sudden lurching of the freighter threw him forward, slamming him into the console. The steaming mug of caf flew from his hands, shattering against the transparisteel viewport as the elongated contrails of hyperspace resolved themselves into the brilliant pinpricks of stars.

Sithspit!

Lysander pulled himself to his feet, sweeping his long, raven black hair behind him and sliding adroitly into the pilot’s seat, fingers dancing across the ship’s controls and silencing the alarm. Barely pausing for a breath, he called back over his shoulder to the passenger in the freighter’s galley.

“We’ve been hit by an interdiction field. Looks like there’s two ships on our six, half a klick and gaining. No way I can lose them at this rate.”

A hulking figure strode through the doorway in striking yellow and black armor. Accented in blue to match his skin, it fit him like a carapace and shined like onyx. The resplendent armor was dull beside the fire in his cobalt eyes, and his unyielding countenance made clear his thoughts on a pack of impertinent pirates trying to hijack his ship.

“Let them come.” His tone was half smirk and half snarl, and his fingertips played over the dragon-headed hilt at his waist.

The pilot took a moment to look back at his brother, his own fingers running softly over a chiselled cheekbone, feeling the telltale sting where it had struck the ship’s console. After a moment, he nodded. “As you say, Wun.”

Even as the words left his lips, a second alarm, higher in pitch than the first, sounded from the weapons console. “They’ve locked a tractor beam on us,” stated Lysander flatly, punctuating it with a sigh that bespoke aggravation and inevitability in equal parts.

“Arm yourself then, brother,” replied the storied Arconae, nodding to the Sapphire Blade at Lysander’s hip. “It’s past time your blade tasted blood.”

T+12:07:36
The Citadel
Selen, Dajorra System

“How are your treatmentzzz going?”

“They’re fine, Grandfather,” mumbled the young Kaleesh from behind his mask, fiddling with the pipe in his clawed fingers. A berry-colored puff of smoke emitted from it, making the pale Zabrak woman to his left wrinkle her sharp nose and recline further into her humanoid seat.

Zakath gave a nod in response to Skar’s answer, his tail tighening around his adoptive daughter’s ankle at her movement. “Good. I would have not liked sending you to the Jeedai after all.”

Nath snorted outright at that, a strong expression as far as the reticent woman was concerned. The Barabel merely patted her arm. “See, I don’t need to keep my promise,” she said shortly before lapsing back into her lounging silence.

“Yes, yes, Mother,” grumbled the Kaleesh. “I will make our family and Arcona proud.”

“Yezzz, you will,” Zakath asserted, his talons clacking. “And you will have many opportunitiez to come, both with the Inquisitoriuzzz and these foolish attackerz to our home.”

“Has anything more been found out, Grandfather?”

“We are tracking them now,” the Barabel said, his glowing eyes flashing with expertly controlled rage. “The damaged partz of the city are being rebuilt, and our remaining prisonerz have…taken their leave. We have beat these cowardzzz back once already, and we will do so again until they are no more.”

Nath gave a pleased sound at that, her hands twirling a small knife. Zakath gave a toothy facsimile of a grin, and Skar growled defensively.

“Nothing can stop Arcona,” the Kaleesh hissed, and his patriarch raised one taloned finger to caution him.

“Do not underestimate our enemiez, Rrogan. I have a sense that there iz yet more to come…a greater enemy waiting in the wingzzz to strike.”

T+12:07:49
YT-2400 - class Freighter Dragon’s Wings
Dajorra System

The black-clad figure cut through the air, his outsized nerf-hide coat flaring as he came down from his leap and slammed his fist into the larger man’s face. Caramel flesh met cobalt and a sickening crack split through the galley, driving the Dragon to his knees.

Lysander scrabbled for the nearby pilot’s seat, hauling himself to a sitting position - his legs had been numb and useless since the first blast of lightning struck him in the back. His blue eyes were glued to the short man who had boarded their vessel. The intruder moved with preternatural grace, spinning on the ball of his foot and slamming the durasteel toe of his heavy combat boots into Wuntila’s chest.

“Come on, old man.” The cocksure youth’s tone set Lysander’s teeth on edge, and he grimaced as he tried to clear his head. “You can do better than that!”

Acting on instinct, the pilot’s hand dropped to his trusty DH-17 pistol, practically ripping it from his holster and firing a salvo of crimson bolts at the dark-haired man. The young Kiffar turned before the first bolt had left the barrel, raising a hand that showed nearly as much derision as the smirk on his face. The fiery bolts dissipated as they hit his palm, and the intruder’s lips curved into a snarl that had nothing to do with pain. He flicked his hand and Lysander felt the blaster twist in his grip. The twist blossomed into pain, his trigger finger snapping as the DH-17 was ripped from his grasp and hurled across the freighter’s small cabin.

The pilot’s pale skin - almost translucent in the best of times - grew paler still as he reflexively pulled his hand to his middle, cradling it. He grit his teeth, trying to stand, but the boarder turned away dismissively, as if Lysander was no more than a distraction.

Distraction or not, Wuntila had taken full advantage of the intervening seconds, and the black-clad figure turned back just in time for the mountain of a man to crash bodily into him, propelling the pair across the ship’s galley and slamming the intruder into the hull. The younger man’s head cracked against the durasteel wall, and Lysander dared to hope it would take the fight out of him. The intruder moved faster than thought, putting the lie to Lysander’s hopes as his fists crashed upwards, slamming through the Dragon’s grip with unnatural strength. His head came forward, smashing brutally into the blue-skinned man’s nose, and a spray of crimson soaked the young man’s face and jacket as the former Consul staggered backwards.

As the hulking half-Theelin regained his footing, the boarder tried to wipe the blood from his face with a sleeve. The movement only served to smear it around, and he shrugged out of the jacket, revealing a sleeveless Mandalorian mail vest beneath. Though he wore a lightsaber at his belt, he drew the pair of trench knives sheathed at his back and circled calmly around his blue-skinned opponent. Teroch. The name clicked in Lysander’s mind like a lockpin tumbling into place. Sashar’s bastard son. He’s back.

The pilot finally managed to regain his feet and resolutely drew the Sapphire Blade his brother had gifted him in his off hand. There are worse ways to die, I suppo— The thought was fleeting, and cut off abruptly by a cacophonous roar. His brother’s head lifted, bellowing, and the bigger man’s hands moved like liquid lighting, unsheathing his dragon-headed saber and swiping towards the Erinos before it had even lit. The blade snap-hissed to life, amethyst light flooding the galley and bathing the two opponents in its soft glow. The former Arconan bent backwards at the waist, nearly horizontal with the deck as the blade passed above him, crackling through the air. He recovered in an instant, bringing himself vertical and lunging into a crouch, his blades angled upwards towards the former Consul’s solar plexus.

The Dragon was quicksilver, darting out of range and swirling back in, punching towards the clone. The reverse grip on his lightsaber turned the punch into a sweeping strike, angled to decapitate the erstwhile Arconae. Teroch flowed backward, smooth as a river running downstream. The pillar of amethyst fire burned through his vest, but it left his skin unscathed as he spun to the right, behind the arc of Wuntila’s blade. His trench knives whipped out, slicing furrows across the Dragon’s back and sides. The Arconae growled, turning into a backswing aimed to bisect the younger man from hip to shoulder.

Teroch rolled under the blow, toward the mountainous Battlelord. Lysander opened his mouth to call a warning, but the Kiffar’s blades sunk into Wuntila’s sides before the words could form. With a resolute grimace, Teroch drew the knives upward, laying open his flanks. The Dragon’s lightsaber fell from his grip, going dark as it clattered against the deck. Lysander froze, not quite believing his eyes. He had seen his brother fight. He had seen him prevail against insurmountable odds. To see him beaten by this…child

Before the pilot could finish the thought, the son of Sashar turned towards him. His black hair was tousled and mussed, his face splattered with his elder’s blood, and his tattered vest hung half-off him. He smiled briefly. Then the trench knife flew from his hands. Fire erupted in Lysander’s gut, and he looked down to see a pool of crimson spreading across his light blue shirt, radiating out from the knife in his middle. The pain buckled his knees and he found himself back on the deck, looking at the flight cabin’s ceiling.

The young man’s face peeked into Lysander’s vision as Teroch knelt to retrieve his blade. Locking his blue eyes with the former Arconan’s brown, he mouthed a single word. Why?

“I have a message I need delivered to my father.” The dark-haired man’s voice seemed to waver between sincerity and mockery. “And I think the two of you will do nicely.”

Lysander saw the Kiffar turn casually as he left his field of vision. With no other options, his eyes moved to the transparisteel viewport. The view in front of the ship was fairly routine. I could almost fool myself into thinking I could see Selen in the distance. His head lolled slightly to the side as he heard the snap-hiss of, he assumed, the young Mandalorian’s lightsaber. It seemed distant, though. At the corner of the viewport he could barely make out the fringes of the Crabhorn Nebula. The mottled greens and purples, interspersed with scarlet streaks, had long been his favorite sight on these treks to and from Selen. They made it worth it. Hell, the chance to see it up close was half of why I became a pilot in the first place. If only the ship would move itself a few degrees to port…

The pilot heard a small crackling, plasma on durasteel, then the small hiss of air escaping the ship’s hull. Just a few degrees…

Then he heard nothing at all.

T+21:16:32
Estle City
Selen, Dajorra System

Cool, calculating eyes the color of half-frozen mud fell on ash.

Ash, rubble, and twisted metal. The crumbling remains of the warehouses before him had gone cold in the handful of weeks since the first explosions — originating here — had rocked the city. While other sections of their industrial sector were already being attended to, he had quietly ordered this particular handful of decimated buildings to be quarantined.

Heavy, clacking footsteps approached from behind the man, one of Estle’s classic mountain breezes lifting his hair and scattering dust. His knife-sharp gaze continued dissecting the wreckage, even as he spoke.

“Greetings, Agrona.”

“Lord Proconzul. It haz been some time since we last spoke without holoz. Who knowzzz you’re here?”

“Atyiru, and yourself, and so it will stay.”

“Aye.”

Uji Tameike finally turned, his hands folded neatly behind his back, ensconced in the sleeves of his robe. His saber hung unlit on his belt. His stare was unflinching as it combed over the black-scaled Barabel towering next to him. Zakath dipped his mawed head in a respectful gesture, and the Shadow Scion nodded back.

“What are we here for, Proconzul?”

The Human pointed with his chin, saying shortly, “This was the site of the first attack during Lorden’s incursion. Knight Sang-Kalinor was found where you stand.”

“Lorden waz repelled. What more iz there for uz to see here?”

“Our mission is not just to serve the Clan and carry out the Shadow Lady’s wishes, Agrona. I will not stand traitors among us. Not the Inquisitorius or anyone else. You and Tal’Mahe’Ra have already made progress, but your focus is too narrow. The Inquisition is not our only enemy. Do you know what Kalinor was doing here?”

“Following orderz, I presume,” said the Barabel, the hiss of his voice scathing.

“He was not following any orders I issued. More importantly, he was not following Atyiru’s.” The Proconsul turned back to the detritus spread before them. He thought of the Nighthawk, out that very moment searching for any footholds their enemy might have, cloaked and silent. He thought of Shadow Gate, smuggling supplies through their channels in Ol’Val to predetermined drop points for the Resistance to pick up. “There are those in our ranks that would oppose our aiding the Odanites. They, not the Inquisitorius or the Muun, are responsible for this.”

Beside him, Zakath growled, a terrible sound like crashing rocks. His talons clacked on his weapons belt. “So we route them out, az we have the Inquisitorzzz. Being clanmatez doez not excuse one from punishment of idiocy.”

The Scion’s hands never strayed from where they rested, never twitched towards his weapon, but his grave countenance was condemnation enough as he glanced from his subordinate to the Citadel’s spires far behind them. His words were flat and certain when he spoke. “In time. I will find each and every one of them, and they will be dealt with, by any means necessary.”

“And the Shadow Lady?”

“We live to serve,” Uji replied. “Whether or not she wills it.”

T+22:14:07
Erinos Homestead, Venku Range
Arconae Primus, Dajorra System

“Mi…Mia?” the broad-shouldered young man rasped. He tried to breathe and could not. His chest was cold and his lungs felt heavier than the beskar his forge shaped. For a brief, sluggish heartbeat, he worried over the fact that his body was no longer screaming at him, the multitude of wicked plasma burns and bleeding lacerations crisscrossing his skin felt oddly numb. Numb like his fingers, like…no, that wasn’t what was important. Mitra. Trikar. Where were they?

Briikase spit blood and coughed, trying to draw the air for more words, to call louder. “Mia! Trikki! A-a…ANSWER ME!”

Their home was silent. Horror, colder and sharper than any of his pains, gripped the man. He pushed himself to his knees, thickly muscled arms trembling, then dragged one leg, the one that was not broken, under him. His vision blurred, and he focused on his foot, staring at it. Move, he thought. Move! His twin brother. His sister. He had to find them. He had to. Move, you shabuir!

His foot slid along the floor, its bottom pressing flat, and his leg bent. Briikase bared his teeth in an expression that wasn’t a smile, digging his strong fingers into the stone and pushing upwards. His leg wobbled, and he half-stood.

A boot planted firmly between his shoulderblades and slammed him down into the floor. His cheek cracked under the supernatural impact, sending waves of hot, red-tinged darkness crashing through his skull. A whine escaped him, pained and nearly intelligible. “Trikaaar…Mi…traaa…”

“You know, vod…” The word was twisted, warped, no semblance of brotherhood to it, just venom. “It’s almost a shame Mitra and me never got on, her always tagging after Voden and all, not like us and Trik. She’s really quite the fighter. You all were.”

“Wha…do…to them?” the downed blacksmith asked around crimson spittle.

“I cut them to pieces.” Mangled, angry laughter came from above him, and Briikase turned his head just infinitesimally enough to wheel his eyes around, watching the man he had once known as his older brother, one of his best friends, his family, drag a bloody hand through his mussed, dark hair and sneer. Aliit ori’shya tal’din, Sashar had told them all when he adopted them into his clan. Family is more than blood. “Never heard Mitra do much more than curse and gloat, but you know, she did cry for dear dad in the end there.” The metal-capped toe of the boot on his back ground into his spine. “As if any of you have a right to call him father. You three are nothing! Nothing.” He laughed again. “And yet the old man’s still gonna cry over you.”

The weight on his back lifted, and Briikase dragged in a ragged breath. A kick plowed into his side, rolling him over and making him gurgle, that heavy feeling in his chest pooling at the back of his throat.

Walls. The smoke-colored ceiling. The holo of he, Trikar, Mitra, Teroch, Sashar, and Voden on the mantel. It was old, five or so years old, from he and Trikar’s ninth birthday. They hadn’t had a chance to take another. Father had been gone, and then too much, they too busy, the Erinos clan and…and…what? Above him. Walls. The ceiling. Teroch. Teroch. The Kiffar’s tan face was manic, wild with rage, but his dark eyes were cold and flat, their wrath like iron. He snarled, and then that boot came back, settling almost gently on Briikase’s windpipe.

And then it began to press.

T+22:14:05
Entar House
Gethsemane, Erebos, Dajorra System

Dark brown eyes surveyed the grassy fields and played over the rolling hills that cradled them. The window, situated on the topmost floor of a corner room in the northwestern most mansion of Entar House, was unblemished, wholly untouched by technology or society. Not even gardeners tended the fields - the mix of geothermal energy was enough to offset the cold death of entropy that threatened any celestial body this far from a system’s sun. Enough, and no more. So long as the planet’s fires still burned, this small enclave of faux fertility would flourish. In the end, though, entropy would win out. And the darkness would have its due. Such are the lessons of life. No light burns so bright it can escape the darkness for long. That, after all, was what had brought such an unlikely group together.

Clearing his throat, the young-again clone turned his gaze back to his compatriots and took a few steps towards the center of the room. Just a few years ago, such a gathering would have been unthinkable. Then again, a few years ago their Clan hadn’t had a Jetii’ad at its head.

“Times change. Priorities shift. Grandmasters rise and fall. Arcona is constant - must be constant. We have worked too hard, sacrificed too much…” The stern drawl of his voice tapered off, and for a moment flashes of New Tython filled his vision.

The Jedi city was awash in a firestorm of hate. Sashar’s head canted left and, through the T-shaped visor, he could see his best friend, his vod. They had stayed behind, knowing what it would mean. Knowing there was no other way. Some sacrifices were worth it. Their eyes, the same dark brown, met, and Zandro cracked a smile without a trace of pain or regret. Then his skin turned to charred paper, crackling, and blew apart in a gust of flame.

The Mandalorian bit down hard on the inside of his cheek, and the vision blew apart like his brother’s flesh. Clearing his throat again, he forced himself to continue. “We have sacrificed too much to let Arcona crumble under the wrath of a Grandmaster mad with power and slaved to purity. And that wrath is exactly what this child invites down upon us!”

“Hear hear!” echoed one of his companions from an oversized chair along the wall.

Sashar needlessly ran a hand through his close-cropped black hair, using the gesture as an excuse to eye the speaker. The Entar was unnaturally young, though whether a trademark of his species or some unnatural Force-fueled alchemy was a topic of hot debate. Despite the solemn eyes and immaculately groomed hair, the white linen suit looked comical on Strategos, like a child dressing up in his parents clothes. If his parents ran a cartel of death-stick dealers. Few people knew Strategos, former Consul, remained active among the Arconae. Fewer still would recognize his appearance. That could be useful in the days to come, if the Erinos Patriarch could convince him to take part in their plans. It would take a great deal of planning to draw Atyiru to the Shadows while remaining unseen. But if Arcona was to continue to thrive, their Consul would have to be brought to see the truth. The only question was how to convince her.

“So, step one: bring down the Consul.”

Or not… The Erinos clone suppressed a snort as the Entar stood, telekinetically floating his tumbler to a nearby table. Instead, he studied the meeting’s other two attendees. All four of them had known each other for decades. They had been friends - and, at times, enemies - and their acquaintance had outlasted death itself. Still, he wasn’t sure how far they could be trusted in this. Timeros, in particular, would be a difficult sell. As for the fourth…

His musings cut off abruptly as something Strategos had said set of alarm bells in his mind. He quickly replayed the last few seconds of the conversation.

“You want to make them think we were responsible for the bombings?”

The overdressed Arconae chuckled and shook his head. “No, ad’ika,” the Entar replied mockingly. “I already have.”

Their fourth member leapt from his seat, datapad tumbling from his fingers in shock. He took a few steps towards the cultured former Consul. “You did what?” he demanded.

“Calm yourself, Celahir.” Rather than escalate the confrontation, the smartly-dressed Entar took a step back and gestured towards his brandy. The glass rose in the air and sailed gently into his hand. He took a sip, then met the eyes of each companion in turn. “I - or rather my agents among the DIA - left bits and pieces of evidence - scraps, really - that suggested an Arconae might be responsible for the attacks. If I know our vengeful Proconsul - and I think I do - he’ll put together the pieces sooner rather than later.”

“And when he does?” The younger Erinos’ words were clipped, impatient.

When a response came, it wasn’t from Strategos. Timeros’ voice was quiet and contemplative. Though it was clear he hadn’t been briefed on his fellow Entar’s machinations, he was quick to follow them to their logical conclusion. “He will start a witchhunt. One that is sure to foment rebellion among those who rightfully know their Clanmates are innocent.”

“At which point,” Sashar continued, grasping the brutal simplicity of the plan, “Atyiru has no choice but to turn to us for help. Then we lead her down our path.”

The eldest Entar shrugged nonchalantly. “Lead her. Kill her. Either way, Arcona will reclaim her former glory and we’ll buy the time and security we need, without needing to worry about Pravus or the Inquisitorius.”

Though Celahir’s face seemed pensive, unsure, Sashar saw Timeros nodding along thoughtfully. “It has potential.”

Sashar let the briefest hint of a smile crack across his stone-planed jaw. He thought of the homestead on Arconae Primus, of Briikase at the forge, and of Arcona united once more. No light burns so bright it can escape the darkness for long. But for now his flickered, at least.

Then the light went out.

T+32:06:58
Port Ol’val
Dajorra System

It was raining.

Alree hated the rain. It made her fur stick to her and it was cold and she did not like being wet one bit. And Meeka smelled when he was wet. He smelled bad.

The little Cathar girl stuck a foot out and jabbed at her little brother, a toothy pout on her face. The smaller boy let out a yelp, his teeth showing.

Hey!” he hissed. “Mother, she hit me!”

“Stop it, you two,” their mother said from where she stood over by the door, staring out a small crack. “Be quiet. You have to be quiet.” They were in a tiny room with flat gray walls and hard floors and a leaky roof and Alree hated it here too but Mother had made them come. They’d had to walk all the way, in the rain, and Mother hadn’t let her take her doll, hadn’t let them take anything good. Just clothes and stuff. Stupid stuff. Alree didn’t care. She wanted to go home. Why’d they even have to leave?

She kicked her brother again. He sprang up to his feet and hissed at her, and she hissed back. His hand cuffed her ear.

MOTHER,” yowled Alree. “Meeka hit me, he hit me!”

“She hit me more! First! First, she hit me first.”

“I said quiet!” growled Mother, rounding on them suddenly and looming all the way to the ceiling. Alree shrank back, elbowing Meeka for trying to duck behind her. Mother grabbed them by their shoulders, one of her big hands each, her eyes wide and voice very important and scary and were they in trouble? Alree didn’t want to be in trouble. Stupid smelly Meeka.

“Sorry,” whispered her brother, and she mumbled the same, wrinkling her nose.

“Alree, Meeka, listen to me,” Mother said, gripping them tighter. “You have to be quiet.”

“Why?” Alree stomped her foot. “Why? This is dumb and I hate it and why can’t we go home?”

“We’re leaving, children. We can’t stay. It’s not safe.”

Alree blinked, then frowned, grabbing Meeka’s arm and hugging it. “Why?” she said again, tiny this time.

Mother moved to pet their hair, looking over her shoulder at the door again. She looked over there a lot. “There are some people looking for us. Bad people. Understand? Strangers. What are you supposed to do with strangers?”

“Not talk to them or go to their speeders or talk to them and come get you.”

“That’s right. You don’t talk to these people either, understand? Don’t even go near them. They’re here, so we have to go.”

Alree unhunched the slightest bit, her pout returning. “I don’t wanna. Make them go.”

“I can’t, sweet cub. I can’t. We’ve got to go, okay? Mother has a friend that is going to help us leave.”

“But…” Alree protested, eyes watering. She inhaled snottily, wiping her face on her hand. She wiped that on Meeka. He stepped on her toes. “But Father’s here.”

For a second, Mother looked funny, her face getting all scrunchy like Meeka’s did when he was gonna cry. But Mother didn’t cry. She was Mother. Maybe she had to sneeze. Alree was about to suggest using Meeka’s shirt when her mother covered her eyes with a hand, then pulled it away and smiled.

“I know, little cub. But he’s with us wherever we go. Right? So it’s okay to leave.”

Alree thought briefly of the jar back in their apartment, then about her dolls, and not being wet, before nodding. “But Meeka can’t come cause he’s gross.”

“Hey! Mother!” The boy looked pleading. “I can come right?”

“We’re all going,” Mother huffed, hugging them. “We—”

She went stock-still, her head snapping up, braids snapping into Alree’s face and making her squeak. Mother’s hand clapped over her mouth as she pushed them back into the corner of the little shed, watching the door again very hard.

It creaked open, but nobody was there. Alree squirmed and poked her head around Mother’s shoulder, squinting. It was dark, but she smelled something, not just Meetra.

The air shimmered and twisted a bit and then there was just a girl standing there, pulling down a big hood and getting more water all over. Alree felt her mother slump, releasing the too-tight hold on she and Meeka.

“You’re late,” hissed Mother, approaching the lady. Her face was covered by a scarf, and her big cloak and big clothes covered everything else. She looked silly, like she didn’t have hands. Her nose was odd, her hair white. A stick of some kind was on her back.

“It was difficult slipping away. Things are…busy,” the weird woman said. “Kela, I have to tell you, Estle City is under attack. We’re trying, but…”

“Lo? Tira? Anyone?” Mother asked, sounding strange again. Like when Alree and Meetra had nightmares. Scared. But Mother was Mother and she didn’t get scared.

The lady bowed her head, white hair falling over her face. “I’m sorry, Kela. I went to find them in the bakery and they…the district had already been…”

Mother made a whining sound. “I— right. Right. We need to go. We need to get out of here. The Inquis—”

“I won’t let them hurt you,” the woman said fiercely, her brown eyes flashing in the dim glow of the streetlights outside. “Come on. We just have to get to the port. I’ve already got you a spot out of the system on a ne…”

Alree stopped listening. Her fur was stuck to her all flat and cold but her skin still crawled. She turned and pulled Meetra over and held him tight to her protectively even though he smelled.

Mother went and grabbed their bag, and the lady knelt down, meeting Alree’s gaze. She gave a smile.

“Hi there. I’m Zujenia, but you may call me Zuj, Zuji, Zu or what have you. Pleasure to meet you. What’re your names?”

“I’m Alree and this is Meetra. He’s my brother.” Pausing, she added, “Little brother.”

“Big sister! That’s good. I didn’t have any brothers or sisters.”

“Why’s your nose funny?”

“It’s not funny, it’s my nose. I’m half-Ryn, half-Human.”

“What’s that?”

“Me. Now hush, and be good. We’re going on a trip, and we’re going quietly. First one to talk loses, understand?”

They nodded. Mother came back then and bustled them out back into the rain. Alree would have complained, but she didn’t want Meetra to win, so she just ran through the puddles as Mother pulled them along. Zujenia led the way. They went past apartments and big dark buildings and bright ones that hurt Alree’s eyes and ears because they were loud. She never liked them.

Soon she was tired, but Mother wouldn’t let them stop. Meetra soon lost the game by crying because his feet hurt and he wanted to go home. Alree agreed with him.

But no. They couldn’t, Mother said. There were bad strangers there.

Mother picked up Meetra and Alree was left to be slung up onto Zujenia’s back with firm instructions not to touch the stick there. She did her best, wrapping her arms around the half-Ryn’s neck.

More running. Alree didn’t like it. She was uncomfortable and Zujenia jostled her with every step and it was still raining and—

They skidded to a stop. Alree fell into a puddle. She yelped as Zujenia scooped her back up and shoved her into her mother’s arms, pushing them all behind a dumpster. That stick came off the half-Ryn’s back, and her cloak hit the ground in a soggy lump. The woman waved them back, pressing herself flat to the metal and peeking around it.

A bright red flash of light streaked past, making Alree wince. More followed, too many for her to count. Mother made a sound like whining, but Mother didn’t whine.

Zujenia hissed out a bad word and then dove into the alley when the flashes stopped. Alree darted forward, mouth dropping open and as she stared at the half-Ryn who went sprinting at three men standing further away. The ends of her stick lit up and crackled, violet-white like lightning. She spun it around her body, twisting, and hit one of the men with it in the back of his knee. He yelled and dropped to the ground, and the other end came back to crack into his head.

The other two men moved towards her, but she slithered around them, too fast for Alree to see what was happening. There were more red flashes, and Zujenia’s lightning stick slammed into one figure’s legs, sending him to his back. It came down again like a hammer on a nail. Alree gasped, watching as more people in the same funny clothes and metal hats showed up.

Claws dug into her shoulders and dragged her backwards. Alree writhed and yowled, wanting to see, but Mother crushed her firmly to her chest, tight against Meetra, hunching over them. The noises kept coming through the rain: banging and shouting and even screaming that made Alree’s skin crawl. The red lights flashed again, all around them. She could just barely make out their color from the soaked, stifling confines of her mother’s coat.

Mother slowly relaxed, her hold loosening on them. Alree wiggled free, kicking Meetra in the process, and scampered back out into the alley, panting. Her wide gaze landed on Zujenia, walking quickly back over to them. Her stick was still in one hand, dark. Her other hand pressed to her side. All the other people laid on the ground like they were napping. In the rain? People didn’t nap in the rain.

Alree ran over and kicked one in the arm. He didn’t move. She nudged him again, puzzled.

“Why—” she started to ask, but Zujenia seized her by the scruff and wordlessly carried her back to where Mother sat, depositing her there.

“Quiet,” said the half-Ryn, and Alree swallowed, nodding quickly. Mother hadn’t moved from where she laid against the dumpster. Meetra was shaking her. Crying.

Alree darted over and hit him. “Shhh! You’re supposed to be quiet!” she snapped, earning a quick, hard look from Zujenia. The woman knelt down next to Mother, speaking too softly for Alree to hear. She looked angry and sad. Mother shifted a bit finally and lifted her face, saying something back. The fur around her eyes was wet and dark, like she was crying. But Mother didn’t cry.

Mother didn’t cry.

“Thank you,” Mother coughed, and Zujenia got up and picked up Alree and Meetra under her arms with a grunt. Then she started running again.

“Wait, wait, hey!” Alree cried, kicking at the air to no effect. “Wait for Mother!”

“She’s not coming.”

“She said we all had to go. Hey!

“Quiet, Alree. Be quiet like your brother.”

“No! He smells. Mother!” she tried to yell. “Mother!”

Hissing, the Cathar girl lashed out, digging small claws into the half-Ryn’s sleeve. Zujenia didn’t stop or let go. She just grunted and kept going.

Alree whimpered. She didn’t recognize this part of the city anymore. The rain made it dark. Meetra hung limp and quiet on the half-Ryn’s other side. It was cold, and Alree was tired, and she wanted Mother.

When the girl next opened her eyes, Zujenia was setting them down, sitting them on…seats, with buckles. Alree blinked slowly as she was strapped in, like when Mother put them in the speeder. But this was different. The thing they were in was big and round except for the flat floor, with more seats and people opposite them. There were lots of crates. It smelled worse than her brother’s wet fur ever had.

Zujenia was talking to someone, a man in a brown cloak. He said, “…they’ll be safe, you have my word.”

“See to it,” the half-Ryn insisted. Alree noticed they both had smaller sticks on their belts, metal and fancy. Somebody behind a box somewhere coughed. Zujenia came back and knelt close to the Cathar pair. “Listen, you two. That man there, you see?” She pointed, which Mother said was rude, and Alree nodded. “His name is Yels. He’s a friend of sorts, and he’s going to watch out for you, okay? Make sure you get home safe.”

“But we just left home,” Alree growled frustratedly. “When’s Mother coming?”

For a second, the funny-nosed woman’s lip trembled, and then she wrapped her arms around their shoulders, squeezing tightly. She breathed hard, then said, “She’s not, little one. I’m sorry. I have to go now. You two watch out for each other.”

Zujenia let go, turning away and walking back out into the rain down a little ramp that started to rise. Alree saw her just…disappear again right there before the big door closed and blocked her sight.

Meetra sniffed and leaned into her. She almost shoved him off, but didn’t. People moved around for awhile doing things. The man Zujenia had pointed at came by and gave them a blanket and a hot drink that tasted bad.

“You’re safe now,” he said. “It’s all going to be okay. We’re going far away, whole other planets and stars away, to a secret place. Have you ever left Ol’Val?” Alree shook her head. “Where we’re going is rather different, but exciting too. The cities float. You’ll see.” The man smiled gently again and took her hand. It was soothing. “It’s going to be okay,” he repeated.

“Okay,” Alree echoed, and she believed him, even though Mother wasn’t supposed to cry.

T+32:18:03
The Citadel
Selen, Dajorra System

“Damnation!”

Sepia hands slammed down on the meeting table, making the holos of the cityscape projected from its center flicker. Grim faces cast in blue stared through it, at the woman at the table’s head. Some from the usual assembly were missing, busy elsewhere in handling troop movements or coordinating counterstrikes, search and rescue, fire containment and ten other things. Some were not so lucky.

Terran resisted the urge to massage his forehead or otherwise roll his eyes. For one, the pressure building between his eyes hurt like a rancor, and he wasn’t so inclined to put the effort into the expression of exasperation. For another, he had an image to maintain.

“…Koul!” The whipcrack of his name, like wind over water, summoned his attention back to the conversation he’d begun to drown out. The Consul, having finished ordering off the others, stared straight at him. Or would have, were she able. He got the distinct impression, as ever, that somehow there were eyes under that ridiculous candy-printed cloth, boring holes into him. “What is Shadow Gate’s status?”

“I sent them out already, my Lady,” the Kiffar replied smoothly, his face an easy mask of seriousness he deemed appropriate to the situation. “They’ve paired off, four teams fanning out through the city at last-known locations of the enemy combatants.”

“And my apprentice?” demanded the Miraluka for what seemed like the fifth time that day. Terran’s head throbbed harder, and he bit back his irritation. Miss Sunshine Giggles had gotten grimmer and grimmer since the attacks had started and the vague casualty reports began rolling in. At this point, she was downright insufferable. To make matters worse, his Battleteam Sergeant was missing. He’d sent her back to Ol’Val to stir up their contacts and make certain none of this Teroch kid’s people were sticking their noses where they didn’t belong. It was simple recon on their home turf, and she’d been due to report back nearly sixteen hours ago.

He was not getting paid enough for this kark.

“I’m…investigating it, my Lady. I’ll have her back as soon as possible.”

“See to it, Koul,” she snapped, lifting one hand to wave him off as her other fluttered over the panels on the table, plunging the display, and the room, into darkness. “And while you’re finding her, perhaps you can find something more than the same platitudes you gave me four hours ago.”

With that, the Consul stalked to the door in a rustle of fabric, her footsteps swift and harsh like the grating thud of blood in his ears. The doorway swished open with a bright knife of light from the hallways, then closed again, leaving the freshly-minted Quaestor in the black once more.

Frak.

“Not getting paid enough at all,” he muttered to himself, standing from his seat with a stretch and a groan. His neck was stiff. He’d been holding too still in the same ‘of course I’m paying attention’ position for too long. “Issh was right. Too much kriffing ideology and too many pieces. Never makes for a clean job.”

The Kiffar slammed his boot toes against a chair leg on his way to the door, taking his aggravation out on the furnishings. When that girl turned up, there would be words.

Terran stepped out into the hall, his left foot mid-step, when klaxons shouted in his mind and he turned the motion into a swift pivot, hands dropping reflexively to the pistols holstered there.

He turned just in time to meet a pair of wide, red-tinged amber eyes and watch, as if in slow motion, as a small, heavily cloaked figure barreled right into him. They hit the floor in a tangle of limbs and muttered curses, rubbing ringing heads as teeth vibrated in their sockets from the collision. The Quaestor extricated himself and stood, brushing off his coat, gaze landing on Zujenia herself, still on the ground. She looked like a half-drowned rat, with bloodstains on her dark clothing and the shadows on her face that told the story of crying women across the galaxy. It was obvious she’d been through one hell of something in her missing hours.

Too bad he didn’t give a damn. At least, that’s what he tried to tell himself.

Terran folded arms across chest. When he spoke, the impatience in his voice couldn’t quite hide the rural drawl.

“You’re late. Start talking.”

This Plot Update sponsored by Braecen Corp. - Your best source for quality business fulfillment needs this side of the Unknown Regions!

T+36:12:42
The Citadel
Selen, Dajorra System

The alert chirped three times. Deet-deet-deet. It drew Braecen’s eyes from his datapad towards the device. He grumbled something unintelligible about how it kept him from his work. Sprawled across his ornate desk in his office were numerous reports that detailed the destruction of Dajorra over the past several days. The one that remained open, at the center of his desk, was a detailed debriefing about Teroch’s attack on Wuntila. He rewound the holovideo from aboard the vessel once more, watching the pair as they exchanged blows before a nearly fatal, final blow from the rogue Adept. The old man grunted. He knew the pain from such an attack.

Casually, he paused the video, then turned his attention to his comlink nearby. It flashed repeatedly – the amber light pulsing throughout the dreariness of his office. Upon seizing control of the Dajorra Defense Force, Braecen had begun coding messages in pings and chirps to prioritize the level of communication. Frustrated that it had not reduced his workload, he had created color coded alerts to categorize the type of communication. As the amber hue diminished in his palm, he prepared himself for communication from the Dajorra Intelligence Agency; specifically, he prepared himself for communication from the Director.

“Timeros,” Braecen cooed, “my old friend.” The pair had once been bitter rivals in Braecen’s youth. A time where he had been more preoccupied with standing on his soapbox waxing about righteousness. Meanwhile, Timeros had been laying a foundation — solid brick and mortar — in Arcona to overthrow Taldryan and claim the title of First Clan. The Corellian knew better than to underestimate this particular Arconae. Better to have him as a friend than a foe, Braecen concluded.

“No time for pleasantries, Kaeth,” his peer Elder grumbled. “I have important information concerning Teroch. There is a pattern to his attacks…”

Braecen listened intently as Timeros explained the rotation.

T+36:12:44
Agavae-class Picket Ship Nighthawk
Selen, Dajorra System

The words came through strained, yet clear, as the Intelligence Officer hacked the secure link from the Director to the Quaestor of Galeres. Rulvak hated what he was doing, but he felt it was necessary as an Officer and a leader within Arcona. Before her departure, Arcia Cortel had confided in the young upstart Sith her suspicions that Braecen was a traitor. That he had purposely sabotaged SCEPTER, then Arcona, against the Perdition forces.

“There is a pattern to his attacks in our system. I’m not sure if you were read-in on Teroch’s file, but he had a very high IQ—”

“Not as high as yours?” Braecen inquired.

“No,” Timeros quieted, “not as high as mine, but enough that it makes him decidedly dangerous.” The Entar Elder paused, collected himself, and continued. “I plotted the attack locations, but that did not reveal anything until I also noted the time of the attacks, too.”

The data spooled out an equation that was too complicated for the Officers aboard the Nighthawk to understand. As the information began to slow, an image jumped to life that represented the Dajorra System with red, pulsing lights to indicate locations of known incursions. The attacks had been brutal. Teroch had been privy to access levels, as a member of the Erinos Clan, that gave him a decided advantage. No one had bothered to update or change the protocols since the Dark Crusade. Rulvak made a mental note to address the matter personally at the conclusion of this conflict.

“When I started connecting the seemingly random attacks with a single line…” Timeros trailed off. “As you can see, it provided nothing. When I introduced nearly alternating lines or, rather, two teams, a pattern began to emerge.” Two spirals — one in white, one in green — showed a circular rotation. One rotation seemed to be working inwards towards Selen, while the other rotation worked outward towards military outposts.

Braecen’s eyes widened. “Does this mean—”

“Yes,” Timeros concluded darkly. “He is heading to Dusk Station.”

The revelation confused the Captain of the Nighthawk. “Pull up everything we have on the Cardan-V space station and send it to my personal holopad.” His crew processed the task immediately and information began downloading onto his device. The Equite consumed the words with a terrifying ferocity, but he simply could not find anything of note aboard the space station to cause such fear in two Elders of the Clan.

Rulvak turned to his helmsman, Karth Orsai, and issued his orders, “Remain cloaked, but I want all ahead to Dusk Station. We continue our pursuit of Kaeth until we know his intentions clearly.”

“Aye, aye, Captain Qurroc,” Karth barked as he turned to the task before him.

T+36:14:08
Dusk Station
Selen, Dajorra System

The Lambda-class T-4a shuttle set down on Dusk Station with one metallic thud as the repulsors whined against the exertion. At the rear of the vessel, the ramp begun to lower and several individuals exited in unison. At the forefront, her white braid over her left shoulder, marched the Shadow Lady. Atyiru commanded nothing short of absolute loyalty from her Elders.

She had built her empire on their backs. Some had been cajoled, others bribed, but otherwise they had all become hostage to her charisma and her hold on the Clan. To defy her meant certain death from the other Elders, to follow her agenda granted a moment of peace and protection – it was a prison of wills. None greater, none stronger, than the Shadow Lady’s though.

At her flanks came Timeros and Marick — her most loyal Lieutenants. Behind them trailed Braecen and Valhavoc. It was a deliberate move; two from Qel-Droma, two from Galeres. Two she trusted wholly, two she needed to know if she could trust. She had her suspicions about both Braecen and Valhavoc.

Timeros had assured her that he would report anything to her immediately, but the Galeres
Quaestor had become wily with time in service, his reports less frequent, his trips not fully documented or logged by Officers aboard the Darkest Night. Officers whom were supposed to be loyal to her first and foremost. Valhavoc had served at the side of the Grand Master for well over a year. She suspected his motives for joining Arcona were false and at the request of the Iron Throne. Why else would anyone leave the comforts of the Office of the FIST to become a lowly member of a Clan?

She could not see, but she sensed a more pressing issue as she neared the doors to the inner workings of the facility. As the Lady of the Dajorra System, she should have been received by the station’s Officers with a small parade of troops. Their absence concerned her deeply. She flicked her wrist forward, “Braecen. Valhavoc.” The pair tensed and awaited orders. “Breach these doors and clear a path to the Code White vault.”

The pair darted forward. A pair of white flames erupted from the hilts in Braecen’s hands while an E-11 carbine materialized in Valhavoc’s hands. The Quaestor punched a secure sequence into the doors, but an error message beeped and a red light flashed. Timeros raised his hands and plied his fingers, blowing the doors inward with the power of the Dark Side. Silently, the lead pair entered into the darkness and darted forward.

Atyiru marched deliberately forward, every step measured and calm. The Force wrapped her in a cocoon and cautioned her against rash actions. While she desperately wanted to charge forward, the Light Side of the Force urged against such reckless action. She would arrive exactly when she needed. No sooner. No later. Her loyal Champions stayed by her side. Neither questioned her actions or her motives.

T+36:14:08
White Level, Dusk Station
Selen, Dajorra System

Valhavoc’s carbine was leveled towards the darkly clad invaders. He pulled the trigger continuously and crimson bolts raced out from the barrel to find their marks. The Eminent dutifully pushed forward from the right flank of the Sith Elder before him. He matched the Juggernaut step for step as the pair began to ingress the defenses of Teroch’s forces.

Braecen’s twin blades created fans of white, brilliant light that intercepted numerous bolts hailing at them from all directions. He could not exert enough will to redirect each bolt, instead sending them off in numerous directions. The Force directed his hands, though, keeping the pair safe as they worked towards cover. The Mercenary rolled in a quick somersault from the Sith’s right to his left, taking cover from the barrage that met them. Braecen heavily crashed into the large containers beside his fellow Elder of the Iron Throne.

“They seem agitated,” Braecen laughed. “I don’t think they like us.”

“We have to clear the path quicker, Kaeth,” the cold tone of Valhavoc dowsing the joyful light in Braecen’s eyes.

“Alright, then,” the Sith barked. “Behind me.”

The pair emerged from cover. Braecen sped forward as both blades whirled in sequence. He cut through several of the invaders before they could react to the all-out attack. Kaeth drew up short at an intersection and locked his feet to the ground. From here he would rather die than give an inch. Valhavoc slid into position at his side. He barked an order and the Sith instinctively obeyed by creating a barrier before them to repel blaster fire. Two grenades were released from his hands. They beeped madly as they tumbled through the air and landed beside their foes.

An explosion rocked the landscape and tossed both friend and foe violently against bulkheads and hallways. An eerie quiet settled into the passage as the trio of Atyiru, Marick, and Timeros marched over the corpses — and, with regretful determination, their wounded allies — towards the vault of Mejas Doto.

Through the Force, Atyiru could sense the insanity pouring outward from the Dark Jedi Master of Clan Arcona. She could also sense a more familiar presence: Teroch. She reached for the beautiful, ornate hilt at her waist. Beside her, the Combat Master and a Combat Master Emeritus mirrored her, moving for their weapons.

The battle for Dusk Station was about to begin.

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T+38:13:04
DIA Safehouse
Eldar, Dajorra System

The smell of rapidly decaying flesh and acrid smoke hung in the hot, dank air.

With each step he took into the pockmarked warehouse, Zakath could feel his smoldering fury stoking to an inferno. With each step he took, he passed another body. His wrathful eyes blazed like hot purple coals, and his talons clenched into tight fists as he set foot in the main cargo area of the building where members of the Tal’mahe’Ra and DIA agents were sorting out the grisly scene in the dead center of the room.

There was a pile of bodies in various, crooked positions on the floor, all of them with blackened gaping holes in their chests, clear evidence of blaster fire. He mentally noted the fact that most of the corpses belonged to what were being considered ‘Undesirable’ species by the Iron Throne.

They were too late.

“Zakath.”

The Barabel let a low growl escape his throat as he stared down at the twisted carcasses, barely registering that someone had come up beside him and was trying to hand him a datapad. After a long minute, Zakath wheezed out a hiss and turned to face whoever was brave enough to disturb him.

Tamashi Adaephon Delat stood there, his features hidden behind his ebony mask. Zakath accepted the datapad but did not look at it yet, instead sparing another glance at the rotting bodies on the floor.

“How many?” he asked at last.

“We counted twenty-one bodies total: nineteen of the people under our protection, and two Iron Legion troopers,” Tamashi replied, his voice hollow from the mask. “There were ten survivors who escaped thanks to the intervention of a Jedi Knight who stayed behind.”

“Speciez?” Zakath asked curiously.

“Omwati.”

Zakath’s eyes narrowed at Tamashi’s reply. He had not seen an Omwati body on his way in. Taking another harder look at the pile of corpses, he could not see any evidence of an Omwati within it.

“Where is the body?” Zakath hissed out.

“There is no body,” Tamashi replied flatly.

“Waz he taken alive?” Zakath asked, his voice a low snarl. “If he waz taken alive—”

“No,” Tamashi raised a hand. “The DIA has recovered footage from our security feeds, and it shows an unidentified Inquisitor killing the Omwati. However, the footage also showed Iron Legion troopers taking the body with them when they withdrew.”

Zakath’s eyes glowed brighter as he stared hard at Tamashi. After a moment, he switched the topic.

“How many safehouzez did we have on Eldar?”

“Seven,” Tamashi replied.

“And how many were hit?”

“Seven,” Tamashi repeated.

All seven were hit?” Zakath hissed out, his voice a low and dangerous tone.

“Yes. The DIA is still compiling its analysis, but…” The Sephi’s voice trailed off.

“Not even the Inquizitoriuz has such a powerful intelligence network,” Zakath finished Tamashi’s sentence. “We have traitorz among uz.”

“That is my thought,” Tamashi agreed with a slight nod. “I’m receiving reports from the Nighthawk as well. Not enough to get the full picture, but it looks like they’re getting bad intelligence on their end as well, bad intelligence that got one of the crew killed on his last operation. I think this rot goes much further than we originally suspected.”

“The Iron Throne iz playing gamez with uz,” Zakath growled out. “Teroch waz nothing more than a diztraction. Thiz waz their real mezzage.”

“Yes, and unfortunately Teroch’s…distraction delayed us long enough for the message to be made loud and clear.”

“No more,” Zakath said softly.

“Zakath?” Tamashi’s voice was uncertain.

“No. More,” the Barabel repeated before focusing his glowing eyes on Tamashi’s mask. “The Proconzul iz making changez. I am being elevated to hiz side to azzizt in the inveztigation of thiz traitoriuz rot.”

“I see. And the Tal’mahe’Ra?”

“Will be in your handz.” Zakath’s lips curved up into the first smile he’d had all day. “My new pozition will enzure that more rezourcez will be made available to you. We have laid the foundation, but you, Tamazhi, you will sharpen the Tal’mahe’Ra into an order that the Inquizitoriuz will learn to fear. And when the time comez…we will plunge it into their beating heartz and rip out their throatz.” Zakath’s eyes turned again toward the pile of corpses. His eyes shone with the Dark Side, and his words held hate. “The Inquizitoriuz thinkz thiz…dizplay will cauze uz to fear the Iron Throne. But all thiz doez iz make uz angry. And when our rage reachez a fever pitch, we will make the Inquizitoriuz drown in their own blood.”

Brought to you by Sashar. No, not that one. The other one. No, the other other one.

T+38:22:04
The Citadel
Selen, Dajorra System

Sashar stared out from the balcony backing the throne room. It was a beautifully majestic view. Twilight had just slipped past the horizon, and the long shadows had stretched inexorably away to give way to the diffuse grey of the evening. In the distance, the mountains took on an almost purple hue, and the sweeping expanse of fields between the city and the steppes blotted a patchwork of blue and green. The muted spectrum mirrored the eviscerating emptiness Sashar felt as he leant against the thick stone railing, his back to the throne that was no longer his.

A week ago, he’d been a father of four. A week ago, he’d had purpose. He’d had a reason to fight. Now, all he had were reasons not to. A deep, feral part of him wanted to hurt something. It had gripped at him like an addiction, always simmering away behind his iron-clad control. It promised a release more profound and cathartic than anything rational could possibly deliver. Of course, the rational part of his mind — his waking mind — urged caution. He hadn’t yet decided who to listen to.

He hadn’t slept in days. He’d felt them go through the Force. Each of them had been like a blaster bolt to the gut. Boiling hot pain turning his insides into a conflagration of torment and inconsolable rage. It was the closest he’d ever come to the Dark Side. Not even when he’d delved deep, masquerading as Mejas’ sycophant in order to take the madman down, had he truly abandoned everything. There was always a small, defiant part of him he’d kept sequestered away, retaining some distant, numb sense of self. No, when he’d felt Trikar’s life leave him, he’d abandoned reason and gone hunting. Hunting to kill his flesh and blood.

The worst part was that he’d even failed in that endeavour. An all-consuming bloodlust had risen within him to kill his own son, and he’d missed his chance. Or perhaps he’d wanted to and knew he’d be unable to end his last child’s life. If so, he was a coward as well as a failed father.

Should’ve stayed dead, Sashar thought bitterly to himself.

Something shifted inside him. There was literally nothing left to lose. He’d already died once. It wasn’t that bad. Afterwards, he’d be at peace.


He prowled the corridors of the Citadel like a wraith. No armor adorned him; he wouldn’t need it. It would only stave off the inevitable end. Just ahead, a mere hundred feet or so, was his deader. Not a target, not a victim, no, none of these would do. The Juggernaut was dead, he just didn’t know it yet. Teroch Erinos had cost his father his other three children, but he was still Sashar’s son. He would always have been. He didn’t comprehend it fully, but a visceral, gut-wrenchingly fundamental part of the Arconae knew that he needed to avenge Teroch’s death.

It wouldn’t matter if it was a quick death for the Krath or a slow one. Sashar didn’t care. He’d stab him in the back or beat him about the face with a ferrocrete rock if that was what the job required. There was no plan; no forward thinking, just a base indomitable rage that needed feeding, or it’d consume him.

He spotted the Adept and his pulse sang with anticipation. A sweat formed on his brow, and his knuckles tightened, pushing the blood from them. Sashar didn’t bother with a weapon; he picked up his pace, moving silently, an icy inexorable advance of an avalanche. His focus blotted out everything but his target’s back, unaware of death-made-true, mere paces away. His vision stretched out like a tunnel, almost as if he were losing consciousness.

Sashar’s hand went to his lightsaber, and he unclipped the weapon with a spastic jerk. His thumb pressed against the ignition—

A strong hand gripped his arm and whirled him about. His eyes wide and crazed, Sashar exploded in the Force, letting two lifetimes of power and experience and rage boil straight to the surface. His lightsaber blazed to life like a pale blue sun and he swung at his antagonist.

Celahir Erinos easily moved backwards, drawing his own weapon, but it was Rayze Erinos, the larger of the two, who caught the blow, his expression one of regret.

Braecen turned about, seeming startled, but Celahir speared him with a look. “Family business. Go.”

His warning was well heeded, and the Quaestor turned and hurried away. Whatever was about to happen was going to be messy, and definitely something worth steering well clear of.

“Gar shab’ika!” Sashar hissed, forcing Rayze away.

“Don’t do this, Sash,” he intoned, his voice heavy with pity. It was like a slap to the face. The Force flared into a supernova and he lashed out with his saber, Rayze barely able to batter the wild swing away. Celahir moved like a vornskr, ducking under both blades, and tackled Sashar to the floor. Before the Elder could shove him off, Rayze was there, pinning his saber-hand to the ground, letting the short teal blade burn into the stone, filling the corridor with acrid smoke. The pilot twisted, broke his uncle’s wrist, and Sashar shouted more from frustration than pain as his hand let go of the weapon. Swiftly, the pair pinned him to the ground, weathering his agony and wrath like a rock in a stormy sea. His impotent screams filled the dark, foggy scene, and they did not abate for a while.

T+40:02:56
Unknown Location
Unknown System

The room was silent, save for the methodical respiration of the transparisteel lung. Even the vital monitors, their red and blue lights casting variegated smears across the brushed metal finish of the equipment, had been long since silenced. The chamber’s recycled air felt stale and heavy in the Muun’s nostrils, and he tried not to empathize with the broken and battered Kiffar in the hermetically sealed pod in front of him. His gray eyes darted instinctively to the pod’s console, but he forced himself to look away from the red cutoff switch. The time will come… Or it won’t. It will. Or it won’t. Not my business.

Lorden’s gaze returned to the pod, the metronomic rhythm grating on his nerves. Time. Time. Always time. But never mine. No. Always that insufferable Mr. Blue. What makes him so— The rant cut off as he realized his eyes had cut back to the console, and he swallowed the anticipatory saliva that had begun to pool on his tongue. The foolhardy clone would live. For now. Their mutual benefactor had made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that he alone would decide to if and when to pull the Erinos’ plug. Because his plan went so smoothly this time…

The door behind him whisked open, and the Muun suppressed the urge to jump, or even turn. Can’t let them see you nervous.

“Mr. Gray.” The same rigid, cultured formality. Silk over durasteel. It sent a shiver down Lorden’s spine, but he turned casually toward it.

“Mr. Blue.” He bit off the ridiculous moniker, forcing himself to meet the hooded figure’s crimson stare. The Muun inclined his elongated head slightly, suppressing the urge to tear apart the hood and sink his teeth into the pompous windbag’s jugular. Can’t maim the boss. Not yet. Even if his did botch this up.

“How fares our patient? I assume the extraction was successful?”

“It was, sir. Our men rendezvoused with the station and their security codes were good. They dropped off our cadaver at the Citadel and brought the would-be parricide to us. He’s been unresponsive since his arrival but…well, that’s to be expected.”

“How disheartening that they didn’t spot the fake.” Mr. Blue’s voice sounded genuinely disappointed, like a father whose son had failed to live up to expectations. After a moment, he shrugged and gestured to the pod - and the form within. “I suppose that’s to be expected, though, short of a DNA test.”

“Though we’re still sketchy on the details, it appears that the young Erinos was exposed to vacuum for a number of seconds following his battle with the Arconans, before his body could be retrieved.” The Muun’s eyes shifted again, following Mr. Blue’s to the pod. The once-comely clone showed signs of severe ebullism. The entire surface of his skin was a mottled black and blue, his lower limbs were necrotic, and most of the cells in his eyes, mouth and fingers had boiled and burst. He was little more than a slab of meat. Lorden’s gaze wandered back to the monitors. A slab of meat with brain activity. “The medical equipment has kept him stable thus far, and he appears to be comatose, rather than brain dead.” The unspoken question hung pregnant in the chamber’s stale air.

After a few moments, the hooded figure turned back to the Muun. When he spoke, his voice was slow, methodical and dispassionate. “We could replace the damaged limbs and organs with cybernetics, circulate bacta through his body to repair the cellular damage. With time, effort and money he would live.” The briefest of pauses filled the medical suite. “But that would be a waste. The brat couldn’t even follow orders. He was supposed to assassinate Arcona’s military leadership, and instead he waged a private war against his own family. Idiot.” As he spoke, Mr. Blue strode to the transparisteel lung’s command console. “Besides,” he chuckled, black-gloved finger pressing the red cutoff switch without hesitation, “we’ve seen how well that turned out. I’m not inclined to better acquaint myself with a Death Star’s reactor.”

The soft, sibilant sigh of the pod grew quiet, and the monitor’s lights grew as black as Teroch’s legs. The crimson-eyed figure spun on his heel and the medical suite’s door whisked open at his approach. “Come. This debacle has set us back. We have much to do if we’re to stick to our schedule.”

Lorden clenched his jaw at the melodramatics and fell into step behind the black-cloaked figure. “Yes, sir.”

“Besides, you never want to keep a hungry Hutt waiting.”

Plaintext Version

From the sightless wonder who still sees all…

T+97:18:01
Estle City
Selen, Dajorra System

“Everlily Pele, come down here this instant!”

A tangle of long, messy wheat-blonde hair poked itself over the lip of a tiled roof. Below, an angry, upturned face stared back, making the girl duck back instinctively. She peeked forward again not a second later, feeling the giddy way her stomach dropped into her toes and flip-flopped back up as she leaned on the edges of the shingles that skimmed open air.

“I’m playing!” shouted down the child, pushing a thick lock of hair out of her mouth. It slapped against her ear, damp with spit.

“You know you’re not allowed up on the roof! Get down, Everlily, now.”

“Daddy says I can!”

“Your father takes you up with him. You’re not allowed up there on your own.”

“He said I could by myself before work!”

“Is that so? Then he can say as much when he gets home. Don’t make me tell you again, Everlily. Down, now.”

“Mooooooom, c’mon! M’not gonna fall. I’m playin’!”

Down, Everlily. I want you inside and washing up in two minutes or you’ll be grounded for a month.”

“Mom, noooo.”

“I’m waiting.”

Grumbling to herself, the young girl scrabbled away from the roof’s edge and back across the tiles that scraped rough and warm and nice under her bare feet and on her palms. She stood up when she reached the slightly peaked top, feeling her guts go down and up at the same time. The wind grabbed at her arms and legs and hair, and she stared out over the city below, feeling big and tall and forever.

It was the best up here. She could see everything and everybody: the people looking funny, the ten-hundred colors of the roofs and streets, the roads and speeder lanes. If she stood on her tiptoes she could see the market Mom took them to, over the edge of one of the apartment buildings whose fence she liked to climb. She could even see where her dad worked.

Ever turned around. She didn’t have to look up to see it — she never did. The Citadel. Mom liked it a lot. She said it wasn’t a castle, but it looked like a castle to Ever. Mom always said, “‘the Citadel will protect us.’” That was great and all, but it had to be way cooler than that to be a castle. The people that were in charge of the world were there, they had to be.

Sometimes she liked them and sometimes she didn’t. She liked them the days school was cancelled and when it didn’t rain and when Daddy came home early. She didn’t like them when it got all cold because she hated the cold and she wasn’t allowed on the roof at all if it was snowy or when she had homework and those were times when the Citadel was stupid, not protectful.

Ever knew what she’d do if she was in charge of the world. If she was in charge, she’d cancel mornings, and school all week, and the dentist, and bedtimes and not being allowed on the roof without Daddy. There’d be less bugs, more chocolate and all the apples, and Lea wouldn’t get to be faster than her when they were playing huttball. If she was in charge of the world, there wouldn’t be vegetables or “wake up early” or even such a thing as “early" because early was stupid. Everybody could just wake up whenever they wanted instead. And they’d all have speeders too. All the kids. She’d have like…fifty.

“ONE MINUTE, EVERLILY!” Mom yelled, making her flinch, and she frowned down at the ground.

“I’m gonna be in charge and then I’ll have all the minutes,” she mumbled as she went to the back of the house and climbed down the ladder wedged there against its metal side. Daddy didn’t like her going up or down when he wasn’t holding it, but she could do it by herself just fine.

Her mother was waiting with her arms crossed and foot tapping when she got to the bottom, pointing her inside. Ever made a face.

“Get cleaned up, Everlily. I want you at the table when I get back in.”

“Lea’s not at the table.”

“Your brother will be, now go on.”

Huffing, the girl stomped a bit as she went in their back door but did it anyway, passing through the kitchen, past the dining table and into the living room and through her parent’s room to the bathroom. She looked over her shoulder, then turned the water on for a few seconds, waiting, before turning it off and running back out—

“Oomph! Ever! Geez, watch it!” snapped her brother, rubbing at his legs while she cupped her face, her nose stinging and head swishy. He reached down and pulled her back to her feet, swatting her hands away. “You okay, dummy?”

“I’m fiiiine, move,” replied the girl, but he just caught her by the back of her shirt, dragging her to a stop.

“Hey, punk, hold on. Did you wash off?”

“Yesletmego!”

“Lemme see.”

“I did!”

“C’mon, kid, you got that faucet thing from me. Spread 'em.”

Scowling, she didn’t bother to show him her dirt-covered hands, just stomping back into the bathroom while Lea watched instead. She stuck her tongue out at him in the mirror.

“Butt.”

“Brat. You’re such a little copy-nexu. Hurry up, I’m hungry.”

The siblings went back to the table, Lea stopping to close his bedroom door on the way when she tried to look in. Mom was waiting for them, looking annoyed, and Ever sat in her chair without a word.

Her mother started grabbing spoons while Lea flopped into his own seat, and Ever looked over at her father’s spot.

“Where’s Daddy?”

“He’s working late. It’s very busy today.”

“Why?”

“Because it is, Everlily. The Citadel does lots of important work, and your father has to help them.”

“Like what?”

“Lots of things.”

“Liiiiiike?”

“They protect us, Everlily. They give us everything. That’s what.”

Lea scoffed loudly. Ever glanced at him, frowned, then turned back to her mother. “Like what?” she repeated. “Why’s they so busy? Why’s Daddy? Is it because of all that stuff from the other day?”

She had come out of her room to find her parents and brother all crowded around the daily holo. She hadn’t been able to read the title upside down, but the big picture on the front taking up the whole page looked like one of the big kinds of ships on fire.

They wouldn’t let her look at it. Daddy had told her not to worry about it. Mom always told her not to worry about stuff. She said it a lot lately. She said it about the starfighters and ships that flew over them sometimes, she said it about the people they saw around that looked hurt or sad, she said it when the sirens went off or when she made Ever come inside early and told her to stay there, and it was nothing like when she’d made her get off the roof earlier — it was something scary and serious and when she it like that, Ever just listened.

Putting a bowl down in front of her, Mom sighed, “You don’t have to worry about it, little flower. Just remember the Citadel will protect us. Eat your dinner”

Ever glanced down and made a face. “I hate potatoed soup.”

“It’s good food, young lady, and it’s good for you. We’re blessed for every meal, so be grateful and eat up.”

“I want apples and stars,” she complained, her stomach growling and tongue dancing at the thought of her favorite pasta, shaped like small five-pointed figures.

“No Everlily. This is what we’re having for dinner.”

“Why not?”

“Because this is what I made. Besides, we’re out of apples and cheese.”

The girl’s heart sank down to the bottoms of her feet, and she crossed her arms, glaring at her bowl. Potatoes were gross.

“Bet you I can finish before you, brat,” her brother said suddenly, picking his bowl up and slurping it. Ever sat bolt upright, brows furrowing.

“No you can’t!” she cried, grabbing her own and drinking. It made her throat tighten but she did it anyway, tongue burning.

“Everlily! Sasalea! Stop it right now. Use your silverware!”

Just Lea, Mom,” her sibling groaned, setting his dish back down. Ever gasped for air and did the same, feeling gloppy liquid drip down her chin and smack onto her shirt.

Everlily. You’re making a mess. Gah, here…” Leaning over, her mother began wiping at her with a cloth. She struggled away.

“I can do it myself, stoooop,” the girl whined, grabbing her own napkin and dragging it over her face and chest. Under her mother’s glare, then, she grabbed her spoon in a fist and shoved more soup in her mouth, face screwed up as she did so. Mom went back to telling Lea he was in trouble.

After a moment, Ever realized something.

“Mom, aren’t ya gonna eat?”

“I…ate earlier, Everlily. Now shush and finish your dinner.”

The child stared at her mother, then at her brother, her bowl, and the empty chair between them all.

“Is Dad gonna be back for dinner?”

“We’ll see, dear. He’ll call when he’s on his way.”

Shoulders slumping, Ever went back to her icky soup, eyes drifting back towards the door and the communicator on the wall every few minutes. Mom and Daddy both said not to worry and just trust the Citadel. Daddy was at the Citadel. That meant he’d be okay.

He would be if she was in charge, anyway.

T+98:16:41
C-ROC Gozanti - class Cruiser Wide Berth
Dajorra System

The spectral image above the holoprojector cast a cobalt light over the outsized quarters. Though it chased away shadows, the captain’s cabin seemed drearier for the harsh, mechanical light. With an inward side, Whallata listened to the Muun drone on incessantly.

“It’s imperative that you arrive at precisely six minutes after…”

The Hutt tuned out Mr. Gray’s chattering. She had grown quite efficient at doing so over the past few months of their partnership. I’ve been running criminal organizations five times longer than you’ve been alive, conehead. Don’t lecture me. Still, the Besadeii crime boss kept her expression neutral through the speech, never betraying her true feelings towards the impudent Muun. A quiet chirp sounded from the intercom on the cabin’s wall, and the Hutt raised a short arm to silence the hologram.

“I understand. We’ll be landing in just a few minutes, and I must see to preparing the assault team. I’ll comm you as soon as we have control.”

The Muun’s blue image looked perturbed at the interruption, but he acquiesced with a quick nod of his oversized head, and the holofeed cut out just as swiftly. With a slight harumph, the yellowish-gray Hutt spun towards the double-wide door and glided through it, heading towards the transport’s cargo bay. A glance at her chrono confirmed her suspicion. No time for the creche of karuvian meal worms she had set aside to celebrate the occasion. I’ll have to remind Dralin to bring them to the command center once we’ve completed our assault. Smiling in anticipation, Whallata slithered through the cargo bay doors. They whooshed closed behind her considerable bulk, and her smile widened.


T+98:16:58
Port Ol’val
Dajorra System

There was a time when the Weequay would have scorned Whallata’s insatiable appetite. Worrying about food, when dozens of mercenaries were launching an attack on a heavily-fortified installation filled with highly trained soldiers and Force Users, not to mention the multitude of pirates, smugglers and slavers who called Ol’val home…it boggled Dralin’s mind. But the Hutt’s majordomo had long-since learned to take his mistress’s proclivities in stride. Her numerous successes more than made up for her eccentricities. Tapping out a few commands on his datapad, the erstwhile bounty hunter sent the Hutt’s orders to her porters before switching back to the pad’s interactive station map.

The screen showed a vertical map of the station on the left, and an overhead map of the selected level on the right. Bright green dots represented the soldiers and mercenaries Whallata had brought with them to retake the shadowport, while red splashes of color indicated reports of resistance. So far, they’d met little on the populated levels. That meant little, though. The Weequay knew that the station’s more dangerous denizens, those who called themselves Arconans, had numerous fallback points and safe houses from which they’d need to be rooted out.

“The assault is going more or less as anticipated, Your Rotundness. We have reports of surprising resistance in the port’s medical facilities, but minimal engagements otherwise. It seems your name still carries a great deal of weight on Ol’val.”

The Hutt shot him a long-suffering look - he knew she preferred to make the puns - before nodding her massive head. Her quivering jowls had once been off-putting, but after six years of serving as her right-hand man, Dralin barely gave them a second thought. Well, a third thought. Usually.

“And our forces on Selen?”

“Dead. All of them.”

A wide smile blossomed on the Hutt’s face and her bulbous, reptilian eyes beamed. “Excellent.”

The Q stands for Quality

T+98:18:12
The Citadel
Selen, Dajorra System

The sun was hardly above the horizon — an exceptional point given the Citadel’s elevation — as Qyreia stepped off of her stoop. Her lover, Keira, was off on some errand with her “Krayt Syndicate,” or whatever they were calling themselves these days, leaving the Zeltron to her lonesome. Perfect opportunity to get a workout in, she’d thought as the realization had set in. Donning a tank-top and running shorts, she set out from her apartment into the brisk morning air.

Exercise was a good sort of escapism.

I don’t do this often enough. Equally hating the sudden need for air as much as she enjoyed the scenic view, she worked her way down the winding stair toward Estle City proper, so quiet and peaceful this early in the morning. Aside from a scattered few students on the Huascar Ring, the university level was nearly devoid of life. Lower down on the Sinchi Ring, her skin prickled in the cold offered by the shade of the winding avenues. By the time she made it to the Capac Ring, Qyreia remembered that she still had the return trip to jog. As the sun rose ever higher, a fine sheen of sweat coursed over her red skin, her blue hair matting against her forehead and scalp as she jogged back up toward the Citadel, towering high above.

For a Brotherhood in such turmoil, Selen felt like an incredibly peaceful place, removed from the internal strife of her former Clan or the covert struggles of the Lotus and Odan Urr. With Keira gone, the only sounds being her breathless panting as the Zeltron reached her door, it all felt too quiet. A good quiet, but too quiet nonetheless.

“Not like few days ago, right Ms. Squishy?” she whispered, passing by Shay’lra’s crib on her way to the refresher to check on the sleeping baby. “Poor kid. I hope Kord and Zuj’re okay.”

Kordath had departed for Port Ol’val three days prior, leaving the babe to the Quaestor, who was more familiar with the Zeltron side of the child’s disposition than most babysitters. I don’t know why they fuss so much about her, Qyreia thought as she hopped into the shower. She’s hardly a handful with me. Perhaps it was because she knew how to handle the pheromones and emotional telepathy intrinsic to Zeltron biology, but the difficulties that had plagued the Ryn couple prior to consulting the mercenary never arose in the few times she had seen to the kid herself. The thoughts made Qyreia wonder what it would be like to be a parent and have kids of her own.

“I can’t even imagine it,” she chuckled as the steaming water cascaded over her.

It wasn’t until she had dried and was halfway through dressing that the Ryntron finally stirred with a whine. Welp, looks like the reprieve is over. Buttoning her shirt, the merc slipped into the living room and picked up the baby, bouncing gently and cooing to her.

“Heeey Shay. G’morning you little rascal.” She poked the little one’s forehead with her nose, eliciting a delighted giggle. “That’s a good girl. How’s breakfast sound, hm?”

While the baby gurgled contentedly, Qyreia moved to the kitchen and prepped the milk bottle, humming a soft melody while the pair waited. Shay still enjoyed playing the Zeltron games, even if she didn’t know she was doing it, and even as the chime went off to say the milk was ready, the merc could feel the difference in the air.

“Eat up, kiddo,” she said, popping the bottle into the expectant red hands before putting her gently back into the crib. “I’m gonna finish getting ready, then what’s say you come to work with me?” The baby sneezed such that it almost sounded like a scoff. “I know, I don’t want to go to work either.”

After forcing down a quick, light meal, she finished putting her attire together. With the baby cradled in her arms and seemingly enjoying the soft leather of the merc’s jacket, they left the little apartment, not noticing the pulsing glow from her computer terminal. By now the morning rush was in full swing, with military and other assorted Clan personnel shifting one way or another through the halls. Business as usual, if looking significantly more hectic.

Not that things hadn’t come quietly once Qyreia had taken up the mantle of Quaestor. Battleteam Tal’mahe’Ra had been merged with Nighthawk to streamline operational logistics, while she and other Galerian staff had started to pick away at the backlog of work; slowly but surely. A few key suggestions to the higher Summit had put the idea in their heads to establish a permanent military post on Selen which Galeres could use as a base of operations, given their militant role and current lack of a home.

The destruction of the fleet was a sore spot that was still making it difficult to sleep.

“Call Atyiru,” she said to the voice recognition software that was always running on her desk interface. A few chimes rang quietly as she took a seat, Shay pawing at her chin, before the image of the Consul appeared. “Mornin’ Atty.”

“Qyreia, where have you been?! I’ve tried calling you three times already!”

“I went for a run this morning, showered, and now I’m in the office with Shay. Why? Something else happen?” Largely used to her eccentric side, the Zeltron still couldn’t quite comprehend the worrisome tone in the Consul’s voice.

She could hear the Miraluka sigh heavily on the other end. “We need to work on our recovery efforts for the fleet. Do you know where Bleu is?”

“I’m just babysitting Shay’lra. He didn’t give me any specifics.”

“Probably off to check in on Zujenia then. Keep me appraised, and be ready. Things just became far more complicated. I’ll be by in a couple hours to go over this new business.”

“Alright Atty. I’ll… see what I can do here in the meantime.” She closed the channel and sat back in her chair, bouncing the Rynlette in her arms and unsure how to process everything. Part of her knew that at least some of those ships had been, at least in the paperwork, under her oversight, and a lot of people within her command were probably dead now. Even five days after the fact, she had just barely managed to keep herself together. Looking at Shay, oblivious in her arms, only complicated her emotions. “It’s okay kid,” she said reassuringly, though the target clearly wasn’t the baby, “we’ll sort out this mess, your dad’ll come back, and everything’ll be alright again.”

Feeling the adult Zeltron’s dismay, Shay started to cry. So did the Quaestor.

And now: a special message from your local neighborhood unicorn…if you live in Canada.

T+98:17:24
Port Ol’val
Dajorra System

The Phantom Complex had grown eerily quiet over the last few weeks, the whirling chaos and frantic excitement of glitter-bombs and purple graffiti had become nothing more than mere memory. The brown stains of blood and paint had long since been scrubbed clean and a sort of monotonous routine had replaced them. Many of the civilian workers were grateful of the new, and yet familiar, setting; a sense of safety had been brought in by the Aedile’s replacement.

The hallways of Alpha level echoed with the softly padded footsteps of civilian staff, monotonously tending to their duties and wordlessly going about their daily tasks. A floor down, the atmosphere drastically changed. Beta level seemed to be clenching to a strange aura of anxiousness, wrapping it’s claws around any sudden noise and making more skittish people flinch. No one seemed to know what was going to happen, but there seemed to be a sense of impending danger that permeated the air.

Inside the office of Terran Koul, two men spoke in hushed tones while sitting on either side of a large metal desk. The Quaestor sat with his feet up on his desk, ankles crossed while the smaller man seemed to be nervously shifting in his seat. Kordath Bleu, the recently appointed Aedile of Galeres, thumbed the flask in his pocket as the Kiffar’s dark azure gaze locked on him, waiting for an answer.

“She’s nae so moody as th’ Purple Lady,” Kordath paused, his low voice thinning into a whisper as he flicked his tail, “but somethin’ ‘bout th’ other one. Ain’t right.”

Terran Koul hid a smirk behind his hand as he appeared to rub his nose with a knuckle. “What makes you say that? She’s efficient at her job and hasn’t done a thing we can find to warrant any suspicion, so far.”

“So far…Dunno, just somethin’ ‘bout the way the staff seems to,” the Ryn shrugged, making grunting noise as he shook his head. Terran raised an eyebrow in response, waiting for the Galaren Aedile to finish.

“I dunno!” Kordath finally grumbled. “Act like flower petals fall out her pink arse.”

The Quaestor laughed, lifting his feet off the desk and sitting up straighter in his chair. As he leaned forward, the smile disappearing from his face. Terran gave Kordath a level gaze.

“Do you trust her with Zujenia’s safety?”

Kark, Terran.” Kordath scoffed, his tail flipping anxiously. “I trust Zuji t’ take care of ‘erself. Even in the medbay. She’s gotta good guard on ‘er. B’sides, yer gonna keep eyes on ‘er while I’m gone.”

“Alright, well I—” The Quaestor was suddenly interrupted by the distant sound of an explosion and an abrupt shift in lighting. A moment later, alarms were blaring and the emergency lights of the Phantom Complex came on.

“What the kark?” Terran barked, scanning his datapad as Kordath did the same. A buzz from the office door came and the Quaestor leapt to his feet, moving quickly to press the comm.

“What’s going on?” Terran shouted as he door slid open. Aedile Maenaki Dalevi’in stood in the entrance with a perplexed look on her face.

“My Lord, we appear to be under attack.”