Convergence IV

She stood, tilting her head as she looked up at the twin moons observing her from high overhead. For a moment the glowing, mottled orbs reflected in her startling blue eyes, and she was still, save for the twitch of her tail and the slowing drip of gore from her blade.

She seemed to listen intently, a faint surprise evident in the lines of the deep black furred muzzle and the quirk of her brows. At her feet was a human body, motionless, a dark puddle that was inky black in the night congealing under a head whose face bore a puzzled expression.

“And why do you speak to this one now, eh? You are dead, and the dead do not speak…Bah! Fine, yes those dead do perhaps speak, but you… No this one will not have this conversation with you now…when this one was young was the time of waiting and listening and you were silent….”

The Khajiit assassin made a sound of disgust, wiped her dagger on her most current bounty, and then riffled pockets, purring with pleasure as she found several gold coins. These shinies needed a new home now, and any good Baandari knew it was a sin to leave such things where they would not be used.

Her ears flattened in annoyance and she glared back up at the moons once more.

“Does this one not send you many souls to keep you company as you stand vigil? Khajiit feeds you both like starving kittens and now you mewl at this one to go do this thing and that thing and to hurry? Crimson Smiles liked you much more when you were silent dead!”

She stomped around, tail lashing in her displeasure.

“Fine! This one will go do this thing…but this one thinks she does not like the Voices after all!”

She sheathed her blade after a final disgusted glare at the two moons, and then headed off to find her little sister Krin. As she walked down the road she continued her conversation with Jone and Jode, her tone sometimes wheedling, other times annoyed, but ultimately the words went unheard…at least by the dead man on his back in the middle of an Imperial road.

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The Convergence III

HrotandaValeView

She had to check in on her patients first, of course. Then there was the deflection and excuses that had to be made as to why a solitary, unarmored, highborn priestess would need to leave the protection of a military camp, and dealing with well intentioned insistence on sending men with her to harvest her supply list of local herbs…

When she finally got away it was with a sense of relief mingled with guilt at the misdirection she had employed, and worry that she had kept her Bosmer friend’s contacts waiting hours longer than intended.

The wood elf led her to the Ayleid ruins that sat on a slight rise surrounded by trees a few miles away. It was an ideal spot as most of the folks living in the area cherished a multigenerational superstition about the spot and others like it, and gave it a wide berth.

It seemed deserted as far as Vitalia could see, and the cloudy, wet fall day conspired to cast a grey pall over the crumbling marble portico. It was small as these elven ruins went, or at least the above ground remnants suggested so. She wondered what it had looked like in its day and what its purpose had been.

“This way, lady.” Her Bosmer companion led her past the crown of the toppled columns and mangled pediment, then helped her over boulder sized chunks that had been too large to cart away over the centuries for those bold enough to quarry the haunted mound.

Unexpectedly he led her down a ravine hidden by the wild growth of ancient trees, helping her down what looked like a cleft created by centuries of runoff. They followed the jagged path left by wild waters long gone and abruptly ended at a murky clearing populated by large drunken slabs of pitted, forgotten marble that leaned against the steep incline to the main ruins somewhere above.

Vitalia shivered, though it was the wild and abandoned feel of the place that chilled her more than the crisp fall weather. For some time now she had felt she was being watched, and a quick turn of her wide eyes would often glimpse…something…in the ancient woods that was too quickly gone or merely hinting at lingering phantasm. The fine hairs on the back of her graceful neck stood on end and her fingers clutched tightly around her staff while she fought the instinct to leave this place.

Wilkes slanted her a smile, his expression conveying approval. “It’s mostly the effects of a couple runestones placed along the path. Sends folk scurrying away if they come here for a bit of treasure seeking. That along with the very real dangers associated with most of these ruins…traps and the like…and of course…you are being watched.”

Vitalia jumped as she glanced in the direction indicated by her companion, her breath drawn in abruptly as five grey figures seemed to loom out of the tangled growth and jumbled stone back along the path they had just traversed.

They might have been ghosts, this motley collection of woodsmen, all wearing ragged irregular capes over leather armor that shared the same subdued badge her guide wore. “She was not followed. Clear to proceed.” The short, pockmarked human leader of the group gave her a cursory inspection and nodded to Wilkes before turning and melting back into the woods with his men. Even though she watched she could not determine at what point they had been hidden from view again- for all purposes it seemed the wild snarl of ancient growth had simply swallowed them whole.

She wasn’t sure if she felt better or worse knowing they were out there and she was not alone with her elf companion, all said. His amused glance at her informed her he was aware of her thoughts and he helped her up over a half buried block of chipped stone with a hand under her elbow.  She startled as he pulled aside a thick nest of straggling roots and tattered vines that had been innocuously hiding a cave.

Vitalia clamped down on a sudden surge of dread that tried to convince her to flee the dark, yawning hole that seemed perfectly sized for the very largest of angry bears…or worse. Once again her companion spoke up in a quiet conversational manner. “Still more of the runes triggered by our passing…increase anxiety and fear to dissuade those unwelcome here.”

Vitalia swallowed, clutching at her guide’s cloak as the darkness swallowed any detail. He walked for several steps, turning hidden corners twice, his hand at her back guiding her before he paused. He uttered a phrase in a lyrical language she did not know, and a sudden blue wash of light exploded from a series of crystals that were embedded in the walls and ceiling around them. She looked around in amazement, seeing they were in a cavern large enough to serve as a stable. The floor beneath her feet heaved and rippled slightly from the passage of time, but the inset cobbles still largely retained their cohesion. Broken statues were inset into crumbling alcoves along the walls, and crumbling murals littered the floor with tiny glass tiles that caught the crystal’s light.

Wilkes chuckled at her expression and shrugged. “Just a back door- one of a handful scattered around the countryside accessing this fortification and other outposts. Wait until you see inside.” His long graceful fingers depressed a series of yellow crystals inset into the smooth surface of a portal stone adorned with Ayleid glyphs, triggering a muted rumble as ancient mechanisms engaged and pulled the slab up and away from the tall opening.

She knew she was gawping like an idiot as he pulled her by the hand into a bustling courtyard on the other side. The sudden sounds of a thriving population mixing with the cacophony of livestock and horses were lit by the subtle hum of crystals casting yellow light typical of a watery winter sun far overhead.

Guards acknowledged their entrance with a nod as they passed, and there were shouted greetings from men and women engaged in various tasks in what seemed to be the equivalent of a village commons for this place. She could hear the sounds of a smithy and the muted roar of a distant water source. She was aware of curious faces watching them as they passed through, the gazes considering but not unfriendly.

Many of the people wore armor and there were a large number of weapons in evidence. Vitalia snapped her mouth closed and blinked wide eyes, following her guide with her head on a swivel, taking it all in. They arrived at another ancient gateway, this one overhung by a massive metal gate whose teeth protruded towards the street below from far overhead. An older gentleman in dark robes and meticulously polished, but worn metal armor awaited them, his bristling ginger beard half obscuring a tabard. She studied the richly embroidered image on the tabard, admiring its beauty but unable to recall ever having seen it before. Adorned with the silhouette of a jagged stone on a pedestal that bore the shape of a Mundus Stone, it was backlight by a perfect line of planetary spheres representing the Aedric planets.

The old knight bowed in the fashion of a bygone era, smiling as he righted himself. “I see you are noticing the design on my tabard. Our hallmark, Lady Patronus. The Order of Exorcists, the innermost militant order of protectors for the Midnight Squadron. It is my honor to welcome you to our stronghold. I am Bastion Striker, your most humble servant.”

Wilkes clasped forearms with the old knight in greeting and nodded at her. “Safe and sound, though I need to be getting her back before they tear up the countryside looking for her.”

“Of course, of course. Let us proceed. This way, m’lady.” Bracketed by the two men, one towering at her side and the other slight and of a height with her, they left a courtyard of soldiers drilling under the watchful eyes of trainers, and took a branching corridor into a white edifice of crumbling elvish beauty that none-the-less contributed to an air of importance for those within.

“So happy to have you with us, Lady Patronus. I had the honor of serving under your father at court before our paths carried us in different directions. I was aggrieved to hear what became of him and am heartened I have another chance to serve him…and his daughter.”

The noble old knight nodded at her solemnly as they passed through a set of bronze doors that seemed a more recent addition. The interior of the castle like structure was as fine as any she had visited in the Imperial city; rich carpets and tapestry harmonized with ancient friezes depicting scenes of lost Ayleid cultural significance. Paintings adorned walls and leaned against walls, objects d’art gleamed from stone tables.

“We are rather over run with art and antiquities rescued from the Imperial city, I’m afraid. A number of our wealthier members could not stand to see so much of their culture pillaged by the enemy or lost forever to the flames of war.”

The knight led them down yet another corridor, the ever present crystals humming and lighting their way along with more traditional light sources. Vitalia noted many of those roaming the halls or standing watch here bore the heraldry of the Order of Exorcists, their salutes indicating her guide was a superior of considerable rank in the organization.

“Ahh…here we are.” Bastion gave a nod to the two armored knights stationed in front of gilded double doors who had snapped to attention at their arrival. They opened the doors wide and Vitalia was ushered inside by her companions. For the first time Wilkes left her side, veering off to the back of the room after giving her an irreverent wink that served to make her smile despite her nervousness. Bastion remained with her, guiding her to a massive central table of polished mahogany surrounded by a number of men and women who were engaged in heated discussion.

“And what would you have us do, Astia? Throw in with Tharn’s mongrels?” A balding, painfully slender man directed to a grey haired lady with patrician features with some exasperation.

“Given the alternatives and the occupation by the daedric scum, isn’t that preferable?” she responded with an arched brow.

A third individual spoke, a female Altmer with large violet eyes briefly alighting on the new arrivals, voice calm and detached from what Vitalia sensed had been an impassioned argument.  “Lady Otius, Lord Coris, my friends of the Council… it seems our guest has arrived.

All eyes turned to her, and Vitalia felt as she had as a girl, newly introduced at court- assessed and measured per some agenda she was not fully aware of.  Though it had been some time since she had endured such scrutiny, she found the reflexive armor of a practiced courtier returning to her defense. As she dipped into a perfect courtesy, her head held at just the right angle for one of her bloodline, her gaze calm, she heard another man from the head of the table greet her with genuine warmth as he stood.

“Vitalia, child, I am so happy to see you again.”

Her composure fleeing, her heart gave a happy leap and she rose, turning to look upon a face from her fondest child recollections. She laughed suddenly, her smile wide and unaffected. “General Tyranus!” She had to restrain herself that she did not run and throw herself into his embrace as she had as a girl, though she cared not a whit she was still grinning like a child gifted with a sweetroll.

He had aged considerably from her memories. He looked tired despite the smile he shared with her. His face was careworn and a weight had settled upon him in the passing years she did not recall seeing before. The salt and pepper of his short cropped hair was mostly white now, but he still stood straight and strong with a proud military bearing. He had not gone soft in the intervening years.

“I trust we can proceed with the purpose of our gathering, people?”

The acerbic tone issued from a cowled, bent shape she knew too well and her joy at finding one of her father’s closest compatriots here ebbed slightly as her gaze found one of his greatest antagonists also present.

Her voice was neutral but noticeably cool, her smile all together fled as she observed the ancient old man hunched like a spider at the opposite end of the table. “Archmage Falx….” Technically no curtsey required here, just a clasping of her hands and an inclination of her head to acknowledge him.

He grunted at her. “Still an uppity wench who hasn’t learned a thing since I last saw you, I see. Fat lot of good it did your father to put on airs, eh girl?”

“That is quite enough, Falx!” growled Tyranus, scowling across the long table at the bent old man. Several of the people settled at the table made noises of support and the Altmer woman interrupted the thickening tensions at the table before another argument could take root.

“Lady Vitalia, I have heard so much of you and of course your father. Might I ask that those of you not here for this meeting adjourn for the time being?”

Vitalia waited, greeting some of those she knew from her youth as they filed out, smiling at many new faces; a surprising number of whom represented the diverse races of Tamriel. As the throng thinned out she saw five remained, dismayed to note the old spider remained in his seat eyeing her with disdain.

Bastion Striker pulled out her chair then took his own seat next to her making the remaining count seven. The high elf smiled at her then nodded to a nervous looking young man standing next to Falx. He departed hurriedly, returning shortly with a softly glowing oathstone on a simple wooden base which he brought to the knight seated next to her. The Altmer spoke again.

“You will forgive what must seem an eccentric practice; but we are by necessity a hidden society for the most part. We shall require you to give an oath of secrecy, of course.”

All eyes watched her as the silvery orb’s light intensified and Bastion unsheathed a plain looking stiletto from his belt, turning towards the startled priestess with a solemn expression.

*A Thick Set of Files*

A thick set of files arrives by courier. The seal is enchanted, attuned to Legate Aurelius Maximius. Anyone knowledgeable of magical auras or communications of this nature would know any tampering or opening by someone other than this individual will trigger an immolation cantrip which would destroy the package and likely injure the individual doing the tampering.

The seal itself bears the planetary image of Nirn with a shield set before it, and an anchor chain recoiling from its surface. A secondary seal is recognizable as the Order of Exorcists, and the third, Justice Mercy’s personal seal.

The collection of files is topped by a scroll from Justice.

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Legate Aurelius,

Pardon the delayed arrival of these documents. As I promised in the beginning, I believe in full disclosure between us. However, this is also a tremendous responsibility as it reveals certain vulnerabilities in those whose trust I hold precious. I know you too will hold this information close and protect these files and the lives of those now in our shared charge as well.

For Tamriel,

Ambassador Justice Mercy
Squadron Commander of Midnight Squadron, 4th Cell Tamrielic Incursion Specialists
Primum Medicus of the Order of Exorcists
Legionnaire of Invicta

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The thick collection of individually bound papers contained in the package bear personal histories and information on every member of the Midnight Squadron’s 4th Cell.

Each collection of documents reveals mundane information including lineage, birth dates, place of birth, political proclivities, education, and other general information. There are copies of military documents for those who served in the wars, letters from former command and lists of awards as well as disciplinary histories where pertinent.

Evaluations of personality, eye witness testimonies, and even sensitive intel is included in each packet.

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The Idicci’s

Lady Valoria Idicci:

Notable family affiliations in the collected folios include the Idicci twins; Valoria Idicci and her younger brother Titus Idicci, the only survivors of the Imperial patrician Idicci house. Valoria currently serves as military attaché for Octavian Varianus, Governor of the Imperial fallback position in Reaper’s March. She has a spotless military record with several honors for bravery, as well as notable commendations for organizational matters. She does not see much field time to her regret, a side effect of the command structure attempting to preserve the old blood of the Imperial nobility. She chafes under this restraint and has an impressive number of appeals to high command to lead various battle groups, and seems to have taken up a daily practice of turning in respectfully worded, detailed arguments of why she should be allowed more field time. To date, they have managed to keep her on a short leash, though she has found an outlet with Justice’s group of specialists. She is proving herself a skilled heavy defense personality, and does not cower in the face of the most dangerous Daedric leaders. The Squadron has delegated her as a front line, sword and shield troop leader responsible for directing tactics against the most dangerous of foes.

Noted under personality traits is her absolute devotion to her younger brother whom she regards with a paternalistic concern. He is identified as her weakness, with noted concern as to impaired decision making were he threatened in any way.

She favors a dog she found as a stray in the ruins of the Imperial City, and a white Imperial bred charger of her family’s breeding. She is not known to have any romantic affiliations, though there was once a family arranged engagement to another patrician house that did not survive the fall.

Though as a patrician household there was a considerable amount of wealth left to the family, all but one holding has been lost and destroyed including a winery in Cyrodil, An equine breeding facility in the same area, and a primary city estate in the Imperial City. The remaining holding is a walled estate in Reaper’s March that the twins share.  Other estates in various cities have been liquidated or boarded up due to the lack of staff and funds to maintain the properties.

Lord Titus Idicci:

Born within seconds of his sister, Titus is the titular scion of the House. He is impeccably educated in estate management, political intricacies, and all manner of aristocratic arts. The fall of the Empire has altered both his fortunes and outlook. Known for his womanizing, general debauchery, and caustic outbursts, the younger Idicci displays no notable discipline or appreciation for authority. He has traded his aristocratic ties for underworld associations, focused on regaining familial wealth by any means and shirking no method of doing so. He has shed the manners of an aristocrat thoroughly, embracing a plebian manner and cynical outlook.

Titus brings to the group the ability to operate in both circles, with ties to the aristocracy and the underworld. He is intimately connected to the black markets in several cities, and is a renowned smuggler in certain circles.

Though classically trained as a swordsman, he is reputed to be a dangerous street fighter favoring edged weaponry and known to use any advantage to win including shadier options and use of poisons.

He has no noted romantic affiliations, though many casual partners. He does not seem inclined towards any emotional bonds with the exception of his twin sister. As is the case with her, it is likely he would do anything to protect her. To this end he works against her, without her knowledge to keep her off battle lines, using his ties to the old guard to do so. He does not approve of her activities with Mercy’s group, and will often have her called up on Imperial duties when she is scheduled to lead a Squadron group on a daedric event.

It is not recommended that Titus be deployed along with his sister or vice-versa as their attempts to protect one another could cause difficulties in unit operations. Titus works well with Crimson Smiles who has claimed him as her ‘furless kitten’, and seems to hold Justice with some regard. He respects the Old Wolf, and bears a debt to him as indicated in the file of the Nord, and enjoys a lighthearted relationship with Hisst. He bears Wulfran a grudging respect, and seems to heed his direction. Daggoth Bloodsworn is a family retainer and something of a bodyguard for the Idicci youngsters, though he seems to favor a hands off approach to Titus. He is very much aware of his charge’s shortcomings and is not known to step in unless a circumstance is life threatening. Daggoth is a positive influence on the younger idicci who grudgingly seems inclined to reflect the traits the orc sees in him when others lose faith. Ultimately, however Titus prefers and is best at lone missions.

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Crimson Smiles:

Crimson Smiles is a Khajiit shadow operative with a lethal reputation on the battlefield. She favors a massive two-handed weapon, usually an axe, though her skills with a dagger are formidable as well, and her bow skills are significant though more infrequently utilized. Little is known about her past, though it is thought she is the offspring of a travelling Bandarii trading clan which makes definitive identification more difficult. However there is no record of her connecting with any family members as far back as we have been able to ascertain, and of course her trade name has subsumed any family name.

A cautionary note: While Crimson is affable and personable in interaction, she is extremely dangerous on mission with no compunction about killing any given target. There are rumors- very privately held- that she may be familiar with the Dark Brotherhood as she sees those killed in her craft as more of a ceremonial sundering of imperfect mortal existence than as a negative action. She has a startling familiarity of all known poison types with an impressive alchemical familiarity in their concoction and cures.

Crimson is particularly fond of those in the Squadron and seems inclined to ‘mother’ the members, especially the Idicci heir. She was not recruited in the same manner as the other members, and simply appeared at a very secure location of her own volition with the explanation that she would now be part of the 4th Cell. It was decided that attempts to dissuade her would not be beneficial to the mission, and she has worked from this group ever since.

She is skilled at breeding and training feline companions to include mounts and pets, and is generally accompanied by both. There is a strong bond between her and Ri Tahj the Kahjiit Templar, though her particular skill set seems to be an obstacle in this relationship.

Crimson Smiles is open to working with any team member and on any sort of mission, though she excels at single target elimination, information gathering, and information procurement from prisoners.

Mission command may however find that other team members are put off by her as she has a great fondness for killing, exhibiting no reluctance to do so, and no understanding of restraint by other team members. She is not malicious in this regard; simply care free in her application of lethal skills. In short, she will happily undertake less than savory agendas with no emotional after-effects.

She has no known residence and seems content to operate from any given Squadron holding she happens to be near at the time.

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Daggoth Bloodsworn

Daggoth is a young Orc warrior of the 4th generation in service to the Idicci Family. The family name ‘Bloodsworn’ was taken after an incident in which the chieftain of a small orc clan was rescued by an Idicci ancestor (*please refer to accompanying documentation for specifics) who then swore a blood debt to the Idicci family.

Raised as another family member and not as a servant, Daggoth was educated in the knightly arts with care taken to familiarize him with his cultural heritage. Away during the fall of the Imperial City, he bears a deep regret that he was not present to guard the other Idicci family members, or lead the defense of their lands. His father, Durak Bloodsworn was recorded to have fallen when the Imperial City was taken and the Idicci estate was overrun by daedra. Eye witness testimony of one survivor states the enemy dead piled waist high around him and he wielded his sword ‘Oath Keeper’ before the fallback location of the family matriarch despite grievous injury from countless wounds. He was confirmed dead, the heirloom blade missing, and those he fought so valiantly to protect slaughtered in the room behind him after his fall.

Daggoth searches for the blade of his father, and has renewed his vow to see the house of Idicci returned to its prior status, seeing his membership in the Squadron as the best means for removing the daedric evil from the land.

Daggoth is skilled in two handed combat, with a reputation for cutting through enemy lines with devastating effect. He augments his battle skills with ancient combat magic that can heal and increase the fury of his attack. He exemplifies knightly honor in combat as well as official dealings off the field.

He is able to function in traditional knightly fashion given his training, though favors a casual soldier’s mannerisms in daily interactions. He is very slow to anger and fancies himself a courtier when it comes to female acquaintances. He is amicable towards menial tasks as well as more refined duties and has a good deal of familiarity with Imperial and Orcish culture. Daggoth often feigns a slower intellect though in truth this is far from accurate.

Daggoth’s remaining family resides in Orsinium, and he has taken up the mantle his father bore as retainer to the Idicci household, considerably reduced as it may be. He ascribes towards the hard knocks philosophy when it comes to Titus- believing in letting him deal with the consequences for most of his actions, but keeps in range should the proffered lesson be too harsh.

He seems to have an untarnished opinion of the Idicci heir despite his activities, having a firm faith in his ‘brother’ that ultimately he is good and will grow out of his present proclivities. This positive belief in turn has the effect of somehow making Titus live up to Daggoth’s opinion in many cases where even his sister’s influence fails.

While Daggoth has a place with his clan, his elevation to his father’s place means that he lives as a Household Guard Captain and retainer with the Idicci’s at the estate in Reaper’s March. Daggoth favors a young Echalette as a companion pet, though on occasion will be accompanied by a war dog as well. His mount is a black wolf.

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Fahitma Denesh

A female Redguard of the Forebearers, Fahitma is a shaman attuned to the land, and an astrologer of note. Fahitma served with Justice Mercy before Justice took vows with the Order of Exorcists or gained command of her Cell of the Squadron.

Loyal to Justice after the circumstance (* see reference to Molag Bal abduction event) where she was rescued and healed by the Templar, Fahitma believes her fate of being Justice’s companion was written in the stars, and that it is her intended destiny.

Fahitma is something of an outcast by her own people due to her proclivity for magical abilities. She had signed on with the Imperial unit Justice served in as a priestess, where her flexibility in a fight was greatly valued. She can summon the powers of Nirn to defend attack and even heal and bolster troops as required, though she has no true mastery of any particular technique. She is best deployed to augment a specialist in other martial endeavors rather than serve at a primary mission task.

Valuable in covert operations, Fahitma has an uncanny ability to gain information from nature per her shamanistic skills. Able to call a formidable battle bear to her side she also possesses great skill at nurturing and healing animals. Though in tune with wild life, she has a very practical outlook on hunting for meat, harvesting natural materials, and domesticating animals. Her primary mission is eradicating the unnatural presence of Molag Bal’s servants, and is uncomfortable with mages that utilize daedric pets though she does not outright condemn magic use or see it as a weakness as her people usually do.

For this reason it is recommended she not be paired with those who call upon daedra. While possessed of a gentle nature when not in battle, she becomes distracted and thus is a liability in fights where allies rely on summoned daedra.

Fahitma prefers outdoor accommodations, and dislikes large crowds typical of cities. She is content with her unit and those she knows, and can appear stand-offish until she comes to know someone. She has no known romantic ties or history, and has no familial or personal home aside from Squadron properties, most typically those places Justice is assigned.

Fahitma is commonly seen with a number of animal companions, as wildlife in the vicinity is drawn to her presence. She is comfortable riding any mount, and has no specific preference.

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Lady Llunell R’ain

Another family of significance, the R’ain Great House of Vvardenfel is represented by a daughter of the eminent Daedric researchers, Adolin R’ain and his wife Llaaonah R’ain (a daughter of the prolific Hlaalu lineage).

Lady R’ain represents much of what we have come to expect of Dunmer culture. Arrogant, convinced of her own superiority to other races, patronizing, and intolerant of challenges to that sense of privilege that marks her as a scion of an ancient House.

In Dunmer reckoning she is still very young which can in part explain her personality. She very simply, does not get on well with others- including her own family members which may explain the willingness they demonstrate in both funds and Daedric research in return for keeping an eye on the youthful R’ain and giving her various tasks to occupy her time.

This is not, however to discount her potential. Llunell has an intricate understanding of Dunmer culture which extends to specifics on Houses and the gossip and plotting and maneuvering that occurs therein.  Though she goes to great pains to affect a disinterest for her family’s scholarly reputation, she has been well educated in a number of specializations that generations of her line have studied. She has a brilliant memory for information, and will often recite by word segments of obscure writings pertinent to a given situation in those moments when she forgets to affect a jaded, worldly exterior. She is also a gifted mage of the fire school, though she has a reputation as something of a pyromaniac.

In Justice’s estimation of the young elf, much of Llunell’s personal abrasion is a call for attention from parents too involved in the scholastic to pay much heed to their third child. It is her estimation that given patience and positive reinforcement, that the young Dunmer could mature into a significant asset. Justice advises occupying Llunell’s restless intelligence with tasks that challenge her to keep her out of trouble and out from under other Squadron members who take issue with her brash personality.

Lady R’ain very simply does not work well with any cell member on a regular basis though she seems fascinated by the Archmage, and is tolerated by Dhok who has taken some of her teaching (and discipline) in hand. She avoids the Old Nord, is intent on harassing Wulfran, and clashes with Titus on a regular basis, often having to be taken in hand by Daggoth lest they do serious injury to one another. She responds best to Justice who seems to understand the young woman and is the most patient with her. It is best she not be left alone with Hisst as they have a genuine dislike of one another given what seems to be an irreconcilable view of one another’s cultures.

In short, this young noble can be an asset with a very specific set of skills, but she has a volatile personality to go along with those positives.

Lady Llunell has a number of pets typically favored by her people, though she rarely takes them on travels away from her home. She favors riding a nightmare courser said to be a gift to her family by Mehrunes Dagon himself. 

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Cidhe

Simply known as ‘Cidhe’  in her native tongue, this young Bosmer is not technically an operative of the Squadron, but a charge of Axel who has in turn been adopted by Justice and other team members. At best summation, the girl is a wildling that was said to have been raised by wolves until she was found by Axel who subsequently took her in.

Of her own volition she has assisted in numerous missions, proving to be an excellent tracker, hunter, and infiltrator. She has few social skills which include a tendency to steal things that catch her eye, not demonstrating much comprehension of the concept of personal property.

Though not officially mute, the girl rarely chooses verbal communication though she seems to understand what others say. Instead she usually communicates in gestures and sounds, though Justice and Hisst have achieved some success in teaching her written communication as well.

Cidhe shows tremendous skill with a bow and considerable aptitude for close quarters brawling where she demonstrates a physicality that can overwhelm many opponents. She is known to bite and claw as well as use blades, making up in ferocity what she lacks in size and strength. A favorite technique is attacking from stealth, which often results in her victory before the target has an opportunity to engage.

She is timid when confronted by strangers, often preferring to hide and observe. She does not like large populated areas, nor live indoors even in extreme weather though barns and caves are acceptable accommodations.  She shares a notable kinship with wolves and has been seen somehow communicating with these wild relatives in several instances.

Cidhe is something of a mascot to the Cell, and even the more irascible members tend to look out for the young Mer.  She adores Axel and is often successful in coaxing him out of even his darkest contemplations, making it hard to say whom it is that actually was instrumental in saving whom.

With no known Bosmer familial ties, she has been taken in by Axel, with quarters at his home, though she is content to travel between Cell member assignments to check in and help where she can. Cidhe typically rides a wolf mount gifted to her by the Old Wolf. Though not a pet, she is often accompanied by a Nixad that seems to favor her and otherwise watches over her.

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Dhok and Archmage Rune

From the ranks of the Mage’s guild in the Summerset Islands, we include a rare mystery and Dwemer specialist in our ranks. Freed from the daedric planes during Justice’s counter attack (* see reference to Molag Bal abduction event), Archmage Rune and her assistant come to us from a peculiar circumstance.

Of Aldmeri ethnicity, and skilled in the use of Magicka, little more is known of the Archmage other than what was discovered during her rescue.

Freed from her captivity by Molag Bal in the events described in the attached record, it is supposed that the breaking of the containment cell she was trapped in caused either a temporary or permanent impairment of memory in the Mer we refer to as ‘Rune’.

The only certain information we have is that she was a very powerful mage kept in stasis from ages prior to this current conflict. Indeed the only information surviving from the mage’s guild suggests she likely is the long vanished Archmage ‘Rumena Alkinihle’ (of the First Era) which the rescue party misheard as ‘Rune’ which has stuck due to the uncertainty in identification post rescue.

If indeed this is the indicated, long thought lost Archmage, the wealth of untapped knowledge she has locked away is almost unfathomable. However short of accessing that hidden information, she is still a preeminent scholar on the Dwemer Archaeologies, and an unparalleled Dwemer technician able to recreate and repair most of the old technologies she turns her hand to.

Unfortunately there was some sort of damage taken either during imprisonment and torture, or upon the breaking of her stasis cell. Though those with the aptitude measure Rune’s innate potential with magic to be unparalleled, she seems to have retained little actual skill in spell casting except in random urgent situations that threaten her life or those in her proximity. Even in such scenarios, she retains no memory of the actual spells used or how to manipulate the magick streams she had recently accessed.

Experts believe this to be a lingering issue of self preservation stemming from her time as a prisoner of the daedric planes, to which end Dhok has been assigned as a caregiver, assistant and chronicler. His task is to keep her monitored, to calm her if she is given to an anxiety attack (at which point she is known to atomize and lose corporal form save in the most general sense), and to assist with her studies of Dwarven technologies.

Of his own noteworthy reputation, Dhok had a past as a renown battlefield mage before he came to the philosophy that prioritizing the Daedric threat was the wiser path. He volunteered for the task of accompanying Rune to the Squadron- a demand she made from within her confinement before her mental break and subsequent rescue.

Dhok and Archmage Rune are Specialists who only rarely take part in direct missions. Instead they supply arcane intelligence and Dwemer Expertise to missions of that sort as well as Altmer contacts as needed. They are neutral in the war as in the case of the Mage’s guild.

A peculiarity of the Archmage, is her insistence on wearing pristine white and her obsessive dislike for soiling her skin or her apparel in any way. She prefers things of mechanical nature which extends to her mount preference which primarily consists of a Dwemer style automaton horse, though she has helpfully crafted similar machines for other Squadron members. She has also revived and recallibrated a number of Dwarven machines which follow her around like loyal hounds. Dhok does not share his mentor’s preference and usually rides a horse of Mer breeding.

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Imperial Chef, Hisst Arrowinee:

Eye witness survivor’s recollection:
“We were done for, sure. Me ‘n Hetty ‘n Jinksy just kind’a huddled under the stairwell by the kitchens waitin’ fer the end. We could smell the smoke an’ the blood an’ the shit…hear the screams an’ the sounds of the daedra howlin’ and laughin’…then outs from nowhere comes this crazy lizard in cook whites, bellowin’ and roarin’ and crackling with magic- swingin’ a huge two handed sword and slicin’ an dicing them whats was in ‘is way….an he looks right at us ‘n says “Get your asses out of here, fools!” an’ he points the way out with that huge fuckin’ sword where the way was clear…so out we ran!”

Head Groundskeeper, Martin Arnsworth

“No one came for us, of course. What was left of the Imperial Guard was helping the nobility. So we had gathered in the kitchens for some reason, and tried to barricade ourselves in. Then Chef arrives, and if he wasn’t a sight for sore eyes! His staff was gone and somehow he had ended up brandishing this huge sword that was almost the length of his old favorite pot-stirrer…he had us gather up butcher blades and cleavers and the like and led us through the halls until we got to the sewers. There was daedra there as well of course, but by the divines if he didn’t slaughter them like cattle…and he did it. He got most of us clear. Then he turned around and went back in with that ridiculous sword of his…”

Imperial Sous Chef, Tamar Lundquist

“I knew he was sought after of course, but I had always thought it was for his Direnni Hundred-Year Rabbit Bisque! Who would have thought his martial skills matched his kitchen related skillsets? Yet there he was wading into the fight amid lightning blasts and swings of his sword- a sword mind you…no staff for him!… bolstering my house guard as we made a run for the gates…”
– Sir Reginald Farnsworthy

“We would have been lost if Hisst had not picked that moment to make his introductions. I had nothing left but a prayer to the Divines. I was holding the Archmage up, watching helplessly as a number of the prisoners we had just freed fell beneath the renewed onslaught of the Daedra. Then a crazy Argonian jumped into the middle of them from an opening above where we had made our last stand, yelling about how “dinner was served, you bastards!” and somehow we rallied and made it out of there alive…pulling him out by his apron belt along with us…”

Justice Mercy

“Hisst is one of those rare individuals who has found what he loves doing, and has excelled in it, despite hurdles in his way. A primary obstacle? His being born Argonian. Yet somehow despite this, he ended up as a favorite chef in the Imperial kitchens, sought after across Tamriel.

Everything he has found interest in, he has mastered to include smithing, woodworking, tailoring, alchemy, as well as rune crafting. He has the soul of an artist and the irascible temper of wet cat. He may not be the best mage I have ever met, but he is good in his own unorthodox way. He is one of those individuals you find yourself wanting to impress though he rarely has a polite word for you. Maybe it’s because of an unspoken understanding that he would go to the ends of the world and beyond for someone he sees as a friend? I am not sure, but I will say I am heartily glad to count him as a friend and have him at my back in a fight.”
– Personnel evaluation excerpt, Justice Mercy.

Hisst has personal family property in the Great Swamp as well as extensive family scattered in the lands, though none in the immediate sense. His cousin, Whiskey Copper-Still, also serves at the peripheral of the cause.

While his primary skills have always been in various artistic fields, most notably as a chef- he is a promising though not fully developed mage. He disdains the use of a staff, preferring instead a large two handed sword crafted in the Argonian style whose use is augmented by magic skills and various enchantments.

He has no tolerance for those that are inclined to see Argonians as a slave race, or who might keep slaves of their own. He is known to be an exacting but fair taskmaster in his kitchens, insisting on spotless accommodations, the freshest ingredients, and knowledgeable assistants.

Hisst has purchased a property he plans to open as a resort to serve as an attractive spot for intelligence gathering and searching out alliances while offering a tempting array of dishes made noteworthy in his service at the Imperial court.

Hisst has no serious romantic ties, though he is known to take various lovers from amongst any number of the races, many of whom seek him out for his fame and various skillsets. He prefers to ride a pale white guar charger and has a noted fondness for a pig companion that will follow him about like a dog when given a chance.

He works well in a group of competent team members, but requires strong leadership or he will step up and assume command of the group when there is a vacuum. He will give a tongue-lashing to anyone shirking responsibilities without a second thought, so it is advised more timid personalities be assigned elsewhere.

In short, this Argonian will not willingly suffer fools or cowards.

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Axel Jotunnsson a.k.a The Old Man, or The Old Wolf

For the record- A regional Skald’s tune often sung as a lament in the deepest winter-

 

Lament for the Last of the Jotunnssons

 In vain the bright course of thy talents to wrong

Fate deadn’d thine ear and imprison’d thy tongue,

For bright o’er all her obstructions arose

The glow of genius they could not oppose;

And who, in the land of the Nord, or the Mer,

Might match with Axel, Clan Chief of the hills?

Hear the wolf cry now: Winter has come.
Hear the wolf cry now: His enemies undone.

Thy sons rose around thee in light and in love.

All a father could hope, all a friend could approve;

What ‘vails it the tale of thy sorrows to tell?

In the springtime of youth and promise they fell!

Of the line of Jotunnsson remains not a male,

To bear the proud name of the Chief of the vale.

Hear the wolf cry now: Winter has come.
Hear the wolf cry now: His enemies undone.


And thou, gentle Dame, who must bear, to thy grief,

For thy clan and thy country the cares of a Chief,

Whom brief rolling moons in six changes have left,

Of thy husband and father and brethren bereft;

To thine ear of affection, how sad is the hail

That salutes thee -the fallen wife of the line of the Chief!

Hear the wolf cry now: Winter has come.
Hear the wolf cry now: His enemies undone.

(attributed to the legendary Skald, Sir Walter Scott)

 

**

Last surviving member of the Nordic highland clan whose name he bears, Axel was the head of his clan and was liegeman to the late Thane Skavaald in the mountains bordering Craiglorn in his younger years.

Axel’s clan thrived under his leadership, but his battlefield prowess threatened his own liege lord and rival clans to such an extent, that a terrible plan was concocted between them to forever banish the threat he posed to their own ambitions.

Summoned to service three decades ago, Axel and the best of his warriors were called away, leaving their village vulnerable. Disguised in wolf furs and features hidden behind snarling wolf masks, Cadlin Snargussan, longstanding rival from across the valley, led his own men on a sneak attack, slaughtering every remaining man, woman and child of Axel’s tribe- including his wife, two sons and newborn daughter.

A wounded messenger reached him on the road too late, though with his last breath the runner named the villain. And so it was that Axel set foot on a path of vengeance and relentless predation which he still walks to this day.

Every last warrior of his tribe has been given to the eradication of the bloodline of his enemies- for in his quest for vengeance he learned his own Thane had surrendered him to his nemesis. And so it was that Axel’s hunt earned the attention of Hircine Himself.

Yes, Axel is a werewolf. An alpha among alphas, a pack leader with no pack.

His is a sad tale darkened by the virulence of true hatred and blood feud that is as relentless as the seasons and as cold as the mountains of Skyrim. Those of his enemy’s blood still remaining hide well, for they have come to know the Old Wolf bears no mercy.

So how was it Axel came to be in service to Justice Mercy and the cause? It is suggested his enemy had made a pact with the Daedric Lord of Schemes, and the implacable warrior caught wind of this and had broadened his quarry to include the minions let loose on this plane as his primary targets grew more scarce. Perhaps too, the lone wolf found the comfort of a pack once again. However the specific tale has the Old Wolf saving the older of the Idicci twins when a scouting mission turned bad and the Imperial party she commanded was ambushed by shock troops boiling out from a daedric portal. With his timely assistance, the enemy was defeated and he took Valoria to a medical camp where a young healer now known as ‘Justice Mercy’ worked to care for wounded soldiers.

Axel has a strong relationship with Wulfran of Riften. He is a father-figure to the waif Cidhe, and sees to the well-being of other cell members in his own aloof manner. He has not given up his hunt, and has sworn to stay on track until he has eradicated any lingering blood relation of his enemies.

He has taken the holdings of his former liege-lord as his own, known now as “Wolf’s Den” by locals, more for the common sightings of wolf packs in the area than any inkling of the Old Man’s true nature.

Axel, though trained to bear the heavier, traditional Nordic armors of encumbering steel, prefers leather with lighter metal plate adornment. His combat style pairs speed gained from his greater agility with the massive damage of a mighty two handed sword wielded in the finest Nordic traditions. His battle style is enhanced by the battlemagics of the ancient dragon-knight, allowing him to sustain himself during longer conflicts.

He favors a piebald battle trained destrier named ‘Horse’, and is sometimes seen to be accompanied by wild wolves inclined to escort the Old Man in the wilds.

Currently his Halls host the Archmage ‘Rune’ and her companion caregiver Dhok as the catacombs on his property are coincidentally the site of a Dwemer ruin as well. His charge ‘Cidhe’ is usually in the vicinity and Wulfran of Riften often comes to visit with the old man as well. He appreciates a good drink and to that end enjoys the brews Hisst will concoct especially for his consumption. The Idicci twins idolize the Old man- each in their own particular way. Where Valoria will coax tales of battle from him, Titus will allow himself to be silenced by a simple glance from the icy gaze of the Old Man. Axel has a respectful if protective relationship with Justice though it is clear he sees himself more as her caretaker and protector than one of her soldiers. It is not suggested the Nord be paired with the Dark Elf, though he works well enough with other team members. He however, prefers hunting alone.

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Ri Tahj

Ri Tahj is a tall, male, Khajiit with light coloured fur, almost white, with a band of reddish brown around his muzzle area. He usually favours simple garb, either plain robes or armour, and can often be found in poorer areas of cities, seeking to aid the poor. He is a devotee of Mara and especially favours aiding children. It has been speculated that he may have been orphaned and taken in by an orphanage run by a Maran sect but no proof has ever been found to support this theory.

Ri Tahj’s exact place of origin is unknown although it is beleived he is from somewhere in northern Elseweyr, as he has been reported to have relayed tales of spending time in Dune, Riverhold and Rimmen. These references could, however, just mean he has traveled to these cities and enjoyed his time there.

He has had loose affiliations with various charitable and philanthropic groups over the past several years, and it is unclear how he became affiliated with the band of daedra hunters assembled by the Breton known as Justice Mercy. He seems to enjoy cordial relations with most of the group, but seems to have a strong bond with the assassin known as Crimson Smiles despite her being “on a dark path”. There is no evidence as to how deep the bond between the two Khajiit is, or if it pre-dates their joining of Justice Mercy’s group.

Ri Tahj has shown no evidence of addictions or proclivities to any type of questionable activity, aside from his association with some of the members of Justice Mercy’s team. He does not avoid taverns or brothels but does not seek them out. Often his visits to such establishments will be in company where he tends to be a moderating influence on his companions.

The Convergence Part II

 

Justice

It was a long night in a chain of endless long nights when one was a priestess sworn to succor and heal and a war raged all around. As always it was the ones she had not been able to bring back that haunted her, and she memorized their names, adding them to the ghosts that stood vigil on the silent shores.

She had been told by those older and far wiser that at some point you developed a sort of emotional callous against the toll of those lost. She was not certain if she would welcome this turning point or regret the loss of connection to those she tended.

Another side effect of trying to stand against an endless tide of death seemed to be insomnia, she decided wryly. So once again she sat with a pot of tea trying to find the means to turn off her over stimulated mind and find temporary peace in sleep that her whole body ached for.

She startled as a hooded figure entered her tent, standing and reaching for her staff. “There is no need, Priestess. I am a friend come with news…and an invitation.”

The Bosmer slipped off his hood, inclining his upper torso in a slight, polite bow. Vitalia bit back the call of alarm that had nearly passed her lips and regarded the stranger cautiously. “It is late…are you in need of assistance? Or perhaps we could wait until dawn for whatever discussion you intend?” Of a habit her eyes passed over him looking for signs of injury or illness, pausing at a muted device affixed over the leather armor at his chest. She made out the symbol of a planet…a shield set before it and what seemed to be a chain struck away from it. It was not an emblem she was familiar with. Her eyes returned to his expression, waiting to see what he intended.

A half smile skewed his mouth and he stepped more fully into her small tent, gesturing to the tea. “Ah but lady…it is already early morning though shadow yet lingers outside.” She glanced out of the tent, startled to realize the truth of his words.

“May I?” He settled himself, unslinging his bow and resting it across his knees as he poured for himself after her nod and gracious gesture towards her meager repast.

“Of course, please be welcome…though I am not quite accustomed to such mysterious visitations.” Her humor was rueful, tinged with fatigue as she settled herself on the edge of her cot across from him, keeping her staff in sight out of the corner of her eye.

He poured, topping off her cup as well, and then sipped appreciatively, tapping the device on his chest. “Are you familiar with this?”

At her cautious head shake he nodded as if he had expected her answer, leaning back in his wooden chair with the cup settled in the loose embrace of his long fingers. “I did not expect you to be. So in short, let me explain. I will get to why I am here if you can be patient.”

She tilted her head, curious in spite of her reservations.

“First, introductions; I am Wilkes Duskrunner, and I work for the Midnight Squadron as an information specialist.” He placed one hand over his chest and gave a lighthearted, self deprecating bow from his chair.  “Our organization has seen the folly of this war over a stone chair in an ivory tower in the face of a true enemy determined to enslave or destroy all of Nirn. We are late come to this war, sadly…at the midnight hour, if you will. But here we are- late on the final eve, but sworn to the dawn and a new day.”

Her brows rose, her attention fully keyed now as her exhaustion slipped away. “Do go on…” she urged.

“The long and  the short of it- we include certain remnants of the legitimate Imperial Court…Including several compatriots of your father…as well as noble families, merchants, and several organizations from across Tamriel. In my own view of these things, we are the sane fragments still left on this planet who see the state of things and realize…someone has to stop it.” He quirked his mouth again in wry humor, his too astute gaze picking up on her body language as he mentioned her father.

She had stilled, her breath catching at his words. “I see…and what does such an august confederacy wish of a simple healer?”

He measured her emotional withdrawal, noted her hands clasping together in her lap and the white knuckles. When he spoke again his voice was gentle and his almond shaped, dark eyes offering unspoken sympathy. “We believe your father survived the daedric takeover of the Imperial prisons, and that he is being held by Molag Bal.”

She stood abruptly, her chair falling back with a crash and the cup falling to the ground to shatter, an involuntary cry escaping her. From outside the tent came the sound of running feet and an alarmed inquiry. Acting quickly, she slipped out; waving off her would be saviors. The Bosmer had reacted to the alarm even more quickly than she had, slipping from his seat and cloaking in shadows from the depths of the tent. He listened to her embarrassed explanation that she had simply spilled hot tea on her hand, and her apology to the Imperial guardsman. Wilkes waited, sensing the lingering suspicion of the guardsman who peered into her tent and gave her a worried once-over. “If you need anything, priestess…I’ll be close.” Reluctantly the soldier turned, finally satisfied that the young healer had simply suffered a clumsy moment. The man offered her an adoring smile before wandering away to his post once more and Vitalia returned, closing the tent flap behind her. Her gaze was direct, both eager and understandably upset as she pitched her voice low. “Tell me everything.”

Wilkes made himself more visible, sheathing a set of daggers that had slipped into his grasp. “He was not killed during the uprising as was reported to the general public. Tharn had pushed for it as had Manimarco. They wanted to make an example of him so other nobility would fall in line.  However, Varen Aquilarious refused, keeping him hidden and locked away as a compromise…allowing the rumor of the execution to serve as a prod for the remaining supporters of Emperor Leovic.”

Vitalia hugged her arms around herself, looking around the tent and fighting the emotions thick in her throat, pushing back the tears that threatened.

The elf gazed at her somberly. “Your family was made an example of, yes. Yet Varen tempered the punishment levied against your kin. He made certain that accommodations were made for your entry into the ministries, and that your mother would be cared for, though in much reduced circumstance and far from Cyrodiil. Your brother’s death was…not his doing.”

Anger flashed in Vitalia’s blue eyes. “They gave her a hovel in a swamp! My mother died of a fever I could have healed had I been allowed access, within a month of being given his ‘mercy’! My brother was conveniently assassinated so as not to provide a rallying point to those who understood why loyalty to the blood of St. Alessia was imperative to the emperors of Cyrodiil!” She kept her voice low but it trembled with the effort, and hot tears had flooded her eyes as she stared at the elf. She stood rigidly and he stepped closer in the small tent as if to offer comfort. He sighed softly as she moved back, her slender frame quivering.

“I am so sorry for your anguish, lady. Your father was reputed to be a wise, and loyal Imperial Advisor for the old council. Yet you have allies that have remained hidden…and at their behest I am here to let you know all is not lost.”

She took a deep breath, wiping away the tears that had spilled down her cheeks with an impatient gesture. “Your news brings me no peace, sirah, unless you also bring advice as to how I am to free him of such imprisonment.”

Wilkes nodded. “Of course. That is the gift I come bearing. What we desire….what your father’s old allies…and the leadership as a whole desire…is to bring you into the fold. You have more friends than you know. And we have the monies and plan to rescue him. His leadership would be invaluable.”

She continued to gaze at him, her voice level again as her tears were locked away. “If you have such a plan…and such resources- why do you come to me and not simply save him yourselves?”

His gaze conveyed his approval as he answered. “You carry his blood. If we are to attempt this arguably insane plan to rescue your father from a daedric Lord…you must be the fulcrum the magic requires to pinpoint his location and perforate the plane to where he is held.”

Her voice was tight and she searched his face. “He is…alive then? You know this for certain?”

The elf nodded, his voice gentle. “Indeed.”

Vitalia clasped her hands in front of her and lifted her chin, her voice firm and decisive. “Then waste no further time. Let us begin.”

Wilkes grinned at her. “You have a few folks eager to meet with you. Let’s be on our way.”

The Convergence Part I

Lobisomem1                He hunted, as always.

The grizzled wolf had no difficulties skirting the troops from any of the factions, and the farm dogs from the villages he passed dared not voice a challenge when they picked up his scent. His primary prey had become scarce, but this new quarry which filled him with the need for the burning, sulfuric blood of daedra was easily slaked here in Cryodiil. His keen sense of smell had picked up the battered ozone smell of a tear in the barrier between plains a few miles away and he loped along intent on the prey that would be his.

Ears perked as the twilight shadows tinged his snow white coat the dark blue color of Skyrim’s glaciers in deep winter, his ruff a silver outline behind the darker shape of his muzzle. Men. He heard the rhythmic steps of an Imperial squad and two riders on horseback. Brilliant blue wolfish gaze intensified as he calculated how close they were to his quarry…and he put on speed as he realized the shadow creatures would catch these humans unaware as they seethed, still hidden behind the tear to the burning plains.

His instinct was to tilt his head back and let out a howl of warning to his pack…but no pack ran with him save the ghosts of his past. He whined deep in his throat as the never absent pain and loneliness tinged his hunger for a moment…and it made him angrier. Fangs lengthened and what had been simply a wolf bulked and grew into something still four legged, but monstrous in size and muscle.

The screams had begun and the panicked shout of orders as the deadra poured out of the planar rift, attacking the Imperial squad. The wolf came to a crest above the road at a flat out sprint, leaning back on his haunches to a halt as he arrived at his goal. His bulk was backlit by an early autumn moonrise, his white fur silhouetted black as night before the brilliance of Nirn’s lunar beacons. Yes…it was as his keen sense of smell had informed him miles back…the soldiers of his Enemy. Daedra branded with the mark of Molag Bal. And then he did howl.

His head thrown back, he gave vent to the aching loneliness and rage that were ever in his heart. The high keening note ended in a slavering snarl as he leaped from the berm overlooking the road, springing down into the boiling pit of Daedra below. The man that was the wolf released his will to the wolf that was a man, and he became teeth and claws and power and insane blood lust. He ripped and tore and took wounds that healed even as they were struck, unrelenting in his vengeance. Wolves from a local pack had heard his call and came to the Alpha to join the hunt, snapping and biting and hindering the other worldly soldiers in frenetic loyalty to the beast that towered above them.

Slowly the man riding inside the wolf took notice of a young female Imperial shouting, directing her remaining soldiers, organizing them into a shield wall as spears struck at daedric hides and pushed the foe into his vicious attack. In concert then, the humans and the werewolf fought. Together they battled the fiery creatures that still poured out of the shimmering opening and onto the mortal plane.

A massive shadow was birthed onto Cyrodiil’s sweet grasses from the tear, gnarled and knotted dark hide pushing through like an abomination birthed into the world. The daedroth shrieked in bloodlust as it entered the fray, carelessly stepping on the slower swarming imps as it waded into the fight. The creature turned its attention to the massive werewolf, its remaining kin ramping up their attack. Soon the wolf kin were overwhelmed, falling under the onslaught, leaving only the old wolf to face the rampaging enemy. He was tiring, his body slower to heal as his reserves lagged and he wondered if this would be how he would end, finally able to rest…

A lance skewered a clannfear as it leapt at his flank and he heard a shouted rallying cry. “For the Emperor! For Cyrodiil!” and suddenly the female officer took up position at his side where one of his fallen wild brothers had been. She gave him a wary look from under the glinting guard of her plumed Imperial helm, then set her shield and started to hack at the remaining hoard. Those that remained of her unit rallied to her cry and fell in with their commander. The woman stepped in front of him and covered him when the wolf gave out and he shuddered back into human form, heaving and panting, covered in daedric blood, retching as he spit out the taste of their flesh from his mouth. She shielded his quaking, weakened form, her eyes wide behind the slits of her visor as she witnessed the transformation. The Imperials fought with a gritty determination, several falling, but to a man staunchly fighting with their commander, not a single one inclined to flee. He recovered his vigor quickly, far more quickly than a normal man would have.

He stood abruptly as the officer cried out, seeing her stumble as the last remaining Xivkyn managed to flank her and land a blow to her bracing leg, causing her to stumble and drop her shield slightly. Taking immediate advantage, the bloodied daedroth lashed out, catching the helmeted head of the officer with a glancing blow and sending her flying.

Axel bellowed, drawing the attention of the last of the daedra, a battle incantation shrouding him in dragon hide as he sliced and cut with his massive two handed sword. The last soldier standing managed to slice through the neck of the Xivkyn as Axel used every ounce of his remaining strength to land a blow at the middle of the mutated crocodile’s chest, sinking the blade deep and puncturing whatever organs resided there. It died with a whimper, the light going out of its eyes abruptly, and the bag of tainted meat that remained slumping to the blood muddied earth.

The harsh sound of his own breathing, the moans of the injured and abrupt silence of the dead were all that remained as he pried his sword from the massive corpse. The last of the soldiers had turned, moving to the side of the woman who lay still on the dirt road.

As a soldier pulled off her dented helm, Axel reached out his senses, noting life remained in her yet. The Imperial eyed the big Nord with a mingling of fear and determination as he stepped closer and leaned down to assess her injuries.

“St-stay back…”

“See t’ these others fore they bleed out.” Axel bit out his orders in a manner that sent the Imperial scurrying to obey automatically without even pausing to consider the source of the order, a wary glance over his shoulder the only hesitation proffered as he ran to pull bandages and medical supplies from packs. Every muscle in his body aching, Axel claimed the dangling reins of the woman’s white horse. The wide dark eyes were wild with the whites showing at the scent rolling off the Nord, ears flicking back as he reared and gave a half-hearted strike with a front leg. “Behave yerself…” growled the old man as he pulled the animal close to his fallen mistress. With a muffled grunt he lifted the fully armored warrior and slung her over her mount’s saddle. With weary approval Axel noted that the animal stood still as a statue after adjusting itself to the unconscious weight of his rider.

“I won’t let you take her…” a tired voice stated matter-of-factly, another of the soldiers- this one also an officer. The man was older, and sorely wounded from the smell of him, but determinedly gripping his sword as he stared unflinchingly at the huge Nord. Behind him the younger soldier stood, still fearful but equally as resolute.

“Don’t be daft. If I’d wanted t’ harm any of ye…I’d a killed ye in th’ fight.” His mountain brogue was thick in his exhaustion, and the growl was heavy in his tone as he stared at the surviving men from behind bristling white brows and gore matted white, straggling hair.

“I be takin’ er to a healin’ tent up th’ ways there…send ye somut back fer the rest a ye.”

The wounded man stared at him resolutely. “You shall not take her while I breathe, sir.” Another of the wounded men struggled to sit up as well, painfully reaching for a bow fallen nearby.

Axel narrowed his eyes, irritated yet aware of a burgeoning respect for whoever this woman was, that her troops displayed such loyalty. His head tilted and he frowned. “Riders coming.”

The soldiers turned doubtful gazes up the road then glanced back, not yet hearing the sound of mounts coming at an outright run, a dangerous choice given the advancing evening. Axel cursed, drawing the sword again and turning to face the direction of the riders.

His nostrils flared and he scented them before he saw them. An orc and another human…Imperial. He rested the tip of the blade on the ground between spread legs, massive hands resting on the hilt as he waited. He was aware of the men to one side sluggishly moving, some struggling from the dirt if able to do so, trying to present a suggestion of resistance.

The first rider pulled his horse in sharply, the animal slipping back on its haunches and shrieking in protest as a young man leaped from the saddle, wild, dark eyes taking in the pile of corpses and the tattered remnants of the Imperial scouting party.  Close on his heels came a massive wolf of a size with the lathered horse, ridden by an armored orc. The Orc slipped off the wolf, taking in the scene at a glance, his expression grave as he settled his attention on the Nord standing in front of the white warhorse bearing the unconscious form of the female officer.

His face leeching of color, the dark haired young man stood frozen, staring at the white horse and the unmoving form it bore. “Is she….?”

The Nord relaxed and shook his matted, gore splattered head. “Not yet. But these sheep brained idiot’s will’na let me take ‘er t’ be healed at th’ camp up th’ road.”

The man’s throat worked and he swallowed heavily, running across to the woman as the orc trailed behind him, concern writ deeply on his tusked face. The man- who looked very similar to the young woman with dark hair and eyes, carefully checked her over, calling her name softly.

“Valoria…dammit! Have to go play the hero, don’t you? You better be ok, idiot or I’ll…I’ll…” the hoarse voice choked off and he abruptly stepped back and turned to the remnants of the squad.

“Captain, Daggoth and I will be taking my sister to the camp up the road with this fellow. We will send back a wagon and another detail to assist you.”

The weary remaining officer, who had sagged back against the side of the berm, shook his head. “Not with him, you shouldn’t…”

The nobleman frowned impatiently. “And why is that?”

The young medic passing amongst the wounded piped up, “cuz he’s a wolf, m’lord.”

Daggoth’s blades were out of their sheathes in an instant and he squared off with the old Nord. “Step away from them NOW.” His voice was quiet but brimming with threat as the orcish knight took a fighting stance.

Axel crossed his thickly muscled arms over his chest and glowered at the young orc.

The wounded Imperial officer interjected reluctantly, “He saved her. He saved all of us.”

There was a near silent ‘snick’ as daggers that had been hidden in the dark, voluminous riding cloak were re-sheathed and the young man who had angled towards Axel’s back when the orc had challenged him straightened. His voice was quiet and sincere. “Then I am in your debt now, and for all time.” He bowed deeply to the old man.

“Stand down, Daggoth. Let’s get her to the healer.”

The orc saluted after only a slight hesitation, still eyeing the big Nord. “Aye, m’lord.”

Titus pulled himself up on the saddle behind his sister’s unconscious form, and gently pulled her into his embrace. He gestured to his own mount. “Please accompany us, friend.” Axel hesitated, glancing out into the uncomplicated night wistfully feeling an odd responsibility for the young woman who had stood in his defense. He mounted and fell into line behind the human, the orc close at his back on the huge black wolf.

They rode as quickly as they dared, no conversation from any quarter, and after a handful of miles saw the torches and clustered tents of the Imperial fortification by a small village. The orc rode ahead at a sprint, the crimson eyed wolf a blur of deeper night in the darkness, and as soon as they came to the perimeter there was a rush of activity to greet them. Titus slowed his sister’s mount, stating simply, “Your secret is safe with us. I swear it.”

As they rode in, soldiers swarmed the horses, reaching up for the young officer, carefully placing her limp form on a stretcher as others called out questions. A hastily put together party complete with hospital wagons rumbled out to the site of the ambush as they dismounted, Titus pushing through the bystanders to follow his sister’s stretcher.

“Place her here, please.”

A calm, gentle voice came from a young woman who turned from brightening the flame of a surgical tent lantern. Absently she moved her hands to shoo away a cluster of ancestor moths that seemed drawn to her. Titus faltered as he saw the woman, almost stumbling, the old wolf sensing his astonishment.

Curiously Axel eyed the golden haired young woman, watching her as she leaned over the injured twin, beginning her examination.

“Lady Vitalia Patronus…”

The woman’s hands paused only momentarily as she glanced at Titus solemnly, something imminently sad behind gentle blue eyes.

“Lord Titus Idicci, if I recall. I heard what befell your family. You have my deepest sympathies. But I am no longer what you remember.”

Questing fingers lingered as the examination finally paused at the site of ugly bruising on the young female officer’s head. The priestess frowned, before her brows smoothed and her lips moved in a soft chant beseeching the gods for the power to heal. A gentle blue glow and brilliant white light turned her hands translucent as she smoothed them over the surface of the unconscious form of her patient.

The woman on the cot groaned and stirred, the bruise on her head receding, the ugly cut left by the dented helm closing even as Axel watched. The healer stood, gazing past Titus who rushed to his sister’s side, directly into the old wolf’s eyes.

“Are you in need of healing?”

The question was asked with a slight inquisitive cant to her head, her eyes sympathetic, and the compassion there full of the immediate knowledge of what he was yet lacking in fear or judgment. He looked away and stepped back, his voice gruff.  “No. The blood is not mine.”

She nodded slowly. “If you change your mind…” she left the offer to linger and returned to watch as her patient opened her eyes.

“Hey brat, what are you doing here?” The soldier looked up at her brother, her voice a little weak as he sat back, the naked fear and worry that had etched his noble features hidden away by a smirk and slightly bored expression.

“Oh you know me…I heard there was a good dice game to be had out here…” he made a lazy gesture with his hand.

She snorted and then blinked, trying to sit up abruptly. “My men…there was an ambush! We need…!”
Her wide gaze settled on the old man. “You! I saw…where are my men?”

Titus pressed his hand to her shoulder, forcing her back. “It’s taken care of…already handled. Just settle down. Some idiot took a swing at that rock that sits on your shoulders…probably broke his sword…”

The healer interjected soothingly, “All is well Tribune. You are safe, your troop being seen to. I promise I shall see to them myself.” She smiled, the expression genuine and warm and patted the younger woman on the arm before excusing herself and leaving the tent to ready for the incoming wounded.

Valoria blinked. “Isn’t that…?”

Titus who had turned to watch the receding figure of the slim young healer nodded slowly. “Yes. His daughter.”

Valoria seemed to process this a moment as Titus stood and faced the old Nord. “I’m afraid introductions were lacking in our initial meeting, sir. Allow me to rectify the lapse. This lazy lout on the cot would be my…very slightly…older sister, Lady Valoria Idicci. I am Lord Titus Idicci, the smarter, better looking offering of the bloodline.”

Valoria sat up slowly, warily eyeing the Nord, inclining her head even as she corrected her brother. “Tribune actually. He always tries to ignore that part.” Despite her twin’s protest she slid her legs off the cot and sat up gingerly, grimacing at the residual weakness remaining from her injury. Swatting at him as her brother tried unsuccessfully to forestall her, she stood and faced the Nord who eyed her reservedly.

“Might I inquire your name sir? I would know who I am to thank for giving such timely aid to my men and myself…”

The old man grunted and shrugged. “Axel.” He accepted the proffered hand, giving it a brief shake.
The greeting was interrupted by the rumble of wagons arriving outside the hospital tent, and Valoria offered a hasty pardon as she slipped by and exited the tent to go and see to her men. Titus distractedly watched her go, a grimace of disapproval writ clear on his features. He glanced at the older man. “I need to keep an eye on her, see she doesn’t over extend herself. Please- do not leave until I have a moment further to speak with you and offer more appropriate thanks, Axel.” He gestured in the direction of the small village. “Head into the village, to the third cottage on the right. Agnes will get you cleaned up and put some food in your belly. I will come by as soon as this is sorted.” He ducked out of the tent and Axel snorted wryly.

Typical lordling, expecting folk to do whatever they said without so much as a by-your-leave. Yet food and rest appealed at the moment, as did scrubbing off the remnants of daedra that clung to his form. He stooped nearly in half to escape the opening flap of the tent and made his way out into the torch brightened camp.

Let the Gods Sort Them Out…

The_Space_Pirate_Ship

By: Darryl Kupsch

Tohil System

Escort Mission

07 February 2939

The call came through comms within minutes of transitioning from hyperspace to normal space in the Tohil System.

SOS… This is the trader Marseille out of Castra, en route to Tohil. We are under attack from pirates! There is one vessel but we have no armament and they have disabled our jump engines. Someone please help us.”

The message repeated on a loop and appeared to be only a couple hours old judging by the time stamp, so in accordance with Imperial Law, Jaeger set an intercept course. The armed freighter Dionysius, his current client, followed cautiously. As they closed on the coordinates and heading attached to the SOS recording, there was no response via sub-space radio. Eventually the screens showed the freighter maintaining a steady course, but with no changes in acceleration or direction. For all intents and purpose, the freighter was a hulk tracking across the outer reaches of the Tohil system. Jaeger pulled up the manifest for the vessel and noted ship personnel numbers registered at eight.

His lips curled in a humorless smirk. It must have been a long voyage indeed as a life support scan now showed 28 humanoids on board.

Lothbrok to Dionysius. Keep your shields up and weapons primed. Our scans are showing multiple survivors but no one is responding to hails. Do not attempt any rescue or accept any landing parties unless I give the all clear.” In other words stay the hell out of my way while I check this fucking mess out.

“AI, keep hailing the Marseille and try to ascertain status.” He then glanced at his screens. ” Scheisse. “That’s two different engine signatures, from the ion trails. AI, initiate defense mode alpha delta mike three. Activate all shields and weapon systems. Lothar! Buckle in: we might have to blow some space trash out of existence.”

There was the sound of fabric on leather and then the clicking of harness buckles as Lothar, his co-pilot, valet and all round henchman slid into the second officer’s seat. “Orders, sir?” His deep voice carried just a trace of an accent to hint at his Turkish origins.

“Let the AI handle the guns. Bring up the nav-routines and start looking for origin points for pirate activity out here, and the best way to avoid a potential ambush. Scans are showing two vessels, so the second must be docked with the freighter.”

“As you wish sir.”

“Time to call an end to the bullshit,” he muttered, toggling the hailing frequencies.

Marseille, this is the Lothbrok, escorting the armed freighter Dionysius. We received and responded to your SOS signal and are closing on your position. We see that you have an additional vessel alongside and we are reading multiple life signs. Please respond.”

After a short delay, a signal responded.

Lothbrok, this is the Marseille. The SOS was not authentic, it was a computer glitch from a shipboard drill we were running. We sincerely apologize for any misunderstanding or alarms that we have raised but thanks for responding just the same.” There was a pause then another voice spoke across the comm line. “Uhm…Lothbrok, please standby. We might have a problem you can help us with, over.”

Lothar spoke quietly from the XO’s consol. “Sir, the scans are showing the drives on Marseille are crippled. And they didn’t address the fact that the second ship is there with them.” He frowned suddenly then glanced at Jaeger. “I am picking up incoming traffic to the coordinates of the Marseille…no registration signatures and flying with signal scramblers wide open but they look like fighters. Their ETA is 30 minutes to the site…”

Jaeger stared at the crippled ship, his jaw clenching. The combined firepower of the incoming ships and the as yet hidden predator would outgun him. These scavengers always took courage from superior numbers. “Any UEE patrols or commercial traffic in the vicinity?”

Lothar shuffled screen overlays and searched, finally shaking his head. “Closest patrol is 23 hours out.”

“AI, time until we are within weapons range?”

“We will be within missile range in 40 minutes, Captain. Beam weapon range in 2 hrs, 30 minutes.”

Jaeger eyed the ship’s manifest, registering the largely female crew. His lips pressed into a thin line- slavery, torture, and worse awaited these people at the hands of the pirates if they were taken. But the raiders had been clumsy bringing so many crew to a single target. He had an opportunity to cripple this particular band of bottom feeders and possibly knock them out of service permanently, making this sector relatively safe for future voyagers. He made his decision.

“AI, once we are within missile range, we will open with both batteries, full spread. Now open a channel to Dionysius, encryption echo echo charlie seven.”

Lothbrok to Dionysius:  Freighter Marseilles is crippled and has been taken by pirates. Make all haste to Tohil and inform port authorities. We are going to engage and neutralize the pirates. We will be less than a day behind you.”

* * *

The Lothbrok docked at Tohil 15 hours after the Dionysius’ arrival, to collect their escort fee and to report to the port guard that one salvo of missiles was fired at the pirate entity. Both vessels were reported as destroyed after what appeared to be a direct hit on the Marseille‘s main drive reactor. The Lothbrok had then ambushed and destroyed two fighters at the scene. Several days after the encounter, salvage crews (who had to purchase the location of the wreckage from Jaeger) recovered partial logs from both the Marseille and the pirate vessel, which was later tentatively identified as the Concordia, an armed freighter that had been missing for approximately 5 years, last known to be on a run from Terra to Stanton. The last recorded crew manifests for both vessels totaled 28 crew. No life boats were recovered by either the salvage vessels or the Lothbrok. Of the two fighters, little remained to identify, though DNA residue identified individuals wanted by the UEE for piracy, murder, extortion, smuggling and a string of petty crimes. Jaeger was awarded a sizeable bounty.

* * *

 the_outskirts_by_whatzitoya-d5hirpd

3 Years Later…

Stanton Station

The Last Resort Bar and Restaurant

21 June 2942

Ursula LeBlanc was late.

This wasn’t like her.  She knew him well enough that she would never keep him waiting if she thought a situation important enough to ask for him.

He hated waiting.

He had no idea what the eccentric waif wanted with him.  It could be some sort of strange favor for his services she coaxed out of his boss Mr. Morgan, or it could be a paying job though he didn’t think it likely.  She had picked the time and place, though at this point the time did not seem not seem to be this place.

So he waited.  In public.  In a place he would usually avoid entirely. He just didn’t do social venues well- unless of course he was on security detail for Mr. Morgan.

The problem with waiting was that sooner or later, someone would recognize him, and either that someone would start talking about the stories, or worse, confront him if they were feeling brave. The most irritating part was that they almost always got the facts wrong… like the tall blonde chick about five meters away by the bar, trying to be “discreet” with her male friend who looked slightly less intelligent than the furniture in the joint.

“Yeah! That’s Von Blucher!  The one they call Jaeger,” she squeaked, trying to keep it as a whisper, but Jaeger heard every word with the amplifiers connected to his dark glasses.  “He’s the guy that blew up that freighter in the Tohil system dusting eight crew! I don’t know how he hasn’t been arrested or spaced or somethin’.”

Her male companion mumbled something (thankfully) unintelligible over the noise of the bar that his amplifiers couldn’t parse.  However the gist of it was pretty clear as she reacted in alarm and grabbed her companion’s arm as he turned to move in Jaeger’s direction.

“Don’t be stupid!”  She held onto him as tight as she could. “He’s probably got something stashed under that jacket! If you want to do something, let’s go to Station Security an’ let them grab him. Maybe we’ll get a reward or somethin’.”

Jaeger shook his head slightly and slowly exhaled, betraying his annoyance as the couple made a quick exit. Station Security knew all about him…he was an Enforcer and worked for the Advocacy after all. He idly pondered arresting the idiots for the crime of public stupidity if they returned…perhaps it wasn’t against the law to be stupid but it certainly should be.

“I wouldn’t worry about them,” came a familiar voice that brought him out of his thoughts, “They’ll just get a shrug and a ‘move along’ from the authorities or you can just flash your badge.  After all I can’t have half my team locked up before we begin,” Marcus said, trying not to laugh at his own joke in front of Jaeger.

Jaeger just stared at Marcus through his glasses without a word.  The big German’s annoyance was palpable as Marcus quickly got to the point.  “If you are waiting for Ursula, she won’t be coming. There’s been a slight change of plan, so I’ve come here to escort you to the new location.  Here, have a look at the mission specs on the way- this is gonna be a sweet haul.”  He handed Jaeger the glas detailing the objectives.

Though Marcus couldn’t see them, Jaeger closed his eyes and summoned reserves of patience to ease his irritation with the garrulous team leader.  He gave a slight sigh and motioned Marcus to lead the way.  He typically kept his distance from this man.  Marcus was a laid back family oriented type, always wanting to play nice with every godamn person he came in contact with. His cheerful easy-going manner just rubbed Richard the wrong way.  Jaeger typically tuned him out every time he tried to strike up a friendly conversation, and did his best to do so now as well.  In a perfect universe Richard mused he’d be able to reach his massive hands around the guy’s neck and squeeze until he was unable to talk or laugh ever again. Ah, the things he endured for the boss…

Despite his misgivings about his cheerful companion, Richard followed Marcus to wherever the hell they were going.  Not because the suggestion of profit had been made, but because Mr. Morgan had told him to go along on this one.  Richard resigned himself that this would mean tolerating Marcus’ talkative tendencies and shit eating grin with no questions asked.

But he didn’t have to like it.

The Crucible

sci_fi2_by_0800

By: Dawniel Kupsch

Tiber System

Tiber Orbital Space

March 7, 2937

Fall of Tiber

They harried the enemy in lightning quick sorties that would draw Vanduul fighters out of the pack, then pick off those too eager or too slow to return to the larger group. They sewed confusion into the large congregation of alien craft, breaking their concerted attacks on the troop carriers and battlecruisers of the Empire.

They worked together like a perfectly engineered machine- one always knowing what the other would do, the accompanying groups of volunteers from the Squadron brutally efficient at culling targets of opportunity.

Gunslinger and Capm worked together in what seemed explosive acts of god- the human gods of Old Earth; violent and staggering in reprisal and power. Nothing could touch them as they dove and strafed and spun in the clusters of enemy ships hovering like gnats over the blue-green planet. It was beautiful and breathtaking and deadly, and soon the enemy squadrons fell back to their own destroyers to regroup and gain the protection of the primary swarm. Many soldiers that would have otherwise perished won free of the falling warzone and made the jump to safer space.

Spirits that had fallen as comrades had died rallied in fierce joy as fighter pilots attached to the remaining Empire fleets recognized the legendary presence of the famous ‘Gunslinger’ amongst them, and their own efforts redoubled.

Xander bared his teeth at his partner on the comms display in a fierce grin. Another troop carrier shielding a Hospital ship won free as the Midnight Squadron flight and UEEAF wing closed behind them to fend off any thoughts of pursuit.  Frank spoke up on the personal frequency.

How about we take a break and let these boys and girls catch their breath, Capm?

Xander looked over his screens, studying the activity surrounding the planet. He registered that despite their heroic effort, the UEE was still taking a pounding, and their small corner of the battlefield was the only place to be seen where a relative calm was evident. He noticed a cluster of engagement several minutes away where a limping Corvette and a couple desperate fighters were struggling to break free of a pursuing group of Vanduul. He considered only for few seconds before responding.

“Negative Gunslinger- once more into the breach dear friend…then we head home. First round on you, of course,”Xander grinned.

He watched as his friend gave him a one finger salute, laughing as he switched to team comms and directed his wing to fall in for a final run.

 

* * *

Tiber System

Fringe of Tiber Orbital Space

Midnight Squadron Mercenary Group Command Carrier ‘MSS Parallax Descent

March 7, 2937

Fall of Tiber

She pulled herself slowly along the exterior of the vessel, the mottled grey space excursion suit molded tightly to her body, the face shield dark and obscuring her features. Arriving at her shrouded vehicle, she slipped into the pod where it clung to the outside of the Midnight Squadron command ship. Even a discerning eye would have written the rounded lump off as a sensor modification- one of the advantages of targeting a group like Midnight Enterprises, where no ship profile resembled the factory specs, and most of the personnel would not have access to the particulars of how a ship was modded out. Hundreds of eyes had likely scanned over her pod, and none had seen anything amiss. The ship itself had simply accepted the pod as yet another specialized accessory thanks to a certain little program she had access to.

She paused for a moment after she was secured. Enforcer Richard von Blucher was more brutal and efficient than she had expected even for an individual trained by the Advocacy. He had forced her to alter her timeline considerably by apprehending her dupe so quickly. Of course it had worked out beautifully when Xander Morgan and Frank LeBlanc opted for an unscheduled excursion to the battlefront.  She smiled at the perfection of it as she entered the code to activate both packages, then disengaged after setting her nav computer to the rendezvous  point. She was confident her small pod would simply register as debris floating off into space from the warzone. Once far enough away from the ship sensors, the pod’s dampened propulsion system would set her course. She relaxed into her seat, a smile curving her lips.

***

On the flight deck, the security scanning crew was coming up empty. The signatures from the various types of armament made it impossible to identify any alien residue that would indicate sabotage to the ships within an immediate timeframe. Sifting through the billions of chemical particle layers would take time he just didn’t have right now. Of course he had no proof that anything further was amiss, yet his instincts were screaming at him that there was something to that brief flash of expression he had seen on the spy’s face.

There was no help for it. He was going to issue the priority mission cancellation code and have all fighters return from wherever Xander had taken them. It was better to be safe and arouse Xander’s ire than the alternative. As he turned to relay the order to Lothar, he found the Turk frowning slightly as he stared at his glas.

“What is it?”

Lothar glanced at his boss and stroked his beard. “Maybe nothing.  It’s just…well, there was a signal burst- it was tiny…barely detectable. In fact without your security protocols it would not have been detectable. At the same moment AI logged a sensor array went dead on the exterior of the ship with diagnostics stating it no longer existed- that it had never actually been there. It could be a glitch…coincidence…,” he conceded dubiously.

Jaeger scowled and snapped out an order. “Override executive orders via security prioritization and bring all fighters back NOW!” He was already running for his ship, bellowing for a security team to mount up. Lothar cursed as the recall failed to ping any Midnight Squadron command craft on the battlefield, and turned to sprint after his boss.

***

gabriel_loves_to_crash_by_tituslunter-d5yvx9x

Tiber System

Tiber Orbital Space

March 7, 2937

Fall of Tiber

Pain.

He didn’t know how it was possible to continue breathing with this much pain stabbing into him. Yet he fought the oblivion of unconsciousness, as merciful as it would have been. He clung to the rage as waves of anguish and agony washed over him, clawing at the darkness that had become his world as he drifted in the cold, debris strewn space. He focused on one thought: Whoever had done this would pay.

He could hear his men dying as they threw themselves valiantly against the Vanduul while trying to save him, but all other communications chatter had gone dead the moment the small explosion had gone off. By some miracle, there had been no breach, but his controls had been reduced to slag and his fighter was floating space junk.

He cursed and wept at the brave sons of bitches shielding him from the Vanduul fighters, begging them to leave him, ordering them to fall back to the command ship. But no sound could reach them with his outgoing comms melted into slag. In some distant corner of his brain, he registered that it was a small mercy that he did not have to watch.  In a desperate measure, he had even attempted to eject in order to save his people the need to protect him. But even that mechanism had failed, leaving him entirely helpless in the prison of his fighter cockpit.

And so he sat and raged and wept and yelled in turn, his pain secondary to the images blasted into his memory as his best friend had died before his eyes.  Gunslinger had died the way he had lived; fighting to the last, the most heroic bastard he had ever known. Whatever insidious damage had been done to the ships of both flight leaders, Gunslinger had seen the effects first. He had been intentionally crippled though, where Xander’s ship seemed to have been rigged to explode. Whoever had concocted this death sentence had seemed intent on killing Gunslinger’s legend by simply handicapping him enough to be taken out by random, unremarkable contact; a move calculated to kill morale on the UEE armed forces side. He filed all of this away in his head even as he mentally watched it happen over and over.

The final look Frank had given him. The wistful smile. His gloved hand pressed to his cockpit window towards his friend as he directed his ship in front of Xander’s after his final words.

“Take care of my little girl.”

And then he was gone, his fighter taking the hit and knocked aside like a toy; a fiery comet descending to the roiling, war torn surface of the planet below. A heartbeat later the detonation took his sight and destroyed the interior of his fighter. A clinical part of his mind wondered at the delay, and considered the faulty result of the tampering done to his fighter. Intentional or accidental?

The smoke made it hard to breathe as the scrubbers in the fighter limped along attempting to recycle oxygen. He wondered if he would simply suffocate. He coughed, the spasm awakening a fresh onslaught of agony from his burns and acid seared face.

He was losing the struggle to remain aware, and then dimly he registered a shout on the short wave and a ragged chorus of cheers from far too few remaining voices. Cries of “Jaeger!” overrode the sounds of engagement and he was confused further; men cheering Jaeger? Was he delusional?

He felt a vibration and faintly heard the grate of metal. There was a terrible static on his comms and then the deep, intense voice of the Enforcer came through as if from a vast distance.

“Damn it Lothar, I’m right on top of him, get those comms open!”

The signal was lost then swung wide again, this time clear as a bell. “Lothbrok to Capm, can you hear me? Sir…. I have you… Xander…hang in there.

Vaguely Xander decided he was hallucinating…his Enforcer had never called him by his first name. He was far too regimented for such familiarity. And that gruffness in his voice sounded like concern. The sounds of fighting had died away and there was silence. He sighed and slipped into a deeper darkness that blessedly made the pain go away.