One thing that keeps you alive is the realization that nothing—nothing—is ever exactly as it appears to be. ~ Karinlyyn Bridger Kel-Solan, Auyn Warmistress
Her chest heaved as she moved through her blade forms, jumpsuit stripped to the waist with the sleeves tied there. Sweat streamed down her spine, her tank top sticking to the damp. She’d lost track hours ago of when she’d started. Her thoughts were tuned to her blade, to its movements.
Focus. Nothing but me, with this blade as an extension of my arm, of my will. She exhaled a breath, whipping the blade around, leading with it.
Arin straightened, letting her blade lower, tip to the reed mats of her exercise room. She regarded with her cool, gray-blue gaze the red haired young woman before her, dressed in a heavy shipboard jumpsuit, a wicked dagger hanging limply in one hand. “What’s wrong, Ari?”
“Just…needed to get out of the house,” Arilyn shrugged slightly, tucking her dagger slowly back into her boot sheath. “Dad’s home.”
“Huh. That would explain why your mother wasn’t at Ops this afternoon.” Arin crossed the floor and sheathed the blade, hanging it back up on the wall.
“Where’s the Kerensky girl?”
“Asleep on the couch.” Arin wound her hair up into a bun and pinned it there, toweling the sweat from her face. “She tries to hide it, but she’s a mess.”
Arilyn looked toward the wall, at the weapons on display. “A lot of people are. She’s hiding things.”
“You’ve been snooping.”
The girl smiled faintly. “You taught me well.” She leaned against the wall. “And Chase can’t hide things worth a damn.”
“Duly noted; I’ll tell your mother.”
“So she’s asleep on the couch? And you’re here? You’re not…doing something that’s going to lead to more information about…well…the bad guys?”
Arin smiled briefly. “She’s exhausted, and we’re waiting to hear back on our…inquiries…about Will Canton. I know your mother called in favors, but I had a few tricks of my own to try. Now it’s a waiting game.”
“Huh.” Arilyn sat down. “Mind if I wait with you?”
The older woman shook her head, taking down to boken. “Not at all. But on your feet. I’m already sweaty, and you look like hell. Time to put color in your cheeks again. Let’s go.”
The young Hunter laughed and struggled to her feet, catching the boken flipped toward her as she rose. “Yes, Master.”
“Whaddya mean he’s right behind me?!”
William Canton, former Captain in the Aurora Force, naval officer, defector, and guinea pig, ripped the control stick of his ship hard back to the right. The Imperial Landing Craft, Hawk’s Beak, responded by rolling upwards and right, and streaks of…something tore through the space he’d previously occupied. Hawkeye, the R4 Astromech, squealed an obscenity and returned fire with the aft cannon. Despite the whole programming to avoid harm to living beings, the droid had no such compunctions with shooting rocks trying to kill him. “Control, can you tell me what the hell these things are?”
The reply didn’t cheer him any. “We’re not sure exactly, we’re getting some sporadic reports of unknown raiders hitting the Outer Rim. There are even reports of an attack on Xenen and the Golan System.”
The landing craft shuddered as the strange weaponized molten rock punched a hole through his left stabilizer. “That’s not really helpful right now, is there any good news you can give me?”
“Good news sir?” The control officer asked.
William jinked down this time. “Yeah! You know, good news! The stuff that says I’m not going to die!”
“Oh, well, in that case, the Jade Falcon is arriving on station in…….well, right now.”
William looked up just in time to see a crescent shape materialize above him, ventral turbolasers opening up on the pursuing asteroids with brutal effect. “Jade Falcon, Hawk’s Beak! You think you boys could follow a schedule and show up on time once or twice?”
A rough voice laughed back at William. “We were just waiting to make an entrance! What did you do to piss off the local ‘roids?”
William settled his ship onto a straighter heading. The three pursuing rock-ships had ceased to exist within seconds of the Kestrel Corvette’s arrival. “I don’t have the slightest idea. When I showed up, they’d already chewed our pirate friends to pieces. I’ve snagged some good intel, but we’d better get out of here real quick like. I saw something out there that I think we need to tell the boss.”
There was a pause over the comm channel. “Interesting you should say that. I just received orders stating you are to return to the Claw immediately for debriefing.”
”Probably for botching the deal with the ‘rats out there,” William groused.
“Negative…they’re sent from the Admiral himself. Something’s happened.”
It (they), the one known once as Roger Vane (and so many others), watched as the three (of nine) died. Their voices left the song abruptly, almost roughly, and they (it) felt the disruption. The others voices began to shake, unsure in themselves, but it (they) sang the lullaby that eased all. The song settled, and the symphony grew again in confidence.
It was of little consequence that the three (of nine) died. The interloper was one of the ones they (it) had been told to drive off, but try not to kill. Soon It (they) heard the new, youngest, most unsure voices, most recently added to the flock, cry out as newborns among the Host, and took to comforting them. The three (of nine) would be quickly replaced.
“William!” The older man, who’d been graying twenty years ago and still looking the same, bellowed the name in one of the most menacing tones known to him. “What’ve you done now? The ‘rats are all vanished, you managed to make some rocks shoot at you, and now the damned Aurora Force is poking around in my business!”
William stopped and debated running back up the ramp directly behind him. It was not often that Admiral Vance Kaerion met a return at the docking slip, and when he did, it was usually unpleasant. He figured he could probably get his ship out of the dock and into range of the guns before they could stop him, and when they blew him up it would be much more pleasant than dealing with the old warrior.
“Don’t you think about running,” he growled. “I’ll just let you go, and I’ll follow you, and then I’ll drag you out of whatever hole you try to bury yourself in and beat you with my own hands.”
William sighed and stepped alongside the Admiral, who immediately began walking. Hawkeye rolled behind them, carrying the flight recorder backups for the intel department. “I’m not quite sure what happened, but when I got there, the pirates were being blasted to pieces by the asteroid-ships.”
Kaerion snorted. “A likely story. What else did you see out there?”
“I’m not quite certain…and if it’s what I think it is, well…” William shook his head. “I think I saw the Wolf’s Pride. I’m not entirely certain, but the transponder signal was still transmitting. It looked like it was almost entirely overgrown by rock, though.”
Kaerion stopped mid-stride. “The Wolf’s Pride? The rumors are true, then.”
“Yes, William. Rumors.” Kaerion resumed walking. “I’m glad we sent you out there. He recognized you and your ship; anyone else would have been taken or killed, and we’d know nothing.”
Now it was William’s turn to stop and stare. “He? You mean…?”
“Yes. It seems Alexander recognized you. Or Diemos, as he’s taken to calling himself.”
Aboard the Wayfarer Station, Xenen Orbit, a sensor technician suddenly sat up ramrod-straight in his seat. “Sir!” he yelped. “Massive hyper footprint! Over twenty ships, unknown quantity of fighters!”
He looked up from his station and out the window and watched as a myriad of corvettes and transports and an innumerable amount of starfighters appeared off station. Sitting dead in the middle of the fleet was a twin-hulled monstrosity of two Victory-Class Star Destroyers joined together.
Vance grinned as his fleet appeared just outside Xenen orbit.
Surprising these sorts was always good fun to him, and this far out it was enough that any hasty shots by the locals would have no effect.
“This is Admiral Vance R. Kaerion of Kaerion’s Kestrels Mercenary Fleet, aboard the Mothership Falcon’s Claw. We’ve got some information you all might like to know.”
Korssetti had been told that when he had a job, he would be contacted.
He was never told how, he was never told who, he was never told when.
He was just told that the time would come when he would serve the Master in the hunt. That is how he knew that when the young man who very nearly resembled the master in every way outside the horns sat down before him, that he was being called upon.
Nicholas Kerensky smiled at his father’s dog as he spoke. “The time has come for you to serve the master. We will find my sister, and we will hunt Indiana Bridger’s children.”