Chapter 1: First Contact
Caydenn pushed through the milling crowds gathered on the upper levels of Carrick Station. She and her XO Jorgan were walking side by side as a standard repulsor lift hovered between them loaded with a covered shield generator she was going to install on the Thunderclap to give the assault ship's shields a boost. While Caydenn could file a report to requisition a standard Republic Army generator it could take weeks before High Command approved her request. Better for her to go through back channels and obtain what she needed outside of official channels. Besides she knew the dealer personally, a nifty Nautolan that Caydenn had bought from numerous times before.
Carrick Station was bustling with activity today it seemed as a group of beings skirted around the two imposing soldiers and squeezed down the congested hallway. The station was a popular spot for soldiers and fleet officers to congregate with its close proximity to Coruscant and the other Core worlds. But it wasn't just soldiers who laid claim to Carrick Station; smugglers and bounty hunters gathered to look for work and an entire level of the station was dedicated to shops, vendors, and dealers all looking to sell their product. Sometimes one would even see the odd Jedi roaming the levels, their long brown robes and distinct air of severity a dead giveaway. As the two soldiers approached their lift that would take them down several levels to the Thunderclap's hanger a nondescript astromech rolled up. A small arm extended from its barrel shaped body and an iridescent blue light washed over Caydenn's tall frame. She turned to ask the droid what it was doing, but the droid quickly let out a series of beeps and whistles.
“You = act casual / / T3-G2 = recruiting for classified operation.” Caydenn frowned underneath her helmet but remained silent. It wouldn't have been the first time someone contacted Havoc in such an obscure way for a mission. The droid whirled its head around and the hologram of a man appeared. He was of average height and dressed casually as to not attract attention. His hair was spiked up away from a pair of keen eyes inlaid with cybernetics on one side.
“The commander of Havoc Squad? You've really outdone yourself, T3.” The man congratulated the droid, a careful rehearsed smile on his lips. Dressed in her full combat armor with Havoc markings adorning the durasteel and plastoid it was easy for her to be recognized as the leader of Havoc, however she still didn't like being called by her Havoc call sign when she didn't know the person who was addressing her.
“Do I know you,” Caydenn asked tucking her hands behind her back and straightening her shoulders. Perhaps this was somebody she had briefly worked with in the past. The amount of people she met and operated with on previous missions was too numerous to count or try to remember.
The man shook his head. “I'm with the SIS. We've got a very special event coming up, and you're on the guest list.”
Caydenn frowned. Her past relationship with the SIS had been rocky at best. She didn't really hold the spook brigade in very high regard considering the amount of times they had given Havoc false or incomplete information leading to her team being left in some dire situations. The SIS had a nasty reputation of handing the short end of the stick off to the military and wiping their hands clean of any wrongdoing when the shit hit the fan. Case and point was Agent Zane who had made Havoc's missions a living hell.
“What kind of 'special event'?” Caydenn inquired impassively, willing to at least hear the agent out. It wasn't as if she could out-rightly refuse to help the SIS. If she did it would get back to Command who would then officially order her to play nicely with the spy.
“The kind the Empire won't enjoy. Details when we meet in person- see you soon.” And with that the holocall cut off abruptly. Caydenn heard Jorgan mutter a few choice words under his breath about SIS spooks through her HUD's comm. She chuckled in agreement.
T3 whistled and rolled back a few feet towards a small maintenance hallway. “Meeting location data = provided // You = maintain operational secrecy at all costs!”
She watched the astromech cut a speedy exit out of sight. “Droid seems paranoid,” she mused humorlessly, noting her datapad was blinking with the indication of a new message.
Jorgan snorted. “What did you expect? It came from the SIS.”
“Take the shield generator back to the Thunderclap. I'm going to go see what the SIS wants now,” Caydenn ordered decoding the location coordinates that she had been given.
“You don't want to wait for backup?” Jorgan questioned. He had never gotten over his distrust of the SIS after what Zane had done to his old unit.
“I'll be fine. Probably just another precise strike operation,” Caydenn replied. Jorgan nodded then turned and disappeared inside the elevator, repulsor lift in tow. Caydenn set a brisk pace in the opposite direction they had come from. The meet up was happening on a lower level of Carrick Station where outbound Republic Fleet warships docked with the station for refueling. The lower levels were officially designated to the Republic military and as such one needed the proper clearance to gain entrance to the hangers and levels appropriated there. Caydenn rode a lift down to the lower levels and scanned her ID tag through a security checkpoint. She moved past the numerous soldiers, mechanics, and fleet officers milling about. They stepped aside as she moved past, the Havoc insignia on her armor recognized by many of the people gathered around. The coordinates flashed on her HUD and the Zabrak cut a quick right down a small hallway away from the din of the main hangers. She stopped outside a small war room located by itself. The door was closed and heralded by two standard Republic banners. She tapped the security clearance code onto the keypad and the thick blastdoors slid opened vertically.
Inside the room was sparingly empty. A few monitors on the wall continuously scrawled names and numbers and trajectory paths of deep space hyperlanes. Two human men stood beside a large holotable displaying a readout of several planets and what appeared to be extensive ship armadas. She recognized one of the men as the one from the holo she had spoken to. The other was dressed in white plastoid armor that was polished and unscratched which was indicative of a high ranking officer, unlike Caydenn's dented and scorched durasteel plating. The man was tall and broad shouldered. His head was shaved bald adding to his bullish appearance and accenting the half of his face that horrendously scarred from a years old burn.
As she approached the holotable she could make out the bald man running through a scenario that was playing out across the map. “...Blue Squadron approaches Korriban at maximum speed. Bombing commences on signal “aurek”. Wave one shuttle follows and secures the LZ...”
“...and then wave two comes in. Perfect timing.” The other man finishes up crossing his arms over his chest. Caydenn pulled off her helmet and clipped it to her belt before taking a place at the table. Holographic ships and soldiers rushed about the imaginary battlefield suppressing Imperial fire as Jedi and Sith clashed sabers. Caydenn let out a low whistle at the sight and the indication of where the staged battle was taking place.
“You're actually planning an attack on Korriban?”
The two men turned at her comment. They exchanged a brief glance before the officer responded. “Yes. And your part in the plan is critical.”
Caydenn eyed the two men closely, briefly wondering what kind of spice they to have been smoking to come up with such an insane idea. Korriban, home world of the Sith, was heavily defended by several of the Empires best armadas. Not to mention the numerous Sith who inhabited and vehemently protected the inhospitable planet. Attacking Korriban was about as absurd as the Sith trying to take Tython. Caydenn had fought all over the galaxy and completed some of the most complicated and dangerous missions, but this plan....this plan was suicidal.
The other man must have sensed her skepticism for he quickly introduced himself and his partner. “This is Colonel Darok- he's in charge of the op,” He pointed to the hulking soldier staring her down. “I'm Theron Shan, SIS. We spoke on the holo.”
Shan? She knew a Shan. Wonder if there was any correlation? She shook her head and pointed to the holotable. “So we're invading Korriban. What's the plan?” She was infinitely curious how High Command had worked this out.
Darok eyed her for a second before answering. “Our objective is to raid the Sith Academy. Specifically, the databanks held inside the Dark Council chambers on the Academy's upper level.”
“The information in those databanks could win the war. Once the first attack wave clears a landing zone, it will be your job to go in and get them,” Theron finished.
“Once the data's secured. What then?”
“You will exfiltrate immediately and rendezvous back here. My associate, Commander Jensyn, will remain behind to collect secondary objectives as time allows,” Darok elaborated.
Caydenn wasn't convinced it would go as smoothly as these two were making it out to be. “Have the Empire's forces really become so weak that we can charge straight in like this?” Caydenn asked finally voicing her concern over this plan.
“Not exactly,” Darok revealed begrudgingly. “We'll be exploiting a brief gap in their patrols, which is why we have to move immediately.”
Caydenn narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “How did the SIS get the Empires patrol routes?”
“They didn't. The source actually came from one of Darok's advanced recon units. The SIS just verified the information,” Theron explained. Caydenn shook her head in disbelief and turned to mull over the information she had just been given. While the plan seemed solid there was still a million things that could go wrong. The mission was suicidal at best. The type of mission Havoc thrived on which is probably why Darok was requesting her assistance.
“We need Havoc for this to work Major,” Darok interrupted her thoughts. He must have sensed her misgivings. “Your squad is the only unit that can breach the Academy.”
Theron nodded in agreement. “Your don't need us to tell you how tough this will be. How completely insane this plan seems. But if we succeed here we could learn more about the Empire's moves than every SIS operation from the past decade combined.”
“Our forces are ready. Victory for the Republic depends on you,” Darok pressed presenting her with the choice to accept or walk away. Except Caydenn couldn't walk away. Unlike the Jedi or say a free agent who could decline such a mission Caydenn was conscripted by the Republic's military. High Command was obviously backing Darok's plan, how he had convinced them was a mystery. However, if she refused him here Command would just twist her arm later and order her into Darok's service. She was backed into a corner. Her and her squad, and it was place she hated being. Hated putting her people in. They were rushing into the belly of the beast with shaky intel at best and a half-baked plan and there was nothing she could to keep them out of it. She was being used and Colonel Darok knew it.
Caydenn's jaw twitched. “Havoc won't let you down.”
Darok let a smug smirk adorn his features at her deference. “Move out.”
“Has Command lost their mind?!” The first protest came from surprisingly Elara when Caydenn had broken the news of Havoc's part in the plan to attack Korriban. Jorgan swore loudly and Yuun shook his head gravely at the news. Vik just chuckled darkly and leaned back in his seat.
“Did you get any of that spice that SIS prick and kriffin shiny had been smoking when they came up with this plan?” Vik asked crudely referring to Darok as a shiny or a military officer who spent more time behind a desk then out in the field as evidenced by the lack of scratches and dirt on their armor.
Caydenn ignored Vik's jab and spread her hands wide. “I know we were just dumped into a steaming pile of shavit, but there's no point complaining. Command's backing Darok as evidenced by the amount of resources he has at his disposal so there's no way out of it. We run this mission just like any other- surgical precision and minimal casualties.” Her squad was quiet for a few moments, understandably coming to terms with the momentous odds that had been stacked against them.
“The Majors right,” Jorgan reaffirmed finally, glaring at Vik who looked like he was going to make another crass comment.
“I for one relish in this opportunity to strike directly at the black heart of the Empire,” Forex declared excitedly and Caydenn had to laugh at the droids enthusiasm. The rest of the squad followed suit. Caydenn stared back at her squad warmly. She would do her best to make sure they all made it back.
“Jorgan take Vic and secure the combat packs from the armory. Yuun I want you and Forex to scan Darok's plans and send a complete readout to everyone's HUD's. Elara make sure we have enough medpacs and bacta stims,” Caydenn ordered and her squad filed quickly off the bridge to complete their tasks. Only Elara remained, a deeply troubled look creasing her forehead. She hadn't laughed at Forex's declaration and had instead stared silently out the viewport.
“Dorne,” she said placing her prosthetic hand on her friends shoulder.
Elara shifted away and stood. “Sorry Major I'll have medpac bags made up for everyone before touchdown.”
“Are you okay?” Caydenn pressed, concern coloring her tone.
Elara turned to leave, but hesitated in the doorway. “Major did the Colonel ever tell you how he got his intel?”
The Zabrak shook her head. “He mentioned a recon unit gave him the information and the SIS vetted it. Why?”
“Patrol routes and patterns around Korriban are extremely regulated. More so then for Dromund Kas or even Ziost. Only the highest echelons of the Imperial military are privy to the allotted patrol patterns used to guard Korriban and even then the final plans come from the Dark Council,” Elara explained carefully.
“What are you saying Elara?” she questioned.
“It would be near impossible for a recon unit, no matter how far they have infiltrated to obtain those plans unless...”
“Unless someone wanted them to,” Caydenn finished her thought darkly. “So we could be walking into a trap.”
“It is highly possible Major. We should stay on high alert while planet side,” Elara advised before disappearing down the stairs.
Caydenn heaved a sigh and punched in the jump coordinate's she had been given by Agent Shan and sat down in her chair as the Thunderclap's sublight engines hummed to life beneath her boots. She rubbed her head in frustration in light of Elara's warning. It was honestly something Caydenn had been considering seriously as well ever since her meeting earlier. It made more sense then one of Darok's recon teams just stumbling upon such a valuable piece of intel. She pinched the bridge of her nose in irritation. Havoc's suicide mission had just become a death wish.
Chapter 2: The Scorched Path
It's a brutal fight to the Academy. It seems as if Korriban itself is conspiring to kill Havoc before any of its occupants can.
The assault transport touched down with a rumbling shutter. The bay doors opened and Caydenn stepped out onto the scorched landing pad. All around her shock troops surged from the bellies of their own transports and moved to take up defensive positions around the landing zones perimeter. Officers yelled orders for ray shields and heavy artillery to be moved to the front while enemy mortars exploded at the front line. Caydenn strode across landing zone to the far ridge. Behind her Dorne and Jorgan flanked her steps, prepping equipment and rifles. She had left Vic, Fourex, and Yuun back on the Thunderclap. Yuun was running backup and feeding her team up to date information as she needed it. Vic and Fourex were left behind because she couldn't trust that either of them would stay on target long enough to complete the mission. Vic would most likely try to steal everything from the Academy that wasn't nailed down, and Fourex....well she didn't really want to consider what Fourex would do in a building full of Sith. Those two were instead operating with the Fleet, helping to combat the Empires naval forces that still remained around Korriban.
Caydenn slipped through the throngs of troops amassing at the front. She caught sight of the ground commander, a tall square-jawed Twi'lek with ruddy cheeks, giving orders to a group of snipers. He motioned to several points on his datapad and then pointed to the overshadowing ridge. The snipers gave a smart salute and took off. “Colonel,” Caydenn called taking note of the man's military rank shown on his armor.
The Twi'lek turned and waved her over. “Major Creed it's an honor to be serving with Havoc. I'm Colonel Sadon with the 77th Infantry. You have my boys full support in whatever capacity you need us.”
Caydenn pulled her helmet off and gave the Sadon a nod. “Much appreciated Colonel. What are your specs and armaments?”
Sadon handed his datapad over. “I have the full 77th Infantry and two details of sniper units positioned here and here to hold the landing zone. The Forward Assault Squadron has been able to push three klicks into the Wilds surrounding the Academy but has been hardballed to go any further. I have two squadrons of Bones and a contingent of FT-Pikes that are strafing the area.”
Caydenn studied the datapad and the layout of the map. A forward assault up to the Academy would be suicide. Their forces would be cut to pieces by the heavy artillery. She tapped a small canyon on the map and showed it to Sadon. “Any recon on this point?”
Sadon scanned the coordinates and shook his head. “Areas full of bogies. Terrains too tight to move the main force through.”
“My team could make it. If you direct your Pikes here and a half click south and strafe the area that would soften up the targets enough for us to push through,” Caydenn explained.
Sadon stroked his chin thoughtfully and opened his mouth to reply before a loud beep filled the air. Sadon scowled down at his commlink. A small blue shaky picture of Theron Shan appeared between the two soldiers. The image was grainy and cut out a few times before stabilizing. “Good to see you made it to the ground Major,” Theron offered with a crooked grin.
“My team has a trajectory and point of assault Agent Shan. We'll be strafing a canyon just west of here.-”
“Negative Major. Colonel Darok intends to push through the front lines. It's the quickest route to the Academy.”
Caydenn schooled her features to push back her displeasure at the idea. “With all due respect Agent Shan a frontal assault is too dangerous. Our forces would never make it through the Sith's defenses.”
Theron let out a long breath of air and rubbed his eyes muttering something under his breath. “Colonel Darok...informs me that our forces don't need to make it through...only your team does.”
Caydenn balled her hands into fists and clenched her teeth to bite back an angry retort. Across from her, she saw Sadon spit into the red sand at his feet venomously and she swore she heard Jorgan or was it Elara, mutter a curse. She couldn't stand commanders and officers who callously threw away their troop's lives all for the sake of an objective. Theron seemed to sense the hostility of the soldiers he was addressing and wisely cut his transmission short. “Welcome to Korriban Major. Comm me when you reach the Academy and I'll provide schematics and mission specifics.”
Caydenn mimicked Sadon and spat in the dirt at her feet in distaste. “Kriff.”
“Damn oxygen thieves,” Sadon growled lowly.
“Sadon...” Caydenn began but the Twi'lek waved her off.
“We'll do our job Major. Just make sure you get what you came for.” Sadon stood, saluted stiffly and stalked off. Caydenn shook her head and approached the ridge. Below her smoke and blaster fire lit up the valley. Red swirling sand covered the ground and brown rocks jutted up harshly. The air was hot, the oppressive heat and sand nearly choking the air from her lungs as if the planet itself was trying to kill her, never mind its occupants. She slipped her helmet on, her HUD lit up with readouts and synced with Elara's and Jorgans.
As they made their way down the ridge the smoke became thicker. The twisted metal remains of Imperial Blackbolts and Republic NovaDives littered the terrain. Hastily dug trenches and foxholes made from the remains of mortar explosions were packed with Republics troopers. Imperial soldiers and assault droids fired down from further up the valley. Caydenn ducked and weaved through the fire firing back every few steps. She dropped down into a foxhole with Jorgan. The front seemed to be caught in a holding pattern. Unable to advance or retreat with the amount of fire they were taking.
“Whose in charge here,” Caydenn shouted to young soldier beside her. The young man popped up to let loose a volley of shots, but Caydenn yanked him down as a salvo of artillery fire cut through the space he just occupied. It was a common mistake for young soldiers to make. They didn't time the artillery salvo patterns correctly and instead just popped up and fired blindly. A mistake like that often resulted in death. “Wait and time the firing patterns,” Caydenn explained. One beat then two and the firing lessened. Caydenn motioned and everyone in the foxhole returned fire tearing through the advancing line of Imperial shock troops.
“Thanks,” the soldier said before visibly taking a half stumbling step back when he caught sight of the Havoc insignia on her armor. “Havoc squad...its a-an honor.”
“Where's your XO?” Caydenn asked again?
“Dead sir. Took a shot to the head. We're Charlie foxtrot out here sir.”
Caydenn nodded. “Next in charge?”
“That would be me, sir. Sergeant Dyles 77th Infantry,” a tall man said. “We're holed up. Opposition has us pinned and we're waiting on our Bones to drop a few kilos of explosives so we can move up.”
“Enemy targets of importance?”
“We have a line on their Commander, Rethana. She's the forward ground commander, human with white hair and favors duel pistols. She's directing just over this ridge. There's a second named Melkans leading defensive measures, can't miss him since he's the only Chiss out there. He's presumably in the same local, but the FAS's info has been spotty at best.”
Caydenn turned to Jorgan. “As soon as the Bones drop their package we rush the ridge. Neutralize Rethana. I've got Melkans. Elara lay down cover fire.” Jorgan nodded and Dorne signaled back a 'copy that'.
The telltale whine of Rampart Mark Four bombers, or Bones as the army called, filled the air around them. The ground rumbled beneath Caydenn's feet as the low flying bombers flew down, explosives dropping from their underbellies and turbolasers taking out anti-aircraft guns. Caydenn ducked down into the foxhole and braced herself against the dirt wall. The air became super-heated and all around them, explosions reverberated against the canyon walls. As soon as the bombers completed their run Caydenn and Jorgan sprung from the foxhole and rushed the ridge. Nothing remained of the Imperial forces besides charred remains and blackened sands. Breaching the ridge the second line of Imperial forces was in disarray from the bombers run. The explosions had knocked out much of their heavy artillery leaving them defenseless. Jorgan hit the dirt just at the top of the ridge. He thumbed the scope on his rifle and scanned the enemy. Dorne slid in beside him and began delivering concise bursts of controlled defensive fire.
Caydenn slid down the slope. She shoulder-checked an Imperial soldier over her back and shot down two combatants. Her HUD cut through the swirling dust and smoke and locked onto a large Chiss man standing three meters away. His black hair was cut close to his scalp, his blue skin making him stick out against Korriban's red backdrop. She dropped to one knee and centered her sights on the officer's chest. He hadn't noticed her presence yet, presumably too distracted at regrouping his forces into a passable defensive line. She squeezed the trigger and a flurry of blue bolts struck Melkans in his chest. Through her scope, she saw his face briefly contort in surprise before he dropped to the ground dead. Jorgan tapped her shoulder and motioned behind her. He must have eliminated Rethana. Dorne crouched a few feet away rifle leveled with her shoulder.
Coming over the ridge was the 77th with two Manka-class APC's. The walkers mowed down any resistance and the entire Imperial line folded. Caydenn signaled for her squad to move up. Small pockets of resistance dotted the path forward making progress slow going. Walls of red stone rose up around them as they moved further into the Wilds. The walls were inscribed with deep markings, written in an unknown language of the ancient Sith. Elara paused beside one and reached out her hand as if to touch it then paused and redrew it back. Sometimes Caydenn forgot Elara was an Imperial defector. She had been with her squad for so long she seemed as ingrained into her world as if she had always been there. But Elara had once served the Empire, knelt before the Emperor, and had probably not once wondered what the mysterious dark world of the Sith was like. But she wasn't here as a servant of the Empire now. Instead, she was here as a soldier of the Republic fighting against everything that had once been her home.
Caydenn ducked beneath the downed wing of an FT-Pike and ascended the cracked stairs of a ridge. Before them stood the raised peaks of a winding valley. The walls were shear with large smooth stones positioned at spaced intervals leading down further out of sight. Jorgan gave a low whistle.
“The Valley of the Dark Lords...I never thought...” Elara trailed off as if lost in thought.
Caydenn glanced in her direction as she removed her macrobinoculars and scanned the terrain. “Something important?”
“It's a sacred place to the Sith. The bodies of their ancestors, of past lords of the Sith, are buried here. Few Imperials have ever seen this place,” Elara explained softly.
Caydenn could just make out blaster fire coming from three clicks further up. Possibly the FAS. A sudden screech of metal and explosion brought Caydenn from her reconnaissance to the troops below her. One of the APC's fell backward and exploded in a ball of flames and the surrounding troops scattered to get clear. Imperial troops swarmed the lands from all sides. They must have been lying in wait to ambush the 77th. Caydenn cursed and jumped from the ridge. She tucked her shoulder and rolled to her feet, rifle free and letting loose bolts before Dorne joined her at the bottom. Jorgan remained up top picking off Imps from his perch. She could vaguely hear Sergeant Dyle's orders over her HUD for his troops to regroup and take a phalanx position. Good move. The phalanx position would arrange the troopers into various squads of twenty with troops in the front carry anti-blaster shields while their comrades behind would fire back and slowly advance. The phalanxes pushed forward. When one man fell another would leap forward to take his place in the tightly packed position.
Sudden shouts erupted over her HUD and Caydenn whipped to her left to see one squad completely break apart. A robed combatant dressed in a dark cowl with a bronze mask covering his face decimated the soldiers. His purple lightsaber cut through the lines of troopers with ease. The squads scrambled to get out of his way but weren't quick enough.
“Fools you would dare attack the Sith here?” he shouted above the chaos. He stretched out his hand and snagged a soldier in midair. The man clawed at his throat as if unseen hands were wrapped around his throat. Caydenn leveled her rifle and let loose several shots. His concentration broken the Sith dropped the unfortunate soldier and deflected all of Caydenn's shots back at her. She rolled to the side and brought her rifle up, fixing the Sith in her crosshairs.
He strode forward batting her shots to the side with ease. “You are no match for me soldier. I am Commander Vang and your blood will soak Korriban's red sands.”
Caydenn didn't reply. Instead, Dorne's well-aimed frag grenade was answer enough. It exploded at Vang's feet, the Sith being blown backward several meters onto his back. He screeched in rage, his robes singed and left foot mangled. He attempted to rise but was shot back as the top of his head disintegrated into charred gore and brain.
“Nice shot Jorgan,” Dorne said over the HUD's comm.
“Good timing with the frag,” Jorgan commed back.
“Look alive people we're pushing forward,” Caydenn ordered. Dorne stepped up beside her and a few beats later Jorgan appeared. By now the 77th was hard pressed to push past this new Imperial front. Numerous bodies littered the valley floor all casualties of Vang's initial assault. Nearly half of their front line was gone.
“Sergeant Dyles,” Caydenn commed the XO hoping the man was still alive.
“Still alive Major. We can't press forward until we've dealt with this front. The FAS isn't too far ahead. If you press forward now you'll be able to catch them. We'll hold here,” Sergeant Dyles responded.
“Copy that Sergeant.” Caydenn ran forward, dodging blaster fire. Her hearts beat wildly and she let out a soft curse. If they had gone with her plan this wouldn't have happened. They could have bypassed this slaughter. Damn it. She pounded up the steps of the valley tossing an incendiary towards a group of assault droids. Behind her Jorgan and Dorne, both fired on approaching Imperial shock troops. A sudden rain of blaster fire cut through the troops and the left the path clear.
“Hey Major nice of you to join the party.” A burly man with deep brown hair and tanned features waved from an outcropping of rocks nearby. He slid down the embankment and saluted her. “Captain Tarask of the 24th Forward Assault Squad. Glad to see you made through that crazy Sith's ambush. We nearly didn't.”
“How many fragged?”
“Twenty-two confirmed. Eight injured. Thirty-six ready to rain down some hellfire,” Tarask replied leading Caydenn and her squad to where his men were. Their armor was scorched black and covered in red sand making them look like fried chemlizards.
“Bogies in the area?”
“Just one before we hit the Academy. Commander Keikodi personal defense coordinator of the Academy. We've tried to soften her up, but she just keeps throwing troops at us. She has a sniper contingent hidden up on the cliffs and several Sith stalking the grounds around her. She's dug in deep.”
Caydenn sat for a second mulling over the information Tarask had given her. They would have to hit Keikodi hard from multiple points to have a shot at taking her out. She drew several lines in the sand and motioned for Tarask. “Split your men into three groups, forward assault and two to flank Keikodi from the sides. You have any snipers?”
“One whose been formally trained and another whose a damn good shot naturally.”
Caydenn nodded at Jorgan. “My XO will take them to set up on the ridge. They'll provide cover fire and flush out the other snipers. I'll be with forward assault, Dorne with another group and you with the last. I'll draw the Sith away and you can rush Keikodi.”
“I'll let the men know,” Tarask said turning to address his soldiers. Caydenn breathed out through her nose. One final push to the Academy. She took up her position with the others and waited. She slipped a thermal detonator from her pack and primed it. The detonator beeped lowly. When it reached the pinnacle of its high pitched whine she threw it into the closest throng of soldiers. The detonation flung them in all different directions. Caydenn jumped up and rushed down the ridge. A shout went up and the other squads followed suit. Standing beside the flaming wreckage of a downed Republic scout ship flanked by two Sith with glowing red sabers was Keikodi. The final commander was small only about a meter and a half in height. Her build was lithe, her face angular, skin red with harsh black tattoos twisting over cheeks and up to her horns. Her left eye was covered with a patch and she scowled when she caught sight of the flanking squads. She slipped her assault rifle off her back and indicated with her hands for the Sith to disperse. Perfect.
Caydenn dashed forward downing two soldiers. A shot whizzed past her head forcing her to tuck and roll, aiming with her VL-25 rifle at the commanders head. She let loose a salvo of shots. Keikodi threw herself flat into the dirt to avoid the spray. Caydenn rushed her. She was almost twice the height and build as the tiny commanders and sent the butt of her rifle down into Keikodi's head. She rolled out of the way and sprang lightly to her feet drawing her sidearm. Before she could fire Caydenn leaped forward, wrapping her hand around the barrel of the other Zabraks gun she slammed the pistol into the woman's face once, twice, thrice before Keikodi jerked away violently her nose spurting blood. Her face twisted up into a demented snarl. Caydenn drew her sidearm and shot her once in the head. She fell face still snarling into a heap on the sand.
All around the FAS choked out the remaining Imperial soldiers. Sniper fire had ceased altogether indicating that Jorgan had taken out the opposing snipers and the Sith were fast losing ground. Caydenn grabbed her rifle and loaded a grenade round. Taking aim at the nearest Sith she fired watching with grim satisfaction as the explosive round found its home in the warrior's belly tearing the unfortunate man apart at the midsection. His companion turned at the sight of his death, lowering his guard for a second, only to be laid low by a concise blaster bolt that took off his head. The FAS mopped up the remaining enemy combatants. The valley was eerily quiet. In the distance, the sounds of blaster fire and explosions from the 77th Infantry tangling with the Empire echoed mutely.
“Captain,” Caydenn signaled.
Tarask grinned broadly as he approached. “We did it Major! We lost ten men in the initial assault, and Argon lost a leg, but damn what a fight!”
“What's beyond this ridge here Captain?” asked Caydenn pacing up the ridge slowly.
Tarask shrugged. “Not sure. I sent a recon team up that way a while ago, but I never heard back from them. Intel suggests a lift system that will take us up the cliffs to the Academy.”
She frowned. She didn't like walking into a situation with little intel on what lay ahead. They could be walking into another ambush. “We'll take it nice and slow up through here. Eyes open, weapons hot.”
Caydenn took point with Tarask beside her. Elara and Jorgan roamed behind with the rest of the FAS bringing up the rear. They crept along checking behind every rock outcropping and scanning the cliff side for any sign of lifeforms. Sweat dripped down Caydenn's back. The heat seemed to be getting worse. As they rounded the corner Caydenn came to a halt. Beside her Tarask froze, eyes bulging from his head. Before them a few meters away lay the disemboweled corpses of Tarask's recon team. Limbs lay scattered about between large durasteel cages arranged in a loose semicircle around a small dusty clearing. Tarask dashed forward to his fallen men.
“Tarask wait,” Caydenn hissed, but the man ignored her. A soft chuckle sounded. Standing in the middle was a heavyset man dressed in black robes and armor that glinted in the harsh sun. His face was round and pale with a gray beard lining his jaw coming to a point at his chin. His sickly yellow eyes blazed with playful malevolence.
He spread his arms wide, a full smile revealing slightly crooked teeth. “Welcome to my feeding grounds. I am Lord Renning master of beasts.” He snapped his fingers and all at once the durasteel cages screeched open.
Chapter 3: Any Means Necessary
The fight to the Academy tests the limits of everyone's strength. Battle lines are drawn as Caydenn begins to doubt the Colonel's motives.
They were big, standing at least two meters high with short gray fur streaked with black stripes. Hindquarters were thickly muscled and the beast’s foreclaws were three inches long, black and razor sharp. Beady eyes sat above a massive slavering maw of sharp jagged teeth, some bigger than the length of Caydenn’s arm. The two closest to Tarask lunged forward. He screamed and vainly kicked out at the animals, but they just snatched up his legs and pulled. Blood and gore erupted and Tarask gurgled.
“Kriff!” Caydenn cursed. She leveled her rifle at the closest beast and fired. It howled in anger and turned to pull the attention of the rest of the pack. The creatures snarled and circled forward warily. They were smart, probing her defenses for weakness. Caydenn slipped a thermal detonator into her hand and primed it. A soft beep and a well-aimed throw sent the frag into the middle of the pack. It exploded causing the beasts to scatter and downing one of them. Caydenn let loose a salvo of shots trying to pick off any of the stragglers. A deep snarl echoed to her left and Caydenn turned to see one of the creature’s leap at her. It must have circled around to her unprotected flank in the midst of the chaos.
The large beast’s front paws connected with the soldier’s shoulders sending them both crashing down into the red sand. She felt the air leave her lungs as the full weight of the animal descended upon her. Damn! Its large maw opened, wide enough to swallow her head whole. Caydenn struggled to displace the beasts hold it had on her. Kriffing thing was too heavy. It snapped forward and she reached up, one hand wrapped around the beast’s lower tusk, while she jammed her metal arm into the creature’s upper palate, keeping its mouth from closing over her face. It lunged at her again and Caydenn’s muscles screamed in protest. Kriff where was her team? The shrill sound of blaster fire echoed around her as did the howls of pain from the strange creatures. A concise shot through the head of the beast looming over her sent it slumping to the side. Blood and bits of charred brain landed on her visor and armor. Caydenn kicked the corpse off her and grabbed her rifle. Rolling onto her stomach she sighted one of the creatures and fired. It squealed and lay limp in the sand.
Elara hit the ground beside her. “Major are you alright?”
“Fine. Tarask’s KIA. One bogey before we hit the lift,” Caydenn fired back. The FAS was pushing forward. The deadly crossfire from the two flanking FAS units was tearing through the remaining animals. In the midst stood Renning. He spit venomously into the sand and raised his hand. The hair on the back of Caydenn’s neck stood up. The air around her suddenly felt charged. She could almost taste the ozone. “Move!”
Elara rolled left while Caydenn cut right. Lightning flew from Renning’s fingertips and scorched the ground they had just occupied. It ripped through several troops that had been crouching behind Caydenn sending them flying back, bodies convulsing. The lightning blasted off chunks of durasteel armor, burning across the men’s bodies, scorching them from the inside out. The Major twisted and fired back. The Sith batted her shots away with ease. He leaned back on his legs and jumped with a lithe agility that belayed his large appearance. He brought his saber down into the sand at Caydenn’s feet the impact causing the soldier to be pushed back a few meters. He rushed forward, saber tip pointed at her chest. Caydenn sprang back and fired off a few shots. Renning halted his advance and flung his hand forward. An invisible wall of energy knocked her back and sent her tumbling. She took advantage of the momentum to roll to her feet whilst loading an incendiary round.
She stopped in a half kneeling position and fired. Renning having sensed the danger swung wide with his lightsaber, deflecting the round away, and leaving himself exposed. The FAS took advantage of the error and Renning had no time process his mistake. His body fell, riddled with smoking holes. Caydenn stood, pulling her helmet off to mop up the brain matter still stuck to the visor.
“Tuk’ata,” Elara mentioned offhandedly picking her way around the bodies.
“What?” Caydenn grunted turning to look at the medic.
Elara indicated with a tilt of her head to one of the slain creatures. “Tuk’ata. Creatures that guard the ancient Sith tombs. Unnaturally intelligent and fiercely territorial.”
“Got a nasty bite too,” Caydenn murmured. The durasteel that covered her prosthetic arm was scratched badly. Deep teeth marks bore deep into the armor and most likely into the metal of her artificial forearm. Damn, she was going to have to replace the whole exterior plating.
“Count yourself lucky that wasn’t your real arm. Beast would have swallowed it whole,” groused Jorgan bumping her shoulder.
“Not before I reached down its throat and tore it back out,” Caydenn shot back.
“You probably wouldn’t have to. The poor creature would most likely puke it back up,” Jorgan quipped. Caydenn gave a snort of laughter and bumped her shoulder against Jorgan’s. She slipped her helmet back on and approached the lift. The soft beep of her comm echoed through her HUD.
“Shan here. Aerial recon has picked up an Imperial barricade up ahead. There’s no time to try and find another way around-you’ll have to break through.”
“Any other intel on the terrain?” Caydenn inquired.
“Negative. Anti-aircraft cannons make aerial recon impossible past the cliffs. Sith Academy’s not much farther. Maintain comm silence until you reach the Academy. Shan out,” Theron replied. The lift up the cliffs was a standard boarding system, big enough to accommodate Caydenn and the rest of the FAS. Stepping off onto the rocky outcropping winds buffeted up from the valley below whistling around them. Pockmarked scorch holes from strafing runs lined the terrain, and in the distance, rising above the red sands stood the Sith Academy. Its structure a mixture of natural red stone from the surrounding terrain and gray and black monolith dotting the sweeping towers and massive walls. It was oddly breathtaking. A testament to the might of the Sith, a physical embodiment of their unbroken wills and power.
“Who’s the XO here,” Caydenn asked over her comm.
“I am sir,” said a tall Zabrak with deep brown skin. “Lieutenant Bickell.”
Caydenn nodded. “Status?”
Bickell scuffed his boot against the rock side. “We’re down to twenty men not including your team. Armaments running low and we’ve lost our snipers.”
Not the best place to be in when conducting a final assault to the Academy, but Caydenn had been in worse situations with less to work with. “We’ll fan out. Ten right, ten left. My XO will provide cover fire, while I take the middle and draw fire.”
Bickell saluted before loping off with his troops. Caydenn motioned with two fingers to Elara to form up. They crept up the hill from the lift. The rocky terrain provided adequate cover to not be seen but also hindered maneuverability. Above the rise, Caydenn spotted them. Forty-odd Imperial soldiers were dug into the surrounding foxholes and trenches with weapons trained in all directions. Caydenn slipped a thermal plastique from her pack and wired it. The plastique had a much more powerful yield than a thermal detonator but was much less accurate in terms of delivery. It would have to do. She was running low on detonators.
She threw the plastique high into the air. It sailed over the heads of the first line of troops and into a trench where it detonated upon landing. Shouts of surprise echoed about as Caydenn stepped from cover and let loose a fierce salvo of shots that riddled the exposed troops unfortunate enough to not have taken cover. The FAS surged forward, leaping over trenches and foxholes to fire down at the confused Imperial’s. Bolts of red and blue flew thick across the land, the fierce wind kicked up the red sand obscuring vision and making accuracy nearly impossible. Everyone was firing blindly. A massive blast tore through the middle of the Imp’s line followed by several smaller explosions. Bodies hit the dirt and Caydenn leaped into a nearby trench. The heat from the blasts washed over her as she crouched in the hole with several other FAS troopers. Several exposed pipes ran the length of the hole and Caydenn had a sneaking suspicion they were gas lines. Someone must have nicked one setting off a chain reaction.
She pushed up and heaved herself out of the trench. An Imp peaked out of the trench a few meters away, but a swift shot from Jorgan pushed him back down. The sand and smoke were getting thicker with the fires still burning. Caydenn raised two fingers and gestured forward. The FAS picked their way carefully through the unstable minefield. A shot would ring out occasionally as they trudged on, another bogey down. The terrain was becoming more treacherous. Not for the first time since she had been recruited for this mission was Caydenn beginning to doubt this whole operation. Everything was going to hell around them. Every turn, every step was a fight. With every skirmish, they lost more soldiers. And for what? Yes, Darok had said the Dark Council chambers held valuable information, but he hadn’t been very forthcoming about what that data entailed. Then there was how Darok’s so-called sources had procured the info that had started this whole operation. There was no way the Empire would just let valuable data concerning the defense of their homeworld slip into enemy hands no matter deeply implanted Darok’s men were. Something twisted in Caydenn’s gut. There was something she wasn’t seeing, some other plan the Empire had in motion here to allow this to happen.
Caydenn held up her hand in a clenched fist. They were nearing the Academy. It now stood, looming high above them, blotting out the twin sun’s rays throwing long shadows across the ground and surrounding cliffs. “Status?”
“Thirteen remain, sir, though five are injured and we’re down to our last thermals and clips,” Bickell reported. Caydenn nodded and kneeled in the sand motioning for the rest of the squad to follow. It wouldn’t do to get picked off by some errant sniper. She pulled her macrobinoculars free and scanned the path ahead. There was no obvious resistance. No sentries or soldiers roaming about. Odd. They must be holed up inside. Not an ideal situation to be caught in. If they moved forward they risked walking into an ambush. Caydenn had no recon information to go on. Agent Shan and Colonel Darok had been tightlipped about the resistance stationed inside of the Academy. She would be leading her team in blind if she didn’t get some answers. She tapped her comm twice.
“Major?” Theron’s voice flooded over her comm.
“We’re a hundred meters from the entrance of the Sith Academy Agent Shan. I have thirteen men left, five injured, running low on loadouts. ETA on support?” Caydenn asked.
“Negative on support Major. Our forces are tied up dealing with the main front. Push forward and resume course,” Theron replied seconds later.
Caydenn took a deep breath. There was no way she could assault the Academy now. She didn’t have the manpower nor ordinance to breach the Sith’s temple. Her men would be killed as soon as they entered the Academy. “Negative Agent Shan. Unless you have new intel to share I’ll be walking in blind.”
“I’m sorry Major. I have nothing new. Colonel Darok says to continue, eyes open and weapons hot.” She could hear the concern in his voice. Shan was aware of how kriffed this operation had become.
“Agent Shan I am not sending my men in there without some type of solid intel. We walk in blind we won’t be walking out,” the Major groundout. Her comm crackled.
“Major,” Darok’s rough voice interjected. “The data stored in the Dark Council chambers could change the course of the war. It is imperative we obtain it, at any cost.”
“I’m aware of that Colonel,” Caydenn began. “But I have five injured men here and limited firepower, not to mention no intel about what I’m walking into.”
“Havoc squad can do it. Your team is trained for missions like these,” Darok rebutted.
“Havoc is, but the FAS isn’t. I need an evac ASAP. We need to pull back and rethink our assault,” Caydenn argued. She could feel her anger at Darok’s dismissive attitude rising like some hot sticky mass in the pit of her stomach. Didn’t he understand the situation she was in?
“Negative Major.” Darok’s tone took on a callous edge. “No chance for an evac without the intel we came for.”
“Colonel?” Theron questioned, surprise coloring his tone.
“We can’t risk expending resources for a retrieval at this time Major, not without the incentive of the data we came for. Your mission is to assault the Academy and retrieve the intelligence not worry about troop logistics. Now, you can push on and finish your job soldier and at that point, we will evac you or you can find your own way back,” Darok finished coldly.
Caydenn felt her hands clench into fists involuntarily. Never had she ever had an officer threaten her so openly. Her hands were tied. If she refused to cooperate Darok would leave her stranded out in Korriban’s wilds, but if she pushed forward her team could be ambushed. Kriff! What the hell was she going to do?
“Agent Shan will brief you on the next steps of the operation Major. I trust I’ll be hearing from you shortly.” Darok’s comm cut off and Caydenn swore.
“Major I…” Theron struggled to find the words to understand the predicament they had all been forced into.
“Give me everything you know Agent Shan,” She interrupted curtly. She didn’t have time for the spook’s confusion. Whether or not Shan was in on whatever Darok was planning she didn’t have the luxury to sit and ponder about it. She was currently still stranded deep behind enemy lines.
She heard him sigh softly over the channel. “As I said before Major, there isn’t anything I can tell you about the layout of the Academy nor what you are walking into. All I can tell you is that the Council chambers are located on the fourth floor of the Academy. There is a central hub where all data flow circulates through and is analyzed. Install a spike into the hub to transmit the data back to me.”
“Acknowledged,” Caydenn said cutting her comm and turning to signal Jorgan and Elara forward.
“What’s the plan?” Jorgan asked calibrating the sights on his scope.
“We’re pushing forward.” Jorgan and Elara both eyed her in surprise. They were both aware of how dire their situation was. If they were to push forward now it could prove to be fatal.
“Major we can’t,” Elara disagreed leaning forward. “We don’t have the manpower or resources to continue this assault. Not to mention there are five men here who need immediate evac now.”
Caydenn shook her head. “Evac’s not coming unless we get the intel.”
“What do you mean?” Elara pressed. Her hands were fidgeting with her rifle, popping the clip out and pushing it back in. She was nervous, worried about the injured.
“The Colonel won’t waste resources for a pullback. The only way he’s coming to get us is if we have that intel.”
“Damn it, bastards forcing our hand,” Jorgan surmised. He was always one to figure things out quickly. Jorgan sat back on his heels and slung his rifle over his shoulder. “What’s the plan?”
“Slow and low. No drawing attention, weapons hot, comms close circuit. Intel’s fourth floor in a central hub,” Caydenn explained while reloading. Jorgan and Elara nodded and rounded the FAS together. The final crawl to the Academy was grueling. Every inch felt like a meter, Caydenn’s kit laying heavily across her shoulders. Sweat was dripping down her brow and back and her rifle felt thirty pounds heavier. The shifting sand and twisted debris from mortar attacks made progress slow going. Caydenn kept shifting her guard, keeping watch for any enemy combatants. Except, there were none. The pathways were empty with only fleeting signs that they had once been occupied.
“Where is everyone?” Bickell murmured through her HUD.
“Dealing with the main invasion force, or barricaded within the Academy,” Jorgan assumed.
“The Sith don’t hide.” Elara’s voice sounded firm, but there was a slight tremble to it. She knew better than anyone on their team what they were about to walk into. She knew and had the knowledge to be afraid. “They’re waiting for us.”
Her words sent a silent chill through the squad. Despite the oppressive heat, Caydenn could feel a cool prickling settling at the base of her neck and working its way down her spine. They were being watched. Even if they couldn’t see anyone something could see them. Her boots hit the solid stone of the Academy’s steps. Before them, like a dark maw leading down into the stomach of a massive beast, was the stone entrance. Her steps echoed loudly in her ears. The FAS followed. There was no shelter here in their ascent. They were exposed, vulnerable, helpless. Caydenn gripped her rifle and leveled it against her shoulder. Halfway there. Was that her breathing or someone else’s coming through her HUD? Her boots scuffed across the smooth redstone, cloaked stone figures hugged the grey walls, silent observatories of her intrusion into their sanctum. Even through her durasteel armor, Caydenn could feel the temperature drop several degrees.
The FAS fanned out around her in a loose semicircle, rifles trained forward. No one spoke. The air was still, quiet. They moved past the entrance and into the main atrium. The ceiling vaulted up high above them, several floors ascending towards the roof with carved stone intricacies adorning their walls. A massive black obelisk was rooted in the center of the room, strange swirling shapes and glyphs adorned its surface. It tugged at Caydenn’s conscious, a small incomprehensible nudge to approach. She blinked and forcibly shook her head to dispel the notion. This place was clouding her mind. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Bickell lower his rifle and take a step towards the obelisk, hand outstretched.
A shrill whine cut through the air and a flash of glowing red sliced through the Lieutenant’s extended arm. It landed with a thud and Bickell reeled back stunned. Kriff! Caydenn swung her rifle in the direction the red blade disappeared. The snap-hiss of numerous lightsabers igniting filled the void.
Chapter 4: Blood of Others
Caydenn’s order was a sharp crack over the HUD’s comm system. The remaining FAS and Havoc sprung back and hugged the walls of the Academy, peppering the air in front of them with blaster fire. Out of the darkness emerged a dozen beings, all clothed in dark robes, sabers of various reds and purples deflecting the blaster bolts back. Caydenn lined her sights up on a man leaping high into the air, the Force augmenting his jump, attempting to get behind their lines. Her bolt caught him clean in the head. Several other assailants were crumbling under the combined suppressive fire of the FAS and Havoc, bodies dropping quickly. Caydenn paused her sights on one individual wielding a saberstaff. Her movements were slow and unconcise, the blaster bolts she was deflecting back were randomly hitting walls and statues rather than targets. She squeezed the trigger watching the young woman drop. These weren’t Sith lords, no rather they were inexperienced apprentices with probably meager training battling for their lives. All except for one.
In the middle of the fray stood a man with swirling crimson robes, his eyes a sickly yellow, red blade expertly deflecting shots away as he steadily advanced towards the FAS. He was clearly a man with skill, not one of the unseasoned runts desperately trying to hold their ground. He threw his lightsaber in a wide arc, the blade cutting through soldiers before returning to his hand. Bickel, who had taken cover behind a large column was ardently firing his sidearm back into the black mass of the roving apprentices when he turned his blaster on the immediate threat. He fired several shots, which the Sith batted aside casually. He stretched out his hand and lightning flew from his fingertips, the purple tendrils washed over the lieutenant’s body causing him to spasm uncontrollably.
Caydenn let loose a salvo of shots at the Sith’s back. The man turned, breaking off his attack and instead focusing his attention on her. He scowled and again threw his lightsaber at her, expecting the blade to cleave her in two. Instead, Caydenn ducked under the rotating blade, rolling forward and bringing her rifle level with the Sith’s gut. She fired, and the man sprung to the side, but not before one of her shots tore a sizeable chunk from his side. He snarled, flinging his hands out. An invisible wall of energy slammed into Caydenn, knocking her back several feet and causing her rifle to fall from her hands. She rolled to her stomach and drew her sidearm, firing off several shots, all of which were deflected. But the Sith was slower now, his injury clearly affecting his stance as he favored his right side and hugged his left. Caydenn stood and advanced, ducking to avoid deflected bolts while firing off a barrage at the man’s injured side. He retreated slowly, batting the shots aside, attention focused solely on deflection. He kept backing up, Caydenn advancing when suddenly he dropped to his knees. Two smoking holes in his chest; Lieutenant Bickel behind him, his amputated arm tucked close to his body.
“Lieutenant,” Caydenn said rushing to the man’s side. Bickel’s armor was scorched, the skin of his face blackened, one eye blown out completely. “Medic!”
“Too late,” Bickel spit trying to sit up.
“Breathe Lieutenant,” Caydenn ordered pulling the man up.
Bickel shook his head and pointed over his shoulder where a shadowy passageway veered off the main atrium. “You gotta go. My boy’s and I will hold here.”
Elara was at her side along with Jorgan who handed her rifle back to her, running a medscan over the Zabrak’s body. She shook her head. “Lieutenant-.”
“I know, I kriffing know.” Bickel coughed and wiped his mouth. “Didn’t have any high hopes of getting through this. Just get what you need and get out.”
Caydenn just stared down at the man who was struggling to pull something from his kit. Caydenn reached over and yanked free two thermal detonators. She rolled them in her hand before handing them over to Bickel. All around the FAS was being pushed back by the swelling ranks of other Sith emerging from the inner workings of the Academy. They were down to a handful and were getting boxed in. Now was the time to leave. If she didn’t…
She flipped two fingers forward, signaling for Dorne and Jorgan to take the passage, pausing to look down at Bickel one final time. He gave her a bloody smile and she nodded at him before striking off with her team. The blaster fire echoed down the cramped passageway which spilled out into a larger room filled with deactivated monitors. She knelt by one of the monitors and pulled off the bottom panel, slipping her datapad free and hardwiring it into the RAM drive.
“Yuun I need schematics ASAP,” Caydenn radioed waiting for her tech specialist to comm back.
Yuun replied. Jorgan and Dorne both took positions by the opposite entrances, rifles trained down the hallways. It was possible they had gotten away unseen in the chaos of the firefight, but Caydenn was taking no chances. A distant boom shook the foundations, and Caydenn closed her eyes. Kriff Darok. Karking bastard’s shavit plan was responsible for an entire squads’ demise.
“Yuun I need that intel now,” Caydenn pressed. The longer they lingered in one area the more likely they were to be discovered. Already she felt too exposed, too stagnant.
Her datapad beeped and Caydenn saw the schematic plans of the entire Academy flash across the screen. "Transferring pertinent data to HUD," Yuun’s voice echoed in her helmet.
“Copy. Intel received.” The schematics rushed across her helmets display. Caydenn blinked rapidly a few times, cycling through the intel that was useless while deciphering the quickest route to the target. A few quick hand signals to her team and they set off at a quick clip, edging around corners cautiously, scanning for enemies meticulously. She paused when two hooded sentries stalked the hall’s in front of them, barring their entrance to the small maintenance lift that would take them to the upper floors. They seemed unaware of their presence. Odd considering Force-sensitives could sense the presence of strangers with ease. Perhaps the chaos of the attack was throwing off their ability to discern friend from foe. She lined up her shot and Jorgan took his position. Two precise shots cleaved their heads in half. Caydenn knelt beside their prone bodies and rummaged through their robes and snagged a keycard to activate the lift. It carried them up, bringing them deeper still into the Academy.
Even though the building was a bastion of the Empire Caydenn couldn’t deny the morose beauty and austerity displayed throughout the halls and rooms. Statues of lords of old, towering libraries of knowledge, and intricately woven banners and tapestries all denoting the history of the Sith were spread about the structure. One could almost feel the power oozing from the very stones, the beckoning voices of Sith long dead. It was…intoxicating strangely. They cut through several throngs of Sith milling about their target destination. Elara’s well-timed flashbang and smokescreen disoriented them, allowing both she and Jorgan to pick them off with well-aimed shots with their thermal scopes, leaving the hallway littered with bodies. Beyond the bodies lay a sealed durasteel blast door, impossibly thick and locked tight.
“I don’t think that keycard is going to work here,” Jorgan muttered. Caydenn had to agree with her XO. She eyed the access terminal by the door and dropped to one knee.
“Cover me.” She slid her combat knife from her belt and pried the paneling beneath the terminal free. Underneath various wires crisscrossed throughout the hardware. The Major traced several of the wires back to the unlocking mechanism. Two blue and one red. She split them open, twisting the sparking ends together slowly, careful to not short circuit the whole terminal. A whirring clicking noise rumbled within the blast doors before they slid open. Caydenn grabbed her rifle and slipped inside, Jorgan on her right, Elara on her left. The room was large wrapping around in a circle, the ceiling vaulting up several meters before coming to a sharp point at its utmost height. Twelve highbacked chairs ran the length of the rooms, crimson Imperial banners hanging behind each of them and various Sith artifacts scattered about. On the far side of the atrium stood a throne, carved from the most exquisite black marbles, standing upon a dais overlooking the other seats. Sigel’s and runes were carved into the floor surrounding it and into the chair itself. Off to the right of the entrance sat several computer terminals and databanks blinking and flashing various numbers across their screens. Bingo.
“Dorne, terminals. I’ve got the databanks. Download all pertinent data regarding Imperial military forces, rosters, schedules, and Sith campaign tactics,” Caydenn ordered slipping a data spike from her pack and inserting it into the terminal. Elara quickly followed suit, downloading the bulk files onto datasticks while splicing various intelligence records to gain access. “Yuun you copy?”
"Copy Major. Files are coming in corrupted. Cannot access."
“Firewall in place so nothing can be downloaded remotely. We’ll have to hard copy everything,” Caydenn said withdrawing the spike and inserting several datasticks instead.
“Contact!” Jorgan shouted through her comm. She threw herself flat as did Elara. A massive piece of stone hurtled through the air where Caydenn had just been standing and crashed into the databank, crushing the entire thing completely.
“Only the greatest of Sith are permitted to set foot in these chambers,” a deep voice seethed. Caydenn crouched low, sweeping her rifle towards the sound of the intruder. A Sith Pureblood stalked out from behind the row of seats on the opposite side of the atrium. He was tall, nearly as tall as she was, with wide shoulders and a face that looked like it had been cut from stone. His tendrils quivered with rage, hands forming fists so tight around his sabers his red skin blanched. “You profane our entire history by your presence alone.”
He strode forward, red eyes blazing as he continued his rant. “Did you believe you could breach the Dark Council chambers and go unpunished. That you could steal our great works without challenge?”
Caydenn aimed her sights directly over the Sith’s heart. Out of the corner of her POV view screen on her HUD, she could see Jorgan was doing the same while Elara worked desperately to hasten the downloads. She just had to give Dorne a few more minutes. Stall, buy for time. The warrior in front of them was not one of the meager apprentices she had battled in the halls leading here. No, this man’s power was nearly palpable, strength pouring from him like an endless wave threatening to swallow her whole. “Surrender and drop your weapons. We have captured the Academy,” Caydenn bluffed. That statement could not have been farther from the truth and the Sith in front of them knew it.
He pulled his lips back over his sharpened canines in a snarl. “If it’s my lightsaber you want then rest assured-you’ll have it!”
He roared, the sound shaking the room, and leaped forward. Twin red blades ignited and carving a path through the air right to her head. Caydenn threw herself to the side, rolling under his attack and kicking her foot up, landing a solid hit to his stomach forcing him back. Jorgan’s rifle fired off a volley of shots further pushing the Sith to retreat.
He growled again. “You’ll all die here!” He threw his saber’s at Jorgan who ducked behind the cover of one of the thrones and returned fire. Caydenn grabbed her rifle and fired an incendiary round at the man’s feet. He flipped backward and landed precariously atop one of the chairs. Caydenn dove behind one of the seats and fired. The Sith leaped from chair to chair, deflecting back blaster fire and pulverizing the chairs to rubble with powerful waves of energy. The more she and Jorgan dodged around his blades the more enraged he became.
“I will crush you!” he shouted craning his arms inwards towards his body as various pieces of rubble and stone levitated up from the ground and hovered in orbit around him. The pressure in the room seemed to double and Caydenn felt her body being slowly dragged towards the enraged Sith as if the center of gravity emanated from him. Out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of Jorgan being pulled along unwillingly also, unable to fire off a clear shot. Kriff if they couldn’t break free from this lunatic’s hold they would be within striking distance within moments. Caydenn struggled to push back, digging her boots into the stone beneath her feet, muscles straining and pulling in agony as she resisted the tug. It was as if she was slowly being ripped in half. The man suddenly flung his arms wide, a massive concussive blast akin to a grenade going off threw her across the room. Large chunks of stone slammed into her chest knocking the wind from her and leaving her in a dazed heap. She found herself at the foot of the dais, ribs screaming, left arm throbbing from being impaled by a long sharp fragment, and head swimming.
She could vaguely make out the boots of the Sith approaching. Her rifle was gone, lost in the explosive attack. She numbly fumbled for her sidearm, hands clumsily closing around a cylindrical canister. The vibrating hiss of a saber cutting through the air by her head caused her to jerk her head to the side. The tip of a saber carved across her visor before slicing deeper across her head and ear. Pain exploded as Caydenn flung herself back, pulling the pin on the cylindrical canister. An eruption of bright light blinded both soldier and Sith, Caydenn rolling away in pain while ripping the burning helmet from her head, the optics fried. She gingerly ran her fingers along the left side of her head brushing the burning gash. Kriff. Invisible hands closed around her throat, an unseen force lifting her up a few feet off the ground. The pressure crushed her windpipe the force pinning her body in midair as she struggled to breathe.
“You should never have come here,” the Sith snarled one hand held out in front of him, fingers making a pincer movement. Caydenn felt her throat tighten, her lungs screamed in protest desperate for air. She had to break free. Had to…fight…back…Her vision swam, legs deadening, twin hearts beating sporadically. The Sith closed his hand into a fist. A bolt of pure plasma energy seared through the clenched appendage causing the extremity to explode into a pulpy mass of charred flesh and bone fragments ending at a bloody stump just below the man’s wrist. He screamed in rage. With his concentration broken he unceremoniously dropped Caydenn, releasing the hold he had around her throat instantaneously. She gasped, sucking in huge lungful’s of air and awkwardly attempted to stand only to find herself collapsed upon the highest throne.
The Sith had turned his boiling anger away from her, fortunately, cradling his bloody stump to his chest. A few meters away stood Jorgan. His armor was scraped and dented, blood smeared across his leg plates, but rifle pointed firmly in the Sith’s direction. The man screamed and launched himself forward barreling headlong into Jorgan shoving the soldier down while swinging his blade lengthwise across her XO’s left shoulder and down to his hip.
Aric had no time to move or even shout before the Sith reversed his grip on his remaining lightsaber and plunged it through Jorgan’s stomach. “Death will be your only escape.” The Sith spit on Jorgan’s unmoving body and turned hatred burning deep in his eyes. Caydenn felt something snap, like a hot band ripping free from her spine as she watched Aric fall beneath the Sith’s blade. She drew her sidearm and stood, the Sith pausing, his eyes growing wide mouth slack.
“You…I’ve seen-.” Caydenn didn’t give the man the chance to finish. With attention clearly elsewhere she fired, her first two shots hitting his diaphragm while her third and fourth cut through his chest. Her fifth caught him in the throat forcing the warrior facedown into the floor, gurgling futilely around the hole in his neck. Caydenn ran past the downed man and slid to a halt by Jorgan. Elara was already there, furtively scanning Jorgan’s chest while uncapping a stim and shoving the needle into his neck just under his helmet. Caydenn gingerly removed his HUD, his green eyes were wide and dilated, breath’s coming in short pants.
“Breathe, Jorgan just breathe. Dorne’s got you,” Caydenn assured the Cathar glancing up at Elara who was carefully applying a kolto patch to Jorgan’s wounds.
She glanced up at the Zabrak, her eyes widening as she caught sight of the deep burning cut running the length of her head. “Major-.”
“I’m fine Dorne,” Caydenn cut her off. “Focus on Jorgan.”
“No…” Caydenn caught the soft gurgle and turned to watch the Sith roll painfully over onto his back. “My visions…so soon…too soon.” Footsteps echoed across the atrium and Caydenn turned to level her sidearm at the door. A tall man dressed in brown robes and baring the insignia of the Republic strode past her not even sparing the three soldiers a glance and approached the downed Sith. Commander Jensyn- Darok’s Jedi lackey. The Sith’s red eyes widened, almost in recognition and he reached out feebly to the Jedi. “The way…p-plan…my visions…the old man wa-as right.”
The Jedi struck. His saber called to his hand in an instant, blue light almost sinister as it cleaved effortlessly through the Sith’s head. “A member of the Dark Council could have been a valuable prisoner. Pity.” He turned and regarded her with a look akin to disdain.
Caydenn returned his gaze with a hard stare of her own. “Sith seemed to recognize you. Something about a vision?”
Jensyn shrugged unperturbed. “The Dark Council’s full of liars and madmen-he could have been either or quite possibly both.”
Caydenn narrowed her eyes but didn’t push the issue. She had bigger things to worry about like her rapidly deteriorating XO. “We need rapid evac and medical assist now.”
Jensyn signaled for two troopers to step forward and help Jorgan to his feet, but Caydenn shouldered them away. “Your missions done. Take the data back to Colonel Darok. My technical specialist’s and I will scour the remaining databanks before pulling out. Evac’s out front.”
Caydenn nodded slinging Jorgan over her shoulders and setting off at a fast jog towards the entrance, Elara hot on her heels. They ran through the empty corridors, bodies piled up and blaster burns marking the walls. Caydenn ignored it all. All she was focused on was Jorgan and getting him off this damn planet and back to a Republic cruiser. Her ribs protested, and chest burned with every step, Jorgan’s heavy frame making every pain acutely flair. It didn’t matter. She pushed past the pain focusing on Aric’s breathing and how it was growing ragged. They broke through the dark bleakness of the Academy and out into Korriban’s harsh suns, staggering over to the evac gunship several hundred meters away. She carefully handed her XO off to the medical droid hovering above and pushed Dorne up the ramp. She paused before boarding and took one last look back at the Academy, shadows creeping like grasping hands from the building to the gunship. Caydenn scowled and ran up the ramp, signaling for the pilot to take off.
“How is he,” Caydenn asked the medical droid who was starting an IV on Aric who had slipped into unconsciousness.
“Blood pressure’s dropping. Must initiate fluid therapy to correct and prepare the Captain for emergency surgery. Please take a seat and prepare to receive necessary medical treatment.”
Caydenn shook her head and tried to take a step closer. “Save him first.”
The medical droid barred her path. “Please take a seat and prepare to receive necessary medical treatment.”
She wanted to argue, to yell or tear something apart with her bare hands, but what would that accomplish? Instead, she took a seat heavily beside Elara who was watching her closely. “Major…”
“Not now Dorne,” Caydenn grunted and Elara wisely stayed silent. Her anger still burned hot in her stomach. The 77th, the FAS, Jorgan all ripped apart and trampled underfoot due to one man’s poor planning and inability-no insistence that the mission is completed even when it was so far in the kriffing hole…She sucked a deep breath in through her nose and rhythmically tapped each of her fingertips to her thumb and repeated the pattern. Yes, they were soldiers, but that didn’t make any of them expendable. Darok’s bullish attitude had cost countless lives today and Jorgan…She didn’t want to even consider losing him. “Dorne?”
Elara glanced over at her CO, unsure of her mood. “Sir?”
“You got those datasticks?”
She nodded and handed her pack over. Caydenn fished them out and returned Dorne her pack. “Check how Jorgan’s doing.”
She wordlessly got up and walked to the back of the ship to where Aric was being treated. Caydenn slipped the main datastick from the satchel and thumbed it. Something on this drive was worth the deaths of the entire FAS, half the 77th, and…Caydenn shook her head. Jorgan was still alive. They would make it back to the Command ship and blast jet’s away from this sector. Still, whatever the Colonel was after was hidden on this drive and for some reason, Caydenn had a sneaking suspicion it wasn’t Imperial troop details. She slipped the datastick into her datapad and downloaded a copy, making sure to wipe her action before replacing the datastick back with the others. She was treading dangerous water copying information not meant for her eyes, but she didn’t trust Darok or Jensyn for that matter. Darok had originally claimed the data would be given to command to better predict Imperial movements, but if that was true than why wasn’t she delivering it directly to the Supreme Commander. Why did it have to stop at a middleman like Darok?
“His vitals aren’t stabilizing, but his blood pressure is no longer decompensating,” Elara reported softly as she returned to her seat. Caydenn nodded and again began tapping her fingertips to her thumb. Her anger was fading, head clearing. The technique helped to center herself and keep her mind focused.
“We just exited atmo,” Caydenn murmured. “Should reach the Command ship in minutes.”
“Major let me take a look at your head,” Elara said pulling out a kolto patch. At her medic’s reference to her head wound, she felt the pain rush back. She closed her eyes and continued to tap her fingers and thumb together, ignoring the sharp stabs as Elara dabbed her laceration, cleaning it of debris. “You’re going to need stitches.”
Caydenn didn’t say anything. The pilot's voice over the comm system announced they were docking with the Valiant. The hiss of ship depressurizing as it slid into the Valiant’s massive hangar rushed over the occupants, the gunship setting down with a slight jostle. The ramp opened, and medics rushed up with a stretcher between them. They lifted Jorgan off the medtable and deposited him onto the stretcher before hurrying back down the ramp.
“Hey wait!” Caydenn shouted grabbing the arm of the nearest medic.
The medic shrugged out of her grasp. “We’re taking him to surgery Major Creed. Pilot commed ahead to let us know. Deck 4 substation C after you get yourself checked out.”
Caydenn made to follow the team, but Elara stopped her. “I’ll stay with him.” She turned and ran after the retreating medics, leaving Caydenn to stand alone in the middle of the busy hangar, dripping blood.
Chapter 5: Nine Inch Stitch
Twenty-eight stitches, fourteen staples, two bacta patches, one for her head and the other for the laceration running the length of her arm, and too much kolto irritating her head and ear was wrapped around Caydenn’s body like an ill-fitting cocoon. She had been lucky though. More so than Jorgan who was still undergoing emergency surgery within the Valiant’s surgical bay. It had been four hours. Or maybe six? Caydenn hadn’t really been paying attention to how much time had passed ever since the cruiser slipped into hyperspace and began its long journey back to Republic space. From what she had been able to pressure out of a harried medic Jorgan had suffered a perforated stomach and one of his kidneys had been severed leading to severe internal bleeding.
She scratched at the bacta patch and bandages swathed around her head. Damn itchy kolto.
“Sir please don’t pick.”
Caydenn glanced up at Dorne who sat across from her, staring intently at her bandaged head as if she were looking through the bacta and gauze to her severed left ear and burning gash that ran the length of her skull. “Kolto picks.”
“That means it’s working sir.”
Caydenn wanted to snap back at her subordinate but bit her tongue. Dorne only meant the best and was worried about her. About Jorgan. The stress of the mission was weighing heavily on both. The air was nearly palpable with worry. It twisted the Major’s guts around into an intricate knot so tightly wound she wondered if that Sith had somehow scrambled her intestines. She rubbed a hand across her face.
Caydenn looked up. Before her stood a young man, slight of stature, dressed in crisp blue pants and a gray collared shirt adorned with several stripes denoting his rank, nervously fiddling with a datapad in his hands. A young officer no doubt fresh from the naval academy. She only stared at him and the man continued hurriedly. “We dropped from hyperspace sir and there’s a transmission for you on the bridge.”
Caydenn knew there was only one person who would be hailing her now. She stood stiffly and nodded for him to show her the way.
“Sir?” Elara questioned worry evident in her blue eyes. She was probably concerned about her mood. While Caydenn tried to maintain an air of calm professionalism in the face of adversity but when someone she cared about was hurt her temper tended to flare. Dorne moved to stand as if to accompany her, but Caydenn waved her off.
“Stay with Jorgan. I won’t be long.” They set off at a brisk pace for the bridge. The officer silent beside her perhaps sensing her dark mood and not wishing to push the Havoc commander’s ire any further. It was odd. The normal buzzing sounds of an active ship were muted in Caydenn’s ears. Her vision collapsed down into a narrow tunnel, focused only on the path ahead. The call with Darok and Shan.
The bridge of the Valiant was abuzz with its crew moving between terminals and stations constantly updating their jump coordinates and status with the rest of the fleet traveling alongside them through hyperspace. In the time between jumps, there was a small window of opportunity when holocalls could be made to the outside. Traveling through hyperspace tended to distort or altogether block holos and communication. At a large terminal situated near the front of the bridge stood the Captain of the Valiant, Dryson. His arms were tucked behind his back and his posture was rigid. A white beard covered his weathered jaw and chin while keen brown eyes darted back between the holos of Darok and Shan to his crew, noting their work.
Caydenn stepped up to the terminal, her guide lingering a foot behind her. Captain Dryson turned and nodded to her and she returned the gesture mimicking his stance, clasping her hands behind her back and foregoing giving Darok any form of salute. Darok stared down at her. If he had taken notice of her direct lack of respect for his higher rank, he didn’t point it out.
“My associate Commander Jensyn tells me you were successful. Congratulations Major.” Darok gave her a broad grin. She didn’t return it, instead maintaining a blank expression.
“Data has been retrieved and is ready for transfer to High Command. We had to hard copy all of it, but with the Valiant’s spec’s we could remotely send it,” Caydenn reported carefully watching Darok’s face.
“No need. Return it to me and I’ll have my people vet it. Command’s given leave to have this specifically handled by my people and the SIS,” Darok countered crossing his arms across his chest. Agent Shan nodded then disappeared out of view.
Caydenn forced herself to not question Darok any further. She wondered what load of bantha crap the schutta had fed to High Command in order to get them to let him keep highly valuable intel to himself and share it with the kriffing SIS. “Understood.”
“I again want to say congratulations Major. You’ve just succeeded in a mission many people never dared to dream was possible. Today we’ve proven that victory-true victory is within our reach.”
Victory? Success? This mission went FUBAR the moment it started. How many soldiers were dead due to Darok’s poor planning? How many could have been saved if they had just gone with her plan from the beginning, or pulled out when they should have? Maybe Jorgan wouldn’t be lying on a medtable several decks below fighting for his life. Perhaps Tarask and Bickell and the FAS would have made it out instead of being unnecessary causalities in Darok’s and the SIS’ fracking idiotic plan. Not for the first time, Caydenn imagined slamming her fist into Darok’s grinning mouth and knocking out several of his white teeth.
“Just imagine; all of the Empire defeated,” Darok continued oblivious to Caydenn’s mounting anger directed at him. “This day proves that we’re close now. I’m sure of it. This is a great day.”
Something snapped inside of Caydenn. Perhaps it was the pain in her head, or the callous cheerfulness Darok exuded that completely superseded all the loss they had suffered today, but Caydenn all but growled her reply. “You sound so sure, Colonel. How long till you throw more resources away at storming Dromund Kaas?”
The Captain blinked in surprise at her hostile tone and Darok’s smile soured, his blue eyes hardening to flints.
“Purely a matter of logistics Major,” Darok replied putting emphasis on her rank and glaring back down at her as if to intimidate. Caydenn only glared back coldly the hostility mounting between them even though they were both many parsecs away from each other. “If we can open up the lines-.”
A high-pitched whine interrupted Darok over the holo startling everyone on the bridge and drawing all eyes to the terminal.
From out of view she heard Theron shout. “It’s Tython! We need everything we’ve got!”
“What are you talking about?” Darok yelled behind him. Shan appeared back in the holo, his eyes frantic, head swiveling back forth obviously looking at several monitors in front of him.
“Imperial forces just hit Tython. I’m getting reports of Iso-5 bombings, strike teams attempting to storm the Jedi Temple…they need our support now!”
“How are we just now learning about this?” Darok snapped typing in commands on his console quickly.
“Imp’s have been jamming all communication from Tython. We just intercepted a signal from a small pilgrim settlement beyond the Temple,” Theron explained darting in and out of view.
“How did this happen?” Caydenn asked drawing the attention of the two men back to her. Across the bridge, Captain Dryson was barking orders for preparation of an immediate jump into hyperspace towards Tython.
“I don’t know,” Darok admitted. “But we’re sending everything we have in reserve to Tython to aid in the defense. Shan, I want you to gather any sensor data we have and forward it to our relief forces. Major, re-equip yourself and any wave one troops not injured on Korriban and have Blue Squadron begin immediate refuelling.”
“We’re too far out to help with anything at the moment,” Caydenn argued. What the hell was going on? An attack on Tython was impossible, almost as impossible as an attack on Korriban should be. “This is too much of a coincidence. I don’t think it’s wise to rush in.”
“We’re soldiers. It’s not our job to decide what’s wise, it’s our job to fight the enemy.” Darok’s words again twisted something deep inside Caydenn’s gut. Something wasn’t right. “The Empire cannot be allowed to capture Tython. We cannot afford to hesitate. Period.”
Again, Darok’s insistence seemed wrong. This whole situation seemed wrong. Everything was moving too quickly, too precisely to be considered anything but deliberate planning on someone’s part. Darok and Shan’s holo cut off suddenly as the ships sublight engines engaged, the open space out of the viewport beginning to warp and bend.
“Captain Dryson alert me when we arrive on Tython and comm my squad and tell them to direct course to Tython immediately.”