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Of Blood and Honor - Jedi Hunt


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silvershadows
07.26.2012 , 08:07 PM | #1
Greetings one more time, and as always, thanks for looking!

It's been a while since I wrote Of Blood and Honor - A Mandalorian Vacation. It is with great pleasure and pride that I present to you Of Blood and Honor - Jedi Hunt, the second story in the series.

The plot for this story was developed at the same time as Mandalorian Vacation was being written. Apocalypsa and Torian have become very special characters to me, and I find myself finding great joy in writing about them and continuing their adventures after the end of the in-game events.

As before, this story takes place about two years after the end of the Bounty Hunter storyline, and about two weeks after the events in Mandalorian Vacation.

Once again, I find myself inclined to warn my readers - I managed to reach novella length this time.

Please read and enjoy, and if you like my stories or my characters, please leave a comment. I don't mind if the comment is short or long, you don't need to give me a review or anything (unless you want), just let me know if you enjoyed it.

I do highly recommend that if you have not read Mandalorian Vacation, that you do so before reading this story, as it is a sequel.

And without further ado, here is Of Blood and Honor - Jedi Hunt.
Avatia
Deception Assassin
<Tave Naefas Lazea>
A Sith endures.

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silvershadows
07.26.2012 , 08:07 PM | #2
1


The air inside the cantina was thick with smoke and the odor of potent liquors. Boisterous patrons spoke loudly to each other, the din of overlapping conversations muted to a dull roar in the ears of the woman seated at the bar.

Her shortly cropped raven hair curled slightly at the nape of her neck, and she leaned on her elbows atop the bar, her left hand curled around a tall, thin glass of shimmering liquor that phosphoresced a bright blue color, splashing its light across her pale skin as she lifted it, took a sip.

As the glimmering liquid slid down her throat, she felt a tap on her shoulder. Turning, she came face to face with a young human male, dark haired and dark-eyed. Her own eyes, emerald green orbs set within a sea of dark tattooed pigment, narrowed.

Unperturbed by the unusual inking across her face, the man flashed her what he obviously thought was a dazzling smile. “Buy you a drink, sweetheart?”

One corner of her dark lips twitched upward as she raised the glass in her hand. “I’m all set buddy.” Her husky voice was low, but firm.

He looked at the drink in her hand, his eyes widening slightly as he noted a jagged network of scars covering her forearm. “You look like you have a story to tell,” he persisted, gesturing at her arm. He pulled out the stool next to her, moved to sit down in it.

He hadn’t quite finished the movement when suddenly, an armored hand landed heavily on his shoulder. Swallowing the lump that had quickly formed in his throat, he turned to face a tall man clad in heavy, black armor trimmed a dark green. Under his arm he held a matching helmet of the same dense metal. The helmets darkened, blast-resistant visor was in the distinct T-shaped style of the galaxy’s most feared warrior clans – the Mandalorians.

The tall blond man leaned down toward the other. His large, deep blue eyes sparkled dangerously. Upon his cheeks he bore twin scars which resembled crescents that had been slashed through twice each with straight lines. Ritual scars, the dark-haired one realized. He looked over at the woman. An amused smirk played across her face, and he began to wonder if he hadn’t bitten off a bit more than he cared to chew.

The blond man quirked an eyebrow, raising his free hand to point a finger at the empty stool. “I hope you weren’t about to steal my seat.”

“I…” the other man looked between the stool and the woman seated at the bar. Lifting his hands into the air as if in surrender, he quickly began to back away. “I’m sorry, didn’t realize. I’m not messing with any Mandalorians!” With that, he turned and disappeared into the crowd.

Chuckling softly, the woman sipped at her drink. “The fun factor of any cantina instantly goes up when you come around, Torian.”

He grinned down at her, sliding into the vacated seat. Reaching out, he took the glass from her hands and lifted it to his lips. Turning the stool so that he could face her, he waved his other hand toward the cantina exit. “Your beskar’gam is ready. Had a couple droids take it to the ship. Smith was so honored to be working on Apocalypsa’s armor that he gave us a discount.”

She laughed softly. “Just glad I knew where we could find a Mandalorian metal worker.” Her armor had been badly damaged just over two weeks previously, when she and Torian had fought and won an intense battle with both a powerful creature and a ghost from Apoc’s past that had become altogether too real.

Pulling her drink from Torian’s reluctant fingers, Apoc sipped at it as she recalled the furious battle. First they had fought a giant mutated reptile – an overgrown lizard with razor-sharp claws, wicked teeth, poisonous saliva, and the ability to disappear from sight completely. Torian had suffered a few fractured ribs during the battle, but Apoc had been far more grievously wounded.

Her gaze fixed on the jagged scars crisscrossing her left forearm. The lizard’s powerful jaws had punched through the thick plating of Mandalorian iron that had covered her arm as if it were made out of pasteboard. Her bones had been nearly pulverized by the vise-like grip. She had managed to activate the flamethrower mounted on her glove, killing the creature with a gout of flame straight down its throat.

As the monster had thrashed across the ground in its dying throes, Apoc had been leaning against a tree, taking stock of her injuries. It was at that moment that Cavus, Apoc’s estranged brother, had appeared, intent on murdering his sister. He had grabbed onto her ruined gauntlet, twisted it to drive the jagged metal deep into her ruined skin.

Apoc remembered how her head had felt light, like it was floating above her shoulders. Red haze had filled her vision as pain lanced through her body. Her veins had torn open as Cavus twisted her glove, letting her life’s-blood pour out like a scarlet river from the back of her gauntlet.

Somehow, through the pain and the fog clouding her brain, she had found the strength to lift her blaster and squeeze the trigger. A sky-blue bolt of energy burned its way into Cavus’ stomach – he had fallen to the ground in agony, clutching at the smoking hole in his gut. Reaching the fight, Torian had finished him off with a well-aimed blow to the skull from the knobbed end of his cortosis-studded phrik alloy techstaff.

Apoc had collapsed after the battle, falling unconscious from the massive trauma and blood loss. Torian had picked her up, had carried her to the Mandalorian encampment where Commander Vorten Fett had ordered medics to tend her wounds.

It had been touch and go for a while, and Torian had feared she might die on him, that he might lose his wife after only two short years together. He had sat by her side, never moving, never speaking, only staring at her pale face until, two days of kolto treatments later, Apoc had opened her emerald eyes and smiled at him.

She was smiling at him now, as she swirled the shimmering blue liquid around in her glass before lifting it to her lips and downing the remainder. “You maybe want to play bait next time though?” She set the glass down on the bar.

“Nah,” he replied, chuckling softly. “Last time we did that, poor girl fainted.”

Grinning at each other, they stood and pushed their way through the crowd to the exit. As they stepped out into the cooler night air, a soft yet insistent beeping noise began to chime from Apoc’s belt. Pulling out her holocomm, Apoc thumbed it on. The image of a young woman danced above it, and she smiled at the Mandalorian couple as she spoke.

“Hey you two, wanted to let you know the coordinates for your target just came through. You better hurry back.”

“Thanks, Mako.” Apoc hit the button again and the hologram winked out. She tucked the small disk back into her belt.

Wordlessly, Apocalypsa and Torian turned together, making their way across Nar Shaddaa’s lower Promenade toward the spaceport.

Bright neon lights splashed color across their faces as they passed men and women of all types. Apoc reflected on her childhood here, on the Smuggler’s Moon. Though she had been born on Nar Shaddaa, she had never been to the Promenade until she had returned to the place of her birth with Mako, ten years after she had run away in the night, leaving behind a spice-addicted mother and the brother who would later seek to end her life.

Bits and pieces of conversation reached Apoc’s ears as they traveled through the crowds. Her eyes were drawn to a young, slender woman with dark black hair and large silver eyes who stood outside of a cantina frequented by members of the Galactic Republic. She was laughing and talking loudly to a tall man with darkly tanned skin and twisted, knotted brown hair that fell from a knot atop his head down to his waist.

“And then I said, I don’t even know what a black bisector is!” The silver-eyed woman dissolved into a fit of drunken giggles.

Shaking her head, Apoc glanced sidelong at Torian. He had noted the black Republic markings on the other mans armor and was trying, but failing, to keep a look of disdain from his face. He hated Nar Shaddaa, hated having to play nice with the enemy. Apoc didn’t disagree, but had wanted her beskar’gam repaired as soon as possible, and had heard of a Mandalorian armorsmith here, on the Promenade, who was skilled in working with the tough Mandalorian iron plating that protected her from blaster bolts and lightsaber strikes alike.

A short walk later, Apoc found herself standing in a hangar at Nar Shaddaa’s busy spaceport. There, resting on its landing gear, was the green and gold D5-Mantis patrol craft she, Torian, and Mako called home. For two years now, the three of them had worked and lived together aboard the starship. Splashed across the topmost of the trio of engines that pushed the ship through space, the name “Flameshrike” was visible.

Reaching the ships entry hatch, Apoc lifted her hand and punched her security code into the small panel next to the door. With a soft beeping sound, it slid open and the couple entered the cargo bay of the Flameshrike. Laying there by the entryway, on top of a plastifiber box, was Apoc’s armor. Smiling, she began to pick up each piece and strap them on.

Newly repaired, the black and green plating shone brightly in the light of the cargo bay. Hefting her breastplate, Apoc noticed Torian’s favorite techstaff lying next to her boots. “You have your staff repaired too?” She raised an eyebrow at him.

He shook his head, bending down to pick up the weapon. Two meters long and made from phrik alloy, the staff bore flared ends knobbed and studded with cortosis ore. Considered by some to be a strange weapon to use in a galaxy full of blaster pistols, Apoc had seen Torian crush enough skulls and cave in enough ribcages to know that he was just as effective with it as she was her guns.

Lifting it in his hand and spinning it slowly in front of his body, Torian pressed a new button that glowed softly from the center of the weapon. White bursts of light shot out from the heavy ends. “Upgraded.” He grinned at her mischievously.

Apoc nodded her head in approval. “Ion bursts?”

Sliding the staff into its place across his back, Torian shrugged his shoulders slightly. “Thought it might be useful. Should stun enemies, short out blasters, droids.”

Fastening the last of the clasps that held her armor to her body, Apoc smiled at him. “Should work well on this mission, we’ll probably be fighting Republic military.”

“I hope so,” Torian sighed softly. “We need a good challenge.”

Apoc snickered quietly. “Cavus and mutant lizards not good enough for you, eh?”

He chuckled grimly. “Cavus was a coward. Showed it when he blew up Fett’s men. Proved it when he tried to finish you, after the lizard did the hard part for him.”

Unconsciously, Apocalypsa flexed the fingers of her left hand. Torian’s sapphire gaze caught the movement, and he reached out to take her scarred hand into his own. “You sure,” he began, his voice soft, “that you’re healed? Ready to fight?”

She sighed, frowning down at her hand. “I’m as healed as I’m going to be. Besides,” she flashed him a brilliant smile, “this is important.”

He nodded. She was right, he knew. Two weeks ago, after the battle with Cavus, Mand’alor the Vindicated himself had contacted them. A Jedi known as Aran Ortain had gotten it into his head that to strike a crippling blow against the Empire one would need to demoralize their greatest source of powerful mercenary warriors – the Mandalorians.

To this end, Master Ortain had taken control of an elite group of Republic solders, a Special Ops team known as Requiem Squad. They systematically joined conflicts in which known members of Mand’alor’s clan fought, seeking them out and cutting them down from the field of battle. Herself a member of Mand’alor’s great clan, Apoc knew that if there was a list of targets, her name would be on it.

As if that would not be incentive enough for Apocalypsa to go on the hunt, Mand’alor had expressed his wishes that she and Torian rid him of this particular thorn in his side. The young couple had agreed without hesitation. Fighting for Mand’alor’s causes was part of the Resol’nare, or Six Actions, the core tenets of Mandalorian life.

The weight of her beskar’gam felt good, the newly repaired armor fitting her like a second skin. Ironskin, it was also called – the word beskar’gam literally meaning just that in the Mandalorian language. The customized armor that both Apoc and Torian wore had been crafted specifically for them and was both protection and weapon alike – Apocalypsa’s suit had been fitted with a small missile launcher mounted on her right forearm, while Torian’s right glove boasted a hidden blade that would extend across the top of his knuckles to slash at nearby foes. Both Mandalorians also bore flamethrowers on their left arms, as well as thermal detonators, concussion grenades, grappling hooks and other various devices attached to their belts.

The truly defining piece of the Mandalorian beskar’gam was not the arsenal of weaponry nor the jetpack that was affixed to it, but the helmet that completed it. Apoc carried hers, tucked under her left arm as she and Torian made their way to the Flameshrike’s bridge. A marvel of technology, the helmet had been fitted with a darkened, blaster-proof visor in a t-shaped style common to Mandalorian armor. The visor provided Apocalypsa with a sophisticated, ever-updating heads up display that gave her a 360 degree field of vision, detected the presence of life-forms within a ten meter radius, displayed her range to target, and would inform her whether or not a target was armed, injured, or dead. Programming within the helmet also allowed for voice activation of the various technological gadgets.

Stepping onto the bridge of the starship, Apoc noticed Mako seated at the computer terminal nestled in the corner. The young woman looked up as the Mandalorian couple entered, her dark eyes sparkling. “Hey guys,” she said, a smile crossing her pixie face. “Glad you’re back. We got some intel on our target a little while ago.”

Apoc raised a slender eyebrow. “Don’t leave me hanging.” She leaned on the back of the captain’s chair as Torian slid into it.

“Seems Master Ortain had to take some time out of his Mandalorian murdering to oversee some sort of archaeological dig on Voss.” Turning back to the computer, Mako tapped her fingers against a few keys.

“According to our intel, he’s scheduled to leave the planet in his personal starship about twelve hours from now, and take a cargo bay full of artifacts back to the Jedi Temple on Tython.”

“So we intercept.” Torian pointed at the sparkling three-dimensional map of the galaxy that glowed softly at the front of the ship’s bridge. “Voss is close enough to Nar Shaddaa.”

Apoc nodded, studying the map for a moment. “Only be about eight hours in hyperspace. That means we have four hours to plan. What else do we know about our soon to be ex-Jedi Master?” She moved back to her spot next to Torian.

“Wherever he goes,” Mako began, “A squadron of Republic Special Ops troopers goes with him. They’re called Requiem Squad, and apparently they were handpicked from the Republic military by Master Ortain himself for this duty.”

“What’s our intel on the squadron itself?” Apoc crossed her arms over her chest.

“Not much, I’m afraid.” Mako sighed slightly, “Been trying to slice into the records for the past hour but I haven’t made much headway. Republic military always uses really good encrypts.” Blue light from the computer display reflected in the silvery metal of the cybernetic implant circling her left eye.

“Well you have four hours, you’ll get it.” Apoc shrugged her shoulders as Mako laughed quietly.

“Glad to know you have such faith in me, boss.” The dark-eyed woman shook her head as she examined the screen in front of her. “All we know is that the members were all chosen for their skills, as well as one other small factor – they’ve all survived battles with Mandalorian warriors. The squad is made up of six men.” She frowned slightly at the display. “Sorry, five men and one woman.”

Apocalypsa narrowed her emerald eyes. “There’s a difference?”

Torian snickered softly, lifting his hand to his mouth to cover his grin. Apocalypsa’s fist smacked into his shoulder, prompting him to start chuckling instead. She rolled her eyes at him and turned her attention back to Mako. “What about Ortain himself?”

Mako read from the computer display. “Jedi Master Aran Ortain. He’s human, and Corellian.” Her eyes scanned the screen in front of her. “Known for fighting with Force powers more than his lightsaber. Says here that he trained with Jun Seros.” The young woman blinked, then swiveled in her chair to face Apocalypsa once more. “Jun Seros… isn’t that the – “

“The Jedi Master who framed me and had me put on the Republic’s most wanted list. Yep, that’s the one.” Apoc’s voice was full of contempt. Torian turned his face and looked up at her. Her bright green eyes were hard, her fingers curled tightly around the back of the chair he sat in. “So he was Seros’ apprentice?”

Mako shrugged her shoulders. “Doesn’t go into specifics. I guess he wasn’t very well known until recently – Imperial Intelligence doesn’t have much on him either.” She grinned slightly as Apoc’s lip curled in a sneer, expressing her opinion on Imperial Intelligence.

“Doesn’t matter.” Torian stood up from the chair, striding toward the arched doorway leading back towards the cargo hold. “We got Seros, we’ll get Ortain.”

Apocalypsa nodded. “Here’s what we need.” She looked at the smaller woman. “Mako, slice into Voss’s planetary network. See if you can find the coordinates for the dig our Jedi Master is working on. Then get into the Imperial diplomatic service and make us up some landing permits. Make them believable – say we’re visiting to collect on an off world bounty for some muckety-muck Sith lord. Use the name of the one in the Nightmare Lands – that guy’s even more crazy than usual. If someone asks him, he won’t remember if he had a bounty out on someone or not.”

“Got it, boss.” Mako turned her dark head back to the computer, her face a study in concentration as she began to work.

“We’re going to the digsite?” Torian’s face was thoughtful. “Old temple – probably crumbling ruins. Lots of things to hide behind, ambush points.”

“Sounds fun, doesn’t it?” Apoc grinned at him, her green eyes flashing. “Plus, after we blast Ortain and his commandos, we can take some of the stuff they dug up – get a few credits on top of a sense of satisfaction.”

He returned her smile with one of his own. “Should get our gear ready.” He lifted his hand, waved it in the direction of the cargo area. “Then get some rest during the run through hyperspace.”

Nodding, Apoc moved toward the exit, pushing past him to make her way toward the back of the ship. “This should be a good hunt.”

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silvershadows
07.26.2012 , 08:24 PM | #3
2


Jedi Master Aran Ortain sat cross-legged, his wrists on his knees as he meditated, letting his mind sink fully into the Force. A soft carpet of grass cushioned his body, and the wind whispered softly through the branches of the tree he sat beneath, stirring the bright orange-red leaves slightly and sending a couple of them fluttering gently to the ground. Reaching out with the Force, the Jedi Master sent his consciousness flowing, drifting around the crumbling ruins of the temple he had so carefully helped excavate.

Built long ago, the temple was full of valuable artifacts detailing the activities of a group of Jedi who had traveled to Voss long ago. Eager to learn more about Voss’ mysterious past, the Jedi Council had asked Ortain to oversee the work at the temple. He had quickly agreed – though he felt his focus would be better directed in his effort to demoralize the Empire’s Mandalorian mercenaries, he had long ago dedicated himself to the pursuit of knowledge and strength in the Force above all things. Besides, he had figured – the excavation would only take him from his quest for a short while, and the war wasn’t going to end any time soon.

Through the touch of the Force, he could sense the restlessness in the Republic commandos who had accompanied him on this trip. They weren’t used to this business of archaeology, and truth be told, neither was he any longer. The recovery of ancient Jedi and Voss artifacts from the old temple was important, however, and he was looking forward to delving into the ancient secrets of the mysterious planet.

As he stretched out his awareness, reaching into the depths of space and time, there came a slight disturbance in the flow of the Force around him. A tiny little niggling feeling grew in the back of his mind - all was not right. Concentrating his meditation on this anomaly, the Jedi Master attempted to bring it into focus. The slight sense of dread grew stronger, an awareness growing within him. Danger was coming to threaten him and the soldiers under his command. It was approaching swiftly, but not imminent – not yet.

Swiftly, Ortain stood, smoothing his dark brown robes over his wiry frame. Lifting the hood to cover his shoulder-length rust-colored hair, he strode forward, boots softly crunching in the brightly colored grass covering the ground. Rounding the corner of the temple, he came upon one of the members of Requiem Squad pacing back and forth before the ruined entrance.

Tall, and handsome, with shortly-cropped dark hair, Captain Nicke Corel looked like he had been hand-picked for a military recruitment holo. The ranking officer in the commando unit, Nicke was an expert in the use and maintenance of most weapons larger than a blaster pistol. His arms were heavily muscled from carrying and firing the modified blaster cannon that he favored as a personal weapon. As the Jedi Master approached, Nicke looked away from the temple entrance, his intense blue gaze fixing on Ortain.

“The others are finishing the last load, sir.” Nicke’s deep voice betrayed none of the impatience Ortain knew he was feeling. “We should be ready to leave shortly.”

Ortain smiled slightly as he nodded at the soldier. “That is excellent news, Captain.” He waved his right hand at the temple ruins. “The Jedi Council will be very pleased with our work here. And content to let us pursue our other goals.”

“Yes, sir.” Nicke hesitated a moment, then asked, “Sir, if I may ask, where are we going after Tython?”

Ortain chuckled softly. No doubt Nicke wanted to know when the squad would be back in action rather than digging through the dirt. “I received word of a large number of Mandalorian mercenaries that are moving to reinforce Imperial forces on several planets in the Outer Rim. We’ll be heading that way right after we bring our shipment to the Jedi Temple.” As he spoke, he felt once more a growing sense of alarm, and his smile disappeared. “In fact, let’s get those artifacts loaded and into space. I feel a sense of urgency, as if we should get of off the planet as soon as we can.”

“Master?” A new voice came from behind him, causing Ortain to turn. His deep brown eyes met the amber-colored ones of Lieutenant Raia Jesses, the squadron medic. Her shoulder-length blonde hair had been knotted into many tiny braids which framed her heart-shaped face. Next to her stood her husband, Lieutenant Elias Jesses. A laser sniper rifle was slung over Elias’ back, and both he and his wife carried slender blaster pistols at their hips. “Is something wrong, sir?” Raia frowned slightly.

“I’m not sure.” The Jedi Master’s brow furrowed and his hand came up to stroke his chin thoughtfully. “I only know that I feel a threat is coming, and we should meet it – but on our terms. Whatever it is, it is not here, not yet.” He gestured toward the city of Voss-Ka, where a shuttle waited to take them to the orbital station their ship, the Liberator, was docked at. “I would like to get on the ship and get out into the space around Voss. We can monitor any ships that come into the system and determine if any of them pose a danger to our mission or the archaeologists we will be leaving behind, and then take appropriate action.”

When Ortain had finished speaking, Nicke pulled his comlink from his belt and thumbed it on. “Trace, Malan, Rolan. Prep the Liberator for launch, we’re heading out.” A chorus of acknowledgement burst forth from the comlink, causing a screech of static that made him wince. Replacing the comlink on his belt, he grinned at the others. “Requiem, move out.” The three commandos began heading toward a repulsorlift cargo hauler that had been loaded with boxes containing artifacts from the ancient temple. Following behind them, his hood shadowing dark, thoughtful eyes, the Jedi Master shivered slightly as the sense of dread in the back of his mind grew stronger.


+++++


“Two minutes to realspace reversion.” Mako turned to face Apocalypsa as the bounty hunter entered the Flameshrike’s bridge. Sliding into the seat before the transparisteel viewport, Apoc fixed her gaze on the swirling colors of hyperspace before her. Torian joined her, coming through the doorway to stand behind her chair, his hand falling onto her shoulder, gauntleted fingers curling around the black-painted beskar’gam that covered her body.

“Ready?” His soft inquiry caused her to tilt her head up and to the side so she could look at him. His deep blue eyes glimmered in the dim light cast by the softly glowing galaxy map.

“I’m always ready.” Her dark lips curled up in a smile. “Anay akaanir jate akaanir – Every fight’s a good fight.”

“That’s my girl.” He moved to sit in the co-pilot’s seat, his eyes scanning the display in front of it. His fingers reached out, tapped a few buttons. “All systems green, ready for reversion.”

“Thirty seconds.” Mako reached for the lever on the control board in front of her. “Coming out of hyperspace… now.” She pulled on the hyperspace lever, and the shimmering colors of hyperspace faded to starlines then tiny pinpoints of light that flickered in the blackness beyond the slowly turning planet below them. “Welcome to Voss, crazed Gormak and mysterious prophecies a specialty!”

Apoc chuckled as she pointed the Flameshrike in the direction of the Imperial docking station that orbited the planet. Several other ships were moving through space near them, blocking her view of the station itself. A little sigh of frustration escaped her lips as she maneuvered the starship to give her a clearer field of vision.

“Um, boss?” Something in Mako’s voice put Apocalypsa on instant alert. She turned her head and looked over her shoulder at the other woman, who was furiously tapping on the keypad in front of her. “There’s another ship out there querying our ID transponder.”

Apoc’s eyes narrowed. The ship’s ID transponder code was burned into the Flameshrike’s sublight engines and broadcast simple information about the ship, such as its name. Inquiries from other ships were not uncommon. “What’s the big deal?”

“The ship querying us is a Corellian Defender-class light corvette.” Mako pointed at the computer display. “The Liberator. Registered to Jedi Master Aran Ortain.” She turned her head, looked at Apoc. The Mandalorian woman’s eyes hardened as she stood up from the pilot’s chair.

“Mako, fly the ship. Torian, let’s get to the guns. We’ll blast him right out of space.” She strode off through the doorway, heading toward the ladder that would take her up to one of the Flameshrike’s three turbolaser turrets. Torian followed closely behind her, swiftly climbing up to the gun opposite Apoc’s.


+++++



“Trace, you got an ID on that ship yet?” Nicke Corel stood on the bridge of the Liberator, his attention divided between watching the approaching starship and trying to see the computer display in front of Lieutenant Teran “Trace” Vicor, the squads communications and technology specialist.

“Just coming through now, sir.” Trace’s eyes scanned the information flowing over the screen. “D-5 Mantis Patrol craft from Kuat Driveyards. ID’d as the Flameshrike, belonging to Apocalypsa Cadera.”

At the sound of the name, the soldier sitting at the pilot’s chair whistled softly. Nicke’s eyes fixed on the young commando, and he sighed quietly. The kid shouldn’t be here, he thought. He’s too young for this.

Sergeant Layne Malan was fresh out of training, the newest member of Requiem Squad. Nicke hadn’t approved of the choice, but had eventually acquiesced, after the young commando had demonstrated his skill in hand-to-hand combat by throwing the older, stronger soldier around like a rag doll. That strength and skill, coupled with his extensive knowledge of all things Mandalorian, had caught the eye of Aran Ortain. The fact that Layne was also the younger brother of Lieutenant Raia Jesses had sealed the deal.

“I know that name.” Layne lifted his hand to brush a few loose strands of white-blond hair from his forehead. “Apocalypsa is a Mandalorian bounty hunter, the Grand Champion of the Great Hunt. She killed Kelian Jaro, and is wanted for the deaths of Jun Seros and Supreme Chancellor Janarus.”

“Jun Seros?” The name sounded familiar to Nicke.

“Jun Seros was a great Jedi Master.” Aran Ortain entered the Liberator’s bridge, the hem of his brown robes whispering across the floor. “And Apocalypsa Cadera is a member of Mandalore’s clan. We were going to have to hunt her down eventually.”

“Looks like she’s saving us the trouble!” Layne pointed out the viewport at the approaching starship. The Flameshrike’s turbolaser turrets suddenly opened up with a shower of emerald energy bolts, splashing brightly across the shields that protected the Liberator.

Nicke turned, jabbing his finger at a red button on the intercom system installed in the ship’s wall. “Rolan, Elias, man the guns!” He moved to stand behind Layne as the younger soldier threw the ship into a roll, trying to avoid the Flameshrike’s shots.

Moments later, the Liberator began to return fire, filling the space between the two starships with brilliant crimson light beams. In response, the green and gold patrol craft twisted and spun, resembling some great predator looking for an opening to close in for the kill.

“Missiles locked in.” Trace’s voice was calm, relaying the information in a matter-of-fact voice he always assumed during combat. “Ready to fire.”

Nicke nodded. “Fire, Lieutenant.”

+++++

Apocalypsa laughed as she fired blast after blast of turbolaser fire at the Jedi Master’s ship. “Get us in closer, Mako!” The grin would not leave her face as Mako complied with her order, bringing the Flameshrike even closer to the Liberator.

The Flameshrike rocked violently with the next turbolaser blast, and Apoc tightened her grip on the giant gun before her as Mako’s voice came back to her through the ship’s communications system. “We just took a big hit, forward shield down to 30 percent and falling. Scans are showing we’re weakening their shields as well – if you concentrate fire you can probably penetrate them.”

“Let’s take out their guns.” Torian followed up this statement by firing a steady stream of turbolaser bolts into the Liberator’s starboard turret. Apoc followed suit, sending streaks of coherent light lancing into the other starship. The emerald beams splashed against the Defender’s shields, then shot through them. Apoc felt a grim sense of satisfaction as the turret exploded under the hail of fire, sending twisted bits of shrapnel into space.

Suddenly, the Flameshrike shuddered again, rolling onto its side. Apoc felt herself lift slightly out of her chair as the ship momentarily lost gravity, Mako redirecting power flow to reinforce the shields. The air filled with the shrill wail of the starship’s alarms.

“Mako, what just happened?” Apoc grimaced as the sirens continued to blare. “Shut those things up!”
“We just took a missile! Scanner’s out, shields failing!” The alarms suddenly quieted as Mako shut them off. When she spoke again, her voice was strained, worried. “We got big trouble here, boss! Republic cruiser just dropped from hyperspace!”


+++++

“Sithspit!” The curse flew out of Nicke’s mouth as the Flameshrike’s lasers took out one of the Liberator’s guns. He activated the intercom again. “Status?”

“Rolan’s gone, sir.” Elias Jesse’s voice crackled over the comm system. “Gun exploded, shrapnel got him.”

Nicke grimaced. Serick Rolan had been the squadron’s demolitions expert, a tall man with a booming laugh. He would be missed. The commando’s eyes sought out the Jedi Master who stood before him, staring intently out of the viewport. “Sir?”

Ortain held up his left hand. “Wait, Captain.” Out in the blackness of space, the missile launched by Layne Malan flew forward in a streak of fiery orange. The warhead impacted with the side of the enemy starship, punching through its failing shields to blacken the green and golden armored plating.

As Nicke watched, the Jedi Master lowered his head, folding his hands together before him. A look of extreme concentration came over Ortain’s face as he stretched out with the Force. His mind brushed up against that of pilot of the Flameshrike, and he allowed himself a small smile. With great care, he projected forth an image into that mind – one of a huge Republic war cruiser coming out of hyperspace and orientating itself to bring its massive array of guns to bear on the smaller starship.

Before their eyes, the Flameshrike ceased its evasive maneuvering and leveled out, its engines engaging to bring it up to speed for a jump to hyperspace. “Fire again, Sergeant!” Nicke’s command was immediately followed up by another missile launch as Layne depressed the thumb trigger on the pilot’s stick. The fleeing ship was caught in its topmost engine. Flames shot out, flaring brilliantly for a moment before quickly sputtering out as they exhausted the available oxygen.

Despite the damage, there came a flicker of pseudomotion, and then the Flameshrike was gone, escaping into the depths of hyperspace. Nicke frowned as Ortain turned toward him, a small smile curling the lips of the Jedi Master.

“You look confused, Nicke.” Ortain spread his hands as the commando nodded. “The ship was not piloted by our Mandalorian friend. Because of that, I was able to scare them into running by making the pilot believe a Republic war cruiser had come into the system.” He shrugged slightly. “Mandalorians are notoriously resistant to mind-controlling aspects of the Force, but whoever was flying the Flameshrike was no Mandalorian. I suspect it was Apocalypsa Cadera’s code-slicer at the controls.”

The frown remained on Nicke’s face. “But sir, they escaped. Rolan gave his life to bring that ship down, and we let it get away.”

“Don’t worry, Captain.” Ortain’s voice was calm, soothing. “They won’t get far.” He pointed toward the computer display next to the dark-haired soldier. “Our sensors show that their hyperdrive has been badly damaged. They won’t make it more than a few dozen light-years before it gives out completely. Using their escape vector, we can calculate the number of systems which they might reach in that time, and then seek them out.”

“And they won’t be able to escape again.” Nicke nodded as understanding bloomed across his face. “Excellent plan, sir.” He turned toward Trace, who was already tapping away at the keypad before him. “Get on that, Trace. We’ve got a job to finish.”

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silvershadows
07.26.2012 , 08:31 PM | #4
3


Apocalypsa could barely contain her anger as she scrambled down the ladder leading from the gun turret. Her boots thudded heavily across the metal grating that covered the Flameshrike’s floor. Entering the bridge, she stood before Mako, saying nothing, her burning emerald eyes demanding an explanation.

“I’m sorry boss, we had to get out of there, that cruiser was going to tear us apart.” The dark-eyed woman glanced down at the floor, fidgeting under Apoc’s glare.

“Mako,” Apoc began, her voice deadly calm. “There was no cruiser.”

“What?” Mako blinked, glancing out of the viewport at the swirling lights of hyperspace. “No, I saw it. It dropped out of hyperspace and was going to bring its guns down on us.”

“There was no cruiser.” Apoc’s voice rose, losing some of its calm as she planted her fists on her hips. Her head turned toward the doorway as Torian stepped into it. His eyes took in the scene before him, shifting from one woman to the other. Noting the anger on Apoc’s face, he winced.

“Wow, scary. Later!” He lifted his hand and waved before turning around and making his way to the back of the ship to check on the damaged engine. Apocalypsa rolled her eyes and made an exasperated sound. Torian made it so hard for her to be angry sometimes.

“Nevermind, Mako.” She sighed. “That Jedi must have done something to make you see what wasn’t there. Not your fault. I’m just frustrated; we had a perfect opportunity to take him out right then, right there.”

“I don’t know, Apoc.” Mako frowned and tapped the computer display before her. “We’ve lost a lot of our power, we’re one engine down and that first missile damaged the shield generators. We couldn’t have taken much more.”

“Damn.” Apocalypsa slid her body into the pilot’s seat, leaning her head back and closing her eyes. “Well, we’ll have to find a place to set down and start repairs. Where’d you jump us to, anyway?”

“Remember when you said you wanted me to program the computer to calculate a jump to a safe place really quickly at any given time with one keystroke?” Mako tapped a few more buttons, as Apocalypsa nodded. “Well, I programmed it to jump us to the outer fringes of the Mandalore system.”

Apoc sighed, her pale face finally showing signs of the stress Mako knew she must be feeling. “Alright then. Guess we’re headed to the Outer Rim.” She opened her green eyes and stood, walking back toward the doorway leading out of the bridge. “See what you can do to get the scanner up and running again. I need to go think, plan.”

“You got it, boss.” Mako bent her head to the task as Apocalypsa disappeared toward the back of the ship.


+++++


Torian had been up to his elbows in the wiring and circuitry that was connected to the Flameshrike’s topmost sublight engine for hours. Although he was no mechanic, he had taken it upon himself to learn basic maintenance for the ship that served as his home. Sighing at the charred, blackened ruin that had once served to generate power to the engine, he shook his head as Apocalypsa came up behind him.

“I can’t fix this.” Replacing the paneling he had removed to look into the engine’s structure, he turned to face his wife, who leaned against the short railing next to him. “Missile detonated, took out the engine, all controls. Need to put in for repairs.”

Apoc lifted her hand, ran it through her short dark hair. “Wonderful. And by wonderful, I mean ugh.” She frowned at him. “This is just a complete mess, isn’t it? A real osik'la shu’shuk.”

He couldn’t help but give her a little grin. “Yeah, I’d say this qualifies as a disaster. What happened back there anyway? Why did Mako run?”

Lifting her hands in the air in a gesture of hopelessness, Apoc sighed. “She says she saw a Republic cruiser jump into the system. I didn’t see a cruiser, did you?” He shook his head as she continued. “I think that Jedi addled her mind, made her see what wasn’t there. I should have been flying. Then he’d be eating vacuum, and we wouldn’t be down an engine.”

He didn’t say anything, just arched a blond eyebrow at her. His blue eyes stared steadily into her emerald orbs until, finally, she closed them and leaned her head back, heaving another sigh.

“Alright, fine, maybe not. I just hate the fact that Jedi thinks we ran from him. He’s probably laughing all the way back to Tython.” She clenched her fists at her side. “Blast! Mand’alor is not going to like this.”

Torian reached out to take her hand in his, tugging her close to him. “Mand’alor knows it can take time, cyare. Only thing that matters is we get Ortain in the end.”

“I suppose you’re right.” She favored him with a smile as his free hand came up to stroke her cheek gently. “We’re on a course for Mandalore, we can figure out what to do from there.”

“Sounds good.” He returned her smile with one of his own, which quickly grew into a mischievous grin. “Any ideas how we can pass time?”

“I’m sure we can think of something.” Rising to stand on her toes, Apoc lifted her face, brushing her lips softly against his. His arms moved to circle her body, holding her tightly.

Their embrace was suddenly cut short as the ship lurched. Losing her balance, Apocalypsa tumbled backward out of Torian’s grasp. Her foot caught around his ankle, sending him crashing to the ground next to her.

“Ouch.” He winced and rubbed his head, checking for the lump he knew had to be forming from where he had smacked it on the hard metal floor.

Haar'chak! What now?” Unable to keep the annoyance out of her voice, Apoc took a deep breath, shouting from her prone position on the decking. “Mako! What in the name of Mand’alor just happened?”

“Big trouble, boss.” Mako’s voice crackled over the ships intercom. “We’ve come out of hyperspace early. We’re in the Outer Rim, but not in the Mandalore system. According to the charts, this one is completely unsettled. What do you want to do?”

Picking herself up off the floor, Apoc reached down, offering a hand to Torian and hauling him to his feet. “Guess we better get to the bridge.”

“Guess so.” He followed her as she led the way from the engine room. Entering the Flameshrike’s bridge, they saw Mako standing in front of the viewport, staring out at a planet slowly turning below them. The lazily rotating orb was mottled all over with different shades of green that shifted in and out of view beneath a hazy cover of wispy white clouds.

“Pretty.” Torian spoke, moving to stand next to Apoc. She glanced down at the ships scanner display. “What’s it called?”

Apocalypsa’s emerald eyes narrowed as she read from the display. “FR-10934Q.” She sighed slightly. “Uninhabited, apparently due to ‘inhospitable indigenous wildlife.” She shrugged her shoulders. “At least the scanner is working.”

Torian looked down at the screen, reading over Apoc’s shoulder. “Breathable atmosphere, covered in forests. No oceans. We can put down, do some repairs.”

Sliding into the pilot’s chair, Apoc engaged the Flameshrike’s two remaining sublight engines, aiming the green-and-gold starship toward the atmosphere of the world beneath them. As they punched through it, her eyes focused on the great forest that seemed to cover the entirety of the planet. Broken only by streaks of winding blue rivers and sheer cliff faces that seemed to rise out of nowhere to create deep valleys and gulches, the dense woodlands stretched out for infinity before Apoc as the ship roared over the treetops, stirring the leaves beneath it.

Finally, she found what she was looking for – a small break in the trees, just large enough for her to set the Flameshrike down. Lowering the ship onto its landing gear, Apoc leaned back in her chair.

“Alright. Looks like we have some work to do. Mako, go run some diagnostics on the hyperdrive, see if you can find out what’s wrong with it. Torian, go out and check the external damage. I’m going to rummage through the hold, see if we have anything we can use for repairs. I’d like to avoid calling for help if possible. Probably not the best idea to announce that we’re stuck here in a crippled ship – there’s plenty of people who’d love to take advantage of the situation.”

As Torian and Mako left to fulfill her orders, Apocalypsa took one more look out of the Flameshrike’s viewport. Massive trees stretched a hundred or more meters in the air, ancient limbs thicker than full-grown bull rancors reaching for the azure sky. She allowed a small smile to lift the corners of her lips. Surely there were worse planets they could be stranded on.


+++++


The Liberator burst forth from hyperspace in nearly the same spot the Flameshrike had, its red-and-white surface gleaming under the light from the system’s brilliant yellow star. Captain Nicke Corel stood behind Trace Malan, staring down at his computer display. The sandy-haired communications specialist sighed in annoyance as he glanced up at his commanding officer.

“I’m not detecting any transmissions here either, sir.” He tapped the screen in front of him with a finger. “This is the fourth system we’ve checked.”

“They are here.” The two soldiers turned to face Aran Ortain, who stared intently out of the transparisteel viewport at the planet slowly turning beneath them. “I can sense them – down there, on the planet.”

Nicke’s gaze met Trace’s, and the blue-eyed commando shrugged, then turned toward the Jedi Master. “Not that we doubt you, Master, but are you sure?”

“Apocalypsa Cadera burns with determination. I can feel her presence as clearly as I see you before me.” The Jedi’s eyes remained fixed on the planet below as he folded his hands together within the sleeves of his robes. “They are down there, and so must we go, if we wish to put an end to this swiftly.”

Without further delay, the Liberator made its way down through the atmosphere of the heavily forested planet with Nicke at the controls. As he flew over the treetops, he searched for signs of the Flameshrike’s landing. Finding none, he frowned thoughtfully, bringing the Liberator down gently in a small clearing.
Lifting his body from the pilots chair, Nicke made his way to the back of the ship, where the other Requiem soldiers were busy checking their equipment.

Raia lifted her head as Nicke entered the hold, her usually warm amber eyes somber as she spoke. “Awaiting orders, Captain.” She lifted her hand to brush a few thin braids out of her face. “We’d like to avenge Serick, sir.”

Elias, Raia’s husband, laid a hand gently on her shoulder as he, too, addressed Nicke. “Sir, we want to search for the Mandalorians.” He had his laser sniper rifle slung across his back, Nicke noted, and all the commandos wore the same expression of anger and determination. All, that is, except for Layne.

Raia’s younger brother lounged against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest. Feeling the captain’s gaze upon him, Layne straightened and threw him a salute.

“Are you prepared, Sergeant?” Nicke arched a dark eyebrow at the young commando.

“Yes sir. I’m ready, sir.” Layne’s tone carried just a hint of insolence. Shaking his head at the younger commando, Nicke stepped forward and depressed a button that would lower the Liberator’s exit ramp. As the soldiers filed out to gather around the exterior of the starship, Raia laid a hand on her brother’s shoulder.

“Layne, I want to talk to you.” She gestured for him to stay inside of the ship with her. He shot her a quick smile as he turned, leaning once more against the wall. She frowned thoughtfully at him, reaching out to lay a hand on his arm.

“Something’s going on with you, Layne.” He raised an eyebrow as she continued. “This is your first combat mission. I would have thought you’d be more excited to be getting out there. This is what you trained for.”

Shrugging, Layne shifted his gaze from his hands to his sister’s warm amber eyes. “Nothing’s going on, Raia. It just figures, you know. First time I see combat against a Mandalorian, and it’s this one.”

“What do you mean?” Raia lifted her hand and pushed a few of her slender braids out of her face. “This Mandalorian? She’s a greedy merc, like all the rest.”

“Apocalypsa Cadera isn’t a bloodthirsty killer, Rai.” His voice grew earnest as he pushed himself off the wall, began to pace back and forth, clasping his hands behind his back. “She’s an honorable warrior. She takes on only the toughest targets – usually military targets. She’s honest too; she’s never taken a bribe in her entire career.”

“She’s killed Republic soldiers, Layne. Killed Jedi. She does the dirty work of the Sith Empire, spilling blood in their name.”

“Not for the Empire,” Layne protested, “For the challenge, and for the honor of her clan. There’s a difference.”

“Layne…” The disapproval in Raia’s voice was obvious. “You were supposed to study Mandalorians to learn how to fight them, not to idolize them. I thought it was just a phase you were going through last year – we talked about this–“

“No!” The word fairly exploded from Layne’s mouth. “We didn’t talk, you talked. You talked and talked about how they are the enemy and I should hate them. You reminded me over and over how it was Mandalorian commandos that killed our parents, how it was the Mandalorians fault I was orphaned at thirteen. Mom and Dad were soldiers, Rai, they knew death was a hazard of the job, the same as we do.”

Raia’s amber eyes flashed with anger, and she held her hand up to forestall any further comments from the young soldier. “Mom and Dad died because some Mandalorian mercs sold their souls for a couple thousand credits. They destroyed the entire outpost on Balmorra, and our parents with it. The Empire couldn’t take them out, so they found some hired thugs to do it. And you were so upset that you begged me to help you get into the military academy because you wanted to strike back at our parents killers. They didn’t want to take you at fourteen, but they did, and here you are, one of the youngest soldiers to be out in the field, and in Requiem Squad, too – and you’re telling me you sympathize with the enemy!”

“Apocalypsa didn’t kill Mom and Dad, Rai.” Layne sighed, running a hand up and over his face then through his short white-blond hair.

“Maybe not. But how many other parents has she killed, Layne? How many brothers and sisters? For credits, too, not even for what she thinks is a righteous cause. Call it what you like, but to me, that’s just another hired thug.”

Layne’s sky-colored eyes narrowed as he stared at his sister. For a long moment, silence reigned between them. Finally, he sighed and turned, leaning down to pick up the backpack that held his gear. “Whatever, Rai. Let’s just get going, huh?”

Frowning, Raia descended the ramp behind Layne, exiting the ship and moving to take her place next to Elias. Her husband smiled down at her and reached out to take her hand in his and give it a little squeeze.
Nicke’s heavy boots dug into the soft, moss-covered ground as he walked back and forth in front of the group. He carried the giant assault cannon he favored, thick straps over his durasteel-armored shoulders supporting its weight. The handsome, dark-haired captain stopped pacing, letting his gaze travel over each of the soldiers in his command as he spoke to them.

“I’m going to make this quick because I know you’re all anxious to get out there and avenge Lieutenant Rolan. Our enemy is Apocalypsa Cadera, a Mandalorian mercenary and bounty hunter who has caused significant trouble for the Republic on several occasions. She is connected with the deaths of several Jedi Masters as well as the late Supreme Chancellor Janarus. Her actions contributed to our loss at Corellia, and she was adopted into the Mandalorian clans by none other than Mandalore the Vindicated himself.”

Raia’s eyes turned toward her brother, observing his face as Nicke briefed them on the mission. The worry she felt only increased as she noted the slightly clenched jaw, the barely narrowed eyes. She was the only one who knew him well enough to see the signs of his discontent. For a brief moment, she wondered if she should mention her concern to Captain Corel, or to Master Ortain. The sound of Nicke’s voice distracted her from her inner struggle.

“-armed with a number of weapons, most notably a glove-mounted flamethrower and a miniature missile launcher. The armor may have been upgraded in the time since this intelligence was gathered, so be prepared for anything. From what we know, she is nearly always accompanied by Torian Cadera, her husband. He is also a Mandalorian mercenary, and an expert in melee combat, tracking, and stealth movement, particularly across rough terrain and in forested areas.” He tapped a few buttons on the datapad he held in his hand.

“There is a small chance that she may also have her code-slicer, a girl called Mako, with her. Reports indicate, however, that the chances of encountering Mako are low, as Apocalypsa generally has her remain with the ship while Torian goes with her on jobs.” Lifting his gaze, Nicke slipped the datapad into his belt.

“Our objective is to locate, then capture or kill both Apocalypsa and Torian Cadera.” His blue eyes darkened to a stormy grey. “Lethal force is recommended, as our target has a talent for eluding captivity and is considered extremely dangerous. We will split into two teams.” He gestured toward Raia and Elias. “Three and Four, scout the perimeter of our landing zone here, then find the most likely approach and guard it.” He turned to face Trace Malan. “Two, do we still have that scanner designed to detect high concentrations of metal?”

The technology specialist nodded. “Yes, sir. We would have to be quite a distance away from the Liberator to get accurate readings without our own ship fouling up the sensors, though.”

“Alright. You and Six go get it and prepare to move out.” Nicke watched as Layne moved to comply with his order, heading back with Trace toward the yawning ramp leading into the starship. When the two soldiers returned bearing the portable scanner, Nicke spoke one last time.

“From now on, communicate using only your number designation and not your names. The presence of the code-slicer Mako means communications may be compromised, so keep them to a minimum, please. Master Ortain plans to stay on the ship and meditate to try and locate our targets.” He turned and began to lead the way into the thick woods, away from the Liberator. “Move out. And may the Force be with us.”

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silvershadows
07.26.2012 , 08:39 PM | #5
4



Apocalypsa cursed softly to herself as she struggled with the awkward camouflage net. After tugging on it to tuck the edges snugly beneath the Flameshrike’s fuselage, she stepped back to admire her handiwork.

Designed to emulate the surrounding terrain, the holographic camouflage netting would hide the ship from all but the most rigorous visual inspection. Satisfied with the way the netting lay over the starship, Apoc smiled as Torian came around from the other side and stood next to her.

“Time to go?” He slid his black and green helmet over his head. Apoc nodded at him, then pulled her holocommunicator from her belt. Thumbing it on, she spoke to the image of Mako that appeared above it.

“Alright Mako, we’re ready to go. You’re sure we just need to replace the hyperdrive motivator?” The slightly flickering hologram of the young woman nodded.

“Yeah Apoc, that’s all we need. The missile blast knocked something loose back there and wrecked the shielding, when the motivator went it just shot us out into realspace as a precaution. I fixed the shielding so all we need to do is put in a new motivator and we’re good to go.”

“Well,” Apoc began, grinning under her helmet. “I could have sworn I just saw a hyperdrive motivator fly over us a little while ago.”

“Does seem to be the most feasible source of a hyperdrive on this planet.” Mako laughed quietly, then shook her head. “I take it you want me to stay with the ship?”

Apoc nodded, then chuckled softly at Mako’s disappointed expression. “Come on, Mako, we really need you to stay with the Flameshrike this time. We’re looking for them, but they’ll also be looking for us. I need you to get into their communications signals, feed me as much information as you can. And if they come too near the ship, I want you to blast them. ”

“Whatever you say, boss. Gives me more time to work on those encrypt codes.” Mako’s image winked out, and Apoc replaced the holocommunicator on her belt. She turned toward Torian, who stood facing the line of massive trees that ringed the small clearing they had landed in.

“The Jedi’s ship flew overhead in that direction.” She pointed an armored finger in the direction he was staring. He nodded as she continued to speak. “We’ll travel that way, you take point and keep an eye out. If we need to engage the soldiers, I’d like a little warning first.”

“No problem.” Striding forward, Torian stepped between the trunks of two of the giant trees. He moved swiftly and silently through the dark forest, Apoc two meters behind. The specially designed auditory enhancement within his helmet carried all the sounds of the forest to his ears.

A short while later, he threw an irritated glance over his left shoulder. Apocalypsa’s footfalls were anything but silent. She clomped her way over the ground, heavy boots snapping twigs and kicking up fallen leaves. He stopped in his tracks, bringing her up short as she nearly bumped into him.

“What?” She cocked her head to the side. “Why’d you stop?”

“Can’t hear anything, you make too much noise.” He snickered quietly as she planted her hands on her hips.

“Sorry. My skill at being stealthy is about on par with that of a flaming, rabid wampa.” She sighed. “I’ll try to be sneakier.”

“Start with not stepping so hard.” He lifted his foot, gently brought it back down in demonstration. “Tread lightly, cyare.”

They began moving again. He grinned beneath his helmet as the sound of her muttering was amplified in his ears.

“Never had to worry about this when we were blasting our way around Corellia.” She fell silent as they continued moving through the trees, her footsteps quieter if not silent.

Her eyes constantly scanned the area in front of her as well as the HUD displayed on her visor. Several large life-forms were visible on it, lurking in the trees to either side of them. Frowning, she spoke softly through their private comlink. “You picking these things up?”

“Not human.” Torian’s voice held a hint of curiosity. “Not making any noise, either. Been flanking us since we left the ship, coming in and out of range.” As he spoke, the red dots on her HUD faded out of view.

“No time to worry about them now. Hopefully they don’t plan on coming any closer.” Despite her words, Apoc reached down and loosened the straps holding her blasters in place at her hips. “Let’s keep going, these woods are starting to creep me out.”

Darkness was beginning to spread through the trees as the sky, barely visible above, turned from daylight to dusk. Following closely behind Torian, Apocalypsa shivered slightly as she noticed their mysterious stalkers had returned.

Was it her imagination, or were they coming closer? She shook her head violently. Didn’t matter. All that mattered was finding the Liberator, taking out Ortain, and getting back into space.

Beneath her visor, her emerald eyes narrowed and hardened as she marched on.


+++++


Layne shifted the weight of the heavy scanner from arm to arm as he walked behind Nicke, the young commando trying his hardest to keep up with the older, more experienced captain.

In their wake trailed Teran “Trace” Vicor, his dark eyes trained on a datapad he held in his hand. His dark eyes lit up as the device chimed softly. “Got something here, One.”

With a relieved sigh, Layne set the bulky scanner down on the damp moss beneath his feet as Nicke stopped walking and turned toward Trace, gesturing for the other man to make his report. “Speak up, soldier.”

“A transmission, logged about twenty seconds ago, give or take a few seconds for travel time. Encrypted, but that doesn’t matter.”

“Right,” Nicke nodded as Trace tapped a few buttons on the datapad. “We don’t care about what they’re saying, just where they are.”

“There’s barely any lag time between the transmission’s origin point to its destination.” Trace furrowed his brow as he surveyed the data before him. “It came from that way,” he said, pointing east into the darkening night.

“Six, get that scanner running and start sweeping the area in front of us while we’re walking.” At Nicke’s command, Layne groaned softly, prompting a frown from the dark-haired soldier. “Come on kid, it’s not that heavy.” He ran his hand over the gleaming barrel of the assault cannon he held. “Carry one of these babies in a running light fight through broken city streets for hours, then we can talk about aching arms.”

“Yes sir,” Layne hefted the scanner in his arms once more, holding the bulk of it in the crook of his left arm while his right held out a sensor wand before him, aiming it in the direction Trace had indicated. “Sorry, sir.” He was glad for the deepening night, hoping that it hid his burning cheeks. It seemed to him that the entire day had been made up of one mistake after another, all of which added up to thoroughly embarrassing himself in front of the new squadron he had hoped to impress.

Raia was right, he thought to himself as he put one foot in front of the other. It doesn’t matter what I think, it doesn’t matter what I feel. I say I admire Apocalypsa for her honor and her courage. How can I say that and then not give my all to Requiem and our mission? He glanced over at Nicke, who marched silently before him. His gaze then moved over to Trace, walking at Layne’s side, his datapad downloading the information the scanner gathered.

These men are depending on me to have their backs. Layne’s jaw set and he straightened, unconsciously mimicking Nicke’s long, confident strides. I can’t admire the honor of another if I have none myself.

“Stop.” Trace’s voice jolted Layne out of his thoughts. “Getting a faint signal now, a few kilometers to the northeast. Guess we landed closer to them than we thought.”

Nicke stopped moving, his senses suddenly alert. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up, and he pulled a pair of night vision goggles from his belt, sliding them onto his face. Holding his hand up for silence, and casting his gaze around the darkened forest, he searched for whatever it was he knew was out there.

The sound of a twig snapping caused him to whirl about. Pointing the giant assault cannon in the direction of the noise, Nicke opened fire.


+++++


“Sithspit!” The tree in front of Apocalypsa exploded into a shower of wood and bark splinters that sprayed down over her. Drawing her blasters, she quickly ducked behind another trunk, inching forward to peer around its girth at the Republic soldiers.

“I said tread lightly, cyare.” Torian’s wry chuckle filled her ears. She snorted in exasperation, eyeing the big man who had fired the shot. The Mandalorians had been observing the trio of commandos long enough for Apoc to realize that Nicke was the one in charge. He was even now scanning the area, his weapon whining softly as it gathered its charge for another shot. The other two had moved into position flanking him, their eyes also searching the trees.

“Let’s light up their night.” Grinning beneath her helmet, she gathered her legs beneath her, sprinting out from behind the trunk. As she moved into the open area between trees, she brought her right arm up and in line. In quick succession, three small missiles flew forward, trailing white and blue flames. They impacted the ground beneath Nicke’s feet, sending him flying backwards. The other two soldiers staggered, then ducked and ran for cover as Apocalypsa followed up with a blazing hail of sky-blue blaster bolts.

On the ground, Nicke groaned as he attempted to get to his feet. The weight of the assault cannon pushed him down, but he managed, with some effort, to struggle to his knees. Seeing Apocalypsa’s mad dash between trees, he fired once more in her direction, the bright yellow burst of energy barely missing the Mandalorian warrior as her body disappeared behind yet another tree trunk.

“Moving in.” Torian’s voice crackled over the comlink. On her HUD, she could see that he had circled around to get behind the other two soldiers, who had taken refuge behind the half-buried, decomposing hulk of an old, fallen tree.

Seeing an opportunity to distract the commandos and gain Torian an even greater element of surprise, Apoc tensed her legs beneath her. With the press of a button, she activated the rocket boosters affixed to her boots. Launching herself forward, she flew with incredible speed directly at Nicke Corel.

His surprise at seeing the Mandalorian woman barreling straight toward him was compounded by the concussion grenade she dropped at his feet. Acting on instinct, he drew his foot back and kicked it, sending it flying into the trees. His dark blue eyes beneath the night-vision goggles stared at his own reflection in the mirror-like surface of Apocalypsa’s visor.

“Hi there.” Apoc’s husky voice, though slightly distorted by her helmet, was perfectly clear to Nicke. His assault cannon useless at such close range, Nicke reached for the blaster pistol at his belt, the larger weapon falling to the ground as he released the clasp holding its strap together.

To his surprise, Apocalypsa’s armored hand came down on his arm, fingers curling over it. “Now now,” she chided. “Dangerous toys are fun, but you could get hurt.”

Nicke opened his mouth to make some sort of retort. His attention was diverted, however, by the sound of Torian’s voice erupting into the cool night air as he burst forth from the woods behind Trace and Layne.

Oya!” Torian’s overhead swing brought his techstaff crashing down millimeters next to where Trace’s head had been poking up over the fallen tree. Wood chips and splinters flew as the two commandos threw themselves out of Torian’s path. Spinning, the blond Mandalorian extended his arm, releasing a gout of fire from the flamethrower in his gauntlet.

The intense heat forced Layne to close his eyes as he scrambled backward to get away from the deadly flames. His hands fumbled for his blaster, bringing it up and blindly firing it three times. The emerald green energy streaked past Torian’s left shoulder.

Nicke’s moment of distraction was all the opening Apocalypsa needed. Drawing her arm back, she shot her elbow forward and up, aiming for Nicke’s face. At the last moment, he jerked his head aside. His cheekbone ached under the impact, but the blow had been a glancing one.

Feeling rage build within him, Nicke narrowed his eyes. He reached out with his free hand, shoving it against Apoc’s chest, knocking the smaller woman off-balance. His hand, holding his blaster, came up and fired.

Allowing herself to fall, Apoc wrapped her left leg around Nicke’s right, using the momentum of her tumble to tug the man down to the ground. The blaster bolts shot into the branches of a nearby tree, shearing off a slender limb, which came crashing to the ground a meter away, leaves flaming.

Rolling toward it, Apocalypsa grasped the end of the branch, lifting it as she regained her feet, swinging the burning brand down toward where Nicke lay prostrate on the ground. The orange flames blurred in his vision as they descended, and he twisted his body to avoid the blow, sparks sending a scattering of heat across his face.

Behind the fallen trunk, Layne found himself forced to duck as Torian’s techstaff came dangerously close to his head. The knobbed cortosis end whipped through the air hard enough for the young commando to feel the breeze it created stir his hair.

Suddenly, Torian toppled forward as Trace lunged for him, wrapping his arms around the tall man’s waist and bearing him down to the mossy ground. The techstaff flew from Torian’s hands and landed two meters away at the base of a tree. Scrambling for it, Torian kicked his feet at Trace’s grasping hands.

Layne stood over them, unable to act despite the blaster he held ready. Trace had pushed himself forward again and was pulling at Torian’s belt, trying to drag the Mandalorian back away from the techstaff just barely out of his reach. Layne shifted his weight from foot to foot, waiting for an opening where he could fire without the risk of hitting his squad mate.

Frustrated by Trace’s attempts at pulling him away from his lost weapon, Torian growled low in his throat, allowing the commando to tug him downward. As he slid across the ground, the Mandalorian warrior twisted his legs to twine them around the Republic soldier’s neck, pressing the back of his armor-plated calf against Trace’s neck.

Choking and sputtering, the sandy-haired man could do nothing but reach up with his hands, ineffectually scrambling with his fingers against the relentless pressure of Torian’s leg. As Trace’s face began to turn purple, Layne knew he no longer had a choice. He had to take the shot. He lifted his weapon.

The chance to fire never came. Layne’s whole world suddenly went dark as tendrils of a nebulous, shadowy something shrouded his vision. He heard the men at his feet moving, felt rather than saw Torian rolling away from Trace as the strange blackness enveloped them as well.

Apocalypsa’s blood thundered through her veins. The flaming branch she held was no longer visible, and for the first time in a long, long time, she felt the first icy finger of the hand of fear clutch at her heart.

Nicke could feel the darkness moving over his face, a slick oily caress that made him shiver. The fight with Apocalypsa momentarily forgotten, the dark-haired captain rose to his feet. Reaching down, he fumbled in the blackness for the assault cannon he knew lay on the ground directly to his left. Hefting the weapon, he fastened the straps that held its weight distributed across his body.

Abruptly the oppressive, smothering darkness was lifted from their eyes as the black tendrils filling the air began to whirl rapidly, spinning around each other and coalescing into two giant shadowy beings with feline shape. Red eyes burned like embers from within the cat-like faces, long fangs dripped shadowy tendrils that dissipated in the air. Their long tails lashed back and forth as one of the creatures let out a blood-curdling roar that was more of a scream.

The moonlight filtered down between the thick trees, throwing the shadowcats into illumination. Their bodies seemed to be made of nothing more than swirling, insubstantial mists. With another roar, the monsters leapt, bounding across the ground.

Nicke aimed his weapon at the creature as it bore down on him and Apocalypsa. He fired, the yellow burst flying forward and straight through the shadowcat, which burst apart, black tendrils snaking and twisting their way through the air between the commando and the Mandalorian woman. Recoalescing behind them, the shadowcat roared once more, causing Apoc to wince as the shrill sound pierced her eardrums.

The other creature also had made a leap, landing atop Trace Vicor, who struggled to free himself as the creature’s great paws batted at his face. Shadowy claws raked across his skin, leaving behind burning welts rather than lacerations. Torian had pulled a blaster rifle from his back and was lancing bolt after bolt of green energy into the shadowcat, none of which seemed to have any effect. Layne also fired his weapon, watching in a mix of amazement and horror as the huge creature clamped its jaws down around Trace’s neck.

The commando’s screams were terrifying, soul-wrenching. The shadowy fangs pierced his skin, and suddenly, Trace himself began to turn into shadow, the dark tendrils dripping from the monstrous teeth sliding over his body, causing him to become insubstantial wherever they touched.

As the cries of the dying soldier quieted, Torian and Layne stopped firing, their weapons useless. They watched helplessly as the shadows that had been Lieutenant Teran Vicor were absorbed by the dark creature. Its red eyes began to glow brighter. Layne felt his blood run cold, and was immobilized by fear.

The other shadowcat leapt at Nicke once more. Seeing that the large man was frozen in place by the horrific death of his comrade, Apocalypsa gathered her wits about her, pushed the fear out of her mind, and grabbed onto Nicke’s arm, tugging him out of the way just before the shadowy feline would have knocked him over. Startled, he glanced at her, a questioning look on his face.

“Nobody deserves that kind of death.” Apocalypsa’s voice was hard, her jaw clenched with determination. “Since our blasters don’t seem to be working,” she said, emerald eyes following every movement of the shadowcat as it prepared to pounce once more, “I suggest we run.” Matching action to words, she sprinted off to the north, past Torian and Layne.

“Come on, kid.” Torian grabbed Layne’s arm and pulled him along after him, turning to follow Apoc. Glancing back over his shoulder, the young commando caught a glimpse of shadowed claws swiping at his face. Swallowing hard, he put his head down and ran after the two Mandalorians.

Bringing up the rear, Nicke dodged and weaved in and out between massive trees as he tried to keep ahead of the grasping claws and wicked fangs of the pair of shadowcats that chased them. A silvery light seemed to appear before him, glimmering through the trees. A few steps later, he realized what it was – the edge of the forest, the line of trees suddenly ending as he burst forth onto a rocky precipice, the ground suddenly disappearing in a vertical drop not ten meters beyond the woods.

Moonlight bathed the cliff edge in silvery light, affording him an excellent view of the others as they stood just ahead of him, at the edge of the cliff. The roars of the shadowcats behind him changed from predatory screams to frustrated wails as they reached the edge of the dark forest. Stalking back and forth at the edge of the tree line, they would come no further.

As his mind cleared, Nicke’s blue gaze fixed on Apocalypsa, who stood a scant meter away from the edge of the cliff. Bending down, hands on her knees to catch her breath, she suddenly straightened as she felt Nicke’s eyes on her. The dark indigo orbs narrowed, and it was then that Apocalypsa realized her mistake.

His action and her reaction happened almost simultaneously. Nicke lifted the assault cannon and fired, sending a ball of orange energy directly toward the vulnerable Mandalorian woman. Her hand shot out as the projectile of light flew toward her, a thin cord bursting forth from the armor at her wrist. On the end of the cord, a silvery hook gleamed under the moonlight.

The line, made of strong strands of woven nylasteel, wrapped around Nicke’s thigh just as the cannon burst smashed into Apocalypsa. The thick plating of Mandalorian iron she wore blackened and charred as the energy was partially ablated. The force of the impact lifted her off her feet, sending her flying backwards over the edge of the cliff.

The nylasteel cord tightened around Nicke’s leg, tugging him to the ground. He skidded along the rocky soil, armor digging a deep furrow in the dirt as he slid inexorably toward the sheer rock face.

Clinging to the line for dear life, Apoc glanced down. A sudden rush of vertigo caused her vision to swim. Her feet hung, suspended over nothingness. Her slide down the cliff face had dislodged many small pebbles that fell in a cloud of dust, disappearing through the moonlight into a thick bank of fog many meters below her.

Suddenly, the rope jerked taunt. Nearly losing her grip, Apocalypsa swung her legs, trying to find purchase on the swiftly crumbling dirt and stone wall in front of her. Her boots sank into the soil, then slipped quickly out as her weight proved too much for the unstable wall to support.

Atop the cliff, Nicke had managed to stop his deadly ride to the edge. His feet wedged against a small boulder, he grimaced in pain as the nylasteel cord constricted around his thigh above the armor plating. The weight of the heavily armored Mandalorian woman threatened to dislodge him from his place against the boulder.

Groaning with the effort, he reached for his belt, pulled out a small vibroknife. He slid the blade down, attempting to saw through the cord just below where it wrapped around his leg.

“No!” The denial burst forth from Torian’s lips as he ran with all the speed he could muster toward the prostrate man. He watched with horrified eyes as the cord was severed.

The frayed end of Apocalypsa’s grappling line hissed across the ground as it was released from its anchor. He dove for it, skidding over the dirt and stones, stretching his arm to its limit, making a desperate attempt to grasp it in his hand.

His heart thudding painfully in his chest, he watched as the end of the line disappeared over the side of the cliff. Frantically, he scrambled toward the edge, poking his head over, afraid of what he might see – or not see.

Apocalypsa was gone.

Layne stared in shocked disbelief as Torian stood and turned, stalking back toward Nicke, who struggled to stand, unable to get his useless leg underneath him. It burned like the fires of hell, unresponsive to any of Nicke’s commands to bend or straighten.

Reaching the prone man, Torian lifted his hands and tugged the helmet off of his head. Tossing it to the ground, he took his staff in his hands, holding it with one knobbed end directly over Nicke’s stomach. The dark-haired commando stared up into Torian’s burning sapphire eyes and saw his own death in them.

Crying out in rage and grief, Torian slammed the end of his staff down against the armor protecting Nicke’s abdomen. Depressing the button in the center of the weapon, he sent white bursts of ion energy skittering over the commando’s body, frying every nerve ending, causing him to spasm uncontrollably.

Nicke’s eyes began to roll back in his head as the Mandalorian knelt next to him. Weakly, he tried to push the blond man away, but his failing muscles no longer had the strength.

Staring down at the Republic soldier, Torian felt his blood turn cold, his heart constricting painfully in his chest. Apocalypsa was gone. Nicke had turned on her after she saved his life, shooting her down at a moment where she was most vulnerable. Disgust at this cowardly act caused another anguished cry to erupt from Torian’s throat, his arm pulling back and his fingers folding into a fist. With the sinister sound of metal sliding against metal, a razor-sharp vibroblade extended from within a hidden sheath at his wrist, the tip glittering in the moonlight as Torian drove his fist forward.

The blade pierced Nicke’s throat, severing his carotid artery. A dark gout of blood sprayed forth from the wound as Torian withdrew the vibroknife, spraying against the Mandalorian’s dark armor, spattering across his face.

A soft choking sound caused Torian to whirl about. Layne stood there, staring at the blood-drenched Mandalorian warrior. Torian’s eyes narrowed and he took a long step forward, halving the distance between them. Layne lifted his hands into the air, palms outward and fingers spread.

“Wait! He fell to his knees, hands above his head. Torian, unheeding, began to bring his arm back. “Ke'pare,” Layne said in Mando’a. “Wait, please!”

The Mandalorian language pierced the cloud of rage that filled Torian’s brain. He slowly lowered his arm. Deep blue eyes glittering, he said nothing, just stared at the young soldier.

Ni ceta.” Layne slowly brought his hands down, putting them on his knees and bowing his head. “I’m sorry about what… what he did.” He nodded toward Nicke’s still body, lying in a swiftly-spreading pool of blood. “It was underhanded. It… lacked honor.” He glanced over toward the cliff where Apocalypsa had disappeared. “I didn’t think he would do something so…” Layne sighed.

Hut'uun.” Torian’s voice was low, rough. “Coward.” He spit on the ground. Layne nodded as he looked up, watching the tall Mandalorian.

Torian turned, facing the cliff edge. A cool breeze blew across his cheeks, drying Nicke’s blood on his skin. Bending down, he picked up his discarded helmet. For a long moment, he just stood there, helmet in his hands, staring off into the forested distance beyond the thin ravine, focusing his gaze on nothing and everything.

There was a lump in his throat that wouldn’t go away no matter how hard he swallowed. His fingers gripped the helmet so hard that he thought the bones might snap. Rage and grief warred within him, struggling for control.

Finally, he made his decision. Sliding the helmet over his head, he turned and walked away along the cliff edge.
Scrambling to his feet, Layne dashed along after him. “Where are you going? What are you going to do?”

Torian turned toward him, his voice stronger, yet distorted by the helmet. “Going to find Apoc.”

“Find Apoc?” Layne’s face betrayed his confusion. “You think she’s alive?” He struggled to keep up with Torian’s long strides, the blond Mandalorian moving swiftly as the soft pink of the coming dawn began to light the sky.

“I’ll find her either way.” Torian frowned at the young soldier. “Why are you following me?”

“I want to help.” At Torian’s lifted eyebrow, Layne nodded. “You saved my life; you pulled me along when you could have left me to die. She saved Nicke. And his thank you was blaster fire.” He threw Torian a pleading expression. “Please, feel like I owe it to you, to her.” He thought for a moment. “Ijaat’entye. An honor debt.”

Torian stopped walking and once more tugged off his helmet. His sapphire eyes stared into Layne’s paler blue orbs, searching for any signs of deception or dishonesty. Finding none, he finally nodded his assent.

Together they resumed their search for a way down into the ravine.

silvershadows's Avatar


silvershadows
07.26.2012 , 08:44 PM | #6
5



Trace’s death slammed into Aran Ortain’s consciousness like a physical blow. The Jedi Master’s mind had been deep within the Force, seeking Apocalypsa’s presence, when a darkness began to cloud the edges of his mind’s vision. Seeking to peer through it, sensing the soldiers confusion and fear, he tried to glimpse their unknown enemy.

As the shadowy fangs pierced the commando’s throat, Ortain felt them pierce his mind. Thrown out of his trance, his long-fingered hands clutched at his head, twisting through his rust-colored hair. Breathing deeply, he calmed himself, ignoring the throbbing in his temples as he tried to sink once more into the flow of the Force.

Like ghostly images from a dream, he watched Apocalypsa pull Captain Corel away from the demon-like feline. His eyes followed Layne as the young commando sprinted after the tall Mandalorian warrior. Their relief was his when they burst forth from the forest, leaving the wailing creatures behind.

He felt a spark of triumph from Nicke as the soldier fired his assault cannon. Shock from Layne. Rage from Torian, and disbelief from Apocalypsa herself as her body was pitched over the void.

Torian’s Force-image burned with a sparking aura of black and red, shot through with twisting shimmers of deep blue. Rage and grief swirled within him, and Ortain felt himself nearly overwhelmed by the depth of the mercenary’s emotion.

As he observed through the Force, Torian’s arm descended, the wrist-blade slicing through Nicke’s throat. Feeling a wave of sadness wash over him, Ortain’s consciousness hovered there, watching the soldier take his last, blood-choked breath. Reaching out, he brushed his mind up against that of the dying commando, imparting a feeling of peaceful rest as Nicke’s life slowly faded away.

His attention turning to Layne, the Jedi Master was disconcerted to find not fear, not anger, but confusion roiling through the young commando’s mind. The part of him that respected Nicke and the rest of Requiem was at odds with the part of him that respected the skilled Mandalorian warriors they fought.

Torn between his duty and his sense of honor, Layne could not work his mind around Nicke’s actions. Apocalypsa had saved Nicke’s life, therefore Layne believed she deserved a far more honorable death than what had been given to her.

He watched as Layne spoke to Torian, a ripple of surprise running through him as the soldier spoke in Mando’a. He felt the tall man’s anger abate, replaced by a feeling of grim determination. As he slowly withdrew his consciousness, coming out of his meditative state, the last image he saw was that of Torian’s glittering sapphire eyes staring directly at him.


+++++



Pain. It washed over her body like a wave from a storm-tossed sea. If there was a part of her that didn’t hurt, she wasn’t aware of it. The worst was her arm, her left arm, which lay limply at her side. The bone was out of the socket at her shoulder, she could feel them grinding against each other. Clenching her teeth, she took in a deep hissing breath as consciousness suddenly flooded her mind.

Apocalypsa’s eyes flew open. Above her, the blue sky. Turning her head slowly, she attempted to fix her gaze on a few small pebbles which lay on the sandy ground beneath her. Her vision blurry, the image swam in and out of focus as she tried to will her eyes to send the correct signals to her brain.

When she could clearly see the tiny stones, she took another deep breath. Pushing down with her good arm, she lifted her upper body. Her legs, sore, but otherwise unharmed, bent at the knee as she pushed with her feet, forcing herself to a sitting position. She turned her head and glanced behind her, suddenly recalling what had happened.

She had been falling – falling so fast, the nylasteel cord whipping through the air above her. As she plunged through the fog bank below, she caught a glimpse of a small outcropping of dirt and rocks sticking out of the cliff wall. She watched with an almost detached feeling as the altimeter on her HUD displayed the time until she impacted the tiny ridge. Ten meters, nine meters, five… Closing her eyes, Apoc crossed her fingers.

“Firewings.” Her spoken command activated both the jetpack attached to her back and the rocket boosters in her boots. Her mad descent suddenly slowed as the thrusters pushed against the loose soil.

Reaching out, Apoc attempted to grasp the edge of the outcropping as she fell past it. Her searching fingers caught and held. For a moment, she felt a spark of triumph as she began to pull herself up.

The unstable precipice began to crumble beneath her weight as she tried to hoist herself atop it. Her legs kicked and her feet scrambled, trying desperately to find purchase. Turning her head to look below her, she saw the sheer rock face angling off into a sloping descent about five or six meters below. Small twisted trees grew out of the dirt, leaning at strange angles as their roots attempted to adapt to the odd landscape. At the bottom of the ravine, a small river flowed, its rocky banks covered in a thin layer of yellow sand.

Her fingers slipped again, and Apoc fought back the urge to spit out a volley of curses, helplessly watching as her hand slid through the crumbling soil. Then she was falling again, picking up speed as she dropped like a rock toward the sloping wall below.

The impact jarred her teeth, made her feel as if every bone in her body had shaken loose. Unable to stop her momentum, Apoc rolled down the steep incline, struggling to turn her body, flatten herself out to provide more resistance.

Just as she managed to turn herself upright, she felt a sharp, agonizing pain as her left arm shot up over her head. Her descent suddenly stopped, a sickening popping sound coming from her shoulder. She looked up to see the nylasteel grappling line tangled amongst the branches of one of the trees growing out of the cliff face.

The pain was excruciating, and she had barely had the presence of mind to release the cord from her glove before unconsciousness claimed her.

The deep furrows carved into the soft soil of the slope and the mud spattering her armor told her the rest of the story. She had tumbled down to the bank of the river and lay there for who knew how much time until she had finally wakened to this veritable symphony of agony.

A gentle breeze ruffled her short raven hair, and she realized suddenly that she had lost her helmet. Casting her gaze around, she searched for it in vain. It was nowhere to be found.

“Blast!” Apoc’s good hand closed into a fist and hammered the ground next to her. Angrily, she stared at her limp arm. “Always the left one, too!”

She fought back the pain, struggling to her feet. Cradling her useless arm with the good one, she took a few limping steps along the length of the river. Stumbling, she went down on one knee, her right hand reaching out to press against the ground and halt her fall.

“Come on, Apoc.” She closed her eyes for a moment. Her face ached, and she could feel bruises forming over her cheekbones. Exhaling loudly, she shook her head. “K'atini, woman. Suck it up.” Pushing herself upright once more, she put one foot in front of the other, resolutely moving forward.

Her eyes were trained on the ground, and so engrossed was she in watching the progress of her feet, that she didn’t notice the two men coming along the riverbank toward her. She didn’t see when the taller one tore the helmet off his head, dropped it on the ground and broke into a run, sprinting toward her with all the speed he could muster.

“Apoc!” Torian skidded to a stop in front of her. The sound of her name penetrated the fog of pain clouding her mind and she lifted her face. Her husband’s gaze traveled over her features, noting the dark purple bruise that covered her left cheek, merging into the dark ink tattooed over her eyes. He pulled his gauntlet off, lifting his hand to touch her lacerated face gently. She had never looked more beautiful to him than at that very moment.

Su cuy’gar?” She tried grinning at him, but her split lower lip caused her to wince instead. His fingers stroked her cheek softly, and he leaned down, brushing his lips against hers. Her good arm snaked up and around his neck, his moving to cradle her gently in his embrace.

Pulling away, Torian stared down into Apoc’s emerald eyes. “Draar vaabir megin tug'yc,” he whispered. “Never do that again.”

“I’ll try.” She winced as pain shot through her left arm again, lancing up into her shoulder. “Arm’s no good.”

He pulled away and frowned, noting the way the arm hung loosely, dangling out of the socket. “Need to put it back in.” He glanced to the side at Layne, who had picked up Torian’s discarded helmet and was hanging back, saying nothing. “Come help.”

Apoc’s emerald gaze fixed on the young soldier, who ran a hand through his white-blonde hair and stepped forward, unsure of what to do. His pale blue eyes stared at Apocalypsa’s ashen face.

“It’s alright kid.” Apoc groaned softly as Torian’s hands unclasped the shoulder plate of her armor. “I promise I’m in no condition to bite you, even if I wanted to.”

Together, Torian and Layne stripped Apoc’s armor plating from her arm and chest, leaving her upper body clad only in the skin-tight fibermesh flightsuit the beskar’gam was attached to. Torian’s large hands grasped her tightly, one on her shoulder, the other gripping her upper arm just beneath the dislocated joint.

The pain was causing Apoc’s vision to swim. Layne stepped back as the tall man suddenly tightened his hands, twisting as he forced his wife’s bones back into place. A crunching, popping sound filled the air, and a gasp escaped Apocalypsa’s lips. Unconsciousness threatened her again, leaving her unsteady on her feet. Torian’s arm immediately went around her waist, supporting her.

Apoc’s lips were parted, and sweat dripped from her forehead into her eyes. Shaking her head, she noticed Layne staring at her again, his face pale, eyes wide. “Good as new, eh kid?” She flexed the fingers of her left hand, bent her elbow. Pain shot through her, but it was subsiding, leaving behind a dull, throbbing ache.

“Alright,” she grimaced and lowered herself to the ground. “Can we sit? I need a couple minutes.” Layne handed her a canteen of purified water that he carried on his belt. She took it gratefully, tipping it back and downing a few long swallows.

She held the canteen out to Layne in her right hand, arching a slender black eyebrow at him. “Aren’t you supposed to be trying to shoot me?” As he removed the item from her fingers, she gestured at the Requiem insignia on the shoulder of his durasteel armor. “I think that means you’re my enemy, doesn’t it?”

Layne shook his head slightly, then glanced at Torian, who gestured for the younger man to speak. Lowering himself to sit opposite the Mandalorian woman, Layne crossed his legs, resting his arms on his knees. “It doesn’t feel like you’re the enemy.” He picked up a pebble, played with it in his fingers. “Torian, he saved my life.” He waved his hand at the tall blond man as he spoke. “You saved Nicke – Captain Corel – and then he…” Layne frowned, throwing the stone he held into the river.

“And then he shot me. Because that was his job.” Apoc chuckled wryly. “Bit of an underhanded way to do it, but he did his duty.” She shrugged, then regretted it instantly as her shoulder throbbed.

Layne stared at her, confusion rippling across his features. “You aren’t angry that he acted so dishonorably? That he shot you when you weren’t ready?”

“Huh.” Apoc grunted softly, then shook her head. “No, kid, I’m not.” She glanced up at Torian, lifting her good hand toward him. Leaning down, he grasped her wrist, hauling her to her feet. Brushing off the dented, pitted plating that covered her legs, she grinned at Layne, the corner of her lips curling upward.

“But he…” Layne’s protest was cut off as Apoc leaned down, clasping her hand onto his shoulder. She shook her head at him and he fell silent.

“Look, I can’t expect everyone to live by the same rules I do.” Straightening, she began to strap the dense Mandalorian iron plates back onto the flightsuit of her left arm. “I wouldn’t have taken the shot, but I can’t blame him for trying.” As Layne got to his feet, he handed her another piece of her armor.

“I do – I wouldn’t have taken the shot either, it was a low blow, it was…”

Apocalypsa laughed, throwing her head back. Torian watched, a wide grin spreading across his face as his wife’s merriment echoed against the cliff walls that surrounded them. Layne’s mouth hung open for a moment as he stared at her.

Swallowing her mirth, Apoc reached out, giving the young soldier a smack on the back that reverberated through his armor. “Kid, I’m gonna tell you something I learned a long time ago.” Her face turned serious as her eyes bored into Layne’s. “There’s only one person’s honor you should concern yourself with – and that’s your own. Let other people do what they will.” She waved a hand dismissively. “As long as you stick to your code and be the better person, what does it matter what they do?”

An insistent chiming sound filled the air, stealing Layne’s chance to respond. As the noise continued, Apocalypsa’s gaze dropped to a red light blinking from a holocommunicator on Layne’s belt.

“Your belt is beeping.” She pointed at it. His face blushing a furious shade of red, the commando pulled the device from his belt, depressing the button with his thumb. The holographic image of Jedi Master Aran Ortain flickered to life above it.

“Sergeant Malan. I am relieved to see that you are unharmed.” The hologram’s eyes flickered over, fixing on Apocalypsa. “And Apocalypsa Cadera, you are alive as well.”

Apoc pointed a finger at the image. “Is this going to be one of those times where you say some stuff, and then I say some stuff, and then there’s all these words but nothing changes and we try to kill each other anyway?”

“I don’t expect you’ll listen to me,” the Jedi’s hologram flickered slightly as he lifted his hands to pull his hood over his head, casting a shadow over his face. “You’re notoriously relentless in your pursuits. “

“I’m told that’s one of my virtues.” She narrowed her eyes at the Jedi Master. “Is there a point to this call, Ortain, or are you just trying to get to know me before I blast you?”

“As you’ll recall, Mandalorian, we’re speaking over Sergeant Malan’s holocomm.” He held up his hands, palms outward. “I was merely calling to inform him that it is quite alright for him to bring you here to our ship.”

“What are you up to, Jedi?” Torian’s voice was a low accusation. “Trying to set us up?”

“No tricks, no games.” Ortain’s eyes traveled back to Layne, who stood silently, holding the holocomm in his palm. “This young man has a very concerned sister waiting for his return. If you will kindly escort him here, then you and I can settle our differences.”

“Our differences?” Apoc snorted derisively. “You owe my clan a blood debt, Jedi. You’ve been slaughtering Mandalorians out of hand in an attempt to strike at the Empire. What you’ve managed to do is draw the anger of Mand’alor. I’m here to carry out his justice. The only way this is settled is when you’re a corpse.”

“I see. What then, mercenary, is your price for the safe return of the boy?”

Layne swallowed hard, watching Apocalypsa as she considered for a moment. Her glittering emerald gaze locked with the soldier’s pale blue one. He felt a jolt of electricity run through his body as she grinned, lights sparkling in her green stare.

“You and me, Jedi. Me and my blaster, you and the Force. No help, no interference. We don’t stop until one of us is dead.”

“Done.” Ortain bowed his head in her direction. “With one more condition – no matter the outcome of our battle, the survivor will allow the companions of the fallen to leave the planet unharmed.”

“Agreed.” Apoc glanced at Torian, who gave a little shake of his head. She knew that if she fell, he would take up the hunt for Ortain himself, not just to avenge her, but to fulfill his duty to Mand’alor.

The holographic Jedi Master turned once more to Layne, who stared thoughtfully at Apocalypsa through the shimmering blue projection. “Sergeant. I sense much confusion in you. Try to remember that these mercenaries are paid by the Sith Empire, and that you have sworn to fight them. Do not allow yourself to fall under their influence. The Republic that your parents died for, they seek to destroy.” The hologram winked out.

“My parents…” Layne shook his head as he replaced the device on his belt. “My parents died protecting a lie.”

“You mean the Republic?” Apoc’s soft chuckle died as Layne shook his head.

“My parents were soldiers, stationed on Balmorra. They were both combat medics and they had set up a small outpost that tended to all the wounded resistance fighters. They also treated civilians that were still trying to live in the front lines, mostly workers from the weapon factories.” He took a deep breath, scuffing the toe of his boot into the dirt as he continued.

“Normally the Empire didn’t mess with medical facilities, since it’s considered bad form to bomb a hospital. But they kept sending squadrons into this place. It was much more heavily guarded than most medical outposts, so they were always being repelled. Anyway, the Empire hired a crack team of Mandalorian commandos that went in the dead of night and planted charges all around the place. When they set them off, the whole facility went sky-high. Killed every soldier there, and about twenty civilians.”

Apoc frowned slightly. “Seems like a lot of trouble to take out some wounded.”

“Well, turned out the entire hospital was a front for a stockpile of chemical weapons they were keeping underground. That’s why the extra security. The soldiers knew, the civilians didn’t. Those people didn’t have to die.” Layne’s jaw clenched tightly as he closed his eyes.

“Raia – my sister, she doesn’t know about the chemicals. I only know because getting into Requiem Squad gave me access to some low-level classified information and I found the report. Raia’s never read it.” He kicked a stone into the slow-moving river, watching the ripples spread.

“You didn’t tell her about it?” Apoc’s inquiry was answered by a shake of Layne’s head.

“No, I couldn’t – she thinks Mom and Dad died helping to heal the wounded, not guarding chemical weapons. She blames the Mandalorians for their deaths.”

“You don’t?” Torian shot Layne a questioning look.

“I did at first. I begged my sister to get me into the military academy. I wanted to learn to fight - to fight Mandalorians. I studied favored weapons and combat techniques. I even studied the language.”

“So that’s where you learned Mando’a.” As he spoke, Torian gestured for Layne to begin walking along the river. Using coordinates from the datapad he carried, the young soldier started to lead the Mandalorians toward the Liberator.

“Now, I don’t know who I blame. The Republic, I guess. Who puts wounded soldiers directly in the line of fire?” Distressed, Layne hooked his fingers into his belt. “The more I studied Mandalorian society, the less sense things made. Just before I came out on this mission, I went looking for that report. When I found it, I discovered I was right – the Mandalorians didn’t attack a hospital – why would they? Poor sport in it, no challenge. They hit a hidden weapons facility.”

He hung his head, fixing his gaze on the datapad in his hand. “It got me wondering – what else did I take for truth that was actually lies? How much could I trust what I learned at the academy?”

Beside him, Apocalypsa shrugged. “Military academies are meant to break you down, reform you into the soldier they want you to be. Not much room for free thinking there.”

Silence fell as her words hung in the air between them. Their boots crunched through the sandy soil as they marched onward.

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silvershadows
07.26.2012 , 08:51 PM | #7
6




Pacing back and forth in front of the Liberator, Raia continuously scanned the trees lining the clearing for any glimpse of the Mandalorians and her brother. Occasionally her eyes would travel upward, focusing momentarily on the barely-visible form of her husband, several meters off the ground. Wedged between a branch and the trunk of an ancient tree, Elias held his laser sniper rifle across his lap.

Sadness for the loss of Nicke and Trace as well as worry for Layne filled Raia’s mind, and she nervously tucked several of her small honey-colored braids behind her ear. Footsteps sounded behind her, causing her to whirl about. Aran Ortain’s form filled the entryway of the starship, hood shadowing his somber face.

“They are close.” The Jedi Master stepped down the ramp, eyes searching the forest as the sky darkened from day to dusk. “They will be here soon.”

Crossing her arms over her chest, Raia frowned at him. “Do you really intend to go through with this duel, Master Jedi?”

“Yes, Lieutenant, I do.” He smiled reassuringly as her frown deepened. “Apocalypsa is not known to give up once she has started a hunt. It is inevitable that she and I face each other, and you must not interfere.”

Raia opened her mouth to protest, but was stopped by Ortain’s raised hand. “My concern now,” he began, “is that we get safely off of this planet. I accepted the challenge because this bounty hunter lives by a warrior’s code. She has given her word that if I fall, you, Layne, and Elias will be allowed to leave this planet unharmed. She will honor that word.”

“And if you win, we let her husband and the code-slicer go?”

He nodded, then looked down into Raia’s heart-shaped face. For a moment, she noticed a hint of indecision flicker over his shadowy features.

“There is one more thing, Lieutenant.” Ortain took a deep breath. “I am concerned that your brother may be cooperating with the Mandalorians. When I contacted him via holo, I sensed great confusion and turmoil within him. He did not speak, but seemed to defer to Apocalypsa instead.”

Raia winced as she felt a cold pit form in her stomach. She looked down at her feet. “I’m sorry, Master Jedi. Layne has been acting strangely since the fight over Voss. I thought the death of Serick Rolan had shaken him.”

She wrapped her arms around her chest as if hugging herself as she began to pace back and forth once more. “When Layne was in the Academy, they gave him classes on Mandalorian battle tactics. His instructors told me that it developed into somewhat of an obsession, that all of his free time was spent researching Mandalorian weapons, society, their heroes, even their language.”

Ortain nodded, lifting his hand to stroke his chin thoughtfully. “This expertise was one of the reasons you recommended him for this squadron.”

“Yes, sir, though I must admit to wanting to keep him close, to keep an eye on him. The deaths of our parents affected him greatly. We argued over his fascination with Mandalorians. He insisted that not all of them were bad, listing off names.” Raia pursed her lips. “Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure he mentioned Apocalypsa Cadera during that argument. She was on the Republic’s Most Wanted list during his training, so he would have heard of her.”

“Let your mind be at ease, Lieutenant.” Ortain’s voice was low, soothing. “Your brother must follow his own path. It is not for you to set him on it.”

“I still should have said something. After we landed, Layne came to me and said that he had finally learned the truth, and that I wouldn’t want to know what it is. I tried to ask him about it, but didn’t get far. He just insisted he didn’t want to discuss it.”

“It is in the past now, Raia.” The Jedi turned to face the darkening forest once more. “Don’t reflect on what you should have done. Instead, decide what you will do now.”

She nodded slowly. Perhaps he was right. After this was over, after Ortain had defeated Apocalypsa, she would speak with Layne and convince him, finally, that there was nothing to admire about bloodthirsty killers like Mandalorians.

A sudden movement beyond the trees caught her attention. Straining her eyes, she peered into the deepening shadows.


+++++



As they drew closer to the Liberator, Layne’s steps grew slower. His eyes moved back and forth between Torian and Apocalypsa, walking along either side of him. The two Mandalorians had joked and talked with him throughout the long walk, regaling him with the tale of their last adventure on Taris.

The story of the battle with the massive reptile and the fate of Apocalypsa’s estranged brother had enthralled the young commando, leaving him awed. When Apoc removed her left glove, showing him the network of scars that wound their way from wrist to elbow, he had been speechless.

Torian had laughed, clapping Layne on the back. “She’s something, huh kid?”

Layne could do nothing but agree as the afternoon wound on. Though her face was still battered and bruised, and a scab had formed over her split lip, Apocalypsa seemed to have regained most of her strength. Her left arm still seemed stiff and sore, and Layne noticed her often flexing the fingers of that hand, shaking it slightly as if it were asleep.

There had been an easy camaraderie between the three of them, a feeling that only grew stronger as they got closer to the Liberator. Layne found himself reluctant to return, knowing that when they reached the ship, Apocalypsa would fight Ortain, and then she was once more supposed to be his enemy.

As they approached the clearing where the Liberator rested on its landing gear, Layne reached out, placing his hand on Apocalypsa’s shoulder. She turned to face him with a raised eyebrow.

“Wait. Before we go in there – “ Layne frowned, then sighed quietly. “I just wanted to say thanks again. To both of you, for saving my life and then for… well,” he gestured at the Republic insignia on his armor. “And for not shooting me.”

“I wouldn’t kill you, kid.” Apocalypsa grinned at him wide enough that her split lip cracked again, blood trickling down to her chin. “What do I look like, a maniac?”

He couldn’t help but laugh. “It’s just that I was afraid, back there in the woods when the shadowcats attacked. If it hadn’t been for Torian, I would have stayed frozen in place, and I’d be like Trace. I’d never been that afraid before.”

“It was your first battle.” Apocalypsa’s smile was warm, her armored hand heavy on his shoulder. “Those creatures were tough. Anyone in their right mind would have been scared.”

“What about you?” Layne’s pale eyes were questioning as he stared into the mercenary’s face. “Were you scared?”

She chuckled softly, then turned to step through the barrier of trees and into the clearing. Looking back over her shoulder, her emerald eyes sparkled mischievously at him. “Nah.”

Pushing aside a low-hanging branch, she moved into the open area beyond the trees. Her eyes immediately sought out the figure of Aran Ortain, standing in front of his red and white starship. Next to him stood a slender woman with light brown hair, her face a close enough resemblance to Layne’s to make their relationship obvious.

As Raia spied her brother stepping forth from the woods behind the Mandalorian woman, she hurried forward to meet him. Reaching out, she grasped his hand and pulled him toward her, away from the two mercenaries. Her amber eyes glared lasers at Apocalypsa, who was struggling to hide a smile at the sheer venom Raia projected her way.

“Come on, Layne.” Raia’s tone indicated she would brook no insolence, and Layne allowed her to lead him away, taking him across the clearing to stand underneath one of the large trees. The dying sunlight reflected off of something in the branches, and Layne looked up to notice Elias Jesses lying across a thick limb, watching the clearing through his macrobinoculars. Trying to ignore Raia’s hand still on his arm, the young commando anxiously watched as Apoc walked forward. Torian hung back, leaning against a nearby tree.

Apocalypsa studied Aran Ortain as she approached him, her hands hovering over the twin blasters at her hips. Stopping a few meters before the Jedi Master, Apoc drew both of her weapons, holding them tightly in her hands. In response, Ortain’s lightsaber appeared in his hand, a snap-hiss filling the air as the shimmering orange blade extended.

“Finally we meet, Mandalorian.” He lifted the lightsaber, pointed it at her. “You have committed many crimes against the Republic, and murdered Jedi Master Jun Seros.”

“Murdered?” Apoc shot him an incredulous look. “I didn’t go into his room and shoot him as he slept. I challenged him. We fought, he lost. I gave him a warrior’s death.”

The corner of Ortain’s mouth twitched. “Jun Seros was a master of the Force.”

“And yet he died just like anyone else.” Apoc narrowed her eyes. “Are we going to do this, or what?”

The Jedi’s response was to lift his hand, bringing it back then flinging it forward, palm outward and fingers splayed wide. Apocalypsa felt a great impact against her chestplate, knocking the breath out of her body and lifting her into the air.

As she flew backward, she lifted her blasters, firing them wildly in Ortain’s direction. The bright orange lightsaber spun in front of his body, reflecting the sky-blue blaster bolts. Slamming into the ground, Apoc felt herself skid back a few meters, her armor digging through the soft moss beneath her body.

Leaping to her feet, the Mandalorian woman activated the jetpack mounted on her back. Lifting into the air high above the Jedi Master, she extended her right arm, sending a series of missiles screaming toward the brown-cloaked man.

Calling upon the Force, Ortain’s body became a blur as he ran underneath her, the rockets impacting the ground just behind his trailing robes, blowing craters in the soft soil and sending a shower of dirt and pebbles cascading through the air.

He drew back the arm holding the lightsaber, throwing it at her as she momentarily hung, suspended in mid-air. The orange blade streaked toward her, and she dropped to the ground, crouching low. The smell of burned hair filled her nostrils as the weapon returned to Ortain’s hand.

“Thanks, Jedi. I needed a trim.” Apoc smiled grimly at him as she gathered her legs beneath her. Reaching down, she picked up a fistful of the loose soil and flung it in the Force-wielder’s face. Momentarily blinded, he staggered backward.

Apoc leapt at him, intending to wrap her arms around his waist and bear him to the ground. He anticipated her movement through the Force, spinning away at the last second. His hand brought the lightsaber around.

There came a screeching sound and sparks flew in every direction as the energy blade scored a line through the thick plate of beskar’gam protecting Apocalypsa’s abdomen. Twisting her body to avoid another strike, Apocalypsa’s left arm came forward, a gout of flame erupting from the flamethrower on her wrist.

He pushed at her with the Force again, sending her reeling back a few meters. She once more activated her jetpack, flying up and over him to land atop the Liberator, ducking behind one of the starship’s wings. She crouched there, blasters in hand.

“Is that all you got, Ortain?” She slid out from behind the wing, popping off a few shots before moving back. “I thought you were a Jedi Master, not an apprentice!” Moving out to take another shot, she found herself forced to cover her bare face with her arm and dive back for cover as a hail of rocks and stones, some as big as her head, came flying toward her. They impacted with the side of the Liberator, putting small dents into the dense metal fuselage.

“Temper, temper!” Apocalypsa’s mocking voice called out from behind her hiding place. “What would Jun Seros think of your little tantrum?”

The rocks ceased battering the side of the starship as Ortain lowered his hands. Stepping out from behind the Liberator’s wing, Apoc held her blasters out, steadily aiming them at the Jedi Master, who stood in the center of the clearing, hood thrown back, staring at her with his dark eyes.

“Jun Seros was a paragon of truth, virtue and justice.” He shook his head at her. “You know nothing of what he would think!”

Her laugh was bitter. “I know that he died for his pride. I know that he died a liar, and in defense of those lies – lies he told ‘for the Republic’.”

A tiny spark of anger wormed its way from Ortain’s heart to his mind. Swallowing the lump that suddenly formed in his throat, he attempted to push it back, seeking balance within the Force. “You lie, Mandalorian.”

“Do I?” Apoc shrugged her right shoulder, gesturing with the blaster in her left hand. “Aren’t you a Jedi? Can’t you look into my mind and see I’m telling you the truth? That I stood there as that pompous Jedi defended his choice to make up lies about me in an attempt to have me killed?” She turned her head, spit in contempt. “A ten million credit bounty on my head because he didn’t even have the guts to come after me himself.”

Ortain hesitated, then slowly reached out with the Force. As Apocalypsa felt the first probing touch of his mind, she called forth the memory of standing before Jun Seros, listening to him attempt to justify his creation of outlandish criminal charges against her.

“This is some sort of trick.” Ortain’s voice was low, nearly a snarl. “I don’t believe it.” He struggled against the rising tide of anger within him.

Apocalypsa laughed shortly, lifting her blasters. “Believe it, Jedi. The truth shall set you free.”

Something within Ortain snapped, rage overcoming his Jedi-trained calm. Apocalypsa’s sense of righteousness and duty hammered at him, offending his sensibilities. How dare a Mandalorian, and a mercenary at that, believe herself to be a better force for honor and justice in the galaxy than a great Jedi Master?

A roar of nearly animalistic fury erupted from Ortain’s throat. The ground before him shivered and quaked, his hands reaching out and pulling up on it with the Force. A boulder the size of a speeder car burst forth from the loose soil, spinning in the air as he launched it at the bounty hunter.

Apoc’s eyes went wide as the massive rock flew directly at her. Dropping her blaster, she folded her hand into a fist, stretching her arm forth. The sound of several small explosions burst through the air as she fired several missiles at the projectile. The boulder shattered, sending sharp shards of rock raining down over Ortain, who threw his arms up to protect his face. Bloody streaks appeared on his arms, soaking through his robes where the needle-like stone shards had penetrated the cloth.

Apocalypsa leaned down, scooping up her discarded weapon. Her jetpack fired again, sending her flying toward the Jedi Master. As she hurtled toward him, she spun her body, pointing her feet at his face. The rocket thrusters in her boots roared to life, the intense heat of the blue-white flames scorching Ortain’s skin.

He stumbled backward, falling to the ground. His lightsaber flew from his hand, skittering across the ground to land at Torian’s feet. Looking up, the Jedi saw Apocalypsa’s face staring down at him as she stood above, her legs on either side of his body as she took careful aim with the blaster in her hand.


+++++



Layne and Raia stood next to each other, their eyes on the deadly duel taking place in the center of the clearing. They watched as Apocalypsa flew to the top of the Liberator, saw her exchange words with Ortain. Layne felt a cold fist clench its fingers around his heart as the giant boulder flew toward the Mandalorian woman. Relief was his when the rock disintegrated into shrapnel.

Next to him, Raia gasped when Ortain fell to the ground, the bounty hunter standing over him with weapon in hand, a look of triumph on her face. “Elias!” Raia’s voice cracked as she called her husband’s name. “Don’t let her kill him!”

The sniper didn’t hesitate. He lifted his rifle, sighted through the scope. A tiny red light danced on the back of Apocalypsa’s head as the soldier prepared to pull the trigger.

Layne felt as if time had slowed down to a crawl. He looked up, saw his brother-in-law aim the rifle he held. His eyes traveled back to the clearing, saw Apocalypsa lean down as if to say something to Ortain. Oblivious to the danger at her back, the mercenary straightened, and Elias’s finger tightened around the trigger.

“Behind you!” Layne cried out without realizing he was going to. The sound of blaster bolts whined through the air, and he clapped his hands over his face, not wanting to see Apoc fall.

He heard a cracking sound and a wet thump as something impacted the ground next to him. Raia’s anguished scream filled the air, and Layne uncovered his eyes to see Apocalypsa standing over Aran Ortain, a blaster in each hand, one pointed at the lifeless body of the Jedi Master, and the other at the tree above the young soldier.

Raia was on her knees next to him, leaning over Elias’s limp form. A neat hole had been burned through his forehead. Sadness filled the young commando as his sister’s grief-filled eyes lifted to his. He stared at her – wanting to apologize, wanting to say anything to take away the pain she felt. His mouth opened, but nothing came out.

Suddenly, Raia reached for the blaster at her side, leaping to her feet and taking a step toward the clearing. Layne reached out, wrapping his arms around her, his hand fighting with hers for the weapon.

“No, Rai.” His voice was rough, husky with unshed tears. “No more, she’ll kill you, too.” He gripped her wrist tightly, squeezing it until she dropped the blaster to the ground. She stared at him with wild amber eyes.

“I don’t care!” She struggled against his arms. “Let me go! Get away from me, traitor.”

Shocked, he released her, and she spun away from him, blundering into Apocalypsa, who had come up behind her. The Mandalorian woman’s face was hard, her emerald eyes glittering in the inky sea tattooed around them.

Drawing back her fist, Raia aimed a punch at Apoc. The mercenary’s arm shot forward, her hand gripping the slender woman’s own. Pushing down with all of her strength, Apoc forced the grief-stricken soldier to her knees on the ground.

“For what it’s worth,” Apoc said quietly, “I’m sorry things had to work out this way.” Her gaze traveled to Layne. “Thanks, kid.”

Ceasing her struggles, Raia knelt on the mossy ground, her head bowed, fists clenched at her sides. Layne crouched down, placing his hands on her shoulders. “I’m so sorry, Rai.”

“You’re sorry?” She began to laugh hysterically, her voice cracking as it rose in pitch. “You’re sorry? You got Elias killed, you sided with the enemy, and you’re sorry?! You betrayed us all, and for what?” She pointed at Apocalypsa and Torian, who had come to stand at his wife’s side. “For this trash?”

Layne’s face was pale and his hands shook as he released his grip on Raia’s shoulders. Standing, he stepped back a few paces, swallowing the hard lump in his throat. “I…” he shook his head violently.

“Torian,” Apoc’s voice was low, dangerous. “Go get the hyperdrive motivator.” She stared down at the woman at her feet. “Take the kid with you.”

Torian stepped toward Layne, taking his arm and leading him toward the Liberator. Silently, Layne followed, looking back over his shoulder to see Apoc kneel down on the ground next to Raia. They reached the starship, and the two women were lost to his view.

Apocalypsa tugged off her left gauntlet, running her scarred hand through her dark hair. Raia hung her head, the braids in her hair falling down like a curtain to hide her face. Her shoulders shook as she cried softly.

“I know you’re grieving.” Apoc tried to modulate her husky voice to soothing tones. “And believe it or not, I truly am sorry that I had to kill him.” She gestured with her hand at the still form of Elias. “But don’t take it out on the kid. He’s made of good stuff.”

“He’s a traitor. He betrayed the squad, he betrayed the Republic. He betrayed me.”

“But not his honor.” Apoc jerked her head back as Raia spit in her face. Wiping the mess from her cheek, she stood, drawing her foot back as if to kick the other woman. Changing her mind, she leaned down, grasping the soldier’s arms and forcing them behind her back as she lifted her to her feet.

“Your husband interfered in an honor-bound warrior’s duel.” She reached for the pair of duraplast binders she wore on her belt. Snapping them onto the smaller soldier’s wrists, she began to push her toward the Liberator.

“What was he supposed to do, let you kill Master Ortain?” Raia’s voice was shrill.

“That was the deal. Your Jedi Master knew that.” Reaching the starship, Apoc climbed partially up the entry ramp, calling out to her husband. “Torian? What’s the status on that motivator?”

“Got it.” The tall man appeared, pulling a small repulsor-sled behind him, upon which a large plastifiber box rested. Layne trailed behind as the Mandalorians exited the ship.

“The hyperdrive motivator?” Raia frowned. “What am I supposed to do if you take that?”

Apoc shrugged, then reached down and removed the binders from Raia’s wrists. “Go call for help. The Republic will send someone for you. We’ll take this and be long gone before they get here.”

The amber-eyed woman moved to enter the starship. As she stepped past Layne, she suddenly stopped, then spit at his feet. “You are not my brother anymore.” Disappearing into the hatch, she pressed the button to close the ramp, leaving Layne standing outside the Liberator with Torian and Apocalypsa.

Shaking her head, Apoc turned to Torian. “Let’s go.” She began to walk away, heading for the darkening forest. Layne stared after her, a lost look on his face as he hung back beneath the bulk of the starship.

Apoc had only gone a few meters before stopping. Turning, she smiled at the commando, gesturing with her hand. “You coming, kid?”

Torian laughed at Layne’s stunned expression, then clapped him heartily on the shoulder as the young man moved to join them. Together, the three of them stepped into the forest, beginning their trek back to where the Flameshrike waited to take them into space.

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silvershadows
07.26.2012 , 08:52 PM | #8
Epilogue



Apocalypsa stood at the Flameshrike’s viewport, watching as the swirling colors of hyperspace hurtled past. They had waited around until a Republic ship had entered the system, and tapping into their communications, were assured that Raia Jesses would be taken safely off the planet.

Footsteps sounded behind her, and she turned to see Torian entering the Flameshrike’s bridge. He stepped toward her, sliding his arm around her shoulder.

“How’s the kid?” Apocalypsa raised an eyebrow at him. He shrugged slightly, giving her a little squeeze with his arm.

“Sleeping. Set him up in the medbay for now. Need to find something permanent.” He looked down at her face, his sapphire eyes searching her green ones. “What made you do it?”

“Ask him to come along?” Torian nodded at her, and she sighed, turning her face to gaze once more out of the starship’s viewport. “I know what it’s like, when your family is no longer your family. What it’s like to feel like you have nobody to back you up.”

He frowned, remembering the story of her childhood and her flight from her abusive family at the age of thirteen. “You were strong.”

“So’s the kid.” She smiled up at him. “You’ll see. He just needs some direction.”

Together they stood, arms around each other, watching the vastness of space pass them by. A comfortable silence descended upon them, broken only after a long moment by Apocalypsa’s soft whisper.

Aliit ori'shya tal'din. Family is more than blood.”
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Deception Assassin
<Tave Naefas Lazea>
A Sith endures.

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silvershadows
07.27.2012 , 09:51 AM | #9
Not a single comment? Really?
Avatia
Deception Assassin
<Tave Naefas Lazea>
A Sith endures.

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Magdalane
07.27.2012 , 11:23 AM | #10
Sorry, Silver, I was in an ops last night and just got to finish it a moment ago. Great story! I haven't played any Empire characters, but your descriptions and details make me want to explore the BH. I love your use of the surroundings and the affect they have on the characters.

I'm still digesting, and I'm sure I'll have more good things to say. I really want to read it again, when my mind isn't so focused on what happens and can see how it happens.

Thanks for a great read!
Love is the strongest magic of them all.