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“Trust me. The sooner you bring this item back to me, the sooner I don't have to worry about the balance of this galaxy getting out of hand. The sooner I have this, the sooner we can have the upper hand. You don't know much benefit this would bring if the Asilaphean blockade was lifted because I could make them.”
In mid 2824, a high-profile item bound for Nijusisumarec - a Zhulultu cache key - was stolen by raiders in mid-transit. Expressing an extreme desire to have this item returned to its intended place, Tuk Nijusi sent out his elite hitman to discover the whereabouts of the key. The key would pass through the hands of several unsavoury individuals of the Galaxy's sectors, and several individuals found themselves in great danger trying to retrieve such a valuable item.
Prologue: Raid at Pekrû
Summer, TY 12310: Orbiting Pekrû, Xittan-Yaton/Xalakk-Xittan Border, Nijusi Syndicate territory
Pekrû - a barren planet made use by the Nijusi Syndicate was a somewhat insignificant checkpoint of incoming small cargo. Some of the cargo within the Nijusi Syndicate that came through Pekrû fed directly to the capital word of Nijusisumarec - especially, an important item that was relayed to President Nijusi himself regarding the procuring of an item of Zhulultu origin. It was found by an external scouting team composed of both Sumikians and Vranntan near the Schism/Core Region border. Such an item was rarely seen before historically and not upon a Sarcophagus Planet. About a week before the item was cleared for transport, Nijusi himself had been given the following information from one of the members of the party:
>>Item of confirmed Zhulultu origin discovered on planet RS-8591-173-0-0-71.
>>Item dimensions: 87 cm x 87 cm x 14 cm. Weight: 14.0515 kg.
>>Material composition: 2 materials: 71.15 % Zhulultu Alloy. 28.85% [INCONCLUSIVE MATERIAL].
>>[INCONCLUSIVE MATERIAL] study: Rhodochrosite: 2% match. Anomalous compounds detected.
>>Observational studies: Anomalies detected in the red material indicate that, whilst there is a two percent chance of this material being rhodochrosite, the primary anomaly of this material is that it bears intense magnetic strength to several metals both ferromagnetic and non-ferromagnetic. There are no qualities of the item found in more dangerous Zhulultu artifacts; none of my colleagues have experienced physiological ailments after coming into contact with the object, and from archival studies, we have concluded that this item is similar in characteristics to a Cache Key. Transport to Nijusisumarec is advised; will be transported in a suitable containment to counteract magnetic pull.
Due to the extremely valuable nature of the item, Nijusi believed that the cargo in which it was being transported would not have additional security; attracting any attention to the nature of the Cache Key could prove disastrous should it have found itself in the hands of another. The key's transport had become so safeguarded that the designation of the item did not become separate from the general daily consignment of raw provisions to Nijusisumarec's patrols; the authorities at the checkpoint had indeed encountered the item encased in its box, although the spray upon its sides had bore the authoritative seal of Nijusi himself; such items were not to be inspected by the border authorities. It was only unfortunate that at that particularly day were Kamagorian raiders expressing their interest in pillaging the small freighter. Would have the freighter been any larger, Kamagorian raiders may have not considered their chances of successfully raiding it.
The Pekrû system had recently became host to a band of Kamagorian raiders who had smuggled themselves upon another cargo freighter. These particular raiders were evidently skilled; Nijusi's cargo patrol did not notice the discrepancies in weight before the checkpoint or after the checkpoint, and if they did, it would have been too long ago now to have enquired with the body responsible for harvesting these provisions. The Kamagorian raiders were simply biding their time; stealthily raiding and escaping with a small freighter in the time they had was probable, and, considering the lack of knowledge of the Cache Key both the raiders and the Syndicate's patrol had, the alarm to shoot down this hijacked freighter would have been slow. The Kamagorians were not equipped to deal with the full force of the Syndicate; but a peripheral cargo patrol was nothing to be afraid of.
As this marked freighter had entered the checkpoint, it had docked upon the hanger to receive inspection. The inspectors were only mildly armed Sumikians; not particularly armoured enough to deal with Kamagorians. The freighter's crew had exited their ship - these inspections often took up to an hour to complete thoroughly, so often the crew onboard would make use of the small-time amenities present. Between several high-stacked metal crates in the hangar, a party of fourteen Kamagorian raiders silently made their way to inspect the scene. Their captain had noted that the original crew was not present, and there were only four armed Sumikians at the crew platform itself. There was no challenge to a raiding party present, let alone a team of well equipped mercenaries or anything between. There was also little chance for the Sumikian patrol to survive the attack - the Kamagorian raiders soon made themselves known to the patrol, and their rifles made quick and bloody work of the patrol outside.
It was only a matter of seconds however was the alarm raised - the raiders would have to act quickly to board the freighter, neutralise the crew and escape the system before heavier support would arrive. It was also clear that these raiders knew the design of Sumikian freighters; it was not their first Sumikian-ship raiding. The inspection crew were even less armed than that of the patrol crew outside - and, with a swift and heavy bullets accurately placed upon the crew themselves, it was only a minute or so before the raiders easily neutralised and took control of the ship. Taking control of the cockpit - almost humorously so for a Kamagorian to take command of a Sumikian ship - the freighter violently broke off from the docking platform, causing some damage to the station itself. The shields rose almost immediately as the support arrived - the ship narrowly avoiding heavy bolts of ballistic force tearing through it. As soon as they were clear, the raiders activated the procedures for the travel out of the Pekrû system, towards an unknown territory outside of the sector.
It had taken sometime for the transport crew to index all of the items upon the ship to the Pekrû checkpoint; specifically emphasising the Cache Key that was also upon it. With not a moment further, the checkpoint had immediately relayed this to Nijusi's contacts on Nijusisumarec - the news of a Zhulultu artifact inadvertently stolen in a failed undercover transit would not sit well with him at all.
Nijusisumarec, Nijusi Syndicate Capital
Nijusisumarec was the capital of the Nijusi Syndicate; formerly an administrative colony of the Sumikian Commerce Nexus before Tuk Nijusi himself wrestled control of the Xittan-Yaton Sector over a millennium ago. Nijusisumarec was built in time to represent what could have been an illustrious capital; Nijusisumarec was developed, impressive in architecture, and according to Nijusi's plan was a fortified haven of galactic cosmopolitanism coupled with highly organised criminality. Uninhabitable in most regions, Nijusisumarec's cities and outposts were built in encased domes, of where its vast and immense skyscrapers grew to such a height that it blocked the sky above them past the already obscuring dome. Because of this, Nijusisumarec's cities were only lit artificially; neon lights and veritably insane traffic systems made their cities bustling and overwhelming to most of the uncivilised galaxy. The networks of the transport systems were so sophisticated that the cities built apart had begun to sprawl all over the planet.
Nijusi, however, did not take residence in one of these immense skyscrapers that made the very air of the planet dense and urban. Instead, his palatial residence was underground - a complex of sturdy buildings built underneath the infamous Nijusisumarec Coliseum that played host to the Tuuros Galaxy's most known annual event. It seemed cliché to Nijusi to live within a vast skyscraper; and, the concept of living so may have presented the opportunity for one of these towers to collapse in a surprise attack. Hence, Nijusi's underground complex served as his home. Cold and hard as it may have sounded, Nijusi made every effort to make his home appear as if it were rural and high-class; so much so that Nijusi took to using convincing artificial and holographic scenery to give off the illusion that he lived in a far away palace of itself. As expected, Nijusi's complex was fortified and protected to the degree where little to no force in the galaxy could come a hundred light years close to it.
Living in the luxury that immense wealth had gave him however, did not steady Nijusi's anger that day. As the message of Pekrû's raid eventually reached him in mid dinner, Nijusi made it readily known that he was indeed enraged - throwing his plate across the dining hall and storming off towards his office. Followed by a number of his advisors, Nijusi had made way to his desk. His office was spherical in shape, and half the room was a series of windows that opened on to a holographic environment of a similarly rural nature to Sumik's plains, giving the room a brilliant light. Upon his desk was a terminal; regarding recent mail sent to him on the topic of the Cache Key itself. Alongside that, a report was given to him regarding the incident of the raid; including the surveillance of the Kamagorians raiding the freighter itself.
- Nijusi - ...How is it that fourteen RIDICULOUS Kamagorians managed to get away with that ship?!
- Kau Tekjora - With all due respect, Mr. President, you did authorise the ship to be...well. Unprotected.
Taking some moments to composed himself, Nijusi slumped back in the padded chair of his desk, letting out a heavy and somewhat annoyed sigh without little sophistication to stop it.
- Nijusi - I suppose I've taught myself a lesson today. But do you know the value of an artifact like that?
- Tekjora - I was always told that Zhulultu artifacts were priceless.
- Nijusi - The bigger ones, yes. Small ones like that? Those raiders could sell it and then buy out their own fleet for that money.
- Tekjora - You want to have the raiders found and killed, Mr. President?
- Nijusi - As satisfying as that is, that won't clear my conscience. No. I want the Cache Key found. Every trading post we have eyes on between here and the Schism. I want to see where it goes. Where it goes, we'll get it back.
- Advisor - I understand that you don't want the fleet on this.
- Nijusi - Good thing you're not an idiot, Tekjora. Correct. Prepare my shuttle. We're going to have a talk with Dijun.
Ped Dijun - Tuk Nijusi's personal hitman - was confined to a compound on Nijusisumarec for most of his time. Whilst paid by Nijusi, Dijun's skill set had made Nijusi paranoid. Dijun running freelance work outside of Nijusi's jurisdiction could have proved detrimental to Nijusi's plans; so in exchange for a substantial wage, Dijun was confined to his home. It was not a small compound - Nijusi had little expense wavered to give Dijun a comfortable lifestyle even in house surveillance - otherwise the agreement the two had may have proved to have ended more violently than Nijusi would intend. Arriving on the compound, some four or five hundred miles outside of the city in the midst of Nijusisumarec's immense and barren landscape, Nijusi cleared his entry to contact his hitman. As he found Dijun, Dijun himself was within his own personal gym; exercising every muscle he could in preparation for impromptu work. Fortunately for him, Nijusi was just about to do so. As he caught sight of Nijusi, Dijun set down his equipment and sat down upon the bench, taking a swig of a Sumikian drink designed to supplement exercising. Of course for Dijun, it was a drink with mildly experimental qualities that had Nijusi had developed in order to improve his potential lethality during field work.
- Nijusi - How are you finding the new equipment?
- Dijun - ...Comfortable.
- Nijusi - ...Is that it, Ped? I know you're not the most talkative individual in the galaxy, but you could at least show some more gratitude that I've put six hundred million into this compound. Not to mention your annual salary.
- Dijun - ...
- Nijusi - Hmph. ...Anyway. I guess you know why I'm here.
- Dijun - Another kill contract?
- Nijusi - Could be. But mostly search and retrieve.
Giving Dijun a tablet, Nijusi presented his hitman with the information of the Pekrû raid, and, of course the totality of the information of the Cache Key - its size, characteristics, and including the faces of those who partook in its raid.
- Dijun - ...Are you serious? Why not send your normal search and retrieve teams?
- Nijusi - Most search and retrieve teams don't retrieve items that are stolen. Could you imagine the dangers of that key falling into the wrong hands?
- Dijun - Your interest in Zhulultu paraphernalia will get you killed.
- Nijusi - Trust me. The sooner you bring this item back to me, the sooner I don't have to worry about the balance of this galaxy getting out of hand. The sooner I have this, the sooner we can have the upper hand. You don't know much benefit this would bring if the Asilaphean blockade was lifted because I could make them.
- Dijun - Alright. Stop monologuing. ...Do you have any leads?
- Nijusi - Kamagorian raiders aren't fast travelling. Outposts along the Xalakk-Xittan Sector is a start.
Dijun handed back the tablet to Nijusi, and, walking past him, made his way back towards his compound. For Dijun, such a mission was unusual. He knew better than to pry too much into Nijusi's intentions - doing so normally ends in execution - but to him, it was better than idly sitting on Nijusisumarec.
Chapter I: Echoes of Greed
Summer, TY 12310: Nnakahaz, Pal-Tala Sector, Vranntan Order territory
Though one of the peripheral worlds of the Vranntan Order's territory, Nnakahaz was known as an economic central of the Tuurosian Black Market. Those without or those who defied the moral high ground within the galaxy knew of Nnakahaz as a haven of criminality; there were few worlds within the galaxy were staunch criminality was in fact protected rather than outlawed. The world in itself was one of the several strongholds of the Vranntan Warlord known as Ammakkut; a well-known and powerful Vranntan Warlord that had a forceful interest in Zhulultu technology. It was often the bane of the Tuurosian Covens to allow knowledge of Zhulultu artifacts to slip through the net - Ammakkut was known to have annihilated entire covens to attain Zhulultu technology in the past. It was not a commonplace interest of Vranntan Warlords; in fact, most Vranntan regarded Zhulutlu technology to be utter devilry, and despite the correct assumption, Ammakkut believed that harnessing Zhulultu technology would make him an extremely powerful Warlord, perhaps enough to even make War Arbiter Hrantaec lose his grip on the Order. As Nnakahaz was a trading commerce as well as a Vranntan stronghold, news of expensive and exotic items that entered Nnakahaz always reached the ears of the Warlord.
Nnakahaz in itself was a hot and arid planet - something that the Vranntan often chose strategically so that any would-be aggressors on their worlds had little chance of hiding. Thus, the planet's city was built on a high surface to mitigate the issue of inhospitable temperatures. The Vranntan themselves however built great resistance to the heat, and were able to survive in the wide expanses of the planet for great amounts of time. Many Vranntan loyal to Warlord Ammakkut - patrol guards - often stood outside these cities and main ports, guarding and surveying any activity that may prove interesting to Ammakkut himself should they have heard it. This particular day, a band of Torgazi merchants that had travelled to Nnakahaz from the other side of the galaxy had brought with them salvaged parts from battlefields that were active during the times of the War of Ages; scraps of Congregation armour, weaponry and machinery, as well as Asilaphean-manufactured parts, including body parts of the Asilapheans themselves. Salvaging was a widespread and lucrative profession in the Tuuros Galaxy, both state-sponsored and clandestine. The very volume of scrap metal and technology that had been laid to waste on the worlds of the galaxy were beyond count, and for several thousands of years has presented a large business. These particular merchants had only come to Nnakahaz due to the prevalence of Asilaphean body parts in their cargo - illegal among the more civilised world, although those who lived in the underworld of Tuuros shared a mutual hatred of the Asilapheans. Asilaphean technology, including their body parts were sought after for multiple purposes, although several Vranntan tended to use Asilaphean heads as decorum.
The merchants had entered the port of Nnakahaz' city; their ships kicking up immense quantities of dust as they settled in the port's hangars. For this reason, several dock workers and guards, including Vranntan wore protective armour that filtered out dust from the air, and their faces were covered as a result. It was common practice for these merchants to hand over documentations to the Vranntan guards, usually as a safeguard against foreign aggression. Most merchants to the Vranntan strongholds were repeat customers, yet it was necessary for these merchants to display their history of travel to these worlds due to the Vranntan's general suspicion of outsiders. It was only normally the leader of the merchant caravans that spoke to the Vranntan guards to maintain a sense of formality and professionalism in this clandestine and illegal line of work.
- Vranntan Guard - Merchant designation...1729. Hm. Seventy-eighth port entry to Nnakahaz.
- Torgazi Merchant - That would be us. We have a lot of salvage this time, you know. Congregation and Asilaphean tech from Kanestru-4.
- Vranntan Guard - Ah yes. Kanestru-4. I've heard of the world from a few merchants.
- Torgazi Merchant - Looked like a real bloodbath. I think you Vranntan would have enjoyed it somewhat. Congregation ships in bits everywhere, including a lot of bodies. Picking mummified corpses out of the armour wasn't a great job but...well. The Asilaphean bodies were easier to break apart.
- Vranntan Guard - They look prettier when they are in pieces.
Escorting the Torgazi merchant, the Vranntan Guard led the caravans to the weighing platform. The price of salvaged technology was factored on two things - the quality of the salvage, and the weight of the incoming cargo. The Congregation's technology was not the highest valued within the galaxy's black market, although large intakes were often enough to pay for a year's wage across an entire merchant band.
- Torgazi Merchant - Seen anything odd come through lately?
- Vranntan Guard - Define odd. You know what it is like. Body Merchants coming in with materials such as spinal fluids. I don't particularly know why they are valuable, but I'm paid regardless.
- Torgazi Merchant - Cybernetics, if I know any better. You know, I heard something went down near the Xittan-Yaton border. Tuk Nijusi had something stolen from him.
- Vranntan Guard - I haven't seen anything Sumikian come through lately. You would be better off asking on another stronghold like Xannaddar or Ddammanask if you're looking for more usable items.
- Torgazi Merchant - Oh...nothing like that. I heard it was a Zhulultu item.
The Vranntan's eyes wandered down to the Torgazi merchant, meeting him in the eye. It caused a great sense of nervousness within the merchant himself - Vranntan rarely looked others in the eye other than their own kind.
- Vranntan Guard - Choose your next words carefully, Torgazi. Where did you hear this news?
- Torgazi Merchant - Well..uh...I s-said that it was n-near the Xittan-Yaton border. M-must be in Xalakk-Xittan by now. I d-don't know where exactly, but I heard it was a b-bunch of Kamagorian Phantoms that d-did it.
- Vranntan Guard - I will have that passed on to Warlord Ammakkut himself. He will be interested...hm. Anyway. Your caravans have come to a total mass of 68.567 tons.
- Torgazi Merchant - ...Oh. That's good. So, how much does that come up to?
- Vranntan Guard - 12,250 credits for each ton...839,946 credits.
- Torgazi Merchant - What can I say? I'm good at what I do.
Nnahakaz Citadel, Ammakkut's Stronghold
Passing on the word to one of the Warlord's officials, the news of the Cache Key had indeed reached Ammakkut not before long. Ammakkut's stronghold was an ancient Vranntan fortress; hewn into the mountain that the Nnahakaz city was built upon and constructed much in the way of the original architecture of Nammud Xar, the Vranntan homeworld. It would have been foolish for many invasion forces to attack a stronghold, and Ammakkut's was nonetheless well fortified both on ground and orbitally. One of Ammakkut's advisors had made his way to the central chamber of the stronghold, where the Vranntan Warlord himself had sat for most of the day. As the advisor had found him, Ammakkut was sitting in a surgical chair suited for the Vranntan himself. The chair had a large frame reaching over the seat, and as Ammakkut had sat in it, all manners of cybernetics were holding a prosthetic arm in its clutches. It was a makeshift arm of Vranntan design - a derived design of a Vranntan construction mech and exoskeletal armour with enhancements that allowed this arm to exercise strength at a degree Vranntan rarely could. Ammakkut was having this arm attached to him once again - all manners of lights lit up the dark chamber as surgical robots attached this arm to the rest of the Warlord's person. As it was firmly set back on to him, the arm suddenly gained its autonomy, Ammakkut exercising it as the technology connected to his nervous system.
Ammakkut noticed his official, waiting in the doorway as the surgical chair swung around, revealing Ammakkut's immense and muscular form, and of course, the great mechanical right arm of his.
- Ammakkut - If you have something that needs saying, now would be the time.
- Official - Word has been heard of an item of interest in the Xalakk-Xittan Sector, .
- Ammakkut - From who, exactly? If this turns out to be a signal from the Asilapheans, then this is a trap.
- Official - Merchant Designation 1729. Apparently, Kamagorian Phantoms raided a caravan heading towards Nijusisumarec.
- Ammakkut - So?
- Official - ...A Zhulultu item to Tuk Nijusi himself.
Leaving the chair, slowly and in calculated movements, Ammakkut moved towards his official. The stature of a Warlord was almost always larger than that of most Vranntan before them; the Vranntan valued physical strength, and often only those of power were the largest and strongest of their kind. As he moved into the pale light of the chamber, the official noticed the uncommonly blue eyes of Ammakkut; as well as the right arm that had bore traditional Vranntan armour - something not usual among Vranntan Warlords apart from War Arbiter Hrantaec himself.
- Ammakkut - Now you have my attention.
- 'Official - ...Is this wise, Warlord? Taking an item from Tuk Nijusi will cause tensions with the Syndicate.
- Ammakkut - The War Arbiter looks out for his own before Nijusi, that I can assure you.
- Official - So...where to begin, then?
- Ammakkut - Relay scouting parties to the Xalakk-Xittan Sector. If this item has not reached us yet, then it must still be there. Centre attention on the Realm of the Girtabelilu.
- Official - Shall I order the fleet to mobilise?
- Ammakkut - No. Drawing attention to the Xalakk-Xittan Sector will alert Nijusi and other parties. If we are to take this, we will take it as quietly as possible. Once we find out where this item is, we will see whether the guilty party is reasonable to selling it back to us.
- Official - And if they are not?
- Ammakkut - Then they will find their worlds being stripped dry of their populace as we look for it.
Chapter II: Fortune Favours the Wise
Summer, TY 12310. Nabbu-Akkur Habitat, Realm of the Girtabelilu.
The small, rickety freighter found itself being yanked, slowly but surely, into the great, gilded bulb which so dwarfed it. Its vast, infinitely intricate and complex fractal patterns produced a shadow which seemed to swallow the tiny old ship whole, before shortly after the craft itself entered into a spherical docking bay which composed one of many tens of thousands of tiny nubs where which the fractal bulb pattern terminated. The hangar was dark, cold and damp like a parking garage, and the inside was lined with metal plates that bronzed either by intention or through sheer age. Suddenly the freighter was illuminated by dozens of powerful spotlights which selected it out from the rest of the dark expanse, and both on the freighter's transmissions and on loudspeakers in the hangar a gruff voice boomed;
"FAILURE TO RESPOND TO REALM TRANSMISSIONS IS A SERIOUS OFFENCE. ILLEGAL MIGRATION THROUGH REALM SPACE IS A SERIOUS OFFENCE. PREPARE TO BE SEARCHED. FAILURE TO COMPLY IS A CAPITAL OFFENCE."
The doors stayed closed, not necessarily out of resolve on the part of the Kamagorian hijackers-- but because they were paralysed by panic. If they opened their doors and allowed themselves to be searched, it would become clear that the ship was hijacked. If they kept them closed, then they were still surely doomed. For small-time raiders such as them, there was no bribing or maneuvering their way past the Realm's strict policies with regards to piracy-- death was the preferred remedy of these primitive people.
The raiders, who wisely kept an ear to galactic politics, were gambling on the relative instability of the Realm at current to allow raiders such as them to slip through the cracks and sell off their unusual prize to the highest bidder-- through, of course, the familiar network of brokers and dealers which so often came with civil strife. Unfortunately for them, they had just stumbled upon one of the great islands of power and stability in the Realm, the fief of Count Mlimar. The raiders' fate was predictably violent.
Dead Kamagorians, as well as members of the original crew, were dragged unceremoniously by Girtabelilu soldiers from the ship across the short docking bridge, leaving an unseemly streak of blood on the otherwise tidy hangar floors. The prisoners, six Kamagorians, one of which badly wounded, were watched like hawks by other troops, who glared with firey blue eyes under the fur-lined brims of bronze-plated, red-plumed helms. Their assault rifles-- rudimentary things, but possessing a vicious intent in their design-- were trained from the hip on the captives as all there knew that their time left to live was at a premium.
Then, another Girtabelilu entered. He was significantly taller then his lowborn underlings-- perhaps nine feet tall-- and wore a long, purple cape that gracefully hid his insectoid form in a subtle show of religious devotion. A long hum came from the nobleman, and the gold caps on the ends of his facial antennae shone in the now dimly-lit hangar as they flitted with interest at his prisoners.
- Mlimar - So it would appear you are carrying a very interesting cargo on this little ship for a gaggle of small-time raiders. You should all count yourselves lucky that I cannot make any sense of this cargo quite yet. May the leader step forward? I have many questions.
The response was a line of glum expressions, which Mlimar returned. With a snap of the nobleman's ring-adorned fingers, two of his men raised their assault rifles and turned them to the wounded Kamagorian, who stood at the far left of the line. They opened fire mercilessly, and the raider slumped back against the wall a bloodied mess. Mlimar looked back with a sinister smile.
- Mlimar - Glad we understand eachother. He growled. Now. May the leader please step forward? Surely you care about your men's wellbeing.
Days later, Mlimar walked along one of the many cavernous corridors of his capital habitat, surrounded by relatives and close friends. He was relaxed, glad to be away from petty politicking for a short while and able to show those he's closest to his prize. He was also intoxicated on a good Federation-era brew, which loosened his lips without dulling his natural wit. Mlimar listened intently to his wealthy nephew, a noble merchant named Atrus, and spoke in turn;
- Mlimar - ...Indeed, it is Zhulultu in origin, or so my sources say. Very odd thing it is, but...
Mlimar laughed, his chortling made rather stupid by drink. Atrus chuckled along with his old uncle, who he had given the fine wine to in the first place as his gift to the small party. His uncle, he knew, was powerful, and sharp enough-- but he inherited every bit of power he had, and while he made good in maintaining his father's achievement, he just couldn't truly build upon it. Few men could. Mlimar had chinks in his armour as a statesman, that as a relative Atrus pitied but as an artifacts trader he took note of like a faithful student of his art.
- Atrus - So what is it precisely, uncle?
- Mlimar - My Kamagorian guests and the experts in my court both agree on it being something called a 'cache key'-- a Zhulultu artifact of middling importance, but a Zhulultu artifact nonetheless, you understand. Atrus nodded, his eyes taking on a sparkle of renewed interest; They stole it, obviously, from its original owners, but from whom is still trying to be teased out from them.
- Atrus - They must be powerful. What do you intend to do with this artifact?
Mlimar looked whimsically to the great, fractal ceiling above and through the immense duraglass window to the stars. His young great-granddaughter tugged at the knee of his fine robe in a bid for attention, which paid off when the old nobleman patted the youngling on the head affectionately. He looked to Atrus;
- Mlimar - I don't know, his eyes suddenly flared with awareness, his drunken gaiety fleeting; more importantly still is what you intend to do with it. Atrus' eyes flared with a similar awareness;
- Atrus - Nothing at all. I am but a humble oddities trader-- whatever would I do with an artifact such as this?
- Mlimar - Become fabulously wealthy by brokering the deal of a lifetime, perhaps?
- Atrus - I am in no position to be a broker for such, anyhow.
- Mlimar - For now.
Atrus stopped, as did his uncle. The merchant could feel the older man's eyes bore into his own and through to his mind. He interrupted the showdown with another goblet of fine Federation wine. Mlimar accepted, a thin smile returning to his face;
- Mlimar - Loose-lippedness runs in the family, nephew. Do not forget that.
The rest of the evening passed in good cheer. Atrus plotted his next moves carefully.
Summer, TY 12310. Asu-Nairak, Border world of the Realm of the Girtabelilu.
An overcast sky gave a dark and gloomy impression to the sprawling slum that was Asu-Nairak's capital city. Weaving through alleyways and narrow streets made from mud-brick houses whose design had changed little since the Girtabelilu's pre-spacefaring days, Atrus's cloaked form made its way to the arranged meeting place-- a kiosk on permanent rent by Atrus for use as a meeting place, well-within the expansive and dank marketplace carved from the sandstone mountain that so loomed over the rest of the settlement. He walked through the great arching entrance to the subterranean markets, and ignored peddlers of goods who tried to sell him a whole manner of trinkets as he came to his kiosk. Harshly shoving a half-starved Federation slave out of his way, he pressed in a code on the keypad beside the door, and stepped through when it opened. He again closed it with a second keypad on the other side.
In the dark and unassuming back room of the kiosk was a luxurious wood table and several seats, suited better to a conference room than the meeting place of a grey market peddler. In one of the seats was Kuxummar, one of Warlord Ammakkut's representatives. Atrus nodded with the Girtabelilu equivalent of a grin;
- Atrus - You're a sight for sore eyes, friend. You would not believe the efforts and, indeed, risks, I've gone through to secure this deal I have for your patron today.
- Kuxummar - This had better be worth my time. Warlord Ammakkut has grown impatient as of late.
- Atrus - Oh, but it will be worth the Warlord's valuable time. Moreover, I think it might just be the thing the Warlord has grown so reasonably impatient over.
- Kuxummar - You had ought to show me then, before I begin to think you are wasting my time here.
- Atrus - You Vranntan are all so tense. The Girtabelilu merchant chuckled, and had a servant pour Kuxummar a goblet of wine. I need not tell you of all people that I hear of many things around this galaxy, certainly when they involve the sector which I call home. Atrus' grin thinned to nothing. It was business now. I can broker a deal to get your Warlord the Cache Key.
Kuxummar took the goblet of wine in his hand, using the thin edges of his enormous fingers to hold it so delicately that he would not crush it. His eyes narrowed within his sharpened skull, teeth consistenly bared as if the Vranntan were always in a state of anger.
- Kuxummar - Ammakkut did indeed send a number of search parties across Xalakk-Xittan looking for this key. The Realm as a priority. If you hear things about this Key, you will know others are looking for it.
- Atrus - I... have, heard unverified reports that the Key was the interest and property of Tuk Nijusi himself. The current owner of the Key, however, has not and I personally am skeptical. He paused. If true however, its all the more reason to get this deal started, done, and over with as quickly as possible, yes? We'd all sooner not be on ground-floor when, to use an old Girtabelilu saying, 'the Charioteer comes looking for the horse thief'.
Maintaining a sense of silence for a couple of moments, Kuxummar observed the drink, and in one simple movement had drunk the entire goblet in one sip. The Vranntan were not necessarily interested in foreign drinks, much less ones that the Vranntan could barely enjoy for that matter.
- Kuxummar - The Warlord and I would be at better ease if we saw the Key first. You know how our deals must play out. We do not pay for things we cannot see with our own eyes.
Atrus' four blue eyes looked to the side for a moment, as a whistling exhale of air escaped his mouth. His gaze returned.
- Atrus - My client's anonymity is paramount. But, I will see what I can do. The grin, perfected over the course of thousands of deals, returned; Shall we stay in touch?
- Kuxummar - We will not leave this space until our deal is fulfilled. I wager Ammakkut will not allow more than twenty four hours before he himself comes for it. This is an item that far supersedes his patience and my ability to trade.
Atrus' grin again faded. He nodded.
- Atrus - So it will be done.
Summer, TY 12310. Nabbu-Akkur Habitat, Realm of the Girtabelilu.
Mlimar stood, looking out the observation window of his great complex of gardens to the stars beyond. A babbling brook nearby did little to relax his nerves or please his spirit. He was too overcome by rage and fear for that. He clacked back down on an intercom switch;
- Mlimar - So it does belong to Tuk, after all. Very well. Dispose of the Kamagorian leader, or whatever's left of him. Draw and quarter the rest, send their remains in a box to the nearest raider hideout as an example of what happens to pirates in my fief. he switched it back off.
- Atrus - Is now a bad time, uncle?
Mlimar turned around, his eyes flushed with anger at the unpleasant surprise that was his nephew. He stepped towards his nephew and patted him, hard, on the shoulder.
- Mlimar - I suppose you've already wriggled yourself into a brokering position like the parasite you are, haven't you Atrus? You're good at that. Who with now? The Tvolai? Asilapheans, somehow? Knowing you you've probably smooth-talked my Kamagorian prisoners into buying it back into their hands! You're the swindler of the century, and you'll doom us all.
In a fit of anger, Atrus tried to shove his uncle back. Mlimar, genetically and cybernetically enhanced to be a warrior however, easily rebuked the attempt, and in an instant had the younger Girtabelilu held to the air by his throat;
- Mlimar - Whoever they are, tell them the transaction's cancelled. I do not wish to anger Tuk Nijusi, so he can expect it back! Atrus gasped for air;
- Atrus - ...Vranntan... Mlimar lessened his vice-grip;
- Mlimar - ...What? You want to sell it to a Vranntan Warlord? Atrus nodded, life returning to his eyes.
- Atrus - They don't take to cancelled transactions well.
- Mlimar - Then I'd like to see them take it! I will earn the respect my father had on the field of combat. Atrus gained the courage to scoff;
- Atrus - You would drag the Realm into a costly war singlehandedly. What would your father think of such a disgrace?
Mlimar's anger faded. Replacing it was a look of deviousness that scared Atrus all the more. The younger man was thrown to the floor;
- Mlimar - Then I wipe my hands clean of the whole affair. I presume you at least had the decency to maintain your usual confidentiality policy?
Atrus gasped for air;
- Atrus - Y... Yes... Why?
- Mlimar - Because its yours now. The Key. In fact, as far as anybody is concerned. I never owned it. Do we understand eachother?
- Atrus - Wh-what!?
- Mlimar - You made me realise a few things. I would lose my current wealth and status fighting a war against Vranntan bayonets, and whatever fortune I would earn from that damned thing will doubtless be pissed away, fighting a war in the shadows against Tuk's knives. The solution is to simply bypass the madness and export the consequences onto you. After all, you seemed so eager to get involved earlier?
- Atrus - What... What stops me from telling the Warlord you tried to cancel the deal? What stops me from telling the Syndicate you're holding onto the key? What stops me from bringing war upon you anyway?
Mlimar stared down at Atrus for a long while. Then, slowly, he knelt to his prone form, and growled;
- Mlimar - Because I know you value your life, nephew.
Chapter III: Names and Faces
Uncertain Location; Xalakk-Xittan Sector
For a man who had just doubled his already-impressive fortune with a single deal, Atrus looked rather glum. His eyes darted about the darkened favela, the narrow alleyway and his exoskeleton both make slick by torrential rainfall natural to the tropical world. He was surrounded tightly by armed guards, dressed in the uniform of Count Mlimar-- a token protection force offered by his uncle as Atrus stumbled out of his court not twenty-four hours ago. One of these men knocked a half-mad beggar out of the way of the procession with the wooden butt of his rifle, likely killing the wispy thing of a man in the process. They continued on to their ship. All were nervous.
- Atrus - "Have we any reason to believe that we were tracked to this location?"
- Guard - "The answer remains no, sir."
The merchant nodded. He checked his cloak-- a shortsword was kept close under it, and with it a silver-plated revolver that was owned by the First Emperor. It was little consolation, especially when a loud bump! was heard from within one of the many spiraling and slummish structures that so formed the narrow street with their presence. In his paranoia Atrus pressed himself against the opposing wall, and the guards, on high alert, also reacted as more bumps were heard.
- Atrus - "Look in there! Now!"
About half of his guards nodded as they rushed to kick down the wooden door and pile inside. All of his other guards besides one spread out to check the rest of the alleyway, leaving Atrus with a single sentry in the rain. Scared shouts were heard along with a few gunshots from within buildings as the Girtabelilu guards took no chances. Little was Atrus and his guards aware however, that Ped Dijun was stalking them overhead; cloaked and invisible to their eyes. It was a piece of Sumikian technology that had led him to this very location; the Cache Key, like all other Zhulultu artifacts left an invisible trace on those who laid their hands on it - Atrus was no exception. The trace of the ancient technology unknowingly stained his hands with a mark that only a certain scanner on Dijun's person could have picked up.
He was uncertain at first on how to engage Atrus - his guards may have proved too difficult to dispatch without too much attention drawn to him, but banking on Atrus' paranoia to disperse his numbers, he was left with only his target and one other guard. Dropping from the rooftop, Dijun aimed for the guard - using speed and his small stature to topple the guard as he planted his armoured boot on his head without much hesitation. While the guard's helmet saved him from death by boot to the back of the head, the much taller Girtabelilu warrior was rendered unconscious by the concussive force of the strike. Amid the heavy rain and occasional crack of Girtabelilu assault rifles, Atrus heard nothing, his caped form facing away from his sentry.
With steps silent even in quiet environments, Dijun somersaulted towards the noble's back, causing the Girtabelilu to be sent flying with a well placed dropkick to his person. Atrus felt his face fit the mud, and in a blur rolled back to face his attacker;
- Atrus - "But-- you're so damned short! How'd you do that!?"
Drawing his sword, the much-taller Girtabelilu made a clumsy charge towards his would-be assassin, made confident by his assailant's small stature. As Atrus made swing after swing on Dijun, the Sumikian evaded each attack without much effort. In his fear, Atrus overstepped his attack, granting Dijun the opportunity to launch into the air and knock his aggressor to the ground with an acrobatic kick to the head. The traditional Girtabelilu shortsword left his hand at a wild trajectory as the merchant again found himself face-first in the mud, but this time humbled enough to not try to rise again. With Atrus surrendering, Dijun walked over to him, pulling him up by the collar of his finery. What suprised him the most was his unusual strength for his size; he was no larger than a human child. Atrus' four blue eyes gazed into his assassin's, stunned. He regained his composure, growling with an uncharacteristic amount of dignity;
- Atrus - "Fitting enough death for a noble of the Realm, to die fighting. Do it then."
- Dijun - "You aren't going to die today, Girtabelilu. Not if you answer my questions."
Atrus paused, his facade of aristocratic resolve began to show some cracks;
- Atrus - "And what would those be?"
- Dijun - "You know what. A particular item stolen from Tuk Nijusi."
- Atrus - "I have no idea what you're talking about." He said tersely; "I have a sacred contract of confidentiality with all of my customers and associates."
With that, Dijun raised his other arm. From it, ignited a blade of humming energy; perhaps made of plasma, but given enough dexterity and momentum could carve through the toughest of armour. The tip of the blade, somewhat aquamarine in colour was dangerously close to Atrus' face. It was like the heat of the blade melted away whatever was left of the facade.
- Atrus - "Aheh! Ahah... Perhaps a death in battle may wait a while."
- Dijun - "I don't want to kill you; but I know for a fact that a Zhulultu Key has passed through your hands. Tell me where it went and I will spare you."
Atrus' eyes flitted around;
- Atrus - "Alright, alright... I can tell you everything, but on one condition."
- Dijun - "...Fine. What is it?"
- Atrus - "Do not let my blue-blood fool you-- I am a humble merchant whose noble house has abandoned him in disgrace. As you can clearly see, I have my moments of vulnerability and I don't want inconveniences like this to become a regular occurance! I must have my confidentiality guarenteed by you as a source and witness."
Atrus' expression curled into a bit of a smile;
- Atrus - "Its important to have guarantees in my profession."
- Dijun - "Tell me where it has gone, and I will make sure the Syndicate doesn't come after you."
- Atrus - "Good man!" He continued; "I have just sold the Key to Warlord Ammakkut, of the Vranntan Order. Not my kindest customer by any means, but he paid well. What he intends to do with this Key I do not know-- Vranntan keep a rather tight grip as to their intentions I find."
- Dijun - "...Fine. You've kept your end of the bargain. Nijusi won't bother you."
Releasing Atrus of his grasp, Dijun's blade deactivated as he stood back up.
- Dijun - "I can't say the same about the Vranntan, however."
Atrus came to a stand;
- Atrus - "I will see to that." He nodded up the street; "Now go, before I change my mind and sic my guards on you."
- Dijun - "Heh. You have no idea who I am, do you?"
Before he answered any more questions, Dijun disappeared as his cloak reactivated - there was no trace of him as he disappeared into thin air. Atrus took in a wheezing breath, strangely relieved that his worst fears had come and past. He rallied his guards back to his side, and the Girtabelilu scurried to their ship and left the world.
Hol Hallar, Oma-Tokk Sector; Tuurosian Underworld Stronghold
Ammakkut was not a name Dijun was familiar of. There were over seventy Warlords in the Vranntan Order; it was difficult to keep track of their names and their whereabouts within the Pal-Tala Sector without a constant eye. And, more than often, a Vranntan Warlord was far out of Dijun's jurisdiction - as much as any other mercenary or assassin in the galaxy. However, in his years within the Vaekala Brotherhood, Dijun networked extensively - Hol Hallar, a world strong in criminal presence - perhaps the galaxy's strongest - was a safe haven for those who hated the establishment of the galaxy - the Asilaphean Empire mostly. There, Dijun knew several informants and information brokers that could provide him the information he needed. These were the same brokers the Vaekalas worked with; though Dijun was no longer a Vaekala, it would have been a poor choice for any information broker to actively forbid one of Tuk Nijusi's employees from access.
Taking his ship - a privately made and modified stealth-class fighter of Sumikian aesthetics, Dijun left for Hol Hallar. Despite the fact that Dijun was perhaps one of Tuuros' most feared mercenaries - a known former Vaekala and Tuk Nijusi's personal mercenary - there were several on Hol Hallar that would have still paid exorbitant sums of money for his head on a plate. For this reason alone, Dijun steeled himself every time he entered Hol Hallar's space. Hol Hallar itself was not particularly known for any hostilities - in fact, the sheer number of criminal networks that passed through it and set up shop there inadvertently created neutrality on that world. Any violence was usually directed towards those who sought to destroy the underworld; most Nanusuloans were not welcome on the world, and Asilapheans were shot on sight.
Hol Hallar was once a planet of some description; it was turned into a mining colony several thousands of years ago by a civilisation no longer relevant to the surrounding space. The fabled Marecosi Coven had taken control of the planet and further mined it until Hol Hallar resembled more of a megaconstruct than a planet, and it was often rumoured that the Coven still controlled it somewhat, despite the presence of the Vaekalas, Vranntan and countless other criminal syndicates there that operated in silent competition. Thus, Hol Hallar was claustrophobic to say the least - it was narrowly built; the structures dark and unforgiving and the air stale and artificial. A cold light lit the open spaces of the station as searchlights looked down upon the hard-built walkways, worn down after several millions of Tuurosians having walked through them. Where Dijun himself was looking however, was for a Sumikian information broker named Kelu Jinuru; Dijun's information broker during his time in the Vaekala Brotherhood.
Making his way to Jinuru's office, he passed through the air-tight door of a great weight. The stale, tepid air of the outside was replaced with a warmer and humid air typical of Sumikian environments. His office was not very Sumikian in decorum however; it was very much the vault-like appearance of Hol Hallar itself, although there was some effort of personalisation there - namely more comforting lights that made the place seem less clinical, as well as some small and peculiar wall art that were not entirely stylish, not even in Sumikian art. Dijun paid little attention however, making his way to a ring-shaped desk of where Jinuru sat in the middle, surrounding by consoles and holographic screens that presented several pieces of information - some of which were media from several sources. Jinuru had just finished business with a Mahanayan - something that had actually caught Dijun's attention as he left the office; clothed in the seemingly ancient and mysterious finery Mahanayans frequently wore.
Jinuru's wizened eyes - encased in goggles, passed over Dijun's form as he saw the mercenary lost in a sense of awe at the immense alien who passed him.
- Jinuru - If you're wondering Ped, I wasn't able to help him with his query immediately.
- Dijun - Whatever happened to client confidentiality, Kelu?
- Jinuru - Well, you're my friend, and I'm comfortable with the fact that you don't normally talk much. I wasn't expecting to see your face in these parts for a while.
- Dijun - When Nijusi calls.
- Jinuru - I take it this is about the Cache Key that was stolen over Pekrû. It's not everyday I hear something like that.
- Dijun - It's a first for me as well.
- Jinuru - Now, usually before we go any further, I ask for payment; but in this case, this seems quite dangerous. I'll give you what you want for free this time.
- Dijun - ...Well. That's a first as well.
Jinuru's desk circled around him; bringing him to another screen with several folders of names of individuals of interest across the galaxy. Dijun had seen this screen a number of times; it was also the source of interest of several Vaekala contracts where assassins used the information he stored for their own ends. In the more recent days of his career, Dijun had little need for this - but Jinuru, a Sumikian of peak intelligence foresaw the question before Dijun could ask it.
- Jinuru - It's strange. After Pekrû, I don't actually have any sources as to where it went. I can surmise that it landed in Girtabelilu territory, but after that? Not so much. Word came to me of it from the direction of the Pal-Tala Sector. I'd wager that a Vranntan Warlord or two is also after it, which means you have your work cut out for you...again.
- Dijun - Well. You live up to your reputation yet again. The Vranntan Warlord I'm looking for is called Ammakkut.
Jinuru's face stopped in its thought - turning towards Dijun, he leant his shoulder on the desk and looked upon him with a certain sense of disbelief that Dijun had never seen from him.
- Jinuru - Ammakkut of Kkaragun. You really have your work cut out for you, Ped.
- Dijun - You know of him? ...Of course you do. What can you tell me about him?
- Jinuru - He's a particularly dangerous Warlord. Forty thousand ships under his command. He has a personal liking in unusual technology. Ancient technology, mostly. And it seems now that he owns a piece of Zhulultu technology.
- Dijun - Well, we have a motive. I need more physical details, you know.
- Jinuru - I was getting to that, Ped. Let's have a look.
Typing his name into the screen, Jinuru opened up a dossier on Ammakkut. From it, was several pieces of information compiled over the years on the Warlord himself; including several images of the Vranntan taken from Jinuru's contacts. Jinuru moved the hologram to face Dijun, revealing a muscular and unusual-looking Vranntan.
- Jinuru - Six metres tall, three and a half tons. He's your rank-and-file warlord...except for the prosthetic arm he has. He lost it in a skirmish against an Asilaphean squadron. The entire squadron was killed after that, of course.
- Dijun - Anything more you can tell me about the arm?
- Jinuru - ...Well. It's a modified Dvarg mechsuit arm. Extremely sturdy. The kind of mechsuit used for mass industrial haulage. Coupled with his muscle mass...well. He can push six or seven tons of weight out of his way pretty easily.
- Dijun - So what you're saying is...?
- Jinuru - I'd be smart in getting the Key, Ped. Ammakkut will turn you into fine Sumikian paste if he catches you. I wouldn't recommend facing him up front.
- Dijun - ...Right. What can you tell me about his stronghold?
Typing his way through the search fields, Jinuru brought up an image of the world of Kkaragun; as well as vague images of the stronghold upon the world itself.
- Jinuru - I can't quite help you with the stronghold, although I can give you information about Kkaragun itself. It's an ice world, for one. The Vranntan colonised deep underground...which means without question that this infiltration has to be done stealthily. You might be able to find your way through atmosphere generators located on the surface...or perhaps stowing away on a patrol unit.
- Dijun - Stealth isn't a problem. How do I get out?
- Jinuru - Well...have you ever killed a Vranntan?
- Dijun - Several.
- Jinuru - Then I'd plan your route out. The Key is likely alarm triggered...so disabling that might prove beneficial. I can't help you beyond that; Kkaragun's stronghold isn't exactly a place of interest.
- Dijun - So I gathered. Thanks, Kelu.
- Jinuru - Be safe out there. I'd hate to hear that you've been scraped off the surface after Ammakkut punched you into roadkill.
Chapter IV: Kkaragun
Summer, TY 12310 (6 Militxuri 42, Year 647, Period 1): Kkaragun, Pal-Tala Sector, Vranntan Order territory
It was a clear sunset by the time Dijun entered the atmosphere of Kkaragun; the sky had been lit in colours of a primarily deep blue and crimson as the star progressively crept underneath the horizon. True to Jinuru's sources as ever, Kkaragun was indeed a planet of ice. The presence of iron and copper in the earth had strewn colours of white, red, brown, black and a light tinge of green across the earth, which initially threw Dijun until he realised that a great deal of these colours came from the ice itself. Thankfully, Dijun's fighter bore the appropriate technology to go unnoticed as he entered the atmosphere - it was at first too small for most orbital sensors to pick up, and several kinds of simultaneous cloaking devices would have caused great confusion in their sensors. Nevertheless, Dijun had his wits about him; Vranntan weaponry could have torn through his ship effortlessly.
As he cautiously entered the atmosphere, he noticed a particular set of low-rise Vranntan architecture built into the earth - large enough to be a stronghold for certain. Certain platforms on the upper reaches of this bunker-like building possessed immense anti-air ordnance - strong enough that even Nijusi's freighters and battleships would have been shredded into several pieces from orbit. As it seemed that Dijun was already nearing the planet, these guns were not locked on to him. Dijun remembered Jinuru's advice - entering via a ground-level atmospheric generator was his best bet, or perhaps stowing himself on an oncoming Vranntan freighter would have proved beneficial. He was careful to set down his spacecraft some distance away from the stronghold's entrance; about ten kilometres from the structure.
As he left his fighter, one thing was clear; Kkaragun was unforgivably cold. Whatever Vranntan patrol existed on the surface more than likely wore lifesuits to cope with the cold, and Dijun's lighter assassin-style gear was not suited enough for it. It was fortunate then as Dijun possessed great fortitude against the cold, whereas most Sumikians would have given in and settled for remaining in the fighter, and he was even subconsciously thankful that the weather was clear. He took to controlling his breath more than usual as he took his rifle and braved the icy wastes of Kkaragun, eventually perching himself on an icy outcrop to survey the entrance to the stronghold. It was more or less what he had expected; several heavy machine guns and a number of Vranntan operating them or remaining on patrol - a direct approach would have been suicidal. He noticed that the central structure of the wall dipped with the ground, and at the base of this wall was an enormous security door large enough for a minor cargo freighter to pass through. He concluded that entry by this was safer; if the stronghold were to go on lockdown, only atmosphere generators could provide an exit at that stage.
It was opportune as a string of cargo freighters entered the area - each one roughly ninety metres long and thirty metres tall. The very sound and immensity of their propulsion caused the ground to shake, and Dijun's noise-cancelling modules to activate without intent. He was at least four hundred metres away from the closest freighter - so Dijun took to activating his own cloaking shield and leapt off the outcrop. As he fell, a glide module - a Sumikian stealth device built for reconnaissance - unfolded upon his back. It provided him the necessary means to close the distance he was surveying the stronghold from, and as he came close to the rear freighter, snagged himself onto the hull with his grappling hook. He propped himself in a narrow space between two of the freighter's frames, waiting for the freighter to enter the stronghold. It took around five minutes to do so, and the stark contrast of Kkaragun's brutal cold and the inner warmth of the Vranntan stronghold was of great relief to Dijun and his miniature frame.
The first thing he noticed was several walkways that line the circumference of the cargo bay; patrolled only by a small number of Vranntan soldiers that would not have provided a challenge to him if he was to be found. It was clear by this point that the stronghold was built vertically; as he looked from the narrow space he seated himself in, a series of elevators granted access to other levels, and there seemed to be little to no horizontal access points. If he had more time to prepare, or more information on hand, he perhaps would have set the stronghold to collapse from the inside and escape amid the destruction. As soon as it was clear, Dijun used his Sumikian reflexes to leap to the nearest walkway and scurried rapidly towards the elevator. Before he could gain access however, the oncoming elevator opened - revealing two armed Vranntan within which immediately caused Dijun to leap on to the wall. Adhering to the wall with his gauntlets, the two Vranntan exited the elevator as Dijun silently waited overhead. He sneaked into the elevator by way of the ceiling, maintaining a grasp of it as two other Vranntan entered the elevator with him.
Dijun was quick to calculate his next moves; if the Vranntan discovered him within the elevator he would have needed to dispatch them in rapid succession - although it was maybe more convenient for him to crash the elevator and cause a diversion - exiting by the maintenance hatch next to him. Nevertheless, he would not have done so if he remained undiscovered by them. Much to his relief, the two Vranntan instead began to speak to each other.
- Vranntan #1 - I wish I had the authority to disapprove of Warlord Ammakkut's dealings with Girtabelilu. They're disgusting.
- Vranntan #2 - Isn't it strange that a Girtabelilu had a Zhulultu artifact? Nammud knows how they came across it.
- Vranntan #1 - I heard they killed a Kamagorian squad for it.
- Vranntan #2 - Very well, then where did the Kamagorians find it?
- Vranntan #1 - Perhaps next time when you see Kuxummar, you should ask him.
- Vranntan #2 - Kuxummar is just as bad. What kind of Vranntan deals underhandedly like that?
- Vranntan #1 - What kind of Vranntan wants Zhulultu technology? Does he not remember how Nammud Xar fell?
The elevator came to a slow halt, stopping at one of the mid-levels of the fortress. As the doors unravelled, it revealed Warlord Ammakkut himself; to the surprise of both Dijun and the Vranntan. Two guardsmen immediately stood to attention as the Warlord made himself known, with their faces showing some sort of shock as they were speaking ill of their Warlord.
- Ammakkut - You two. Out.
Without responding, the two guardsmen exited the elevator, making way for the single Warlord. Dijun was now trapped in the elevator with his prime target - although, it would have been unwise to kill Ammakkut in that elevator without knowing where the Key was beforehand. Interrogation would have proved useless - no amount of strength Dijun possessed could have overpowered a Vranntan Warlord. Instead, he remained silent and directly overhead the Warlord as the elevator descended further down the stronghold. It was two or so minutes before Ammakkut stepped out of the elevator, where the directory noted that the particular level was the so-called Vault level; a restricted level for Ammakkut and a hand-picked number of guards. Dijun exited the elevator also, using his gauntlets to continue adhering to the ceiling as Ammakkut moved further forward.
Whether it was by design or preference, Dijun was uncertain, but each vault contained a viewing screen to look into. Though Dijun's composure was generally stoic and professional, he could not help but feel concern as he saw the several unusual objects in Ammakkut's vaults. Very few of them seemed to be Zhulultu in design, but several were cryptic in nature - one of which was merely just a rock-like ball which had caused some sense of confusion in Dijun, yet the signs next to the door in the Vranntan warned otherwise. He had to regain his determination as Ammakkut had reached the end of the room - there was a vault door that was patrolled by another pair of armed Vranntan. Though Dijun was out of earshot, he could identify the Key itself through the screen in the door. It was only a matter of time now until he could break in there and take it - but how was his main question.
Such a prized item would not be so easily taken - by an intruder or a Vranntan stationed at the compound. Passing two Vranntan, dispatching them even, was of no real effort to Dijun, but Ammakkut was another kind of Vranntan that required more meticulous skills than he could muster in quick succession. It did not take anyone of any strategic knowledge to understand that engaging Ammakkut head on in the vaults was suicidal - but if his instincts were right, and right they usually were, acquiring the means to get to the vault the Key was in was more than likely on Ammakkut's person. Each of these doors had a key code input - likely only so that Ammakkut or his personal guard could access these chambers. Whilst the plan formed in Dijun's head as it had done so thousands of times before, he realised that he would have to become dangerously close to the Warlord if he wished to steal this key and return to Nijusi successfully.
Dijun would have to infiltrate his personal quarters.
Using what knowledge he had of the Vranntan language - several years on Hol Hallar granting him such expertise - he deduced that Ammakkut's quarters was on the floor above the vault. Elevator access seemed unnecessary as he knew that air ventilation was ubiquitous throughout the underground complex, so finding a suitable entry into the vents was the only real course of action he had to take. Scaling the ceiling, passing Vranntan soldiers overhead in his cloaked guise, Dijun found a grill accessing the vents within an alcove. Waiting for the opportune moment as the guards past him, he incised a Sumikian-sized hole into the grill with a cutting laser, using his race's reflexes to slip through without a single traceable noise. The vents seemed to be simplistic enough for Dijun to navigate through - certainly too narrow for a Vranntan, but the Sumikian could easily adjust himself to fit. Employing little sound in his movement as he found his way through the ventilation, he moved upwards and around the level of the compound, peering through ducts in each room until he found something resembling the reputable decorum of a Vranntan Warlord.
Again utilising his tool, Dijun slipped into the Warlord's room as quietly as possible. It appeared that Ammakkut had not yet decided to return to his quarters yet despite being in front of Dijun only minutes earlier; judging by the time of day and the customary practices of Vranntan, it was likely that Ammakkut was seated in the dining quarters having an evening meal. This also meant that most other Vranntan were likely in the same room - discretion now did not seem so important. Deactivating his cloak, Dijun lowered himself to the ground to investigate his surroundings. He had never been in the living quarters of a Vranntan Warlord, never did he truly want to be - yet he was nevertheless impressed by the trinkets and trophies Ammakkut acquired in his tenure of rule. The bedroom was largely octagonal in shape, immense in size even for Vranntan, so Dijun was barely visible among the comparatively giant furniture. One wall was dedicated to stripped husks of Asilaphean heads - most of them exhibiting burn damage as they were killed. Dijun judged them to be Asilapheans of some authority, yet none of them were Lords. Ammakkut's bed was the largest single item in the chamber - large enough for a large Vranntan like Ammakkut and possibly three others to sleep upon, but the most interesting part of the bed's design was the skeletal maw that acted as its frame. It was a true leviathan of a creature - as massive to swallow three Vranntan whole in a single movement. Ammakkut likely killed the creature, and even the practices as to how he killed it failed to come to Dijun as he observed it.
Dijun had little time, however - there were likely spare keys in a drawer or a cabinet if Ammakkut had one on his person, so he took to looking there. Dijun had to accumulate some of his strength to open these drawers; the entire unit was likely much heavier than he was, and so used his reflexes and acrobatic finesse to scale them accordingly. Several holotablets were in these drawers - mostly logs from his lieutenants and even some research into the items in his vault were there. The prospect of additional intel on the Zhulultu Key could have been vital to Nijusi, and even Dijun's curiosity in such an ancient item was piqued. Foregoing the search for a key, he picked up the tablet on the top of the pile - the one indicated as 'Zhulultu Key'. Pressing on the tablet, it revealed a plethora of written material that Ammakkut had compiled the night before;
>> 1.647.3.40 || 24:42 - Zhulultu Key #1
As trusted, Kuxummar located and acquired the Cache Key from the Realm of the Girtabelilu. I am confident that word will reach Hrantaec soon that a Zhulultu item has come into my possession, and his disapproval will be met with the order to dispose of it. Of course, I cannot allow the item to be relinquished as of yet - a Zhulultu artifact of such stability is extremely rare.
I had research conducted on it immediately as it arrived on Kkaragun; the results were more extensive than I initially predicted. Material composition was predictable and did not provide any further information, yet I have concluded that this item is likely a Cache Key. When I met that conclusion, the anticipation of discovering a larger vault of Zhulultu technology only spurred me to order around-the-clock research into the item until a signature can be traced to the vault it unlocks.
>> 1.647.3.41 || 00:29 - Zhulultu Key #2
Only a number of hours after my first entry, and my research team has yielded interesting results. While we as of yet have not acquired the location of the vault, we have ascertained the nature of what the vault contains; it appears to be housing a weapon of some sort. I had an argument with my lieutenants that divided them on what to do with the Key - destruction was the most favourable outcome. Yet, I feel somewhat compelled to research further. Acquiring the location of a Zhulultu weapon could prove fruitful to our struggles against the Sumikians and Asilapheans.
...Or it could prove to be our downfall. Nammud preserve my soul should this go wrong.
>> 1.647.3.41 || 11:38 - Zhulultu Key #3
My research team has located a trace to the vault; the location of which is in fringe space orbiting the Xittan-Yaton Sector. Nijusi will not let us pass through his space so freely, especially if he suspects that I have key. I do not want to engage Nijusi; my fleet lacks numbers and strength to contend with the Syndicate in their home space, and Hrantaec will suspect too much foul play at hand if I am to pursue this further. Perhaps my lieutenants are right in wanting this item destroyed. I will have to keep it in stasis until I decide.
Dijun's sentiment of curiosity soon melted away to a mortified state; a Zhulultu weapon housed and functional within the galaxy? Whilst Nijusi might abide by a principle to utilise a weapon to eradicate the Asilaphean blockade, there was no telling as to what kind of weapon it was. If it was a Scourge Device for instance, then Dijun could not have anyone holding it; least of all the Asilapheans, but he did not know what extent Nijusi would go to in order to end the Asilaphean threat. Nevertheless he seemed astounded that Ammakkut possessed the clarity to leave the Key alone for a while, and with good reason. Dijun almost felt content with abandoning Kkaragun altogether, although should Ammakkut suddenly decide to enter Syndicate space, it could spark more bloodshed that he could have prevented. Killing Ammakkut would provide a solution, but escaping Kkaragun would prove near enough impossible if he tried. Stealing the Key was truly the only outcome he could see - jettisoning it out in space was the sane option in all of this.
Reaching the top drawer laid a copy of the keycard Dijun needed to access the vault. Gingerly closing the drawers, placing the holotablet back exactly where he found it, he leaped back into the darkness of the room and returning into the vents from whence he came. Finding his way back down to the vault level, he noticed that the two guards had suddenly become four - seemingly relieving the other two Vranntan as the night time settled in. He assessed the nature of their weapons; four heavy set rifles that offered little to no accuracy at a short range, and coupled with the weight and lumbering size of Vranntan, a dispatch at a close range was the best option. Stepping out into the corridor, he quickly gathered the attention of the four Vranntan at the end of the hallway. Manically reaching for their weapons, Dijun closed the distance between them - some sixty or seventy feet in a matter of seconds, placing his holo-blade surgically into their spinal cords and lungs, as well as slicing at the tendons at their feet to fell them before they even had time to prime their weapons.
Planting himself on the door, Dijun had the keycard in hand - although, before he had the opportunity to run it through the scanner, a gruff, bellowing voice was heard from the end of the hallway.
- Ammakkut - Sumikian!
Sighing heavily underneath his breath, Dijun resigned himself to letting go of the door, and facing the Warlord head on. How was he so careless as to not hear Ammakkut appear behind him? Carelessness got better of him; the trepidation of handling a Zhulultu artifact was so overwhelmingly nerve-wracking that even Dijun's senses were swayed by the eagerness to be rid of it.
- Dijun - ...Warlord Ammakkut, I presume?
- Ammakkut - You presume correctly.
Dijun observed the mechanical prosthetic Ammakkut had grafted onto his body. Such an arm was not something to trifle with, galactic assassin or not. One misjudged manoeuvre and Dijun would have had to be scraped off the floor, and assessing the threat Ammakkut presented was something substantial - he was larger and more heavily armoured than the Vranntan he just killed - shielding was likely an issue also. A precise round to the head may have dispatched of him fairly quickly, although it appeared he had ran out of options now that Ammakkut had found him; more Vranntan were bound to arrive soon.
- Ammakkut - I suggest you come with me, or else.
- Dijun - ...Or else what?
- Ammakkut - You die in here, of course. Not even the great Ped Dijun would be able make it out of here alive. Oh, I know who you are alright. The Silver Ghost is a famous individual. Now...what would he be doing here on Kkaragun? Not looking for the key, would you be?
- Dijun - It belongs to Nijusi. You know that.
- Ammakkut - I paid for it; business custom dictates that it's mine. And stealing property of a Warlord is punishable by death. So, what will it be then?
- 'Dijun - ...You and I both know what that thing in there opens up on to. If someone gets their hands on that, then it could be Zhuleshxi all over again.
Ammakkut's eyes lazed from the striking ferocity it had before - that uncertainty he had about the item himself entered his mind.
- Dijun - I read the holotablet. If there's a weapon in the Xittan-Yaton Sector, then it's going to cause mayhem.
- Ammakkut - ...Alright, Dijun. I'll appeal to your negotiable nature. What do you suppose I do then? Let you go with it? Hand it back to Nijusi?
- Dijun - Return it to Nijusi. It's the only option at this point.
- Ammakkut - And have it fall into his hands? Over my dead body.
- Dijun - ...I'll deal with Nijusi.
Ammakkut chortled at the remark. Several Vranntan warriors, armed to the teeth entered the hallway as they aimed their weapons at Dijun. Before they had the opportunity to fire and reduce Dijun to a fine mist, Ammakkut ordered them to lower their guns, much to their surprise.
- Ammakkut - You? Deal with Nijusi? Do you know how insane that sounds?
- Dijun - Seems less insane than having to explain to Hrantaec as to why you have an ancient superweapon and attacking Syndicate space to acquire it. You're in more danger than I am right now.
- Ammakkut - Grrr...hmph. Alright. You've convinced me despite me wanting to end you on the spot. Fine. We'll go to Nijusisumarec.
- Dijun - Glad that you've seen reason, Warlord.
- Ammakkut - As a prisoner of the Vranntan Order.
Chapter V: Battle Over Nijusisumarec, I
Summer, TY 12310: Nijusisumarec, Nijusi Syndicate Capital
Nijusi awoke from his slumber. A cold sweat glazed over his face, wiping his brow and in a deep palpitation. He arched over rapidly and spluttered - groggily coughing up phlegm that tasted almost like blood. Nijusi slipped out of his bed, doubled over in pain, slowly wobbling towards the medicinal bay that was not too far away. He wearily rifled through a number of medicines and serums - planting his hand upon an injector that without much hesitation pressed against his neck. A mild glance of pain, and soon his symptoms went away. It was the result of his age; despite being in perfect health, Nijusi's age was beginning to catch up with him.
Sitting on his bed, Nijusi had prepared a cold drink - a Sumikian liquor of some vintage. However, before he could press the flask against his lips, Nijusi's compound suddenly went up in an alarm, causing the Sumikian to grunt and put his flask down on the end table. Clothing himself and arming himself with a pistol and blade, Nijusi went quickly to the operations room to ascertain the nature of this alarm. Entering the room, computers, screens and operatives aplenty, Nijusi was brought to the attention of a large Vranntan convoy orbiting Nijusisumarec's space.
- Nijusi - What in the...Operative! What's going on?!
- Operative - Vranntan convoy. A hundred and nine ships. Dreadnought-class heading.
- Nijusi - And?
- Operative - Identification suggested as...Warlord Ammakkut of Kkaragun. What do we do, sir?
- Nijusi - ...Hold. Prime the anti-orbitals for fire.
Shortly after, a hailing signal reached the operation room. Opening the channel, the signal revealed the Warlord on his bridge, as well as Dijun handcuffed in the background.
- Nijusi - ...Is this Ammakkut I am talking to?
- Ammakkut - Warlord Ammakkut. Greetings, Nijusi.
- Nijusi - ...I see you have one of mine on your ship.
- Ammakkut - He was actually the one who suggested I come here to negotiate.
- Nijusi - You're in an unsuitable position to negotiate, Warlord.
- Ammakkut - Seems so. I wouldn't come here without the Key otherwise.
- Nijusi - ...Smart. I take it you bought it off the Girtabelilu? What do you want, then?
- Ammakkut - What I want is simple. The vault that this key opens is in your sector. I want to open it, but not with you pointing your guns at me.
- Nijusi - Monetary negotiation, then? You Warlords are rich enough as it is.
Another signal reached the radars of the operation room; and Ammakkut's Dreadnought. One signal almost instantly turned into several hundreds, with both radars screeching with high alerts. In the opposite space of Ammakkut, innumerable ships both black and gold exited hyperspace, with an immense and ornate Dreadnought heading the party.
- Ammakkut - What the...Asilapheans?!
- Nijusi - Is this your doing, Vranntan?! Speak!
Before Ammakkut could retort, the cold and sterile voice of the machine that headed the fleet made its way into the communication channel. On the screens, revealed a massive golden terror with a deathly green set of eyes. It was an Asilaphean Overlord, something which startled Nijusi with the extreme rarity they made themselves known.
- Overlord - No. This was not the Vranntan's doing. Much rather the stray word of merchants in public space.
- Nijusi - ...And who is this I have the displeasure of addressing?
- Overlord - Overlord Turunuxauten of the Asilaphean Empire. I want that Key; and it would be wise for you to hand to me without any aggression. Your fleet will be destroyed and Nijusisumarec left a blazing ruin otherwise.
- Ammakkut - ...Do your worst, Asilaphean! You will be the one whose head will rest above my mantle--
A colossal beam of energy struck Ammakkut's Dreadnought, coming from Turunuxauten's own. Severing the propulsion from the rest of the ship, the beam skimmed Nijusisumarec's surface, carving an immense valley and sending ash and dust into the air for hundreds of miles.
- Nijusi - Shielding up! Charge anti-orbital cannons! Now!
Initiating the sequence, a thick film of shielding ignited over the planet's orbit, launching from a series of towers over the planet. The skies of Nijusisumarec immediately erupted in a hellish storm of fire between the fleets of the Asilapheans and Vranntan, several of them going astray and colliding with the shielding of the planet. Ammakkut's Dreadnought began to spin out of control and gradually fall into Nijusisumarec's orbit, a number of escape pods and ships exiting the Dreadnought while they still could.
- Dijun - Did you really think angering the machine was going to help, Vranntan?! We're now falling towards the damn planet!
- Ammakkut - Be quiet, Sumikian!
- Dijun - Do we get out now, or what?!
- Ammakkut - Escaping is too late. Shielding is still operational.
- Dijun - ...So we're falling towards the planet's shielding then.
Ammakkut's eyes widened in shock; realising that a Dreadnought would not withstand the impact of planetary shielding. Clawing his way towards the communications, Ammakkut roared out for Nijusi;
- Ammakkut - ...Nijusi! Nijusi! Deactivate the shielding, now!
- Nijusi - ...Why would I do that?
- Ammakkut - Do not dabble in this, Sumikian! Deactivate the shielding! I do not want to be dashed against a wall in orbit!
- Nijusi - ...Fine.
As Ammakkut's Dreadnought sped closer towards the surface of Nijusisumarec, the shielding over the surface disintegrated, allowing the ship to pass into orbit. Ammakkut further increased the power of the shielding as the ship descended towards the surface, as to cushion them further from the impact. In a heaping explosion, covered by tons upon tons of rock and ash, the Dreadnought collided with the barren earth of the planet's deserts, causing the Dreadnought's shielding to explode and cause a shockwave that sent mounds of dishevelled earth flying at immense speeds, darkening the sky over the desert in a thick, sandy fog.
As the battle raged on over the skies, a number of ships from the Syndicate joined the battle, flanking the Asilaphean fleet with a series of laser fire that felled some of its defences. Over the horizon, the anti-orbital cannon arched, aligning itself towards Turunuxauten's Dreadnought. The Vranntan and Syndicate ships were wearing thin in number as the Asilpaheans were making quick work of their opposition. A blinding beam of light shot through the sky - visible even over the dense clouds caused by the ship collision. The beam severed the bottom of the Dreadnought, as well as destroying and disabling many Asilaphean ships in its path. As its navigations were thrown off, the second Dreadnought began to hurl towards the surface - not too far from Ammakkut's wreck.
Chapter VI: Battle Over Nijusisumarec, II
Mustard yellow, a rich orange and a barren grey, marked with heavy rumbles and immense explosions in the distance; this was what Dijun woke up to. A thick pain ran through the midst of his skull, causing him to remove his helmet and breathe the air - it was stained with electrical charge and burnt metal. A stabbing pain in his side - a broken rib, and blood had poured significantly from his nostrils and mouth. The noise of the collision caused a deafening ring in his ear - he was unable to hear his helmet disconnect from his suit, and the fires that roared around him from the split hull of the dreadnought was muffled at best. Nevertheless, Dijun rose to his feet, albeit with very little lucidity left. His cuffs had broken in the impact, leaving his left wrist shattered in the process.
He could make out the light from the dark - drunkenly crawling his way towards the rip in the hull where daylight was visible. In the distance, he saw Ammakkut, resting on his side. It was clear that was organic arm was severely dislocated - flesh and bone sprouted from his shoulder in a gruesome fashion, whilst blood and scraped skin marked the rest of him. He shambled over to Ammakkut, looking at the Vranntan with only half his conscience remaining.
- Dijun - ...A-are you...alright?
- Ammakkut - ...Nothing that an infirmary can't cure.
- Dijun - We need to get out of here. Do you have the Key?
- Ammakkut - ...Yes.
- Dijun - We need to get to the nearest patrol station.
Crawling out of the Dreadnought's hull, Ammakkut and Dijun were met with the ruined deserts of Nijusisumarec - scraps of debris and fleet ships collided with the earth both near and far, causing the ground to tremble and sending them off-balance with each impact. Overhead, the sky began to darken, with the winds rushing heavier as Turunuxauten's Dreadnought followed them to the ground.
- Ammakkut - ...The Dreadnought...
- Dijun - Take cover. Take cover!
Narrowly avoiding the wreck of the Vranntan ship, Turunuxauten's Dreadnought crashed into the desert some distance from them - causing another immense explosion that sent even more burning ash, dust and charred matter through the air. The dust sent through the air blackened Ammakkut and Dijun's view, coughing and spluttering as thick fragments of dusty earth attacked their lungs. It took nearly five minutes for the dust to settle, revealing the gigantic wreck of the golden Dreadnought in the distance. The entire sky of Nijusisumarec was blackened and alight with fire; a more vicious and destroyed battleground beyond that of what even Ammakkut was accustomed to in his battles.
- Dijun - ...Could he have possibly survived that?
- Ammakkut - He's an Overlord...we need to be careful.
In a chilling green glow, the figure of a tall Asilaphean emerged, revealing the damaged chassis of the Asilaphean Overlord, wielding one of the arcane staves that Overlords were greatly feared for. The Asilaphean's voice was broken in the process, now only speaking in glitched stammers and his helm was mildly charred.
- Turunuxauten - GIVE. ME. THE. KEY.
Firing a torrent of destructive energies at the pair, Turunuxauten's staff relentlessly cut through the hull of Ammakkut's ship - Dijun and Ammakkut weakly dodging each blast, only narrowly avoiding being cloven in half by the weapon.
- Turunuxauten - WHERE. ARE. YOU.
Raising his staff into the air, Turunuxauten's weapon sucked in the mounds of ash and dirt in the air, clearing the landscape for a clearer vision. The dust compounded together into a mound of rock, and with a swing, threw it to the side.
- Turunuxauten - WHERE ARE YOU. VRANNTAN. GIVE. ME. THE. KEY.
Hiding behind the warped metals of the destroyed hull, Dijun assessed his surroundings, looking around at tons of debris.
- Ammakkut - His sensors are damaged. He is nowhere near as accurate as he could be.
- Dijun - We can't face him directly. He'll kill us instantly.
- Ammakkut - Not if we close the gap. I could disarm him at a closer range.
- Dijun - Do you have a plan?
Ammakkut looked at Dijun, slightly turning his head in a mode of apprehension.
- Ammakkut - ...Are your holograms still working?
- Dijun - ...God dammit.
Activating his hologram modules, Dijun stepped out into the open, facing Turunuxauten directly. The Asilaphean stopped his barrage of attacks, assessing the Sumikian.
- Turunuxauten - YOU ARE NOT VRANNTAN. YOU MUST DIE.
- Dijun - ...Come and get me...you oversized drone.
Hurling a series of blasts at Dijun, the green charges of energy dematerialised the hologram of Dijun. Turunuxauten's damaged sensors could not completely ascertain as to why Dijun's body dematerialised without impact, and moved further forward with attacking blasts from his staff. Dijun's mobility was greatly hindered by his injuries, and his holograms only presented a short distraction as he rolled behind debris to avoid the Asilaphean's attacks.
- Turunuxauten - WHY ARE YOU NOT DYING.
Turunuxauten moved further forward; his damaged sensors struggling to look for Dijun. As he came within distance of Ammakkut, his sensors only vaguely picked up the presence of a Vranntan. Before he could register, Ammakkut lunged forward, using his mechanical arm to bash at his right shoulder, causing Turunuxauten to relinquish his staff in surprise. The second impact from Ammakkut however was blocked by the Overlord's strength; Ammakkut's face surprised that the Overlord's strength superseded his.
- Turunuxauten - FOUND YOU.
Placing an impactful fist at Ammakkut's broken shoulder, the Vranntan roared out in pain as the Asilaphean aggravated the damage to his shoulder. Ammakkut returned with a headbutt, although Turunuxauten halted his head by clasping on to his horns.
- Turunuxauten - YOU ARE WEAK FOR A WARLORD.
Throwing the Vranntan backwards by his head, Ammakkut was dashed into the ground, weakened from from the power of Turunuxauten's attack. Reaching for the Vranntan's collar, Turunuxauten clenched on to the bone, again causing Ammakkut to roar out in pain. The Overlord laid fist after fist on the Vranntan's head, sending mists of blood and dislodged Vranntan teeth through the air.
- Turunuxauten - I WILL HAVE THE KEY. EVEN IF I REMOVE YOUR HEAD.
- Ammakkut - ...To Hell with you...drone.
Turunuxauten's hand moved from Ammakkut's collar to his throat - choking him with a colossal degree of strength. The Asilaphean reached down to Ammakkut's belt, where the Key was in plain sight. Snapping the latch off, Turunuxauten examined the Key - both sides with some keen observation.
- Turunuxauten - THANK YOU. NOW YOU WILL DIE.
Turunuxauten suddenly went stagnant in motion - a flick of lightning and charge spurred from the Asilaphean's neck, as Dijun emerged from his cloaking, planting his blade through the spine of the machine. With his final moments of consciousness, Turunuxauten pulled Dijun from his back, slamming him to the floor in front of him. The light from Turunuxauten's eyes flickered and went out, causing the Overlord to collapse to the ground to a scrap. Dijun was immobile from the impact, breathing erratically as he looked into the air as Ammakkut laid next to him, straying in and out of consciousness as he bled from his mouth.
Chapter VII: Aftermath
Nijusisumarec, Nijusi Syndicate Capital
A deep breath, and a flickering opening of his eyes in the dimly lit infirmary of Nijusi's compound was the first thing Dijun recalled after his encounter with the Overlord. An automaton functioning as a doctor was overlooking Dijun's recovery, hovering over to the Sumikian patient in his bed. Dijun observed his body as he laid down; a manner of fibre pads covered his body as they healed his broken bones and bruised skin, as well as a slight frame on his face that healed his broken nose. On the table opposite his bed was his suit of armour - crushed and broken from the Dreadnought crash in the desert. Dijun himself was wearing a medical suit underneath the fibre pads that promoted healing - despite a sense of numbness that he felt, his body had indeed healed during his state of unconsciousness.
- Dijun - ...How long was I unconscious?
- Doctor - Seventeen hours. You suffered fractured nasal and zygomatic bones, four broken ribs. Your entire left wrist was broken in several places, and numerous lacerations to the torso and legs. You also sustained severe cochlear damage. Your armour provided protection that would have killed you in the impact. With another two or three hours, the healing process will be complete.
- Dijun - ...And the Vranntan? Ammakkut?
- Doctor - Dislocated and fragmented shoulder and collar bone, crushed larynx, six broken ribs and a perforated lung. He will make a full recovery.
- Dijun - I need to see Nijusi. Now.
- Doctor - I would recommend staying here until the healing process is complete. You still have two and a half --
Snarling in disinterest, Dijun sat up in his bed and slid off, planting his feet on the cold floor. There was a mild weakness in his legs, but readily found his balance. Taking cautious steps, Dijun walked through Nijusi's compound - several Sumikians were moving to and fro in urgency, collecting and transferring items of information. Several voices were talking over one another, speaking mostly of the cleanup crew in the desert as well as any meaningful recovery process. He overheard that Nijusi himself was in the research room - where he was overseeing an examination on the Overlord's corpse, his weapon, and the Key.
Walking into the room that overlooked the chamber below, Nijusi was staring out over, tentatively observing the Syndicate's scientists slowly deconstruct the Overlord's machine body. The Key was placed in storage in a container at the edge of the room, held in a stasis fluid and locked into a column that was anchored into the ground. The Overlord's staff was placed on a slab adjacent to the Overlord's body, with several scanners hovering over it at a delicate pace.
- Nijusi - Hm. You're up a lot later than I imagined. You must have really taken a beating.
- Dijun - I wouldn't recommend crashing in a Dreadnought.
- Nijusi - You needn't tell me about that. I've done it more than once. One thing you must tell me though; why did you come back to Nijusisumarec in a Vranntan Dreadnought?
- Dijun - Ammakkut had decrypted a part of the Key. It's keeping a weapon locked up in this sector.
- Nijusi - That was almost a given, Dijun.
- Dijun - I had to find a way to get out of there alive. I wasn't expecting Asilapheans to turn up and shoot us out of the sky.
- Nijusi - We're lucky the defences held up. The Overlord's fleet has retreated.
- Dijun - And Ammakkut's convoy?
- Nijusi - Wiped out.
The screen to their left was wildly animated with all manners of coding; translating the information stored on the Key from the Zhulultu's cryptic language. Dijun's eyes struggled to keep up with the decryption, looking at it with a manner of nervousness.
- Dijun - You're still decrypting the thing?
- Nijusi - You really think I would discard of this after I sent you across the galaxy to get it as well as risking the planet getting destroyed? No. I invested and wasted too much money to get rid of this.
- Dijun - And the Asilaphean body down there?
- Nijusi - Once we retrieve its processors, we can find out what it knows about the Key, if anything.
On the slab in the chamber, several engineers were carefully deconstructing the plating from Turunuxauten's chassis. Much of his body was damaged in the initial collision of his own Dreadnought, although much of his upper torso was intact. It was a very intricate process to remove the necessary plating to the processor - the engineers had already spent seventeen hours mapping out the Overlord's skull.
- Nijusi - So, you faced an Overlord and lived to tell the tale. How does it feel?
- Dijun - He was already handicapped. If he was undamaged when he faced us, I suspect the Vranntan and I would be part of the desert now.
- Nijusi - That's why were scanning that staff. There's only a handful of those left in the galaxy. Acquiring its power source might prove useful.
Dijun moved forward, his eyes narrowing suspiciously at the body of the Overlord. The circumstances of the Overlord's demise was suspicious; Overlords were legendary for their resilience, and a simple plasma dagger to the spine rarely incapacitated a normal Asilaphean, let alone an Overlord.
- Dijun - ...I don't like this, Nijusi. Overlords don't just fall down like that.
- Nijusi - You severed its relays in its spine. It's not coming back unless...unless it has backup relays...
True enough, Turunuxauten's deathly green eyes suddenly sprung back into animation.
- Nijusi - Initiate lockdown! Tier zero! Now!
Energetically jumping off the slab, Turunuxauten threw several of the engineers against the wall, crushing them with brute force. Any defences in there that fired at the Overlord were shielded against, as Turunuxauten reached out for his staff. The staff flung itself through the air into his grasp; the Overlord firing a beam of energy through the glass - Nijusi and Dijun ducking manically for cover as a plume of green flame scorched the ceiling. Turunuxauten's attention was immediately drawn to the Key - walking over to the storage container it was in and ripping it off its security column without much effort whatsoever. The Asilaphean examined it with a faceless grin, before gesturing with his staff. Next to him materialised a rift of energy, opening up a portal in the room. The Overlord stepped through out as Dijun rose to his feet, witnessing the Overlord escape with the key.
- Dijun - ...He's gone. The Key's gone.
- Nijusi - ...We need to find out where the vault is. Put defences up. Tier zero clearance.
Coughing as the charged air of the Asilphean's attack stung his lungs, Nijusi went over to the computer, marginally charred and damaged by the Overlord's blast. The decryption was only partially complete; but the system had acquired two pieces of complete information. Nijusi looked in great abhorrence at the second piece of information, the very nature of it invoked a haunting chill that he had not felt for millennia.
- Dijun - ...What is it, Nijusi?
- Nijusi - ...The weapon. It's...
- Dijun - What?
- Nijusi - Demonic.