Kelta was deep in meditation, feeling the currents of the Force flow around her, through her, when someone approached.
She ignored the not-unexpected interruption. The Jedi Knight knew that solitude was far too much to ask for right now, with the Yuuzhan Vong on the ground and inside Rak’Edalin. Halyn’s words had been abundantly clear: the Zabrak were going to fight to the last Iridonian, and as a Jedi Knight, she would no doubt be expected to fight.
Before she opened her eyes, though, she felt the currents of the Force. Waves of fear crashed over her—not unthinking terror, but the heartfelt tension as each Zabrak within fifty kilometers worried for parents, spouses, children, friends. There was no doubt Iridonia was in mortal danger, and there was a very real possibility that no Zabrak would leave the besieged world alive.
There was hatred. As a Jedi, she shunned such emotions as a path to the dark side, but she had spent too many years of her life outside of the Jedi Order for her not to understand it and, to a slight degree, indulge in it herself. The Yuuzhan Vong had invaded their galaxy, burned worlds, enslaved entire races, and now threatened another species whom dared to defy them. The Vong had specifically targeted the Jedi, and because of them, Kelta had no idea where her daughter was in the galaxy.
And there was death. Even with the Zabrak defenders at a stalemate with the Yuuzhan Vong landing force, a continual skirmish continued. It wasn’t a lot of death, really, compared to the devastating losses in the fleet engagement, or the casualties both sides had paid when the Vong had established their beachhead. In some ways, this was far worse—she could feel each one individually, a life ended too soon by a thud bug or slash of an amphistaff.
When she opened her eyes, she was surprised to see Anishor kneeling in front of her, settling into his own meditation.
She watched the Wookiee through half-lidded violet eyes. “Hello, Anishor.”
<I am surprised,> the berserker said after a few moments of silence. <You have not progressed in the Force as I expected.>
Kelta frowned. Wookiees never were ones for small talk, and Anishor was never an exception. “I spent some time away from the Jedi,” she said slowly.
<I misspoke,> Anishor rumbled. <Your path is not the one I expected from you.>
The Jedi’s frown deepened. “I’m not sure I understand,” she replied.
The Wookiee was silent for a period. Kelta could feel him in the Force, resting in its strength in his own unique way. I never understood that, how he or any of his berserkers can do that. They don’t use the Force like any Jedi I’ve ever met, and certainly not like the Theran Listeners.
<You chose the path of a warrior,> the Wookiee finally explained. <While it was necessary during the war against the Empire, I thought you would choose another when the Jedi Order was resurrected by Master Skywalker.>
Kelta’s hand instinctively found her lightsaber. She squeezed the hilt for a moment, memories of a thousand battles flashing through her mind. “Why? I know I wasn’t an ace starfighter pilot like Halyn or Lenn, and I was no master of combat like you or Master Sprint, but I was capable enough.”
<Capable, yes, but your heart was never within it,> Anishor countered. <Your deny your very talents with the path you’ve chosen.>
“I’m using my ability with the Force to fight so others don’t have to.”
<A slave to war,> Anishor echoed. <But your talents within the Force aren’t about fighting. Korris recognized it but trained you this way anyways, because it was what was needed at that time. And perhaps even now, it is what the galaxy needs you to be. But you know well, young one, that your real natural abilities with the Force have nothing to do with the lightsaber.>
Kelta said nothing.
<I do not sense your thoughts in the Force like a Jedi may, but I can see things in your stance, your posture, your face, your scent. I can see the death of every Zabrak who fights right now in your eyes, from moment to moment. You still feel it all, don’t you?>
The Jedi’s eyes closed, but a single tear slid down her cheek.
<The nagbecca do not sense deaths the way you do. Most Jedi do not, either. The best warriors I’ve ever known do not, either. Halyn does not love war, but when he wages it, he does so without remorse for the death of his enemies. While he mourns the loss of his friends and allies, he delays it until the battle is over, the fighting complete. You do not—you cannot, with your talent.>
“What would you have expected from me, then?” Kelta asked quietly.
<I believed you would become a great healer, perhaps, or a councilor. Someone who binds up hurts and soothes pains, not inflicts them upon others.> Anishor’s blue eyes studied her intensely. <I fear that the pains you feel from others, those you take upon yourself, will destroy you.>
“I’m no healer,” Kelta said shortly.
<Did you study those arts?> Anishor asked.
“Yes,” came the flat answer. “I studied under Cilghal for a time. Master Skywalker thought my skills would lie naturally along healing, too, because of my sensitivity. I just couldn’t get the hang of it.” She shrugged slightly. “I’m doing what needs to be done.”
<For who?> Anishor asked.
Silence hung between the two, seconds that stretched into minutes. Finally, the Wookiee asked, <Are you going to stay?>
Kelta hesitated. Master Skywalker’s words came back to her in a rush: Something limits you. Your potential lies untapped because something in your past still shackles you. And the Force has indicated that you are the one who needs to do this.
“Yes,” she said aloud. “Yes, I’m going to stay. Until this is over, one way or the other.”
Kativie fingered the lightsaber on her belt as she approached the well-lit hangar bay. A part of her ached at the thought of the combat that had already happened, and was continuing even now. That’s not very Jedi-like of me, she chided herself. Master Katarn would be ashamed of you, Kativie Lusp. How many times did he scold you for being too eager to draw your blade?
The Force itself was dark and tense to her senses. I’m not as sensitive as Kelta, but even I can feel it. None of us may survive it. She swallowed hard at that thought, still pacing towards the bright hangar. Not even my own…
She refused to let that thought finish. No. We will win this battle. For all our sakes. No matter what happens, Halyn won’t let the Yuuzhan Vong conquer us. Not while he lives. She finally reached the open hangar doors and strode inside, looking at the single ship resting on its landing struts inside. Of course, the past could kill him before the Yuuzhan Vong even have a chance.
The ship was a battered old Gallofree light transport, a YKL-37R. Only a few of them had been built before the starship manufacturer had declared bankruptcy, way back before the battle of Yavin. This particular “Nova Courier” wasn’t even the production design—its bow was blockier and larger than the final model, with an extra ten percent cargo capacity.
“Halyn?” she called. “Halyn, are you here?”
She heard a banging inside. Shaking her head, she marched up the boarding ramp and into the interior of the vessel.
The two narrow corridors, running from port to the starboard landing ramp, and from the aft engineering section to the forward hold, were nearly what she remembered, though cables and bare wires hung from overhead compartments, and she had to step over debris cluttering the walkway. Back during the Civil War, Halyn would never have let his ship get this way. She crossed all the way to the port side to check the offset cockpit module, but her brother wasn’t there. She moved back to the central corridor and then headed forward towards the cargo hold.
Halyn was dressed in trousers and boots but was bare-chested, his leather duster hanging from the corner of a loose panel just inside the cargo hold. He was clearing away fallen equipment and components, but he had apparently stopped and was studying something in his hands.
“I never thought I’d see this again,” Halyn said softly without turning. “Thought I’d lost it. Certainly lost the right to wield it, Katie.”
Kativie stepped into the cargo hold to see what he was holding. He turned slightly, and it took her a moment to recognize the object in his hands. She’d only seen it a few times, and then only in the months leading up to the battle of Endor. “That’s…”
“Yes.” Halyn extracted the straight-edged sword from its sheath. It seemed to shine with reflected light from angles which should’ve provided no illumination. “The blade Anishor forged for me.”
In spite of the years it had laid neglected in the hold of the derelict freighter, it bore no rust and still seemed as polished as ever. Even in the dim illumination provided by several worklamps, an inscription was easily readable. Kativie read it silently, then repeated it aloud. “’For the hope of Iridonia,’” she said. “Seems fitting.”
Halyn shook his head. “The hope of Iridonia isn’t with me, it’s with every Zabrak fighting on the front lines right now,” he said flatly. “You know, twenty years puts perspective on what we did back then. We thought we were heroes back then—the masters of fate. What amazes me now is that we succeeded. We fought the Empire across the galaxy, helped defeat the Empire at Endor, liberated Iridonia. We were a few fools with delusions of grandeur.”
Kativie shook her head. “Not delusions—you succeeded because you were one of the few people with vision.”
“Vision? What vision? Vision of an Iridonia too weak to defend itself?” Halyn’s knuckles were white as his grip tightened on the blade’s hilt.
“Listen to me, Halyn,” Kativie said sharply. “You told me something once that you need to hear now.” She paused, waiting until he turned to meet her gaze. “You used to tell me—all of us—that the galaxy had become too dependent on the Jedi. That was the real reason the Emperor was able to take over was because the common people were unable to act. They all expected the Jedi to act for them.” She met his uncertain gaze steadily. “Right now, you’re afraid that Iridonia is going to fall. Halyn, I firmly believe that the fate of all of us here, now, depends on what you do. The Force provided you that blade again, here and now, because the inscription is true: you are the hope of Iridonia.”
The Ul’akhoi studied the blade in his hands wordlessly for long moments. “It’s why I left her all those years ago,” he said softly at last. “The responsibility of being the warrior, the guardian, the leader. I don’t want a life of death.”
“No,” she said. “But it doesn’t have to be a life of death. Yes, that’s a part of what you’re doing here—but it’s to preserve life. You may not be a Jedi, and you never will be, but the principal remains. You’re doing what you have to do to preserve everything.”
Halyn was silent now, just studying the forged weapon.
“It’s hard seeing her again, isn’t it?”
The older Zabrak sighed. “Really, Katie? You’re going to ask me that question?”
She ignored the attempt to deflect. “She still loves you.”
Halyn snorted. “Ironic.”
“I left her all those years ago because she needed a life that wasn’t filled with constant war and death and fighting. It was slowly eating away at her. She never had the heart for it. Me, I thrived in the constant battles. I left to see if there was anything to me besides a warrior. Now, I’ve taken up that role again, and here she is, and I’m just as wrong for her now as I was then.”
“Halyn Sanshir,” Kativie said flatly, her voice low. “Listen to me, big brother. You may be the Ul’akhoi, and the Hope of Iridonia, and whatever other title you want to adopt, but sometimes you’re such a big idiot I want to smack you.”
“Oh?” His tone belied his one-word question, sounding completely unsurprised.
“You need to let her choose for herself,” Kativie said. “And besides, I somehow doubt she’ll just go running off after this is over. You’ll have time to figure this out.”
Halyn stepped past Kativie and pulled his duster from the wall, shrugging it on sans shirt. “First, we have to win this war.”
In spite of her confident words, as Kativie stretched out to the Force, she could sense nothing of what the future held for herself, her family, her brother, or her world. Master Skywalker told us about Master Yoda, and his inability to see the future clearly…just before Master Skywalker lost his duel to Darth Vader on Bespin. Are we really going to win this battle? Who are we going to lose along the way?
Sandarie had decided to go for a walk to clear her head after returning from the skirmish. Her hearing was mostly normal again, the Twi’lek found, but she still occasionally felt dizzy. Maybe this wasn’t the smartest place to go for a walk, she decided as she studied the curve of the Cathleen’s hull. Of course, we shouldn’t be vulnerable to the Vong up here. They like being up close.
As she walked along the length of the kilometer-long warship’s hull, she was surprised to see light several hundred meters ahead, just beyond one of the cruiser’s bulges. It only took a few minutes to cross the distance at her leisurely pace, and the scene surprised her.
About a dozen Zabraks were sitting in a circle with a glowstick in the center, illuminating the group. She didn’t recognize most of them, but Nisia Eisweep and Lenn Kaman were both present—Lenn being the only non-Zabrak in the group. Sandarie frowned from outside the circle of light thrown by the glowstick. What are they doing?
Another moment’s observation answered her question as she saw a pipe pass from hand to hand. The quiet night breeze shifted, and the distinct scent of Giggledust smoke assaulted her nose. The Twi’lek couldn’t help but sneeze as the odor of the spice infiltrated her sinuses.
Almost immediately, most of the circle turned in her direction. Sandarie grimaced. So much for quiet observation. A moment later, she was surprised to see several of the Zabraks wave her forward. She frowned, then walked forward into the lit circle. Be careful, she told herself. Just because you only smell Giggledust doesn’t mean they’re not using something stronger, too.
“’Ello, Sandi,” Lenn drawled easily. “Enjoyin’ the evening?”
“Yes,” the Twi’lek said, suppressing a shudder. “Nice, quiet night. Seems like even the Vong are quiet at this time of night.”
Nisia shook her head. “Nope, this is when they’re trying to infiltrate our perimeter. They’re a long ways from here, though.”
One of the other Zabraks, whom Sandi now recognized as the Cathleen’s navigator—Not that the ship needs a navigator anymore—offered her a pipe, Giggledust smoke still rising from it. The smoke stung Sandi’s eyes. “No, thanks,” she declined with a shake of her head. “What are you all doing up here?”
“Relaxin’ before we all die,” Nisia said dryly.
“Die?” Sandarie asked, taken aback.
“Yeah,” one of the Zabraks Sandi couldn’t identify spoke up. “Doubt any of us is going to make it off this rock.”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” another drawled. “Iridonia is the birthplace of the Zabrak nation. If the Vong are going to kill us all, no better place to die than right here where it all started.”
Sandarie was immediately struck by two thoughts. Every one of them is spiced, including two of Halyn’s own inner circle. And every one of them thinks they’re going to die here. She couldn’t help but shudder this time. And maybe we all are. Without the fleet…
Her thoughts fled to Ryian Coron aboard the Dauntless, somewhere far away. Even now, was her husband engaged in battle with the Yuuzhan Vong? Was he going to return to Iridonia before the Yuuzhan Vong overwhelmed the Rak’Edalin defenders? If I die here, will he even know what became of me? That thought niggled at her. I don’t want him to live a life not knowing, if I fall here.
Perhaps it was her own exhaustion or uncertainty, but she slipped into the circle and sat down. Again she declined the spice pipe when it was offered. “Don’t any of you think we’ll win this?”
“General Sanshir is a fine officer,” the navigator said slowly. “But it doesn’t matter. The Vong have beaten everyone who has been fighting them for the last two years. We can kill them ten to one, and they’ll still just overwhelm us with numbers until we don’t have anyone else who can fight.”
“Halyn beat the Empire here,” Sandi reminded him.
“Jess didn’t do that,” Nisia contradicted. “He broke the blockade, but Argus beat the Empire. He was the one who had everything ready to go when the blockade fell, and it was the Resistance—which Argus coordinated—that did the work.”
“’Sides,” the navigator said, “General Sanshir’s already losing the fight. We lost the fleet, we lost the city’s shields, we lost the city’s turbolasers. The Vong are knockin’ at our door already.”
Murmurs of assent rose from the entire circle. Sandarie felt a twinge of doubt. Maybe they’re right. Maybe Halyn can’t win. He’s always been able to bluff…was everything he told us a bluff to ensure we’d fight until the end? All his battles, he won by outthinking, outmaneuvering his enemy. Here he’s trapped on the ground, defending a static target. Maybe he really is out of his realm. Despair threatened to take hold. I’m sorry, Ryian, for leaving the Dauntless. I’m so sorry if the last words we ever exchange were in anger.
“So,” Nisia said with surprising cheerfulness, “in fine Zabrak tradition, we prepare to fight. We’re all warriors—every one of us. And if we all die, the Vong are going to be climbing over their dead to do it. And there’s no shame in relaxing every night in any way we can—whether it’s whiskey or spice or food or sex. We’re going to fight to the end, and if we’re all going to die, there’s no sense in not enjoying ourselves to the end.”
Shouts of agreement met Nisia’s proclamation.
Sandi closed her eyes. I should stop this—I should turn them in. Halyn doesn’t need his officers spicing up at night and fighting during the day, and if word of this spreads, it’ll be bad for morale.
Of course, most of Rak’Edalin probably thinks they’re going to die in this war and they’re doing the same thing. She swallowed, resisted the urge to take a hit of the spice for herself. I can let them go. Halyn doesn’t need to know. If these Zabraks are going to die fighting, I can honor their courage with my silence.
The old warship Dauntless orbited in sync with the Cyclone, the latter clearly visible through the former’s bridge viewports. Allanna Saret, now commanding officer for the Zabrak navy, wished her flagship didn’t look so blasted small.
Ryian Coron’s voice was heavy. “I’m sorry, Admiral,” he said quietly. “Apparently this location wasn’t secure.”
Fires were clearly visible on the planet surface below. The wreckage of warships and the shipyards they were protecting were intermixed, a screen of durasteel between the Dauntless and the planet below. Occasionally the hull of a crippled starfighter would float by near enough for Allanna to identify it by sight, but more often it was only components—a laser cannon, an s-foil, an ion engine.
“How long ago was the battle fought here?” Allanna asked distantly.
“Sixty hours is the best estimate,” Ryian said with a shrug. “The Vong apparently didn’t stick around to hold the place.
“No,” the Zabrak woman agreed. “They just struck to try to cripple the Fleet.” She sighed. “Deploy three fighter wings for search-and-rescue,” she said at last. “Two to cover the ground facilities, one to fly whatever’s left of the shipyards. We’re looking for any survivors, any information on where the Fleet is.”
Bridge crew on the Dauntless began shouting orders, and the comm channels lit up with relayed communications. Allanna closed her eyes. Where are you hiding, Bel Iblis?
It had been Ryian Coron’s idea after the fallback. To break the blockade, he had argued, they would need serious firepower—Star Destroyer-heavy. The Dauntless was roughly at that level, but the Iridonians would need half a dozen warships like her to drive the Yuuzhan Vong from orbit. Corellian-to-Corellian, Ryian believed he had a good chance of talking Bel Iblis out of the warships they would need—as a loan—to retake Iridonia’s orbit.
Long enough to evacuate, anyways, Allanna thought bitterly. If we ever find Bel Iblis, that is. Instead, all we do is chase shadows and arrive several days too late to link up with any elements of his fleet. Dammit, we should’ve gone to Borleias, with Antilles under siege or not.
Ryian had willingly put the Dauntless under Allanna’s command for now, and while the Cyclone was the largest surviving vessel in the Zabrak navy, she had reluctantly transferred her flag to the heavier-armed Dauntless. “Of course,” she muttered to herself, “all the additional firepower doesn’t do us any good if we never run into the enemy, either.”
“Admiral?” Ryian asked.
Allanna shook her head. “Nothing.”
Her frown deepened. It’s odd, though. We never find any real traces of the Yuuzhan Vong, either. There’s plenty of coral dust in orbit, but it’s not like the Vong are getting some decisive victories here, either. This is the third stronghold for the New Republic Fleet in this area of space that we’ve visited, and the other two look just like this—shattered, but no Vong occupiers, either.
The Fleet must be giving them a pounding just as hard as the one they’re taking, then.
More wreckage floated within view—the hull of a Nebulon-B Escort Frigate, drifting in two separate pieces. Even as she watched, half an X-wing starfighter crashed into it, then richocheted away. She shook her head. Back when I was a starfighter pilot, I only did that once, and there was more left of my X-wing than that. Bright was furious with me, too.
Something clicked in her head. “Captain,” she said aloud.
Ryian was standing beside her a heartbeat later. “Yes?”
“Order the wing sweeping the shipyard to look for any astromechs,” she said slowly.
“Astromechs?” Ryian asked with a frown. A moment later, Allanna could see his eyes light up. “Right. Astromechs.” He turned and walked to the comm officer to relay the order.
Astromech droids were the backbone of some models of starfighters. They were designed to operate in hard vacuum—repairs in deep space, sometimes under emergency conditions, as well as system coordination, target assistance, additional computer power…and navigation.
There was a chance, however slim, that a study R2 or R5 unit had survived the destruction of its starfighter and even now might hold the coordinates of Bel Iblis’s fleet. We have to find them soon, Allanna thought wearily. Or it won’t matter anymore.
“Open the Holonet relay,” she said aloud. “See if you can raise Rak’Edalin.”
Long-range communication was less than assured—each passing month had made hypercomm relays less and less reliable as the Yuuzhan Vong invasion of the galaxy advanced. With Iridonia under blockade, there was a reasonable chance the Yuuzhan Vong had found the relay station outside the edge of the system and destroyed it.
Several minutes of patience demonstrated the relay was still intact, however, as a grainy blue-green hologram of Halyn Lance finally emerged from the holopad. “Admiral Saret,” he said in greeting.
“Ul’akhoi,” Allanna replied formally. She paused and studied the hologram closer. “Did I wake you?”
“No,” Halyn said with a shake of his head. “Just busy. We’re expecting the Vong to make another push at daybreak. Status of our fleet?”
“Intact, sir,” Allanna said. “We’ve been unable to link up with other elements of the Republic Navy thus far.” She hesitated. “Sir, if you recall us, we’ll be on your doorstep within two days.”
Halyn shook his head. “You have your orders, Admiral,” he said sharply.
“Yes, sir. Sir, what’s the status of Iridonia?” She bit back the questions she really wanted to ask: Is the family safe? Are my children protected?
“The Yuuzhan Vong have landed an army outside Rak’Edalin, and we’re currently under siege,” he said grimly. “I’m sending you a current tactical update, under your personal encryption. If nothing else, we should be able to learn some new things about how the Vong fight that may be helpful elsewhere.”
“Yes, sir,” she said automatically. “Any new orders, sir?”
Halyn shook his head. “You already have them.” He glanced away from the holo for a moment. “We’ll need to end this transmission quickly so the Vong don’t find our relay, but I want you to know…your children are still safe on the Cathleen, along with Katie’s kids. Iridonia out.”
“Admiral Saret out,” Allanna said quietly as the hologram vanished into static.
Triak Kraal stared at the blaze bug images of the infidel city below. Rak’Edalin stood defiant to the Yuuzhan Vong army in the darkness, light blazing across the city. The Yuuzhan Vong army had managed to establish a foothold in the city, but only barely.
A minor tactician stood off to the side, prattling endlessly about casualties, attrition, supplies. Triak ignored his subordinate. He knew well how dearly his forces had paid for their tenuous position threatening the Zabrak capital. Over a third of his landing force had died in the air, intercepted by a massive wing of infidel starfighters. Less than half of the coralskipper escort had returned to the orbital positions, and a matalok cruiser had been utterly destroyed stripping the city’s shields away.
Ret Kraal finally entered the chamber. He genuflected, both hands snapping to the opposing shoulders in salute. “Command me, Supreme one.”
Triak waved away the formalities. “Tell me, Tactician…what other surprises does the enemy hold in store for us?”
“Honored one?” Ret asked.
“It is clear to me now that their fleet was never beaten.” He waved a hand at the blaze bug display of the besieged city. “Our forces were savaged by their starfighters, far more than what they should have had with their fleet in retreat.” He frowned. “Tell me, have the infidels prepared a trap for us? Do they prepare another ambush?”
Ret Kraal frowned and studied the city display. “No,” he said at last. “I believe, Commander, that they have prepared defenses in depth.”
“Layered defenses, you mean.”
“In a way.” Ret’s eyes did not move from the city. “I suspect now that they knew from the beginning that their fleet could not stand against us. They lacked the heavy firepower necessary to destroy our fleet in orbit. They offered such a defense because they could use it to damage us and draw us in.”
“For their starfighter trap,” Triak concluded.
“I do not believe so.” Ret’s eyes narrowed. “The starfighter trap was only another layer of their defenses. They had also expected to turn the fixed implacements in their city against us as well—their turbolasers, hidden behind their shields.” He finally met Triak’s piercing gaze. “Another layer to their defense.”
“But it failed.”
“Yes, but it was only another layer.” Ret’s gaze was unflinching. “They have prepared for a siege, Commander. I now believe it was their warmaster’s intention from the beginning.”
“Why?” Triak asked with a frown. “Surely the infidels know that a protracted engagement will still end in their destruction.”
“Yes,” Ret conceded. “If all they do is stand and fight. However, the infidel warmaster has shown multiple layers to his defense—the battle in orbit involved multiple tricks and strategems alone. The defense of his city has likewise shown multiple layers. What other strategies does he have in store for us inside the city?”
“Do you believe he is prepared for us even on the ground?” Triak asked doubtfully. “No infidels have shown the desire for such a campaign; even at their capital world, when their orbital defenses broke, they fled or surrendered.”
The tactician was silent for several long minutes. “I do not believe this Sanshir would invite chaos and destruction into his own city,” he said reluctantly. “He made the same mistake of many infidels—underestimating our resolve. If his city’s defenses were still in place and their turbolasers still working, it is likely over half the drop force would have been destroyed. Any infidel army would have retreated long before that.”
“Your recommendation, Tactician?” Triak asked.
“Our forces on the ground hang on by their talons. Prepare another landing,” Ret suggested. “With our forces doubled, we can begin to push these infidels back into their city.”
“And the starfighter attacks?” was the Commander’s question.
“Send down the coralskippers all across the world,” Ret advised. “Striking as many settlements as possible. Their major cities, every village or settlement we can find. Draw their defending starfighters out and scatter them, and only when they are fully engaged, land your armies.”
Triak weighed the advice in his mind and found it sound. “Prepare the yorik trema and the coralskippers,” he announced. “We will bathe these infidels in blood.”
“A moment, Tactician,” he said quietly as the chamber bustled with activity.
Ret Kraal inclined his head and stepped forward so only the Commander and himself could hear.
“Tell me, will these Zabrak fight to the death?” he asked. “Will they fight as true warriors?”
“They are a stubborn race. The Galactic Empire attempted to enslave them over the span of two decades, and they refused to break. Instead, when outside assistance came, they were ready to rise up and destroy the occupiers.” Ret’s expression was troubled. “Commander, I worry that we will never truly break them, even should we conquer their cities. Were our worldshaping tools effective against this Iridonia, I would recommend it.”
Triak’s expression bore no trace of worry, but instead was confident. “The gods have given us a worthy challenge, then,” he said at last. “When we have finished here, Domain Kraal will be shamed no longer. No one will dare question our worthiness before the gods if we have vanquished one of the few worthy races in this galaxy.”
“They are still infidels, and are nothing before us,” Ret reminded.
Triak waved the admonishment away. “Still, it is good the gods have lain worthy challenges before us,” he murmured. “Our redemption is at hand, Ret Kraal.”
“Yes, Commander,” Ret said head bowed in acquiesce.
Triak could hear the trace of doubt in his subordinate’s voice. He believes we may lose this battle, the Commander thought distantly. He believes we could all be left shamed. Our enemy may fight with some degree of skill and bravery, but they lay below us, waiting only to be beaten. They are the enemy already hamstrung and bound—they may fight viciously, like a cornered beast, but have no real hope for victory.