The sharp, acrid scent of insect musk filled Revan's nose… as something attacked him in the dark.

"Bastila, light!" Revan barked, propelled through the air by incredible force… and his fall was broken by a roll, resulting in more shattered eggs, covering his armor and flightsuit with more viscous, clingy fluids. Which stank. Terribly.

Bastila threw out electricity overhead, lighting up the room. It was full of eggs. And something that looked like an obscene worm… with a geonosian's skeletal torso protruding from one end. Not an attractive look. More important at the moment, were the swarming shapes… they seemed to be peeling themselves out of the very walls… as if they'd been kept there, dormant, until needed. They looked big, too. And they were all dead.

"How can the dead fight?" Bastila demanded, unnerved.

"I was only mostly dead," Revan replied, "so I have no idea."

He studied the brute that had struck him, as it advanced doggedly through the eggs… without crushing any. Revan noted the irregular groupings of the eggs, with stepping areas of emptiness, to allow safe movement of others for the eggs.

We should fall back to the entrance… our footing will be treacherous when the eggs break underfoot, and the gate is a bottleneck, Bastila said.

"Or… we could just avoid stepping on anything crunchy," Kyle pointed out.

Also… might I borrow your sword? Revan asked wryly. He could channel enough power to use the vibro-blade… but nothing on an order of magnitude enough to affect the battle without a weapon… and he doubted his knife would slow these creatures down. Bastila tossed the sword to her lover, and drew on his power in exchange. Their power, rather.

"Remember… killing the queen, or whatever it is, would probably not be conducive to an alliance," Revan grunted, closing with his lumbering target.

"I will try to contain my disappointment," Bastila sighed.

Revan/Kyle smiled grimly, sword humming in their hands. It was time to play.

((()))

"Well of course I suck with a rifle. I'm a pistol kind'a girl," Mission growled under her breath. The rifle was almost as tall as her shoulder.

"A rifle is easier to control than a pistol. If you cannot wield a rifle, you will not be able to use a pistol," the really aggravating punk said, tilting his helmeted head, curious. Mission was really beginning to hate that movement.

"Gimme one and we'll see, won't we?" Mission snarled.

"I do not have a pistol. The sergeant does," the punk said, pointing.

"I didn't think you used ranks," Mission said.

"We do not. But those from the Revanchist still retain their ranks, and use them sometimes in battle, or in passing as forms of address. I think we used ranks, before we crashed here though… when there were many mando'ade."

((()))

[Desecrators-Egg killers-Outsiders] the alien shrieked, without sound. Bastila tightened her mental hold on the last "living" Geonosian brute, pinned with telekinesis, and linked with telepathy to Bastila's mind… and through her, Revan. The "queen" did not speak, or think in words, but rather, in chemical scent signals, thoughts, pictures. It was difficult to wade through… but nothing as mentally lethal as the Progenitor of Manaan. It was also extremely difficult to reply in kind.

[Reluctance-Regret-Sorrow] Revan projected back at the queen, through Bastila.

The queen faltered for a moment, and Revan pressed on clumsily, [Other option-Hope-Truce].

[One response-Suspicion-Desire to kill] the queen retorted.

[Sincerity of goal-Plan-Surety of Survival] Revan replied.

[Deceit-One response-Egg killers] the queen howled.

[SINCERITY OF GOAL-Hive Survival-Plan] Revan repeated.

[Fury-Refusal-Kill]

Revan studied the queen's thoughts for several minutes. She was young… barely more than a juvenile. Inexperienced… and accustomed to complete control. To domination.

She had never been tempered by loss, or defeat, as Revan had. She had not learned when to bend, to avoid a pointless break… to flow around obstacles on the way to achieving an objective. She saw what she wanted, and she took it… no matter how many died in the attempt… because she was a god, and she did not mind a few broken toys. Even at this moment, her pawns had finished clearing away the debris to these chambers. They would be here soon. They would kill Revan and Bastila if they could.

The queen was… useless… to him.

Except… Revan faltered, delving deeper into one of her cached perceptions… of winged creatures. Pets. Toys.

Some kind of aerial blood-sport, involving strange, winged creatures.

Somewhere within this mountain-hive.

Perhaps… something of use.

Revan distractedly sliced the bloated creature, removing the skeletal torso from the bloated ovipositor.

He hardly noticed the screams of the dying hive around him, as the strange parasites that coordinated the hive died… taking the workers, warriors, drones, and menials into death with them.

Bastila trembled from the psychic back-lash… but shook it off, following Revan from the dark chamber, stepping over the haphazardly sprawled bodies awkwardly.

"That was… senseless," she said shakily.

"The creature could not be reasoned with. Besides, we may still achieve my purpose here… I think…" the Dark Lord of the Sith murmured, seeking out that which still drew breath… and hungered for bleeding flesh.

((()))

"Stand back now," Mission snapped, settling into her half-professional firing stance. The one she used when the target was too far away to grab her… where aiming actually mattered. The pistol was a lot heavier than a blaster. It was all metal, without plastic composite in its construction… and it was big too… roughly the size of most heavy blaster pistols, and looked sort of like a verpine shatter gun, with a revolving cylinder that held the projectiles. The drill instructor watched on, bemusedly.

Mission could feel her upper arms starting to hurt from holding the stance, with the unaccustomed weight… and the grip was too big.

So she squeezed the trigger before she could start to tremble too badly. Two things happened. First, the gun ran away from her, twisting a few fingers in the process. Secondly, the target toppled, missing one of the thin wooden supports that held it up. Oh, and third, the annoying punk dove behind her with the same intensity as if he were catching a falling infant. He caught the gun too. Bastard.

"What. The. Hell," Mission said, still stunned by the sheer, vicious energy that had erupted from the unassuming, ugly looking weapon.

Sgt. Dara Gahn recovered his sidearm, and checked it over, crooning softly to it like a broken bird.

"The rifle didn't have that kind of recoil!" Mission sputtered.

"My revolver fires projectiles with a powder load that is half that of our rifle cartridge… but the rifle weighs four times more than the revolver. The recoil is absorbed better by greater weight… and a longer barrel," the ex-corellian explained, deciding that his first-born child would in fact, survive its impromptu flight.

"Sounds like custom work," Carth said, getting a better look at the size of the bullets, as Gahn ejected the spent bullet casing, and replaced it… the bullet was half the length of Carth's pinkie finger… but just as wide… and the revolving cylinder only held four bullets.

"I designed and built this revolver. I also have an agreement with the workshop's master smith, to manufacture custom ammunition for my weapon."

"Must be on pretty friendly terms with him," Carth said.

"He can't play Pazaak worth a damn… so yes, we are on very good terms," the card-shark grinned toothily.

"And when you need more bullets…" Mission trailed off suggestively.

"I reach for my deck," Gahn said, patting what looked like a specially designed, water-proofed leather pouch on his belt… slightly larger than a deck of pazaak cards would be.

Mission felt the little kleptomaniac in the back of her head stir… and her fingers started itching.

((()))

"My, aren't you lovely," Revan crooned, stroking beneath the deadly jaws, scratching at a particularly troublesome area of thick scales… and the beast's eyes became lidded, even beneath Revan's mental domination, the creature relaxed.

It looked like a cross between a lizard and a bat, roughly fifteen meters long… but with two pairs of wings (their double wing span was slightly wider than the Ebon Hawk), a rather wicked looking set of clawed feet, and a stubby snout full of powerful teeth that could bite a man in half. The "arms" formed the primary, larger wings, and could be folded, to walk upon. The secondary pair protruded from above the "hips" giving the beast a look similar to a dragon-fly. Clearly though, this creature was awkward and graceless only when touching the ground… and it was easily large enough for a humanoid rider… but never trained for such a thing… since the Geonosians had warriors capable of flight, and no drone would ever be granted the privilege of riding such a powerful creature. Especially now that the Hive lay dead.

"Do you think the students could handle these creatures?" Revan asked thoughtfully.

"After some training in beast-control techniques? Possibly…" Bastila supposed.

Lightning crashed outside, and Revan glanced towards the cave mouth.

"We can't save the ship," Revan said.

"But we can save the crew," Kyle finished, glancing at the metal shackle around his beast's ankle.

"With a little help?" Bastila asked wryly.

"I wouldn't exactly call them little," Revan said slowly.

At least, not to their face, Kyle smirked.

But oh… he was very taken with these creatures.

Revan pulled off his gauntlet, and ran his bare fingers across the heavy bone ridge that protected the predator's large, golden eyes.

He'd always wanted a pet. A real pet. The kind that didn't need a cage, because it wouldn't run away. Not the small, prey creatures that eventually tolerated a human's touch, because the human signaled food or safety… like the animals he'd hidden from the Temple masters beneath his bed. The kind of pet that didn't die from short-life spans.

I think the word you're looking for is companion, not pet,Kyle observed… the commando gave Revan a glimpse from Deralia… of Kyle's companion, from his teenage years.

It's so… small… Revan said, bemused, studying the odd-looking mammal-like carnivore, pacing alongside Kyle.

Because they grow slowly… and he was a kitten, Kyle said wistfully.

The meter-long creature had not survived to reach its formidable five meter adult length.

The mandalorians had seen to that.

But Shushar had not died alone. He'd taken his killer with him. Luc'vic panthers were venomous.

It was also the only reason Kyle had lived long enough to survive Deralia.

"The storm has not abated," Bastila reminded the two men in one body… a little testily.

"Come… Shushar… let us play," Revan said, as he climbed up, and straddled the "shoulders" of the vaguely reptilian body build with his legs. He used a flicker of telekinesis to turn the simple eye-bolt lock on the shackle… and sank deeper into the predator's mind… eyeing the opening to the great-sky through its eyes.

The small one had a game to play. This interested the predator. A game without blood was not a game… but the small one had rules to make the not-game interesting… and difficult… which made it a test. And a test needed skill… or else it was death. The small one also promised that much later, there would be many games with blood.

This intrigued the predator.

.((()))

LT. Vilasan disembarked from the transport, and nodded to the nervous looking Duro waiting on the pier. The mandos were ahead of schedule, by nearly a week.

There were no doubt marksmen hiding in the trees and brush fifteen meters away, but the woman remained polite.

"You are early," the duro foreman, Ajan, said suspiciously.

"Circumstances have changed," she said calmly.

This did not reassure Ajan.

"The shipment is not ready," the Duro said cautiously.

"We understand. We will trade for what is available," Vilasan promised.

The duro considered this.

"Acceptable," he decided.

"Te'habi tebec be pirun'sen," Vilasan called out, and the warriors still onboard the trade vessel began to move, shifting the plasteel crates between them. Their weapons remained sheathed, holstered, or slung across their backs. Not that it would make much difference, should the armored fighters decide to go on a rampage. The victims would simply have an extra three seconds to panic. But it was polite.

Ajan called out in his own language, and a mix of humans and duros emerged from the trees, carrying woven baskets of assorted food stuffs.

"Something is happening," Ajan said quietly. Vilasan glanced at her duro contemporary.

"Yes, foreman… the Revanchist has come," the marine smiled.

"Revan?" the duro squeaked.

"We will be leaving this planet. All who do not wish to stay are welcome to join us," Vilasan said.

"As mandalorians?" the duro asked, his eyes squinting in distaste.

"As you are now. No conversion necessary… but you may be tasked to provide fire support… or whatever support you are best able to," the LT explained.

"And… when you leave there will likely be no more bullets…" the duro spat.

"We aren't taking the workshop with us. We can train others in its use, before we leave," Vilasan offered.

The woman saw a sudden gleam of greed in the gray skinned alien's amber eyes. It was essentially the same as handing over the galactic bank to a random pedestrian.

Here, bullets ran the world, not money.

The fools didn't realize how much work went into such an endeavor though. Raw materials had to be obtained, mixed in the correct ratios, metal had to be acquired and properly cast in the molds… the chances of accidental explosions until experience could be gained were also considerable.

It was specialized work, since there wasn't enough infrastructure to properly support the manufacture. It was a hybridization of industrialization and skilled labor-intensive by-hand production practices.

These fools thought that the workshop represented a life of luxury, easy wealth on such a world… but it was possibly the most important work available. Without it, the survivors were simply food for the natives… and if the kyrac'epar ever got their clawed fingers on it, the survivors would have no chance of survival. It was an object of power. Whoever controlled it ensured the survival of their faction. Be it mando'ade, aruetiise, or kyrac'epar.

"Are all given this offer, or just the people of Stukana?" Ajan asked.

"Revan has dispatched our people, we are giving the offer to all that we have found upon this world," Vilasan said calmly.

"Except for the Wailing Mountain, yes?" Ajan chuckled.

"Revan has gone to present the offer to them personally," Vilasan said coolly.

The duro stared at her, shocked.

"Imagine, if they accept either offer," Vilasan said. It was an unkind thing to say, but Ajan had irritated her with his derision. A little terror would do him some good.

"Now, where is my daughter?" Vilasan growled.

Ajan gulped, and quickly left.

Sheruk had enjoyed violating "young meat."

Vilasan had ensured that the monster would never harm her daughter… even if he had killed her lover… for daring to show gett'se…

But Sheruk was dead. Dead by Revan's hand. Her daughter would be safe… and Vilasan was proud that her daughter was not a child of mandalore.

"Ma'ma!" a little girl squealed. Vilasan turned, and saw Ajan returning with Stefan… who carried her daughter on his hip as possessively as any biological (grand)father-by-blood. Stefan, who took his oath to do no harm far too literally.

The only man Vilasan could trust implicitly, to protect her daughter. Men were not monsters… but many monsters were men.

And Vilasan would take no chances where Toman's child was concerned.

Then the killing started.

Shapes boiled out of the water, and the forest edge.

"Jehavey'ir!" [Ambush!] a warrior bellowed, dropping his end of a munitions crate, and pulling his rifle off his back.

The unarmored islanders screamed as they struggled to arm themselves.

Many died. Those closest to the trees fell, some without even seeing their killer. Others on the docks were grabbed by the ankle, and dragged down into the water. Then the gunfire started, and alien shrieks filled the air.

Vilasan ignored this, as creatures lunged from the shadows of trees, heading towards her daughter, Stefan, and Ajan. She charged.

Ajan fled. Ajan died.

Stefan did not flee. Stefan killed.

His oaths said nothing of harm to animals.

And the Kyrac'epar could not be reasoned with… which made them animals.

And dangerous animals had to be put down.

It was folly to anger a physician… for who better to know where to cut?

Vilasan drew her sword, unable to see clearly, through the pounding in her head. Blood wet her blade, but she hardly felt the visceral impacts. She only knew that her Sika was in danger… and love makes monsters of us all.

((()))

"Incoming!" Dorec screamed, pointing up into the darkening sky. Two winged shapes were quickly approaching… were these the winged demons? Lar'issa felt her ocular membranes tighten, attempting to adjust the diffraction of light through her lenses, to enhance her sight…

"Harpoons!" the nautolan called, and the handful of crew still alive leapt to obey, raising sharp points towards the sky. This vessel had once sailed with twenty-five hands.

Only thirteen still drew breath upon her deck. Soon though, they would all die, except Lar'issa… for if the winged demons did not destroy the ship, the storm a few kilometers out would. But Lar'issa would survive. She always survived, the woman thought bitterly.

The flying creatures tucked their overlapping wings tight to their bodies, and dove… but Lar'issa could see small riders now, as the monsters approached.

"It is the magic woman!" Lar'issa called out.

And her tame killer.

The creatures flared their wings at the last second, fighting against the unpredictable and violent winds that had followed on the heels of the lifeless dead air of the storm front.

"Captain!" the magic woman bellowed, her power letting her words carry, as the winged monsters clumsily latched onto the sides of Lar'issa's ship, one per side, to prevent a roll in the rising wind.

"Climb on!" the woman commanded.

"My ship!" Lar'issa protested… but it was rote reaction… something that had to be voiced… as if for protocol of some kind.

"There is time only to save your crew!" the tame killer called, from the other beast. But the nautolan already knew that, accepted it.

The beasts were large… but men were heavy. It would take more than a single trip.

Lar'issa began to shove the weakest swimmers, or the injured towards the beasts.

The limit was four per beast, it seemed, before the winged creatures struggled to rise in the tumultuous sky… with white-knuckled passengers clinging to the talons of their transportation. Four remained with her as well, glancing at their fellows, at the towering waves approaching… and the dwindling specks of gold and red headed for the distant mountain of death. It soon became apparent which would arrive first.

And it wasn't the monsters.

((()))

Vilasan was bleeding from a slash that had skipped off her pectoral plates, before skittering across the bend of her left elbow… a gap in her armor between plates, protected by hardened flightsuit. If it had been normal cloth, the woman would have been missing an appendage. As it was, the cut had been deep enough to require immediate binding by Stefan… and had been secured to her chest, keeping it out of the way, as it was now useless.

"We lost two warriors on the dock. Drowned," Furos said, as Vilasan, Stefan, and Sika rejoined the entrenched mandalorians aboard the transport ship. The kyrac'epar had melted back into the waves, although their dead littered the beach and stained the waters with their blood… which would soon attract marine predators… so the survivors would likely circle around, and approach the bay from the jungle. The primary settlement of/on Stukana was a kilometer farther inland, but although there was a thick wall of jungle here, most of the ten-kilometer area island interior had been hollowed out, and replaced with crops and fields… which would limit the enemy's cover, at least, in the harvested fields.

And the farmers had to have heard the gunfire.

But this attack was wrong.

The kyrac'epar attacked the islands for meat. They would not have left the bodies behind… and most of the dead had not been bitten or tasted, simply killed.

This was not typical behavior… and that worried the LT.

She had sixteen warriors, as well as eleven or so trembling (but armed) islanders… not counting Stefan, and her daughter, aboard the ship.

She stared at the bodies for several minutes, thinking. There were many reasons to kill… but the natives had always seemed to treat the killing as a ritual, or a game. It had rules (of a sort)… and now, they were not following their own rules. One possibility was a change in leadership, or change in the rules… but Vilasan thought it was something else.

If the monsters hadn't taken them seriously before… perhaps… they had now realized what kind of threat the aliens represented?

Perhaps they had put aside their tribal squabbles, to repel the invaders?

Much like the republic had done?

If so… then this was not killing for food. This was a purge.

And most likely not an isolated event.

Vilasan paled. The mandalorians were scattered. Revan had dispatched nearly the entire fleet, to the various islands, with his offer, and to acquire supplies for the siege.

There were perhaps thirty or forty warriors left on Cusy'bac.

The aliens would not stop coming now. Many settlements had survived, because the monsters acted like predators… thinning the populations, but not hunting to extinction. If that had changed… then a settlement might survive one, or two attacks… but they could not hold out indefinitely (except for the Ithorians. Their island was a natural stronghold… but even then, once the ammunition of their guards was expended…).

"Furos, get the munitions onto the top deck, but don't block any of the access points into the main hold, and get the supplies off the dock, back onto the ship," Vilasan said. She could see furtive movement in the bay now. It would be too dangerous for the kyrac'epar to operate in the water for now due to the scavenging predators… which limited danger to ambush from the distant trees.

She looked at the islanders, "I need a guide," she said.

"I will do it," Stefan said.

"No. You are needed here. When we return, there will likely be wounded. You will save more lives here," Vilasan said. And if I die, I know you will protect my daughter.

"Why do you need a guide?" one islander asked, a human with thick acne, and a reedy voice… barely old enough for facial hair.

"For the evacuation," Vilasan said calmly.

"There are over two hundred people in Stukana. This ship is only large enough for…" the shell-shocked teenager faltered, his eyes growing haunted.

"There likely are not two hundred still within your settlement… and many will most likely not survive the escape to the ship. If we do nothing, they will all die, trapped within their homes," Vilasan said, almost gently. Apologetic.

"How many you need?" Furos asked, glancing at their comrades.

They needed to move fast, they couldn't wade through a prolonged engagement. They didn't have the numbers… and Vilasan was simply giving the islanders a direction to run, instead of bunkering down and dying in a last stand.

"Five," she decided, studying the rising smoke in the distance. Something was burning.

((()))

This test was proving difficult, "Shushar" decided. But that also made it interesting. Revan was panting, from the mounting strain… even with Kyle's continued help. Their power was beginning to burn them, a little. It was only a mild sunburn, for now… but that would likely change. They had left their passengers within the mountain loft, and warned them from approaching the hungry creatures still shackled deeper within… that they were dangerous. Then Bastila and he had led their mounts back into the teeth of the storm.

Kyle wanted to call the creatures Blood dragons, due to their coloration and body type (and fixation on red meat). Revan didn't think they needed a name... and blood dragon sounded like it was compensating for something.

A particularly strong cross-current almost threw Shushar against Bastila's mount. Considering both were male, that would have likely been disastrous.

Bastila, I need some help, Kyle admitted. He hated to do it… but their control was fading. He felt Bastila's mind slide up beside his, and took over part of the burden, partially guiding his beast, as well as her own.

There. I see the ship, Bastila said.

Revan was forced to use Shushar's eyes, since his were almost useless in this darkness… but the creature's eyes hadn't been designed for this either… however they were still better suited in low-light conditions.

There was simply too much meaningless movement… which made it difficult for the creature to pick out meaningfulmovement from the slurry of rain and wind.

But Bastila had seen (or more likely sensed) something, and Revan banked, following her down.

He still didn't see a ship. Just a…

Debris field.

Revan risked stretching out his senses, which felt like blindly searching a vat of alcohol with skinless fingers. Only worse.

They sensed several sources of life… but more than five. There were predators below, in the water. It took more time to spot the sentient ones… all four of them.

There was sudden pain, and fear.

Three sentient creatures.

Go low. I will bring them to you, Bastila said.

Revan brought Shushar down in a shallow dive, beating wings only a meter above the violent waves. Bastila was somewhat higher, off to his right, and used telekinesis to grab shapes out of the water, to where Revan's beast could grab them, one in each talon.

There was still a survivor in the water… but Bastila couldn't find anyone, and Revan could not maintain his position safely.

Go, Bastila said, rising higher in the air, to circle again.

Revan could not long maintain his link.

But abandoning Bastila was—

We're dead weight right now. She's safer without us distracting her, Kyle said bluntly, indifferently stepping all over Revan's pride.

Revan snarled, but twisted and lifted away, heading back for the mountain. His lover was not weak. He was simply terrified of losing her.

Such is love, Kyle chuckled, bitter-sweet.

((()))

Canderous's head snapped up, off the pillow, as a metallic clanging noise filled the pre-dawn air. He pulled on his helmet, and reached for his equipment belt. He could hear confusion and apprehension from his brothers nearby. The mandalorian snatched up his rifle, and ran out of the barracks.

"Report!" Ordo barked, as he burst into the feasting hall.

"South beach tower lit their signal light five minutes ago. Flash signals indicated multiple ships landing troops in the dark. Then the signals stopped," a young warrior reported nervously. Canderous didn't remember his name.

"Gunfire?" Canderous asked.

"Yes… but not any more," the other warrior said.

"Order the men to fall back to the secondary ring, and cut the bridges as they go," Canderous barked.

The warrior nodded, and ran off.

A minute later, the pattern of the clanging noise changed, forming different repetitive patterns.

Canderous didn't have the men to defend the entire archipelago… there was little of value on the outer islands, beyond the need for advanced warning of enemy attack.

They could be retaken, later.

For now, his people had to survive… but the Children of Mandalore had never proven an easy target before. Canderous saw no reason to change that tradition.

((()))

"Leave? Are you insane?" the man demanded. Vilasan cocked her head, studying the sooty farmer.

"We've got them on the run!" the man in charge of the villagers crowed.

"By setting fire to your fields. It was a good tactic… but your grain will not burn forever… and the fire cannot burn the beaches. The kyrac'epar will then return… and finish you," Vilasan growled.

"Just because we're farmers and not warriors doesn't mean—"

Vilasan grabbed the man by the throat,

"They do not come for food!" she roared, her voice echoing around the crowded village center.

"This time, they come to kill! To the last man, woman, and child. They have come to purge their planet of us!"

"Our ship is leaving soon! Those who wish to risk death and escape may accompany us! Those who wish to remain here, in fear, and wait to be slaughtered may do so as well! The choice is yours!" Vilasan yelled, to be heard

"Your ammunition is still on my ship!" she added, as an after thought. That shifted a lot of the mulish looks in the crowd… as they realized they might be fighting monsters with sticks, rocks, and empty rifles soon.

"We'll get cut to pieces out there," the farmer, still in her grasp said quietly, losing his boastful façade, revealing a very weary, but determined man.

"There will be heavy losses, yes," Vilasan agreed, also quietly, "But some will survive. Only death waits for those who remain here," she pointed out. He nodded slowly.

"Alright people! Militia, I want you on the edges, children and women in the center!" the farmer bellowed, shepherding his neighbors into a somewhat defensible formation.

"If you don't have a weapon, get one! Even a rock will do!" Vilasan roared, striding among the scrambling crowd.

Many had farming equipment in hand; shovels, sickles, axes, hoes…

There was a wide patch of gray ash, where the enemy had been denied cover… but this many feet would kick that layer of ash up into a choking cloud… which would reduce visibility.

In short, the following half hour would be bloody.

Very bloody, for both sides.

((()))

"Lar'issa must be the one missing," a human named Dorec asserted. Revan studied the older man thoughtfully.

"Two of your fellows are dead, and one is missing… but if Bastila cannot find the missing, living sentient… it might be due to submersion…" Revan agreed.

"Not only that, the woman can survive anything. She's tough," Dorec said confidently. The sounds of the gale outside were muted for a moment, as leathery wings briefly covered the opening, before the blood dragon latched onto the lip of the hole, and crawled inside.

I have her, Bastila said wearily, carrying an unconscious nautolan across her legs. Revan darted forward, and took the woman from Bastila, so she could secure her beast deeper in the cavern.

There was a bloody gash on the back of Lar'issa's head… from a blow of some kind. But it wasn't life threatening… and Kyle left the captain in Dorec's care, to stand at the lip of the hole, and contemplate the storm.

We cannot fly in this weather, Bastila said, joining her lover, resting her head against his shoulder.

"You do appear half-drowned," Revan said, peeling the escaped, sodden locks of hair away from her face.

We can't do anything more… and you need to rest, Bastila said assertively, hooking her fingers in to the collar of his cuirass, dragging him off to find a place to sleep. And it was for sleep, and nothing more interesting… since that other activity required energy.

Something neither possessed, at the moment.

((()))

"What have I missed?" the mousy little dar'jettai asked, yawning.

Canderous glanced at the Sith, before looking back at the map in front of him. It was dawn now.

"Mostly a lot of killing… followed by more killing," Ordo said, uneasy. He'd ordered his men to fall back to the third ring, which consisted of hard points on the central island… the island where most of the buildings were located… and more bridges had been cut along the way. Confirmed casualties had been extremely light… although there were a few warriors unaccounted for.

"The kyrac'epar are forcing the channels between islands, and taking heavy losses from the predators… but they're still coming. I think they're being reinforced… but I don't have any scouts far enough out to check the outer islands… or relay their findings to me," the mandalorian growled. And he couldn't find Jolee either.

"I could take a look," Galen Lor offered, touching his sword absently.

"Where were you?" Canderous asked suspiciously. His scouts hadn't been able to find the sith instructor during the initial attack.

"Research," Galen shrugged.

"Hrnh," Ordo grunted.

"Rather convenient, for such a massive attack when most of the warriors are away," Galen observed thoughtfully.

"Meaning?" Ordo asked.

"Either traitors, which would be unlikely, or perhaps they have some kind of Force technique for spying on distant events?" Galen suggested.

"Revan had an uncanny knack for knowing where to hit us…" Canderous said slowly.

"I could run a circuit of the outer islands, and tell you what I find," Galen offered.

If I trust what you tell me. The words lay unspoken between the two men.

"Do it," Ordo said briskly, turning back to the defenses. Mistrust between warriors lost more battles than any other foe.

The former Sith researcher wasn't the only dar'jettai available, but Carth had adamantly refused to let Dustil scout… which also eliminated Selene.

Lashowe and Kel had offered, but neither was skilled at moving quietly. They were better spent shoring up positions that came under heavy attack.

Several armored children trotted past, carrying munitions crates between them, chatting happily. Ordo smiled slightly. He had twenty-nine veteran warriors… and nearly twice that number of children.

But these were literal children of Mandalore… which made them far from helpless. Not to mention, most were close to graduating from their rifle classes.

They were better shots then he was, at the moment. With projectile weapons, at any rate.

A runner arrived at the outdoor command area, which was merely a table beneath a hastily erected canopy… since Canderous needed to be able to coordinate his forces… and doors/walls just got in the way of the messengers.

"East watch reported gunfire from somewhere closer to the beach," the child panted.

"Estimate on numbers?" Ordo asked.

"More than twelve semi-automatic weapons were involved," the girl said.

It could be one of the envoys on their way back, Canderous thought. Hopefully, they would know better than to land, until more ships returned. Reinforcements were useless if they were cut down half-way to the objective.

((()))

"This looks rather… ominous," Yuthera murmured, borrowing Rorikan's crude telescope.

"At least fourteen raiding vessels… and there are more sails on the horizon," the zabrak agreed.

Gunfire could be heard in the early morning air. It wasn't long, and prolonged as would be expected in an ongoing battle, but rather sporadic sequences of pops…

"Sounds like multiple skirmishes," the warrior concluded.

The kyrac'epar raiding vessels were large, with deep holds… used for transporting hunters to a target beach, then conveying surviving hunters and the meat back to their home ports. None were narrow enough, or had a shallow enough draft to risk the channels of Cusy'bac. Some of the smaller fishing vessels might have been useful for such, but those were strictly coastal water craft.

In effect, the kyrac'epar were likely being forced to pay a high price for their attack… especially with the leader of Clan Ordo in charge of the defenses.

Two hours prior, his small flotilla had spotted a lone raider disgorging hunters on one of the eastern island beaches, and had moved in, to repel the interloper. Three more raiders had been attracted to the gunfire, and Rorikan had realized this wasn't an isolated event… that there was likely a dedicated siege in place. His men were tired, from pulling double and triple shifts, spread as thinly as they were…

"Beach the Kyrac'epar raiders, then distribute the crews from those vessels," Rorikan decided. His men were inexperienced with the rigs of the alien craft… and the more hands tending the sails, the fewer hands firing rifles at the enemy.

Besides, his men needed rest.

((()))

"Why did you switch hands?" the punk asked. Mission glared at the armored boy.

"Because my shoulder hurts. I don't have armor," she hissed, couching the rifle stock against her left shoulder.

"Incoming," the punk said, aiming his rifle calmly, bracing his rifle on the lip of the watch tower. Mission sighed, and followed suit. Zaalbar hovered behind them. He'd already broken one rifle's trigger by accident, and the quartermaster had refused to give the wookiee another. Every time the punk's rifle went off, one of the little shapes pushing along the distant bank towards the water of the channel dropped, and didn't get up.

Every time Mission fired… well, she wasn't quite sure, but at least one of the bullets had to have hit something that could bleed.

"How many more are there?" Mission wondered, reloading her rifle.

The boy shrugged, unconcerned.

"There are plenty to kill here."

"Right you are, Vegas, right you are," Jolee cackled, making Mission's next shot disappear somewhere over the horizon.

"My name is Veran," the punk corrected.

"Sure, sure Vegan," Jolee chuckled.

"Why is your sneaky, wrinkly, lazy ass here, and not out there, chopping up frog-men?" Mission scowled.

"It's hard work. Old feller's like me… need naps," Jolee grinned, slipping into the watch tower's hammock, and pulled his hood down low over his eyes.

Mission wondered if "fellers" was even an actual word.

Then she heard the beginnings of Jolee's infamous snore. After that Mission was firing more to drown out that noise, rather than from her intent to survive.

Actually… it might have been her desire to survive too. No one was quite sure how lethally irritating the old man's snores were. They'd generally just sealed the cargo bay hatch whenever he drifted off.

((()))

"Eighty-four mandalorians and six Force users is an army," Yuthera insisted. Rorikan was not convinced. This woman had never faced an actual siege of kyrac'epar… only skirmishes.

"We can cut through the northern channels since our raiders have a shallow draft… but the banks are close… we would be under constant attack by boarders…" Vex pointed out.

"And that frightens you?" Thalia sneered.

"Range is best when out of reach," Rorikan grunted.

Yuthera smirked behind the mandalorian's back. He'd modified one of her innuendos into a practical application.

How… typical.

((()))

"I can't tell… they might be pushing again," Carth said, shielding his eyes against the light rain.

Dustil peered over the packed dirt rampart that was slowly turning to muddy clay.

"Not yet," he concluded.

"Do you know, or are you guessing?" Carth asked, slightly unnerved by his son's abilities.

Dustil shrugged, "I don't know if it's truth or a guess. My hunches don't always pan out as right or wrong."

Carth nodded grimly, double checking that the extra magazines for his rifle were within reach. He hesitated though, as he considered something.

"Is that why Jedi are always so cryptic?" he wondered.

"Maybe it's like they've got six answers, and they're waiting to see which one was right," Selene offered timidly. She was still very much absent whenever Carth was around… apparently, he intimidated her, so she went out of her way to not be noticed by Carth.

For her to actually answer one of his questions…

"Now they're pushing," one of the mandalorian children chimed in, opening fire, as the furtive shadows burst out from beneath the trees, risking the open banks.

Carth was fairly certain the child in question was a girl. (She?) had very shapely looking fingers, despite the callus and muscle. But considering she was presumably younger than Dustil, she could have been a boy… and the fingerless gloves she wore only exposed her fingers from the knuckles down.

"Gar serim," the mandalorian veteran in the group agreed, patting his (presumed) daughter on the dome of her helmet… but Carth couldn't be sure. All of the warriors tended to treat the children as direct products of their loins. But Carth thought he'd seen the burgundy colored plates of the child in the company of the off-maroon and teal armor of the adult on a fairly regular basis…

So it might actually be a father-daughter pair.

"Cetar'narir kyrac'epar!" the veteran howled, opening fire with his weapon… a weapon that was not a bolt action… but a semi-automatic… which translated to nearly five times the rate of accurate fire.

"Oh, I know that one!" Dustil said, smirking.

"What's it mean?" Carth asked suspiciously, looking at the veteran. Dustil had a rather smug look in his eye… so probably something dirty. He was fourteen after all.

"Literally or spiritually?" the mando veteran asked, swapping magazines.

"The one that gets the point across," Carth grumbled, dropping two shapes by accident, as the enemy behind his target was hit by the over penetration.

"It's usually translated into Basic as putting the "boot" in on an enemy that is kneeling in a position for licking boots," the veteran grunted.

"I don't get it," Carth said flatly.

"It's generally accepted as comic exaggeration… as it should be anatomically impossible to insert an armored boot in such a way," the veteran chuckled.

"Insert?" Carth was getting a sinking feeling.

"The inserter is standing behind the kneeling insertee… kicking ass." Dustil laughed.

Ah. Teenage humor.

"Unless they're being literal. Then it means something else… because it's generally not a boot being put in," the mandalorian said, his voice still casual, but there was a dark edge of anger beneath the surface. Very dark.

"How do you know the difference, if it's the same phrase?" Carth asked, warily.

"Trust me. You'll know," the veteran growled, leaving a line of bleeding corpses on the beach, before swapping clips again.

Which tended to summarize most forms of mandalorian communication.

((()))

It's been a while, Kyle observed, as he walked beside the wispy shadow. They walked through nothing. It had no color, no shape, nothing… there was only them… which confused Kyle. Generally there was something; mist, white emptiness, darkness, a background memory…

This place is a place without form. A place hidden from Bastila, Revan said.

That didn't sound good.

Why? Kyle asked suspiciously.

Because she would try to interfere. To help, Revan said sadly.

She would save us, Kyle realized.

Yes. Both of us. But if she does, she will lose us both, Revan sighed.

We are not whole, Kyle grunted.

I am form without substance, and you are substance without form, Revan agreed. The two men walked the never-ending paths to nowhere, in silence for a time.

That which binds me together is dissolving… and you are fading because there is so little of you left, Kyle summarized.

The monster nodded unhappily.

So the only course of action is clear, Kyle said heavily… and afraid.

It would not quite be death. You would be me, as much as I would be you. A fusion of two into one, Revan whispered softly.

I already died once… how hard could it be? Kyle chuckled bleakly, a sick smile stretching across his face.

Death is easy. Dying is hard, Revan observed.

When do we begin? Kyle asked.

This is not a beginning… this is about an end. We must reach our journey's destination, in order for the next journey to begin… as whatever we become, Revan said heavily.

That still sounds a lot like death, Kyle said tensely.

So do all great changes, Revan grunted.

The echo of a dead man continued to keep pace with the monster, as the echo of original thoughts and emotions contemplated its very existence. An echo and a shadow walked along an invisible road.

It sounded like the beginning of a bad joke.

But Kyle doubted anyone would be laughing at the punch line.

Or possibly even breathing at all.

Least of all Malak.