[Originally written by Dread]
Chapter 1: Sulpicia's Welcome Upon arrival aboard the Imperial Dreadnaught the Relentless, Sulpicia disembarked from her transport and approached the security checkpoint on the hangar deck. The Deck Officer scoffed after verifying her credentials and assignment, “Oh, one of those. Report to Lord Naefas down in the engineering level.” Looking her up and down he said, “Enjoy your new accommodations. I’m not sure you’ll last the week.” “I’m sorry what?” Sulpicia replied but the officer already moved on to another task. She walked briskly down the hallways of the Relentless, a fit figure and being a human with gray eyes turning some heads. Fresh out of the officer academy on Ziost, she did not want to be late to her first real assignment. Her dress uniform was immaculate. She didn’t have many ribbons or medals but the Empire demanded a sharp uniform and she was proud of what she’s earned so far. Her mind wandered to when she received this assignment as she hurried along. While the rest of her class’ unit assignments were announced in the squad bay in front of everyone, Sulpicia was ordered into her instructor’s office. This was odd; however, she was at the top of her class and gifted sniper, perhaps she was being sent to a classified unit. When she walked into the office, a feeling of overwhelming fear crept into her mind; the source was a Sith Lord that was standing in the corner of the room, behind the instructor glaring menacingly at her. The instructor, looking nervous and avoiding eye contact with anyone, proceeded to tell her that she was being assigned to a clandestine outfit called the 47th Imperial Expeditionary Force. Ordinarily Sulpicia would be overjoyed at this, but she felt uneasy because couldn’t see any reaction from the Sith Lord on account of his mask and cowl. He seemed frail from the look of him, but power just oozed out of him. “You will report to Lord Naefas upon arrival onboard the Relentless,” the Sith Lord declared. His voice was muffled but his tone gave no room to disobey if she even wanted to. “Yes my Lord,” Sulpicia responded instantly. “I’m not finished worm!” Sulpicia flinched at how much violence was placed into those words. He slid a communicator across the instructor’s desk, “You will send me a weekly report on this communicator. You will not tell Lord Naefas about this report or the communicator. The report will contain everything that Lord Naefas is doing. I will give you further instructions as needed and you will follow them or I will show your sister pain that you can’t even fathom.” The Sith Lord held up a different communicator showing her sister Julilla in a containment field and unconscious. “Yes my Lord,” Sulpicia replied while holding back her terror. Sulpicia had never met a Sith Lord before that and now she’s reporting to one. She still had no idea who this Sith was, what he was capable of, or where her sister was. She tried to contact her as soon as she could but Sulpicia couldn’t reach her. Having no choice in the matter, she decided to obey. Lord Naefas was located in the bowls of the Relentless. As soon as the lift doors opened, Sulpicia knew that she was out of her element. She passed droids and workers covered in grime and Emperor knows what else. She gathered that she must be approaching the engine room soon. Lord Naefas had a squad under his control which was quite unusual. The Sith are usually outside of the chain of command acting under whatever whim drives a Sith. From the information that the masked Sith gave her, Lord Naefas is bound to his squad indefinitely. She reached what she assumed was the correct door; it was painted a bright green and stood out like a sore thumb among the rest of the chrome and mechanical looking area. A lot of the workers seemed to be looking at her nervously as she approached the door. When Sulpicia entered, a man in a trench coat was waiting. Well, he was more half a man, his hands and left leg had been replaced with cybernetic prosthetics. “Good Morning Lieutenant,” he said with a salute. Sulpicia returned the salute, “Good Morning . . . I’m sorry I don’t see a rank sir.” “It’s Corporal,” he replied. “I’m the medic for the squad and also Lord Naefas’ assistant. My name is Thubok but you can address me as you’d like. I’m sure I’ve been called worse.” “Thank you Corporal. What is this place? . . . And what is that smell?!?!” “Oh sorry, you’ll get used to that ma’am,” Thubok replied almost bashfully. “We call this the sweat box. It’s mildly uncomfortable from being this close to the heat exchangers in the engine room. The smell . . . well I guess that’s from training. Pretty much everyone trains all of the time. I’ll let the boss fill you in on all of the particulars. Right this way ma’am.” Thubok directed Sulpicia past a training area with every manner of practice and actual weapon that you could think of including several training dummies dressed as pubs, Jedi, and even some Sith. They entered a room in the back and an even worse smell assailed their senses. Formaldehyde and decay assailed Sulpicia as she scrunched up her nose. Naefas was at a table finishing an autopsy on a Rodian. “My Lord, we have company,” Thubok prompted. “I’m aware. Thank you Thubok,” Naefas replied. Naefas finished his last suture and washed his hands before turning to Sulpicia. His face was riddled with scars, both physical and from extensive use of the dark side of the force. His skin, once flushed with red from the pure blood of the Sith was now faded and pale. He did not appear to be affected by this condition at all. Far from it, he seemed to have a demeanor quite opposite to the other Sith Lord that she encountered. Naefas was big and muscular but seemed calm and somewhat amused by whatever was running through his head. He was simply dressed in nondescript clothing. Sulpicia saluted and intoned, “Good Morning my Lord, Lieutenant Sulpicia Augusta reporting as ordered.” Naefas waved off her salute, “Relax Lieutenant. While I try to maintain some form of discipline within my unit, we are not as formal as you may have been trained. As you’ve heard, I am Lord Naefas, formally Darth Naefas, and you may call me Naefas until you feel that I have earned the title of Lord for you. How much do you know about us?” “Admittedly not much my L – sorry, Naefas. I got this assignment directly out of the academy and was just told to report to you,” Sulpicia said leaving out the part about spying on him. There was a strange glint in Naefas’ eyes, like he knew, “I see. You may choose to be under my command as long as you wish. I make the same offer to every member of the squad, but, their only other option is death in one form or another. You, however, may request a transfer at any time and I won’t hold you back,” Naefas began to pace the room. “Your new brothers and sisters are mostly criminals you see. Well, some are actually criminals while others just became inconvenient and are meant to die.” “I am not either of those my Lord,” Thubok spoke up. “Quite true Thubok. Thubok requested to be here for some reason. I think he was bored,” Naefas said with a half-smile. “Regardless, we are all bound to each other. The only hope we have of redemption lies within the squad-mate next to you. You are an altogether different kind of animal. With the exception of Thubok nobody has been assigned to this unit without being damned. I read your profile when I received news of your pending arrival. You are supposed to be my second in command. Tell me, have you ever killed someone?” Sulpicia was taken aback, “I got out of the academy a week ago, my Lord!” “Please, call me Naefas. You don’t owe me that title yet. Answer my question,” Naefas looked amused. “No I haven’t,” Sulpicia admitted unsure of why she should be embarrassed about that. Normal people don’t kill others unless they have to. But I suppose that as a sniper she should get used to death. “You’ve received top marks with a sniper rifle. For the most part you should be well away from anyone you kill. I don’t want you to become detached; every life should mean something when you take it. Sometimes it’s one life to prevent the deaths of thousands. Sometimes it’s just to send a message. I have a message that I’d like to send,” Naefas walked Sulpicia and Thubok out into the training area. “Bring me the prisoner,” Naefas commanded. Immediately several people that were training said, “Your will, my hands,” then ran into another room and produced a man that was beaten, bloody, and ragged. “As I said we are mostly criminals here,” Naefas continued. “This man is named Koltan. Koltan just can’t seem to kick his habit. He was sent to us because he enjoys getting high on ryll and falling asleep at his post. Well he went right back to it. This is unacceptable because the situations that we’re put in demand that we are cohesive and can rely on one another.” Koltan dropped to his knees and begged, “I swear, m’lord, you can count on me!” “I know Kol. I know,” Naefas actually seemed sad until an anger crept into his eyes, the likes of which Sulpicia had never seen before. “But why then is Proga dead? He had never used before. He was your friend. I just finished his autopsy and guess what? He overdosed on ryll.” Naefas seemed to bottle his rage then. He straightened his suit and held out his hand, “Give me your knife Thubok.” Thubok didn’t hesitate. Naefas then held it out for Sulpicia and simply said, “Kill him.” “There are channels for this my Lord!” Sulpicia said while backing away. “I’ll tell you one last time to stop calling me that until I’ve earned it in your eyes. Now, take the knife and kill him or get out and he’ll be dead anyways.” Naefas was starting to fume anger again. Thinking about her sister, Sulpicia hesitantly took the knife as Naefas said, “I want you to look in his eyes when you do it. He betrayed us. This is what he deserves.” Sulpicia started to sweat, “He must know!” she thought to herself. “To take a life shouldn’t be easy but it should be done when necessary. Now do it,” Naefas commanded. Naefas said it in such a way that Sulpicia didn’t hesitate. She stabbed the blade down through the side of Koltan’s neck. Blood splattered Sulpicia’s pristine dress uniform. Naefas knelt down facing Koltan as he bled out and said, “Look in his eyes Lieutenant. The regret, the shame, and all he had to do was ask for help when he needed it. Do you need any help Lieutenant?” “No,” Sulpicia muttered softly as she tried to wipe the blood off of her. Naefas then turned to his squad of about 20 men and women, “We are all we have in this galaxy. If we fail, we’re dead. But if we succeed we continue to be a thorn in the sides of all of those that put us here. We each have set terms for being in the unit. If you make it to the end of your term you’re free to return to fleet for reassignment. Chances are that you won’t make it. The missions that we get are the worst of the worst so we have to be the best of the best. This is why we train. This is why we must maintain our loyalty to one another. Diversions, suicide missions, or just something that nobody else wants to do, these are our tasks. We have a new task that needs doing. Get your things, we have work to do.” The unit responded in unison, “Your will, our hands!” Sulpicia was frozen, staring at the corpse of the man she just killed. Naefas’ voice brought her back to reality, “You need to grab your gear for the field. We’re on the move. Thubok help her out.” “Yes, my Lord,” Thubok replied. “Oh and Lieutenant?” Naefas said as Sulpicia looked up in response. “Welcome to The Rakghouls.”
Chapter 2: Alderaan Part 1 The Rakghouls were strapped into the seats of the transport and were entering Alderaan’s atmosphere. Sulpicia was given a full set of new 47th IEF armor and she was grateful after seeing the gear that the rest of the squad had. They were outfitted in various pieces of Imperial Military armor, most of which was used armor from the 47th’s leftovers, but some just seemed to be whatever armor was available. Thubok informed her that she could wear whatever gear made her the most effective. The transport continued its descent to the House Thul Forward Operating Base. Sulpicia sat next to a small “Ghoulie”, as she found that they call themselves, who looked quite nervous. Naefas and Thubok sat across from her going over the mission objectives and planning. After the events of a few hours ago, Sulpicia wanted nothing more than to avoid them for the moment. “What’s your name?” Sulpicia asked her neighbor. “Byler ma’am,” he replied. Following Naefas’ lead, Sulpicia decided to drop her rank to ingratiate herself with the troops, “Nice to meet you Byler, I’m Sulpicia. I don’t mean to offend you at all but your armor seems about 2 sizes too big for you.” Nervously laughing Byler replied, “Yeah . . . some of the guys have started calling me ‘Squirt’. I’m new to the unit myself. I’ve never been big and this is what was available.” Sulpicia grew curious, “Not to pry and I’m not sure the etiquette of the squad yet, but . . . what could you have possibly done that landed you here?” “Well,” Byler paused unsure if he should tell her. “I suppose it doesn’t really matter. I was in the Ministry of Finance trying to make sense of some expenditure accounts when I came across a discrepancy that lead me to discovering a scheme where an Admiral had been embezzling credits. Unlike the Sith I don’t think that I could have just been . . . uh, taken care of without an investigation so I was quickly transferred here. When I got here Naefas and Thubok tried to find the evidence but it had already been erased. So here I am, in armor 2 sizes too big for me and holding a weapon that I barely passed with in training. Watch out bad guys!” Sulpicia tried not to laugh, “Don’t worry about it. You’ll be a natural before you know it. Just remember to do a slow steady squeeze of the trigger and to maintain positive control of your weapon. Stick close to me, Byler, I’ll keep an eye out for you.” “Thanks Sulpicia,” Byler said while noticeably getting calmer. Sulpicia smiled and faced forward to find Naefas staring at her. She jumped a bit as she said, “Naefas! Sorry, you just startled me a bit.” He gave Sulpicia a half grin as he started to put on his armor. She was beginning to think that that grin always meant that he was up to something. “Lieutenant, we’ll be landing at a Thul Forward Operating Base outside of a Killik hive. Are you aware of them?” Naefas asked as he stepped into his armored boots. “Yes, they’re sentient bugs that have been giving the various houses of Alderaan grief for thousands of years.” Sulpicia felt a bit of pride at answering correctly. “Very good Lieutenant,” Naefas replied while strapping dull bronze colored durasteel armor to his legs. “Killiks have the habit of taking humanoids and ‘joining’ them to their hive. Our job today is to rescue one such individual.” Naefas pulled black durasteel armor over his head. “Anyone important?” Sulpicia asked hoping to gain more insight into the type of missions that the Rakghouls were given. Naefas tightened the straps around his torso, “I suppose they’re important to someone. Otherwise the powers that be wouldn’t have been alerted to it. I personally don’t really care who it is. We’ll find them; take them out of there, forcibly if they were joined; and go back home. All of this squad is immensely more important than whatever runt of a noble wandered his way in there. I want to see everyone return home safely.” The Rakghouls practically beamed when they heard Naefas say that. Naefas pulled on a black robe and strapped it down with a belt. The robe was cut off at mid-thigh and mid-bicep, presumably to allow for greater movement. “We’ll do our best, my Lord,” Thubok said for the group. Naefas pulled on his gauntlets. They were steel-colored and clawed at the end of each fingertip. The transport lurched a little as it landed. Naefas put on his mask and when Sulpicia looked at it she noticed how gorgeous it was. There were swirls and flourishes engraved all over it. While it was mostly black and metal, three red stripes were on it as well; one under the nose and two over each eye. But then you see the cold dead eyes of the mask and you realize just how misdirected it can make you. She realized that the mask was beautifully dreadful. Thubok handed Naefas his lightsaber as the bay door opened up. The Rakghouls fell in behind Naefas as he led them down the ramp. A rotund noble and two honor guards dressed in Thul colors awaited them. “Lord Naefas I presume?” the noble asked in as annoyed a tone as possible. Naefas’ half smile showed up again behind his mask. “What gave it away?” Naefas said as the Rakghouls chuckled. Oblivious to the humor the noble said, “Your lightsaber I suppose.” A few Rakghouls laughed harder at that and one chimed in, “He must’ve been talking to that Twi’lek girl on Nar Shaddaa!” The whole squad burst out with laughter at that point. Sulpicia was shocked at the brazenness of the man. Naefas chuckled a little and looked at the noble who looked none too pleased at being made fun of. “If you do happen to see that Twi’lek, please forward her information along to me. She was quite . . . enthusiastic,” Naefas said trying to see if he could break the smug look from the noble’s face. The Rakghouls were roaring with laughter now and even Sulpicia giggled as she tried to calm to them. The noble snapped, “ENOUGH!!! I am the Chamberlain to Duke Relvex of House Thul! I will not be made the butt of any jokes from criminals and vagabonds!” Naefas held up his hand and the squad quieted down. Still chuckling a little Naefas said, “I apologize for my behavior Chamberlain. With the type of work we do, we like to laugh when we can. I’m sure you understand.” The smug look returned to the Chamberlain’s face as he said, “Indeed. Please, follow me.” Naefas turned to his squad, “Thubok, ensure everyone is prepared to march.” “Yes, my lord,” Thubok said. Addressing the squad he shouted, “Form up, Rakghouls, we’re doing a full equipment check.” Groans rang throughout the group. “We did two before we left Corporal!” one Ghoulie yelled from the back. “That we did, Trace. So this should go swimmingly,” Thubok responded. Trace threw his gear to the ground while swearing under his breath. “Lieutenant,” Naefas said. “You’re with me.” “Yes sir,” Sulpicia said. They walked a short ways before Sulpicia decided that she had to get more of this story, “A Twi’lek sir?” Naefas smiled, “Yes. She was working at a cantina we went to after a particularly horrible mission.” Knowing the type of work for Twi’lek’s in Nar Shaddaa she asked, “A dancer?” “Not just any dancer,” Naefas said laughing a bit. “She happened to be the second runner up in the Nautolan Twist contest!” “Very impressive, sir,” Sulpicia said while smiling. The Chamberlain guided them to the biggest tent in the small, makeshift base. Inside of the tent sat a noble that was even bigger than the Chamberlain. His seat barely contained him and multiple servants were fanning off his bulk to stem the flow from the river of sweat pouring off of him. “Lord Naefas,” he rumbled. “A pleasure Duke Relvex,” Naefas responed. Naefas had already been informed of most of the details but he wanted the Duke’s perspective, “Please, tell us how we can help.” “My son has been captured,” Duke Relvex said. There was a long pause after he said those words. Naefas wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be dramatic or not but everyone seemed to breathe a little easier when he confirmed that he was still alive by speaking again. “I sent my son to recover something of note to my house. The trail lead him into a Killik hive and I haven’t heard from him in 5 days. I made inquiries to my contacts in the Empire and I was told that you were who they sent on these difficult missions.” “That is correct, Duke,” Naefas replied. “What would you have us do?” Duke Relvex took a deep breath, “I need you to rescue him. He is my only heir. My Chamberlain will show you the location on a map.” “Five days is a long time in a Killik hive,” Naefas said to gauge how far he’s willing to go to “rescue” someone that’s likely dead. “He is my son, Lord Naefas,” Duke Relvex pleaded. Naefas sensed that something was off with this mission and wondered if it was actually genuine caring but said, “Say no more. We’ll get him back one way or another, Duke.” Naefas then turned with Sulpicia on his heels. When they were outside of earshot of the tent he said to her, “Something reeks in this whole situation and I don’t have the luxury of time to discover what that is. I’m not sure your role in all of this yet but let me be direct and inform you right now, if you’re responsible for any member of the Rakghouls being harmed in any way, I will devour you.” The blood drained out of Sulpicia’s face as she quietly said, “I wouldn’t dream of it Naefas.” They walked back to the rest of the squad in silence.
Chapter 3: Alderaan Part II “Form Up and get ready to move out,” Thubok yelled when Naefas and Sulpicia returned. "We’re going into a Killik hive,” Naefas said addressing the squad. “A duke’s son got lost and wandered into it and we have to pull him out. The hive is about 2 kilometers north of here. We’re moving out on foot. Ertau, you have the assault cannon, you’re with me at the front.” “Your will, my hands my Lord,” rumbled Ertau. The Rakghouls were able to salvage an assault cannon on a mission recently so they gave it to the giant Houk Ertau. He hefted its weight easily but it made his jowls jiggle whenever he fired it which would be comical if it didn’t mean that they were fighting for their lives whenever he used it. Naefas continued, “Lieutenant, you’re taking the rear. Get high ground where you can as we move along and keep watch over my squad.” “Yes sir,” Sulpicia responded hoping to prove herself. Naefas turned to Thubok then, “Corporal, tend to the wounded as best you’re able. Have your droids ready to go, we won’t find many friends in there.” “Yes sir,” responded Thubok as he punched something into a keypad on the cybernetic implant on his left hand. Two small droids emerged from under his trench coat and followed him to the back of the formation. Naefas then yelled, “Rakghouls, akay te sol’yc kyr’am!” The majority of the squad responded with the same phrase while a few of the newer people looked around and just shrugged. Naefas headed out with Ertau on his heels and the rest of the squad not far behind. Sulpicia let them pass and when Thubok walked by she asked, “What was that last bit?” Thubok just shrugged and smiled with his droids circling around him and scanning everyone near him for injuries. Sulpicia saw Byler walk by and she waved him over, “Stay in the back with me. I’ll need someone to pay attention to the surroundings if I’m looking through my scope.” “Sure thing Sulpicia,” Byler said happily. A burly looking Rattataki walked by and said, “Hey Sully, that sniper rifle looks a little big for you. I’ve got something almost that big if you want a little practice before you die.” A few of the other Ghoulies chuckled at that. Sulpicia just smiled and flipped him off. The Rakghouls moved along in formation with two abreast while keeping an eye on the flanks for any movement. Naefas spotted movement in the front and held up his hand to halt the march. After surveying the hive he gave another hand signal and walked forward with Ertau in tow. The next four Ghoulies ran ahead and took cover to provide suppression fire if needed for the next four. Four groups of four leap frogged each other like that with Naefas at the lead, Ertau sweeping the area for any targets, Thubok moving with the middle squads, and Sulpicia and Byler holding down the rear. It was a well-oiled machine that even the newer members fell into quickly. About 40 meters from the entrance to the hive, Ertau called out, “CONTACT FRONT!” Five Killiks had emerged from the entrance and drew their weapons. They didn’t really have a chance. Ertau immediately pulled the trigger on his assault cannon and a laser show erupted. The four Ghoulies directly behind him also let loose while the next group got ready to go past. The Killiks died quickly as Naefas continued to walk toward the entrance unflustered and the Rakghouls moved with him. They entered the hive and the Rakghouls immediately tightened up the formation, covering any side tunnels and quietly instructing any new members when they weren’t following the routine. Through some mechanism of the Killiks construction, there was plenty of light to see the nightmare of nooks and hiding holes where Killiks could be waiting. After several moments of expecting resistance while moving forward, Naefas held out his hand for another halt. He slowly scanned the walls and the ceiling and ignited his sickly green lightsaber. As soon as he did the floor gave out underneath him and Ertau. Thubok and the front of the squad rushed over but the floor had already been resealed as if it never happened. Thubok said into his comm, “Big Red this Metal-Man, can you read me Big Red?” He repeated the request and then said, “Lieutenant, you better get up here.” From the back Sulpicia had no idea what happened. When she reached the front she looked around and asked, “Where’s Naefas?” “Well it seems that you’ve been temporarily promoted,” Thubok replied. “I wouldn’t worry too much about them though. Lord Naefas has been in much worse situations I’m sure.” Sulpicia thought for a moment and then said, “We’ll need to move down. From what I understand the breeding area where the joiners would most likely be sucking down pheromones would be on the lower levels. Make sure we’re keeping track of the turns we make.” Just then a scream from the back of the formation went out. Sulpicia went pale, “Byler,” she said. Sulpicia and Thubok rushed to the back as a couple of Rakghouls pulled a Killik larva off of Byler’s left arm. They had already killed the creature but it nearly devoured his arm and what was left was a mess. Byler was lying on the ground. One of Thubok’s droids rushed out and applied a kolto spray to what it could. Thubok checked his pulse and injected him with something. He activated the tracker that was on Byler’s armor from the keyboard on his forearm. “Ok, we move forward then,” Thubok declared. Sulpicia looked worried and motioned towards Byler, “What about him?” “I just gave him the best sedative that Lord Naefas could concoct,” Thubok forcefully replied. “There’s nothing more that can be done for him here and I activated the tracker that’s attached to him so we’ll be able to find him later. The job is the priority, however.” Sulpicia looked around at the Rakghouls closest to her and they were looking right back at her waiting for orders. “Off we go then,” she said. Sulpicia pointed to the two closest Ghoulies, “You two take the rear.” She then pointed at the Rattataki from earlier, “What’s your name?” “I’m Kolvya, sweetness,” he replied. “Well Kolvya you’re with me at the front,” she said. “If you’re half as tough as you think you are then I need you to watch my back. When you’re looking through the scope you can get tunnel vision.” “Darlin’, I’ve been watching your backside since you got here!” Kolvya replied to the mixed laughter of a few men. Without hesitation Sulpicia pulled out her knife as she moved in close to him. She placed the tip of the blade at the seam in his armor between his right leg and his groin as she pulled him closer to her with her left hand. She whispered into his ear just loud enough for a few people to overhear, “Keep running your mouth, I forgot to pack a lunch. Do we have an understanding?” Kolvya swallowed hard and replied, “Yes ma’am.” “Well that was messed up,” Trace said loudly. “Indeed,” Thubok said. “Well, if we’re all content with the whereabouts of each other’s privates I suggest we move along before we make more of a target for ourselves than we already have. After you, ma’am.” Sulpicia led the Rakghouls down into the bowels of the Killik hive with no resistance. After several minutes of this Kolvya mumbled, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this Sully.” “Me too,” Sulpicia replied. “This place should have been swarming us for ten minutes already.” The squad then entered a massive room with half a dozen tunnels leading into it. They moved to the center of the room and while looking around Sulpicia said, “Anyone have any ideas as to which . . . never mind.” As she was talking, scores of Killiks and joiners poured out of each tunnel including the one that they came down. The Rakghouls immediately took up defensive positions, diving behind pillars, boulders, and stalagmites. The Rakghouls unleashed hell on the Killiks. The first few waves of Killiks fell like dominoes but where one fell two more took its place. Sulpicia soaked in the situation for a brief moment and then took another quick shot and yelled, “Move back the way we came!” Sulpicia, Kolvya, and four others fanned out in a semi-circle and held what was now the rear as the rest of the squad pushed towards their exit. The Rakghouls didn’t even have to aim; wherever they shot they hit a Killik. Thubok’s droids were on autopilot and were flying back and forth applying kolto in seemingly every direction as Ghoulies were hit. Thubok himself was firing into the crowd of Killiks blocking their retreat, occasionally throwing a grenade for good measure. A man next to Sulpicia went down with a blaster shot to the chest as she threw a grenade of her own in the mass of man-sized insects. The grenade went off with a satisfying thud and insect parts flew through the air. Sulpicia smiled to herself briefly until a secondary rumbling occurred to her right. “The grenade couldn’t have done that,” she muttered to herself. Just then a section of the wall came flying out and crashed into several Killiks. Naefas stood in the newly created door with his lightsaber drawn and rage just fuming off of him. Ertau was behind him firing wildly with his assault cannon each way down the tunnel. Naefas quickly surveyed the scene and jumped into the center of the Killiks. Ertau slung his weapon and hoisted two bodies over his shoulders, one a human in Thul clothing and one a large Killik. He gave the Killik to Thubok and he gave their target to another Ghoulie. He turned to Thubok and said, “The boss is very interested in this thing and he said to ensure that it does not wake up until we’re back home.” Thubok immediately pumped some tranquilizers into it as Ertau brought his weapon to bear on the last few Killiks blocking their way. Sulpicia shot targets around Naefas to try to clear a path out for him but he seemed to be taking care of himself. Killiks and joiners fell as he swept his lightsaber around him. He stabbed his lightsaber forward through the chest of a Killik and then he quickly swung it right cutting off the heads of three others. The mass of Killiks actually served to protect him from blaster fire while ensuring that none of those closest to him could escape. Naefas tightened his grip on his lightsaber and punched the ground. A force wave sent his enemies flying through the air and it opened up a bit of room for Naefas as he threw his lightsaber out at the crowd of insects. It swept through the front row of them as Naefas dove at the Killik closest to him. The bug seemed stunned. Naefas grabbed a mandible in each hand and tore them to the sides, obliterating its head. He then turned to drive those same mandibles into the neck of a joiner that was attacking him from the rear. Naefas disengaged in time to catch his lightsaber and turn to the crowd of unending targets. “Get my people out of here Lieutenant,” Naefas yelled. Most of the squad was already heading out of the tunnel as Sulpicia said, “Yes sir.” Kolvya and Sulpicia ran to catch up to the rest of squad but Sulpicia glanced over her shoulder to make sure Naefas was alright. Naefas had put his lightsaber away and was clutching at the air when a chunk of the ceiling caved in and crushed a dozen Killiks. Sulpicia started running harder so that the hive didn’t collapse around her. She heard two more loud crashes before they made it outside. Kolvya had grabbed Byler on his way out. Once outside Sulpicia and Thubok took a head count, they were missing three of their squad. Thubok activated their trackers from his keypad. Sulpicia turned to see Naefas walking out of the hive with the body of a Ghoulie on his shoulder. He handed Sulpicia the dead man’s nameplate and asked, “How many are we missing?” “Two more sir,” She replied. “Set up a defensive perimeter Lieutenant,” Naefas said. “I’ll return momentarily.” With that Naefas turned back around and headed right back into the hive alone. Thubok set up a triage area on top of a nearby hill, making sure to give the duke’s son and the Killik another sedative, while the rest of the Rakghouls established interlocking fields of fire around them to prevent any further surprises. Naefas returned with both men shortly after, one man was walking under his own weight but limping while the other was a mess of wounds and obviously dead. Naefas took the nameplate from the deceased’s armor and handed that to Sulpicia as well. Behind Sulpicia, Thubok motioned towards Byler and Naefas sighed. “It looks like Byler will be joining these two as well,” he said. Sulpicia’s face paled. “There’s nothing that you can do?” she asked. “Thubok call the cleanup crew,” Naefas said while Thubok ran off. “I’m going to stay here to see what I can do for him. He seems to have lost a lot of blood but if I can bring him back I will.” “Thank you Naefas,” Sulpicia replied feeling better. “He’s just not in his element. Not everyone is a warrior.” Naefas smiled and said, “Too true, Lieutenant, too true.” When he looked up he saw a shuttle bearing Thul colors landing nearby. Naefas started to smolder. He took off his mask, pulled off his hood and said, “Thubok and Ertau with me. Lieutenant, I want you to take the high ground and have your rifle ready for anything. I do not like this.” The three of them stood at the edge of the established perimeter while Duke Relvex waddled over with an honor guard of 6 men. “Lord Naefas, I’m so glad to see you well. I trust that your mission was successful?” “Yes it was Duke,” Naefas replied. “What brings you all the way out here? Your son is sedated and we were planning on dropping him off.” The Duke shifted his bulk to the side and supported himself on one of his guards. “Yes yes yes that’s all good,” the duke said. “Tell me did my son find the item that he was looking for?” Realization flashed across Naefas’ face, he had suspected that this was about more than paternal love. “Tell me Duke, what was it that you were looking for?” Naefas asked. “Oh, just some trinket that a friend needed,” the duke said starting to sweat from overexertion. “Did you find anything like that?” Naefas smiled and said, “Thubok, would you be so kind as to show Duke Relvex what we brought back with us?” “Yes my Lord,” Thubok said. He walked back to the triage area and flipped over a sheet that was covering the large Killik and immediately headed back to stand next to Naefas. “That is what we found, the Prime of the Killik hive that has been touched by the dark side,” Naefas said while gauging the duke’s reaction. “This Killik knew that we were coming and set up a trap for us.” Duke Relvex appeared repulsed by its presence but unsurprised as he said, “Did you find the trinket or not?” Naefas was disgusted, “I found your son. That was the mission.” Naefas turned and started to walk away. The duke fumed, “You dare turn your back on me!” Naefas ignored him and continued to walk away. “I am a duke in House Thul. You? You’re nothing. You’re garbage. You’re an errand boy that gets sent to do the work of better men. That’s what Darth Selthi told me. He -” Naefas stopped in his tracks. “Who told you to contact me?” he asked without turning around. “D – Darth Selthi,” the duke stammered while trying to sound intimidating. Naefas smiled, “That’s what I thought you said.” In an instant, Naefas had his lightsaber in his hand as he charged the duke. The duke wet himself. The Thul guards reached for weapons as Ertau rushed to the nearest guard and grabbed him in bear hug, crushing his ribs. Thubok threw a stun grenade into the guards as one of their heads developed a new hole when Sulpicia started to work. A second later, Naefas reached the duke but a guard had stepped in front him. With a flick of his wrist Naefas sent his head rolling. He continued his momentum and went down to a knee, severing the duke’s legs at mid-calf. Two of the guards were shaking off the stun grenade as they brought their weapons to bear on Ertau. He threw the body of the now dead guard at one of them, knocking him to the ground as the other guard was taking care of by another shot from Sulpicia. The guard on the ground managed to roll the body of his dead comrade off him just in time for Ertau tear his helmet off and pummel him to death with it. The last guard was running away until Thubok threw a knife between his shoulder blades. Duke Relvex was screaming incoherently. Ertau dropped the now dead guard’s helmet and said, “I’ll never understand that Corporal, you have a blaster.” Thubok smiled, “Yes, but I also had a knife.” Thubok turned to Naefas and said, “He still works against us my Lord?” Naefas sighed, “Yes he does my friend. Ertau, would you please gather up that noisy pile of lard and get him to our ship?” Duke Relvex tried to crawl away far too slowly. Ertau flipped him over and punched the duke in the face, knocking him out cold. Naefas scolded him, “Gently Ertau, our duke is a delicate flower. “ “Sorry m’lord, he just sounded like a dewback in mating season,” Ertau said through gritted teeth as he hoisted the massive and unconscious noble onto his shoulder. Naefas laughed, “That’s actually pretty accurate. Thubok, tell cleanup that we have a few more . . . situations to deal with.” “Right away my Lord,” Thubok responded. He immediately pulled out his communicator and a Mandalorian appeared out of it. “If it isn’t the protocol droid again, we’re on our way,” the Mandalorian said. “Very funny Mal, I asked that you stopped calling me that,” Thubok replied. “We have a couple of new messes that need to be taken care of. These are our friends so they need to look like the local wildlife got them.” “No problem,” the Mandalorian said. “Lord Naefas will meet you here upon arrival so don’t keep him waiting,” Thubok chided. The Mandalorian laughed, “Don’t worry your little rusty ass; I won’t keep the ugly lug waiting long at all.” The Mandalorian shut off his communicator but not before Sulpicia caught a glimpse of him as she approached the group. She chose to let it go for now. Naefas spotted her, “Lieutenant, get everyone back aboard the relentless. Help Thubok put the duke in a Kolto tank and put his son and the Killik into stasis chambers until I get back. I’ll be along shortly.” Sulpicia replied, “Yes sir.” With that Naefas turned and started gathering firewood for the funeral pyres of his deceased men.