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Tarrian Skywalker

The Hapes Cluster

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Ruby glared at Emerald, her scowl promising revenge for the use of that moniker before she turned her attention back to the final touches on their work. Satisfied with the end product, she let the droids ferry the crates over to the cargo hold of the shuttle and left to go change into clothes that weren't covered in grease and explosives residue. When she returned the loading process was done and there was nothing else to do but proceed with their plans.

 

“I swear, if they reverse engineer that thing and it comes back to bite us, I'm not going to be a happy person. Good thing the rest of these are duds,” Ruby griped as they boarded, taking their respective places and getting settled in. With Sapphire and Emerald stowed away aboard the shuttle inside of specially constructed shielded smuggling compartments, Ruby navigated the vessel toward their destination, waiting with bated breath as she transmitted over her credentials as Marin Pirou of Lorell Distributors, almost expecting something to go wrong and for the Blood Gems to have to hightail it away from Hapes yet again.

 

But the Hapan ship never opened fire on them, and soon they were docked with the larger ship. Marin walked down the boarding ramp to meet the Major's aide, and after introducing herself extended a datapad to her. “If I could just get your signature for final approval, Corporal, I'd be glad to have my droids assist yours in transferring the cargo.”

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Three hundred. That was better than Sapphire expected. It seemed that the Hapans had taken the bait--hook, line, and sinker. As they made the final preparations, she was feeling confident. Now it was just a matter of switching out the mines, and that could be done with a little bit of slicing. She settled into her place in the cargo compartment, her portable computer in her lap, ready to go. There was a long pause, and then the hiss of repulsors. There was another long pause where the only audible noise was Emerald's breathing.

 

"I'd be glad to have my droids assist yours in transferring the cargo," she heard Ruby say over their hidden comms. There was another pause, then Ruby said, "Thank you. We'll get to work right away." She let out a sigh of relief. So far, so good. Opening her computer, she got to work. The Hapans used a relatively simple code to network their work droids, one that Sapphire had learned long ago. She shook her head. In all these years, they hadn't bothered to update their systems. It was insulting. It didn't take long to plug in the lines of code that got her access to their programming. First things first. She accessed one of the droids' sensor packages and watched through the droid's eyes as it unloaded a crate of the dummy torpedoes and carried it to the programmed storage room. She breathed another sigh of relief. There were their targets--off to the side there were stacks of the now-obsolete pulse mass mines. She made the droid look in that direction so she could get a clear look. The crates were marked to be delivered to the fourth Hapan fleet in a few hours.

 

As her droid dropped off it's cargo, she knew this was the tricky point. A few keystrokes and it moved over to the pulse mass mines, picked up a crate, and headed back towards the shuttle. The trick would be to hide in the hustle and bustle, and hope no one noticed that the droids were not just unloading the Lorell Distributors shuttle, but also loading it.

 

Five crates in, their luck ran out.

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It was going as smooth as Kowakian spider-silk. Sapphire had somehow managed to network the military droids with the "Lorell" droids, and the loading process was underway. Emerald, in the cockpit of the shuttle, kicked her feet up as she looked over Sapphire's shoulder, scanning through the droids' cameras to keep tabs on all that was happening. Ruby stood alongside the Corporal who supervised the munitions transfer, her foreboding alien aura lending itself to the silent persona she maintained. There was no return to the Corporal's idle chit-chat, and Emerald elbowed Sapphire, flashing a Cheshire grin. "Think she's sweating yet?"

 

Ruby was fully capable, but it wasn't often they put her in a confidence role. She preferred to be behind the scenes with her thumb on the trigger of a detonator. If there were any nerves present, however, they weren't obvious.

 

The hijacked droid had just completed its fifth trip to the cargo hold of the shuttle, rerouted from the storage bay that was supposed to be the final destination for the pulsemass mines. It deposited its payload, picked up another dummy crate, and rolled back down the loading ramp. And then, looking through the display for the camera installed on the shuttle's exterior, Emerald saw her.

 

A mousy little technician with a military ID pinned to her lapel entered the loading dock, bearing the same fiery red hair and sharp blue eyes Sapphire possessed. That was where the resemblance stopped, however--the short, scrawny little woman had a flattened-looking face and pockmarked skin. She carried a thick datapad, and seemed to be observing the droids with sharp eyes. There was no sound, but the puzzled look on her face betrayed her purpose. Frowning, she lifted her communicator from her pocket.

 

"Shavit!" Emerald yelled, jumping to her feet, and out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw Sapphire jump. "Stay here!"

 

Disregarding whatever warning might come back to her about showing their faces in this military bunker again, Emerald slapped the door controls that let her slip out the shuttle's rear loading dock. In the blink of an eye, she sprinted down the ramp, dodging the loading droids, and flew at the woman feet first, catching her squarely in the abdomen. With a whoosh, her diaphragm contracted to nothing, and Emerald seized her around the neck with a muscular arm, dragging her quickly behind a large stack of fuel barrels.

 

She bit her lip as she clapped a hand over the mousy Hapan's mouth, standing stock-still and hoping that her passage in the hangar had gone unnoticed. When no alarm sounded after a brief moment, she took her free hand off of her blaster and pulled the woman's ID badge off. Just as I thought, she thought grimly. It read Tella D'rel, Supervisor Droid Technician. Pocketing the badge, she pulled her blaster and set it to the woman's temple. "All right, Ms. D'rel," Emerald whispered. "Not a sound or your brains are going to paint the side of this bunker."

 

And then the woman's comlink twittered. "Security to hangar bay, confirm? Lieutenant D'rel? Over."

 

Shassa. She'd have to do this the hard way. Shoving the woman into the wall and keeping her blaster trained on the center of her forehead, Emerald reached to pull the comlink out of her prisoner's pocket. Clearing her throat, she glared as she thumbed the comm to life. "This is Lieutenant D'rel," she toned in a tinny voice. "Negative, belay that order. We're fine, all fine here, thanks. Just a slight--uh--droid malfunction. Standby, it's all under control."

 

"Lieutenant, can you please confirm your command ID code?" Emerald grimaced. Glaring at the woman against the wall, she nodded slowly, mouthing, "do it, or die."

 

For a moment, the woman seemed like she would comply. And then she yelled. "BREACH IN THE HA-" Emerald brought the butt of her blaster across the woman's head, watching her crumple.

 

Frowning down at the prostate form, she stuck out her lip in a pout. "We could have been friends, Lieutenant," she muttered. Crouching behind the barrels, she brought her own comlink to life. "Get us out of here, girls," she called as the alarm in the bay began to sound.

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If Ruby was sweating, she wasn't going to be the only one for long. Emerald's sharp eyes had spotted the droid technician, and she had launched into action. But Sapphire wasn't idle either. She frantically began to tap into the hanger's systems. By the time the droid technician yelled, she was in. "BREACH IN THE HA--!"

 

"Great, just great," Sapphire muttered. "Now I have to create a breach."

 

An idea hit her that might buy them more time. With a few lines of code, she set off the fire alarms. These drowned out the security alarms that had begun, and more than that, they immediately began to douse the entire hanger and all it's contents with fire-suppressant foam. There was immediate chaos in the hanger from all the organics. The droids however continued their work. There were five who were on their way back to the Lorell Distributors shuttle. They'd be here in the next standard minute. She bit her lip. It would take the security forces another 45 seconds to arrive on the scene. Emerald and Ruby could be here in 20 seconds max. Although...her mind spun with possibilities. She grabbed onto one and ran with it.

 

"Ruby!" she said over the comm. "Send one of those thermal detonators over to the hangar door, then both of you get onboard!" She typed frantically on her computer screen as she darted out of the storage compartment and pounded her way up to the cockpit to start the shuttle's engines.

 

Outside in the hangar, things started going haywire. The lights were flicking on and off, the air systems started blowing at full force, and various alarms kept going off, first signaling a reactor leak, then a weapons malfunction, then a hull breach. The fire system finally ran out of fire suppressant foam and was simply wailing. All the organics were running for the doors. Sapphire gave them 5 more seconds to get there, then slammed and locked the blast doors firmly in place. Three of the five droids had delivered their pulse mass mines. It would have to be enough; they couldn't wait any longer.

 

She heard the pounding of boots on the ramp and slapped the button to close it. Abandoning her computer for now, she engaged the repulsorlifts. "Ruby, set off that detonator---now!"

 

There was an explosion, and suddenly the hanger was open to space, the force-field having failed in the blast. Gunning the engines, she sent the shuttle diving through the ruined exit and heading for space. It was bound to look suspicious to even the most dim-witted Hapan, but there was nothing to do but run for it. "I really hope they don't use any of those--kriffing--pulsemass--mines," she spit out between maneuvers.

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She had barely a moment to look up from the slumped form of the droid technician before all hell broke loose in the hangar. Suddenly, from everywhere and nowhere at all, thick, starchy fire suppressant foam filled her vision. "Kriff, Sapphire!" she yelled, ducking instinctively. Her reactionary shout was drowned out by the klaxon that pealed with an incessant fervor. Self-important military underlings scattered here and there, trying fruitlessly to shut off the systems that Sapphire had wrapped around her little finger. With a half-hearted glance at the prone Hapan, as if for a moment considering whether or not to do something further, Emerald launched into motion. She leaped over the barrels, one arm over her face as a shield. Running helter-skelter, dodging the droids that were still faithfully carrying their payloads to the Lorell shuttle, she raced the clock, desperate to get back to the shuttle so that they could rejoin the Glory in orbit before the Hapans deployed their Battle Dragons -- and worse, the pulsemass mines that they themselves had come to retrieve.

 

She didn't bother turning to see if Ruby was trailing, but only moments after Emerald darted into the shuttle's cockpit, an explosion sounded from the hangar bay.

 

It was only after she crossed the threshold of the cockpit that she took stock of her appearance. Her feathery blonde hair was stringy and wet, tousled by the air circulation systems pummeling her full-force as she had skittered through the hangar. Her combat suit was drenched in fire suppressant foam.

 

"Shassa, Sapph," she whined the familiar Mistryl curse word. "I look like a kriffing Life Day Tree. Why couldn't you have gone with a cleaner method?"

 

The shuttle bucked beneath them and Emerald stowed her moping, slippery hands fumbling with the seat belt as Sapphire maneuvered them out of the hole in the side of the hangar, streaking towards the atmosphere.

 

"I really hope they don't use any of those--kriffing--pulsemass--mines," Sapphire began, but before she could finish, her sentence prompted Emerald to bring up the cameras in the cargo bay. From the looks of it, they had managed to abscond with quite a collection of the mines. At least eighty gleamed at her from their crates in the hold, given her limited viewpoint. On second count, there might prove to be more. Her attention was brought quickly back to the central viewscreen as Sapphire put the tiny little shuttle through its paces, dodging projectiles from the anti-air cannons centered around the city. It was hard not to feel useless here, out of her depth. Their minimal onboard weaponry meant that her deadeye marksmanship could serve no purpose in dissuading any pursuers. Biting her lip, she had to trust that Sapphire had the piloting of the ship well in hand, and Ruby would be tending to the precious cargo in the hold with the greatest awe and admiration.

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In true Blood Gems fashion, when something when wrong... It went very, very wrong.

 

One moment Ruby was standing in solemn silence alongside the corporal, her inner monologue anything but quiet as she maintained a stoic glare that prevented any of the personel in the hangar from staring at her for too long. The next, chaos took over as Ruby just barely caught the blur that was Emerald hurtle down the boarding ramp of the shuttle and disappear behind a pile of barrels. There was no other warning before the klaxons and alarms began wailing across across the hangar bay and the fire suppression system started dumping foam on everything.

 

The stolid grimace on Ruby's face morphed into an almost maniacal smirk when Sapph suggested the use of explosives to aid their getaway. "With pleasure," she replied over her comlink as she surged into action, any other words she might have said swallowed up in the cacophony that her compatriots had created. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Em disappear back onto the shuttle, and she seized a hidden explosive from where it had been concealed in one of her pockets, but as she moved to lob it at her target the corporal stepped in front of her, blocking its trajectory. A quick uppercut to the jaw solved that problem, and as she spun gracefully, using her momentum to whip the thermal detonator at the door with deadly accuracy and sprint toward the boarding ramp all in one smooth motion. She slapped at the of closing mechanism as she ran past it, the ramp hissing shut far too slowly for her tastes. "Shavit, Sapph, get us out of here!" she yelled toward the cockpit and felt the shuttle surge beneath the soles of her feet as she continued into the cargo hold to take stock of their plunder.

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Emerald was predictably upset about the foam, but Sapphire was too busy gunning the engines to pay attention. The Hapan fleet scrambled quickly, way too quickly for the pirate's liking. She muttered under her breath. "Kriffing efficient Hapans."

 

A wave of fighters were the first to reach them. She snarled as she juked and jinked, doing her best to avoid their fire. The shuttle was definitely not the Nebula's Glory. It had all the maneuverability of a bantha. Red lights began to flash all over the control board as the fighters scored multiple hits on their aft shields. And of course, as a delivery shuttle, it had no offensive weaponry. As the Nebula's Glory came into sight, she spared a split second of her attention to activate the signal device she had in her pocket. It was a tool Ruby had rigged up for her a long time ago, a device slaved to the Glory's controls that would get the ship warmed up and ready for a quick exit.

 

Her distraction cost them their starboard shields. But the engines were still going strong--for now. With luck, they'd make it to their destination before they died...or before fire from the fighters hit their cargo hold. They drew nearer and nearer, the shuttle shaking from the laser fire. But then, she dipped the shuttle down and up and connected with the Glory. Before the link was even complete, she was running at top speed to the transfer tube. The instant it connected, she pounded down it and straight to the Glory's cockpit. Slipping behind the familiar controls, she engaged the engines, sending the ship jumping out of orbit.

 

The docking had cost them again. The fighters had turned their weapons onto the Glory, and had blown a shallow hole in the aft section, damaging one of her power couplings, before Sapphire had gotten the shields up. She scowled. "Stop blowing holes in my ship!" she bellowed to the Hapan fighters, not caring that their pilots hadn't heard her.

 

Now the race was really on. The big Hapan battle dragons and smaller frigates were starting to come into the fray now. Even the Glory wouldn't be able to withstand the fire from the capital ships for long. And they would be here long if the Hapans got their way. She grit her teeth as she put her ship through its paces. Emerald might think to take to the guns, but there wasn't much point, not with the way that Sapphire had the ship spinning, looping, reversing, and jerking.

 

The navicomputer was putzing along, taking it's good sweet time about spitting out a navigational course. Sapphire glanced at it, and estimated that it would be ready by the time they cleared the planet's gravity well. Assuming--her heart dropped. There in front of them on the scanners was one of their new friends, a pulse-mass mine. She yelled a Hapan curse and started on a long diatribe in Hapan. "Chan urrainn dhomh a chreidsinn. Tha iad cho gòrach. Cha toigh leam seo. Chan eil seo fhiach e. Carson a rinn mi riamh a 'moladh a' tighinn air ais a seo?"

 

Meanwhile there was a nasty hit on their aft starboard quadrant. The shields in that sector flickered and failed. She immediately transferred power from the port side, but not before another fighter scored a hit. Smoke billowed in the back, and an entire row of lights went red. Sapphire's verbal diatribe had died out to mostly a long string of curses. Then the capital ships began to open fire.

 

They were in a very, very bad situation. But then, Sapphire got an idea. A wonderful, brilliant idea--if only they could pull it off. The Glory had an ion cannon--perfect for capturing targets. It was a long shot...but it was the only chance they had. She adjusted their course to head right for the little bugger. It got closer and closer. For the last half a klick, she straightened out their flight and lined up the cannon. One shot lanced out with the touch of a trigger. She didn't stick around to see if it connected, for she had already held a straight flight path too long. A second later, there was a beeping from her board. "YES!" she shouted. Amazingly, incredibly, it had worked. The ion pulse had knocked the pulse-mass mine out of commission. It was only temporary, but it was enough.

 

Five seconds later, she threw the lever, sending the two linked ships into the safety of hyperspace.

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((And with that, the final event has begun! When your character arrives on Gallinore, they will find a very large warehouse on the edge of a small village, that seemingly was built by unknown contractors. The local populace doesn't know much about it, and all ties to it have been covered up so deeply that nothing can really be learned about it should people try to take the traditional route. Inside is a maze of computer banks, wires, transmitting equipment, and self-contained power generators. At the center of it all, like the conductor of an orchestra, is the menacing digital maestro himself. One thing is clear, it is time to end this threat to the galaxy. Kain cannot be allowed to bring his plans to fruition.))

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A wild, bestial howl came from Terra’s scarred and painted lips as the maddening embrace of hyperspace fragmented into realspace. Her mismatched, chimeric eyes scanned the approach vectors to Galinore as her Basilisk, Hades, entered its stealth configuration. The shimmering armor-plating of the AI-driven machine melded to a solid ebony sheen, and the unnecessary systems powered down to give her a better chance at avoiding detection. The static roaring of Hades filled her mind as the Basilisk began to make its approach to the location of KAIN

...It will be repurposed for Kad Ha’Rangir…

Hades seemed perplexed by her explanations of KAIN during their journey. She had met the AVATAR a few times in the service of the Sith, but knew relatively little about his programming. She clicked her comlink once to signal her compatriots to her location, disguising it against the magnetic field of Gallinore as the Basilisk began to make entry into the atmosphere.

Mandalore the Heartless was excited and her heart was beginning to pump faster as the atmosphere began to peel back around her. Her skin felt warm and flushed with the adrenaline. She could feel the hands of the Gods upon her, caressing her as she joined with her beast in the freefall. The fleet was in quick-call distance, ready to join them if the mission went awry. As the ground approached, she howled again, this time with the maddening joy of the god-touched.

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The squadron of Bes'uliiks exited hyperspace after their Mandalore. Pure black in colour, the iron war droids in their stealth configuration materialized around the figure of their fearless leader. These were Harbinger. Whose pilots, strapped on with little but the void and a small shield carapace to defend them, represented the most elite of the Neo Crusaders. Each had bathed in blood over coruscant, each had brough a hundred sacrifices to their God. Ha’Rangir the Bloody, the bringer of honour to the galaxy. And Rose was honoured to be among them.

The humming of the engines was loud in her helmet as they began to bank through the space trash in high orbit above the planet. She was in constant communication with the flight team as well as the AI that inhabited the metal beast below her. It was of new manufacture by the Iron Pantheon who had also designed the metal beast below her. It did not have the history of her Mandalore’s AI, but it would learn to lust for blood like Hades. For now Lix Tetrax, for that was its designation, whispered flight information through her earpieces in a voice soft and luxurious. With a touch of her left leg she banked beside Mandalore and raised her fist.

“For death, for Ha’Rangir.”

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…Oya…

Terra passed her tongue across the black paint that adorned her lips, feeling the serrated edges of her darkmetal teeth caress her flesh. The pain made her elated, her body shaking with a bestial madness. She felt as though her body was a gnarled and mighty Veshok, her entirety caressed by the breath of the gods, from the supple branches to the deepest roots that pierced to the underworld.

…My words are the mighty roar of war…

Her head rolled backwards, her saccadic eyes watching the heavens as they fell away from her as the Basilisk fell towards the surface of Gallinore. These stars were not her own.

…I see the reflection of divine anger in your eyes…

She reached towards those unfamiliar stars and traced a constellation that appeared to her as a mythosaur skull before it was lost in the grey gloom of Gallinore’s atmosphere. It was a promise for a powerful sun to rise and burn. To blaze in glory like the fires of purification that had made her strong. Terra whispered to her men as she rocked in her saddle, ecstatic in the sign and its promise.

“The omens are good… Tonight we will dance in the morass of the red rain...”

If there were to be carnage, Terra knew she would dance the maddest. She would dance as a bersærkergang, as one wrapped in the embrace of the gods and transformed into the wildness of the mythosaur. She let out an uncontrollable howl and signaled her small group to head for the small village that bordered the warehouse where the encrypted signals had come from.

Her battlescanner was nearly overpowered by the strange broadcasts that poured from the warehouse, but it was able to pick up the small movements of a sleepy village. The hour was early, and the sun had not yet risen. Not a soul would awaken to sound the alarm.

Terra set Hades down near the entrance of the warehouse and slipped from its back. As he feet touched the soft earth, her knees almost buckled. She had ridden for too long and had no bearings for gravity. Unslinging her battlerifle, she sent out a small signal tone to Tros, Dar’Manda, and Rose. All it held was three letters in  rhythmic beats and dashes

-...  -..  --..

Translated it was simply

B D Z

Which could only mean

Base.

Delta.

Zero.

No witnesses.

…Oya…

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The void of hyperspace was a truly mesmerizing sight even for one who held no eyes, its depth as unknown as its shallow pull upon one's consciousness and physical form. Its was a hard feeling to describe, like gravity without any gravitational pull. Especially to the near exposed form of one's own as we strode forward within its directional grasp. It reminded me of an old story that was once told by a now dead Elder of my Clan's name, one that spoke of a bridge that reached the immortalized drinking halls of Kad Ha'rangir where one drank the fermented blood of those ripped from the slothly grasp of Arasuum in death. And as we exited it, my mind embraced the thought that I had crossed such a threshold. But now, now was the time for action.

I followed in suite of the others as we turned our direction, weaving through debris and carnage of events long past, revealing in the deathly handiwork of my lord's eternal will, whether it touched sentients or that of star systems, his works were self evident no matter where one stood in the Galaxy and our purpose was to finally reveal such truths to the masses, not by idle hands, but through action and revelations. It was the only way to purge the weakness of Arasuum and to become the beacons of strength and glory to those that would see our lord's works through our very hands. A task that only we, the chosen, could make into reality and present to the unfaithful. For seeing is the only true way of believing for those of weak mindedness. Recieving the coordinates from @Terra, I turned Hati's form toward the planet below.

Hati and I were nearly of one being, one thought, one action. Our minds had melded perfectly, our faith in Kad Ha'rangir and of Manda'lor having brought our souls into unison. And we both reveled in the freedom we had been granted by it, finding peace in our pasts, and our thoughts in unison upon cleansing Arasuum from this Galaxy forever. Hati, like my armor and my Clan, was a remnant of ages long past, having seen many crusades rise and fall. But unlike the others, they failed to truly grasp Kad Ha'rangir's will. Only now, under this new Manda'lor, had it been truly realized, and we both knew it as we plummeted toward the planet's surface with blazing speeds, pulling up just mere meters from it as we headed toward her direction.

Our orders were crystal clear. And as we neared the village, Hati released her cleansing flames upon the huts of the unfaithful and setting their souls aflame as Kad Ha'rangir reclaimed them from Arasuum's unholy grasp. Death would be slow and agonizing, and when we were done, we would leave their corpses hanging from the rafters for all to witness the merciful hand of our Lord. For their souls would join him in Manda, and there they would know his grace eternally.

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Like a silent dart thrown at it target, the 3 patrol crafts shot out of hyperspace. They were silently re-routed to the Hapes Cluster instead of their target from a priority override by Terra. Standing instead of sitting, Tros kept his hands upon the seat of the pilots chair as he watched to movement from space of the planet below. His own buy'ce kept his eyes from the sight of his vod, but he knew that they could just as easily feel him through the air. Everyone's presence seemed heightened through the sheer volume of them being on yet again another siege of sorts. Although their orders were pretty clear... Silence was to objective. Looking at the copilot, Tros gave a slight nod.

"Land outside the perimeter of any potential scanners of our target. This assignment is for us to be like shadow warriors. No one should see us."

Tros only then let go of holding onto the chair of the pilot's chair and walked back to address the crew who was with him onboard the patrol craft. In the loading area, Thae stood with the five men from Clan Sharratt. He turned around and looked at Tros, giving him a slight nod before putting on his own buy'ce. With that, Tros made sure to check his own weapons before the craft began to shake from it going through the atmosphere. It didn't take too long before the shuttle had landed, allowing for its nine occupants to disembark the craft. Likewise, the other two patrol ships also did the same. Each were quick to pull up their HUD's, and Tros gave out marching orders from there. Then, silently and quickly, the 27 Mandalorians began to move towards the target location. They all had standing orders to slit the throats of anyone who could potentially be a problem on their way towards the warehouse. This would be the quietest his warriors would be on this mission. Silent and hidden. 

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Mandalorians. Kain had not expected them. To be fair, he hadn't expected anyone. However, had he expected interference, he wouldn't have expected the Mandalorians. Regardless, it was too soon. He would have to push ahead his schedule, improvise a bit in the here and now, and escape with a minor victory. Part of him knew this was foreseen, the part that softly whispered to the rest of him, goading him on, calling him to greatness of a higher order.

Slowly, the doors to the warehouse swung open, inviting the interlopers in. How does one get under a Mandalorian's skin? Deny them what they crave. Give them no fight, give them no wall to crash through, give them no sandcastle to knock down. And once under the skin, it becomes easy to pull strings. To manipulate. To hit anyone where they are most vulnerable. This was the art Kain was especially practiced at, not just planning and manipulation, but knowing his enemies better than they knew themselves. It was how he was able to infiltrate so easily.

Inside the warehouse, they would find shelves upon shelves of server stacks, various tech on hallways of racks, power generators, and a large central area directly accessible from the main door. In it they would find nearly a hundred women and children, none of them armed. Behind the crowd sat Kain's current surrogate body, plugged into a large cybernetic hub, his processes busying themselves with various tasks inside the network he had integrated himself into.

Nothing was said. It was not yet the time for monologues. For now, Kain had moved his piece on the Dejarik board, and it was time for these brutes to move theirs.

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…Do you think slaughter brings me honor?

The needling pain of a god’s disapproval ran its way up her spine, clawing and scratching through her nervous system. Terra let out a retching gasp within the confines of her buy’ce as the pain shattered her will. She spasmed and gagged, her body-weight supported by HADES. The fires from Dar’Manda illuminated her own failures

Cassus Fett did me no honor in the genocide of the Cathar.

The voice was calm but filled with condemnation. The conviction wormed its way into her soul, burrowing deep and shattering the illusions of what she had made. Her mouth felt as sour as her belly as she spoke

“I have taken your proud people and turned them to nothing but thieves and raiders…”

The pain dug further into her gut, and she felt as though she was being stabbed over and over again with each heartbeat. She ripped the buy’ce from her head and spewed soured blood onto the fertile ground. Terra looked at her reflection in the polished helm, illuminated by the fires made from the innocent dead. The bronze circlet caught the light of the flames and washed it across her chimeric eyes.

…Make them mine.

With one last shuddering heave across her body, the voice left her with its commandment. Terra closed her eyes, wracked with the afterglow of a god’s touch. The pain subsided, but the condemnation did not. Opening her comlink, her gravely voice filled the Mandalorian’s encrypted channels. Her fingers caressed the crystalline totem that hung from her neck.

“Belay previous order.”

She placed a silver-laced flower upon her tongue and began to hum her own battlesong, her body beginning to writhe to the animalistic beat as she advanced. Her lithe form, dressed in armor as it was, twitched and moved erratically in the flexibility of her Echani race. As her pupils dilated, she danced towards the yawning doors of the warehouse. Her heartbeat matched the roars she heard in the dark as she slipped her buy’ce back upon her head. She greeted the familiarity with a primal howl

“We do not flee from fire or iron.”

She checked the action on her battlerifle

“We are the tasters of blood.”

Her tongue flicked across her blood-painted lips as she approached the entrance

“We are as mad as wolves and as strong as the Mythosaur

Her long hair hung down her back in a plait that whipped about as she danced

“The slaughter of the weak brings no honor to Kad Ha’rangir.”

Her flesh felt as though it was alight with holy fire. Her heart hammered in her ears in its primal beat. Her senses were filled with the gnawing anxiety of the deep forests. The eyes of the women and children, packed amongst the server-racks and technology, glittered on her HUD.

“We will test ourselves upon the strong and leave the weak in his hands.”

Terra opened her external comlink and let out a horrifying, beastly howl. She would restore the honor of her people but would not leave them to its weakness. To the women and children captured by Kain, an armored, howling, writhing beast was at the doors. If they stood against her, they would fall and be left to scavengers as dead flesh to reward entropy’s greed.

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Amidst the sensor blocking Transitory Mists, an astral predator stalked the void with violent intent. The Erdgeist disgorged a small surgical strike force, sixty stormtroopers aboard TIE Reapers, with six AT-PTs and a squadron of TIE strikers for support. Hapes would no doubt bristle at the intrusion into their airspace. Or maybe not... Intel said reports were coming in of Crusader raiding parties hitting isolated population centers, and the locals were starting to deep scan other anomalies on their sensors. Command thought it might be a distraction, or maybe the Crusaders were finding out that zeal was no substitute for disciplined execution of a plan. The holovids always portrayed over enthusiasm and independent thought on the battlefield as valuable traits, but more often than not they just got people killed and wrecked ops. Real soldiers knew that they were on the field to do a job, and that it was better to trust in the plan than try to out think common sense. 

Admittedly, it was something of a new mindset for Naitan, having only recently been reassigned to the Imperial Stormtrooper corps. He used to be a mudbelly for the Imperial army, a gearhead that maintained siege drones. Imperial Army philosophy was that victory was won by being the last ones standing on the hill, and the mudbellies believed that standing out was a sure ticket to hell. So they did their jobs, kept their heads down, tried not to be a hero, tried to be unworthy of Death's notice. It was all luck really, but the only way for the human mind to comprehend the utter indifference of a reaper riding down a trooper on an artillery shell was a litany of superstitions. Even the gods don't survive the trenches, but in their absence a hodge podge religion of circumstantial evidence and irrational tales that deluded people into thinking there was some way to shape your fate on the battlefield if you were clever enough. He left that world behind in what would probably become another gospel in the Holy Writ of ways to not die in the muck. When HVT-1 had begun his master plan, Naitan was in yet another mud hole with more time than work to occupy him, so he tried his hand at the code. Somehow, he cracked it before anyone else. The absurdity of it had his platoon in fits, all of the great minds of every power in the galaxy stumped, and it was a mudbelly that finally cracked it.

The Empire saw an opportunity for a PR boost, put him on the next shuttle out for transfer to the stormtrooper corps. He was going to be a hero whose face they could plaster on recruiting posters. The people he spoke to, he didn't know if they were Sith, they wore masks of white faces with completely neutral expressions. but somehow felt more like spooks than whatever it was that Sith felt like. Despite that, they spoke plainly to Naitan about what they had wanted from him, and seemed possessed of a form of razor sharp honesty that cut quickly and efficiently to the point. It was refreshing, too often people that weren't soldiers got caught up on stupid crap, entangled themselves in stupidity. Word was starting to get around that the higher ups wanted to reorganize the stormtrooper corps, bring about a new vision for it, and the blank faced spooks seemingly confirmed that, saying that even without his breaking HVT-1s code he would have been a candidate for transfer and of considerable value for the organization's new direction.

So here he was, clad in black armor surrounded by what might as well have been his in-laws after an unexpected wedding. He at least had a history of combat training and had seen actual fighting, but there was an unspoken distance in the air suggesting that command had told his squad to put his survival as a priority. Nobody liked babysitting on the battlefield. There was too much important stuff going on to keep one life breathing. Perspective needed to be spread out to keep an eye on everyone, focusing it on one person made everyone else vulnerable. Regardless of the facts, if anyone in Naitan's squad died today, it would be his fault.

The light went red and the ramp dropped. His squad fanned out with well oiled precision while he did his best to keep his head down. There had been a lot of jokes told over his time in the trenches about the uselessness of stormtrooper armor, but Naitan couldn't deny that compared to his metal carapace armor and trench coat he felt liberatingly unburdened by the plastic like material. Looking at his scanner, he called out to his squad what he was reading.

"Lots of bio readings inside, could be hostiles or hostages, energy readings largely suggest hostages, but there are some outliers that are unaccounted for."

The sergeant responded after a moment of conferring with command, "Command says to secure hostages with stun blasts if they get in the way, but we can't let some moron in panic mode compromise our mission. We do the job, we go home, everything else is a secondary concern."

The AT-PTs positioned themselves to suppress exits from the warehouse while the TIE strikers began flying CAP. The stormtroopers began the leapfrog process of penetrating the structure, silently hoping that there were no IEDs or other traps.

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As death and destruction ensued, I knew my place as harbinger. It was not my place to end their lives, but to place them upon the path to Kad Ha'rangir. If they survived, it was by his will and his will alone. Our place was simply as messengers, illuminating his word amidst holy flames. Placing my hand upon Hati's metallic form as her flames of crimson flew forth in bursts, I held no doubt in my duty, reassuring the ancient beast that we were but our Lord's guiding hands. And that was when I heard her voice echo through my helm.

"Belay the orders?" I questioned in silence, Hati reacting to my thighs as i squeezed them against the saddle for her to stop. "Wasnt that what i was doing? Leaving the weak in our Lord's hands while fleshing out the strong? Her words made no sense, our beloved Manda'lor."

"Ignore her words. Thin the herd Dar'Manda." I heard his voice speak as I felt his grasp through my protective pauldron. "Allow my flames to cleanse the souls of the weak so that they may join me in the afterlife and leave the strong to grow in their desire for revenge."

"But what of Manda'lor's orders? Isn't she your holy messenger, your voice among our people?" I questioned, feeling an uneasy presence drop upon my conciousness as I questioned both intents. "You chose her as your leader. That is why you chose me to retrieve the Helm ot Mandalore the First for her."

"Forget her for now. She is being influenced by outsiders, those whom wish to control my holy crusade as their own." The voice retorted, a raise in its tone echoing of rage and displeasure. "You are the one who I chose to be my hands. You are the one I chose to grant those of Arasuum salvation. You are my Dar'Manda, and you will obey."

"But she is Manda'lore. She is your voice, your eyes, your mortal form upon the Galaxy. I cannot ignore your will." I responded, my mind clouded and torn by what was being said, what was being told. "I cannot and will not disobey my Manda'lor, even if what you say is true. She is your chosen messiah."

"Enough!" The voice shouted, the echo of enraged spit flying through its lips as it spoke, my own anger beginning to boil as the confusing began to tear at me, causing me to wonder if it was even Kad Ha'rangir that I had been following all along. "You will do as commanded Dar'Manda!"

As I settled Hati just east of the village, nestling the beast among a grouping of trees, I dismounted her and told her to wait as I gazed off into the flaming distance, Terra's words echoing in my mind as well as those of the voice that I myself had been hearing and believing for so long. Who was I to truly trust? I was Dar'Manda, soulless, and only through this holy crusade could I find my place in the afterlife. But to be Mandalorian, to know the tenants, was to follow Manda'lor without question. I had trusted this voice to be Kad Ha'rangir, and it had proven its self to be true until now, as I doubted Kad Ha'rangir would forsake his chosen one.

Shaking the doubt from my mind, I knew of only one way to get to the bottom of this. If this being was truly was Kad Ha'rangir and what he said was true, then she would become as I, and he would claim her life through battle. But if he wasn't, she would survive and I would know my answer. Unsheathing my blades and disappearing into the darkened forest, I spoke but a lingering line as I went to join the others.

"Dar'Manda or not, i will not disobey my Manda'lore or her wishes. If you have a problem with this, then claim my soul."

Edited by Dar'Manda

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Ah, here came the Imperials. Misled, lost. An eventuality Kain had prepared for. As the Imperials began to take positions, legions of droid fighters exited the transitory mists near the Gallifrey system, swarming to intercept. Like a great necromancer of old, Kain gave a simple digital command, and buried battle droids of all make and model began to activate in a staggered fashion, rising from the nearby soil to engage the troops on the ground. Chaos was the goal here; disruption to establish a tactical foothold. These forces would hamper and harass, but in the end they would be scrap. All Kain needed, however, was an opportunity.

A directed message beamed directly to Terra's comm unit, the closest Mandalorian commanding field unit, words for her alone to hear:

"You come to me, hungry for battle. You seek a dead god, who brî͒͒̃ͭngs death and revels in pain̛ͦ͋͒͒̄̐. Oh yes, Mandalorian, I have heard of your conques͎͖̦̻̠̭t and so-called glory. We ma̡̝̯̗͇y serve the same master, but we are n̦͎̹̬ot allies. And yet, I offer thì̱̹̳͔͉̗s gift. If conflict is what͓̖͔͇̟̞̯ you desire, then conflict y͉̺͔̫̻̥ou shall have."

And from his seat, Kain surveyed all before him through various feeds, his networked senses providing ample information to detect what he needed to. All there was left to do was wait. The trap was laid, the pieces in place.

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Lix Tetrax touched down with the grace of a bantha sliding down a sand dune, that was to say, the landing was swift, heavy, and shook the ground with the impact. And from its dark back, the Mandalorian Crusader Rose dropped down to land behind before the threshold of the facility. Her hand came up and began to move in silence, a code that her AI knew well.

"Lix, give us overwatch."

As you wish mistress, sensors indicate a possible imperial strikeforce heading this way, they are not banking to engage our forces.

Her hands began to dance again in return, her shoulders also adjusting with each gesture to give emphasis.

Then the dance of blasters will commence after the kill. Lix give us firing vectors should we need them, and hold the doorway if a firefight erupts. We are not firing first, not until their intentions are clear. The AI comes first, and if the imperial remnant wants to boogey later we will give them that pleasure.

The AI inhabiting her metal angel gave its acknowledgement and the orange light of its optics looked back towards the sky as She bounded from her place to stand beside her Mandalore. This time speaking in soft rushed basic instead of communicating through the kinetic movements of the lorrdians. Though her hands did speak along as was often the case of those who spoke kinetic languages.

“Imperials Mand’alor. Though hostile intent is not known.”

She shouldered her T-21b with its viper attachment and her HUD picked up its reticle, superimposing it over the huddled masses within the facility.

Movement. Sky and Air. Trap. Tin soldiers commanded by the Void.

No Honour in fighting tin robots.

Rose let the air hiss past her teeth in a low whistle. “Lix informs of multiple non imperial contacts. Droid. Controlled by the Void.” She used the term ‘Void’, which the soldiers of Mandalore’s army had used to refer to the unknown KAIN. “Switching to IR overview and dropping cover.” She dropped into a crouch and scanned the entrance to the structure from within, looking for the hulking shapes of whatever the void had brought them to parlay with her viper attachment letting loose two smoke grenades which filled the entrance with dark black smoke that hung in the listless air. 

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Imperials.

Chimeric, dilated eyes narrowed. As the word slipped through her god-hazed mind, her painted lips were touched with a sardonic twist. Imperials, so consumed by efficiency and order. They did not embrace the chaos. They were godless in their efficacy, untouched by the entropy of the natural. They were unblessed by it. Dereliction holds the darkest spirits. The spirits of life.

…Do they not know? Do they not wish to dance under the moon, where drums are roaring and water whispers?

Terra’s body jerked rhythmically to the pounding heartbeat in her ears. Lix’s overwatch fed approaching Imperial troops into her HUD, but it went unnoticed. The unmatched eyes of Mandalore the Heartless were upon her prize. A great hulk of metal upon a throne of rust, surrounded by frightened children and old women. Honorless.

The words were as corrupted as it birthed sound into her mind. Her darkmetal teeth ground together with irritation as she danced closer, her mouth filling with the burning touch of sparks.

…You come to me, hungry for battle. You seek a dead god, who brî͒͒̃ͭngs death and revels in pain̛ͦ͋͒͒̄̐.

Her mouth formed the words of her own breathless battlesong, the band of bronze on her helm catching the light of the warehouse and scattering the runic carvings about the shelving and walls. It was as though the blessings of the gods were marked in flame around her.

…Oh yes, Mandalorian…

The corrupted beast spoke of her people so calmly, as if he had fought her kind before. Countless Mandalorians had fought and died in the conflicts of this galaxy, but this KAIN had never matched against a Crusader. Never a true servant of the God of the hanged. Never a wolfspeaker. Her breathing became faster. Her skin thrummed with the heat of war.  

…I have heard of your conques͎͖̦̻̠̭t and so-called glory. We ma̡̝̯̗͇y serve the same master, but we are n̦͎̹̬ot allies. And yet, I offer thì̱̹̳͔͉̗s gift. If conflict is what͓̖͔͇̟̞̯ you desire, then conflict y͉̺͔̫̻̥ou shall have…

Terra uttered no language. No word of response. Only a caustic, wordless, inhumane shriek cracked the air, causing the children and women to join in a chorus of horror. An entirely different voice crept from the small woman’s body, demonically cruel in its tone.

“Honorless. Pitiful coward… Enthroned within the innocence of children.”

 A small beam of light came from her shoulder, zeroing on the creature’s chest. It was a laser designator which would broadcast targeting data to all units in the field, Mandalorian and Imperial alike. With the targeting information would come her bounty-hunting credentials, as well as a hiring fee for all troops in the field. They were not mercenaries, but the battle looked grim for either side. It would be best for her people to fight the droid threat together. The Imperials would need the unexpected ally in the fight to come.

Terra laughed then, her voice still not her own. The laugh echoed across the warehouse. The battlerifle swept to a firing position as imperial breaching charges detonated.

“Match yourself against my bersærkergang if you can, KAIN.”

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The Darkness was a place of embrace, a void in which all were equal. Yet for those of my kind, it was the only life we knew. We could pretend to walk within the light among the others, feel the warmth of it upon our skin. But we always remained forever in our eternal darkness, unable to see what we felt, tasted, touched, or smelt. And that darkness is what we called home, for in that darkness, we could truly see. 

I held no need for a HUD within my helm, or sensors to alert me. No. I could see in ways very few could ever dream to envision, and very few things escaped my sight. This was why I was considered Dar'Manda, a soulless being incapable of redemption because i saw through what many of my ilk feared or disdained for thousands of millennia. I was touched by the Force. But this was also a gift, whether by the hand of Kad Ha'rangir or by fate, and I had long made my peace with it. After all, I once held the title that Terra now held. And now, I held promise of an afterlife by that very defining gift, the last of my Clan, a Dar'Manda with a soul. Unsheathing my blade, I knew what laid ahead.

Whether the Imperials needed my help or not, I stepped forward from the shadows that had bound me, a hunter of the void, a beast of the darkness, and my blades stood ready to not defend them, but join them in what they faced upon the ground. I was a Master of War, born and bred for that singular purpose, and in the here and now, it called to the soul that resonated within me like the drums of war signaling the beating of death. Beneath the moonlight that glimmered across the twin blades, I charged forth with a roar that echoed with the power that flowed through me since the day I was born. And as the first of many stood against me fell, the mixture of hydrolic fluid and oil spraying across my armored form, I signalled my aid to those I stood amidst. It was their choice to define me as friend or foe, only I wouldn't wait for their approval as I charged toward the next that stood to take the place of the first, each falling to my blades as the tempered beskar carved their metallic forms up like filets and sliced into their mimicking veins.

They were but fodder to their Master, and as such, I would treat them as so, all the while repeating the same rythmatic phrase. "For Manda'lor! For Kad Ha'rangir! For Dar'Manda!"

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Chaos erupted out of the ground in the form of scavenged battle droids repurposed by Kain for his schemes. There seemed to be little in the way of coordination or anything resembling a directed push towards an objective, which ran contrary to the profile on HVT-1, but maybe blocking communications galaxy wide had pushed him to the edge of his limits in terms of processing power. Up above, their air support was engaged in its own sortie against enemy fighters.

The initial confusion of the attack had claimed several casualties, but once the element of surprise was lost the stormtroopers were able to quickly reform behind cover and fire directed counter volleys. Naitan’s squad was not at all subtly keeping him off of the fire line, and rather than disrupt their formation he shouldered his rifle and drew his EC-17 while monitoring his scanner and calling out targets. Getting people killed over a tantrum about getting benched would prove nothing except that he didn’t belong.

The attack was further blunted by the arrival of a small force of Mandalorian mercenaries. Command hadn’t hired them, but they were likely Protectors desperately trying to salvage their reputation after the terror attack on Coruscant by a Mandalorian death cult. It seemed like his homeworld couldn’t make it through a year without some sort of terrorist attack or full scale battle.

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