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Imperial Special Projects: The Seven

STAR WARS: The Old Republic > English > Community Content > Fan Fiction
Imperial Special Projects: The Seven

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
04.04.2012 , 03:14 PM | #21
Chapter Three: The Dunes

Aurek and Sebastus ended their meeting with a series of subtle nods to each other’s person. Despite earlier protests of having to stay on Tatooine, the agent seemed keen on remaining at the bar while the trooper exited the cantina. As Aurek ascended the cantina stairs he opened the squad’s comm line.

“Aurek here. Finished meeting with Intelligence. Let’s meet up in front of the cantina.”

“Already there, Aurek,” Besh quickly responded.

As the squad leader casually walked from the cantina’s interior, he was greeted with a surprising gathering of his squad mates. More surprising where some of their updated looks.

Most eye catching was Esk, who stood at the forefront of the group. Two bandoliers worn across his chest and shoulders crossed in an ‘X’ pattern were lined with numerous cylindrical shells. Held aloof in the demolitionist’s right hand was his newly procured weapon.

“I call it Torrid,” Esk giddily stated, hefting the sizable weapon in the air. Aurek could only offer a blank stare to his squad mate, before directing the same stare to Besh.

“We made some load out changes to suit the mission,” Besh reasoned shifting the sniper rifle born on his back, utility belt bearing numerous bullets for said weapon.

“I’ve noticed. And does your rifle have a name?” Aurek asked, almost forcing himself to play along.

“Odyssey,” Besh plainly stated. Aurek only renewed his stare. “What? I didn’t name it. It’s specialty item. One of a kind. Probably didn’t use traditional serials.”

“Well, I guess I did give you the freedom to do as you wished,” Aurek admitted.

“We did a bit of trading and dipped into our discretionary funds,” Besh explained.

“Keyword: discretion.”

“Says the man with a sword upon his back,” Esk joked.

“Alright, alright. Look, I know how much enjoyment you draw from your craft. If you’re happy with your situation, I won’t try and distort it.”

“Thank you Aurek,” Besh expressed. Looking to the other squad members, Aurek scanned for any more surprises.

“Find anything you liked Cresh?” Aurek asked.

“Nah,” Cresh casually responded. “Traded in my rifle to help pay off their weapons.” Aurek was confused by the trooper’s overly positive tone.

“Cresh is something of a gunslinger,” Besh commented. “I don’t think there’s anyone from the Empire to make a fuss all the way out here.”

“So long as you all are combat ready and sufficiently motivated, you can use whatever you please,” Aurek stated, lightening up from his previous demeanor. “I just hope we have enough credits to rent some speeders. We’re meeting up with an Imperial outpost south of here that’s noticed some strange happening with the sand people that may connect with our little band of cultists.”

“Details on the outpost?” Besh inquired, adopting his usual coolheaded spirit.

“It’s a Mobile Imperial Command Crawler.”

The Seven made their way to the town’s outer perimeter, where a small lot of used speeders were tended to by an exhausted human sitting in under a small patch of shade. The approaching squad of black-clad, armored troopers was enough to draw the beleaguered speeder salesman’s eye, but do little to move him from his spot.

“How might I be of service to such illustrious servants of the Empire?” the salesman appeased, cooling himself with a hand-held fan.

“Cool, even people all the way out here know who we are,” Dorn celebrated.

“Doubt it,” Besh whispered. “He’s just trying to make nice with us Imperials with a little sweet talk.” Aurek offered a subtle downward wave of his hand to politely hush his world conscious squad mate.

“Ah, yes. We have business south of here and would like to rent some speeders. What do you have?” Aurek negotiated.

“Well,” the merchant responded, drawing out his speech as much as possible. “We got bikes. Plenty of ‘em. But, uh, I don’t know if they’re certified for someone like, him,” he said, gesturing toward Grek. The giant trooper only offered a slight rotation of his neck.

“Don’t worry about us, we’ve ridden bikes before,” Aurek admitted.

“Maybe, but not on Tatooine I bet, and certainly not on these piles of scrap.”

“It’s almost like you’re trying to not make a sale,” Esk joked.

“I rent, not sell. I need speeders back. Can’t have you Imperials crashin’ them ‘cause you don’t know about lift to weight ratios and sand pockets.”

“Look, we need to get moving, what do you suggest?”

“I suggest you use a crawler like you’re suppose’ to. But now, I got five speeders that can hold six of you, four singles and a double. For the big guy, I got a swoop that should hold ‘im up.”

“Do we really need to be giving Grek a swoop?” Dorn warned. “Those things are basically ship engines with a seat welded on.”

“We all need to travel as group, so we’ll take what we can get,” Aurek reasoned.

“Good, good,” the salesman rejoiced.

----------

With their dues paid, the Seven straddled their motley assortment of misused and abused transportation. The majority of the vehicles were of a dull-gray paint scheme marred by the occasional black or brown addition. Aurek, Besh, Cresh, and Forn piloted the single pilot speeder bikes measuring around four meters in length.

Seated upright, the troopers kept their hands upon two handles and their feet upon two pedals slightly in front of them. The light framed bikes seemed to have no trouble keeping the troopers hovering stationary. Grek sat upon a swoop similar to his compatriots’ vehicles, but possessed decidedly more bulk. Measured an extra meter in length and width and packed a serious amount of power.

A larger two-seated landspeeder was piloted by Dorn, with Esk as his passenger. While similar in length to the bikes, it possessed over thrice the width, and a much more solidly constructed chassis. Possessed an open air seating area, with only a forward windshield to divert the passing air and sand, and was driving by two sizable aft engines. None of the vehicles piloted by the Seven possessed integrated weapons systems.

“I like how we didn’t even discuss who wouldn’t get the chance to pilot a vehicle,” Esk sarcastically commented.

“Do you not remember our third mission?” Besh politely asked.

“I’m a bit hazy,” Esk plainly stated.

“Speeder bike… crashed through a wall… detonation,” Forn reminded.

“That was a purposeful tactical strategy.” Esk explained.

“No one here is doubting that everything you do in on purpose,” Dorn commented.

“Let’s try and stay focused, shall we?” Aurek interrupted, putting an end to his squad’s banter. “We got a crawler to meet up with.”

“Destination?” Besh inquired. After a few moments, the soldiers’ H.U.D. updated with a map and a waypoint to follow. Definitely more than a few kilometers south. With a firm press of his foot on a pedal, Aurek took the lead and he promptly sped off. The others soon followed in a disorganized fashion.

----------

Jagged orange and brown crags jut up from the unending sands, impeding the most direct path southward. When the rocky canyons opened up wavy hills of sand stretched onwards beyond the horizon.

The Seven rode on for almost an hour before encountering a mountainous ridge that ran perpendicular to their path. A single crevice allowed for the passage through the otherwise impassable terrain.

“Yeah, this doesn’t look like a spot for an ambush… at all,” Esk mumbled into the comm.

“This was a hotspot for Sand People raids. However, the Imperial forces here have managed to push them from the area,” Dorn informed. “We have more to worry about with the rocks and cliffs than any armed attack.”

“Wonderful,” Esk stated, the chin of his helmet resting in his palm, attached to an arm with rested its elbow on the side of the speeder’s cockpit.

The Seven cautiously maneuvered their vehicles in single file, with Aurek leading the way. The narrow passageway would fork numerous times, and without a proper map, there was little hope for someone to make it through to the other side in a reasonable amount of time.

Peacefully they made their way along the path highlighted on their H.U.D.s, until they finally could see the clearing ahead fast approaching. A sense of delight filled the troopers as the exited the caverns. A sense of dismay overrode that feeling as they set their eyes upon their intended target in the distance.

A large grey behemoth of a land vehicle hugged the ground. It was the Imperial sand crawler. And emanating from it was a steady plume of blackened smoke. The crawler looks to have been deployed, hunkered down with a series of makeshift tents and supplies surrounding it.

Most of those surroundings, however, were decimated. Fuel barrels prolonged the fires that dotted the area surrounding the crawler. Bodies lay half buried in the shifting sands. No movement at all could be seen as the Seven approached with increasing pace.

As the troopers rode into the center of the encampment, the Seven quickly dismounted to get a closer look at the scene. Blaster marks were present on practically every surface. Forn examined the fallen imperial officers, turning over corpse after corpse, each bearing dissimilar wounds.

“What happened here?” Cresh barely muttered.

“The crawler was besieged,” Besh plainly stated.

“Yes, but by whom,” Aurek questioned. “There are too many enemy forces on this planet to jump to any conclusions.”

“He’s right,” Dorn stated. “This could have been the work of Sand People, or hostile Exchange members. Primary investigations don’t exactly scream Sith cult.”

“Blaster marks… on the officers,” Forn informed. “As well as blunt trauma. Some blade wounds. Most likely Sand People.”

“So it would seem,” Besh admitted, gazing upon the out-of-commission sand crawler. “But something peculiar. Look at the marks on the crawler.”

“The file says that Sand People are capable marksmen,” Dorn notified.

“It’s not the precision, but the fact that they knew where to hit,” Besh reasoned.

“The Empire has had troubles with the natives as much as anyone else,” Aurek reminded. “Could be that a tribe has sufficiently studied our weak points.”

“Could be,” Besh conceded.

“Let’s check inside,” Aurek commanded. “Dorn, Cresh, with me. Everyone else, stay on your guard.”

The squad leader approached the side hatch of the sizable crawler. A hybrid of the local technologies and the treaded APCs the Empire used and similar worlds, the vehicle possessed a decidedly cramped interior. Miniature halls lead between storage, barracks, and control stations. Aurek forced the exterior hatch open, and proceeded inside, looking for survivors.

Aurek received his answer in the form of a bisected Imperial laying upon the grated floor. Diagonal cut. Shoulder to hip. Cauterized wound. The work of a lightsaber.

“I daresay that provides some much needed evidence,” Aurek stated.

“I’m not picking up any systems,” Dorn informed. “Whoever did this trashed this place inside and out.”

“Doesn’t look to be any survivors either,” Cresh solemnly admitted. Just then, the troopers heard a shout from outside the crawler. It was Esk beckoning them to return. When Aurek and company exited the vehicle, they saw the other four troopers had their weapons trained on a seemingly intact crate adjacent to the crawler’s front. A soft whine could be heard from the large container’s innards.

Grek approached the crate’s side, and delivered a powerful kick, forcing the sideways container’s lid to snap off. As the lid fell, so did an injured Imperial roll out onto the hot sands. The officer curled into a ball, his hand covering his face as he begged those looming over not to kill him.

“Don’t worry, sir, we’re Imperial,” Aurek spoke up.

“No! No! So were they! Get away,” the panicked officer shouted, trying his best to put some distant between him and the troopers with some slow scurrying. The Seven shared a round of knowing glances as they received confirmation that their enemy was involved in the raid.

“Settle down. Let me help you,” Cresh softly commanded, hoping to assuage the bewildered officer.

Unarmored, the Imperial looked of the political sort, tasked with some form of command rather than active combat. His face looked bruised and battered, but no other significant wounds could be noticed. The officer eventually calmed down in the hands of Cresh. He sat him down, leaning against one of the nearby crate’s upright faces.

“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you what happened here,” Aurek questioned, doing his best not to provoke any unneeded reactions from the Imperial.

“S-Sand People,” the officer eventually muttered. Aurek was momentarily confused by the answer.

“I thought you said Imperials did this?” Aurek continued.

“Yes! N-No!” the officer shouted. Looking down, the Imperial bit his lip as he gathered his thoughts. “We were out here, to deal with one of the Sand People tribes. They have a sizable settlement south of here.”

“Settlement? The file says they are nomadic,” Dorn interrupted.

“Usually. But some of the larger tribes hunker down when they find a place with abundant resources.”

“And this tribe attacked you?”

“No. Maybe. We were here to enter diplomatic relations. We even brought a droid that can communicate with them. They were interested in entering peace talks, or whatever the equivalent is for them.”

“Peaceful Sand People?” Aurek questioned.

“Certainly not in the file,” Dorn reminded.

“The prospect was unheard of. That’s what made it so intriguing,” the officer admitted. “That's why a member of Imperial Anthropologic Service is even on this dust ball.”

“Then what of the people who attacked you?”

“There were dozens. We were deployed, had been for a while, when we saw a small band of Sith approaching us. We didn’t… we couldn’t question them. Not if we wanted to live. But now… it never even mattered. But then, they were join by a large group of Sand People.”

“Did you think they were from the tribe you about to meet with?” Aurek asked.

“No. They were similar, but each tribe possesses distinct wrapping. These warrior, they were different. Similar, but different.”

“So our Sith cult has been bolstered by a tribe of Sand People. Perfect,” Aurek lamented. “Did you notice anything from inside the crate?”

“I… I heard the Sith shouting in Basic. I couldn’t hear the words, but it wasn’t the language he Sand People speak. They were nearby. I thought they’d find me eventually. But still I hid. The Sith stopped talking, then silence. They left… but I dared not reveal myself just in case. Now… now, I’m the only one left.”

As the troopers listened to the distraught officer, all but one of the Seven seemed totally enraptured by his story. The seemingly uninterested Forn turned his gaze outward, looking upon the sands that surrounded the crawler as the wind gently danced across its surface. He watched. He listened. Then, he began to process the officer’s words.

“Damn,” the hunter slowly murmured into his comm.

“What’s up Forn?” Aurek asked.

The hunter had seen this before. Total annihilation. Destruction. Small intrusion. Supplemented by deadly force. Blasters. Staffs. Swords. Sabers. Anything and everything laid under siege. Nothing missed. Nothing. Personnel: Wiped out. On board systems: Taken down. One lone survivor. Purposeful.

In the distance something caught the attention of every trooper. Swirling winds gathered and focused themselves around a single point, kicking up dust in a most violent manner. It culminated in a whirlwind of devastating force and remarkable grace. A sandstorm now approached the Seven. Silently, Forn raised his weapon outward toward the landscape.

“We’re not alone.”
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
04.06.2012 , 06:14 PM | #22
Chapter Four: The Raiders

The sandstorm approached with crawler with increased haste, swirling and kicking up an dangerously obscuring cloud. Each trooper nervously scanned the horizon, each trooper except Forn. The hunter stood completely still, unmoved by the approaching torrent of whirling sands.

“Oh no… the sand…. the sandstorm is back…” the cowering Imperial officer panicked.

“What do you mean back?!” Aurek shouted, his sights still directed out toward the horizon.

“It came before the slaughter! It’s back! We’re doomed!”

“Forn?” Aurek tried to get some information out of the reserved trooper. At first, Forn couldn’t seem to have been bothered, unable to pull his gaze from the sands in front of the squad. Then, a response.

“Esk… did you trade in all of your explosive?” Forn asked with utmost haste.

“I still have some grenades,” Esk answered.

“Throw one out there as far as you can,” Forn directed, pointed toward the approaching storm. Esk complied. Unclipping an explosive metallic orb from his belt, the demolitionist flung the device outward. It landed far from the squad’s position, but nowhere near the sandstorm. The explosive planted itself in the ground’s soft surface, before detonating a moment later and kicking up a pillar of sand. Not a second afterward did the landscape in front of the Seven shift.

Rising from their hiding spots, raiders wrapped head to toe in ragged brown clothes unearthed themselves from the sands. Faces hidden behinds wraps, goggles, and what appeared to be respiratory masks, the Sand People had been lying and waiting under Tatooine’s shifting surface. In one motion, the raiders rose to a standing position, and raised their rifles before the sand had even completely fallen from their shoulders.

The Seven opened fire on the Sand People, and they returned fire in turn. Slugs enveloped in green energy flew towards the squad's position, and surprisingly found their marks with trained marksmanship. The shields were able to deflect the ordinance, but they wouldn’t stay up under concentrated fire without cover.

The soldiers took whatever refuge they could find behind the leftover scraps and crates left behind from the last siege. Cresh join the side of the panicking Imperial officer and shoved his head downward for safety. Dozens of raiders had appeared from the blistering wastes. Most of them bore arms in the form of the cyclers Besh's rifle improved upon. A few, however, charged the soldiers’ frontline with makeshift melee weapons. Staves of twisted and flanged scrap metal.

Forn confronted the first to approach the Seven, sidestepping a heavy downward swing intending to crush his skull, and effortlessly sliding one of his blades across the aggressors throat.

“Forn, take cover!” Aurek ordered, firing his rifle into the enclosing raiders. The sandstorm was almost upon the crawler, and would completely alter the course of battle when it enveloped the Seven. “Forn!”

“In a moment!” Forn retaliated, gazing beyond the Sand People, beyond the sandstorm, toward the rocky ridge that jutted from the sands a distance away. Finally, he saw it. A lone figure. Almost motionless. Standing atop the orange rocks and watching the battle proceed below it. “Besh, there’s a target on the far ridge, can you hit it?”

“I can’t see that far with the sandstorm,” Besh replied, planting a headshot on one of the nearer Sand People. Ejecting his rifle’s spent casing and recycling the bolt action mechanism, the sniper turned his gaze toward the hunter. “Don’t you think we should focus on the danger at hand?”

“Aurek, we need to take out whoever is standing on that ridge.” Forn concluded.

“Are you sure?” Aurek responded, firing another burst toward the approaching enemies.

“Yes.”

“Then do what you need to do.”

Forn ran back toward the crawler’s flank, and where he promptly mounted one of the speeder bikes. With a firm press of the pedal, Forn pressed on through the sandstorm that had finally arrived at the Seven’s heels. Visibility had now been severely limited for the troopers.

Forn drove forward, dodging bits of debris from the last battle as he weaved to the left and right. An unseen assailant had launched a bolt toward the speeder’s driver, but passed by, narrowly missing the rider’s helmet. Once the shooter could be seen through the sandy haze, Forn offers a quick slash of his blade whilst refusing to slow his progress.

Firmly gripped, the weapon raked itself across the raider’s chest and sent the Sand Person spiraling to the ground. The rest of the squad saw a black blur enter and exit their collective field of vision as Forn made his way toward his target.

“This situation is rather ironic isn’t it?” Besh commented, firing his rifle into the storm.

“And what makes you say that?” Esk questioned, crouching behind a crate a short distance away from the sniper.

“Well, usually we’re the ones pulling this tactic. Usually this would be no problem, but with primitives like these, our helms can’t outline any energy signatures.”

“I guess now it doesn’t really matter if our weapons aren’t compatible with our armor,” Esk pleasantly noted. Just then, one of the invading forces hopped on top of the crate Esk hid behind, and let loose a primal howl. The raider was forcefully knocked back and the full spread of the demolitionist’s scattergun charge planted itself in the enemy’s chest. “I certainly have no regrets with my decisions today.”

“How atypical of you,” Dorn sarcastically bellowed. "Maybe we should try going thermal?"

"Great idea, thermal imaging on a desert planet," Esk scoffed.

"It measures differences in temperature, so it could still be useful in sighting the enemy. It's hard to brain storm in the middle of a sandstorm."

"Even without clear visuals, I'm pretty sure we haven't encountered a Sith yet." Besh interrupted.

“Well, that’s good and bad,” Aurek admitted, continuing the firefight. “We should be able to hold out against this assault, but we’re not really any closer to getting some answers.”

“Maybe the officer was lying to us,” Besh coldly stated. The Imperial released another shriek of fright as a blaster bolt zoomed over his head.

“I doubt that,” Aurek stated with confidence. “Dorn, it’ll be safer for our new friend inside the crawler.”

“I hear you Aurek,” Dorn responded, taking the anthropologist by the arm and dragging him into the crawler’s interior. Grek covered the officer and his new guardian as the sought refuge inside the armored walls of the still mostly intact mobile command center.

Forn had breached the outer extremity of the sandstorm, driving onward in an area of comparative serenity. Closer to the rocky ridge, Forn saw with greater clarity a robed figure standing at its low peak. A dark figure, wrapped head to toe in black clothes similar yet different than those of the Sand People. Upon closer inspection, his arms appeared outstretched, hands dancing in front of him like some manic puppet master.

The hunter spotted a naturally slanted pillar of rock a short distance away, leading to the dark figure. Diverting his course, Forn began to ascend the rock pathway, adjusting his speeders repulsors for maximum lift. The speeder managed to make it to the top of the peak, where the cloaked figure stood entranced, fully devoted to the scene below. Only when the hunter dismounted his vehicle did the figure turn his gaze.

The two individuals now stood upon the flattened peak, as sensible an arena as any. Looking forward, the opposing figure appeared a peculiar amalgamation of the Sand People of what he’d expected from the Sith. Body wrapped head to toe in tattered clothes, not an single spot of flesh showing. The clothes hugged the figure’s body is manner similar to the robes of a warrior.

A hooded cloak topped the figure’s appearance, dangling to the back of the figure’s legs, and bouncing ever so slightly in the wind. Beneath the shadowy hood, the figure’s face appeared completely wrapped, but sans the goggles and breather Forn had seen on the Sand People, showing no visible means of sight.

The dark figure glanced at the trooper, before looking back to the battle below. Dipping his head, the figure appeared to come upon an unknown realization, and dropped his hands to his sides. The ground-ward members of the Seven were relieved to notice that the sandstorm that had been plaguing them was dissipating.

Forn, meanwhile, drew his vibroknives and adopted a combat ready stance. The dark figure did the same, reaching to his waist and brandishing a familiar silver cylinder. With a flick of the wrist, a red beam of energized plasma emanated from the hilt.

Forn had finally found the tangible connection between the Sand People and the Sith. On the grounds below, the rest of the squad began to systematically eliminate the remaining raiders due to their increased clarity. As each Sand Person fell, Aurek expected the remaining forces to turn and flee, but no such thing happened. The warriors pressed on till the last man.

A peculiar red glow emanating from the ridge across the sands caught the eye of a few of the Seven still near the crawler.
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
04.08.2012 , 10:39 AM | #23
Chapter Five: The Duel

The two figures standing atop the flattened plane at the top of the orange ridge prepared themselves in silence, only the soft whistling of the gently blowing winds providing the scene with any audible accompaniment. Two warriors, clad in black. Each represented a multitude of contrasting values and ideals. Flowing clothes met with contained metals. The primal faced the advanced. The mystic faced the tech. But in the end, these opposing forces were as similar as they were different. Each a destruction force of nature, bearing an intense martial skill behind their respective blades.

Back at the crawler, the remaining Seven had disposed of the last Sand Person to march on their position. Gazing into the distance, they were confused to watch the tow figures stand motionless on the top of the ridge.

“What is Forn doing?” Cresh pondered aloud.

“What do you think he’s doing? He’s getting ready to fight a Sith,” Besh stated, seemingly bearing no emotional investment in the situation.

“He’s the most capable of us,” Esk admitted, surprisingly focused.

“Should we just stand here? Should we help him?” Cresh inquired, genuinely unsure of how to proceed.

“Besh, think you can hit the target from here?” Aurek asked.

“Probably, but that would probably just make him mad,” Besh answered.

“The Sith? Or Forn?” Esk joked.

“Well, if you’re going to take a shot do it now. If you try after they start fighting it’s just going to distract Forn and be a detriment,” Aurek informed.

“Too late,” Besh acknowledged.

On top of the ridge, the duel had finally begun in earnest. The Sith gripped his lightsaber with both hands, directing the blade vertically, and guarding the wielder’s right side. Forn brandished his two vibroknives, his left held in a saber-like grip and his right held in a reversed grip, thumb capping the bottom of the handle. A soft hum emanated from the blades as they were activated.

Forn was the first to make his move, closing in on the Sith with blistering speed. As the trooper drew near, the Sith simply swung his saber downward hoping to instantly cut down his opponent. Forn batted the saber away with his left blade and followed through with a swipe of his right. The Sith was barely able to dodge the blade meant for his neck, taking a sizable leap backward. The Sith paused, tilting his head in a curious confusion as he glanced to his lightsaber.

“What’s the matter? This can’t be the first time… you’ve encountered something you couldn’t cut,” Forn stoically provoked.

The battle continued, the Sith’s movements exponentially more careful, and more capable. Pressing the attack, the Sith possessed an advantage in his weapon’s reach, but the trooper proved adept in dodging and weaving with grace despite his suit of armor.

As Forn increased his pace, the faceless Sith seemed to match him. One of the warriors would attack, and the other would adequately defend, both favoring superior movement and dexterity. Whilst on the defensive, Forn would match every movement with one of his own, bringing his blade into contact with his opponent’s lightsaber only when absolutely necessary. The battlefield had expanded to encompass the entirety of the ridge’s peak, the only boundaries the sheer drop that graced the outer extremities of the field.

“How’s the fight going?” Dorn nonchalantly asked, exiting the crawler.

“It’s hard to say,” Aurek admitted, not turning his gaze from the action taking place on the peak.

“Well, the anthropologist is calm and stabilized, so we’re ready to proceed whenever,” Dorn informed.

“Am I the only one who finds it weird how we’re just standing around nonchalantly whilst one of our squad mates is in the middle of what ought to be a duel to the death?” Cresh questioned his fellow troopers.

“It’s alright, Forn prefers to fight alone. It lets him concentrate,” Aurek enlightened.

“Besides, Forn has the highest projected survival rating after Esk,” Besh acknowledged.

“Projected survival rate? How do you come up with something like that?” Cresh inquired, dumfounded by the sniper’s cold delivery.

“Well, for the members of the Seven who are still on their first iteration, it comes down to a formula of past experiences, martial ability, and other minor but significant qualifiers,” Besh explained.

“Forn is the most capable all around fighter, possesses an inherently strong biology, and has actually fought opponent like this before,” Dorn further detailed.

“Then why is he second to Esk?” Cresh wondered.

“He’s the oldest, age wise, and has the weird knack of walking away from disastrous, harmful, and downright terminal circumstances. It sort of skews the formula in his favor,” Aurek clarified. Esk offered his own gruff chuckle at the assertion.

“How old is he exactly,” Cresh inquired.

“Protocol, Cresh,” Besh plainly stated.

“Riiiight,” Cresh solemnly accepted. “So this is just normal for you guys…”

“I wouldn’t say normal,” Aurek corrected. “I mean, I’m damn sure none of us have faced a Sith during our tenure as the Seven. But then again, the abnormal is our normal. We’re all weird in our own way, and knowing when to restrain or release that weirdness is tantamount to ensuring our continued success.”

“What he’s saying is, Forn went up there for a reason,” Besh informed. “He knew what he was getting into.”

“So that precludes him from receiving help?”

“Not at all, he just functions at his peak when there isn’t anyone to interfere with his craft.” Aurek explained.

“His craft?”

“Battle. It’s what he does best, and what he loves to do. It drives him,” Aurek stated. “We all have our drives, to be masters of our individual crafts, to prove ourselves, whether it be to society or to oneself. Besh has his skills with a rifle, Dorn has his tech, Esk has his explosives, I have my squad.”

“And what do I have?” Cresh wondered.

“That’s not for me to decide,” Aurek answered. “That’s up to you, and you only. Others may voice their opinions, or concerns, try to help you or hinder you, but in the end, only you can make that choice. If you want to be a trickshot, or a save lives, or just keep breathing until the next cycle, it’s your decision.”

Cresh watched the scene on the far ridge in silence as he pondered his squad leader’s words. Eventually he turned to the silent giant next to him. Grek watched the battle with the same steadfast curiosity as the others troopers, his arms crossed in front of him.

“And what about you, big guy?” Cresh asked of the large trooper. Breaking his gaze toward the ridge, Grek glanced to his neighbor for a moment before uncrossing his arms, and lightly placing a hand on Cresh’s shoulder.

“My guess… a family,” Aurek answered for him, Grek politely nodding.

Up on the ridge, the two warriors showed no sign of fatigue of their continuous battling. But Forn had decided that the duel had persisted long enough. With one final charge, the hunter sought to break through the Sith’s guard. And he succeeded. The Sith swung his saber at the approaching trooper and it connected, it wasn’t enough, however, as the red blade of energy merely glanced the trooper’s left pauldron, producing no effect other and a flashy show of sparks. Forn on the other hand, swung his blade across the Sith’s chest making sufficient contact.

The vibroknife managed to cut well past the multiple layers of dark cloth and draw blood from the slash that crossed the entirety of the Force user’s chest. The weapons vibrations compounded the cutting force, ensuring the wound was as deep as it could be. The Sith recoiled in pain and panic. Clutching at his wound with his free hand, seemingly holding the bisected clothes together rather than reacting directly to the deep gash.

The Sith used the last of his energy to offer a response, swinging his saber toward the trooper’s lower guard. Forn easily stepped back out of its reach, just as the Sith had hoped. Capitalizing on the soldier’s backward motion, the Sith sent forth a surge of kinetic energy from his saber wielding hand. With no foundation to latch on to, neither the armor or its inhabitant could resist the powerful Force push, sending the trooper over the edge and plummeting toward the sands below. The other members of the Seven stood in horror as they witnessed their ally falling from the ridge.

“Forn!” Aurek shouted. Without a word, Besh raised his rifle and took aim at the Sith standing atop the ridge. The dark figure had limped out of sight before the sniper could fire off a shot.

“Now, is the time when we interfere,” Besh stated, lowering his rifle.

“Cresh, come with me. The rest of you, stay on your guard,” Aurek commanded as he made his way toward the speeders with Cresh close behind. Cresh mounted a speeder bike whilst Aurek piloted the landspeeder, and the duo made their way toward the fallen friend.

“Forn, Forn can you hear me?” Cresh attempted to communicate with the hunter mid-journey.

“It’s no use, he turned his comm off before the fight so we couldn’t bother him,” Aurek informed, urging the speeder forward.

As they neared the base of the ridge, they saw their compatriot lying flat on his back, half buried in the surrounding sands. The two troopers dismounted their vehicles and rushed to Forn’s side.

“Forn, are you alright?” Cresh lamented via his helm’s speaker, daring not to touch the undiagnosed soldier. After an intense delay, Forn replied.

“Don’t worry… got in one good cut. Should bleed out… or be sufficiently weakened for quite some time,” Forn nonchalantly stated, not shifting from his position in the slightest.

“We’re worried about you, not him!” Cresh admonished.

“I’m fine,” Forn plainly admitted.

“I guess the director was right, these suits really can handle a kinetic impact,” Aurek joked, looming over the prone squad mate. Cresh was forced to take a knee and gather himself emotionally. “Can you get up?”

“I seem to be locked up a bit. Give it time,” Forn suggested.

“Noted. So what can you tell me about what went down”

“He was definitely Force-sensitive,” Forn detailed from the ground. “He was behind the sandstorm. Saw him doing something… with his hands. Interrupted him… stopped the storm.”

“Well, thanks for that,” Aurek recognized. “I’d think conjuring sandstorms would be a pretty monumental task. You think he was one of the big two leading the Sith cult?”

“No.”

“That’s a shame. What makes you think so?”

“He was a skilled combatant… but almost seemed unfamiliar with a lightsaber. He paused… when he saw he didn’t slice through me. His strikes… they were of a hand used to wielding something with heft.”

“So what do you suppose that means?”

“I think the cult… may have been bolstered by the Sand People in more ways than one.”

“A Force-sensitive Sand Person? Is that even possible?” Cresh inquired.

“The file didn’t make any note of such possibilities,” Aurek answered.

“Well, he may have been a Sand Person, but he bled like a Human.”

“You know, sitting in back at the briefing, I didn’t think this mission could get any more complicated,” Cresh admitted.

“It seems like the questions just keep piling up,” Aurek stated.

“So what do we do now?” Cresh asked.

“We find our answers,” Aurek answered. “Forn, can you stand?”

“Yeah… I’m getting control back.” Forn admitted as he groggily lifted himself from the encroaching sands. Supporting his squad mate, Aurek lead Forn to the landspeeder and the three troopers rode back toward the crawler.

“So how do you suppose we find these ‘answers’ Aurek?” Cresh questioned.

“Well, given recent events and the resources at our disposal, I suppose we should take a trip to the Sand People settlement the crawler was destined for.”
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
04.16.2012 , 10:53 PM | #24
Chapter Six: The Conference

Aurek and Cresh piloted their vehicles back toward the group. In the short time of their absence, the remaining troopers had something of a defensive perimeter set up, but no one involved seemed particularly engrained in their position. They instead watched the soldiers’ return with concern for their injured squad mate. Cresh dismounted his speeder bike and joined Aurek in helping Forn out of his seat in the landspeeder.

“You know Forn,” Besh broke the silence, “you could try not cutting off your communications from the rest of the group. Makes it hard to confirm your status.”

“Ah… knew you cared,” Forn stoically joked, now moving of his own accord. Esk accompanied the hunter with his own chortle.

“Told you he’d be alright,” Esk admitted.

“You did no such thing,” Besh corrected.

“Alright, alright,” Aurek interrupted. “We have a new destination. We’re going to finish the mission the Imperials of this outpost were carrying out, at least in some degree.”

“You mean meeting with the Sand People?” Dorn inquired.

“Correct,” Aurek answered. “Is the officer still in the crawler?” The slicer offered a positive nod of his helmed head, before being interrupted by a peculiar thought.

“How are we going to travel?” Dorn asked. “We’re up one man, and down one speeder.”

“The bike might still… be at the ridge,” Forn admitted. “Didn’t hear the Sith… speed away with it.”

“Then why leave it?” Besh asked, verbally poking the hunter.

“Aurek put me in the landspeeder,” Forn complained.

“Why didn’t you say something?” Aurek asked, before instantly remembering the hunter’s inherent penchant for silence. “Alright, Dorn, Esk, take the landspeeder and see if you can bring back the bike. I’ll have a little chat with our anthropologist.”

“Good, I finally get to drive something,” Esk warmly commented.

“Do. Not. Crash it,” Dorn coldly retaliated as the duo hopped into the landspeeder and went on their way.

Aurek entered the darkened halls of the crawler with Cresh at his rear, and the rest of the troopers on lookout outside. The still visibly shaken Imperial officer was sitting hunched over in a chair in front of an inoperable comm system. His elbows on his knees and his gaze toward the floor, the officer tried his hardest to ignore the various corpses of his once breathing allies awaiting just outside his peripheral vision.

“We never caught your name,” Aurek warmly greeted the officer.

“Officer Hingsley. Imperial Anthropologic Service. Niche detachment of the Imperial Reclamation Service. Served under Officer Korrensky…”

“That’s quite the name,” Aurek joked. “I think we’ll stick with Hingsley.”

“Sorry,” Hingsley blushed, “still trying to process everything that’s happened… sir.”

“There’s no need for that. Name’s Aurek,” the trooper politely indicated, pointing a finger toward the pauldron bearing his namesake. “My squad is known as The Seven.”

“The name rings a bell, but I'm afraid I can’t recall any specifics…”

“Yeah, we’re like that,” Aurek chuckled. “Listen, me and my squad are here hunting traitors of the Empire. A Sith cult. People I think were behind the attack on your outpost. Given recent events, I think they have converged with a group or tribe of Sand People. As such, I think it would be in our mutual best interests to finish the diplomatic mission you and your people were currently undertaking. Do you think that would be possible?”

“You… you want try and meet with the Ardent Sons tribe?”

“If that’s who you were set to visit, then yes. You said the raiders who attacked the outpost were similar to those of this tribe, so there’s a good chance they’ll be a good source of information of the local happenings that are influencing our mission.”

“So your interest in our mission lies in completing yours.”

“In a sense, yes. Don’t think that makes me adverse to the peace you are trying to foster. I promise I will not jeopardize your goals to suit my own. But if me and my squad don’t get some answers regarding what’s actually going on in this desert, there’s going to be a lot more death in the time to come.”

“I… I understand. But… I’m not sure I’m in any capacity to complete what our group set out to accomplish on my in, with the state of our supplies.”

“What, and with what, was your group hoping to do?”

----------

A short time had passed, and Esk and Dorn had been successful in retuning the lost speeder bike. Making their way back to the outpost, Dorn saw that Aurek was beckoning him to enter the crawler when he was ready. As Dorn entered the mobile base of operations, he saw Aurek leaning against one of the inner walls next to the Imperial officer.

“Tell him what you told me,” Aurek directed the officer.

“Well,” Hingsley hesitantly began, “We were meeting with a peculiar tribe of Ghorfa, an older, more technical term for the Sand People, known as the Ardent Sons. They live in a firmly established settlement, fortified, built into a large rock formation. They are peculiar for multiple reasons, the most apparent being their minimally savage nature, and their willingness to modernize. Our assignment was to try and broker an agreement between the tribe and the Empire, acknowledging their presence and permitting them their continued settling on Tatooine in return for their allegiance and our parting with certain technological amenities. Our main gift were some power generators, which were stolen after the initial raid on the outpost.”

“Which is why I would like to direct you over here,” Aurek interrupted, leading Dorn to the inoperable comm system of the crawler. “I wanted your expert opinion. Now at first glance I had just assumed they had taken down the systems to prevent any survivors from calling for backup, but…”

“But…” Dorn took over, examining the communications display. The screen bore a wide arcing slash of a lightsaber cutting through the bulk on its mass. The equipment below the screen was completely barren, only the occasional hanging wire presenting itself. “It wasn’t just smashed about, was it? It looks like it was gutted, physically removed rather than destroyed.”

Looking around, Dorn saw similar actions taken out on the various pieces of equipment that once populated the crawler. What appeared at first glance to be utter wanton destruction, was actually a calculated removal of any salvageable piece of technology.

“Do you think the scavenging was the raider’s primary or secondary goal?” Dorn inquired.

“It’s hard to tell,” Aurek admitted. “They could have been trying to sabotage the peace mission. They might have solely set out to kill Imperials. They might have simply been after technology and the Sith knew a reliable source of it.”

“What would the raiders want to bits of electronic scrap?” Dorn asked.

“Well, if the idea came from the Ghorfa, they could have been trying to emulate the modernizing Ardent Sons tribe,” Hingsley reasoned. “A group of outsiders wanting to adopt a similar lifestyle, or a splintered sect wanting to abandon the settlement but not their ways.”

“I can understand what the Sand People might want with this tech, but not the Sith,” Aurek contemplated.

“So now that we know this, how do we act?” Dorn further inquired.

“Well, that’s the other reason I called you in here,” Aurek admitted before gently pointing toward the slicer’s boots. Looking down, Dorn saw the severed head of a humanoid droid. “The outpost had a droid that could communicated with the Sand People. Unfortunately, it’s in a bit of a state of disrepair.”

“No kidding,” Dorn muttered as he picked the head off of the ground. The head resembled the standard protocol droid utilized by the Imperial military. Wires hung from its neck, showing a forceful severing rather than the smooth slice of a lightsaber.

“Do you think you can repair it?” Aurek asked. Dorn only offered a somewhat dumfounded tilt of his head.

“Well… if I can find some stabilizer cables lying around, I might be able to integrate it into a fresh power source. Might have to let it siphon power off of the my suit.”

“Would that be a problem?” Aurek questioned.

“Would it?” Dorn replied, unknowingly. “I mean, I doubt it would use up too much energy, but even if I can revive the head, I don’t know how much of its programming would be intact.”

“The entirety of the droid’s programming is housed in the cranium of this protocol series,” Hingsley commented.

“Even so, the trauma could have caused some internal damage,” Dorn reasoned. “Last thing we want is for it to misspeak during a diplomatic venture with a notoriously dangerous peoples.”

“Just see if you can get it working. Officer Hingsley knows enough about the Sand People to help you make adjustments with the droid’s programming after you get it up and running,” Aurek informed. Aurek walked out of the crawler, leaving Dorn and the officer to work on repairing what remained of the protocol droid. As the squad leader exited the crawler, he saw the rest of his squad conversing with one another, having recovered mentally from the attack they had defended against. Esk cracked his usual jokes. Besh teased Forn over his apparent defeat. Cresh and Grek watched in silence, enjoying the jovial events unfolding around them.

Time passed. And the small fires that dotted the scattered bits of equipment surrounding the outpost eventually faded. Aurek hesitated to break the casual mood, but his suggestion to clean up the site and gather the bodies of the fallen Imperials was not met with a single hint of opposition. As the squad worked, the twin suns of the desert planet continued to beat down on the landscape, and showed no signs of ceasing anytime soon.

----------

Hours had passed since the Seven defending what remained of the Imperial outpost from the Ghorfa raiders. The armored troopers were currently on route toward the Ardent Sons settlement, speeding toward their destination atop their vehicles. They followed a similar formation to the one that got them to the outpost in the first place.

Officer Hingsley sat behind Aurek on his speeder bike, face firmly scrunched to defend against the wayward onslaught of sand that would come his way. Esk piloted the landspeeder whilst Dorn sat in the passenger seat, carrying the reactivated droid’s head under his arm.

Eventually, the Seven had reached their destination. The tribal settlement was an unfamiliar sight for all who laid eyes upon it. A high mountain ridge ran behind the walled village, promoting an astounding presence of security. The walls that formed the outer perimeter were forged from a motley assemblage of sheeted scrap, but bore no spots of inherent weakness across its entire length. Beginning and ending at separate points on the mountains base, it wasn’t a matter of how large the village was, but how deep.

As the Seven approached, they stopped their vehicles a sizable distance away from the main gateway to the village. Atop the fortified walls, there appeared to be thin walkways populated by tribal defenders who trained their primitive rifles on the unknown presence. The set of salvaged auto-turrets that sat on each side of the village gate compounded the organic defenses in place.

As the Seven and their ally dismounted their vehicles, the gate cracked slightly, and a small group from the Ardent Sons walked outside the village’s fortified perimeter. The armored troopers slowly approached the village with a dominating sense of unease as they followed Hingsley.

“That is the tribe’s prime huntsman,” Hingsley informed Aurek, who marched by his side.

“You’ve met with them before?” Aurek asked with surprise.

“No. But his dressings indicate a significant rank within the tribe’s hierarchy, but his stature and presence outside the walls means he is still a warrior, and not the tribe’s chief.”

The two groups approached one another, until eventually they stopped with only a gap of a few meters separating them. The small group of huntsmen that met with the Seven were only four strong including the warrior of higher rank. They stood unflinching, bearing no inherent signs of hostility, but ready to defend themselves at any moment.

After an uneasy silence, Hingsley waved for Dorn to come stand by his side. Dorn hustled forward, cradling the protocol droid’s head in his left arm like a small child. New cables stemming from the droid’s neck ran a short distance before connecting into the integrated datapad on the slicer's wrist.

“Is the droid ready?” Hingsley insistently inquired.

“As ready as it’ll be,” Dorn haphazardly responded, confident in his repairs.

“Alright. Ahem. Respectable members of the Ardent Sons,” Hingsley recited. “I am Officer Hingsley of the Imperial Anthropologic Service, acting as the dutiful replacement for Officer Korrensky in Imperial diplomatic proceedings that were scheduled to take place on this day.”

Taking a pause, the officer looked to Dorn who, after a slight shifting, redirected the disembodied droid head with its speaker toward the listening group of Ghorfa. As its voice box activated, it released a slew of horrific growls and grunts from its mouth.

“Damn it Dorn, I thought you fixed that thing,” Besh whispered into the team comm.

“I did. That’s their language,” Dorn whispered back.

“What have we gotten into?”
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
04.26.2012 , 01:58 PM | #25
Chapter Seven: The Settlement

The droid head finished retelling the officer’s words in the Sand People’s native tongue. The leader of the tribal group listened intently to every word that emanated from the mechanical cranium wresting in Dorn’s arm, processing the communications that were slightly tinged by the electronic taint of the droid’s voice box. Eventually, the warrior offered his reply. The low grumbles and growls of the Ghorfa’s abrupt speech graced the Seven’s ears. The droid processed the Sand Person’s words within Dorn’s datapad, and presented their Basic translation as text in the bottom left corner of the soldiers’ HUD.

“We are confused. This is not the group we expected. Where are the supplies? Who are the machines?” the text read.

“He says…” Dorn began to relay to the helmetless officer.

“Don’t worry. I got the gist of it. I’ve studied the people and their language extensively,” the officer admitted.

“Something tells me these aren’t the kind of people you just want the ‘gist’ of,” Besh lowly commented.

“We were attacked,” Hingsley explained. “By an enemy tribe. They destroyed the supplies meant for your tribe. I am the last survivor of my group. The Empire still wishes to proceed with peace negotiations.” The droid translated the officer’s words once more. The head warrior tilted his head.

“And the machines?”

“This guy thinks we’re droids?” Esk teased. Dorn waved for the demolitionist to be quiet.

“These are not machines. These are ‘The Seven’, a group of the Empire’s finest warriors,” Hingsley explained. Upon hearing the explanation, the Sand Person combed his critical gaze across each of the armored troopers.

“Have them remove their masks,” the Sand Person growled.

“Remove yours,” Aurek countered. The Imperial officer panicked, but the droid had already spoken the squad leader’s words. The Ghorfa warrior’s stance immediately straightened as he separated himself from the group. He approached and stood immediately in front of Aurek, rigid and combative.

The rest of the Seven raised their weapons toward the ranked warrior, prompting the armed entourage of Sand People of raise their weapons against the aggressors. Watchmen stood atop the settlement’s barricade wall, aiming their cycler rifles. Aurek and the lead warrior remained completely still, utterly focused on one another, each gazing into the faceless visage of the other. Opaque face mask opposite goggles surrounded by desert face wrappings. After an intense passing of mere moments, the Ghorfa warrior dismissed the rest of his clan with a soft wave of the hand. As the Sand People lowered their weapons, Aurek ordered his men to stand down.

“Go inside. Speak to the Chief,” the warrior growled as he turned back toward the settlement gate. Officer Hingsley was stunned, flooded with a mixture of awe and ire.

“What were you thinking?” Hingsley angrily whispered to Aurek.

“We are an unfamiliar element, currently bearing no items of goodwill,” Aurek explained. “We were entering into communications under unfavorable conditions.”

“So you decide to pick a fight?”

“Not picking a fight. Just showing we aren’t that different from them,” Aurek revealed. The officer perked up.

“Of course!” Hingsley realized. “The reason they thought you were machines in the first place was because you’re covered from head to toe. Ghorfa tradition probably teaches that they are the only living peoples willing to adopt such a practice. Though peaceful, they are still a tribalistic warrior culture, and respected your ability to challenge them on their own terms and customs. How did you know they would react that way?”

“I didn’t know, to be honest,” Aurek admitted. “Sometimes you just go on warrior’s instinct.”

“Really… warrior’s instinct…” Hingsley disapprovingly repeated.

The large gates of the settlement opened to welcome the Imperials into its midst. Passing the barrier of scrap surrounding the village, the soldier saw that the settlement’s interior continued the salvage motif. Small huts of welded sheets of metal dotted the Imperials’ sights. A strange array of cables ran along the rocky foundation that the village sat upon, running from hut to hut and terminating at the occasional power generator.

Various signs and lights stolen or salvaged from the nearby vestiges of civilized society were affixed to the occasional structure. Large poles stretched into the sky above the village entrance, and held up an array of canvases providing shade. Deeper into the settlement, the Sand People breached the cave system provided by mountainous ridge surrounding it and utilized its natural bastion.

As the Seven walked amongst the settlement, they witnessed the hidden machinations of the Sand People’s society. Figures wrapped head to toe in cloths moved around the village, never not stopping to catch a glance of the intruding Imperials. The Seven found the first sign of people deviating from the standard dress code they had previously encountered. Humbler figures, dressed in more domestic wrappings instead of those of the warrior. In addition to the parade of adults, the occasional group of children darted across the village’s common area.

The greeting party of Sand People led the Seven deeper into the village, passing by the homes of the various families that made up the tribe. A quick glance around them revealed that the settlement’s population must have measured in the hundreds. After passing through an open plaza in the center of the village, the Imperials came upon a large domed structure, much of its exterior architecture looking to have been salvaged from a starship freighter. Passing the threshold of the building, leathery canvases lined the interior metallic walls, each bearing beautiful tribal paintings by the Sand People. Sentries were posted in much denser positions the further the Seven traveled.

Entering a large circular room, large enough for the Seven and their escorts to reasonably enter and stand within, the Imperials saw a grandiose Sand Person sitting upon a makeshift throne. Even sitting, the figure possessed a domineering presence. Affixed to the top of his chair and above his head, a large metallic staff presented itself. Crafted from scrap, yet utterly meticulous is its structure. Flanged edges and sharp needles dotted both ends of the gaderffii, the traditional melee weapon of the Sand People.

The figure sitting upon the throne, obviously the tribe’s chief, was of sturdy build and wore the wrappings of a warrior despite his position of status. A cape of furs and hides draped over his shoulders, and distinguishing red sashes hung from his torso. The leader of the escort group silently ordered the Imperials to remain where they were as he approached the chief alone. The two figures shared a brief conversation, outside the ranged of the translating droid. The Imperials remained perfectly still, trying not to inadvertently offend the chieftain. After the chief’s conversation with his warrior, he beckoned the Imperials to proceed forward. Aurek, Dorn, and Hingsley approached the chief whilst the rest of the Seven remained at the room’s entrance.

“Great chief of the Ardent Sons, it is an honor to be in your presence,” Hingsley stated with a bow of his head.

“Heh, are sure this guy is an Imperial?” Esk commented through the team’s comm channel. Besh offered a quick backhand against the demolitionist’s shoulder.

“Imperials,” the chief growled. “Certain conditions were supposed to have been met before our tribes would enter talks, correct? Am I to understand that you do not have the power generators we had requested?”

“I’m afraid so, chief,” Hingsley apologized. “A tribe of Ghorfa bearing similarities to the Ardent Sons raided my team and our supplies. I’m afraid the generators were either destroyed or stolen.” The chief tilted his head as he processed the officer’s words before turning to his fellow warrior.

“The Fallen Sons, exiles and traitors of our tribe,” the chief explained. “You were defeated by these deserters? Why should we ally ourselves with a tribe that cannot face those we rejected?”

“The warriors… the Fallen Sons, their ranks have vastly swelled, and they have join forces with… otherworlders,” Hingsley carefully explained.

“Regardless, our tribe cannot welcome weakness into its arms.”

“I’m sure that we can…” Hingsley began, before being halted by Aurek placing a hand on the officer’s shoulder.

“The Fallen Sons attacked an Imperial outpost with a surprise attack. Me and my squad came across them after the attack. When they returned a second time, we wiped them out. Seven warriors against more than twenty. We even defeated the tribe’s leader, a warrior capable of moving objects with his mind. We… are not weak. Our tribe’s warriors are strong,” Aurek declared. As the chief listened to the translation, he perked up at the mention of the exiled Force user. Staring at Aurek, the chief brought his hand to the chin of his breather.

“And the generators?” the chief inquired, still not fully satisfied.

“What kind of generators were these?” Aurek asked of Hingsley.

“Standard Imperial domestic power generators. Four of them, each capable of supplying power to a small structure or machine,” the officer detailed. The squad leader pondered the situation for a moment before turning to Dorn.

“You think the recharging stations we had installed on the shuttle would have similar capabilities?” Aurek inquired.

“I suppose. But do we really want to be giving those away?” Dorn asked.

“For now, we can share,” Aurek commented. “Chieftain, I can have an alternative set of power generators here tomorrow. In exchange, you will remain open to future negotiations with our tribe. Also, me and my squad will use this settlement as our home base while we hunt down the remaining Fallen Sons and their off world allies.”

“You are brave to make demands in my home,” the chief stated, never breaking his gaze from Aurek. “Very well. Your people have the freedom to walk amongst mine. We will aid you in your cause to eliminate our mutual foes.” Hingsley and Aurek dipped their heads in respect to the seated chief. The chief stood from his throne and offered a dutiful nod, before retreating further into the halls of the large hut with the tribe’s prime warrior following him by his side.

“You’re quite the negotiator Mr. Aurek,” Hingsley commented, cracking a smile.

“We’re good for now,” Aurek admitted, “but the last thing we want to do is wear out our welcome. We need to get these people their supplies and carry out our mission as quick as we can.”

“We’ve been granted hospice by the tribe. Leaving too quickly would actually be a sign of disrespect,” Hingsley informed.

“Great…” Aurek muttered. “Dorn, we’re not going to get very far without proper means of communication. Can you upload a version of the droid’s translation programming to our armor?”

“Speech-to-text should be pretty easy,” Dorn admitted. “Us being able to communicate with them individually might be trouble, however. I suppose I could patch into our helmets’ speaker system…”

“We've got time, Dorn. Do what you can.”

“Alright, for the moment I’ll upload the rough data so we can understand them without the droid, at least. Find me if you need something specific said, otherwise you’ll have to rely solely on body language,” Dorn informed the squad.

The armored troopers nodded in unison as they vacated the chief’s hut as a group. Exiting the structure, the Seven realized they were in an utterly unfamiliar environment, surrounded by unknown forces. The group passed their time in front of the chieftain’s hut with idle banter whilst Dorn tapped away at his datapad. Eventually, a progress bar appeared on the bottom of the soldiers’ HUDs. Once filled, each of the Seven possessed a means of understanding the spoken language of the Ghorfa, though still lacked ways to vocalize it.

“Okay men,” Aurek addressed his squad, “Dorn and Hingsley will work on updating the translation software so that we can communicate with the Sand People. The rest of you have the day to yourselves. Remembers, follow Project protocol and try not to endanger our relations with the tribe.”

“What you suggest we do?” Besh inquired.

“Come on, we specialize in wasting time off duty. I’m sure you all can find ways to pass the hours,” Aurek stated,

“What’ll you be doing?” Cresh stepped in.

“Don’t worry about me, I’m going to see to our extended stay in the settlement. Bring in our speeders, make sure the locals don’t salvage anything of ours for the time being,” Aurek explained.

“What of the shuttle? And the generators?” Dorn asked.

“Just worry about the translation for now,” Aurek politely ordered.

“You know, I can technically pilot the shuttle with my datapad from here. If you’d prefer, I could have the shuttle here by sundown.”

“Whoa, whoa, nuh-uh,” Esk interjected. “You’re a good pilot in the cockpit, but we don’t need you wrecking our ticket off this dust ball because of some signal interference or somethin’.”

“We’ll stick to our safest options for now,” Aurek answered. “You and an escort can ride to Mos Ila in the morning and bring the shuttle here. We can go the night without recharging our armor.”

“Understood, sir,” Dorn accepted. “I’ll update our software as soon as possible.”

“Excellent. You’re all dismissed,” Aurek stated as he made his way toward the settlement gates. The remaining members of the Seven puzzled with one another, unsure of how to proceed. As Dorn and Hingsley relocated themselves to work on their project, the other troopers began to wander the Ardent Sons settlement. Eventually, the Seven splintered as they walked amongst the Ghorfa peoples.

In the main plaza of the village, Grek walked in typical domineering silence. Suddenly, a small group of children, known as the tribe’s ‘uli-ah’, danced around the towering trooper, playfully prodding at his legs with metallic rods and sticks. As the children attacked Grek in the form of a mock ‘bloodrite’, Esk offered a chuckle, witnessing the events a short distance away. Hearing his compatriot prompted the silent trooper to play along with the uli-ah, swiping his arms above their heads, and playing the part of the lumbering beast, though never uttering a single noise.

Eventually, two of the children were hanging from Grek’s arms, cheering in their own form as they dangled from the soldier’s high reaching limbs. As Esk watched the playful scene, a portion of the children splintered off and focused their attention on the demolitionist. Removing his bandoliers and placing them, along with his weapon, atop a high fixture, Esk joined in on the fun, chasing and being chased by the jovial uli-ah.

Besh and Forn had happened across a training grounds of sorts. In a circle of rocks set upon the ground, two Ghorfa warriors dueled one another in melee combat, clashing their gaderffii against each other. To the side, a targeting range, where a number of Ghorfa tested the accuracy of their cycling rifles. The two troopers shared a glance before separating, each walking toward their more suited destination.

Forn approached the dueling Ghorfa, and was stopped by a warrior impeding his progress. A short growl later, and a challenge appeared to have been issued. Not needing words, Forn accepted and stepped into one of the adjacent rings. Besh approached the sharpshooters gathering around an arrangement of tables that preceded a large stretch of empty space that ended at a face in the ridge that surrounded the village.

Nearing the group of Ghorfa, the shooters looked up from their weapons and puzzled at the approaching figure. The most interesting aspect of the newcomer was the unique weapon he possessed. Brandishing the “’Odyssey’ Czerka Bolt-Cycler Prime”, the Ghorfa each hoped to gain a closer look at the trooper's rifle. Steeping aside, they offered Besh a chance to fire down the targeting range. Seeing a drawing of a monstrous beast painted of the rock face a distance away, the sniper raised his weapon, took aim, and fire a bolt straight into the creature’s eye.

The Ghorfa seemed satisfied with the performance, and Besh laid his weapon upon one of the nearby tables. This prompted one of the tribal sharpshooters to rise with his own cycler and attempt to fire down range. With a pull of the trigger, the shooter let out a Ghorfa expletive as the gun refused to fire. Returning to his seat, the settler place his weapon upon the table in front of him, and began to stare at it from every angle, Approaching the disturbed figure, Besh offered his hand, requesting permission to handle the Ghorfa’s cycler. After the permission was granted, Besh began to disassemble the rifle and take a closer look at the inner workings.

At the dueling circle, Forn faced off against one of the young warriors of the Ardent Sons. In such a confined space, there was little room for movement, only those involved in the swinging of a weapon. Forn brought his daggers against the Ghorfa’s gaderffii. After a quick bout, the trooper brought the warrior to the ground with a blade at his neck. With the Ghorfa admitting defeat, Forn holstered his daggers and offered his hand to the fallen warrior. With the Ghorfa now upright, Forn began instructing the warrior in the proper form of combat. Maneuvering the figure's hand with his own, moving his feet into the proper stance, showing him the proper way to emphasize his swings.

Walking amongst the settlement by his lonesome, Cresh happened across a bustling hut. Figures darted in and out of a small structure, carrying the occasional box of supplies. The Ghorfa were female, evident by their different style of garb. Their robes and clothes possessed a sense of confinement, shawls and hoods as opposed to the articulatory robes of the male Ghorfa scouts and warriors. Peering past the flap that designated the hut’s entrance, Cresh saw a kneeling female tending to a warrior laying upon a flattened slab. The prone Ghorfa was clutching his stomach in pain, covering an obvious injury. Looking up from the fallen warrior, the tending Ghorfa saw Cresh looking in and shooed him away with a sharp howl, trying to forbid the troopers from laying eyes on the wounded warrior’s slightly unwrapped torso.

Cresh rescinded his gaze, but processed the quick glimpse he saw. Puncture wounds. Mostly likely caused by one of the horned creatures of Tatooine. The figure was bleeding profusely. Red blood. Humanoid flesh. Peering in once more, the medic received another howl of protest. Undeterred, the trooper knelt next to the fallen warrior, taking a vial from his belt. Offering a calming wave to the tending Ghorfa, Cresh began to apply a kolto pack to the warrior’s wound. The figure’s pain subsided, and the wound stopped its flow of blood. The Ghorfa nurse looked on with amazement as the patient calmed and stabilized. While not offering a vocal thanks, the Ghorfa gave an appreciative nod toward Cresh.

The suns of Tatooine fell as the day turned to night. Dorn had finished adapting the translation program to work with the Seven’s speaker system, but the troopers found themselves without need of it for the most part. They had walked amongst the Ardent Sons, witnessed the inner working of their society, and found themselves accepted with no words spoken from any of them. They had achieved understanding through actions and actions alone.

Inside this tribe, the Seven had interacted with figures like them, sworn to hide their physicality from the world. They had communicated on the basest of levels. Through the laughter of children, through the movements of martial combat, through the helping hand of selflessness. As hour after hour passed, the Seven found they had experienced an unfamiliar joy. A feeling they had forgotten, trapped in their armor, in their rooms, in their solidarity. A feeling of acceptance, family, and what it means to be alive.
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------

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Osetto
05.06.2012 , 05:45 PM | #26
Chapter Eight: The Source

Night had fallen on the peculiar Ghorfa settlement. Various machines and devices strewn about the camp were deactivated as the village laid itself to rest. Of the Sand People, only the occasional watchful sentinel remained awake, patrolling the village square and outer perimeter.

With their ability to communicate with the Ardent Sons vastly improved, the Seven were able to requisition a tent of their own, where they would sleep for the night. Sleeping in the field was a peculiar prospect for the squad. Without the privacy of their personal rooms aboard the Ulterior, the troopers were forced to sleep in their armor. A fact that was adequately prepared for in the design stages.

Each soldier had a mat laid upon the ground to call their own. Not that it mattered through the armor. They could have laid on the flattened dirt and it would produce the same effect. Upon the inhabitant’s request, the armor could initiate a slumber protocol. The suit would lock itself in position and pressurize, emulating a hyperbaric status. The armor would monitor the inhabitants biometric data and adapt itself to provide as comfortable an environment as possible. The internal speaker systems would play a low melody, concocted by Imperial scientists to efficiently lull the listener to sleep.

Inside their requisitioned accommodations, the Seven drifted to sleep. All except one. As his compatriots slumbered, Aurek yet remained awake. The trooper noticed Hingsley was absent from the tent. Upon further dwelling on the thought, Aurek realized it had been some time since he last laid eyes on the officer. While sure of his safety, the trooper didn’t like the idea of Hingsley wandering the village alone at night. Then again, he didn’t like idea of himself leaving to search for him. Aurek vacated the tent without a sound, intent on investigation some of the notions that were slowly building up in the back of his head.

The entire situation of the mission seemed so utterly alien to the trooper. There were far too many forces converging with no apparent connection. The Imperials and the Sand People. The Seven and the Sith. The Ardent and Fallen Sons. Somewhere, somehow, all of these groups had to sync up. Otherwise, Aurek figured he and his squad would never get past their interference and accomplish their assigned task.

Aurek walked the darkened pathways resting between the shacks and huts that made up the settlement’s interior. With no intended destination or motive, the walk served only to calm the soldier’s nerves. With each passing hour, Aurek realized that this mission could have never progressed like the others. So many questions. So few answers. It had been so long since the last genuine mission he had been involved in. As much as he hated to admit it, Aurek had gotten used to the utter lack of complexity that defined the Seven’s typical missions.

Eventually, the trooper had moseyed beyond the town square and into the cavernous dwellings. Having etched a home for themselves in the surrounding rock, Aurek saw a scene of solace amongst the general barbarism thought of the peoples. Delving deeper into the settlement, Aurek came across a peculiar cave opening. Only slightly wider and taller than the average man, the rocky tunnel seemed to progress down below the surface. Looking around, Aurek noticed that while the Sand People had populated the cavern, none had constructed any structure in the immediate vicinity of the fissure.

Peering toward the cavity in the rock face, the trooper notice a soft blue light seemingly emanating from its depths, beckoning the soldier forward. Aurek looked around for any natives, but found that he was standing alone in front of the tunnel. Cautiously, the trooper entered the large crevice. He edged himself forward meter after meter, down the slowly descending pathway. As he moved down and forward, the glow grew brighter and brighter.

At the end of the rocky steps at the tunnel’s base, Aurek found himself standing at the threshold of a scene of natural beauty. The tunnel ended at a grandiose subterranean cavern, its walls and ceiling stretching far and wide. At the trooper’s feet, laid a magnificent pool of water. Looking down, Aurek saw his own reflection in the calm waters of the grotto. The image produced an unfamiliar serenity in the soldier’s mind. With the sudden realization that he could even see anything in the enclosed cavern without mechanical assistance, Aurek looked for the source of light that had guided him. He found his answer in the center of the underground lake.

A small luminous crystal jutted from the depths of the waters. Taking a step forward, Aurek found the shallow edge of the lake barely made it past the soldier’s ankle. Slowly, Aurek approached the crystal. Deeper and deeper the trooper waded, until the waters met his waist. Now closer, Aurek saw that the crystal was a rough formation, natural and uncut, sitting atop a small island of dull rock in the center of the lake. Aurek felt himself captivated by the crystal’s soft glow, welcoming him, offering him peace. And still the trooper approached.

“Aurek!” a panicked voiced called from behind. Snapping out of his trance, Aurek turned to see Hingsley standing at the threshold of the cavern. “What are you doing here?”

Aurek had no answer. He literally could not muster the thought. With a jerk of his head, the trooper directed his body toward the cave’s entrance, and made his way toward the officer.

“Aurek, this place is sacred to the Ardent Sons. You shouldn’t be here,” Hingsley informed.

“Then why are you here,” Aurek barely countered.

“I was on my way back to the tent when I saw you moving around the settlement. I was curious enough to follow you here.”

“Do you know what this place is?” Aurek wondrously inquired, now adjacent to the officer.

“I suppose the proper translation would be “The Source”.

“That doesn’t really tell me what it is.”

“To be honest, I don’t know. When I first heard about it, I thought it would factor into the Ardent Son’s technology. A power source of sorts. But obviously, this isn’t the case. My group’s superior officer would probably have had a greater understanding of it. Korrensky had given reports of a possible Force artifact in the area. This must be it.”

“An artifact? Well, that answers some questions,” Aurek muttered.

“Like?” Hingsley inquired.

“Like why your service was actually interested in this settlement.”

“My intention has always been to secure an alliance between the Ardent Sons and the Empire,” Hingsley defended.

“Your intention maybe. Can you say the same of your superiors? Officer Korrensky. The Imperial Anthropologic Service. They’re still part of the Reclamation Service. Finding this artifact what always the endgame, whether you were aware of it or not.”

“I’ve served Officer Korrensky with utmost dedication for months on this project. He would not lie to me,” Hingsley proclaimed.

“Perhaps. But his superiors would lie to him, or their superiors would lie to them. When the Empire wants something, they’ll do whatever it takes to get it. Sometimes they don’t even know why they want something. But people like us are the ones who get things done, whether we know it or not.”

“But it doesn’t make sense. The Reclamation Service typically works to unearth lost artifacts of past Sith Lords. Devices, tools, items powerful in the Dark side. This. This isn’t any of those things. There is a feeling of purity here. Of cleanliness. This crystal is a conduit of the Light.”

“Then maybe someone wants it destroyed. Go up the chain of command far enough and you’ll usually find a single person manipulating events to their personal benefit. A Sith using his underlings in such a manner that it appears to coincide with the goals of the Empire, but it is usually just a mask.”

“If it is the will of the Sith… then it is the will of the Empire. It is not our place to question it.”

“Of course it is,” Aurek countered. The anthropologist was visibly perturbed by the trooper. “The Sith are disjointed. Individuals with countering goals and ambitions. No single Force user can dictate the will of the Empire other than the Emperor. The direction of the Empire is and always will be determined by Him, and us. The normals. The standards. Non-Force sensitives. Sith possess power and rank. They always will. We will always bear the burdens of their conflicts, their quarrels. It limits us, forces us to adapt. They make us stronger whether they know it or not. And we are strong. The regular Sith that make up the Empire are not immortal or infallible. It is our duty to tend to the order of the Empire amongst the inherent chaos."

“I… I don’t want this artifact to be destroyed,” Hingsley admitted, Aurek softly nodding. “But… what am I to do?”

“Lie. When you’ve accomplished your mission of peace, tell your superiors that there is nothing of significance to the Anthropologic or Reclamation Services, that the Ardent Sons will prove worthy allies in the Empire’s future dealings with the opposing forces of Tatooine.”

“So because I was lied to, I should just lie back?” Hingsley asked, disapprovingly.

“Lies are just a tool. And an important one within the Empire. They can be used for good or evil, it just depends on your intention and execution. Why would YOU lie?”

“I would lie… because I don’t want to see this place wiped out. Because this artifact… has made the Ardent Sons what they are today. The reason they established their settlement here, stayed, and have shown to welcome modernization. It is because of this place. Beyond the sustenance it provides with water, it eases the mind, provides clarity. Away from here, the Ardent Sons would just be another tribe of Sand People preying on whatever settlers they came across.” After a moment of silence, a sudden realization struck officer Hingsley. “Wait a minute, that’s it!”

“What’s it?”

“This place is the reason behind the tribe’s peacefulness. Within a certain proximity to the artifact, people experience an effect on their behavior. This also explains the Fallen Sons,” Hingsley informed.

“How so?”

“I talked with the chief, hoping to get some more information. He was reserved about the exiles but had some specific details. The Fallen Sons were primarily comprised of the hunters and gatherers that spent a large amount of time outside the walls of the settlement. Outside the influence of the crystal, they likely became dissatisfied with the progression of the tribe. The exiles left and operated through more traditional means.

“Well, that explains their motives…”

“That’s not all. The chief talked about a ‘dark brother’. I had thought it referred to a particular exile. One of the Sons, continuing with the familial theme. But now, I believe he was referring to a place. This is a place of light, and somewhere out there, its dark counterpart exists. And the Fallen Sons have knowledge of this place, and could possibly be seeking it out.”

“A place of darkness. Sounds like the kind of place a Sith Cult would want to utilize,” Aurek energetically responded. “There’s our connection. Thanks Officer Hingsley, you’ve been more than a valuable asset to my team. If you require anything of me and my squad in the future, do not hesitate to ask.”

“I’m honored, sir,” Hingsley abashedly admitted.

“When morning comes, me and my squad will move out. We will bring the tribe their generators and begin our hunt for the Sith cult. You will be free to proceed with peace talks, free of any ulterior motives of unseen superiors.”

“Thank you sir, it was nice having this conversation.”

“Yes, it was.”

“I wonder, do you suppose this place provoked this encounter.”

“The light did seem rather enticing. And if the crystal has the effect you say, it could have been behind our thoughts and words, even our actions within the settlement up until now. A curious thought.”

“Makes you question which ideas are genuine or predetermined, I suppose,” Hingsley admitted.

“Do you believe in fate, Officer Hingsley?” Aurek inquired.

“I don’t know. I guess I always figured myself below the notice of any guiding forces of the universe. Leave that realm for the Force-sensitive. Why? Do you?”

“Me and fate go way back,” Aurek admitted. “To this day, I still struggle with the idea. Upon closer examination, it would appear that my entire business is in fate. What am I doing, if not trying to manufacture results through predetermination. I suppose that’s a good enough definition of the Seven. And here I stand. Bound. By armor. By protocol. By duty. A soldier relinquishes so much control, it would be maddening to reject fate. And yet we never relinquish our desire for freedom. The Ghorfa thought us machines. They weren’t wrong.”

“Only in isolation could someone possess ultimate freedom. I think a little control is worth enduring for the prize of comradery. You have your squad mates. It’s up to you to determine what they mean to you.” Aurek stood in silence as he stared toward the crystal, absorbing the officer’s words.

“I’m not sure if I ever offered my condolences for your fallen comrades, but, I’m sorry for your loss.”

“It hurt, seeing them cut down, all while I tried to scramble for my own safety. Eventually, I realized I was completely alone. There is so much I would give up to never experience an event such as that again...”

“Come on, Hingsley,” Aurek waved, as he walked toward the cavern’s exit. “Let’s head back to the tent and rest. Things could go either way from here on out, so I’d rather greet the next day after a good night’s sleep.”

Aurek and Hingsley exited the grotto, turning their backs on the mystical place. Empty, only the calm waters accompanied by the calm radiance of the crystal remained.
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------

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Osetto
05.17.2012 , 11:49 AM | #27
Chapter Nine: The Hunt

The Imperials stood behind the closed gates of the settlement, accompanied by a trio of Ardent Sons warriors. It was early, though enough time had passed for the burning suns above Tatooine to adopt their traditional position, beating down upon the landscape with zealous waves of light and heat. The group stood in a circle, eagerly awaiting the words of what would come to pass that day. Aurek supplied those words.

“Gentlemen, today we begin our hunt for the renegade Sith. We don’t have definitive figures on their numbers or their power levels, so we need to exercise caution at all times. We will be tested. We will be matched. Unlike previous missions, there is a chance that we could fail in our task. However, I have faith in our abilities. Together, we are an assemblage of talented individuals, capable of great feats if we pool our talents.”

“We are not Sith. We are soldiers. But we have been given every advantage someone in our position could be afforded. Specialized arms and armor. Skilled combatants. Calm minds and dedicated hearts. While we do not entirely understand our enemy, we are capable of putting up more than a worthy fight. While we do not completely understand their motives, we are capable of following them to the blasted ends of the planet’s harshest deserts and crags. While we do not possess the ability to conjure lightning or throw objects with our minds, we have a steady supply of explosives and a testy Iridonian.”

“There is a chance that we could fail, and yet, I know for a fact that we will not. This cult is after something, something buried beneath the sands. Some artifact. Some place of power. With the aid of the Ardent Sons, we will find them, and put an end to their existence. The tribe has promised three of their finest warriors and trackers to accompany us in our hunt, in exchange for the power generators currently aboard our shuttle.”

“Esk and Dorn, you will take the landspeeder back to Mos Ila and pilot the shuttle back here. Myself, Besh, Cresh, Forn, Grek, and the Ardent Sons huntsmen will perform a preliminary search of some of the locations thought to harbor the Sith and the Fallen Sons. Any questions?”

“A few,” Dorn hesitantly admitted. “Why me and Esk?”

“We need that shuttle relocated here, and since this isn’t a starport, I want our official pilot piloting that starship.”

“And Esk?”

“I’m not sending anyone across this desert alone. He’ll be your armed escort, while the rest of us just do some light scout work.”

“But why Esk?”

“I’m getting the feeling you don’t like your times alone with me,” Esk chuckled.

“Esk has a knack of surviving the worst things thrown at him, he also seems to raise the survival rate of anyone in close proximity to him oddly enough, considering the propensity of explosive ordinance to detonate when he’s involved. I don’t like unevenly splitting my team, but if I must, I want to make sure no one is heavily outclassed.”

“There might be a problem there, Aurek,” Officer Hingsley commented from behind the gathered group.

“Hingsley? I thought you were with the chieftain,” Aurek stated, puzzled by the Imperial’s presence.

“I was, but there’s some troubling information I think you should know about your escorts.”

“Don’t keep me in suspense Officer,” Aurek plainly stated.

“Have you conversed with them in regards to your mission?”

“I gave my motivational speech in Basic, I was planning on given them theirs before I was interrupted,” Aurek admitted.

“Well, the huntsmen of the Ardent Sons have certain traditions that they are unwilling to bend…”

“Out with it Hingsley.”

“They never move in groups of more than four,” Hingsley softly informed.

“Four,” Aurek repeated, deadpan.

“That’s right.”

“So our scouting party… will have to be split in half.”

“That’s right.”

“On the threshold of modernization and this is the tradition they choose to uphold?” Aurek grumbled.

“The huntsmen are the most traditional members of the tribe,” Hingsley reminded.

“So now we’re split between three groups. Troubling.”

----------

Far from the prying eyes of civilization, a cloaked gathering was taking place. Tucked away in the shadowed interior of some hidden cave, two hooded figures conversed in secret.

“Our actions have finally elicited a response from the Empire,” one of the figures informed the other. A male, relatively young, the parts of his face not obscured were readily recognizable as human.

“I’m surprised it took them this long,” the other admitted. Also male, the figure stood higher than his other, and spoke with an older, gruffer tone. The larger figure’s face was crimson red, bearing fleshy tendrils sprouting from his cheeks and chin like those of a Sith Pureblood.

“The tribal detachment left behind to deal with the whomever responded to our outpost attack was wiped out yesterday,” the human enlightened.

“Good. Do we have a measure of the response team?”

“Apparently a special forces team comprising of seven soldiers.”

“Curious. Now we know what we’re dealing with. And they should prove a valuable asset if we can capture them.”

“They are cooperating with the Ardent Sons, according to our source within the tribe. They are mobilizing into small scouting parties.”

“Hmm, do we find them… or let them find us?”

“If they arrive on our doorstep, it could have negative ramifications on our ‘alliance’ with the Fallen Sons.”

“You’re right. We don’t need to give the tribals any reason to question us before we’ve reached our prize. Do we have details on their movements yet?”

“They’re separating into three groups, bolstered by some of the tribe’s own huntsmen. Two are looking for us, one is returning to Mos Ila to fetch supplies.”

“We’re still too far from reaching our goal. We’ll have to destabilize their efforts. We won’t catch the supply group by traditional means. Send a speeder detachment of acolytes, make sure the tribals don’t see them. For the others, the usual mix of warriors. Small groups should be able to handle the soldiers. Kill the escorts and most of the Imperials. Capture at least one. Be sure to have them retrieve any datapads or information they might be carrying.”

“I’ll relay the instruction to our people.”

“Good. What’s the word from the Fallen Son’s leader?”

“Dunestalker returned in the middle of the night, bleeding out of a gash in his stomach. I mended his wounds. Still not the most trusting fellow.”

“We needn’t needlessly sour our relations with the tribals quite yet, they’ve proven capable scavengers. With any luck, they'll find us the prize we seek.”

“With any luck, the Imperials will hold the key and we can be done with these backwards peoples.”

“Progress is often burdened by the impediment of lesser beings, but it is absolute. Once we gain access to the source, we can move beyond these lowly musings.”

----------

After succumbing to the pontificated wishes of the Ardent Sons warriors, the Seven had further divided themselves into small scouting parties. Dorn and Esk remained on shuttle retrieval duty. Aurek, Forn, and Grek, joined the lead huntsman to compose the primary scouting party. Besh, Cresh, and the two lesser hunters formed the secondary scouting party. After minimal conversing, the three groups were aware of their missions. The primary group was set to investigate the area with the heaviest concentration of Fallen Sons movements. The secondary group was set to investigate an area where unfamiliar dark figures had previously been witnessed. The Seven and their escorts mounted their speeders and, after a quick sharing of departing waves, made their ways in three different directions. With no transport of their own, the Ardent Sons escorts sat behind the Imperials on their bikes.

As the primary hunting group made their way toward their destination, Aurek attempted to communicate with the huntsman sitting behind him, hoping to conquer the language barrier and the resounding sound emanated from the speeder bike’s engine.

“If you’re going to be a part of my squad, I going to need to know your name,” Aurek slowly stated. He watched as his words were relayed back to him as Basic text in the corner of his HUD. A moment later, he had his helmet’s speaker regurgitate a translation in the Sand Person’s language. After a prolonged period of silence, the huntsman offered a brunt, quiet response.

“Dunestalker,” the HUD read after it processed the Sand Person’s response.

“Dunestalker, I’m not sure if you’ve ever encounter what we’re going up against, so I’m going to need you to remain focused, and keep us informed of anything we need to know in order to successfully complete our mission,” Aurek informed. Dunestalker remained silent, even after he had fully processed the Imperial’s words.



The distance between the groups growing ever larger, the members of the secondary group seemed less at ease with their minimalized squad.

“I mean, it just seems like a strange tradition,” Cresh commented over the comm channel created for him and Besh.

“Like most zealous cultural dealings, it is rather hard to find an adequate explanation grounded in rational thought,” Besh unpleasantly stated.

“Yeah, but why four? I mean, it just seems like an unnecessary limiter. I would think that if you wanted something accomplished, you’d throw everything you had at it. What can four people do?”

“Sometimes the clutter of overwhelming forces can work against you. Sometimes all you need is a tight knit group of extremely talented individuals. I mean, look at us. Just seven troopers given access to a remarkable armory and intelligence database. And how often does Aurek split us up? Since you’re a new addition to the squad, you probably don’t recognize the tendency.”

“Going up against Force-users, especially former Sith, you’ll understand if I don’t necessarily understand the want to spread out our forces.”

“We’re just scouting. We’ll keep our distance and assess any foes we come across before we take any brash actions. You’ll never need to convince me of taking the cautious route.”



Steadily venturing across the sandy flats back toward Mos Ila, Esk and Dorn rode along trying not to get on each other’s nerves for the duration of the lengthy journey. Dorn appeared utterly focused on his driving, whilst Esk sat aloof, leaning against the landspeeder’s extremity. His right hand supporting his lazy chin, his left melodically tapping the center console separating the two troopers, and a scattergun resting between his leg, the demolitionist could not appear more bored.

“Are we there yet?” Esk groggily inquired.

“You did not just ask me that,” Dorn rebuked, flustered. “We haven’t even made it past the flatlands, we still have to pass through the winding crags, more wastes, more canyons.”

“Ugh.” Esk offered as his only response.

The duo sped along across the desert sand in monotonous fashion until Esk caught a quick glimpse at a group of speeder bikes approaching them from behind.

“Got some speeders behind us,” Esk nonchalantly informed his partner.

“Speeders? Is it the squad?” Dorn inquired, keeping his sights set ahead.

“Dunno. Hard to tell from this distance. Maybe something’s up and they’re recalling us. Seems strange they wouldn’t use the team comm.”

“It seems the team network in malfunctioning,” Dorn replied after trying to open communications. “I can’t seem to reach out to the others. Maybe it’s the same with them.”

As Dorn began to bring the landspeeder to a stop, Esk caught a clearer glimpse of the approaching figures. Clad in black as expected, but covered in wispy flowing cloaks that incessantly flapped against the speeding winds. The demolitionist fully understood the situation once the lead follower igniting a red lightsaber and held it alongside the speeder bike.

“Go. Gogogo,” Esk hastily ordered his partner. Dorn readily complied, urging the landspeeder forward. Even as it sped along, the nimble speeder bikes were gaining on the Imperials.

“What’s going on?” Dorn asked, beginning to panic.

“We got Sith inbound,” Esk stoically informed as he retrieved the scattergun resting between his legs.

“Sith?! What do we do?”

“You drive. I shoot.”

Shifting his body, Esk took his weapon into his hand, and reversed his position, planting a knee on his seat and looking out to the landspeeder’s rear. Eight Sith aboard speeder bikes were plainly visible and fast approaching.

“Should be able to pick them off when they get close enough,” Esk informed his driver. As half of the enemy speeders zoomed forward, half stayed back and to the surprise of the trooper, began firing blaster bolts from unseen weapons mounted to their front. Red bolts of energy zoomed past the demolitionist and he ducked and hugged the seat of the landspeeder.

“Evasive maneuvers!” Esk commanded, before being thrown to the side by the sharp turning of the landspeeder. “I’ve only got limited range, we’re going to have to close in on them ourselves.”

“Use my rifle,” Dorn suggested.

“No good. Don’t need one of them deflecting a bolt into our engines.”

“Don’t need them shooting our engines themselves, either!”

“Then don’t give them the chance. Keep moving,” Esk ordered as he took him first shot toward the opposition. The scattergun range out a cluster of energized pellets, striking one of the lesser members of the melee detachment. A good percentage of the blast struck the Sith in the chest, knocking him from his speeder. The unmanned speeder turned and dipped, before nose-diving into one of the passing dunes. The rest of the Sith, unfazed by the loss of their ally, continued their assault. One of the ranged detachment managed to land a glancing blow from their mounted blaster on the landspeeder’s extremity.

“It’s hard to dodge things I can’t see. Esk, mark the targets and put them on my HUD,” Dorn ordered, attempting to keep control on the situation. The demolitionist complied. Focusing his sights of the approaching Sith, his helmet identified the seven remaining threats. Sharing the data with Dorn, the pilot now had an idea of their relative positions as blips on a minimap. With this newfound information, Dorn was able to adequately outmaneuver the blasting speeders on his tail.

Breaking formation, the rear Sith moved into melee range. Two speeders closed in, moving to either side of the Imperials. As Esk focused on the Sith on his side, Dorn watched as the Sith on his side readied his saber. Closing in at blinding speed, Dorn’s only recourse was to slam on the brakes. His hand firmly gripping his saber, the charging Sith could not prevent his speeder from ramming into his compatriot. The saber clashed against the other Sith’s speeder, sending it plummeting to the ground and consuming its rider in a ball of flame. Bewildered, the clumsy Sith did not notice the approaching Imperials, one of whom planted a shot from his scattergun in the Sith’s back.

Three of the eight Sith dealt with, the Imperials were still in sufficient danger as the attackers focused their tactics. As another Sith approached the driver’s side landspeeder, Dorn was sufficiently distracted enough for another to land a glancing blow on one of the Imperials’ engines. Esk was able to dispatch one of the two before they momentarily retreated, but the damage had been done. Smoke began to rise from the edge of one of the hind turbines.

“Damn,” Esk cursed. “We need to…”

“Esk, look out!” Dorn shouted at his companion.

Turning, Esk quickly turned to see the leader of the pack swing his saber toward the demolitionist’s head. Ducking away, the saber clashed instead with the top of the Imperial’s seat, kicking of a plume of smoke and sparks. Attempting to raise his scattergun, Esk found that the Sith was using his free hand to grasp ahold of the weapon, preventing its movement.

The horned visage of the Zabrak warrior let out an intense war cry as he readied his next blow. Esk pulled the trigger of his lowered weapon, firing a shot than managed to clip the front stabilizer of the Sith’s speeder bike. Plummeting into the sands, the Zabrak was flung from his vehicle and rolled numerous times as he impacted against the shifting ground.

The three remaining Sith pulled back a short distance to pester the landspeeder with a torrent of blaster fire. Taking evasive maneuvers, Dorn directed the landspeeder into a flurry of turns and quick dodges, pushing the bulky landspeeder to its limit. The already damaged engine wasn’t helping matters. Unable to get another shot off on the distant foes, Esk let out a grunt of frustration.

“Argh. We’re sitting ducks out here in the open.”

“We shouldn’t be too far from the canyon. Even they will have to slow down and move single-file,” Dorn informed his companion.

“How will we fare?”

“It’s like piloting with one less dimension. How hard can it be?”

“Uh, Dorn…”

“What? I’m plenty capable…”

“No. Not that. That,” Esk stated, jutting a finger toward the front of the speeder. In the distance, the high and blocky ridges that held the winding canyon back to Mos Ila. In the nearer distance, however, a lone figure stood between the Imperials and their destination. A stern figure stood with his saber ignited. The Zabrak that lead the speeding Sith had apparently recovered from his tumble in the sands.

“How in the… No matter, go through him,” Esk commanded.

“Are you kidding. We smack into him and his lightsaber goes flying, who knows what it could hit.”

“Fine, but get me close…” Esk advised. Dorn let out a sigh, attempting to keep his cool whilst the remaining Sith speeders continue to fire on them.

As the landspeeder approached the Zabrak standing in the sands, Esk readied his scattergun, taking careful aim. The warrior remained steadfast, his saber at the ready. At the last moment, the landspeeder juked to the side, passing by the Sith without a single shot fired. The pursuing three speeders zoomed past the Zabrak with nary an errant glance.

Turning to face the distancing cavalcade of speeders, the Sith stood silent and alone in the drifting sands. Powering down his saber, the Zabrak pondered how to proceed, before glancing down toward his feet. A soft beeping resonated against his ears. Looking down, the Sith saw a silvery orb lay half imbedded in the sand, blinking with a single red light.

Looking back, Esk saw a sizable plume of sand and fire kicked up by the explosion of his dropped ordinance. He let out a soft chuckle, finding some measure of pleasure in the stressful events taking place. Entering into the winding crags of the twisting canyon, Esk and Dorn had entered into fresh territory that would play an integral part in either the duo's impending survival, or doom.
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------

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Osetto
05.21.2012 , 01:30 AM | #28
Chapter Ten: The Hunt - Part Two

Entering the threshold of the winding crags, the once intensely high-speed chase had slowed, trading haste for caution as the speeders were forced to carefully navigate the tight passages and winding turns of the tightly packed ridges. The landspeeder and its pursuers continued their chase single file through the twisting path, the leading Sith in the line firing the occasional blaster bolt toward the Imperials. Chunks of rock flew out wherever the errant bolts landing against the sheer rock faces surrounding the speeders.

“Dorn. I have an idea,” Esk softly stated.

“Is there a chance it could kill us?” Dorn immediately asked.

“Eh. Slight chance.”

“Great.”

“Look, the path straightens out up ahead. I want you to give the speeder all it’s got.”

“Alright, what are you going to do?”

“Use this,” Esk replied, holding in his hand the last explosive in his possession. Without another word, the demolitionist flipped the switch of the silvery orb, and it began to melodically flash and beep. Dorn pressed the landspeeder forward hard, stressing the damaged engines to their max. Esk watched as the gap between them and the Sith momentarily grew. Counting down in his head, Esk waited and waited, before finally dropping the explosive device over the landspeeder’s edge.

The orb dropped and bounced off the rocky ground only a couple of times before promptly detonating right under the lead speeder bike. Utterly devastating the first Sith, the two behind him lost control and crashed into the neighboring rock walls of the steep canyon. Esk pumped his fist in satisfaction seeing the last of the pursuers dealt with.

“Looks like we’re in the clear,” Esk commented, seeing no one emerging from the fiery scene of destruction that they were quickly departing from.

“Not quite,” Dorn waveringly commented. Looking to his partner and then ahead of the landspeeder, Esk saw that the explosion had a profound effect on the integrity of the canyon walls. Rocks began to fall with increasing pace and percentage from the surrounding ridges. The Imperials pressed forward hoping to outrun the gaining trail of destruction.

Unfortunately, a sizable chunk ahead of the Imperials fell from the ridge ahead. Unable to correct their path, the landspeeder crashed into the debris, ending the duo’s journey toward Mos Ila with a resounding bang.

----------

As the primary scouting group passed yet another ordinary rock formation, a peculiar sight entered their view. In the distance, a small stream of blackened smoke rose gently into the Tatooine sky.

“Heads up squad,” Aurek commented over the group’s channel. “Trouble ahead. Looks to be another hit outpost or settlement. Let’s investigate for any connections to the Fallen Sons or the renegade Sith.”

Deviating from the established course, Aurek turned his speeder toward the smoke with his squad mates following. After the change, Aurek felt the tap of his passenger on his own shoulder.

“Why have we changed direction?” Dunestalker spoke before being translated.

“There’s evidence of an attack. We’re investigating,” Aurek replied.

“This is an obvious trap.”

“Perhaps. But there’s a chance that Imperials or civilians are in danger. And I can’t ignore that.”

“Only automated farms and the occasional homestead out here. Nothing worth saving.”

“Nothing worth ignoring either. If it’s a trap meant for us, we’ll oblige them if it means revealing the trappers. These people wiped out an Imperial outpost. For some, that would be reason enough to avoid them. For me, it’s an incentive to put them down.”

With a twist of his wrist, the speeder bike surge forward toward the sign of apparent destruction. Suddenly, he saw an incoming message over the team comm.

“Aurek? This is Besh. Can you read me?” Besh’s voice softly run out in the primary scouting group’s helmets.

“I read you Besh. Encounter anything?” Aurek responded.

“Having trouble reaching Dorn and Esk, wanted to see if the team channel was malfunctioning.”

Processing Besh’s words, Aurek tried to ping the shuttle retrieval team with no response.

“I can’t reach them either. Think there’s trouble?”

“I always think there’s trouble. But I can’t think of a reason their comms would just—“ Besh commented before being apparently cut off.

“Just what? Besh? Besh?” Aurek repeatedly called out to his squad mate. Nothing but silence permeated the team comm.

----------

“We’re coming up on an sizable rock formation,” Cresh informed his squad mate from the leading of the two speeder bikes.

“That’s our destination?” Besh inquired.

“According to my guy, yeah,” Cresh answered, gesturing toward the guide that sat behind him.

“Understood. We’ll have to dismount soon and continue on foot. Let me check in on the shuttle party,” Besh commented, attempting to open communications with Dorn and Esk. After a prolonged period of silence, Besh offered a curious mumble.

“Are they not responding?” Cresh inquired with concern.

“Apparently.”

“Any guesses why?”

“Dorn did mention something about the caverns and mountains affecting communications, but nothing about them completely blocking long distance signals.”

“Well, the canyon we passed through on the way to the outpost was pretty enclosed.”

“Still, things don’t exactly sync up. Technologically or time wise.”

“Can you reach Aurek?”

“Let me try…” Besh offered before attempting to open communications with the primary scouting group.

“Aurek? This is Besh. Can you read me?”

“I read you Besh. Encounter anything?”

“Having trouble reaching Dorn and Esk, wanted to see if the team channel was malfunctioning.”

“I can’t reach them either,” Aurek admitted after a pause. “Think there’s trouble?”

“I always think there’s trouble,” Besh confessed. “But I can’t think of a reason there comms would just cut out like that…” Besh awaited for a response, but received none. Further attempt to communicated with the squad leader was met with more silence. “Great, now we lost Aurek’s group.”

“Lost?!” Cresh exclaimed.

“Just communications. I’m sure they’re fine. For now, at least. We need to stay focused and see what we can find here.”

“And what exactly are we looking for? All these guys have said is that some Sith-y figures have been sighted in the area. No details of numbers seen, actions witnessed…”

“This is how thing are sometimes. We weren’t just handed all our intel on a platter like usual.”

“I’ve been a part of the Seven for a shorter time than you,” Cresh reminded. “I know about various levels of intel. It just seems like only a few people know what’s actually going on out here, and it’s certainly not us!”

Before Besh could respond, the group’s journey was brought to a resounding halt as a mysterious detonation went off under the two speeder bikes. Instead of a grand display of fire and force, a large circle of sand lifted and shook for but a moment as the speeders passed over it, before collapsing into a sunken pit in the sandy dune. The speeder bike’s repulsorlifts miscalculated the terrain below them, causing them to take a quick dive. Embedding themselves in the sand as the shifting terrain began to fill the created pit, the riders were flung from their vehicles. The speeders were lost to the dunes as the Imperials and their escorts impacted against the sands ahead of them.

After tumbling forward, the Imperials attempted to recover, trying to find firm footing in the dune. As sand perpetually wrapped itself around their ankles, the troopers immediately drew their weapons and surveyed their surroundings. No signs of enemy contact yet. Ahead of their position, a rocky enclosure. Crags jutting from the sands, offering sturdy terrain and capable hiding spots within its various crevasses. A short moment later, the Ardent Sons scouts had risen to their feet, grasping their cycler rifles. One of them immediately began to tug on Besh’s arm.

“Not safe here. Safety in the rocks,” one of the scout proclaimed. Even after reading the translation Besh was hesitant.

“That was caused by a manmade device,” Besh reasoned. “Who’s to say whomever planted it doesn’t want us rushing toward the apparent safe haven?” Still, the scout persisted, beckoning the Imperials to follow. Giving up, Besh followed the scout’s lead, but taking careful consideration of his surroundings. Shuffling amongst the sands with his rifle raised to his shoulder, the sniper peered high and low, checking beyond every rock face and atop every crag.

The rock formation was as an island amongst the sea of sand. Relatively even with the sand around its outer extremity, the island quickly turned into a sheer cliff face stretching above the Imperials head over one hundred meters toward its interior. Thin canyons and crevasses offered entry to whatever mysteries lie deeper. And plunge themselves into that mystery the four figures did. Forced to move single file, a Sand Person scout took the front and the rear, sandwiching the Imperials as they moved forward, not yet dropping their guard.

“Are we just going to keep moving forward? What about the speeders?” Cresh asked, his tone tainted with creeping signs of panic.

“They were lost. Swallowed by the sand,” Besh bluntly stated.

“What was that, anyway?”

“An explosive charge of some sort, placed deep under the sands. Exploded, created a large air pocket, destabilized the bikes’ repulsors. They enter the empty space, sand fills back in, everything’s buried,” Besh explained.

“Why? There are much better forms of perimeter defense,” Cresh commented.

“Because maybe death and destruction isn’t the purpose here.”

“Then what is?”

“Don’t know. Maybe our survival isn’t a matter of luck.

“Nonlethal trap.”

“Perhaps.”

“You really think someone is leading us inward.”

“Well I know this scout certainly has his sight set on it,” Besh grumbled, flailing a hand toward the huntsman relentlessly moving forward.

Ahead, the path the group currently trekked upon opened up remarkably, into a rocky basin surrounded by a natural circular wall of stone. Stepping into the basin, the group was greeted with a remarkable sight. A grandiose pile of materials. Scrap. Scavenged metals. Broken droids. Computer terminals. All piled around a metallic spire that jutted from its center. The pile was twice the height of the Imperials and spread out the width of a small freighter. The pole in its center matched a typical two story building in height. The group broke their linear pattern, dispersing as the gazed in curiosity at the display.

“Well, that’s new,” Cresh commented. “What do you think it means?”

“I think we’ve just received some valuable intel,” Besh admitted, returning his rifle to its resting place upon his back.

“I’d say it looks to be a pile of scrap, but something more. Like some sort of shrine.”

“A shrine of shattered technology.”

----------

Nearing the source of the black plume that slowly rose into the Tatooine sky, Aurek halted his charge and his squad mates followed. Fixing his gaze upon the scene, Aurek attempted to survey the area via a zoomed-in picture that popped up on his HUD. A moderate force was assaulting what appeared to be a homestead that operated a moisture farm. Sand People garbed in the same robes as those whom attacked the Imperial outpost. A small herd of bantha, large wooly mounts used by more traditional Sand People tribes, stood in their wake. The beasts were bearing attached carts to their rear, designed to be drug upon the sands, and filled with a nondescript gathering of scrap.

In the middle of the commotion, a robed figure open waving his crimson lightsaber issued order to the surrounding Fallen Sons mostly through gestures. The raiders stormed into the small buildings that dotted the area. No signs of human opposition, only automated defenses. The occasional turret and droid. Curiously, the Sand People wielded non-traditional weapons. In their hands were what appeared to be ion rifles. Firing electrical blasts of energy, the figures appeared to be forcefully shutting down their opposition, instead of outright destroying them. After being felled, one of the Sand People would drag the inoperable droid to one of the bantha’s carts.

“What do you think Aurek?” Forn sounded off on the group’s channel.

“They’re harvesting the farm’s technology.”

“Matches what happened at the outpost… wouldn’t you say?”

“I thought their goal lied in mere destruction of tech, given the Fallen Sons rejection of their earlier tribe’s modernization,” Aurek confessed. “The Sith figure seems to be directing them, so what could he gain from this. I don’t see how they could be interested in raiding farms of droids and turrets. If they abhor their usage, they can’t be reverse-engineering them.”

“We’re dealing with a cult. Their motives… are rarely understood by outsiders.”

“Then it looks like we’ll have to join them,” Aurek firmly stated.

“Pardon?” Forn inquired.

“Figuratively,” Aurek answered. “I think these guys can get us inside the cult’s base.”

“And how might you suppose that?” Forn asked, unconvinced.

“They’re gathering droids. What did Dunestalker here mistake us for when we first met him?”

“Droids.”

“Exactly. They are carrying ion rifles. If we let them get in a few good shots and act incapacitated, they put us on the cart and drag us to wherever their taking this stuff.”

“How can you be sure… they’ll be taking us to their base?”

“I can’t, we’ll be taking a risk. But the armor can defend itself against the ion weapons, we’ll just be playing the part,” Aurek detailed. The Imperial’s squad mates seemed yet convinced. Forn crossed his arms whist Grek softly tilted his head in consideration.

“We've already lost communications... with the squad. A few ion bolts won't help. We're taking a gamble,” Forn stated.

“I’m aware,” Aurek replied.

"There's still a chance this is all a trap," Forn reminded.

"I'm aware," Aurek replied once more.

“Alright. What about the Sith? He’ll certainly recognize… the sight of Imperial soldiers.”

“Then I guess you’ll have to deal with him before we can fake our capture.”

“I was hoping you’d say that.”

----------

In the rocky basin, the secondary scouting group continued their inspection of the peculiar pile of scrap. Standing at its threshold, Cresh was the first to physically lay a hand on any of the piled contents. Seeing a droid lying at his feet, Cresh grasped a hold of the droid’s head for a closer look. The make and model appeared to be that of a protocol droid, not dissimilar to the one coopted into serving as the squad’s translator a short time ago. Rotating the metal within his hand, the Imperial noticed that much of the droid’s cranium was missing.

“It would appear that this isn’t just a pile of broken technology. Someone went through these pieces. Sorting through them. Picking and choosing bits and parts.”

“The organization of the scrap pile leads me to believe the Sand People are behind its construction. However, this place is merely a destination. What happened to these pieces in their journey. That’s the question,” Besh admitted. “They’re after something. I wouldn’t say they are hoarding particular parts. I see plenty of droid brains and data receptors. Most likely they are perusing information stored in these devices before discarding them.”

“What kind of information?”

“When we can answer that, I’ll suspect we can answer many of the question we have.”

“There is so much here. Even if there were answers to be found in this pile, there’s no way we could sort through all this scrap. I mean, Dorn might be able to…”

“Not quite. I suspect Dorn’s electronic abilities would be hampered here. Have you noticed? Something is influencing our own tech. Communications. Scans. It would seem there is some sort of scrambler device hidden here. On our approach we must have passed the threshold of it being capable of blocking our connection with the rest of the squad.”

“Then there’s a chance everyone else is okay?”

“Well, there always a chance of that, but yes, I think we’re cut off from them rather than them being in any trouble.”

“But wait, we lost contact with Esk and Dorn but could still call Aurek. If it was on our end, wouldn't they both be blocked?”

“Maybe it’s relative. Dorn and Esk should have been much farther away by then.”

“I guess so. Think we could disable the scrambler?”

“First we’d have to find it. Now that WOULD be a task for Dorn.”

“What about the tower?”

“It appears to be purely decorative. A symbol of the Fallen Sons. No radial capabilities.”

“What would such a device look like then?”

“There’s really nothing unique to them. In the field, we could be issued devices that would block certain frequencies of communication. They were no larger than a handheld comm and had a rather potent range. For all we know, they could have buried them all around the island alongside some more of those mines.”

“Or they could wear them on their person,” Cresh offered.

“Absolutely. Back in my sniping day…” Besh began before seeing Cresh gazing past the pile of scrap, an onto one of the high walls that surrounded the basin. A single Sand Person stood on the precipice of the cliff, gazing down upon the Imperials and their escorts in the middle of the basin. The troopers froze as they saw the lone huntsman survey them from afar. Soon, however, the Sand Person was no longer alone. Two more joined him on the edge of the cliff, then two more, and two more after. Soon the scouting party was burdened by the watchful eyes of over a dozen warriors situated above them, each bearing a readied cycler rifle.

Slowly, Besh unslung his sniper rifle from his back and grasped it carefully in front of himself.

“Cresh… get ready to run…”
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
05.21.2012 , 10:10 PM | #29
Chapter Eleven: The Hunt – Part Three

Dunestalker looked less than pleased with Aurek’s plan of action. The Imperials were set to attack the raiders and eliminate their Sith leader as quick as possible. Afterwards, they would be ‘captured’ by the Fallen Sons, and Dunestalker would hang back and follow the group from afar. The prime huntsman of the Ardent Son stood beside Aurek for a moment before dashing off, intent on finding a stealthy vantage point to view the proceedings. Now, the Imperials remained in a wedge formation, ready to charge down on the Fallen Sons assaulting the homestead.

“Is everyone ready?” Aurek asked of his squad mates.

“Yes,” Forn answered. Looking over his shoulder, Aurek saw Grek offering an assuring nod.

“Alright. Eliminate the Sith, put up a fight with the raiders, try to steer clear of the banthas.”

“What about our speeders?”

“Abandon them.”

“Works for me.”

“Alright then. Move out,” Aurek commanded as he pushed his speeder forward. The others quickly followed. Their eyes set on the burning homestead, the squad fast approached the raiding forces. Turning his head, the commanding Sith took notice of the incoming Imperials. A human male, half of his face was once severely burned. The warrior possessed metallic constructs and cybernetics built in. A plate of metal reinforced his jaw and his right eye had been completely replaced by a cybernetic ocular device.

“We got three Imperials inbound,” the Sith calmly stated as he put a finger to his ear. “Right. Understood.” Issuing a sharp whistle, the Sith attempted to catch the attention of the nearby marauders. When enough eyes laid upon him, he forcefully jutted his ignited red saber toward the approaching figures. The Fallen Sons took notice and immediately prepared themselves.

Firing from his speeder, Forn planted a blaster bolt into the chest of the raider standing beside the Sith. The Sith raised his saber intent on deflecting further shots. Now practically on the scene, Forn fired another bolt toward the figure’s foot. Moving his guard to his lower half, the Sith deflected the bolt back at Forn, causing it to impact against his chest plate. The energy dispersed with little visible effect to the surprise of the Sith. With his guard still by his feet, Forn lept from his speeder as it passed right by the warrior. Extending his arm, Forn grabbed ahold of the Sith’s neck in the cusp of his elbow, and drug him down into the sands. Quickly taking the blade from his belt, Forn raised his vibroknife above his head before promptly imbedding it in the fallen Sith’s chest.

Stunned the loss of their commander, the Fallen Sons raiders pressed their attack rather than retreat. Aurek and Grek dismounted their speeders with abandon, taking aim at the approaching Sand People from all sides. Only a moderate fighting force, the three would have no trouble dispatching them with careful tactics. However, victory wasn’t the goal today.

----------

The multitude of Sand People standing atop the cliff opposite the secondary scouting group readied their weapons and unleashed a steady hail of fire upon the Imperials and their escorts. Taking cover behind the pile of scrap, the group found relative safety as energy wrapped pellets impacted against the ground around them and the sturdy array of metal that lay between the two groups.

“We can’t stay here. They have the high ground and will spread out to surround us,” Besh explained.

“Do we leave the way we came?” Cresh asked.

“No. They appeared directly opposite our entrance. They’re likely trying to drive us back where we came,” Besh proposed.

“So what do we do?”

“We move. And move. And move. Stay mobile, can’t be surrounded. Cover all angles. Pick off opposition,” Besh offered.

Seeing the scouts peer around the piled barrier of scrap, the Imperials watched as they took the occasional shot toward the opposition. Now Besh was the one tugging at one of their arms.

“We need to move out,” Besh stated. His word were promptly translated and bellowed toward the escorts, who looked hesitant to halt their attacks. Jutting his arm, Besh directed everyone’s attention to a separate crevasse than the one they had entered from, located between the basin entrance and the opposition on the ridge.

“Get ready to move. On three. One… Two…” Besh commanded. Taking a pause, Besh raised himself with his rifle steadied and fired a shot toward one of the riflemen on the ridge. The shot landed, felling one of the Sand People and sending him tumbling into the basin.

“Three!” Besh shouted as he simultaneously ejected a casing from his weapon’s archaic reloading mechanism. The four members of the scouting party sprinted from their hiding spot, prompting the Fallen Sons to take aim and fire. Transferring a bullet from his belt to his rifle and firing another shot toward the opposition without halting his movement, trying to draw attention away from the unarmored escorts. The four exited the basin and into a thin canyon much like the one they had used to enter. The group momentarily slowed, but the sniper urged them to continue, hoping to put some distance between them and their attackers.

The pathway was still open to the sky and therefore the opposing forces could very well fire down upon them from the ridges above. Taking the rear, Besh eagerly panned the pathway behind them, darting his gaze and his rifle between the unknown above them and the basin they had left. Cresh thought to pause. To ask questions. To get a greater grasp of the situation. But such thoughts were suppressed. He knew that Besh was right. They had to remain in motion if they wanted to get out. And so he kept moving forward through the unknown pathway toward an uncertain destination, leading his fellows through the narrow and winding canyon.

Cresh finally did turn to his flank when he heard a shot from Besh’s rifle ring out. He turned in time to see a body fall from the overlooking ridge into the canyon behind the advancing group. Cresh directed the Ardent Sons escorts to take the lead. Drawing his dual pistols, the Imperial now stood by his squad mate and directed his weapons to the cliffs above as they continued to shuffle backwards.

“Cresh? Don’t worry, I’ll cover us. You just keep moving,” Besh advised.

“Come on Besh, it was you who trusted me as a gunslinger,” Cresh brokenly joked, unable to fully hide his creeping trepidation. Firing a couple of bolts toward the now gathering opponents above them, none scored a hit on a target, but succeeded in disrupting the concentration of the Fallen Sons marksmen. As a target would fall to the Imperials, they seemed to be readily replaced.

As Besh fired another round toward the high ground, Cresh alerted to him to the charging warriors on their own level. A horde of enemies was encroaching on the group despite their strive for mobility. Cresh fired an array of bolts toward the charging warriors before realizing they would be swarmed if they divided their attention between defending themselves and running away. The Imperials decided upon the obvious choice and lowered their weapons to retreat at full pace.

Following in the footsteps of their escorts, the scouting party adopted a serpentine pattern of evasion, ducking from side to side, turning down any sharp passage as the canyon would allow. Cresh would blindly fire one of his pistols behind him, landing a fatal shot on one of the Sand People at the forefront of the marauding group. As the body fell to the ground, it served as a low barrier, tripping up the warriors not perceptive enough to jump over, ultimately slowing down the chargers.

Eventually, there was a break in the continuous ridges that hugged the sides of the scouting party, providing a gap for the marksmen on the high group to conquer before they could proceed in their chase. After a few more sharp turns, the Imperials and their escort had ultimately evaded the opposition for the moment, but still remained within the labyrinthine canyon system. To make matter worse, the group came across a wedge in their pathway.

“Which way do we go?” Cresh insistently asked no one in particular. The escort that had ridden with Cresh pointed down one of the pathways suggesting it to be the way out. “Alright, then let’s go!” Cresh started to dash down the pathway but saw that Besh remained stationary, looking to their rear. “Besh! What are you waiting for?”

“They’ll just keep chasing us.”

“They’ll be here any moment, we can outrun them!”

“In here maybe, but off of the island, they’ll definitely catch us.”

“We can’t fight them all in here!”

“You’re probably right. That’s why you’ll have to keep moving.”

“What?!”

“Leave. Keep running and you should probably make it out of the range of any scramblers so you can tell the others what we found. I’ll keep them busy here while you get away.”

“Besh! No!”

“You saved my life once kid. I figure this to be a much better repayment than a Pazaak card.”

“You’re not throwing your life away!”

“You’re right. I’m not. I’m giving you time to escape. Follow your scout. Mine looks to want to stay and fight with me.”

“I can’t just…”

“If you don’t go, this conversation will have wasted all this time for nothing.”

Cresh stared at the back of Besh’s head for what seemed like an eternity, unable to push himself down the rocky corridor to safety. Silently, he approached the sniper and handed him one of his pistols. Besh accepted the weapon without a word and hooked it to his thigh.

“Good luck,” Cresh somberly offered.

“You too kid.” Besh stoically replied. Cresh turned and followed the Ardent Sons escort who lead him down the pathway toward apparent safety. As Besh surveyed the return path alongside his escort, he heard the faint sound of the approaching horde.

“I hope you’re good with that rifle,” Besh commented toward his adjacent escort as he readied his own sniper rifle against his shoulder.

----------

Esk awoke to a scene of silent chaos. Lying upon his back on the sturdy foundation of the canyon floor, the trooper slowly raised his head to see his lower half obscured by an overturned landspeeder currently halfway buried beneath a pile of fallen rocks from the cliffs above. Suddenly, panic. Esk twisted and turned, dragging himself upon his elbows and sliding himself out from under the inoperable speeder. Hastily panning around the scene, Esk looked for any signs of Dorn.

The demolitionist found his answer at his feet, as the pilot was pinned to the ground by the other side of the landspeeder. Placing his hands upon the vehicle’s edge, Esk lifting with all his might, hoping to tear away at the debris crushing his squad mate. Bending and shoving the scrap out of the way with all his strength, Esk was able to remove the burden atop his fallen comrade.

Unmoving, Esk eagerly checked Dorn’s biometric data from his armor in his own HUD. Dorn was alive, and the trooper breathed a heavy sigh of relief. Dragging his squad mate clear of the rubble, Esk situated Dorn in a less chaotic spot. Surveying the area, the trooper saw that their way was blocked. The fallen rocks could eventually be surmounted, but they would still have the excruciatingly long journey back to Mos Ila ahead of them. Esk attempted to reach his comrades, but communications with all other squad mates seems inoperable.

A Dorn began to stir and awaken, Esk let out a little hop of joy. Shaking his head, the engineer offered only a few disheveled grunts as his first audible responses to the situation at hand. Processing the events that lay before him, Dorn was left in shock. The landspeeder destroyed, the pathway blocked, and the demo-man standing over him.

“Slight chance,” Dorn offered, spitting Esk’s words back at him.

“We’re still alive aren’t we?” Esk stated, attempting to provide a positive spin on the events taking place.

“Yeah, but now I’m pretty sure we’re stuck here. Have you tried reaching out to the others?”

“No good. Same as before. Can’t put out any communications.”

“Ridiculous. This is what millions of credits worth of mechanics is capable of? Wait a minute…” Dorn said, cutting himself off.

“What’s up?”

“Our signal. Something IS definitely wrong with our communications," Dorn informed. "Can’t be natural, no. Affected us outside the canyon. Still affecting us. I’ll have to locate what’s inhibiting us.”

“You can do that?”

“With a little work," Dorn acknowledged.

“Why didn’t you do it before?” Esk insistently asked.

“Because before, I was preoccupied with piloting a landspeeder under a hail of blaster fire. And if you hadn’t notice by now, I’m most skilled when I can focus on a single thing.”

“Like getting so wrapped up in slicing that you forget to check behind doors?”

“Exactly. Wait… what?”

“Nothing, just do what you do best.”

“Thank you,” Dorn trailed off, turning his gaze toward his wrist-bound datapad. A flurry of information graced Dorn’s HUD. Information from various sources, error screens, any and all things able to be retrieved by the armor’s diagnostics. After one peculiar modicum of data, Dorn tensed up considerably. “That’s… not good.”

“What’s up?”

“I’ve deduced that our communications are being actively scrambled. Via a device of some sort that we’re caught in the effective range of, that much is clear. However… by cross-referencing our armor’s data systems and what seems to be affecting them, I think I have an idea of where the actual source of the scrambling is coming from. The problem is, the source appears to be moving. Toward us.”

“What would that…” Esk began to ask, before the sight of an approaching figure entered his peripheral. At the beginning of the straight the Imperials had previously traversed, a lone man walked in a calm, steadied pace toward the duo. Garbed in a tattered black cloak, the figure held an ignited red saber in his right hand as he slowly made his way toward the Imperials. Upon his head sat a crown of horns jutting from his scalp, and a face tattoo creating the linear image of skull.

“The Zabrak from before? Didn't you… you know… explode him?” Dorn unbelievingly asked as he stared at the approaching Sith.

“Guess he’s as tough as ours,” Esk slyly commented, looking around for his scattergun. A short distance away, the demo-man retrieved his fallen weapon and gave it a once over examination to make sure it worked. Dorn meanwhile, scanned his surroundings for any means of escaping, however, only a single crevasse offered a means of travel. Mobilizing, Dorn inspected the fissure and saw that the natural pathway jaggedly ascended the ridge it split, terminating at the top of the mountain.

“Esk, I have a plan,” Dorn informed his partner, furiously tapping away at his datapad. “We have to get to the top of the ridge.”

“One moment,” Esk declared, checking to see if there was a shell loaded in his weapon. After a confirmation, Esk pointed his weapon and fire a shot toward the approaching Sith. A flurry of energized pellets left the barrel of the scattergun and surged toward their target. Still distant, the cluster would have sufficiently spread by the time it reached the Sith, not inflicting maximum damage, but surpassing the warrior’s guard. However, as the pellets were about to impact the Sith, the Zabrak furiously knocked the blast into the cliff face beside him with a wave of his free hand, and the ensuing shockwave that followed it.

“Esk! Let’s go!” Dorn exclaimed.

“Not yet. Just have to wait for him to get closer,” Esk stated.

“This isn’t the time or place for your games! Let’s go!” Dorn commanded.

“Fine,” Esk conceded, lowering his weapon and following Dorn. The two entered the fissure in the side ridge and began their slanted ascent to the top of the cliffs that overlooked the winding pathway they once sped through. Seeing his quarry retreating, the Sith warrior did nothing to alter his pace. He was firm in the belief that his opponents would not, could not, evade him forever.

Making their way to the top of the ridge, the Imperial were greeted with a relative flatland of rock that stretched out in all directions, dotted with fissures and cracks leading to the canyons and pathways that passed through the range’s interior. Dorn began to make his way in the direction of the area they had first entered the winding canyon on their return trip to Mos Ila. Running across the flattened mountaintop, the Imperials occasionally had to leap over a gap in the terrain, granted them glimpses into the potential falls that awaited them if they succumbed to a misstep.

“Dorn, where are we heading?” Esk inquired, keeping pace with the leading trooper.

“Toward where we started.”

“You mean the opposite direction of where we should be going, you know, toward Mos Ila?”

“It’s flatter on this side of the range. Easy to run across.”

“And what exactly is your plan?”

“One thing at a time, remember? For now, we just need to put some distance between us and that Sith.”

“Understandable,” Esk admitted. Gazing at Dorn, the demolitionist saw that he continued to tap away at his datapad. “Dorn, mind telling me where your rifle is?”

“Left it,” Dorn plainly answered.

“You what?!”

“Didn’t see it lying around before we had to leave. Besides, don’t think it’d be any help against the Sith.”

“This plan of yours… is there a chance it could kill us?” Esk asked.

“Eh. Slight chance,” Dorn offered.

“Great.”

Looking to his flank, Esk saw that the Sith had ascended to the top of the ridge level with themselves. Still the warrior pursued the Imperials, but still unwilling to break into more than a light jog.

“Remind me never to piss off Forn,” Esk commented aloud. Continuing their journey, the Imperials ran and ran until they finally came to the cliff that overlooked the dunes they had first entered from that day. The shifting desert had already consumed any signs of the battle that had taken place between the speeders beforehand. The sheer cliff face presented the Imperials with a sizable drop to the terrain below.

Turning their backs to the edge, the troopers watched the Sith steadily move closer and closer. Dorn remained focused solely on his datapad, as Esk raised his weapon toward the approaching foe. In that position he remained locked, ready to fire in a moment’s notice. But no shots were produced. Instead, the two stood ready and silent as the Sith approached.
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Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
05.22.2012 , 05:14 PM | #30
Chapter Twelve: The Hunt – Part Four

Aurek, Forn, and Grek were in the center of the surrounding chaos that continued to wash over the burning homestead. The Sith promptly dealt with, the troopers regrouped, their backs to each other, and began to fire upon the raiders attacking the moisture farm. They had to put up a fight, to put on a show. The three soldiers fired their rifles in opposing direction, taking down the occasional Fallen Sons marauder. The occasional combatant wielding a gaderffii would charge the squad, providing an ample target for elimination. The troopers focused their fire on the melee combatants, leaving their ion rifle wielding brethren standing for the moment. It wasn’t long until all eyes were upon the group standing out in the open of the flatland that made up the homestead.

“I’d say we’ve gathered their attention,” Aurek stated, not relenting in his firing.

“So do we drop our guard now… or…” Forn inquired, utterly unsure of how to carry out the plan Aurek had set forth.

“If you get hit by an ion bolt, go into sleep mode. It should lock the armor up, giving the illusion of deactivation.”

“If things go wrong?”

“You and Grek can manual exit the state, and go to town on anyone near you. And remember, we have Dunestalker… well, stalking us.”

“And our weapons?”

“Just hold on to them. I’m sure they won’t be able to pry them loose.”

“You’re sure?”

“Mostly sure.”

“You’ll have to understand my hesitance with this plan Aurek,” Forn confessed.

“I do. Let’s do this” Aurek ordered as the three broke their tight formation. Separating and charging down on whichever Sand Person they could see, they suddenly abandoned all facets of tactical engagement and began firing in intentionally inaccurate patterns. The Fallen Sons reacted as predicted, going after them with their ion rifles.

One by one, the Imperials would be wrapped with electrically paralyzing blasts. Their diagnostics and HUD would flicker, but ultimately remain operational. The troopers fell backwards and forwards into the sand, their joints locked up by the their own volition. After a few investigative pokes and prods, the Sand People decided the armored foes has been sufficiently deactivated. Dragging them along the sand, the raiders piled them onto the carts attached to their banthas. The sizable Grek required and entire group of Sand People to relocate him.

Having filled their carts and lost many of their allies, including the Sith commander, the Fallen Sons promptly issued a retreat, mounting their banthas and making for their intended destination.

----------

The Zabrak came to a stop ten paces in front of the Imperials position. The two forces stared each other down, each unwilling to take a single action or utter a single word, until the Sith took the initiative.

“I’m sorry, are either of you talking right now, it’s hard to tell because of the helmets, and the fact that your little explosive left a ringing in my ear,” the Sith commented, dripping with a guile laced with hatred.

“Sorry to inconvenience you,” Esk mockingly joked. The Sith offered a begrudging grunt as his response as he softly rotated the saber held in his hand.

“Now… why haven’t you fired another shot yet?” the Zabrak teased the trooper.

“Same reason you haven’t decided to get stab-happy.”

“Oh, now that I genuinely disagree with. You see, orders were to eliminate the two Imperials heading toward Mos Ila. Orders were also to try and capture a couple of you. So you can see my dilemma. I’m perfectly poised to fulfill either option. Now, do I earn a few extra points with a boss, or do I run you through for even attempting to put up a fight when you are so obviously outmatched.”

“Capture? What could you people possibly want with us?” Esk playfully inquired.

“Oh, many things. For one thing, having a few of the Imperial Army’s Special Forces under our boot, we could possess quite the bargaining chip.”

“First off, we’re not Special Forces, or technically part of the Army,” Esk sardonically informed his opponent.

“Tsk, tsk. I can see why. You must not be very bright to admit you’re worthless when bargaining for your life.”

“Who’s bargaining? I’m just standing here with a gun raised at an indecisive Sith.”

“You pitiful soldier! Yours is the kind that will have no place in the new world! Once we’ve unlock the Source, your kind will be purged. First, we simply need to scoop out all the Imperial secrets you currently hold within your insignificant heads!” the Sith growled at the pair.

“Oh you have got to be kidding me… THIS is your plan?” Esk commented aloud, almost looking past the Sith warrior. After his partner’s words, Dorn finally ceased further input into his datapad.

“I’m sorry if you are too incredulous to understand the events to come,” the Zabrak snidely commented, cooling down from his previous rant. The Sith watched the Imperials raise their hands above their heads. “So it’s surrender then? Sadly, I don’t think that option is still on the table.”

“I guess this is it. Ready Esk?” Dorn calmly asked.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Esk calmly replied.

The Sith thought to raise his saber, but found that before he could act, the two Imperials fell backwards over the cliff behind them. Utterly confused by the troopers’ actions, the Sith puzzled for the moment. Unfortunately, if his ears hadn’t previously been inhibited by the demolitionist’s earlier detonation, he might have gained some insight to the incoming threat. Zooming in from behind, the Imperials’ shuttle crashed its extended wing into the still standing Sith, clipping the edge of the cliff as it continued its flight past the Imperial’s position.

Falling, the Imperials only caught the zooming black shadow passing over them in an instant and a faint shower of red following in its wake. Esk let out a soft chuckle, and Dorn tapped one final command into his datapad before the two impacted against the sand dune below.

----------

Kneeling behind a waist-high rock, Besh fired another round toward the approaching horde. The bolt pierced the Sand Person’s face wrapping and felled him. Quickly replenishing the rifle’s next round, the sniper was operating as a well-oiled machine rather than an organic being. Fire. Reload. Fire. Reload. Repeat. By his side, the Ardent Sons escort fire his cycler rifle, launching a green bolt toward the approaching marauders, but ultimately impacting against one of the canyon walls.

“Are you even trained with that thing?! No matter, just club them with it when they get too close,” Besh commanded, understandably irritable. Besh was succeeding in holding the warriors back, but did not seem to be having a profound impact on their perseverance or numbers. Ten shots, ten targets dropped. Soon Besh realized he would be out of the slugs needed for his Czerka rifle. Lowering his rifle, the sniper switched to his gifted pistol. Nothing fancy. Nothing special. But it served its purpose.

Held firmly between his two hands, the Imperial marksman fired upon the Fallen Sons that were fast approaching. Taking only a second to aim and fire upon each target before switching his focus to another, the sniper proved the capable pistoleer. The Imperial was confident in his ability to buy his squad mate ample time to get away from the horde, until he saw a new foe turn the corner and enter his view.

A human male, utterly pale and garbed in blackened robes enwrapped by a hooded cloak. The ignited saber he held to his side slightly trailed his confident gait as he approached the blockading trooper. Firing upon the Sith’s allies with a few bolts of his pistol, the sniper then gave pause to rise from his embedded position and grab ahold of his escort.

“Time to move!” Besh shouted, firing another flurry of round before departing down the path not taken by his squad mate. The escort began to follow, but took a short pause, watching the sniper’s back as he ventured the divergent path. Turning back toward the Sith, the two locked gazes for a moment. Without a word, the escort jutted a subtle indication with his hand down the path Cresh and his escort had escaped through. With a nod the Sith disabled his saber and burst into a sprint down the first path. The escort then trailed his Imperial trooper ‘ally’.

Cresh and his escort had finally made their way out of the caverns and gazed upon the open expanse of the desert surrounding the isle of rock. Cresh started to continue his journey of retreat when he saw his escort gazing longingly back toward the fissured ridges. After shouting at the Ardent Sons guide, the escort thrust his arm forward, indicating for the soldier to continue without him. Cresh complied, venturing out into the desert.

Cresh’s escort delved back into the canyons and passages, intent on reuniting with the defending forces. Passing through the winding pathways, the escort neared the position the other Imperial had entrenched himself in. Utterly focused on his trek, the escort did not notice the stilled Sith hidden within the shadow of a small fissure that he passed. Peaking his head out of the shadows, the Sith saw the Sand Person turn the corner, and promptly continued his chase after the retreating Cresh.

The path Besh and his escort traversed began to ascend the ridge that formed its borders, leading them up to the top of the plateau that surrounded the basin. Turning to his flank, the sniper saw that the horde was ascending behind them. The joy of not seeing the Sith turned to terror when he realized he no longer knew where the warrior was or was heading. Firing his blaster pistol toward the now slow-moving Fallen Sons, the marksman was able to pick them off one by one. With the high ground, Besh had the utmost advantage against the low Sand People.

Just as he thought the forces thinning, a shot zoomed past his helmed head from the plateau on which he stood. The riflemen who had originally fired upon the group in the basin were now even with the Imperial, and fired from a distance across the way. Spread out, Besh took to whatever cover he could find, a stone barely rising above his thigh. Switching back to his sniper rifle, the Imperial began to fire upon the foes with little help from his escort.

Scanning the horizon, Besh realized that there were no more bolts flying by him. No more cries and shouts from charging marauders. Not even the whistle of any a passing breeze or winds. Silence. Besh had survived, and the enemies had been dealt with or retreated. The Imperial fell to the ground on the flat of his back, exasperated, softly laughing at the fact that he had survived the ordeal. Staring up at the Tatooine suns, Besh felt everything wash away from his mind for the moment, until he saw his escort standing above him. Before he could speak, his escort was pointing the barrel of his cycler at the Imperial’s facemask. Besh couldn’t react. Couldn’t speak.

Then, the resounding crack of a gunshot.

Besh blinked, only to see a round pass through the side of the escort’s skull and send him falling on top of him. Quickly shuffling to throw the corpse off of him, Besh then turned on the ground to see Cresh’s escort standing a short distance away, the barrel of his rifle still smoking. Lowering his cycler, the Sand Person approached his fallen brother and utter a soft curse.

“Traitor,” Besh’s translator read.

“Where is Cresh?” Besh insistently asked.

“On the move. Safe,” the escort detailed. Lifting himself fully from the ground, Besh neared the cliff overlooking the desert. Looking out toward the horizon, the sniper laid his eyes upon a black blob hastily trudging through the sand as he distanced himself from the isle. However, following closely behind his squad mate was another black figure, that of the Sith.

“Damn it! He’s got someone on his tail!” Besh exclaimed. “How did you miss him?” Besh interrogated the escort.

“I saw nothing but corpses before we reunited,” the escort explained.

“Damn it all! Cresh? Cresh can you read me?” Besh shouted into the team comm. It seemed his message was still being scrambled, but to a lesser degree. The sniper prayed his squad mate could hear him. After a nerve-wracking pause, Besh finally received a response.

“I can…he…ou. Ar…okay?” Cresh asked, his words cutting in and out.

“I can barely hear you, but I think you can hear me. I need you to listen closely. There is a Sith following you. There’s not much you can do about it. He will eventually catch up and will kill you if given the chance. And if he's carrying a scrambler with him, it won't matter how far you've run, you won't be able to reach the others. However, if you can keep him still… keep him distracted for the time being, I can deal with him from here. I’m going to need you to trust me.”

“I… tru…ou.”

Falling prone, Besh took his rifle in hand and posed it for a steady shot, resting its far end on a smoothened rock near the cliff’s edge. Cresh, meanwhile, stopped dead in his tracks and turned to face the approaching Sith. The Sith walked ever closer, a dastardly smirk presenting itself from beneath his cloaked facade. The Sith ignited his saber once more and held it aloof from his right hand.

Cresh quickly drew his singular blaster pistol and fired upon the warrior. The Sith deflected a majority of the bolts into the sands around him, however one blast was able to impact against the Sith’s hip. The bolt did nothing to penetrate the warrior’s robes, but managed to destroy a small device that once hung from the Sith’s belt in a shower of sparks. Ripping the weapon from the gunslinger’s hand, the Sith flung the blaster far from its wielder with the Force.

“Nice try, Imperial. Although you manage to destroy my scrambler. Not that it’ll do you any good out here. Go ahead and cry for help, it’ll only make this more enjoyable,” the Sith stated, tone dripping with a venomous cadence.

In the corner of Besh’s HUD, the sniper found that he could now fully communicate with Cresh, and received his armor’s diagnostics. Taking deep repetitious breaths, the sniper began to process every facet of information being presented to him. The lone sniper, his helmet acted at his spotter. A cascade of information presented itself to the Imperial. Target was just over two kilometers away. Intense preparations had to made to even land a shot near the target, taking into consideration every force taking place between the sniper and his foe. Distance. Wind. Planetary rotation. Gravity. Tapping into the data collected by his and Cresh’s armor, Besh began to make the calculations needed to calibrate and place his shot with the help of his helmet.

“Besh… are you there…” Cresh whispered into his comm, the Sith in front of his becoming more irate.

“I need to concentrate, Cresh. I need more time. Distract him,” Besh coldly stated as he perused the data in his HUD.

“Tell me something…” Cresh said aloud to his opponent, switching off his team comm so as to not distract Besh. He was looking for something, for anything, to prologue this encounter. Glancing to the Sith’s left hand, Cresh noticed something peculiar. Something from his days as a combat medic. “That hand of yours… it’s a cybernetic prosthesis is it not?”

“Quite the eye,” the Sith commented, willing to toy with the Imperial.

“Curious. I still don’t understand why you’d ally with the Fallen Sons, or why they’d ally with you. I’ve seen enough Sith to know that you thrive off of cybernetic enhancements. You are the very thing that tribe abhors.”

“Oh, but us Sith have cast off the shackles of technology,” the warrior sardonically admitted. “We are here on Tatooine to empower ourselves through naturalistic means. Through the font of dark power. To separate ourselves from the Empire. To begin a new age of organic dominance. At least, that’s what we tell the tribals. And those pitiful beings are so eager to join our cause for uncovering the untapped, “uncorrupted” power that lies buried beneath the sand.”

“And it’s all lies…”

“Oh, not at all my Imperial friend. We are indeed on the precipice of uncovering a tremendous power source, and we indeed will craft our own civilization out of its bounty.”

“Then explain the shrine of broken droids and terminals in the basin…”

“Something we let the tribals do with the scrap we have no use for. Useless junk that doesn’t contain what we are looking for.”

“And what would that be?”

“A key. A key that will unlock the power source. A key hidden away in some bit of technology or data. A key, that you might provide," the Sith explained.

“Me? Why would I have a key?” Cresh inquired, utterly baffled.

“Oh, you might not know you carry it, but locked within your mind, and your tech, lies a plethora of Imperial codes and intelligence. It might be exactly what we’re looking for. That is why I’ve been instructed to bring you in.”

“You expect me to surrender? Knowing that you’ll just kill me once you’ve gotten all you can out of me?”

“Now, now, no need to resist. Why not do something great with the last hours of your life. Sacrifice yourself for something worth dying for. The new age.”

“You’re insane!”

“Insane? Attempting to live under a hidden Emperor is insane. Attempting to live within the manufactured strengths and weaknesses propagated by the Sith who remained allied to him, and attempting to live in a broken and shattered Empire populated by groveling Imperials and incompetent Sith, that is insane! We are…” the Sith began once more, before being cut off, putting a finger to his ear. “Well, It would appear we have already captured a trio of your brethren. You’re no longer a valuable asset.”

Up on the cliff, Besh attempted to press his head against the stock of his rifle, but found his helmet now acting as a cumbersome interference. Cursing, Besh looked up from his weapon to the escort who looked upon him with a subtle intensity. Breathing a heavy and steady breath, the sniper was forced to asked the escort a favor.

“I need you to look away,” Besh ordered the standing escort. Taking a moment, the sniper looked over all the information presented to him and began to memorize each and every fact necessary to make the shot. Then, gripping the conical guard surrounding the helm, Besh reach beneath his mask and unsecured the protective gear. Lifting his helm from his head and placing it beside him, Besh was able to look down the scope of his rifle in earnest.

“Besh disconnected from the network,” A monotonous robotic voice chimed in Cresh’s helmet.

“Besh? Besh?!” Cresh intensely whispered.

“Die knowing that you were never truly in a position to make a difference here Imperial,” the Sith commented.

Before he could take a step toward the trooper, an energy wrapped projectile from behind passed cleanly through the neck of the unarmored warrior and impacted against Cresh’s chest plate, knocking him to the ground in shock rather than because of the force behind the round.

The Sith fell to his knees before slumping to the ground, the lightsaber in his hand falling and rolling away in the surrounding sands.
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