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  1. Silence and stillness. That was the Jedi Grandmaster’s response. Her eyes darted from side to side, from the expressionless mask that the Dark Lord wore, to a sensor readout in the tactical pits of the bridge, to the burning surface of the moon in the distance… to one of the masked shocktroopers at her side. Even if the polished breastplate that the soldier wore hid the rise and fall of his breath, it could be seen in the rhythmic waver of the barrel of the carbine pressed against his shoulder. No, it wasn’t just rise and fall with respiration; the barrel was trembling. It wasn’t just the trembling of an adrenaline rush. Behind the expressionless helmet and opaque eyepieces was a mind just barely beyond the grasp of terror. And back to the void of space. Black Scarab, despite having been the focus of much of the ire of the Rebel Alliance, appeared to still be operational. Some twisted mind was directing most of the carnage against Nar Shaddaa, in imitation of one of the sadistic warlords that Draygo had slain some decades ago–only, she had succeeded in exsanguinating that creature before he could bombard Csilla. Now, she was many kilometers away, confronting the person who employed these butchers. Killing this child wouldn’t change anything–it wouldn’t save a single sapient, wouldn’t put an end to the butchery. It wouldn’t even be personally satisfying. It would barely even be exercise. Whatever its intentions were, Armiena decided that The Force had not placed her on this bridge with the intention of having her slaughter a few thousand more sapient beings. Even if there was still murder in Draygo’s hands, there was now a smile in her eyes–one that made the stormtrooper to her left tense, recognizing the expression of a woman that was about to do something unimaginably risky. Her fingers unclasped the hook of her belt. Before the heavy leather could slip from her waist, she tossed it forward, to slam at the deck before the Empress’ fleet. The metallic clang of the twin lightsabers crashed like the end of an epoch. One of the weapons, a hilt with a helical pattern carved around its circumference, popped free of its clip and rolled away. Bebop, who had somehow managed to roll several meters away without being detained, blurted out a disbelieving mechanical waaaaaat. Draygo just stared the Empress in the eye-slats and flashed the smile of a woman who suspected her imminent death. Her right hand was gripping the fold of her tunic, white-knuckled, in an attempt to stop the arm from shaking. “I place myself in your power, Empress. Fighting you will serve no purpose. If you being your withdrawal, I suspect you will find that the Rebel Alliance is in no position to further prosecute this battle.”
  2. ((@Darth Nyrys)) The ever-present stench of death lingered about the two Force-Sensitives, like a splitting headache inflicted by some unholy collaboration of dehydration and caffeine withdrawal. Draygo’s light-green eyes flashed about; there were a discouraging number of carbines, a couple of repeaters, and an uncountable number of sidearms displayed, some of which were pointed in the general direction of the Jedi Grandmaster. She shrugged twice, as though trying to banish the stiffness that came from cramming a too-tall frame into the too-small cockpit of a starfighter. The first shrug caused her cloak to slip from her shoulders and fall into a brown puddle around her feet. The second triggered the quick-release clasps on her pilot harness, which fell more decisively to reveal a suit of plastoid armor similar to the segmented cuirasses that the Imperial Knights favored. Her hand went to the lightsaber hilt on her right hip (a plastoid clack could be heard as four Sith marines dutifully shouldered their weapons) and her left foot moved in a circular motion that simultaneously kicked away the fallen gear and placed the Jedi in a ready-stance with most of her weight on her forward leg. It was an unusual stance for that stereotypically aggressive Grandmaster: it left her ready to spring backwards, to surrender ground--it was more typical of Soresu. At this point astromech droid at the side of the Jedi Grandmaster surveyed her and the Dark Lord cautiously, its optical sensor whirring between a focus on Draygo and her probable opponent. Whether it was due to an observation of the unconscious clenching of the Jedi’s jaw or a slight increase in her heartrate, Bebop apparently came to the conclusion that violence was almost certainly imminent. The droid very slowly rolled backwards, hoping that the minute whirring of its rollers wouldn’t be heard. “I spoke too poetically earlier, Empress.” The Jedi Grandmaster began. Even if her Force-presence crackled like a stormfront about to unleash its energy against a downwind mountain range, her voice remained even. “What I meant was that every battle we fight drags both our orders closer to their final destruction. You have a choice before you: withdraw your forces and begin negotiations to end this stupid war, or continue and be destroyed."
  3. She was young, perhaps even the same age as Aidan. That was Draygo’s first and horrifying impression of the Dark Lord. Her youth spoke of a being with profound potential in The Force, but… a peculiar resonance at one that was insecure, doubtful… or perhaps on the verge of fracturing. “For a proper sleep, in an actual bed. No, peace is not a restful state for a creature like me.” Armiena tried to smile, but the forced contortion of her lips only succeeded in causing the wrinkles and hair-thin scars on her face to twist and deepen. If those lines each told a story, then here stood the history of modern warfare. “Those people out there are going to need to accomplish something they think is impossible. Right now they’re trying to kill each other… maybe for ideals, maybe for grudges that they can’t abandon. They’re going to need to find a way to… maybe not forgive each other, but be willing to share a galaxy together.” A few seconds passed. In those few seconds, several hundred more sapients perished in the vacuum and several hundred thousand stared in awe at the contrails of a siege torpedo that would soon render them to dust. As hard but transparent as the canopy surrounding the bridge, it was all her discipline could accomplish to not rush towards decisive action. Instinct demanded that she ignite her blade, but The Force warned her that a single death would have little impact on the course of this battle, much less the years to come. “I actually fear them. It took only a few years for them to rise up, the last time that they were driven to hunt us to extermination. We are going to need to accomplish something impossible, and soon. Otherwise… they have been very patient with us. I have no idea for how much longer.”
  4. At the moment, however, Armiena Draygo was learning a lesson in the vital Jedi virtue of humility. Trapped in the cockpit of her disabled interceptor, the veteran Jedi was attempting to extract herself and to tune at the angry squawking of an astromech droid. The droid was truly irate about something–its shrill tones were audible even through the airtight seal of the canopy. “Look, I’m sorry about the caf. I was distracted–and I didn’t even ask you your name. That was rude of me. Bebop? Why are you named after…” The rapid, wandering staccato of the droid’s aggravated whistling suggested that there was an embarrassing story behind the droid’s callsign. The Jedi Grandmaster was just answering the droid’s trilling on verbal autopilot, focusing more on trying to escape from the grounded starfighter. The manual release by her left elbow failed to elicit a response–a prodding of the explosive ejection bolts through The Force elicited nothing but a misfire, a shower of sparks, and a yelp of surprise from both the droid and Jedi. A glance to the side revealed a squad of twenty chrome-plated Sith marines. Unusually for a defending unit, a heavy weapons team with a bulky E-Web or similar crewed weapon was not among them–none of them even shouldered their weapons as they approached and fanned to enclose the starfighter in a semicircle. Rather, they held position in a tidy “patrol carry” position, their carbines safely angled towards the deck of the hangar. Their posture was clearly tense… but clearly not yet planning to open fire. Looking at the reflection of the R9 droid in the canopy, Draygo thought she saw the maroon astromech unit cock its head in confusion. It was a… curious response to a probable sabotage mission by a Jedi. Armiena settled on a more manual approach to extracting herself. She simply ignited her lightsaber and swept the bronze blade in a circular arc through the canopy. The starfighter was already leaning heavily on one wing and the canopy fell to the deck with an armored crash. Lightsaber doused and returned to its belt loop, the Grandmaster followed shortly afterwards. The Jedi was still collecting herself from an awkward slide down the side of the starfighter when the leader of that squad approached, weapon still at a low carry. “Grandmaster Draygo,” came the filtered voice. “The Empress has instructed us to escort you to the bridge.” Pleasantly befuddled, Armiena just nodded and waved vaguely in the direction of the Lady’s bow. An overly-reasonable lilt entered her voice as she stared past the opaque visor of the marine sergeant. “Of course. You should lead the way.” “...We’ll lead the way.” ____ Draygo followed the twin column of marines to the bridge of Fair Lady, the R9 astromech wheeling just behind her left shoulder. She held her fingers clasped in front of her waist, eyes distant, and her attention… clearly not entirely fixed on the immediate present. The Jedi and Sith were clearly approaching a moment of shattering, a turning of destination… and yet The Force had given her no clear indication of what, where, and when that moment would take place. For this moment, all that the Jedi Grandmaster knew was that she was approaching a being of profound potential in The Force. That moment was fast approaching. Hopefully she wouldn’t leave her departed friends disappointed in her conduct. The cadence of her step slowed upon a final turn towards the bridge. She closed her eyes and breathed slowly, exhaling her awareness into the walls of the command center until it left a texture in the walls that was almost palpable… not entirely unlike coarsely-grained sandpaper. The command center, like that of any warship in battle, was a location of tense focus. Slightly more crowded by the addition of a flag staff, it was abuzz with frantically coordinated activity in its tactical pits–officers were tersely calling out maneuvering vector commands to starfighter squadrons, target designations to the local batteries and those throughout the fleet. The Empress herself, however, was waiting, a gravity well around which the entire battle revolved around. “I appreciate you not wasting unnecessary lives in ordering your soldiers to attack me, Empress.” The veteran’s voice was tense and her presence fraught with a complicated mixture of emotions. Draygo stopped several meters away from the Empress and offered a bare modicum of a bow, her pale-green eyes intensely fixed on the younger woman’s form.
  5. Closer and closer with every revolution, the Fair Lady of Iziz loomed in the canopy of Draygo’s interceptor as it drifted towards the Star Destroyer. The running lights of the ship and glow of turbolasers resolved into the unmistakable bifurcated hull of that Sith warship, until individual batteries and viewports and hangars could be identified. Not that the Jedi Grandmaster was gawking at the Harrower-class Star Destroyer; with considerable difficulty, Armiena had managed to extricate herself from the pilot’s seat and was laying on her stomach inside, neck craned up to get a closer look at the control panels. Her armor pressed painfully into her collarbone, and her feet were tangled up in the nest of tubing and inertial sensors that rested just behind the pilot’s seat. Half-blind from the sparks issuing from the exposed tubing, her hands worked feverishly in an attempt to hotwire the starfighter into some form of functionality. It was not going well. The whistling of air had yet to dissipate: that was a good sign, as that indicated a slow leak that was of no immediate threat. And yet, there was a niggling warning in some isolated corner of her mind, a disturbing indication that something was about to go horribly wrong… Pushing herself away from the tangled nest of fibers, circuitry, and capacitors, Armiena eventually managed to right herself into something of a seating position. She glanced forward at the next completed revolution… …And it appeared that she and that enormous vessel were on a collision course, not unlike a sangfly smacking against the windshield of an airspeeder. Draygo sighed, closed her eyes, and let her Force-enhanced senses drift towards the Star Destroyer, and began to search for a cluster of lifeforms that might indicate the command center of the vessel. But that proved to be unnecessary. The vessel made a minute course correction, only a few degrees to one side to evade the forte of a turbolaser barrage from the Rebel Alliance. The immediate danger was evaded. Now the interceptor began to drift alongside the lateral trench on the port side of the enormous vessel, so close that Armiena could make out the barrels of individual batteries. The canopy of the starfighter glowed with alternating green and red hues as turbolaser volleys were received and answered. None of the point-defense weapons that guarded this vulnerable sector didn’t seem to have detected the unpowered, drifting starfighter, as none of them were tracking her movement. The interceptor was now approaching the bulbous protrusion of a tractor beam emplacement… That would be her best opportunity to return to the fight. Draygo drove her senses into the confinement of that crewed emplacement and searched for a particularly alert individual. Perhaps that sapient would be an officer, or mere a diligent member of the Lady’s crew that was hungry for a means to contribute meaningfully to this climactic battle of climactic battles. Anything, even rushing to a site that needed firefighters or medevacs, would have been better than standing and waiting for targets to be designated by fire control from the bridge… Armiena satisfied that anxious sapient’s drive. Single target, her mind admonished that sapient. Drifting, probable starfighter. To which that sapient’s mind ran through their standard operating procedures and alerted their crewmates. That target would mean an unpowered vessel, possibly with a medical casualty–or a live prisoner, who would be even more valuable. The hull of the interceptor gave a creaking whine as a tractor beam gripped it and began to draw it into one of the smaller docking bays of the Fair Lady. Judging from the size–as well as the lack of parked starfighters–this almost certainly wouldn’t be the enormous central hangar that tended to dominate the ventral surface of most Star Destroyers, with the myriad starfighters and walkers and fuel tanks and various opportunities for explosive mischief that that sector would provide. It might have been an officer’s shuttle bay, or perhaps even a seldom-used quarantine bay reserved for medical emergencies. In any case, the Jedi Grandmaster’s interceptor soon settled on the deck of that hangar in an agonizingly slow crash landing, slamming down on the deckplates without functional landing gear. Draygo sighed and reached for the manual override for the canopy jettison. Even if The Force had provided the Grandmaster with a destination, it had not provided her with any objectives now that she had reached it…
  6. There was a shrill, cold, quivering undertone in The Force. For the moment, the veteran Jedi was forced to ignore it even as it sidled just behind her ear, like the glass-cracking shriek of a miscalibrated repulsorlift; as she wove between turbolaser blasts so closely that the interceptor’s shields triggered and she took every opportune moment to make a deflection shot on the siege torpedoes, there was no time to allow herself to be distracted. There was just the revving thrum of her engines and the splash-hiss of her ion cannons; the whine as failing rocket engines careened away in unpredictable directions; the steady trickle of terabytes of data that bombarded her sensors. Each missile that she disabled might result in millions saved, but it wasn’t enough. Another countermaneuver was countered by yet another escalation by the Sith, and even a Jedi Ace couldn’t possibly keep up with the obscene expenditure of arms deployed against Nar Shaddaa. Unless… and Armiena grinned at the thought of this counter… she resorted to something unbelievably stupid and potentially suicidal. But, if she pulled it off and survived the attempt… The explosion alone would be something that no one, not even the lingering Sith reinforcements or the embattled Rebel Alliance could possibly ignore. Now, as the Jedi Grandmaster’s flight ascended towards the Victory-class Star Destroyers bombarding the moon, a pause could be discerned in the disabling shots against the siege torpedoes. Draygo reached out and probed the weapons with a momentary glance from The Force, searching for that quivering ball of mass and energy that was waiting for the necessary impetus to detonate. Hidden in a nest of superconducting fiber that defied any attempts at comprehension, she found that baradium core and the over-engineered detonators. As expected, the primary trigger was a bullet of ultra-dense metal that trembled with radioactivity. That mechanism was simple enough. Triggering it was going to require closing the distance and a second of level flight--not exactly conducive to survival. Armiena’s grin grew wider. This was stupid--and more importantly, impossible--and yet it was what The Force required. Dark Fire raced along the gray surface of the Star Destroyer, tracked desperately by the Star Destroyer’s close-range defenses and a wing-pair of interceptors. A juke to port threw off her pursuers; they were clearly anticipating a strafing run on the bridge. Rather, the troublesome Jedi fighter scrambled along the lateral trenches and sprinted towards one of the ventral torpedo launchers, where a siege torpedo had just been loaded into the tube and would be launching any moment. For just a moment, Armiena released her grip from the controls of her interceptor and stared into the expanding barrel. Those controls weren’t going to matter in a couple of seconds… A halo of light flared around the edges of the tube. Yet another city-killing missile was launched from the barrel. Armiena formed a fist in The Force and punched its radioactive detonator straight back into the baradium core of the warhead. Lacking atmosphere, mass, or much of any medium for the warhead to transfer its energy into, the weapon translated most of its power directly into various forms of radiation and electromagnetic activity: some of that was visible in the form of a white-hot flare of light that could have been seen from Nal Hutta, but just as much became higher-energy wavelengths that played havoc with unprotected electronics and fried unprotected flesh. As for the electromagnetic pulse, the Victory-class Star Destroyer and its peers were practically point-blank range to the missile. As was Armiena’s starfighter. The Jedi Grandmaster jerked back as her sensors were shuttered as though a black bag had been placed over her head--the engines died and the interceptor began to drift, gently spinning to port. The interior was utterly dark and silent, lacking any sign of activity save for the presence of a single sapient life-form. Nor was it utterly silent, as a faint whistling issued from a hairline crack in the canopy of the cockpit. That was an air leak, most likely from a missile fragment that smashed against the transparisteel without breaching it. Armiena glanced downward at her life-support harness. It was also dark. That meant there would be no personal magcon field, no portable air supply. And now her eyes darted back upwards the canopy. Lacking any sort of guidance equipment or any source of propulsion, it was impossible to determine where exactly the drifting interceptor was heading. Draygo smashed open a panel below the control boards and pulled out a nest of dead wires. She glanced up every few seconds as the starfighter completed a revolution to try and discern where her course might lay. A few revolutions. Yes, the interceptor was definitely drifting back into the fight. Another revolution. Yes, it was probably drifting towards one of the Sith capital ships. Another revolution. That capital ship was one of the newer, bifurcated hulls. A Harrower-class, if she remembered its silhouette properly. Another revolution. And that was probably the Fair Lady of Iziz.
  7. As Armiena’s interceptor rushed from the nerve-center of the Rebel Alliance and towards the roiling storm of capital ships and starfighters in Nar Shaddaa’s orbit, an alarmed shout, barely restrained by military training issued from her comms panel. “Siege torpedoes inbound. Scans indicate nuclear payload.” The Jedi Grandmaster’s hand gave a reflective twitch that guided her starfighter towards the barrage and her lungs gave a disgusted gasp. Old-fashioned fission warheads. Those were slow, clumsy weapons, requiring pre-planned flight paths. Some of the larger ones couldn’t even take evasive maneuvers. They were pathetically obsolete tech, only possessed moderate yield, and hideously expensive compared to modern turbolasers. Their only virtues lay in their immense potential to lay waste to vast swathes of unreinforced cityspace and to poison entire generations of innocent sapients with radioactive dust. In short, they were a perfect weapon for a depraved fanatic who had given themselves over to living out their most twisted fantasies. For the Jedi Grandmaster, fissiles weren’t even an element in her worst nightmares, let alone an entry in her well-stocked arsenal of weapons and less seemingly tools. As Armiena’s interceptor raced towards the descending missiles, the veteran Jedi thought quickly, drawing upon some long-ingrained working knowledge of explosives and how the internals of those weapons would probably function. A siege torpedo fired from a capital ship would be an enormous, complicated weapon; it would be at least the size of a starfighter. It would be an easy, nonmaneuvering target for any starfighter pilot. The warhead would likely have some kind of multistage detonator, both to trigger the fission payload and to provide some safety mechanism against malfunction--to avoid unplanned detonation due to battle damage as well as freak accident while in the launch tubes. Any number of things might trigger a self-destruct of the rocket or defuse the warhead: failure of guidance systems, rocket motor malfunction, failure of the detonators… it wouldn’t do to have an intact fission warhead bury itself into hostile territory--or worse, detonate above the wrong continent or over the heads of allied soldiers. “Red and Black,” Armiena muttered into her helmet’s comms. She gave her interceptor’s joystick a minute twitch, correcting her course to intercept the largest concentration of the weapons. “I need a scramble of ion-equipped starfighters, anything you’ve got. You have my permission to raid the Order’s hangars. Vector will be…” she rattled off a string of digits, a course setting that would lead them to the missile barrage. “Full burn, no shields. They will not have opposition.” As the Jedi Ace interceptor raced towards the cloud of missiles, icons and vectors began to populate the heads-up display projected before Armiena’s eyes, arches that gradually closed to indicate range. It was an enormous amount of information, overwhelming to a novice pilot--but the Jedi Grandmaster was plenty experienced… and besides, she wasn’t even looking at the iconography. “Darex, Ara… Aryian,” Her fingers played a nervous, pattering tremolo on the joystick. “If you guys are watching this, I could really use a hand right about now…” And then Armiena took a long, steadying breath and observed the world outside her cockpit with half-lidded eyes. A different hand guided the controls of her interceptor: there was no art or relish in the backbone-crushing, high-gee maneuvers; no viciousness or daring or even caution that would have indicated a human pilot; there was only mathematical precision, efficiency so exquisite and weapons accuracy so pristine that its pilot might have been confused for a droid. Ion fire blasted from the Jedi interceptor, the Dark Fire, playing upon missile after missile and causing the payloads to drop from the sky as useless space junk. One: direct hit on the warhead. Two and three: more warhead hits. Inhale. Four, five, and six: hits to the engine quadrants that caused the projectiles to spiral out of control. Exhale. Seven and eight: warhead hits. Nine through eighteen: the ion mine released into the missiles finally detonated, rendering several of the missiles into inert scrap and two more into wildly-maneuvering hazards that chased their own engine quadrants. Inhale. Draygo was barely even aware of her flesh-and-blood body, could barely even see from the successive gray-outs and red-outs that the punishing maneuvers of her interceptor inflicted on the eyes of its pilot. Whether something had been diverted to assist or thwart her was irrelevant for the moment--the Jedi Grandmaster didn’t even pay mind to the fact that a menagerie of seventeen mismatched ships had been diverted to assist her. They were an eclectic lot of fighters, ranging from a pair of long-obsolete Y-Wings to a fighter trio of ultramodern Jedi Ace interceptors manned by young Jedi Knights. But even as Dark Fire--no, Draygo--reaped dozens of kills upon the siege torpedos, her conscious mind knew that this was not going to be sufficient. Those capital ships would have hundreds of launch tubes. It was mathematical. One fighter, even eighteen, would never be able to neutralize them all. Not unless the Jedi Grandmaster did something really, really stupid.
  8. ((For @MSA)) “He seemed less distracted when we last met, more focused. Growing up did a lot of good for him, better than I…” Armiena’s sentence trailed off. Confessing her initial fears regarding the disappearance of her Padawan in the middle of his training seemed far too personal a subject for a Jedi that she barely knew. “Better than I managed when I was his age, for certain. He’s safer than we are. Although, if we aren’t able to slow the Sith here on Nar Shaddaa, he will soon have just as many troubles as us.” Just behind the younger Jedi Knight, the sublight engines of Draygo’s interceptor whined to life and a jet of superheated plasma flared towards the armored wall of the hangar, The jet quickly receded, leaving a red-hot glow that emanated from the starfighter’s engines. One of the yellow-clad deckhands knelt under its wing, pointing towards the opened doors of the hangar and rotating one hand forward in approximation of a wheel. As the starfighter inched forwards, there was a shout from the cockpit: “She’s ready for you, Grandmaster!” Draygo paused in her next breath. Something seemed to set within her, an almost-imperceptible stiffening of her shoulders and an unseen compartmentalization of happier memories. “We’ll speak again later, assuming we’re both still alive at the end of the day. But I need you to understand: this battle is going to be… horrible. Urban warfare is always terrible. My objective is to ensure that the Rebel Alliance is able to keep the attention of the Sith Empire fixed on this moon for as long as possible. The Alliance must survive this initial assault. We may be stuck here for a long time.”
  9. ((For @MSA)) “For my part: Aidan, twenty-three years and eleven months; stuffed thranta; and… I think he’s a little more like his father. And a Dantooinian plains flu. Thank The Force for grandparents.” For a instant, Armiena smiled–an actual smile, untouched by the grimness of war and the distant tremors of sapients dying thousands of kilometers above them. Then the cranium-piercing whine of repulsorlifts being tested caused her to wince and her facial scars to twist and wrinkle. “The things that we do for love.” “For my part: Aidan, twenty-years old and eleven months; stuffed thranta; and… I think he takes after his father a bit more than me. And a Dantooinian plans flu. Thank the Force for grandparents.” For an instant, Armiena smiled–an actual smile, untouched by the trauma of war and the distant tremors of sapients dying thousands of kilometers above them. Then the cranium-piercing whine of repulsorlifts being being brought online caused her wince and her facial scars to twist into a grotesque spiderweb of lines. “The things that we do for love.” “I’ve no information of your activities until now, but I can tell you that this is a matter of survival, the best chance that this galaxy has at a government that doesn’t treat its people like things. If Kakuto Ryu were to walk through those doors there and offer his assistance… I’d at least point him towards the front.” The veteran Jedi placed the lukewarm cup of caf on her starfighter’s wing and squinted towards the unfamiliar Force-Sensitive. There was a familiar stain that was lingering about his presence… “You were near my old Padawan not too long ago, weren’t you? Genesis Stormhelm?”
  10. ((For @MSA)) A tanned hand gently laid on Armiena’s shoulder, who started awake and pushed herself away from the wall of the freight turbolift. “Janen. Oh, shavit. How long have I been asleep?” At that moment, Draygo’s mind as proverbially bloodshot as her eyes from several long days of plumbing through diagrams of Nar Shaddaa’s subcellar and then reconnoitering those same tunnels, had been dreaming about sleeping. She had been dreaming of a deliriously happy night--before she had accepted the rank of Grandmaster decades ago--and about specifically the silk sheets and feather-down pillows of a bed that she’d known on Naboo. It had been a very pleasant fantasy, but cold reality had just throttled her awake with a bracing sensation that rent the fabric of The Force and impelled instinct to stand at attention like noticing a spiderweb crack in a starfighter canopy. “About two minutes.” The Miraluka offered a cup of insta-caf with one hand, and the miniature life-support unit of a starfighter pilot’s flight suit. “Our newcomer did not immediately turn to violence. However, after being cleared by the Imperials, he sat himself in a logistically critical sector of headquarters. I believe he’s engaging some form of battle meditation.” “My hero.” Armiena growled through a dry throat and winced at the bitter taste of lukewarm caf. “I will need to meet him." ____ Draygo shrugged awkwardly in an attempt to get a better fit on the miniature life-support unit. Unfortunately, the Imperial Knight armor that the Jedi Grandmaster had borrowed clearly had not been designed with pilots in mind, and the bulky straps steadfastly refused to settle on her shoulders and continued to slip over the plastoid. Her Miraluka aide finally settled for overtightening the straps, pulling on the hoists with both hands and pushing on the Grandmaster’s back with one foot. “Tighter, Janen. You’re not going to hurt me. There.” The pack finally slid home and stayed pressed against her breastbone. Armiena gave the harness a test shrug; it was significantly restricting the range of motion of her shoulders… but at least it fit. Now moving at a slow jog towards the headquarters’ landing pads, Armiena caught sight of the returned Jedi Knight–something about the unorthodox robes seemed familiar, of a similar cut but an unlike pattern to the austere Jedi cloak, but the veteran Jedi couldn’t quite place the man. As for Armiena, the veteran Jedi knew that she must have been a foreboding presence, staring intensely at the young Jedi, clad in unadorned gray plate and both lightsabers fastened to her hips. The warlike presence was only detracted from by the paper cup in one hand. She clasped a gauntleted hand on Armegedon’s shoulder. “On me, Jedi.” Draygo led Armegedon towards the landing pad that housed her battered, boxy, Barloz-class Medium Freighter. A pair of deckhands were towing her Jedi Ace starfighter out of its cargo hold, with a third rushing through its preflight checklists. Armiena spoke loudly to make herself heard over the whine of the warming sublight engines. “You’re going to have to forgive the paranoia, but the last time that I was treated to the surprise of a supposedly long-lost Force-Sensitive on the threshold of a major engagement went… badly. Answer as truthfully as you are able.” About as subtle as a forging hammer, Draygo’s awareness surrounded Armegedon and she single-mindedly monitored the younger Jedi for any hesitation, any sign of fabricating a story or an evasion. Her pale-green eyes bored into Armegedon’s. “I understand that you’re a father. Congratulations. I need to ask…” The questions came rapid-fire, the veteran Jedi only allowing Armegedon about half a second to respond to each. He would need to answer on instinct. “What are their names? Age? Sex? Their favorite toy? Age at first steps? First spoken word? Did they favor you or their mother? What was their first illness?”
  11. Draygo’s world was now an abyss of sound, wind, and a cone of light from her speeder bike’s floodlights. The latter was not even of much use, as it only illuminated a scant hundred meters directly in front of the flight of the fragile little vehicle’s nose–its sensors, on the other hand, blasted the tunnels with a variety of ultrasonic frequencies, infrared and ultraviolet beams, and a number of other detection beams, electronically mapping the tunnels so clearly that the veteran Jedi might as well never glance from the instrumentation. It was the loose bits that were a serious concern; cables and other fibers that were dangling from the arched ceiling that threatened to rip a gash through her forehead. “Picked up our people,” buzzed the comlink in Draygo’s ear. Her Imperial counterparts had long since raced ahead in search of the missing pair of Imperial scouts. The Jedi Grandmaster, warily watching the glimmering reflections that were now dotting the tunnel walls with alarming frequency, allowed her attention to drift from her command of the bike’s controls and onto the tunnel walls. Those glimmers were alive. More importantly, they were all very conscious of the presence of the three humanoids and were watching them with the knife-blade focus of a predator. “And I see who caught them. Watch the walls. Lifesigns from our guys?” “From one. Oh, shavit, shavit! Rounding back to you!” The darkness filled with a confused tumble of darting floodlights and a piercing shriek of abused repulsorlift engines echoing across the curved walls of the tunnels. An entire cloud of those glimmers were converging on the Imperial scouts. Draygo wrenched back against the yokes of the speeder bike in an attempt to bring its blaster cannon to bare against the reflections on the ceiling of the tunnel–she immediately gained altitude and nearly collided with the ceiling. In that instant, Armiena made a reckless calculation: the pack, or swarm, or hive of these creatures was doing much more than attacking Imperial scout troopers, it was blocking one of the evacuation routes, and one that would be used to relocate hundreds of soldiers from the Red and Black. It needed to be secured. “On me, dismounting.” There was just a hint of hesitation from the two Imperial scouts. “Copy.” Bringing the speeder to a rapid halt, the veteran Jedi drew her lightsaber blade and held the bronze blade aloft towards the glimmers that were beginning to scurry down the walls towards her. Armiena got her first good look at one of the creatures: it was a many-legged (at least six, perhaps nine) amalgamation of mirror-like eyes and keratinized claws. There were nearly twenty rushing towards her position, and perhaps more that had been disturbed from their nest by the screams of the Imperial speeder bikes. It was, in summary, a scene from the worst nightmares of a much younger Armiena Draygo. That younger woman would have probably panicked, frozen, and perhaps even fled while screaming curses. Today, the Jedi Grandmaster only nearly panicked, ran towards the danger, and only let loose a single invective. One of the arachnoids dropped towards her from the arched ceiling. Resisting the opening to slice through its underside, Armiena merely sidestepped the creature and felt its wind as it fell in a many-legged heap. Instead, she ran directly up one of the arched wall, clearly surprising one of the creatures and ending its life with a quick upwards slash of the tip of her blade. At that moment, both Imperial scouts had arrived with a strafing run, illuminating the man-made cavern with splashes of crimson that felled several of the arachnoids. The two soldiers dismounted and trained their carbines on the swarm descending from the ceiling, trusting the Jedi to protect them from any of the creatures getting too close. The veteran Jedi had just spent her momentum sprinting up the wall and pushed away, setting her body into a slow flip that would cause her to land upright on the permacrete of the tunnel. She threw her lightsaber towards the opposite wall as she descended, spearing another arachnoid with the bronze blade as it descended. Armiena ignored the weapon as it bounced and rolled to a stop, instead igniting her emerald to decapitate a second arachnoid upon landing. There was no room for acrobatics once the swarm descended; the engagement devolved into a chaotic melee, with Armiena slashing through grasping claws and darting forward when an opening allowed an advance towards the missing scouts. Both Imperial scouts barely said anything more than monosyllabic words as they shot down beast after nightmarish beast, merely barking left, or right side, or on your six, or reloading when especially pressed. The emerald blade sputtered and smoked, hissing through chitin and evaporating haemolymph as the many-limbed creatures tried in vain to subdue prey whose weapons they could not comprehend. What they could comprehend, however, was that many of their hive were dying--that the scent of their blood was filling the air and their ultrasonic shrieks were echoing off the walls. Whether by reason or hormonal cue, the mass of arachnoids soon broke and fled into the darkness, far beyond where the scouting party had gone missing. After collecting their wits and their weapons, the three pressed on. Soon, the scouts’ floodlamps fell upon the armored form of the survivor of the scouting party before them. “Alive; pulse is slow and strong. It’s like he’s anesthetized.” Armiena wasn’t quite listening to the observations of the Imperial Scout. There was another cluster of life nearby: nonsapient, unintelligent, but teeming with such frantic activity that it was impossible to miss its presence. The veteran Jedi snatched a chemical flare from one of her compatriots and trudged forward. The permacrete walls of the tunnels soon gave way to a waxy, thin material reminiscent of paper-mache. It was probably an excretion of the arachnoids. Armiena lifted her lightsaber and touched one of the walls; it was sticky to the touch, almost unctuous. Something slender and many-legged, like a larval version of the creatures that had attacked her earlier, skittered towards her finger as it withdrew. Draygo sniffed and blanched; the unmistakable, sickly scent of decaying flesh was strong in the air. And then she glanced up at the ceiling. Drooping from the waxy ceiling of the tunnel, swaying threateningly like ripe fruits from an overburdened tree, were scores of paper-white, chitinous eggs that were illuminated green by the glow of her lightsaber. Each was barely larger than her finger, but they hung delicately in self-adhering branches. As she watched, one of those pods split and a piece of egg cracked against the ground, and a larval something skittered into the ceiling. This place was a hive, a nesting ground, and a lair for those creatures, and the Jedi Grandmaster possessed just enough imagination to work out what had probably happened to the last missing Imperial Scout. That thought awoke something primal and adolescent within Armiena; something that lacked any form of discipline and wanted to run away screaming various negatories. The remaining portion of her mind that remained useful thought this was an entirely sensible plan. Draygo ignited the chemical flare and touched it towards one of the waxy, paper-like walls. As it happened, this surface burned very nicely--it immediately smoked and soon ignited, the flames crawling upwards almost as quickly as the creatures that made this place their home. _____ Some time later, Armiena and the three Imperial scouts finally returned to the freight elevator under the Red and Black. Clammy from sweat and shaky from having a phobia awoken, the Jedi Grandmaster slowly dismounted her speeder bike and reported her findings to a Colonel overseeing the redeployment of Rebel troopers. The last route into the city starports finally secured--or at least its most dangerous obstacles reduced to ashes--the evacuation could finally begin at full speed. And now, there seemed to be some sort of commotion ensuing on the surface, something concerning one of the Jedi. Already weary from the flight and fight, the veteran Jedi leaned heavily against one wall of the turbolift and closed her eyes until she felt the turbolift jolt to a stop. Or until someone woke her up. Whichever came first.
  12. ((For @Sandy Sarnaand @Aidan Darkfire)) At last, Aidan understood. Perhaps her grandson didn’t quite accept the undeniable truth of her mortality, but the young man finally stopped evading the facts and confronted them outright. In truth, Misal’s condition had been terminal for a very long time–before Aidan had even reached adulthood–and was the result of poorly-healed wounds, resurgent cancers, and time. That was an injury that no medicine or healer had the capacity to treat. When the freight turbolifts to the ground level of the Red and Black finally opened, the sliding doors disgorged a platoon of marines and a small speeder so overloaded with missile launchers and other heavy weapons that it rode notably lower to the ground than typical. Misal let out a low sigh and allowed herself to be led to the side to allow their passage; her Force-presence diminished, the weight of her being in The Force stilled to the point that she was lost in the urgency of soldiers preparing for battle. Even her appearance–and the Miraluka were uncommon enough that their presence was only unremarkable among the Jedi–seemed drab and plain. She seemed to be a blind woman dressed in a practical cloak, not worth noting in comparison to the Jedi Master and Imperial Knight. After the throng had passed and the three were able to make their ascent into the Rebel Headquarters, Misal finally let down her guard and released her grip over her own Force-presence. The Miraluka was more than exhausted; she was weary, the kind of oppressive fatigue that would render her utterly ineffective. This time, she accepted the buoy of the two younger Force-sensitives with gratitude. “I believe that the technical term for my condition, one that your healers steadfastly refuse to use, is that I’m dying. I prefer to think of it as epilogue. A conclusion to this story, and with some luck a satisfactory one. “I love you, Aidan. Please don’t concern yourself overly with my condition. As for… yes, I will need some rest, to meet the coming days.” The Miraluka adjusted her to meet the jolt of the tubrolift’s brakes, and the three were greeted with the same sight that they had met in the tunnels: more sapients, more ammunition. Some of those beings were evacuating the base for other fronts, but many of them were redeploying across the moon.
  13. Now many kilometers away, Armiena Draygo screamed through the underground tunnels on wings of steel. The motion-sensing spotlights had long since faded and the tunnels had been bathed in almost complete darkness; now, the Jedi Grandmaster navigated purely on sensor data, scant reflections from the speeder bike’s searchlights, Force-enabled instincts and desperation. At a velocity of hundreds of kilometers per hour, the wind against her unarmored neck rasped like sandpaper and hammered at the Imperial breastplate; her unprotected eyes streamed with tears and she squinted half-lidded through the darkness. Draygo was continually bombarded by a riot of sound: the wind, the scream of the bike’s engines. But it was a good pain. The flight took on an almost meditative quality, as Draygo was able to focus solely on the harrowing task of not plowing the speeder bike into the duracrete walls. It gave her an opportunity on the simple task of rescuing two missing scout troopers–and hopefully clearing the evacuation route that they were supposed to have reconnoitered, one of many that would allow for the evacuation of thousands of military personnel. The imminent threat of collision drove some of her focus away from looming threat of Sith invasion… and the fact that her tactical decisions were almost certainly going to result in the deaths of many thousands of sapients. Many of them would be innocent civilians who were going to get trapped in brutal urban warfare. It was a cold calculation that the Jedi Grandmaster had made: to trade an incomplete evacuation and a bloody, decisive massacre of support personnel for an incomplete evacuation and a bloody, grinding battle of attrition across Nar Shaddaa’s unnavigable cityscape. But it was impossible to calculate which would be worse, impossible to determine the value of a sapient life, impossible to keep score. To even attempt to decide which lives were more valuable--which fate was more horrible--was an exercise in madness. In reality, of course, it was impossible to not dwell on the inevitable slaughter, even traveling at speed that would cause a collision to render her to a heap of twisted metal and boney salsa. One of the two scout troopers slammed on his airbrakes and allowed the Jedi to catch up. Despite being within an arm’s reach, the white-clad trooper needed to shout to make himself heard over the echoes of the engines. “Grandmaster! Everything alright back there! You’re falling back a bit!” Armiena forced a grin and returned the shout in a mocking tone. “So it can go faster!” A hard shove against the footrests engaged the speeder’s afterburner, causing the suicidally-light vehicle to blast forward at such an energy that Draygo might as well have been accelerating from a standstill. At this speed, searchlights were useless–even the high-beams were only affording her about half a second of visibility. Something slashed a tear in her left sleeve; the Jedi Grandmaster steadfastly ignored it and just sank deeper into her trance within The Force, preferring to ignore the pain of dust blowing into her eyes, the wind blasting against her unprotected neck, and even the urgent blips of the scout bike’s sensors when they detected the transponders of the missing two troopers. And then it occurred to her–that scout trooper that was keeping perfect pace next to her, barely two meters off her flank was flying solely by instrumentation. The Imperial scouts were a strange breed.
  14. ((For @Aidan Darkfireand @Sandy Sarna)) Far in the distance, Aidan’s mother could still be heard dispensing orders. Most of the words echoed indistinctly against the walls of the maglev tunnel, then were completely obliterated when the Jedi Grandmaster boarded a Far in the distance, Aidan’s mother could still be heard dispensing orders. Most of the words echoed indistinctly against the walls of the maglev tunnel, then were completely obliterated when the Jedi Grandmaster boarded a small speeder bike. Within seconds, the roar of its engines carried past the returning infiltrators and deep into the pitch-dark of the tunnels… but not before Armiena gave Misal a wide-eyed double-take and her lips formed the syllables of an obscene expression of bewilderment. “You will live with every error and success that you,” Misal paused and smiled as the whine of the Jedi Grandmaster’s speeder bike zipped past and drowned out her soft voice. “That you have ever committed. Your mother was a very different person when she was around your age, a little younger. She was… wrathful. Angry at the galaxy and desiring to visit her pain on her enemies. Her life would likely be very different had she not had friends able to recognize what she was doing to herself. Wanton slaughter is not the kind of error that one can easily repair, but… As the three Force-Sensitives approached the staging area of men and munitions, the Miraluka took a deep breath and her hands fidgeted within the sleeves of her robe. Her Force-Presence began to fade; even her personage seemed to fade into the darkness of the tunnel. Had the dark-robed woman not been speaking just in front of Aidan Darkfire, her presence would have been quite unremarkable, barely even worthy of being considered. “Doubt, in these instances, is no vice. Refusing to re-examine an episode of such magnitude would be a terrible mistake. In the future, it may be necessary for you to remove yourself from those with the ability to use your errors against you.”
  15. “Hmm. Mine… has had a great deal of rage and fear. Acceptance required a great deal of patience and purpose, a very accepting teacher who was unafraid of my unproductive moments.” Misal nodded and limped along, feeling a wholesome numbness beginning to quiet the complaints of her overexerted, recently-healed hip. Her limp lost some of its heaviness–indeed, it became an affected rhythm–but she glanced over to the young Jedi Master and offered a patient smile. “My dear, you are attempting to heal time.” The next leg of their return to the headquarters required a descent down that ladder towards the “ground-level” of the tunnels. In spite of Misal’s polite rebuff of the Jedi’s attempt at field-Healing, the strain of climbing through the darkness was significantly lessened by the soporific effects of Sarna’s efforts. Even the drop from the bottom rung went without complaint, even if the ancient Miraluka took the impact with considerably more deliberation than the two younger Force-Users. The infiltrator straightened with significant care, her gaze passing over the ruin of their arachnoid stalker to the sound of a familiar voice that echoed indistinctly down the tunnels. The bisected corpse of the creature that had attempted to hunt Sarna and the elder Draygo was a pitiful sight, of blanched exoskeleton, blindness-bleached compound eyes, and oozing hemolymph that stung the nostrils with an acrid odor. There was a faint hiss as something catalytic within its bodily fluids reacted with the rusted rails under its corpse. Misal took one wiff of the fumes and evidently blanched, clinging more closely to Sarna’s support. Bright white lights could be seen in the distance, casting a ghostly glow over the turbolifts that they had used to leave the Red and Black. Under this night-lights of the temporary encampment, the Jedi Grandmaster was rushing to greet the returning squadrons of Imperial Scout troopers, retrieving miniature datachips of sensor data from their reconnaissance missions of the tunnels. Even over the whine of idling repulsorlift engines, she could be heard clearly from the echoes against the walls: “...Mern Seven and Eight still haven’t reported in… have to make do with this, I’ll start the evacuation. Check on their position, I’ll be right behind you.”
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