End of the Beginning - Toreekto!
Ulloriaq pressed herself against the wall with gritted teeth. She could hear the Gervian voices nearby and she had to fight to suppress the temptation to rush out and gut them. Ever since the murder of Ilippa Nuk three weeks ago all she had lived for was death.
"Nalun, Nalun Ituinarpoq," she breathed to herself, forcing her heart to calm, "patience, patience everlasting".
Despite her best efforts, her knuckles tightened around the knife in anticipation. She didn't just want to kill, she needed to. Ulloriaq closed her eyes and rested her head against the wall. Enveloping herself in darkness, she felt her breathing slow and her hearing heightened.
"... toreekto... pytho... toreekto..."
Not all the words were clear and much was in a language she didn't understand. The rest was very heavily accented Concordium common. Two words were often repeated, however, 'Pytho', a term she knew the Gervians used to refer to her people and 'toreekto', a term she had never heard before.
"toreekto!" Then there was a burst of laughter.
The pair of Gervians walked into sight as Ulloriaq reopened her eyes, talking excitedly with each other and not seeing the figure slinking in the shadows. Their laughter made her uneasy and she gripped her knife ever more tightly ready to strike.
No! She was Pinarsar. A commando. A member of the Urix elite. The mission must come first!
Every sense in her body was telling her to attack, only now her mind was calm. She felt cold, but the certainty of her path was with her now and she took comfort from it. She waited a couple of seconds more, then risked looking over the ruined wall behind which she took refuge.
The ground was clear. Her goal, the communications bunker with a giant satellite dish perched on its head, beamed atop the hill, beckoning to her. It was one of the first buildings to fall in the attacks and only now had they regrouped enough to attempt to retake it. It was vital because only it had the equipment for the inter-planetary transmission needed to summon reinforcements.
She took a moment to carefully survey the grounds once more, rose to her feet and clambered over the wall, gesturing with a wave as she did. Figures, similarly hidden to her, emerged from the shadows and fell into a loose formation fanning out behind her. They kept low, darting from cover to cover, using as much of the terrain as possible to conceal their movements.
A hissed curse from behind made Ulloriaq spin on her heels, crouching down more as she did. She saw one of the other soldiers hoist up another Urix by the cuff of his neck. This one seemed out of place from the others, as he moved more hesitantly and often stopped in his tracks completely only to glance around and then scuttle onwards, seeming to miss even the most obvious shadows and cover.
"Civilians!" Ulloriaq snarled in exasperation, before turning back to the bunker and quickly scanning to see if they had been heard. Her followers had reacted similarly to her, but on seeing their leader rise once more to her feet they, too, moved behind.
A shadow sidled up beside Ulloriaq, making her jump in surprise, so silently had it moved.
"Ilippa, please. Ulloriaq begs you. Be careful!" Ulloriaq said quietly, gesturing purposefully behind her.
"Calm yourself Piniarsar. Today I am a warrior like you. Where you step in danger, so does Ilippa Isinisan." The priestess offered the soldier a half smile before suddenly disappearing.
"Besides, Isinisan has tricks!" said the voice. Ulloriaq's eyes adjusted a little, but they could barely make out a blurred image scuttling off towards the bunker. Shaking her head, she followed behind, trusting her own skills rather than technology to keep her hidden.
Eventually, Ulloriaq reached the top of the hill and, finding the perimeter unguarded, quickly scuttled inside. She stopped, taken off guard by a dead Gervian perched with his back resting against the wall beside the entrance.
She sniffed in surprise as Ilippa Isinisan suddenly flickered into existence beside the dead man, idly wiping blood from her blade. The priestess responded to the exclamation with a sniff that sounded oddly like a laugh. Shaking her head, Ulloriaq began to scan the area looking for more guards and waited impatiently for the rest of the unit to join them.
The hill was long and, being so cautious as they were, it took a long time for them all to arrive at the top. Eventually the full group gathered around the dead Gervian by the entrance. Mentally counting them off, Ulloriaq then ducked into the darkness of the bunker, unsheathing her blade as she did.
Usually, she would have favoured an energy blade for its ability to slice through virtually any material. However, its distinctive hum meant it was useless for a mission requiring stealth like this, so she was left with a more archaic metal one.
Weapon in hand, she made her way carefully through the few corridors. The base was oddly empty and she was growing concerned as she reached the central communications room. Through the small peep hole, she could see banks of data panels and holographic screens. Inside were also a large number of Gervian personnel, most staring intently at screens.
Her eyes came to rest on an individual taller than the others who stood looking at the huge screen that dominated one wall of the room. He was clad in a silver suit that seemed to ripple with every movement. On his head was a plumed helm, feathered from some exotic bird she did not recognise.
Pulling away, she made quick hand gestures signalling targets to the waiting soldiers who lined up beside the door with her. They sniffed their understanding and checked weapons. Once satisfied that they were ready, Ulloriaq braced herself and got ready to kick in the door.
This was how they had taken Ilippa Nuk from her, now it was her time to repay his death.
The door caved in with a single strike and she bounded inside ignoring the startled shouts from the technicians. She made straight for the silver man, having identified him as the commander. Despite the noise made from their assault, he remained glued to the big screen, his hand raised to his mouth talking animatedly into it. Ulloriaq bit down a warcry and, snarling instead, lashed out at the man with her blade.
A shield of flame sprung up around him, severely burning her hand and causing her to drop the knife in shock. A split second later the pain hit and her snarl became a roar of pain. Only now did he deign to turn and look at the thrashing Urix, derision plainly etched on his patrician features.
He snapped a few words that Ulloriaq didn't understand, or didn't hear, the pain dulling her senses. Clearly impatient for an answer, he held out his palm and a flame sprang up in it. Sense came flooding back to her at that moment, and Ulloriaq wondered at his not needing a spark to create the fire.
Her chance to speculate was cut short as the Gervian cocked his arm back. Realising what was coming next, Ulloriaq spun and crouched, exposing her tough back scales which took the brunt of the spray of flame.
Using the momentum of her turn, she kept spinning and delivered a sharp uppercut. The Gervian, seeming to expect this, dodged aside. Too late, he realised that the blow was a feint. He took Ulloriaq's left claw full in the side and he cried out in pain. The Piniarsar withdrew her arm quickly, just avoiding the flame barrier that again sprang up between them.
Jumping back, the two combatants warily sized up each other, the Gervian holding his side, the Urix favouring her uninjured left claw. Her eye glanced at the knife glistening on the ground. Seeing this the Gervian smiled and pointedly stepped back. Ulloriaq, wary of an attack, edged towards the knife but the Gervian's smile only widened.
He once again stepped back. He was now outside of what Ulloriaq judged he could reach with fire. She reached down just as the Gervian thrust his arm out with a puff of smoke.
Suddenly, there was a cry of pain and the air between the two of them seemed to sparkle and fizzle.
Ilippa Isinisan dropped to the ground, the hilt of a sword having pierced her side and the humming blue blade sticking out of her back. Both the Gervian and Ulloriaq stared in surprise at the sudden appearance, but Ulloriaq recovered first. She dived for the knife and, sweeping it up, threw it in the same movement catching the Gervian in the chest.
The man began to cough, orange blood bubbling around his lips. He dropped to his knees, and then fell back with a grunt and a long sigh. Ulloriaq rose to her feet and bounded across to him, covering the gap in a single leap. The Gervian was still alive, though he coughed again and more blood escaped from his mouth.
He raised a hand towards Ulloriaq, but then let his arm fall slightly with the effort. He offered one last beaming grin at the Urix which made her sniff in confusion. Taking one final gasping breath, he spoke into his balled fist.
"Foita!" Then his arm fell and his head rolled to the side, dead, the grin still on his orange smeared lips.
Movement on the giant screen made Ulloriaq look up and she saw several tight beams of light strike the building pictured. With a jolt she recognised it to be the Akutt Headquarters, the very building they had just left to perform this raid.
The beams moved slightly and conjoined into one single large bolt. There was a sudden pulse and the entire structure disappeared in a cloud of smoke. Seconds later, light doused the bunker and all the combatants were forced to cover their eyes against the intensity of it. This was immediately followed by a shockwave which shook the foundations. As the distant rumble fell, so did the light intensity. They lowered their hands and carefully opened their eyes.
Silence reigned in the room as all looked dumbstruck at the crater where their home had once stood.
"Send the transmission!" a weak voice chided, and this snapped Ulloriaq out of her torpor.
"Ilip-?" she began, but the priestess cut her off with a wave of her hand. The bigger Urix quickly crossed over to her and helped raise her to a sitting position, careful not to move the blade which still jutted from her.
Before the Ilippa had time to repeat herself, the Urix civilian they had brought with them scuttled forward and seized an empty station, yapping eagerly to himself as he tweaked settings on a holoscreen.
The ground seemed to rumble beneath their feet, the dull roar of thunder filled their ears. Automatically, Ulloriaq looked up at the big screen once more, but there was nothing there except the gently bellowing smoke and dust still rising from the ruins.
"Piniarsar!" the civilian urgently yelped, gesturing at his machine. Ulloriaq crossed over to him, and bent over to look at his smaller screen. Framed within she spied the source of the noise, a giant mechanical beast was just beginning to climb the slope towards them.
The behemoth was a mobile fortress, multiple guns of various calibres jutted out from every conceivable angle. In the hull, the blunt nose of a plasma mortar could be seen. Most terrifying, however, was the massive turret that sat triumphantly atop the beast.
As she watched, the turret began to rotate, bringing the barrel around to face them.
"It never. Was rebels!" Ulloriaq hissed, grinding her teeth at what she saw. It was not the gun which held Ulloriaq's fascination, however, but the crest emblazoned proudly on the hull. The sickeningly familiar burning throne of the Concordium.
"They really. Did it. Khdvan protect us. All. They really. Did it. The Concordium has. Broken. The Grand Concordant. And. Attacked us!"
Rising slowly to her full height, she realised that all eyes were on her.
"The Khdvan Atuarfik. And. The Concordium. Are. At war. Again!"
(by Gareth Kay)