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"Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley - Completed!

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Offline J.A.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 10, 2008 5:18 am   Post subject: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley - Completed!   

This is the sequel to "Fading Glory" and the exciting climax that has been building up since "Darkening Skies"!

Summary: The Warlord Nimrod's plan of conquest is nearing completion, and the NI retains only a fraction of its former territory. The Warlord's forces have surrounded Varnus and are poised to attack Tralaria, the NI Capital. With Varnus flooded with refugees and the Jedi and NI forces hunkered down, the stage is set for a showdown on Varnus, a battle the likes of which haven't been seen since ancient times. If the NI loses, then Nimrod's forces will march straight on to an unsuspecting galaxy ripe for the taking. This is the critical hour, where heroes are made, lives are ended, and futures decided. And in the end, an unexpected revelation that may change everything...


Prologue: Awakening

Street Market
Merinama Prime
Merinama System
3,929 Years Before the Founding of the Republic


Waves crashed upon the sparkling black sands.

The two young boys dashed across the beach, kicking up puffs of dark sand as they ran along the edge of the shore.

“Look, Nim!” cried the taller, lankier of the two. “There’s something in the water!

Nimlin’s gaze followed his friend’s outstretched arm, excitement building as they approached a glittering object resting just within the shallows. “I see it, Tark! It must have washed up after the storm!” The squall that had blown through the day before had eaten away large swaths of coastline, exposing additional ruins that had supposedly been buried for untold eons. It was exactly the kind of thing the young boys had come looking for, today.

In his haste, Nimlin passed Tark and splashed into the water in front of the object first. The rippling waves obscured it from plain view, but it looked small enough to hold. Gingerly he reached down into the water and grasped the object with both hands, then lifted. His thin arms, muscles still developing, drew the thing up from the sand and out of the water, and he was surprised at how light it actually was in his hands.

The artifact glistened in the light as he held it up to study it. It was just larger than his palm, made of a pearlescent yet unfamiliar material, and covered with inscriptions of a strange-looking style. It was shaped almost like a teardrop.

“What is it, Nim?” Tark asked, transfixed.

“I don’t know. Maybe a pendant?”

“Too big, I think. Is it worth something?”

“You always just think of money.” Nim shook his head, studying the item all around, giving it a little shake. It looked like Tech, but he couldn’t discern any buttons or controls. Nothing he tried worked – either the power supply was empty, or it was activated by some other, unknown means.

“I’ll take it to Dax,” Nimlin said, “See if he knows.”

“He probably won’t know what it is. You hang around him too much.”

“If he doesn’t know what it is, he’ll at least know someone who does,” Nimlin countered. “I’m taking this one back for sure.”

“Fine,” said Tark. “In that case I’m going to keep looking for more real treasure.” With that he took off back down the shoreline in the direction they were heading.

Nimlin studied the artifact for a moment in wonderment. Could it really be an artifact from before recorded history? There were legends of races and civilizations that had existed eons ago, before the galaxy had been developed, when ancients had apparently roamed the stars. Many such artifacts had been found on Merinama, as well as other places. But no one had ever found out what they did or to whom they’d belonged to. The possibility of this being another piece of the puzzle was intriguing.

Turning, Nimlin glanced back toward the shore, in the direction of the city. Above, vast arcologies dominated the sky, towering columns with metropolises resting atop them, partly obscured by puffy clouds. Nimlin didn’t pay them any heed; his home was below, now, with everyone else. He’d long forgotten what life was like up there; he had been too young to remember much before they’d been forced out. Most residents of the city didn’t even notice them up there, anymore.

Letting Tark continue on with his search, Nimlin tucked the artifact into the pouch hanging down from his shoulder strap and started running back towards the city.


* * *


He ran into the city known to locals as the Lowers, passing by many residents hanging their morning laundry as he ran past their sandstone dwellings. On street corners, minstrels sat and played their syats and other, more exotic instruments, filling the air with their melodious strings and flutes.

Like most other street urchins, Nim was dressed in whatever he could scrounge up, just enough to maintain modesty under the sweltering pink suns above. In his case, that meant a pair of short pants for his legs, a simple vest over his bare torso, and a headscarf that he used to cover his head to keep off the sun and absorb sweat. Besides his shoulder pouch, he carried little with him when he went treasure hunting.

Moving into the main avenues of the Lowers, he found his progress slowed as he hit crowds of people now out and about, most heading towards the large open markets in the city squares. There one could buy just about anything, from exotic foods and spices, to appliances and equipment from all across the galaxy proper. Everyone wore clothing intended to keep its owner as cool as possible. For many, that meant long strips of fine cloth wrapped around bodies and heads alike. The younger generation, by contrast, kept their shoulders, stomach, and legs bare for the most part. Most Merinama natives, like Nimlin, had dark skin that naturally kept off the sun and wouldn’t burn easily.

The Lowers were built on a large hillside interlaced with canals that provided the city with water. Each was enclosed in walls that would hold the water at intervals of each level. Therefore Nim would pass a line of buildings, weave his way through the crowd to cross the street, climb some steps to the next level and across a canal, then pass more open-columned buildings again in a constant cycle. Artificial waterfalls ran down from each canal and flowed under the street below to the next one, all the way to the bottom and the shore he’d left behind.

Nim kept climbing from street to street, past the waterfalls surrounded by hanging gardens and vegetation, heading ever closer towards his destination. Occasionally, a hovering sled would float down the street over the heads of the throng, advertising this business or that service. Others held rich merchants or dignitaries, often Duros or some other starfaring species, those who lived the kind of life Nimlin could only dream about.

Still other advertisements claimed to offer passage to the Uppers, those islands floating in the sky above, but Nim hated lies like those. He knew there was really no way to go to the Uppers once you lived in the Lowers. It was a different world up there; the denizens of the Lowers might as well not exist as far as the Uppers were concerned. The promises of ascending to that glorious paradise were all a sham; he had firsthand experience of that fact. Once you were of the Lowers, then you would always be there.

Finally he reached the crest of the hill, where the city widened out and the massive columns supporting the Uppers rose up in the distance. Buildings gained more floors and the streets became flatter and wider. Nim kept running deeper into the city, until he entered a section of more narrow, winding streets and less-trafficked roads. Shops and markets lay around every other corner, and the smell of spices and sounds of bartering filled the air as he passed.

Before long, he had reached his destination: a nondescript, four-story sandstone structure along a modestly-traveled street corner.

Weaving past a group of robe-clad pilgrims and checking to make sure no one was watching, Nimlin deftly vaulted up to the second-story ledge of the building and ducked beneath a hanging carpet to enter the cantina. At this hour of the day there were rarely any patrons – the staff would just begin to set the tables and start the day’s grub to get ready for the lunch crowd. Nim dodged a spindly Yunigal worker mopping the floor and sauntered his way confidently up to the large, squat being behind the bar.

Dax’s full name was Daxisunumisunamis, or something like that. It was too long for Nim to try and pronounce, anyway. He was a Burkuain, a pudgy race of creatures with folds of tough, greenish-blue skin drooping around their sides, six limbs, and four eyestalks protruding above a wide-lipped mouth and inset nostrils.

“My boy, do you always have to enter through the windows?” Dax nearly bellowed, though his tone was jovial. “Stairs are too good for people like you, I conclude.”

“Good morning to you too, Dax,” Nim grinned, hopping up to take a seat across the counter from him. “Busy day ahead?”

“Your sister came here again this morning,” Dax sighed, pointedly ignoring his question. “She’s looking for you.”

Nimlin grimaced. “What if I don’t want to be found?” he said.

“How much longer do you expect to hide out in my place?” Dax asked. “You can’t keep this up forever.”

When Nimlin didn’t reply right away, Dax gave a loud snort and leaned onto the counter with his lower set of arms. “Playing hero is going to get you in trouble eventually, boy. Word is getting around about you.”

“I’m not trying to be a hero,” Nim shook his head. “Anyway, I found something today on the beach I wanted you to take a look at.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve been out treasure hunting again. Another ancient artifact?”

“This one’s real,” Nim said, glancing around the room and then, satisfied of their secrecy, handed the teardrop-shaped artifact to the bartender. Dax took it in one pair of hands and held it up, scrutinizing it for a moment.

“What do you think it is?” Nim asked.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, boy,” Dax said, focusing on the artifact with a squinting eye. “Could be something left over from one of those ancient wars.”

Nim nodded, becoming excited again. After all, historical records could not be found from over fifty thousand years ago. People claimed that there had been a terrible war that had ravaged the entire galaxy, yet details about that war were virtually nonexistent. One thing was clear: after the war, there had been virtually no technology left in the galaxy at all. From that time civilization had developed from nothing right up until modern times. Due to the lack of information about it, it was most commonly known as the Dark War.

But Nim had doubts as to whether there ever was any war at all. Maybe there was no galactic civilization before fifty thousand years ago. Maybe that had just been when the first races started traveling the stars.

However, scientists had dated some of the ruins on Merinama – like those they’d found on the beach – at over a million years old. If that was the case, then come kind of civilization had existed long before the Dark War had occurred. And due to evidence like that, legends abounded about ancient civilizations older than recorded time. Still, no one seemed to know anything about those civilizations, or even what their technology was – much less how it worked.

“Be careful, boy,” Dax warned suddenly. “Strangers here in the Lowers.” There was a cautious edge to his voice.

“We have strangers all the time here, Dax,” Nim said. “This is still a hub for space traffic in the sector, you know.” Merinama was far from the most prominent member of the galactic community, but it wasn’t nearly as isolationist as the some, such as the Kashi Mer, were.

“These are different, boy. Some of those mystics, calling themselves Followers of Ashla, snooping around this sector. Looking for fresh blood, I think. You’d better lay low for a while.”

Nim took in the news grimly. Dax knew of his abilities, of course – but he was one of the few in the Lowers who did. Though he had a reputation as something of a hero – gleaned from good deeds done here and there – both he and his sister had taken great care to keep their powers a secret. “I’m not worried,” he told Dax.

“Do at least try to stay out of trouble,” Dax said, waving his eyestalks. “Your sister works hard to make sure you both are taken care of.”

“Zali and I can both take care of ourselves,” Nim countered. He took the artifact up again and hopped back down off the seat. “I’m going up.”


* * *


Nimlin sat in his private hideout, his one personal place of refuge in the universe. Only he, Tark and Dax even knew that it existed, and the bartender had been kind enough to take Nim in and let him stay there since he was nine years old. It was a small storage space halfway between the second and third floors of the cantina, just above the ceiling of the main bar. There was a small window to the outside though, and Nim was just small enough himself to fit through it. It made an excellent place to hide from ruffians, authorities and his sister alike - which he'd often had to do. The streets were opportunistic and oftentimes brutal. He’d seen many perish due to the harsh reality of life in the Lowers.

The artifact hovered above the low table on the floor in front of him, held aloft by Nim’s wishing it stay there. Above, a lone, rustic fan hung from the ceiling, spinning just fast enough to circulate air in the dry daytime heat.

Nim thought about what Dax had said, about the Followers of Ashla. They were an enigmatic group, and conflicting rumors abounded concerning them. Most common folk were afraid of them, blaming them for everything from poor economies to natural disasters. At the same time, it was genuinely accepted that it was the Followers and their amazing powers that had constructed many of the wonders throughout the galaxy - the floating continents on Arc, the domed gardens of Dathron, the planet-sized Space Station - even the Uppers, themselves.

Yet the Followers of Ashla must have come for a reason. Tensions were high between the civilized galaxy and the Rakatan Empire, which had been embroiled in an intense civil war for centuries. The Followers were always looking for more recruits to defend their territories in case the Rakatans' war spilled over into the wider galactic community. The mystics had their own agenda; that much was certain. They dabbled in politics, economics, and military affairs. They influenced education and interstellar relations. They were becoming more and more powerful, yet they were still disorganized, divided into many groups, and each one seemed to act independently of the others. The news that some were on Merinama didn’t bode well for any residents with the gift.

Nim knew that Zali and his abilities and the strange powers the Followers had were somehow connected. Still, they had done everything they could to lay low and avoid getting noticed. The last thing they needed was to get snatched up and embroiled in someone else’s power struggle. That was why he and his sister were living in the Lowers, anyway.

Five years before, when Nim had been six years old, he and Zali had been cast out of the Uppers when their parents, members of a ruling family, were ousted from power and brutally murdered. After the coup, hostile families had taken control, and the two of them would have been killed, too, if a maid hadn’t hidden them in a garbage chute. Afterwards, with nowhere else to go, they had been forced into exile in the Lowers where they now lived. Nim didn’t remember much about life up above. Zali probably did, but she never talked to him about it. Besides, it was all done, now. Nothing could change the past.

Turning his thoughts from the subject, Nim studied the ancient artifact floating in front of him. He still couldn’t discern how to activate it, or even what it might be used for. It sat there, covered in strange markings, yet utterly silent.

He considered trying his powers out on it. He didn’t know if it would work, but it should be worth a try. If nothing came of it, maybe he could always sell it for a nice price down in the markets. Still, something about this artifact intrigued him more than any he’d ever found before. It beckoned him.

He reached out tentatively with his mind, and willed something – anything – to happen.

The result shocked him. All the markings on the artifact lit up, glowing with an inner light. Then, looking up, he saw the hologram in the air above his head.

It was a square of light, covered with a script Nim could not recognize or read, like a series of abrupt strokes laid about in a strange pattern. It looked like no language he’d ever been exposed to before. What could it mean?

Then the artifact broke apart. Nimlin stared in shock as it split itself into a dozen pieces, each floating equidistant from the others, with a glowing yellow core in the center. In surprise he realized that he wasn't even holding the thing up anymore - it floated of its own volition. The artifact whistled softly then, and in his mind he suddenly got a single picture, a clue to what this artifact might do. It was intelligent; he was sure of it. It was as if the thing was trying to communicate with him, trying to be used as it was originally intended, yet Nim had no idea what that purpose could be. Could it be like one of the strange machines people had developed, calling them droids?

Suddenly he heard a ticking sound coming from the large pipe running up through the floor and into the ceiling, and immediately Nim stopped using his powers. The light faded, and the artifact came back down to rest on the table.

Hearing a familiar rhythm coming from the pipe, he pulled aside the carpet covering his small window and glanced downwards. There indeed was Tark, glancing up at him from the alleyway below.

“Toss down the rope!” Tark whispered up at him.

Nim did as his friend asked, and after a moment Tark came climbing up to sit beside Nimlin in the hideout.

“Well, did you find out anything?” Tark asked, coiling the rope back up beside him.

Nimlin hesitated. Should he tell his friend about the holographic projection that had come from the artifact? It had, after all, been activated with Nimlin’s powers alone. Tark would never be able to make it work through conventional means. He wouldn't even understand. “No,” he said.

“Too bad. I guess we’ll go back out tomorrow for some more searching, right?”

“Um. Sure,” Nim said noncommittally. He was still thinking about the artifact, and what he’d seen in his mind. He wondered if there were any books he could read that would tell him more about the Dark War, or what had happened before. But he’d already visited all the museums, and no such records existed anymore. It was hopeless; he’d have to learn everything by trial and error. Maybe he’d learn more if they found other, similar artifacts…

“Hey, are you okay? You look strange,” said Tark.

Nim shook his head, brushing the question off. “Never mind. Let's find some breakfast; I'm starving.”


* * *


Nimlin wandered the marketplace, checking the many stalls of the hawkers beneath the massive canvas roof that covered the street. Passerby generally avoided or shunned him and some of the vendors tried to shoo him away when he approached, thinking him a common street urchin. Not that he wasn't, of course. But he also had a code of honor. The plump, juicy-looking fruit at one stall looked particularly appetizing, and Nim knew he could snatch one up without anyone noticing. But stealing was wrong; Zali had taught him that much. So he looked at the few coins that she'd given him - his allowance for the week - and he counted out a few and bought the fruit instead.

He made his way back the way he'd come, munching along as he walked. His thoughts returned to the artifact. It had been a few days now, since he'd discovered it. Every night he would reactivate it, watch it split open again and try to communicate with him. He still hadn't figured out what it was trying to say. But given enough time, he was pretty sure he could. He'd never found a piece of Tech that he couldn't figure out. It was almost intuitive for him. He knew that it was part of his gift, his abilities, yet this one puzzled him. It was a real challenge. He had to find out what it was.

He emerged from the market's side street and into a busy thoroughfare. The crowd was thick, and he had to stop to try and find a way through. As he watched, a row of shouts suddenly went up among the crowd, and bodies began milling about in alarm. Whistles blared from somewhere in the air, and Nim jumped up onto a raised flower bed to look down the street.

A group of law enforcement officers were running down the street, pushing their way through the crowd in pursuit of someone. Nim couldn't tell who they were chasing - there were too many robed figures moving frantically around. As the officers passed, he heard one of them shouting, "Thief! Out of the way!"

The officers passed, but hadn't gone much farther before they seemed to lose their quarry completely. It was understandable; there were simply too many people in the street. A local festival was going on, and beings were everywhere. The officers would simply give up; they looked like security for one of the local businesses, but even if every shop had guards, they couldn't eliminate crime in the Lowers completely.

Nimlin knew he could help. It wasn't that he wanted to be a hero. There was just something that compelled him to act. He knew he had the gift for a reason, and if he didn't use it, it felt like it would be some kind of cosmic waste to the universe. Besides, his reputation did give him certain advantages that were useful on the street...

The thief must have gone to ground, hiding. Nimlin closed his eyes and felt around him, looking for the rush of emotion, the surge of adrenaline the thief would be feeling.

There he was. Across the street, hunkered down around a corner next to a large rubbish bin. As he watched, the figure - wrapped in a close-fitting brown robe with another strip of cloth covering his nose and mouth - turned and began moving stealthily down the alley.

Nimlin leapt.

A few in the crowd gasped as he passed over their heads, then landed on the dirt path between the two buildings. The thief saw him and took off running. He carried a bag of something in one hand, hefting it up as he ran. Nimlin followed, his powers giving him strength and speed.

The man began weaving though the maze-like side streets, barreling past anyone in the way. Nimlin kept up, his small frame allowing him to deftly avoid crashing into anyone or anything. The thief glanced back at him briefly, dark eyes peering out from beneath his hood. Then he ran around another corner and down a deserted street.

Nim followed onto the street and then, seeing no one else around, squeezed his middle fingers to his palms, focused on just ahead of the running man, and blinked hard.

A loud boom exploded just in front of the thief. The man cried out in and fell to the ground, sending up a cloud of dust as he did so.

Crouching down, Nimlin reached out and asked the bag to come to him, whispering fiercely. The bag left the man's limp fingers and floated its way back to Nimlin. The thief recovered quickly and turned back toward Nimlin in surprise, and Nim willed the bag to hurry up. Once his hands were on it, he grabbed the bag and took off the other way. It was a little heavy, but he hoisted it over his shoulder and ran as fast as he could. He knew the thief would be chasing him, now.

He quickly rounded the corner again and found himself facing a wall. A sudden idea striking, he crossed his fingers, inhaled sharply and imagined that the wall was instead a normal-looking alleyway. Then he turned to the side and continued running.

The thief rounded the corner, hot on his heels, and ran straight ahead. Never guessing he was seeing an illusion, the man ran headlong into the wall. Nim heard a muffled grunt, and turned back to see the man bounce backwards and fall to the ground, unconscious.

Smiling slightly to himself, Nim quickly slid down another alleyway and paused to take stock of what he carried. He opened the bag, exposing its contents to the midday sun.

Gem-encrusted objects, small containers, and strangely-shaped objects looking like amulets or talismans lay inside. The bag was full of antiques and odd-looking artifacts. His thoughts immediately turned to his own artifact. Even after several days of searching on the beach, he hadn't found anything else like it. It should be safe in his hideout.

Closing the bag, he retraced his steps to the busy street again. By this time the crowd had returned back to its normal, sedate traffic of dark-skinned beings. Nimlin made his way up the street in the direction the officers had come, and after a few moments found the store that had been robbed, its front glass shattered and several guards standing about. Walking to the storefront, he tossed the bag onto the floor just inside.

"There's the stuff that was stolen," he said simply. Then he turned and ran off.


* * *


"Throw down the rope," Nimlin whispered up at Tark.

In response, the rope came down, but before Nim could start up he saw Tark sliding down the it from above. The taller boy landed beside him with a grunt, then turned and looked at Nim excitedly.

"Come on, let's go shopping!" Tark said, smiling. He reached into his pouch and produced a wad of currency wrapped tightly with a strip of leather. "Look how much money I got for it!"

"Got for what?" Nim asked in confusion.

"That old artifact we found. It was just sitting there doing nothing, so I took it to an antique store to see what it was worth. I never thought we could get this much for it!"

Immediately Nimlin felt his heart drop to his knees. He knew he'd felt something when he'd seen those other artifacts! "Why did you sell it?!" he demanded.

"What do you mean? You said it was nothing special. You thought it wasn't worth anything..."

"I was just saying that!" Nimlin shouted. "I... It is worth a lot. It's really important to me." He clenched his fists in frustration. He should have kept it with him at all times!

"I didn't know," Tark said. "I'm sorry."

"We've got to get it back," Nim said, looking up at him.

"How? We'd have buy it back from the store."

"Maybe they'll take that money back. Come on; show me where you sold it."

"But... this is a lot of money..."

"One way or another, we're going to get it back," Nim told him. He started off purposely down the street, pulling Tark along beside him.



* * *


When they reached the store, Nimlin's small hope of getting his trinket back fell into full-blown despair. This store, like the one before, had been broken into, and security was everywhere, walking across broken glass and making a tally of what was missing.

"I'm so sorry, Nim," Tark said. "I didn't know. I can't believe this happened. It must have been just a few minutes ago. If we'd just gotten here earlier..."

Nimlin just shook his head. Something was wrong, here. It was too strange that two different stores would be robbed on the same day, at virtually the same time. This was coordinated.

He approached one of the shopkeepers inside who was sweeping the floor, collecting the glass fragments for disposal. "Do you know who robbed your store?" he asked up at the man.

The wrinkle-faced man looked down on him with a grimace. "What do you care, street rat?" he snapped. "This has ruined my business for the whole year!"

"I just want to know who did it," Nim said adamantly.

In response the man shook his head and spat on the floor. "What difference would it make? Those black-scarves act like they own the whole Lowers. There's nothing can be done."

Nimlin immediately turned and started walking back down the street. Tark caught up to him after a moment, looking over at him with a confused expression. "What are you doing, Nim?"

"I'm going to get it back," Nim said, looking straight ahead.

"What? Are you crazy? You heard what he said; the robbers wore black scarves! That means they belong to the Hand of Dusk!"

"I know that."

"We don't even know where their hideout is!"

Nimlin stopped walking, causing Tark to turn around and look at him. He thought for a long moment. Tark didn't know much about his abilities, and he didn't know that Nim could find someone by feeling their emotions and strong motives. He was sure if we focused hard enough, he could still locate those responsible and track them back to their base. "I can find them," he said.

Tark just shook his head. "Even if you can find them, we can't just sneak into their lair. They have guards, and weapons."

Nimlin fixed him with a stare. "Trust me on this, Tark. I can get it back. We're going to find it."

"The Hand of Dusk isn't a gang you play around with. We could get killed."

Nimlin considered that. He knew what it was like to be close to death; if not for the kindness of their maid, he and Zali would have died as children. He'd faced a harsh existence as an orphan on the streets of the Lowers. He knew how to handle himself, and he was confident that the gift - his powers - wouldn't let him down.

"We'll be fine," he promised Tark. "Come on; I may need your help."


* * *


Dax was back behind the bar again, cleaning the countertop as always in preparation for the day's clientele, when she entered.

"Have you seen my brother?" the girl, perhaps seventeen, asked, staring across the cantina at him.

"No Miss, I'm afraid I haven't seen him lately."

"I know he's staying here. He's refusing to come back to the apartments."

"As I understand, he doesn't like it there, Miss."

"Please, tell me where he is. He needs to stay close so I can look after him."

Faced with the pleading tone in her voice and the way she looked at him, Dax couldn't turn her down. He knew she worked hard to support herself and her brother.

"I overheard them talking about some antique they found out on the beach," he confessed. "Apparently they sold it to a shop in the Northeast Quarter and were going to get it back for some reason."

"I see," she replied.

"There's a lot of shops in the Northeast Quarter," he told her. "I'm sure he'll come back to his room this evening. You may rather just wait for him here..." he offered.

"No," Zalaria said, turning. "I'll find him now."


* * *


They paused outside the metal door that barred the way deeper inside the secure business area that took up a dozen square blocks in the middle of the Northeast Quarter. They'd already managed to sneak their way past several guards on the way in.

Nimlin stood in front of the door's control panel, which was just above head height for him. Sometimes size could be an advantage - othertimes, not. Tark stood beside him, constantly glancing back down the alleyway for signs of activity.

"This is the most dangerous thing you've ever tried to do, Nim. Are you sure about this?"

"I'm sure," Nim replied, narrowing his eyes as he studied the glowing panel in front of him. He'd never seen any kind of electronic lock that he couldn't figure out within a few moments...

He tapped on the screen, and a numeric dial began flashing animatedly in front of him. He knew that the visitor would have to touch the right numbers in the right combination to get in. He let his hand hover over the screen and tried to feel what the mechanism was saying. Before long his eyes had closed completely.

Almost instinctively his hand tapped the screen several times, and when he opened his eyes the dial began spinning on the screen. Then the door slid open sideways.

"Unbelievable..." Tark whispered beside him.

"Let's go," Nimlin said, moving forward.

They moved through narrow, seemingly abandoned alleyways, always on the lookout for guards. Before long they approached a large square surrounded by squat buildings, inside which a large number of people had gathered. Two large vehicles sat on the ground, and groups of robe-clad beings lounged around - some near a cookfire, some near a makeshift bar behind some crates. Others stood around idly, handing weapons they carried as they watched over the square.

Nimlin knew this was the place; he could feel the surge of emotion coming from the group. They were members of the Hand of Dusk.

In the center of the square, between the two vehicles, a group of them were going through what must have been a dozen large sacks like the one Nimlin had rescued earlier. Each bag contained artifacts that the gang was going through, piece by piece, and loading them into one vehicle or the other.

Signaling to Tark, he ducked through a doorway and let them through an empty building and toward the other side of the square. Then he crouched at a similar entrance on the other side.

"This is it," he told Tark. "Watch those guards, and if anything happens, run for the exit. I'm going to get the artifact back."

"How?" Tark whispered. "There are too many guards... You'll be spotted for sure."

Nimlin shook his head and crawled through the doorway. The building adjacent to this one had a large veranda, and a small crawl-space beneath it. Glancing one more time to make sure he was unseen, Nimlin dove under the veranda and began crawling forward.

Reaching the front of the porch, though still hidden by its shadow, Nimlin watched the men empty the last of the artifacts from the bags. He still couldn't make out his own. In the center of the group was a tall man dressed in black robes, despite the heat. He must be their leader. With him stood what looked like two bodyguards, one a Duro, the other a large Herglic. The others, doing the work of loading the items, seemed to defer to them. They were nearly finished loading...

There. Glinting in the sunlight, just like he'd first seen it. It was in one of the worker's hands, just produced from the bottom of the bag. The veiled man turned towards one of the vehicles, the closer one. No one could see what was happening but Nimlin. Now was the time to act.

Nimlin reached out his hand, fingers clenched, performing his trick just like before. This time the blast appeared in the air beside the man. Immediately the entire gang of thieves went on the alert. Their weapons came up, and they began shouting and looking around in surprise. And the veiled thief dropped the artifact.

Reaching out his hand, he wished the thing come to him as desperately as he possibly could. The artifact slid across the ground and up into the air, flying towards him faster than a man could run...

And suddenly stopped.

Nimlin blinked in surprise, then grimaced and redoubled his efforts. Then, to his complete dismay, the artifact moved away from him completely.

It settled into the hands of the man in the black robe.

"Get him!" the man yelled into the air.

The gang scattered, and half a dozen men started running in Nimlin's direction.

Run, Tark! Nimlin thought desperately, crawling backwards as fast as he could.

He made his way for the other end of the veranda, while most of the gang members headed for the other side, from which he’d come. He slid out and ran into another building. Then, weaving his way through several doorways, found himself in a room with a latticework stone wall looking on the outside. He slid down to the floor in the corner, making himself as small as he could and willing himself to be unseen. He crossed his arms and clenched his fist, thinking to himself over and over, Be invisible. Be invisible. Be invisible.

Men rushed by the door outside, glancing briefly into the room, but moving on quickly. A moment later there were no more sound of pursuit. He had just started to believe they’d made it when he heard the shouting outside. He turned and looked through the openings in the wall and instantly knew things had gone from bad to worse.

Nimlin watched in dismay as the men pulled Tark bodily to his feet and shoved him towards the center of the square. Gang member followed him, jabbing him in the back with their rifles. Nimlin’s hopes that Tark had gotten away were gone, replaced by the coldness of the reality they had just fallen into.

Tark was brought before the leader, the man in the black robes. The man looked around, his eyes dark beneath the veil he wore.

“Come out or your friend will die!” the man shouted roughly.

Nimlin thought frantically, trying to figure out what he could do. He knew that he’d be able to get out and save himself, but Tark was trapped. He couldn’t just abandon him; he’d been responsible for bringing his friend along. If only Tark hadn’t sold that artifact!

“This is your last chance!”

Nimlin knew he had no choice. The gang had his friend and the artifact. He had to go out. Standing, he ran back through the rooms of the building and out the entrance. As soon as he emerged, a dozen rifle barrels turned in his direction.

Before he realized it, he was standing in the center of the group next to Tark, with the dark-clad man in the center, his bodyguards on either side. The man withdrew his face veil and stared down at Nimlin with dark, harsh eyes. There was a touch of gray to the beard on his chin, and his dark face was lined with creases. He looked like a native of Merinama.

Tark stared at him in dismay, as if disappointed that Nimlin had actually come out. Nimlin just looked away. They were both caught, and whatever was coming next, he knew the Hand of Dusk didn't have a reputation as merciful to enemies.

The dark man hefted Nim's artifact in his hands. "You wanted this," he said darkly.

Nimlin didn’t respond. He mind raced; he couldn’t come up with any way to get out of here, not without abandoning Tark…

"A Latent, aren't you? Interesting." The dark man interrupted his thoughts again. He gave a smirk. "You probably think you can use magic or such nonsense. But let me tell you boy, I am fully in control of the Bogan. You have no chance to defeat me."

Nimlin just stared hatred at him.

"Swear yourself as my slave, and I will let you live. Refuse, and die now." He turned to the Herglic guard beside him. "And as for your friend, he is worthless."

Before he could react, the Herglic drew a long knife from his belt and slashed Tark from hip to shoulder in one powerful stroke. Nim’s friend fell back to the ground, convulsing uncontrollably. Nimlin stood frozen, staring down in shock. It had been so… casual.

“What do you know about this!?” the dark man shouted, shaking the artifact at him. “Tell me or die like him!”

“No…” Nimlin whispered in disbelief. His best friend… Tark… He was still convulsing on the ground. A pool of blood spread across the dirt beneath him. “No…”

He looked up at the dark man, and felt no fear at all. Only total, complete… hate.

“NO!” he screamed.

He felt the power within him swell up, somehow stronger than it had ever been before. It grew and grew, so that what had once felt like a trickle instantly became a raging river, widening more and more, faster and faster. Air rippled around him, flaring the robes of his attackers, then pushing them back under a sudden onslaught.

So fast! It felt like a chain reaction inside of him. He couldn’t control it! The roaring river of power suddenly inside him emptied… into a vast ocean beyond anything he’d ever imagined.

Everything around him was annihilated in an unstoppable shockwave of energy, expanding outward at blinding speed, vaporizing the dark man, his bodyguards, the gang members, the vehicles, the buildings around them – everything. One moment they were there, and the next there was nothing but dust.

Unstoppable rage pouring out of him, Nimlin stood in the center of an explosion of fire that destroyed a hundred city blocks around him in the span of an instant. The ground shook, an expanding crater sinking down with him at its epicenter. There was nothing left. Tark was gone. A cloud of dust surrounded him, and directly above, a blue sky rested in tranquility.


* * *


The spacecraft set down gently on the newly-bare ground, and as the boarding ramp descended, two robed figures emerged from within. They made their way quickly down the side of the crater, to the two small forms huddled in the center.

Nimlin looked up as the strangers reached them, staring up at them dimly. Beside him, Zali took put an arm around him, putting herself slightly in between Nim and the newcomers. “Who are you?” she demanded.

The leader of the two threw back his hood. He looked middle-aged, his hair long and tied back behind his head. His expression showed neither hostility, nor empathy.

“We are the Followers of Ashla,” he said, deep voice filling Nimlin’s ears. “You will come with us.”

“We’re not going anywhere,” Zali said darkly.

“You. You have Awakened,” the second, still-hooded man said, pointing straight at Nim. Then he turned to his sister. “And so will you, soon. This is no longer your home. Your place is among the stars. Come.”

With that he turned and started back towards the transport. Nimlin glanced up at Zali, seeing uncertainty in her eyes. He felt… emptiness. All that rage he’d felt was gone. Tark was gone, too. He didn’t know what had happened. But, he knew, everything had changed. He felt a well of power within him, now. It was more powerful than anything he’d ever felt before.

He started forward, and his sister came, staying by his side. The other robed man followed behind them.

As they neared the transport’s hatchway, Nimlin caught a glimpse of something shiny sticking halfway out of the crater’s sandy slope. He blinked in surprise. Somehow, the artifact had survived.

He asked it to come, and it floated across the ground to land in his hand. No one tried to stop him. He carried it as he, his sister, and the mysterious man made their way up the ramp and into the waiting vessel…


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 23, 2008 5:48 am   Post subject: Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley   

It is said there are beings known as Avatars of the Force.
Those legendary beings that appear once in a thousand generations.
They say there is no limit to their powers.
Their purpose, they say, can be for good… or for evil…



Varnusian Productions Presents:

Image


Catacombs beneath the Royal Palace
Vectur, Varnus
0942 Hours


Jinx ran down the corridor as fast as his Force-enhanced legs could move.

Walls blurred as he ran, straining to reach the stairwell back up to the Archives. Dark footsteps hammered in his ears; the Jedicon were right behind him. Too many to handle. He had to warn the palace!

Desperately he flung himself around a turn, bouncing his shoulder off the far wall and ricocheting down the next tunnel. An instant later a flash and an explosion sounded behind him, an energy blast destroying that part of the wall he’d just passed at head level.

He hit the stairs and bounded up three, four at a time. The sounds of the Jedicon turning the last corner sounded behind him. “Sologan! Shangit comtas!” they shouted in Altarin’Dakor. Jinx didn’t know what they meant; he just knew he had to run.

Leaping the last couple of meters, he passed through the reinforced doorway that had sealed off the catacombs from the rest of the palace, barely taking an instant to slap his hand against the control panel on the side. The doors began to swing shut, but he couldn’t take the risk they would hold. It might not even close in time. He kept going.

Reaching at his belt, he pulled his commlink from its belt clip as he vaulted through the archive chamber. “Jinx to Command!” he shouted into the device. “Intruder alert!”

He exited the room and turned into another corridor. The archive floors, down in the basement, were dimly lit; it was still too early in the day for most of its visitors. There was no one else in sight. Jinx glanced down at his commlink and saw that he had no signal. His commlink was being jammed! He stuffed the device into his pocket with a curse as a crash sounded behind, from the room he’d just left.

Jinx risked a glance over his shoulder and saw three Jedicon stumble from the room and turn in his direction. Fear stabbed into his gut, threatening to slow him down, but he thrust it away, using his military training to keep his mind on the situation. He ran harder.

He was almost to the end of the corridor. Another stairway up was coming up on his left, while ahead the wooden doors to the palace library lay shut before him. He looked back again at his pursuers…

And skidded to a halt as one of the Jedicon leapt into the air. His companions slowed and threw their hands forward, and Jinx felt a surge of the Force as they pushed. The Jedicon launched through the air toward him at blinding speed, covering the ground in a couple of seconds. Jinx stared in surprise. Never thought of that one!

He reacted by instinct. As the Jedicon’s piercing yellow blade came to life, Jinx brought up his own lightsaber and ignited it, trusting the Force to guide his hands. He caught the enemy’s blade on his own and thrust it to the side as hard as he could, but the enemy’s speed was too fast to clear it completely. He twisted his body as the Jedicon tackled him, and a burning pain sizzled his left shoulder as the blade grazed him slightly. Then his opponent’s momentum tore him away from Jinx and sent him crashing through the doors to the library. Jinx shook his head to clear it through the pain. His arm still worked, though. He’d been lucky; it must be only a flesh wound. Hope no one’s in the Library… he thought desperately.

Turning, he fled into the stairwell, closing the door and slicing the control panel on the other side. Then he began leaping up the stairs, seeking the ground level. Below him, a shaft of blue light stabbed through the door and began to cut downwards.

Only two more floors to go. He had to make it and warn the others. There really were Jedicon in the Royal Palace! The sense of dread was almost overwhelming. The invasion they had awaited and dreaded for so long was now finally upon them. If only he had listened to Rynn earlier! Now he had inadvertently tripped whatever trap they had been planning to lay. He had to get to Control and activate the alert, get the defenses ready. He just hoped he wasn’t already too late…

* * *
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Offline J.A.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 02, 2008 5:30 am   Post subject: Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley   

Front Courtyard, Royal Palace
Vectur, Varnus
0945 Hours



The morning sun glinted brightly across the tops of the skyscrapers in front of the Royal Palace. The city was alive and bustling with activity, though not the kind it was normally used to. This was far from an ordinary day in Vectur. There was an air of foreboding, of tension. Of destiny.

Kiz Thrakus stood atop the long balcony overlooking one of the palace’s front courtyards. From here he could observe the progress that had been made overnight on the defense preparations, which he’d been in charge of. New layers of barricade walls had been constructed on the massive square and steps leading up to the palace entrance. On the front wall, troops had set up defense stations, and quite a number were there on watch, already. Further out, in the city, armored vehicles and walkers patrolled the streets, while aircraft kept watch in the skies above. Civilian traffic in the air was virtually nonexistent at this point. In fact, civilians could hardly be found anywhere.

Much of Vectur’s populace had safely made their way into the emergency shelters the day before, or even this morning. Still, Vectur’s population had been bursting at the seams, what with all the refugees pouring in lately. There wasn’t enough room for everyone, so many were holed up in their homes or in safe rooms, or in hostels somewhere. Still others were hiding in the Royal Palace itself. Hopefully, the fight wouldn’t make it this far. But it still made sense to be ready.

An enemy attack seemed imminent, now. There were two Titan-class Battleships in the system, making their way slowly, inexorably closer. Kiz doubted they would be the only two they faced before this was over with.

At least there had been enough time to get everyone ready. Internally, Kiz wondered why the AD had waited so long, giving them time to prepare their defenses. He really doubted it was a tactical error on the part of their commander – this Nimrod was supposed to be a military genius, and unbeatable. That left only one possibility that Kiz could think of: that the enemy didn’t care how ready they were. That thought troubled him most as he stared out over the waiting city ahead.

His commlink beeped, and he reached down to his belt and pulled it out. “Thrakus here.”

“Kiz, status report,” Xar’s voice came over the commlink. “Everything ready down there?”

“We’re all done here,” Kiz replied, staring back out over the city. “Ready as we’ll ever be.” Xar had tasked him with prepping the palace and surrounding areas for an assault. Kiz had set up the defensive positions on the wall, the square, and Star Way, the main road cutting through Vectur. They had just now finished everything.

Xar’s voice cut back in. “Scanners report the two Titans in the system are moving in, now. Estimate about six hours until they reach orbit.”

“Sounds like this is the big day, then.”

“How are the men holding up?”

Kiz made a wan smile. “If you’re referring to the soldiers, I think they just want this thing to be done with.”

“We’ll see. With luck, they won’t even have to see combat. The shields should hold up against anything trying to get in.”

“Copy that,” Kiz nodded. Vectur’s city shield was one of the strongest in existence; it had held up under Titans’ beam weapons before, and was able to prevent both weapons assault as well as landing parties from reaching the city. As long as the shield was there, Vectur was protected.

“Get up to the command center when you can. I’ve got a few things to take care of, and without Nico and Alyx, I’m going to need you to take charge if I’m indisposed. Don’t be doing anything foolish, putting yourself at risk if things get hot. I need you in one piece, not burning out in a blaze of glory.”

“I could say the same thing about you, sir,” Kiz said.

There was a moment of silence. “That’s all. Xar out.”

The line clicked off, and Kiz replaced the commlink on his belt, shaking his head. Actually, he was worried about the soldiers tasked with defending the palace. They were holed up here, backed into a proverbial corner, what with the enemy surrounding the whole neighboring space. Now a vastly superior force was marching ever closer, and the men knew their odds of victory were slim at best. He’d been afraid morale would break even before the assault began. Once the actual battle was underway, he hoped they would pull together, but who could know for sure? Kiz understood how they must feel; the division’s Jedi were in the same position.

He looked down, checking his wrist chronometer. 0954 Hours, he noted, feeling a bit of relief. Lorien Kal and Seydinl would be the Treasury by now. At least that tidbit was secure and taken care of. They would be safe down there in case the palace itself was breached. Or at least, as safe as one could be. Again, it really came down to keeping the shield in place. Hopefully they could damage the enemy enough to convince them the assault wasn't worth the effort, and they would leave. But that was probably, he feared, wishful thinking.

Turning finally, fairly certain that everything was in place, he walked back along the balcony and made his way down a flight of stone steps to the ground level. The day was warm and the weather fair, the sky interrupted only by small, puffy white cumulus clouds. The sun shone brightly down onto the stone walkway. As he turned into one of the main corridors leading inside, he noticed more activity, both military and civilian. A couple of palace guards passed through an intersection, on patrol; a few palace personnel were out, running errands; a refugee or two passed by, heading to the mess hall or back to their shelters. Still, it was sparsely populated compared to just a few days ago, when the hallways had been shoulder-to-shoulder all day long.

As he started down the corridor, he heard the swishing sound of a door opening, coming from the stairwell near the intersection ahead, and a figure suddenly burst out of the doorway, turning towards him. Kiz stopped in his tracks as he recognized Adept Jacob “Jinx” Skipper, barreling down the hallway towards him at breakneck speed, obviously pushing his Force Speed to the limit as he ran. Kiz blinked in confusion.

An instant later, three more figures burst from the doorway, and Kiz’s blood froze. They wore combat armor, their faces and hands were covered in intricate black tattoos, and they held lightsabers ignited in their hands as they chased after their prey. His danger sense, previously oblivious to anything being wrong, suddenly flared up like the sun. It can’t be… he thought in bewilderment. This couldn’t be happening…

“Sound the alarm!” Jinx screamed, running closer. “The AD are in the palace!”

Instinct took over, and, Kiz turned around and ran over to the nearest control panel back near the entrance. He slammed a hand against the screen and quickly typed in his command code. “Red alert! This is Thrakus!” he shouted, his body surging with the adrenaline of imminent combat. “The palace is under attack!”

* * *
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Offline J.A.

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 04, 2008 5:10 am   Post subject: Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley   

Shield Generator
Vectur, Varnus
0950 Hours


Sturm Brightblade stood at the balcony railing, staring down at the streets below, wispy hair stirring in the light breeze. The shield generator tower and dish towered over its surroundings, which consisted mostly of tan-colored, archaic three and four-story buildings. The streets below were deserted, mostly due to their being in the abandoned, ill-repaired Western Quarter, but even more so now, due to the curfew in the city that had taken effect. In the distance to the east, the Royal Palace dominated the landscape, rising above the city like a giant ziggurat. Flanking it was a mass of towering buildings that stretched off to the south almost as far as the eye could see, their windows and spires glinted in the sunlight.

His eyes searched the scene below, but far more acute were his Force senses, reaching out to discern any signs of life. He could detect nothing, no life at all. Anything bigger than a cat or large bird would have stood out.

Above him, a pair of massive turbolaser barrels extended from one of the defense batteries. Their job was to keep watch in the sky. Ground patrols and closed-circuit cameras kept an eye on the ground. Sturm and his contingent were there to watch for Jedicon infiltrators.

Turning, he left the balcony and went back inside, descending a flight of utility stairs. Ambient light from display panels bathed the chamber in blue, coming out from the control station in the room's center. He came to a stop and nodded to a pair of guards on watch there. Other troopers stood in the doorway, and near the entrance to the turbolift. The low hum of the generators permeated the entire building.

Melia stood there too, watching the camera feeds. She saluted when she saw him. "The Altarin'Dakor are getting closer," she said. "Command says the two Titans are coming in and could make it here by this afternoon." He nodded, and she turned back to the display, her tasseled braids swinging.

They continued to wait, the guards keeping track of comm traffic, Sturm listening to the drum of the giant machine which they were inside of. Two more Knights, Lyn Cousto and Darm Sakan, came into the room - both personnel he'd brought along from Ar'Kell. He felt a twinge of frustration at not being with the majority of his House members, preparing them for the impending assault. As Quaestor, he naturally worried whether things would go well in his absence. But he had to trust. He had total confidence in Vykk, and knew he would do just as well in Sturm's absence. Besides, it was important to guard the shield generator, too. It was poor luck that the enemy was moving in during Sturm's watch. He'd only been there less than two hours. That meant at least six more to go before he could rejoin the action.

His commlink beeped at his belt, and he reached down to answer the call. "Go ahead."

“Brightblade, this is Command. The Grand Master has ordered all units to Red Alert. Enemy forces have infiltrated the palace. Seems like they came in from underground, somehow. We are sending reinforcements to your location.”

“Copy that,” he replied. Worried, he glanced at the others. "We'd better double the shift guard."

"How could they get into the palace?" asked Cousto, exchanging looks with Sakan.

Sturm wasn't sure. He knew there was a series of tunnels that ran under the palace, and possibly throughout the whole city, but they were largely unexplored. How could the AD have known enough to make their way around? They would have to be more familiar with the city than the people who lived there.

Melia met his gaze, her dark, pretty eyes gleaming in the light. “Sir, the power generators are located underground,” she said. “You don’t think that…”

She didn't have to finish; the mere thought was enough to warrant action. He stepped over beside one of the guards and opened a channel to the engineering room. "Brightblade to Engineering," he called. "Status report."

He waited fifteen seconds. There was no answer.

Reaching to the controls, he set the main display to show the internal camera feed from the power generator's control room. A window popped up, showing a view of the room's interior. The room was empty, its stations unmanned. Then he noticed something white in the corner, just visible in the image's field of view. It was a pair of legs, belonging to a single, white-uniformed figure lying on the floor. A corpse.

"Sound the alarm!" Sturm said. "Let's move!"

"Shouldn't we wait for the reinforcements?" asked Sakan.

Sturm looked over at him, noting the fear in his voice. Truth be told, he was afraid, too. There must be Jedicon down there. The last time he'd faced one, he'd defeated his enemy, but had been seriously injured in the process. He still had the scar on his side to prove it. Would the Knights be ready? They didn't really have a choice.

"We can't wait," he told them. "They're obviously here to take out the planetary shields. Without them, the whole city will be swarming with AD. We have to stop them here."

The room's lights went from blue to flashing yellow and red as a peeling siren began to echo down the corridors. Sturm led the way, dashing across the floor and over to the turbolift. Melia, Cousto and Sakan were right behind him. He reached the lift and hit the button. Nothing. The lights were off inside.

"Someone's cut the power to the lift," Melia said, incredulous.

Muttering a curse, Sturm grabbed his commlink and punched in the palace's command frequency. "Brightblade here. The shield generator has been infiltrated."

A burst of static came out of the device in return.

"They're jamming us now," Melia said.

"How are they doing all this?" Cousto blurted out.

"Enough. The stairs!" Sturm shouted. He pushed open the double doors beside the lift and started down several at a time. The others followed. Sturm went ahead and retrieved his lightsaber handle from his belt.

They went down fifteen floors before they even reached ground level. Once there, Sturm found another security station, this one still manned with guards. The soldiers held looks of confusion as they unsuccessfully tried to use the comm. Sturm stuck his head into the door. "We've been infiltrated!" he said. "Send a team on foot to make contact with Command. The rest of you, take battle stations and don't let anyone back up here!"

Leaving them behind, he led the others further down the stairwell. It took another ten floors before they reached the power generators' level, which had been installed deep within the ground in an old security building's cellar. The glowlamps were still on in the stairwell. Sturm came to a halt at the doors, letting the others catch up and take up positions beside him.

He suspected that the enemy would either sabotage or destroy the power generators. It was the most logical thing to do. The question was whether or not the enemy were still there, carrying out their work. He took a second to reconcile himself to the fact he was probably about to face Jedicon once more. They might not make it out of this one. "This is it," he whispered. Melia nodded grimly.

Then he pushed open the doors, held his lightsaber at the ready, and snuck into the hallway.

The lights were still on inside, as well. He moved stealthily down the corridor, checking the first security station on the left. The guards inside were dead, their consoles smashed. There were no burns on the bodies; they were simply lying lifeless on the floor. Not bothering to check how they died, they moved on.

A few moments later they passed over an elevated walkway overlooking one of the energy transfer conduits. They continued on into a stairwell and descended another floor, moving into the engineering section. Still no sign of the enemy.

The control room contained the bodies of three engineers; the bodies had been moved mostly out of range of the holocam built into the corner, but one's legs had obviously protruded out too far. Shaking his head in confusion, he walked out on the main deck itself, where the shielded conduits lay separated by narrow, scaffolding walkways. Another dead tech was lying down one of them. This one had a black burn mark on his back.

"Where are they?" whispered Cousto.

Sturm shook his head. He didn't know, and that made him even more worried.

"Look there!" Melia said, pointing.

Sturm followed her gaze, and he saw it. A large package had been attached directly to the side of the conduit. Sticking out the top and blinking red could only be one thing - a detonator.

Melia was there in an instant, standing on the railing and inspecting the device. Sturm climbed up beside her, while the two Knights watched back the way they'd come.

"I've never seen one like this," Melia said. "Have you?"

Sturm studied the device. It was round and semi-transparent. Inside he could see sophisticated mechanical workings. "This is AD technology," he said, shaking his head. "I have no idea where to even start." A chill went up his spine. If the thing blew, the entire tower might go up.

"There's another one over here!" Sakan whispered fiercely, coming around the corner from another power conduit. "They're probably all rigged."

"We might set them off just trying to disarm it," Melia said. "What should we do?"

"We have to find them before they activate it," Sturm said. "They can't have gone far."

"Which way, though?" asked Cousto. "Down or up?"

"I'd say down," Melia offered. "Back the way they snuck in."

A sudden premonition hit Sturm then, a hint of danger sense that he hadn't felt up until now. "No," he said. "They went up, while we were coming down here."

Quickly he ran back to the engineering control room and activated the base's internal comm system, which wouldn't be affected by the jamming. "Brightblade to Shield Control," he called.

No answer.

"Come on!" he shouted, running back the way they'd come. They'd been had! He felt like an idiot!

They reached the stairwell, and the first thing he noticed was that the lights were back on in the turbolift. He hit the call button, and the doors opened immediately, the car sitting there, waiting. He knew they were heading into a trap, but at this point there was no choice. Piling inside with the others, he sent the lift heading back up to the control room's level. He shared a brief, knowing glance with each member of his team. There was fear there, but also determination. This was it.

The lift came to a stop, the doors opened, and all four of them stepped out onto the deck.

All the guards in the room were dead. Two more explosive devices were attached to the generator dish's spine, which extended up through the ceiling and outside. Red and yellow warning lights flashed around and around the room.

And three Jedicon stood waiting for them, lightsabers ignited.

The one on the left was dark-skinned and bald, while the man on the right had the long, dreadlock-style hair common among Jedicon. Both had faces covered with scrawling black tattoos. The one in the center, however, was strangely absent the tattoos. He had short, white hair, and his face was lined from years of experience. Sturm never seen a Jedicon older than himself.

"I am Kalaran," the older Jedicon said in accented Basic. "Surrender now."

Yelling, Sturm ignited his lightsaber and charged the Jedicon on the left. He sensed more than saw Cousto beside him. Melia and Sakan went for the one on the right. The battle began.

His blade crashed against the Jedicon's, driving his opponent back. He swung again and again in a fury, using the Force to enhance his speed and guide his blows. The Jedicon matched him stroke for stroke, keeping up, sweeping his blade to the side to avoid the occasional strike from Cousto, as well. He was good.

He heard a cry of pain and shoved his opponent back, glancing over to see Sakan stumble back, clutching his side from a cut by the other Jedicon. Melia stepped in quickly before he could finish Sakan off, driving her opponent back with skillful blows.

"Go help Melia!" he hissed at Cousto. As she turned and ran over to help, Sturm spared a glance at Kalaran, the Jedicon leader. He still had not entered the fray.

Refocusing his resolve, he found himself under attack from the dark-skinned Jedicon, who howled as he came in, spinning his blade over his head. Sturm fell back, blocking and parrying the blows, turning his opponent's blade aside mere centimeters from his body. He caught one overhand blow and turned it down to the side, barely shifting out of the way as the Jedicon twitched his blade and sliced a chunk out of his robe. Then he threw his blade back up to parry a lightning-fast thrust at his chest, but in a burst of strength the Jedicon pushed his blade to the side and snapped out with a wild kick at Sturm's head. Sturm ducked and rolled forward across the floor, hearing a hissing sound as the enemy's blade struck the floor behind him. He came back up in a crouch, then threw himself into a second roll as a ball of energy flew through the air towards him. He hit the floor again hard, the blast barely missing to scorch a black mark in the metal bulkhead behind him.

Coming back to his feet, Sturm reached out with the Force and Pulled the Jedicon toward him. The man jerked forward, not fighting it, using the momentum to come at Sturm again. His blade made a twisting form in the air, leaving the afterimage across Sturm's vision as he flew across the room in a split second.

Sturm drew all his Force power into his body, raising his blade to strike. His arms and legs felt more powerful than they ever could, unaided. The Jedicon brought his blade down in a diagonal strike. Sturm crouched and swung his blade laterally. Both fully committed, no holding back, eschewing any defense. Either one of them would emerge from the engagement, or they both would die trying. In the end, speed, skill and luck would decide.

The enemy's blade passed just behind him as he ducked and slid forward. Sturm's blade took the Jedicon's leg off above the knee. Blood vapor sprayed into the air

His opponent fell screaming, and Sturm spun back towards him, throwing out a hand and Pushing him away as hard as he could. He knew that a Jedicon never quit while he still lived, no matter how grave one's injuries were. His push sent the man flying through the air to slam against the back wall, his blade flying from his hand. He dropped to the ground, unmoving.

Sturm turned back just in time to see the other Jedicon fall under the combined assault of the other three Jedi. While he was blocking one strike from Cousto, Melia managed to slip under his defense. She caught his blade hand with her left and stepped close, swinging her own blade laterally with her right. The attack cut him in half at the waist. Their second opponent dropped to the floor.

Kalaran remained where he was, his expression showing neither surprise nor anger. His orange-white blade hung loosely at his side. Sturm noticed a small device hanging from his waist on his left side. The trigger for the detonators.

He suspected this man would be far more skilled than his protégés. One didn't survive this long as a Jedicon without knowing how to fight. Plus, his lack of tattoos seemed to suggest to Sturm he was high-ranking above them. He could feel the man's Force power level, and knew that it was much more than his own. They would have to do this together.

"Take him!" he shouted, running forward. The others moved in too, all four of them rushing the Jedicon at once, even the injured Sakan. Their raised their blades, feet pounding across the deck as the sirens continued to blare through the air.

Kalaran moved.

He rushed towards the others first, throwing a hand forward. His Force Push sent all three scattering, but took Sakan, his main target, straight on. The man flew backwards, shouting in surprise all the way until he slammed into the far bulkhead. Sturm heard bones cracking.

"No!" he shouted, surging forward. He drew close, but another Push hit him hard, harder than any he'd been hit with before. He tried to push back against it, but it was like trying to stop a Star Destroyer with his hands. Before he knew it he hit the floor, sliding backwards.

Kalaran engaged Melia and Cousto at once, his blade snapping back and forth, keeping them both on the defensive. Melia tried to circle around behind him, but the experienced Jedicon was too fast, tying up with her and snapping a foot out to catch her ankles. She slipped but rolled away, somersaulting off one hand and back to her feet a couple of meters away. Then Kalaran shifted away, knocking Cousto's strike upwards in a lightning-fast move and driving his blade through her torso in one smooth motion.

Sturm was back on his feet and on Kalaran before he could finish off Melia. He flew in, striking wildly and with all his strength. For a moment he drove the Jedicon backwards, then the man pivoted and parried one of his strikes forward past him, then thrust Sturm out of the way.

Melia came in, shrieking as she struck at the enemy. Kalaran matched her attacks calmly, then at the right second, countered back with a powerful stroke that threw Melia's sword-arm wide. His next blow took her diagonally across the chest, and she fell, dead before she hit the ground.

In final desperation, Sturm threw himself back at his opponent, attacking with all the skill he'd accumulated over the years. Kalaran blocked his blows calmly, wordlessly, as if expecting anything Sturm could throw at him. Sturm realized he couldn't win. Frantically he locked blades with the Jedicon and pushed in close, grabbing the man’s arm with his free hand. Kalaran grabbed his, as well, and they stood there, staring into each other’s eyes, grunting with effort as they struggled for a moment.

Then in a burst of strength, Kalaran threw Sturm backwards, a wave of force blowing out from his body, lifting Sturm off his feet and into the air. Then the Jedicon thrust a hand forward, and a massive blast of energy erupted from his hand, taking Sturm straight in the chest.

Sturm gasped in shock, quickly turning to confusion, then sudden elation. The Jedicon was far stronger than he was, maybe even as strong as Xar. But he had hit Sturm with a blast of energy, completely ignorant that Sturm’s natural Force affinity was for the absorption and dissipation of energy.

The blast still blew him backwards through the air. His clothes still burst into flame; his skin still burned. Pain still tore through him. But Sturm drew that energy into his body, sending it flowing back down to his own hands, and threw them back towards his opponent. He sent every bit of Kalaran’s energy back towards the Jedicon, mixed with his own.

The blast of force hit Kalaran and threw him into the air as well. He yelled in surprise, flames bursting out of his clothing. He flew backwards and slammed hard into the far wall, falling towards the floor.

Then Sturm burst through the transparisteel surrounding Shield Control, crashing through the command console and displays. It took all his remaining power to avoid collapsing and push himself back to his feet, waves of agony flowing through his body. He was almost out of strength.
He looked over at Kalaran. The Jedicon was on the floor, stirring groggily. His clothes were charred and he was wheezing. Gripping his lightsaber, Sturm ran back across the room as fast as he could, knowing this could be his last chance. Kalaran grabbed his blade in one hand and slowly turned back towards him.

Sturm closed the distance and struck downwards with all his might. Kalaran’s blade came up in a blur of light. Sturm felt his opponent’s blade cut through his torso even as his own blade sliced the Jedicon’s right arm away, cutting through his opponent’s lightsaber in the process. Sturm cried out and fell away; Kalaran screamed. Then suddenly Sturm was on the floor, fire spreading through his body, his vision narrowing down into blackness.

* * *
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Offline J.A.

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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

Posts: 88

PostPosted: Sat Dec 06, 2008 6:25 am   Post subject: Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley   

Royal Palace
Vectur, Varnus
1005 Hours



Jinx clashed blades with the Jedicon over and over, circling in a deadly dance of light and energy. Thrakus had engaged a second enemy behind him. A third had disappeared somewhere inside the palace, along with the rest of the infiltrating Jedicon, who had streamed into the intersection by the dozens and dispersed into various side corridors. The situation was dire. Anyone in the palace not a skilled enough Force-user to take on a Jedicon would be slaughtered, mercilessly. Even strong Jedi wouldn't be able to stand against groups of them. By this point they could be on nearly every level, going after the command center or other vital points. Alarms sounded through the corridors. If they find the refugees and the children…

Jinx longed to finish his opponent and chase them down. An overwhelming sense of urgency spurred him to fight even harder. If the Jedicon couldn't be rooted out of the palace, then this whole assault would be over before it even began, and everyone on Varnus was going to die.

But first, he had to focus on the man trying to kill him. The Jedicon was good; these were not the average, front-line Jedicon that Jinx had faced before. These were Nimrod's elite warriors. Jinx knew that if he didn't have Thrakus there to help him, he'd probably be dead already.

He blocked one high strike and parried it right, then struck at his opponent's left, but the Jedicon's blade was already there, blocking that strike and snaking around to stab at Jinx's chest. Sidestepping and twisting to the side, Jinx knocked the strike aside and disengaged. He stepped backwards over the body of a dead soldier, one of a group of palace guards that had rushed to help as soon as the alarm was sounded. The Jedicon had slaughtered the men with Force pushes, blasts of energy and lightsaber slashes, all while still dealing with the two Jedi Adepts. Now it took all the focus that Jinx and Thrakus had to keep their opponents at bay.

Jinx knew how battle between two master-level Force-users inevitably ended. As long as each kept their defenses up, they would counter each other's stroke endlessly, provided there the difference in power, speed and skills were minor. Only when committing everything to one attack could one defeat an opponent quickly, but the risk of being killed in the process was great, which meant duels could often last a long time.

Today, there was no time to waste.

Darting back in, Jinx struck twice on the right and then once in a powerful overhead swing. The Jedicon blocked his attack and swept his blade down, then released with one hand and backhanded Jinx across the face. Pain exploded in his cheek as Jinx fell backwards, then the Jedicon was over him, swinging down in a finishing move, his eyes full of hate and rage. Jinx snapped out with a foot, catching the man in the knee, then parried the blow away and down, where it sliced through the body of a dead guard. Then he lunged forward and swept his blade across is oppenent's midsection.

The Jedicon blinked in surprise, then stumbled forward, clutching his middle. Jinx rolled to his feet, spun, and cut the man's head off.

The other Jedicon, seeing what happened, rushed at Thrakus suddenly, roaring at the top of his lungs. Kiz backed up a couple of steps and raised his blade. The enemy struck down, hard, but Thrakus stepped forward in sudden strength and blocked the attack while it was still high. He shoved the enemy's blade up, snapped an elbow into his face, then sidestepped and raked his blade across the Jedicon's middle. The enemy toppled, falling face-first onto the stone floor.

"Come on!" Thrakus yelled, turning from his fallen opponent and sparing Jinx a glance. "We have to stop the rest of them!"

He took off down the corridor, Jinx running along right beside him.



* * *



Command Center
Vectur, Varnus
1010 Hours



Xar came running back to the command center as soon as the alarms started going off. Within minutes he had assembled his Cadre, his personal team of loyal elites, into the room with him. They were some of the few that he felt he could really trust – as much as anyone could by trusted, anyway. He stood behind Adept Gui Sun Paan, who was on watch for this shift, both of them staring at the main holoscreen. Behind him were Attrid Xoan, Ralagos Akala, and Nadia Ispen. He'd called Jinx, but couldn't get through due to enemy commlink jamming. They’d be able to talk using AD communicators, if they had them, but all traditional hand-held commlinks in the palace were out of operation.

Xar stared at the screen in utter frustration. Nimrod’s Jedicon had snuck into the Royal Palace. His palace. It was... unthinkable. Xar's blood boiled at the thought. They had to be stopped, right now.

"I found them," Paan said suddenly, switching the main display to one of the palace's internal camera feeds. "First floor, main corridor."

Xar looked at the image Paan had displayed. Dozens of tattooed warriors ran out of a stairwell leading down and were fanning out and scattering into different corridors. Some ran down the hallways, attacking everyone in sight like wild animals. Others made for other turbolifts or stairwells. Far down the hallway, he could just make out another pair of Jedicon facing off against two of the division's Jedi, lightsabers clashing in the background. They were too far away to accurately identify.

"When was this?" Xar demanded.

"Two minutes ago," Paan reported.

"They could be anywhere by now," Xar said, biting back a curse. "They'll probably be here any second.”

He turned to the other occupant in the room who stood peering over an officer’s shoulder. She stood there, brooding silently as she watched the tactical feed from orbit. He fixed his wife with a stare, looking askance at her. Did she know the attack was coming? How much would she lend her help? Their relationship lately had become… strained. Xar had found out things that his wife had been keeping from him. They hadn’t slept together the night before, and Xar had barely spoken to her all morning. Now he couldn’t help but wonder; did he really trust wife?

He knew that he had to. Otherwise there was no hope. “What now?” he asked.

“Nimrod had no help from me,” Zalaria said, probably knowing what he was thinking. “I don’t know how they got in. Do you believe me?”

Xar thought about that for a moment. “The Catacombs,” he said finally, ignoring the question. “Somehow they knew the layout. We should have foreseen it, sealed them off.”

“It’s too late now,” she said simply.

“We need your help to stop them,” he said.

“You’ll recall my own Jedicon are… predisposed at the moment,” she told him.

Xar nodded; she was right. Suspicion had already played its part. Zalaria’s Jedicon and military units were all in orbit because the NI didn’t want to risk putting Altarin’Dakor at their backs. She had agreed to use her forces to supplement the space battle, which they’d all assumed would come first. It had been yet another mistake.

But bringing them back down would take time, and would require dropping the shields long enough to allow them through – which could also let in Nimrod’s troops as well. “Can you help us stop them?” he asked.

She considered. “If I show my hand too early, Nimrod may use drastic measures to annihilate us, rather than try and take us by conventional means. But I will do what I can. Let me be blunt and say that I believe we will soon be facing an attack from without as well as within.”

Xar knew what she meant; it was probably only a matter of time before Nimrod’s fleet attacked full on. It seemed like someone had tipped the enemy’s hand, but if they didn’t use it to their advantage quickly, it wouldn’t matter. Zalaria would need to coordinate her own forces with Gaius in orbit, to ensure friendly forces didn’t start shooting at each other. He nodded to his wife, then turned back to Gui Sun Paan.

“Secure the Command Center and inform me of any status changes in orbit or on the ground using these," he said. He pulled out one of his AD communicators and placed it on the console next to Paan, then turned to the rest of his companions. "Let's go."

With that he took off towards the nearest door, the rest of his Cadre behind him. He caught sight of Zalaria, watching him leave, and wondered when he would be able to see his wife again.



* * *



Shield Generator
Vectur, Varnus
1014 Hours



Sturm slowly pushed himself up into a crouching position. It took almost all the strength he had. His side felt strange; it had gone cold, along with most of his lower body. His breathing wasn’t working right either; it took great effort to draw breath, and they were no longer full and satisfying. He didn’t have to look down at his body to know he was dying. His opponent’s blade had cut through his right side, slicing through his ribs, cutting through his lung, and coming back out of his back. He figured he had only a few moments left to live.

He turned his head, looking towards his fallen opponent. Kalaran sat propped up against the wall, body broken from impacting against it, his face etched in pain, his right arm ending in a blackened stump.

Sturm managed to grasp his lightsaber handle in his hand and crawl forward. Almost… made it… he thought, etching closer, ever so slowly on his hands and knees. He dragged his blade along beside him, knowing that if he could just finish Kalaran off, the shield generator would be saved.

The Jedicon didn’t seem to have the strength to get up. He looked back over at Sturm, his expression becoming strangely placid. His lightsaber was destroyed; his right hand was gone. He gave Sturm a slight nod, as if acknowledging their stalemate. Then he smiled slightly.

As Sturm continued to edge closer, Kalaran reached to his side with his left hand, gripped the control for the detonators at his belt, and flipped the switch.

Sturm was only a meter away. He was almost there.

A tremendous explosion rocked the building from below. Then there was a flash of light from the detonators up on the shield dish structure.

The room went white.


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

Posts: 88

PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 4:41 am   Post subject: Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley   

Royal Palace
Vectur, Varnus
1010 Hours



Xar and the others ran down the stairway leading from the command level down into the main levels of the palace. At each intersection they saw beings running down the corridors, fleeing to safety. There was no way to know how far the Jedicon had reached; they were certain to kill anyone they saw. Xar continued onwards.

They emerged onto level five, in the areas open to the public, and proceeded through several large, deserted chambers with banners and tapestries along the walls. Xar prepared himself to meet the enemy at any moment. These Jedicon had broken into his palace, the very place where he had grown up, raised as crown prince of an ancient tradition and people. He had walked these hallways as a child. He was ready to fight. There would be no mercy.

They made it into a large chamber and approached one of the large balconies on the west side when the Jedicon attacked.

“Look out!” Atridd shouted just in time. Xar looked up and saw figures leap off the balcony behind them, screaming war cries and whooping wildly as they glided through the air towards them, lightsabers extended.

No words were exchanged; the Jedi simply counterattacked. One flew straight at Xar, yelling, and Xar reached out with the Force, grabbed the man in a viselike grip, and sent him sailing on over Xar’s head and out the window on the other side of the room. The man screamed as he fell.

Then the rest of the Jedicon landed, and the battle ensued.

Lightsabers flashed to life and crashed against one another. There were no duels; the fights were short and bloody, pitting Xar’s closest bodyguards – and some of the few beings he called friends – against Nimrod’s finest front-line Jedicon. Xar, Atridd, Ralagos, and Nadia clashed against six Jedicon in a whirl of death.

One came straight at Xar, too fast to hit with an energy blast. Xar’s yellow blade snapped to life, and he clashed blades with the wild-eyed Jedicon facing him. Xar drew in nearly all his Force power, the maximum that normal beings had been able to achieve in a thousand generations. With two blows he struck his opponent’s guard down and cleaved his arm away at the shoulder. Then he spun, blocking a downward blow from another enemy. He sent the first flying backwards with a powerful Push to the rear, which impacted the man against the wall hard enough to leave an indention. Then he locked blaces with the new opponent and slid in, fast. He took the man’s legs out from under him with a powerful kick from behind, then swept his blade out of the way and finished him with a stroke that cleaved the Jedicon in half.

He turned as Atridd sliced through another opponent with a yell, then saw Ralagos lock blades with his opponent and grab the man’s face with a huge claw. Roaring, the Togorian ran forward and slammed the enemy’s head into the wall with a crack, then disengaged his blade and stabbed the man through the chest.

Nadia was still fighting, but she was managing to back her opponent towards the balcony. Xar ran past as Atridd and Ralagos went to help her, then two more Jedicon leapt up from below and landed in front of him.

His speed enhanced to the maximum with the Force, Xar struck the first one twice on the right, feinted again on that side, then slid past to his left and sliced the man from the other side in a blur. The last Jedicon came straight in, stabbing for Xar’s heart, but he parried it quickly to the side, sliced the man’s head off with his return blow, then ran to the balcony and leapt over the side, his team on his heels.

A flora-lined second balcony lay below him, two levels down. Xar dropped the whole distance, slowing himself with the Force at the last second, and landed amid total chaos. More of the division’s Jedi clashed with nearly a dozen Jedicon. He saw Amleth Uiara, Sian Rocanon, Ian Durran, Kip Slocum and Val Ricaud, all being driven back before a line of enraged Jedicon. Two dead division Jedi already lay face down on the walkway behind the enemy. Landing behind the Altarin’Dakor, Xar Pulled three of them backwards, cleaving one from behind as he fell.

Ralagos and Atridd landed next and fell upon the other two, slicing them to pieces. Nadia followed a second later. The odds more even now, and Xar saw his Jedi go on the offensive in earnest. Amleth Uiara lunged at one Jedicon, the enemy’s blade passing just past his side as he rammed his blade through his opponent’s midsection.

Nearby, Kip Slocum and a red-skinned Jedicon humanoid lunged at each other, each attacking full-on without the slightest hint of trepidation. Both opponents struck downwards, Slocum’s blade slicing his opponent from shoulder to thigh, the Jedicon’s blade landing on the Ho’Din Jedi’s arm and cutting it off at the elbow. Slocum screamed, and a second Jedicon lunged forward and thrust a blade through his stomach, finishing him off. But before he could extract the blade, Val Ricaud was there, slicing the Jedicon’s arm off and then carving a swath out of the man’s chest with his return stroke.

Atridd and Ralagos made short work of the last two Jedicon, and Xar moved to the balcony’s edge and looked around, taking stock of the situation. His Force-enhanced ears could hear more screams, blaster shots and lightsabers clashing in the background. This was it; the whole palace was in a fight for its very survival.

“All right!” he shouted, rallying his forces with a wave of his blade. “Fan out and help out anyone else in trouble! We’ve got to flush them all out before they can get in reinforcements and---“

He broke off as a flash of light lit the sky to the west, and he stared in horror as a massive explosion and ripped out of the shield generator, blowing the dish apart and expanding to cover several square blocks of ruined cityscape in an expanding wall of flame.

Then the sound hit his ears, the sound of destruction and the complete shattering of the NI’s chances of keeping the AD from making a ground landing. Xar looked on in complete shock, at a loss for words. Somehow, the AD had penetrated the defenses at the generator. That meant everyone guarding it was dead, too. Now the shields were down, and AD drop-ships would be coming in at any moment.

“Grand Master!” someone shouted, throwing him out of his thoughts. He looked over and saw Nadia there, staring at him in concern. Atridd, Ralagos and the other stood by, awaiting his orders. “What do we do now?” she asked.

“Do what I just said,” he replied tersely. “I’ve got to get back to the command center! Go!”

With that he left them behind, running inside the palace and heading for the stairs. It was only a matter of time, now. And time was running out.


* * *


Treasury
Royal Palace, Varnus
1011 Hours



Rynn ran through the chaos that filled the lower corridors of the palace. People were everywhere: civilians running for safety, soldiers heading to their stations, Jedi hunting for the Jedicon that they said had invaded the palace.

The Altarin'Dakor had struck so fast! How did they get inside? Rynn felt a cold feeling in her stomach as she moved, knowing that she had been the only one to feel this coming. She had sensed it, as though the enemy were under the ground itself, but she hadn't been able to believe it. She didn't know how to interpret her budding new ability, and as a result the whole palace was now infested with Jedicon. People were dying, and she had to do everything in her power to save those she could.

"Hold tighter!" she said, looking down at the young boy beside her. Derek ran to keep up with her, though thanks to his uncanny Force abilities he hadn't slowed or become winded. Still, talented as he was, fighting wasn't an option for him. They had to make it to the treasury, fast.

They went though an intersection where people crossed back and forth in a state of near-panic. "Stay calm!" she shouted, though her voice was all but lost in the din. Beings of various species milled about, looking for shelter. There were innumerable rooms in the palace, but few would be safe from a powerful Force user.

They turned a corner and she finally saw her destination ahead. "There!" she yelled, pulling Derek alongside her. She had called ahead, hoping the door hadn't been sealed yet, but the commlinks had been down. She breathed a sigh of relief to see that they had not.

Numerous beings were still piling inside, and at the door she noticed at least one familiar face. Bren was there, his tall-shouldered form towering over most of the others, a look of concern covering his face. His expression immediately relaxed when he saw Rynn and Derek coming among the final few refugees.

"Rynn! Derek!" he cried as they finally reached him. "Come quickly inside! We're just about to seal the doors!"

They stepped inside, and Bren followed, keeping an eye down the corridor for others seeking shelter, or for approaching enemies.

"Is everyone here?" Rynn asked, seeing what must be well over a hundred bodies piling their way into the recesses of the palace's massive treasure vault. "All the children are accounted for?"

"Most got here earlier this morning," Bren replied, nodding as he kept watch.

"Will this keep the Jedicon out?" Derek spoke up, his voice sounding far more mature than his small frame would imply. "They can't cut their way in?"

"This treasury has never been breached, and the walls are strong enough to make it nearly impossible for a lightsaber to penetrate," Rynn said.

"But if we lose, they'll eventually get in," Derek said. "Nimrod can get in."

She looked down at him, noticed the serious look on his face. "Yes," she replied, giving him the honest answer. "I suppose he can."

"It won't come to that," Bren assured them. He took one last look down the corridor, which was now empty. "That's it; time to close us in." He nodded to a young Jedi Guardian standing there, still a teenager and too young to join the fighting. "Close the door."

The young boy activated the controls and the massive door slowly swung shut with a muffled whomp. The boy tapped a few last keys and the panel went red. "We're locked in now," he reported. "We're the only ones who can open the door electronically, now."

"Commlinks will still work, so we'll know what's going on outside," Bren said.

Rynn nodded, then took stock of the mixed group of individuals inside the vault. She gave a nod to Lorien Kal, Thrakus' wife, who gave him a brave smile in return. Their daughter Seydinl was with her. She also saw Oriana along with her and Paan's children, as well as Fenora and a host of other women and children, and civilians.

"We'll be safe in here," Bren assured them. "Please have a seat and make yourselves comfortable." Then he looked at Rynn. "We should attempt to use Battle Meditation to help the others."

"I agree," Rynn nodded immediately. "They're going to need all the help they can get."

As Derek looked on, she walked over to a section of empty floor and sat down with Bren, cross-legged, facing each other. Then they reached out with the Force and began to focus.



* * *


Medbay
Royal Palace, Varnus
1015 Hours



Erim Vannik, chief physician of the Royal Varnusian Palace, stood ready in the emergency care ward of the palace's medical facility. With him, spread throughout the room, were all of the physicians and nurses under his authority, standing by. Each had volunteered to serve, even though they knew that if the enemy actually invaded the medbay, they would likely all be killed. Despite that chance, their oath to treat and care for the sick, injured and dying was stronger. He was very proud of them.

For five years Vannik had served in the palace, seeing beings of innumerable species, treating everything from headaches to severed limbs, heart attacks and cancers to shrapnel wounds. In all that time, he had never grown bored or considered leaving. There was always something new to learn, even for someone well into middle age. That quest for knowledge was what kept him going, day after day. The Force grant that that journey didn't come to an end, this day.

The entire room had been cleared of all patients to make room for the wounded that would inevitably be arriving. There had been no one in critical or serious condition, so Vannik had ordered all of them into one of the city's shelters the day before, anticipating what was to come.

Cleared, that was, except for one particular patient. Vannik turned around and stared through the protective transparisteel wall between himself and the quarantine. Reserved normally for patients with extremely infectious or dangerous conditions, it was the safest place he could think of to store this particular charge. The man lay on a single bed inside, his eyes closed, his expression tranquil. Unfortunately, Jedi Master Nico Flygras had not yet woken up. It reminded Vannik of another comatose Force-sensitive he had treated in that room.

Just like before, it wasn't a physical ailment that afflicted the patient, but rather a mental one. And though his brain-wave activities appeared as those of a normal, sleeping human, there was something far worse going on inside Flygras' mind. Thus again, Vannik had reached the limits of his medical knowledge, and though it drove him to see the answers all the more, there was nothing else he could think of to do. Only a powerful Force-sensitive could possibly reach inside his mind and find out what was really going on. Barring that, all Vannik could do was wait for the man to wake up.

If he ever did.

As long as Flygras was in Vannik's charge, his life and heath were completely the responsibility of his doctor. And Vannik would do anything necessary to keep his patient alive.

Turning back to the personnel gathered there, he began one last walkthrough of their stations, ensuring they were totally prepared. A battle was raging out there, but soon one would begin here, as well: a battle not to end lives, but to save them.


* * *


Command Center
Royal Palace, Varnus
1015 Hours



"The shield generator's been destroyed!"

Gui Sun Paan stared in shock at the officer's viewscreen, seeing only a massive, expanding wall of flame filling the landscape where the generator had once stood.

    "By the Twin Suns. We're in trouble now..." he whispered. He turned away, unsure of what to say. It was the worst possible thing that could have happened - the shields had been the main line of defense for Varnus. Though there were auxiliary generators and shields in other areas, this had been the main hub, guarding the zone right over the heart of the city. There wouldn't be enough coverage now to keep the AD out - or to stop orbital bombardment, should they choose to do so.


He glanced across the main console toward the tall, imperial-looking woman staring impassively over his shoulder, arms crossed impassively beneath her breasts. Zalaria looked down at him and her eyes narrowed. "They'll be attacking in full force soon, now. We must prepare for the ground assault. Ready the city's defenses and launch all fighters."

     Paan's mouth dropped open halfway, and he felt a stab of indignation at being told what to do. The situation was obvious to him, as well. Still, she was right, and he didn't want to risk talking back to her. So he simply nodded, realizing the direness of the situation. This was it. He keyed the main internal palace comm, which would link to all sectors in and around the palace square. Every loudspeaker, both internal and external, would carry his voice. "This is Palace Command. We are at Red Alert status. The palace has been breached by enemy forces and the planetary shields have been neutralized. Activate all defense systems. Ground troops to positions. All fighters, launch immediately and move to prevent ground assault."

     He was watching on the various monitors as troops rallied to positions. Most had already started within the last fifteen minutes or so of the alert. Still, with the enemy already inside, he realized just how poorly defensible their location was. This was a palace, not a fortress. There were no heavily-armored security doors to close. There were no automatic sentry gun emplacements in the floors or ceilings. There were only a few guard stations inside, and then the barricades they had built up outside the palace. Hopefully they could keep the enemy from coming in, because once they did, it would be all over. Unless, of course, Nimrod simply decided to bomb the planet from orbit...

"Don't worry," Zalaria spoke up from behind him. "They'll try and capture Vectur intact, not obliterate it."

He spun in his chair, surprised how easily she could read his mind, which he always kept shielded with the Force. "How..." he began.

"Sir, priority communique from Sector Admiral Gaius!" exclaimed the officer at the main Comm station.

"What is it?" Paan asked, turning towards her.

"Sir, it appears the two incoming enemy Titans have disappeared!"

    "Disappeared?" Paan said. "That makes no sense. Are they sure?"

The officer sat still for a moment, listening to her earpiece with a frown. Then an instant later a warning light flashed on the main control board, and Paan checked the main screen in confusion.

A line of red enemy blips had appeared in mid-orbit over Varnus, directly opposite the New Imperium First Fleet's position.

"Sir, multiple Titan-class Battleships have appeared in orbit and are on an attack vector!" shouted the logistics officer.

"What?!" Paan blurted.

"De-cloaked," Zalaria corrected him, her voice like steel. "The others weren't really there."

"What do you mean?" Paan said, staring up at her.

    "This situation is serious," she said instead. "I have to coordinate my own forces." With that she moved to a second holoscreen and console, the same in design and function as the one Paan was using. Paan spared a glance to the back of the room, where two of Zalaria's bodyguard Jedicon - two of the few Jedicon still allowed on Varnus - stood guard watchfully. Zalaria leaned over the console and began speaking in Altarin'Dakor. Paan turned back to his own console.

On the displays, he could see fighters beginning to launch out of the palace and ground troops starting to hunker down behind the barricades in front of the palace. And on the tactical display, he saw the NI fleet begin moving into position, spilling out fighters by the hundreds. Things were about to heat up, fast. By now the Grand Master had to know what was happening. Paan hoped Xar would return quickly; maybe he would be able to make more sense what in the twin suns was going on...


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 16, 2008 8:52 pm   Post subject: Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley   


Titan-class Battleship
Nexus
In Orbit, Varnus
1020 Hours




“All ships to defensive position Aleph! All fighters launch immediately!”

Sector Admiral Gaius Adonai shouted the command as soon as the Titans began de-cloaking. He ran across the ship’s massive bridge – an act that took much longer than it would have on the Independence. The ship’s huge holo-displays formed a chamber that encircled the bridge, allowing them an unprecedented view of space around them. The ship’s commodore, Awel Kylar, stood there stone-faced, overseeing the situation. Four Titans had already appeared, forming a veritable wall pinning the NI’s First Fleet against the planet Varnus. Then, to Gaius’ dismay, four more Titans appeared, finishing the wall, staggered in a loose formation two high, four wide.

“What’s going on?”

Gaius turned from the dismal view of the situation, seeing Fleet Admiral Jann Percy, Field Marshall Rodin Kaler, and Admiral Walt Amason stride out of the conference room in which they’d all been meeting. The three officers jogged up, then went silent as they saw what was happening.

“Eight Titans?” Gaius said, looking to Kylar. “How did we miss them there? I thought your ships can detect cloaked vessels!”

The ship’s commodore shook his head. “They must have come out of hyperspace directly on top of us, then de-cloaked. A bold maneuver.”

“Bold? It was crazy!” Field Marshall Kaler snapped. “And it obviously worked. We’re boxed in!”

“I can see that,” Gaius said. “Sensors, give me a readout on those Titans.”

“Eight enemy Titans,” the officer spoke up, in barely passable Basic. It made Gaius long to be back on the Independence, where communication could flow much more smoothly, not to mention saving time. "Their transponders identify as the Ascendancy, Hegemony, Desolation, Fall of Light, Subjugation, Right of Conquest, and Havoc,” the officer reported.

“Those are all Nimrod’s warships,” Commodore Kylar spoke up. “But we thought that those were all the ships he had posted in Epsilon Sector.”

“That means he’s drawn in reinforcements,” Percy added. “Must be because we took out one of his ships.”

He glanced at Amason, but Walt just shook his head. “We did the best we could,” he said. "Even destroying one was a major feat. We lost all the World Devastators we'd been constructing."

“I know,” Gaius said. “So, he’s committed everything he has here at Varnus…” he began.

He broke off though, as another warning beeped throughout the bridge. Another ship de-cloaked, lying just to port and beneath all the others. It was black, and impossibly long, dwarfing the others…

He recognized it. It was the Titan that had single-handedly devastated the New Imperial Starfleet at the Battle of Mizar. It was just over fifty kilometers in length.

“Another ship! The Cataclysm has entered the field of battle,” the officer reported.

“That makes nine,” Percy pointed out.

“This is crazy,” Kaler whispered.

“Activate shield and weapons!” the commodore shouted. “Launch the Nexus’ fighters!”

Gaius checked the displays showing the NI First Fleet’s position. It was quite a large force, including the Nexus, the Super Star Destroyer Independence, the Allegiance-class Star Destroyer Defiant, six Imperial-class Star Destroyers, multiple Victory-class Star Destroyers Mon-Calamari Cruisers, and various other capital ships and support craft. They held a loose formation that stretched across the area above the city’s capital of Vectur. As he watched, the ships began to draw closer, and hundreds of fighters began spilling out of their ships’ hangar bays. It was a formidable force, but next to what Nimrod had committed, it was pathetically small.

"Sir, perhaps we should consider our options," Field Marshall Kaler began.

Gaius glanced back at him and frowned. "We can't retreat," he said adamantly. "There's no where else to go. And I won't abandon the people of Varnus to their fate."

"Still," the man countered, "Maybe we could..."

Naguis’Vox’Donn!” the tactical officer cried out. “Another ship appearing!”

Everyone on the bridge stared at the display directly ahead. A bright flare appeared in space, slightly below the formation of other Titans. The light expanded, many kilometers wide, even obscuring the other ships from view. Then out of that light came a massive object, a blunt spear sided with circular structures on each side, slowly pouring out of that blinding brightness. The ship kept coming, resolving into a long spine, and a massive body with two giant wings that all poured slowly out of the wormhole.

The ship came to a rest a moment later. Gaius saw on the readout that the ship was fifty-six kilometers in length. It was the largest ship he’d ever seen.

“The ship is the Grand Crusader,” the officer said as the portal into ultraspace disappeared behind the huge Titan.

“The Shok’Thola Nimrod’s command ship,” Awel Kylar pronounced gravely.

That makes ten, Gaius thought incredulously. Ten! How is that possible?

“We’re finished,” the Field Marshall said from behind him.

“This is far more firepower than Nimrod needs,” Amason said. “What is his purpose here?”

“We do need to come up with a plan, fast,” Percy added.

Just then the communications officer said something in Altarin’Dakor, and Commodore Kylar moved over to that position. The man stared down at the display screen, said something to the officer, and a link was established. Gaius recognized Zalaria’s voice on the other end. Both were speaking in Altarin’Dakor.

“What’s going on?” Gaius said, coming over to the console.

Kylar glanced at him briefly, then turned back to the display and continued speaking.

Gaius cleared his throat testily. “Excuse me, but unless you’re discussing the latest shock-ball scores, perhaps you could try speaking Basic,” he said, annoyance flaring. He was in no mood for games, and there was nothing they could be discussing that he shouldn’t be privy to, right now. “And while you’re at it, explain to me how Nimrod brought ten Titans here to Varnus to kill us!”

Kylar eyed him again, then condescended and stood back. Zalaria’s voice broke through on the Comm.

“There aren’t ten Titans, Gaius,” she said, staring into the screen. If she was unsettled or upset by the surprise attack, she was hiding it well; her face betrayed little emotion at all besides annoyance. “Some of those Titans are not really there. They’re Force Illusions.”

Gaius’ eyes widened in surprise, quickly turning to skepticism. He arched an eyebrow. “You can’t be serious. No one is powerful enough to fool everyone in the fleet and on the planet as well.”

Zalaria’s eyes flared. “I’m not just wasting my breath, Admiral,” she countered. “Believe what you wish; what I said is the truth.”

“Well?” Percy spoke up, staring out at the display. The Titans hovered out there, waiting. A couple of dozen smaller capital ships - frigates, cruisers and destroyers, mostly - lay interspersed between the more massive vessels. Though the reality was, the Titans didn’t need any support. They were like whole armadas in themselves. “Which ones aren’t real, then?” Percy demanded.

“Even I can’t tell you that,” Zalaria said with a shake of her head. “Only time will tell, as the battle progresses. It will inhibit our ability to block the real ships from passing the blockade, and limit the damage we inflict to their ships as well.”

“Can’t we just fire on them to see?” Amason asked.

“Even if you do, you might see illusory damage. Even sensors can be fooled.”

“How can Nimrod be that powerful?” Gaius said, incredulous. What techniques must Nimrod know, that he could fool millions – millions of beings! – while directing an assault on one of the NI’s prime worlds?

“I think you still do not comprehend the power of a Shok’Thola,” she chided them. “Regardless, Nimrod knows machinery better than anyone alive. There’s never been a technology we’ve encountered that he hasn’t been able to instinctively understand, and control. Furthermore, his command ship there contains a powerful Force artifact that enhances his ability to perform certain feats. This is one of them.”

“Is he on there? Is Nimrod himself on that ship?” Percy asked her.

“I can feel his presence. He will be coordinating his forces.”

Gaius felt a chill go down his spine, and he shared a wary look with the other officers assembled. “What’s the situation down there?” he asked then, changing the subject. “I heard the palace is under attack.”

“Jedicon invaded the palace from underground,” Zalaria said. “They will be dealt with, but you must prevent reinforcements or ground troops from landing.”

“Small chance of that, with the planetary shields down,” Field Marshall Kaler said.

“We’ll need all the help we can get,” Gaius told Zalaria.

“I will commit all my forces to the defense of Varnus,” she replied. “Naguis’Vox’Donn Kylar will coordinate mine with yours. My Jedicon are also all in orbit; they will do what they can. Also, I suggest you call in reinforcements from Tralaria.”

“The Second Fleet? They’ve been tied up with Nimrod’s Titans on the Western Front,” Percy pointed out.

“They have nothing to worry about if Nimrod has committed all his forces here,” Gaius said.

A beeping sound came from the communications console. The Comm Officer turned to look at him with a strange expression.

“Admiral, a message from the Grand Crusader. It says that the Altarin’Dakor are prepared to accept our immediate surrender.”

Gaius shared dark stares with the other command officers gathered, then looked at Kylar, whose face showed surprise. Gaius looked at him, expecting him to elaborate.

“It is virtually unheard of for an Altarin’Dakor to surrender,” Zalaria’s voice broke in. “It seems Nimrod is acknowledging that you, as Outlanders, hold different values and may wish to survive this engagements and retain your lives. It is, of course, a grave insult.”

Gaius nodded gravely. He knew it was an Altarin’Dakor’s greatest glory to die in battle for their Cause, their ‘Return’. He sighed heavily, feeling the full weight of his decision on his shoulders. Of what he was about to initiate. “You can tell Nimrod where to stick his insults. And while you’re at it, order him to surrender to us, instead.”

The officer turned back to his console in surprise, and Zalaria’s image gave a slight smile. “Very well. I have matters to attend to here. Carry on.”

Her image vanished, and Gaius took a deep breath, preparing to give orders. “Rodin, I want you to coordinate the troops on the ground,” he said, turning to face the Field Marshall.

“We’re really doing this,” Kaler said, giving a slow, deliberate nod. “We’ll give it our best.”

“That we are. Percy, Amason, I need you two here to help coordinate logistics. I have to get back to the Independence,” Gaius turned and started to walk past Kylar.

“We would prefer that you stay, Admiral,” the man spoke up, stopping Gaius in his tracks. “And coordinate the fleet from here.”

Gaius narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “The Independence is the command ship for the First Fleet,” he countered.

“The Nexus is the safest ship for you to be on, now. We have far superior defensive and offensive capabilities. It will be much easier to coordinate from here.”

Gaius stared around the bridge, realizing for the first time that the few NI personnel, including himself, were sorely outnumbered. And the ship itself probably carried a million Altarin’Dakor crewmembers. If they didn’t want him leaving, then he wasn't going anywhere.

“And if the Nexus falls?” he asked, already knowing the answer.

The nearest of the Titans began sending out beams of energy from its gun emplacements, which stretched across the distance to impact against the Nexus’ shields. A blue field began to glow around the ship.

“Then we are all dead,” he said simply.


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 5:37 pm   Post subject: Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley   

Inner Balconies
Royal Palace, Varnus
1020 Hours



Xar reached the center of the chamber and paused. The glowlamps were turned off, and the room was only dimly lit by the sunlight streaming in from the balconies outside. The far corners were bathed in shadow. Even still, he could see them there.
 

    Four Jedicon stepped forward to face him, angling in on his left and right. They quickly encircled him, and the multicolored blades of their lightsabers snapped to life in a sequence of piercing hisses.


     "We have been waiting long to face you," one of the warriors said in native Altarin'Dakor. "Defeating you will bring much honor."


     Xar gave a half-smile to indicate that he'd understood them. He could feel their strength in the Force; the Jedicon made no attempts to conceal it, arrogantly broadcasting it in an obvious, open challenge. He knew they were each about half as strong as he was, which would make them the equivalent of a strong Jedi Master. They held the advantage in numbers.
  

   Unfortunately for them, Force power levels weren't linear, but exponential. And these Jedicon would know that. It would take at least all four of them to equal one of Xar's ability. Yet Xar still held the advantage - he could divide and conquer.
 

    They started edging closer, watching Xar hungrily, obviously consumed by the bloodlust of already killing anyone they'd come across within the palace. Their clothes, he saw, were stained with blood, and not their own. Xar narrowed his eyes, his anger flaring white-hot inside. It was his people that they had killed. They were murderers.
 They deserved no mercy.

    So, they thought to force him into a four-on-one duel, did they? Using a technique he'd learned from his old master years ago, he reached out with the Force, sensing the crystals that were essential to a lightsaber's function and operation. He could feel them, vibrating subtly through the Force. Reaching out, he Pulled, jerking them out of alignment.


     Sparks shot out from the four Jedicon warriors' handles, and their faces registered surprise as their blades were extinguished. But these warriors were too experienced to be defeated by such a simple technique; reacting immediately, they threw their handles up and away, each in a direction away from himself and his comrades. Four small explosions lit up the air above their heads, sparing them from damage, and Xar was again impressed by the fighting instinct that a trained Jedicon, disciplined in war virtually from birth, could possess.
 

    Then all four Jedicon rushed in anyway, screaming war cries as they came in. 
 

    Letting the blazing anger from within fuel him, Xar drew his Force power in, and time seemed to slow. The warriors were flying through the air towards him, fists raised.


     Throwing up a hand, he sent a powerful Force Push at the two on his left. As the men flew backwards, crying out as they somersaulted into the shadows, Xar threw himself at the other two.
 

    Even as one Jedicon reared back to strike, Xar's fist crashed across his face full-force, spinning his head wildly to the side. He heard vertebrae crack as the man's neck snapped, and he fell away, killed instantly from the blow.


     The next threw a fist at his head, which Xar quickly slapped to the side. Another punch streaked out, and Xar leaned away, dodging, then caught the man's arm with his hand, pulled him forward off balance, and threw a powerful kick to the man's head. The Jedicon's neck lurched to the side, his head falling at an odd angle, and Xar finished the throw, sending the man tumbling to the side.


     Barely a second had passed, but the first two Jedicon were back on their feet, launching back towards him. Xar sidestepped and caught the one on the right, sweeping his feet out with his leg and shoving him to the side. The man slammed into the wall, sending debris raining down on top of him. 


     The last Jedicon had produced a wickedly-shaped dagger, and came at Xar with a wide, sweeping slash. Xar ducked, feeling wind pass over his head, then his hand snaked out and caught the Jedicon's wrist as he thrust a stab toward his midsection. He pulled the man's wrist to the side, then stepped in and rammed his fist straight into his enemy's solar plexus. Xar heard his sternum crack, and his hand sunk in nearly all the way into the man's chest, his armor caving inwards. The Jedicon's eyes went wide, and his mouth opened, but no sound came out. Xar released him and he fell to the floor face-first. Blood began draining from his mouth and formed a pool on the floor.


     He turned, and saw the Jedicon who'd hit the wall on his feet again, his face a bloody mess. The man screamed, then stepped forward, hands extended together, and a blast of Force energy shot from his hands, straight at Xar. Light flashed out, banishing the shadows from the room.

Quickly gauging the strength of the attack, Xar retaliated, throwing out one hand and sending powerful blast of his own straight at his opponents'. The two blasts collided straight on in a flash, then Xar's more powerful attack dispersed his enemy's, continued straight on, and hit the surprised man dead in the chest. 


     The man's torso exploded, sending blood and bone fragments flying into the air behind him. The body spun on its heels, chest blackened and cauterized, and fell to the floor, still on fire.
 

    Xar surveyed the scene, ensuring each of his opponents was fully deceased, then moved on. He took the turbolift up to the fifteenth floor without incident, then used his access code and took a smaller lift the rest of the way up to the command level. Still, his mind raced, adrenaline surging through his veins. He knew there were other Jedicon in the palace, other enemies invaders of his home. He wouldn't stop until every last invader in the palace paid the ultimate price for their invasion.


As the lift doors whooshed open, he took off running again, eager to reach the command center. He sensed a shift in the situation through the Force, a building sense of unease and panic among the NI forces. Something bad was happening.

He rounded the last corner in a Force-enhanced blur, approaching the command center doors, and heard the click of loaded weaponry and the shuffling of booted feet as several blaster carbines were aimed his way.

"Stand down!" shouted one of the officers from within the guard station, the barricade that had been erected next to the command center's doors. Immediately the blasters returned to ready position as the half-dozen stormtroopers stationed there recognized Xar. The leader saluted even as Xar ran past. "Sorry, sir."

Xar ignored him and passed through the doors as they opened. He found the Command Center just as he had left it, with officers at their stations, Gui Sun Paan at the primary console, and his wife standing nearby watching the tactical display.

"Status report," Xar barked, causing all heads to turn towards him.

"Sir!" Paan looked as relieved as Xar had ever seen when he saw the Grand Master. There was a sense of increased tension in the air, and many officers' faces looked ashen.

Xar glanced at the tactical screen one more time and knew immediately what was wrong. His fierce anger at the invading forces turned into sheer disbelief. "Ten Titans?" he asked.

Zalaria turned to face him as he moved in front of the tactical holoscreen for a closer look. "I sense that Nimrod is using his powers to create Illusions on a grand scale. An indeterminate number of those ships are mere phantoms, though at this stage it is impossible to determine which ones."

Xar listened as she continued to explain, with Paan filling in a few gaps on troop movements and the preparations. As they spoke, a sense of dread began settling heavily on him, in addition to the weight that he'd felt all these past few weeks. This was it; the day he had feared for so long had finally come. And with stark realization he knew something else was now threatening to consume him - fear. It was immediate, a sense of impending doom that hung over him. He knew that they were hopelessly outmatched in this battle. Varnus was going to fall.

"Be cautious," Zalaria said. "I sense Nimrod's influence affecting the minds and emotions of our personnel - including yours."

Xar reared back in surprise, then shook his head to clear it. He hadn't even realized the subtle touch on his emotions, hadn't imagined that even he himself would be susceptible to such an attack. Now that he knew what it was, he was able to call on the Force and create a mental shield around himself. Nimrod's powers might be vast, but they were spread out on a wide scale, probably affecting the entire city and the NI fleet in orbit. He wasn't concentrating his attack on individuals, yet. With the shield up, the fear faded - mostly. There was still some; undeniably it must have been there already, resting within himself. That wouldn't be so easy to remove. He looked at his wife. "Do something about it," he said. " Fight back. Send out feelings of encouragement. Courage."

He saw her hesitate. "I will try. It will shield our personnel, but at the risk of..." she began.

"Forget about tipping Nimrod's hand," he said, gesturing to the holoscreen beside them. "He's throwing everything he's got at us. Whether or not he brings his full power against us, if we don't do something we'll all be dead by tomorrow, anyway."

He met her gaze, unblinking, and after a moment her expression turned resolute and she nodded. "Very well."

She closed her eyes for a brief moment, then opened them again. He immediately noticed a shift in the room's atmosphere, a more calm demeanor coming over the officers present. "Done," she said. "Though I can't guarantee complete protection from its effects. It may phase through at times."

He nodded his thanks to her, then looked back to the screen. He could see the NI fleet moving into a defensive huddle, sheltering itself beneath the wing-like structures extending from the Nexus' hull. Fighters were spilling out of all the ships, including the enemy's, and a couple of Titans were already moving forward, opening fire on the NI vessels. The Battle of Varnus had begun.


* * *


Titan-class Battleship Ascendancy
In Orbit, Varnus
1045 Hours



Kamren Thansil rested in his cockpit seat and gripped the comfortable controls of his powerful Punisher-class assault fighter. It was large, yet sleek and maneuverable, and heavily armed, with five full beam weapons and an array of powerful missiles. It was made to destroy any enemy craft it encountered, from starfighters to transports, from bombers to corvettes. It was a thing of beauty, both for its form and also for its deadly efficiency.


 He waited in the quiet, face bathed in soft green light from above, his mind barely registering the reports of his and the other fighter wings coming into readiness. Instead his thoughts were on the coming battle, and on glory.

Half a span ago, he along with every other warrior in the Ascendancy's vast hangar bays had knelt in solemn ceremony, in prayer to Nimrod that he would grant them swift victory and many slain enemies. It was an honored event held before any large-scale engagement, one that had been repeated through time immemorial throughout the Altarin'Dakor's long history. Today would be another of those days, one that would be known as the last step on the cusp of their glorious, grand Return.


Once they launched, Kamren would command the fighters of the Ascendancy in a relentless assault in coordination with all the other ships in the fleet. It would be a glorious slaughter of the hapless New Imperium. In this battle, Kamren would give everything, holding nothing back, bringing all his skills and experience to bear in order to destroy as many foes as possible. He must shine, today - after all, as they all now knew, their god had joined them for this final, glorious battle. Victory was assured - the only question was how much glory would be had.


Kamren wondered if, down there, some expert pilot awaited that would be able to give him the glorious death that all Altarin'Dakor craved. After the last engagement, he had meditated long and hard on the cause of the Return, on its true meaning. Now he had settled things in his mind. Things were clear once more.

He hoped that Stele was out there, still alive. He hoped that he would be able to face him again. Kamren had bested Stele once, before, but his victory had been robbed from him at the last moment. Still, in Kamren's mind, he had already proved himself superior to Stele. He longed to finish what he had begun at Sigma. Nimrod grant that his prey would not elude him this time.

Perhaps though, Stele would kill him, instead. This prospect also excited him as well, because it would mean he would fall in the greatest engagement of the war to date. Altarin'Dakor boys grew up hearing the stories of the ancient Battle of Varnus, when an outnumbered and outgunned force of Altarin'Dakor warriors and Jedicon had successfully defended the planet from a False Jedi attack, slaughtering millions of enemy warriors. Though they were eventually killed to a man by a second enemy force, that battle had been cemented in the psyche of all Altarin'Dakor that they were, in fact, superior, and that their claim of ownership to this galaxy was just and righteous. Today's battle would be a great symbol to his people. Dying here would be a grand honor. Kamren thought of his wife, and his children. He would leave a legacy that his sons would dream and strive for, carrying them through the ranks to surpass even their father. Perhaps he and Stele would both perish together. It would be the culmination of everything he had worked towards. Yes, things were very clear.

The order to launch came suddenly. Smiling in anticipation, Kamren ordered all fighters forward. The external lights went out, his fighter was released, and he dove his gray and black-hulled vessel downwards as space opened up before him.


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2009 10:07 pm   Post subject: Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley   

In Orbit
Varnus
1045 Hours



Fighters streamed out of the Super Star Destroyer Independence, along with every other ship in the New Imperium's First Fleet. Colonel Rivian von Donitz guided his fighter out of the Independence's hangar together with the first of the squadrons to leave. The fighter wings, every one of the First Fleet's, were under his command. Every one remaining, that was.


They'd given him a TIE Defender for this mission, a rarity since so many have been lost in the war, and with the transition to the newer, more inexpensive TIE Avatar. The Defender was still the superior space fighter, and he supposed this was the preferable choice of the two. The Avatar was a piece of junk, in his opinion, little more than a cobbled-together Ugly. Still, though the Defender was better, he would miss his own sleek, agile Avenger this battle.
    

His craft had been armed with advanced torpedoes for this engagement, giving him much more firepower to get through the shields of enemy fighters and transports. The two ion cannons had also been removed, replaced with an extra set of lasers. That gave him six cannons to fire with, which could be linked for rapid-fire, three-by-three, or full-six bursts. For this battle, they weren't interested in capturing the enemy. 
   

  As Donitz pulled out from beneath the Independence, he saw the larger bulk of the Nexus resting above, one of its giant sail fins extending overhead like a massive ceiling. Fighters flew from her hangers in swarms. Around him, streams of NI Imperial and New Republic-model fighters pulled into formation, racing out to meet the approaching enemy ships that hung like a curtain filling the space ahead.
   

  The remnants of the First Fleet were assembled in a close formation, in geostationary orbit over the capital city of Vectur. The fleet was tattered and damaged from several serious engagements already, though they had performed hat repairs could be done in time. Surrounding Donitz's Wings of fighters were: the ISDs Vindicator, Trident, Phantom, Stormwatch, Red Horizon, Tsunami, and Fang; VSDs Reaper, Novaprince, and Raider; MC-90 Courageous and MC-80 Retribution, along with dozens of smaller capital ships and support craft including two Escort Carriers, two Interdictors, and many different frigates. Also present were four Majestic-class cruisers, the Iovius, the Repulse, the recently-repaired Scimitar, and the Majestic, the prototype itself. All the guns had been pulled out for this one. Dominating the NI formation were the Allegiance-class Star Destroyer Defiant, the SSD Independence, and the Titan-class Battleship Nexus.
   

  Above, the Nexus and the other Titans exchanged rounds of blue and yellow beam weapon fire, each thicker than Donitz's own starfighter. He knew they would have to avoid those at all cost.
   

  "This is Alpha Leader," he called into the fleet frequency. "All wings report in and enter formation. Prepare to engage enemy fighters."
 

    He listened as leaders Wings Alpha through Psi called in, the wave of fighters swelling steadily at his back. Still, next to the sheer amount of enemy fighters approaching, it looked small. His HUD map was lit up with so many contacts it looked like a massive fireworks display.
    

With the recent losses at Moro and Sigma, the First Fleet had been reduced from thirty wings of fighters down to about twenty-three, approximately a twenty-five percent reduction in strength. Vectur and the planetary defense forces held about another five wings, flying under Commander Stele, and the Nexus carried around 1,500 Altarin'Dakor fighters. That gave them just over 3,500 total fighters to commit to Varnus' defense at the moment. 
    

Under normal circumstances, it would have been a formidable force to deal with. But with the Titan reinforcements that the invading enemy now had, the NI seemed painfully insignificant. Donitz stared at his screens as they reported over 10,000 fighters approaching them, the number still rising rapidly. 
    

He knew the NI had no chance to win this engagement. They were all going to die.
  

   "Lead, this is Two. There's just too many of them. What do we do?"
  

   Donitz frowned, but didn't answer. At his flanks were his two wingmates, Gaestial “Gastron” sul Ambrac, and Cousner Nibiuri. They were experienced pilots. He had flown with them for several engagements. They wouldn't normally voice their fears aloud. He didn't expect them to break, even under immense pressure such as this.
 

    But Donitz was feeling the pressure, too. A growing sense of trepidation had been building inside of him for the last half hour, and now it was stronger than ever. Seeing the mass of enemy forces spread out before them now, a surge of dread and near-panic threatened to rise up in him, nearly paralyzing his arms and legs at the controls.
  

   He shook his head inside his flight helmet. This wasn't right; it wasn't natural. It was like what he'd felt when they'd begun the Battle of Mizar, only here it was ten times stronger. With a start he realized what was happening.
   

  The AD were using the Force to affect their minds - all of them. Either all their Jedicon were working in concert, or there was someone out there strong enough to do all this by himself.
   

  Now that he knew what it was, though, he could do something about it. Using a mental disciplining technique he'd learned long ago, he separated his emotions from the rest of his mind, bringing everything into clear, logical focus. He felt himself settle into a void of calm, regarding everything has one might a simple arithmetic problem. It was something that others had  misunderstood in him, thinking him icy, aloof and heartless at times. It had given him a reputation as an insensitive, cold killer. It had saved his life many times.
  

   Looking around, he saw fighters beginning to waver along the line. Random chatter on the open line had dissolved into whispers of fear and dread. Some pilots were considering turning back, making a run for it, abandoning their duty.
  

   Donitz keyed his commlink. "Hold the line," he ordered, pronouncing his words clearly, projecting all the calm and authority into his voice that he could manage. "Don't give into the tricks of the enemy."
 

    His words seemed to have only the slightest effect. Faced with insurmountable odds, he knew that the NI pilots were about to break.
   

  Then, just as he calmly made the assessment that it was all over before it had even begun, the part of him he had detached in his mind was embed with a sudden surge of confidence. It's all right, a voice seemed to say. It's just a trick. We can do this.
    

He immediately recognized this new feeling as not coming from within himself, either. Both were outside forces, and one had just supplanted the other, or perhaps had driven it back to a large extent. He suddenly felt excited, capable, nearly invincible.
 

    This, too, he shunted aside, with some effort. He didn't need false hope to help him fight. He had made his decision before ever donning his flight suit. 
  

   The other pilots, however, benefited greatly from this much-needed morale boost. Lines steadied, and chatter ceased. He felt resolve solidify in his pilots. He didn't know what had caused this sudden surge in confidence, but he had a good idea where to look. Both the NI and AD forces were the unwitting pawns in a massive game of wits. Both would be used, and sacrificed if necessary, in a battle of much larger scale than that which could be seen in front of them.
 

   His assessment done, Donitz quickly brought his mind back to the reality of the present. 
   

  About 2,000 Altarin'Dakor fighters were barreling straight for the NI formation. Donitz and the other fighters were quickly heading out to intercept them. This will be the first clash, he realized. The NI fighters outnumbered this particular wave, but he knew that the enemy starfighters would have superior firepower and maneuverability. That, together with the cybernetic link that many Altarin'Dakor pilots held, would make this a difficult match. In fact, this could be the last engagement any of them ever flew. But if that were the case, so be it. Donitz was always prepared for the worst. 
  

   Fortunately, with the unexpected morale boost they'd received, Donitz was fairly confident that the rest of his wing wouldn't turn tail and run. He was about to give the order to attack when his comm channel suddenly chimed in.
    

"This is Fleet Admiral Arden Vonture onboard the Independence," a calm, steady voice came over the commlink. "All fighters stand by. We are preparing a volley."
     

   Donitz checked his screens and blinked in surprise. The front wave of AD fighters had overextended themselves well out beyond the reach of their capital ships, with nothing between them and the NI Starfleet, and packed as ti
ghtly as canned nerf. In such a close formation they were completely vulnerable to the well-trained gunners onboard the NI ships. What had they been thinking?
  

   Unabated, the AD fighters soared in at top speed, as though nothing at all were amiss. Donitz watched them approach on his readout, imagining their pilots rushing in, desperate to make the first kill of the battle. He watched them approach, even as the Fleet Admiral Vonture allowed them to come into optimal firing range. Then the NI fleet opened fire.
 

    Thousands of turbolaser blasts shot out into space, flashing past the NI fighter formations in an eyeblink, bolts of green and red and blue streaking out to the interval between the two fleets. Then all Donitz could make out was a bright wall of light as hundreds of enemy fighters were hit and vaporized. His screens showed whole clusters of dots disappearing within the span of a dozen seconds.
   

"Incredible," Nibiuri's voice came over the commlink. 
  

  The barrage suddenly ended, and in the wake of destruction Donitz saw far fewer fighters emerge. Still, though the survivors were hopelessly outnumbered, they charged on anyway. Some of the advance NI wings moved in and engaged, though at this point the odds were back in the New Imperium’s favor.
   

  Donitz couldn't believe that their commander had been so foolish - or perhaps he had been overconfident?
 

    Then he saw the number of enemy fighters continuing to swell on his screens, and he shook his head inside his flight helmet. No, they had been neither foolish, nor overconfident. Simply assured of their victory. They outnumbered the NI forces so badly that they could afford to throw away thousands of fighters if they wanted to. 
 

    Could they have simply been sending a message? He could think of no better way to strike fear into enemy combatants and destroy their morale than to flagrantly display such apathy towards the loss of their forces. The Altarin'Dakor didn't care whether they lived or died today.
  

   Suddenly, as if in retribution, at least fifty massive beams of energy shot out from all the Titans in front of them, reaching across space to connect with the ships of the NI fleet. Shields lit up brightly beneath the withering assault, and some smaller ships were immediately overwhelmed, the beams plunging into hulls and slicing them open like a surgeon's scalpel. Durasteel plates melted into slag, then vaporized in bright clouds of glowing hot gas. Within seconds the NI lost three frigates and two strike cruisers, their explosions lighting up the hulls of the surrounding ISDs and sending chunks of molten metal drifting out of the formation.
    

Then Donitz turned his attention forward once more. They had nearly reached the halfway point between the two fleets. About a dozen AD heavy cruisers had advanced forward now, escorted by another cluster of fighters. Meanwhile, the Titans continued to advance, spilling out more fighters by the thousands. It was about to get ugly.
   

  The first rounds finally exchanged, the two fleets began pounding at one another at long range. The NI and AD fleets opened up again almost simultaneously. The battle was on full-force, now, with continuous fire lancing out all around them. The Nexus, Independence and other ships of the fleet spread fire forward at the lead Titans, while the massive behemoths returned fire, pouring energy into the Nexus' force field as well as the shields of the smaller NI vessels. 
  

   "There must be twenty thousand fighters out here by now!" Nibiuri shouted on the squadron frequency.
    

Donitz glanced at his screens again. Ten Titans. Fighters continued to pout out into space from them. Twenty thousand fighters was probably a conservative estimate. "Cut the chatter," he ordered. Then, switching back to the fleet frequency he said, "Alpha Leader to all wings. Break and attack."
    

NI fighter formations broke up as they moved into range of the approaching AD fighters, the cruisers looming large alongside them. Suddenly beams of energy shot out of the sky ahead, hundreds of them, as the AD ships reached firing range first. All around, NI ships began to explode as they were struck. Soon after, bright flashes of missile launches appeared, flying into the cloud of NI fighters and lending more havoc to the fray.
    

Seconds later, the AD ships were in range. Donitz got solid lock on two approaching fighters and armed his advanced torpedoes. He tightened his finger on the trigger, sending out one torpedo towards each. Joining him, hundreds of other missiles and torpedoes streaked out towards the cloud of AD fighters ahead. Explosions lit the space ahead, as missiles lit up enemy shields and sent their craft spinning off course, or penetrated and blew their fuselages to pieces.
  

   One of Donitz' torpedoes was speared by an enemy beam blast and detonated. The other hit its target in the starboard wing and blew it clean off before detonating behind the fighter. The vessel spun wildly out of control, out of the fight. Donitz forced his sights back on the first fighter again and switched to lasers. He got off a quick shot that missed, then the sleek fighter blew past him to port in an eyeblink, followed by uncountable numbers of others as the two groups of fighters finally mixed into a gigantic furball. He nearly jumped as a random fighter flashed into view and passed him by mere meters. Realizing he had just narrowly escaped accidental death, he wrenched the stick back, starting into a tight loop to get back on the enemies' tails.
   

  As his craft turned, he saw thousands of turbolaser blasts pouring out from the First Fleet, crisscrossed with fire from the enemy vessels. Just then explosion ripped out of the ISD Trident's forward center, as a Titan's energy beam penetrated her shields. Then the vista floated up and away from him as he dove to gain his target's six.
  

   He came in at a high angle of attack and opened up with stutter fire from his TIE Defender's six laser cannons. His shots peppered the upper shields of the craft, and the enemy pilot threw his craft into a corkscrew and dove away, finally realizing he had a tail. Donitz stuck to him like glue, his fighter's maneuverability high in the vacuum of space.

He recognized the enemy fighter as an Aggressor, a sleek fighter as well suited to the atmosphere as in space. Turning tight to the point of nearly blacking out, Donitz pulled lead and squeezed the trigger again. This time he scored a direct hit, his first two blasts battering down the rest of the fighter's shields and the next pair catching the craft in the rear engine housing. Flames shot out the back followed by a flash in the stern, then the fighter broke apart, pieces flying in all directions.
  

   Donitz checked his screens and noted that he couldn't find Nibirui or Ambrac nearby, then muttered a curse. They hadn't been able to follow his maneuver and had probably lost him in the fray. Explosions blossomed all around him, with dozens dying by the moment. It was total chaos, and Donitz knew one of the biggest dangers was flying into someone unintentionally.
   

  Then his warning light went off. He glanced to port as a bright flash loomed towards him, an enemy missile coming in. Slewing his ship in that direction, he centered his crosshairs on the warhead and fired a chain of laser blasts. One hit, and the missile exploded, its fragments and expanding gasses passing by to port. Then, realizing that his enemy was banking around onto his tail, Donitz rolled his fighter to starboard and yanked the stick back hard. 
    

He was just in time. Two yellow beams shot through the area he'd been heading towards. Donitz pulled a tight loop, sensing his opponent match his every move. This ship was a Stiletto, one of the enemy's most advanced fighters. Dodging with all the skill he had, Donitz wove a crazy pattern in between dogfighting ships and laser blasts, realizing a stray burst could kill him as surely as the enemy on his tail. He passed low beneath one of the AD cruisers that was heading for the NI position, watching as a beam from the Nexus came down from above and cut the ship in half.
    

As the cruiser exploded overhead, Donitz shot forward in a burst of speed, then cut his throttle back to zero and used the Defender's mobility to rotate 180 degrees to starboard. He saw a flash as his pursuer's blast passed beneath him, too far inside range, and just as the enemy craft loomed large over his crosshairs Donitz released two advanced torpedoes straight ahead. The missiles took the target straight in the nose, punching through to the center of the fighter before blowing it out of the sky in an expanding fireball. 


     Spinning back on course, Donitz pulled a tight loop and turned back into the fray. At this point there was little point in using his display screens, since there were so many dots it was impossible to pinpoint the location of anyone. He simply locked onto the nearest enemy fighter and dove in.

One thing was curious, though. A whole cluster of fighters from the Nexus, one thousand strong according to his computer, had moved out of the dogfight to engage another group of AD fighters about four times its size. The two groups of fighters met one another and blended into one massive furball. Oddly though, it didn’t seem to devolve into utter chaos as the current engagement had. Instead, whole squadrons of fighters seemed to be moving in perfect concert, matching one another's maneuvers more perfectly than a flock of migrating birds.

Such uncanny symmetry could only mean one thing: Jedicon were flying those fighters. For whatever reason, both the Nexus’ Jedicon pilots and those of the attacking Altarin’Dakor had chosen to engage one another completely separate from the rest of the battle. Though undoubtedly some mark of AD pride, he supposed it made sense, rather than have Jedicon pilots pick off regular fighters one by one in the chaotic jumble. Still, the odds did not bode well for the NI, at all. What would happen when the Nexus’ fighters were all destroyed? Not to mention that the NI’s fighter strength had just been cut nearly by a third.

But there was no more time to worry about it. Even though the first furball was still underway, another large wave of enemy fighters was heading in. At the same time, Donitz’ commlink came alive again, this time with the voice of Sector Admiral Gaius Adonai himself.

“Enemy transport launches have been detected,” the Fleet Commander’s voice came over his own squadron frequency. His voice, usually calm even back during the battle at Moro, had a detectable level of strain on it. With surprise Donitz realized the transmission was coming from the Nexus, not the Independence. “Donitz, I need you to take them out now. They cannot be allowed to land in Vectur.” 
   

  "Roger, Admiral," Donitz replied at once. He hit the fleet frequency again. "Alpha Leader wings Alpha through Epsilon. Break off and intercept enemy transports immediately."

A round of acknowledgements came in, and Donitz took the lead, turning away from the approaching new wave of enemy fighters, hoping he could stay ahead of them and reach the enemy transports before they hit the atmosphere. He could already see them on his HUD, a long string of bracketed objects surrounded by another cloud of enemy fighters.

Meanwhile, Donitz could see the NI Fleet ahead once more, pouring turbolaser blasts by the thousands into enemy fighters, capital ships, and Titans. Near the center of the formation were the four Majestic-class cruisers that the NI still retained. Those ships, basically a cruiser-sized mass driver with engines, were firing ultra-high velocity projectiles larger than Donitz’s own fighter at enemy capital ships. When their blasts hit the enemy, even heavily-armored AD hulls broke apart under the impact. As he watched, a blast from the Majestic hit one of the AD cruisers head on, obliterating the front of the cruiser and sending the rest of the ship up in a chain reaction, consuming it from bow to stern in seconds. 


“Sir, we found you!” a voice broke through into his headset. Donitz immediately recognized Ambrac, and saw him, Nibiuri and the rest of his flight coming up to port.

“Get in formation, Gastron,” he ordered. “We must catch up to those transports.”

The enemy already had a solid lead on them. Donitz pushed the throttles up to full, passing back through the gauntlet of fire between the NI and AD fleets, which were getting closer by the minute. The fighter battle had pulled back closer to the NI ships now, and to his consternation Donitz saw that enemy fighters were buzzing NI capital ships, now.

No, scratch that. They were attacking head on. In utter astonishment, Donitz watched as at least a dozen AD fighters flew towards the Independence at top speed, opening up with all their weapons as they got close, and never even moved to turn away. They simply slammed straight into her hull, obliterating themselves on impact.

It was not an isolated phenomenon. As he passed by the fleet, he saw countless AD fighters ramming NI capital ships head on, sending huge explosions flaring up all over the NI vessels. Again and again fighters crashed into turbolaser emplacements on Star Destroyers, or windows, or flew into hangars, carrying their ships and warheads in a one-time, fatal attack. The MC-80 Retribution’s main hangar was hit, sending a gout of flame pouring back out, and as a half dozen or more fighters slammed home, the ship began to break apart in a growing ball of orange flame.

“What are they doing?!” came Nibiuri’s voice.

Donitz ignored him, simply staring in wonderment. Why were they acting so desperately? What could possess those pilots enough to commit suicide to inflict damage on the NI Fleet, even though victory was virtually assured anyway? Shouldn’t the NI be the one taking desperate measures?

How were they going to stand up against this?

Then passed by the Independence, and truly saw how far the enemy was willing to go to completely overwhelm and devastate their opponents. The entire superstructure of the Independence’s bridge was swarmed with enemy fighters, more than the gunners onboard could eliminate in time. Fighter after fighter slammed into the protruding structure, wreathing it in fire. Then a squadron flew straight in at the bridge itself. The bridge guns shot four out of the sky, but the rest slammed into the forward viewport. A wall of fire made its way up the front of the superstructure before it dissipated in the void.

But all that had been a prelude. Seeing their attack fail to produce its intended result, the largest of the AD Titans opened up with a pair of massive energy beams that hit the bridge structure dead-on. Then all that could be seen was a blinding flash of light as the structure was consumed, the blasts ripping through the bridge and continuing all the way to the other side, obliterating everything.

At the beams subsided, a massive cloud of superheated gas and smoke poured upwards from the body of the Independence, all that remained of the bridge superstructure. The super star destroyer sat there like a decapitated soldier that hadn’t yet realized he had been killed.

Yet there it remained, still firing unabated. There was no huge outcry of dismay on the comm channels. Donitz knew, as everyone else did, that the whole bridge structure had been abandoned prior to the start of the AD attack. Fleet Admiral Vonture was controlling things from the auxiliary bridge deep within the ship. The loss of life had probably been minimal, and there would be no Executor-style fall into the planet hovering below them. The Independence was still alive.


As if to articulate the point, a hundred of the ship’s port batteries opened up on the foremost AD cruiser, catching it amidships. The shields failed and the blasts ripped into her side, chewing through her hull into the cruiser's interior decks. Then a massive explosion ripped out of the middle, blowing the ship in two and sending the two remaining chunks flying off in opposite directions.

Then they were past, and the transports and their escorts were all that lay ahead. They looked to number in the hundreds, far too many to shoot down before they hit atmosphere. Donitz saw that a couple of hundred fighters had pulled up along with him, having broken off from the main fight. It still wouldn't be enough, he knew. They were just too badly outnumbered.

Even worse, he saw that one of the Titans, the Fall of Light, was accelerating forward behind the transports, moving as if trying to cut of Donitz's group. If that Titan got close, it would all be over.

As they approached, Donitz gave orders as needed, commanding different wings to target different points along the line of transports. The leading transports were already entering the planet's atmosphere, though, and some of the fighter escorts were breaking off to engage the NI attackers.

"Punch through their defense line quickly," Donitz ordered into the comm. "Stay focused on the transports, we must stop them at any cost."

Then beams lit up the sky as the AD fighters came in. NI ships detonated by the dozens as they were hit. Donitz let off a few potshots at an approaching line of fighters, then picked as spot between groups and led his flight through. They passed through the gauntlet unscathed, and Donitz locked onto the nearest transport and armed his advanced torpedoes.

Each transport was between one and two hundred meters long, big enough to carry a few hundred troops or an assortment of assault vehicles. As they grew closer, the ships opened up with pulse laser fire, sending out a cloud of bright glowing balls by the thousands. Donitz's craft began to buckle as random blasts hit his shields, too many for even him to dodge them all. He jinked left and right, keeping his target in sight, his twin-ion engines screaming as he came in at high speed. Torpedoes began to stream in from all around, some being shot down prematurely, while others impacted and lit up their targets' shields a bright blue. Then his Defender's tone went solid to indicate a lock.

Squeezing the trigger, Donitz sent two pairs of torpedoes streaking out, then banked to starboard to avoid running into his target. The transport took a couple of hits first from other attacks, then his own warheads penetrated the shields and struck near the transport's aft.

The ship's rear quarter exploded - the engines were blown apart from the blast and the rest of the ship broke apart, spilling its contents into the void. Donitz glimpsed clusters of bodies flying out into vacuum before the remains passed out of view.

"Sir, request for help! My target is still intact!"

Donitz looped around to see what his flight member was talking about. Ambrac had made a run on the transport in front of Donitz's, loosed his torpedoes and was now pulling back around. Problem was, the transport was still there unscathed, still heading straight for the planet below. "What happened, Gastron? Did you miss?" he asked.

"No, sir. Direct hit - only no damage! The torps... they went right through!"

"What?" Donitz jinked to dodge a blast of pulse laser fire, then pulled alongside his wingmate.

"I'm not crazy, sir. Look! There it is again!"

Donitz did indeed look. The general comm channel was abuzz with pilots complaining of direct hits, yet their targets were completely undamaged. It seemed as though every two or three transports in the formation that had been targeted were still there, perfectly intact.

Then, as he watched, a bright flaring torpedo from an NI Avatar shot in from the distance, hit one of the transports - and passed right out the other side.

"Impossible..." he whispered.

Then, even as he looked on, the hull of the transport faded, becoming almost transparent, and finally disappeared altogether. One minute it was there, and the next it was just... not there anymore. Donitz quickly glanced around the rest of the formation. Other transports began to fade and disappear, one by one, until in all probably a third of the ships they'd been targeting were simply gone. Most of the others were already entering the planet's atmosphere, leaving only a few stragglers behind in range of the NI's remaining fighters.

"Sir, what do we do?" Ambrac's voice came to his ears.

Donitz shook his head, at a loss for what to say. How in the name of the Sith were they to fight like this?

"Form up," he ordered, his voice still icily calm despite the thoughts racing through his head. "Take out as many remaining transports as you can."

He threw the throttles forward, straining his craft to catch up with the rearmost ships in the formation. The last transports were entering the atmosphere now, their hulls beginning to glow red from the friction of reentry. Locking torpedoes on target, Donitz fired all his remaining torpedoes. His wingmen followed suit, along with what few NI fighters weren't still engaged with the defensive fighter wing.

Donitz's warheads hit destroying the rear of the craft ahead, and another pair streamed in from the side to finish the job. Two other transports were hit, one exploding brilliantly off to port, the other taking the assault on with its shields and passing through intact.

Then the transports were in the atmosphere. In order to pursue, they would have to dive in and follow them in, abandoning the rest of the fleet. For a moment, Donitz considered it. His cockpit was already heating up, the tips of his solar panels beginning to glow slightly as his Defender began to skip across the outer edges of the atmosphere.

But he checked his screens again, and saw the massive Titan growing ever closer behind them. If they went in, they would be cut off from returning to the fleet, and if they didn't do something about it, the behemoth would soon flank the First Fleet and begin assaulting them from both sides.

Besides, his fighters were still engaged with hundreds of enemy ships, and thousands more were waiting in the wings. There was work to be done here, as well. The planetary forces out of Vectur would be moving to intercept the transports.

With a muttered curse, Donitz pulled back to engage more enemies and to fight their way back to the First Fleet's position. They had failed to stop the enemy from reaching the atmosphere. But then again, the whole situation had been hopeless to begin with.


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 12, 2009 9:13 pm   Post subject: Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley   


Main Hangar Bay
Vectur, Varnus
1105 Hours



Maarek spent the morning with his pilots, chatting with them over breakfast. They discussed many things, catching up on their personal lives and their aspirations for life once the war was over. Maarek knew each one well, and spent the time trying to etch into memory each moment he had with them – their stories, their faces, their personalities. He had long since given up trying to stay cool and impersonal with them. They were his Squadron, his own personal squad that he had built and trained himself. They had flown countless missions together, and Maarek had been together with them longer than any other single unit before. They were like family, and truth be told, they were the closest people to him left in the New Imperium. Time had changed things, and aside from his squadron, he didn’t know who he could turn to – or trust.

Good-natured, fun-loving Rann Wosper. Cool, duty-minded loyalist Tanya Vinikoro. Gentle, experienced leader Bast Vlagen. Kind-hearted jokester Kikitik, one of the few remaining free members of his race, after Sigma. Strong-willed survivor Gren Pabos of the Renastatians. Righteous advocate-fighter Salle Darl. The newest member, confident ace Narm Greyrunner. Maarek loved them all.

He also missed Petur Kien, a young star that had risen fast, and had fallen far sooner than it should have.

The squadron cherished the time they had together, discussing pleasant things. There had been no need to tell them of the direness of this mission; they had all been through many life and death situations already. Maarek hoped that they would all come out of this – hoped like he never had before. But the facts didn’t lie; the odds were not in their favor. Maarek knew – as did they all – that some of them might not make it back today. Still, they all knew their duty. They were all committed to the task set before them, and none of them would shirk back from it.

When the report of the enemy came in, they made their way to the hangar bay to prep their ships, their prized TIE Avatars. Maarek had flown virtually every type of ship that the Empire or the New Republic had ever produced, but the Avatar was currently his favorite. She was as suited to spaceflight as to the atmosphere, and carried more firepower than a TIE Defender with a stronger power plant and shields. The only thing she lost was speed and maneuverability, but in the atmosphere the Avatar was more aerodynamic.

It was to the atmosphere that Inferno Squadron had been limited, today. Orders from Command.

They had barely started their pre-flight checkups when the palace alarms had gone crazy, and the announcement of intruders had been made. Pilots had scrambled to their ships, and moments later it was revealed that the Altarin'Dakor fleet was already in orbit. The battle had begun.

Settled into his cockpit, Maarek had taken a few deep, calming breaths, trying to steel his nerves. The hum of the fighter's twin-ion engines did its best to soothe his worries away. He knew this could very well be the last mission he'd ever fly.

As he sat there, a terrible feeling of dread had suddenly come over him. I don't want to die today, a part of him thought, trying desperately to make him reach out and open the hatch, to get out of the cockpit and run away. He pushed that part down, knowing it was probably just his natural, human survival instincts. He tried not to think of things like that too much. But then, as he sat there just waiting, the feeling only got stronger.

Maarek knew he was considered one of the best fighter pilots alive in the galaxy. His reputation had followed him around wherever he'd traveled throughout the Empire. He'd rarely met anyone, not in the last few years, who could offer him a real challenge.

But days ago, fighting in orbit of Sigma Prime, he had been bested. Finally, Maarek had encountered someone who was better than he was. And sitting there, in the insane, nerve-wracking waiting that always comes before a battle, Maarek felt true fear once again. What if he met Kamren Thansil again in the skies above Vectur this day? From the moment he'd first seen their impossibly-huge ships, the Altarin'Dakor had scared him in a way that nothing ever had, in the way that all creatures feared the dark unknown, the utterly foreign. Now Kamren Thansil embodied that fear, and today was the day he would have to face it head-on...

Suddenly, the tension eased. His fear lessened. He felt a reassuring warmth seep into his muscles, and an inaudible sense of someone telling him it was going to be all right. He felt better immediately; in fact, he felt almost giddy at the prospect of going into battle. It was such a sharp turnaround that it immediately flagged his concern.

Something is messing with my emotions. There was little doubt as to what it could be; they were surrounded by Force-Sensitives. A knot of fiery anger suddenly blossomed in his stomach. All his life, Maarek felt like he'd been a pawn to the Jedi, and he was tired of it. They meddled where they had no right to interfere. They used people's lives like they were playing some grand game. And now, the AD wanted to use that power to control everyone, everywhere with their power. This time, they would pay.

Then the announcement came through - AD troop transports were entering the atmosphere. Inferno Squadron and the rest of the planetary defense force would launch and intercept.

That had been Maarek's morning.

Now he pulled back on the stick, banking his TIE Avatar into a climb that left the Royal Palace behind, a massive square of land receding quickly below, along with the huge cluster of skyscrapers stretching off to the south. Supersonic and nearly vertical, he ascended past the puffy white clouds and into the clear blue sky, gunning for altitude as fast as he could. The rest of Inferno Squadron, along with the rest of the Varnusian planetary defense force, was right beside him.

The enemy was coming down.

The city's turbolasers were already opening up, targeting the bright spots in the sky growing closer and lower by the minute. The ground fading quickly below, Maarek adjusted his TIE Avatar on an approach to head off the leading transports. As they grew closer, those specks in the sky became dozens of different pinpoints of light, then resolved into hundreds. The larger specks were surrounded by clusters of smaller ones - fighter attack squadrons.

"Break and attack," Maarek ordered to the whole wing. "Inferno Squadron, on me. We'll take out the lead ships."

"Copy, Lead," Bast Vlagen's voice came.

"Understood," Salle Darl chimed in.

He kept both the wing and squadron channels open, one ear on each to keep abreast of things, then soared in towards the enemy.

"They're coming in fast, Boss," Rann spoke up.

Rann was right; the enemy was getting closer with each passing second, resolving into hundreds and hundreds of growing bright spots in the sky. Most were fighters, but the larger ones that were transports were also numerous, and Maarek knew he would be hard-pressed to stop them with just under 400 fighters. Reaching altitude in the upper regions of the atmosphere, he began to level his fighter off, turning onto an approach vector with the leading ships.

As they closed, beams of energy began striking down from the sky, followed by streaking contrails of missile launches. NI fighters began to take hits, exploding before they even got into range. Seconds later Maarek attained lock on an enemy ship, and he let loose with a pair of advanced concussion missiles that soon joined with hundreds more, firing towards the approaching enemy. The warheads rose into the sky, seeking their targets. Many were shot down before they could make it, but those that got through created a cluster of explosions along the enemy's frontline, sending ships careening off course and destroying others.

Maarek saw that his target was still coming in, and as the distance shrank further he switched to lasers. As he tried to draw aim, he saw a blast from the enemy flash downwards and begin angling straight towards him. He applied left rudder and skidded to port, missing the attack, but that put the enemy off his crosshairs. As the AD ship blew past him towards the surface, he pulled the stick back and looped back around as fast as he could.

Altain'Dakor and New Imperium ships met together in a crazy swarm of steel, energy and death. As Maarek turned in the thin atmosphere, NI fighters passed him from beneath while AD ships streaked downwards, and explosions lit up the sky all around him. He made it around, another TIE Avatar flashing by to port as he did so, and angled his craft back downwards. He pulled around onto his enemy's tail and quickly attained lock once more. Though the target was kilometers away by now, he squeezed the trigger, sending out another pair of missiles. The warheads streaked away, quickly gaining the distance, and his enemy apparently finally realized he was under attack and began to go evasive. Unfortunately, his speed had built up to the point where the craft could not turn fast enough, and as he began to pull out the missiles connected, detonating as they struck the rear of the craft and blowing it into a thousand fragments.

Maarek pulled out in search of other targets, and saw that Rann had stayed close to Maarek while tracking another enemy fighter. As he watched, the ships banked hard to port above his cockpit canopy, Rann turning tight in on his opponent. Green blasts of energy shot from the Avatar's wingtips, catching the enemy Aggressor in the wing and blowing it clean off. The enemy fighter started a tight spiral and plunged towards the ground.

"Three. One on your six, Lead!" Tanya's voice rang in Maarek's ears.

Maarek rolled to starboard and banked right and down, hard. He glanced back over his shoulder, just glimpsing the top of an enemy Stiletto's fuselage as his opponent turned in expertly behind him.

Diving sharply, Maarek banked left and right, twisting his fighter violently from side to side in an attempt to escape. Streams of air trailed above off the edges of his wings, while each time he turned away, beams of red energy punched through the air he had just been in. Even with his inertial compensator dialed way up, the gravitational forces plastered Maarek in his seat, and he felt just one step away from blacking out at any moment. He hoped the whole fighter didn't fly apart under the strain. The numbers flew by on his altimeter; he was falling, fast. Meanwhile, the enemy stuck to him like glue, and Maarek wracked his brain trying to figure out what else to do.

"Three. Hang on, Lead. I've almost got him!"

Maarek didn't bother responding; his teeth were so tightly clenched from the strain that he doubted he could. As he rolled left again and began to bank hard, he saw the Stiletto overhead again just as a missile from Tanya flew in and hit the craft in the craft in the side. The AD fighter was blown to the side by the blast, its shields flaring up from the impact.

Cutting the throttle back, Maarek pulled a left turn as tightly as he could, bringing the enemy fighter back into view as he fell down past Maarek's Avatar. The enemy had miscalculated and dove right instead of left, passing him right over his crosshairs. Maarek fired, sending a quad-linked burst of fire straight into the ship's fuselage. The fighter ripped open and exploded, the blast shattering the cockpit and sending pieces of both craft and pilot raining down towards the surface.

Maarek pulled back into formation with Tanya again and saw that Rann was just moments away from joining them. Anxiously he scanned the skies above and his tactical display, searching for the other members of Inferno amid the swirling chaos of blips, and after a moment gave a sigh of relief. Everyone was still alive.

With Flight Three down to two pilots anyway, he had asked Salle and Narm to join in with Bast's flight, creating a five-strong bond with which to take on the enemy. They were all still in the same vicinity now, and had routed a cluster of fighters away from one of the transports. As Maarek's flight rose to join them, he saw several missiles fly in from Bast and Kikitik, finally penetrating the transport's shields and blasting into her sides. Atmosphere, fire and bodies poured out of the openings, and under coordinated fire from Salle, Narm and Gren below, the transport broke up and became a flaming ball of wreckage plunging towards the ground.

Maarek took a sip of water from his suit's built-in bladder and took stock of the rest of the battle going on. They had descended more than halfway back down to the surface, and yet most of the transports were still there. The NI ships were busy dogfighting AD fighters, and to his dismay he noted the New Imperial forces had suffered heavy casualties already, probably at least a fourth of their original strength. And every minute more AD ships were making it through the blockade above.

"Form on me," he ordered even as a flaming Avatar plunged downwards in front of him, pieces breaking off in a trail behind the craft. "We've got to hit those transports hard."

"Four. We're on you, Lead," Bast's voice came in, reassuringly.

Cycling through targets, Maarek found the nearest transport and dove towards it. All of the large craft were barreling towards Vectur at high speed, desperately gunning for ground. In only a few more minutes they would reach the gleaming metropolis and slow, emptying their contents down onto the city streets. Maarek knew that every transport they destroyed would mean a little easier fight for the ground troops, and fewer casualties as well.

Gunning the throttles forward, Maarek led Inferno Squadron on a high-speed intercept with the target. Trails of vapor streamed out behind them as they closed, and as the transport loomed larger ahead Maarek thumbed over to missiles again.
Suddenly, a trio of fighter escorts broke off from around the transport and turned towards the attacking Avatars.

"Two Flight, take 'em out," Maarek ordered.

As Bast, Gren and Kikitik broke off to engage, Maarek led Rann, Tanya, Salle and Narm straight at the ship's heart. Pulse laser fire lit the air in front of them, and their shields began taking loud hits as they soared ahead in close formation.

Fortunately, the overlap from their shields proved strong enough, and as the transport grew to fill the sky ahead all four Avatars unleashed their missiles straight ahead. Then they broke off, each headed away in a different direction, as eight missiles hit the ship broadside in rapid succession.

The transport exploded, a massive fireball separating the front and rear of the craft and sending the pieces falling below, even as the cloud of fire and smoke expanded upwards.

Banking around, Maarek moved to assist the rest of the squadron with the three enemy fighters, but as he did so he saw the last enemy fighter, a Dirk, blown to pieces by laser fire from Gren Pabos. The debris rained down into the clouds as Gren's fighter soared past above.

"Nice work, team," Maarek said, smiling involuntarily. There was nothing quite like being part of a tightly-knit unit, where each member knew one another so well that they hardly had to speak at all, yet could act completely as one.

Glancing at his status display, he saw that his shields needed a few minutes to recharge after the last barrage. Furthermore, he was down to only a few missiles. "We'll have to rearm soon," he said over the link. Meanwhile, the fight was still raging around them, and had finally moved into the airspace above Vectur itself. Despite their best efforts, the enemy had reached the city, and he saw transports begin to disappear behind the tall buildings of the city center as they made their landing.

"Kriff it all," he cursed under his breath. "Commander Stele to NI pilots, pour it on. We cannot allow another wave of transports to land. Secondary objective is now to provide air support for the ground troops. We must not allow the enemy to achieve air superiority."

Then he banked his Avatar in a wide turn towards the city, realizing even as he spoke that the task set before them was virtually impossible. More enemy ships were coming down, and with the fight over and around Vectur itself, things were about to get far uglier. This was going to be a very, very long day.


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