- Tranoraan's description.
- Zhiss being ordered into the war while the Masters held back
- Description of the orbital drop pod
- Meditation in the pod
- Landing on the planet.
- Kandor Thex's squad.
- Mandalorian Patrol
- Zhiss kills her first Mandalorian in an ambush.
Tranoraan was the Galactic Core; a desert world with an atmosphere that was not particularly breathable -- it would eventually damage the lungs of the being breathing it. Most beings, anyway. It was cool-ish by night, but terribly hot by day, to the point that one generally had to make sure their breathing equipment included hydro-recycling modifications to it. For all that, it was the core, and it produced droids, ships and minerals for the rest of the Republic.
The Mandalorians got this far before some Jedi bestirred themselves to begin fighting for it. Zhiss wasn't sure if it was too late or not. But a late start was better than finding out what no start at all would bring, though they had a clear idea of it -- she'd seen the vision on Cathar, she knew what they were fighting for. Half of her wanted to fight for it, the other half wanted to find serenity in a meditation chamber and introspect away the ills of the Galaxy, like so many masters had.
The same masters threw her into this cauldron, to keep watch on the Revanchists. They thought she was obedient. They thought she was curbed more than she was, that she would, in the end, stay faithful to the masters rather than follow her instincts, her heart, and even her morals.
In the sculpted gardens of the Temple on Dantooine, among the simply-wrought serenity of those surroundings, she was told by beings ensconced in that luxury, and it was a luxury whatever the ascetics said, to throw herself into the war. She was a warrior, but she was also obedient to the Jedi. They reasoned that she would be able to survive in the environment she'd be thrust into, and her oft-stated reluctance to be involved, for reasons they were not privy to, made her seem even more ideal for that mission. They didn't understand that she feared falling. She'd veered away from the Revanchist cause upon considering her former master's words on the matter; that the victor did not ever escape unscathed from a war. The other Masters knew this and their solution was to become conscientious objectors, to not do anything for fear of becoming another legion of Exar Kuns and Ulic Qel-Dromas; Jedi who embraced the dark side -- the lust for power often had an agenda, a justification, and that was very much the case of Qel-Droma, one of the great Jedi Knights before he fell. He reached for a weapon and used it, and it used him as well.
But the masters also declined to be another generation of Nomi Sunriders; they failed their mandate to guide the Jedi and perhaps even the Galaxy in its time of peril. Fear stayed their hand, fear of failure -- but they threw Knight Zhiss right at what they feared most without considering that perhaps she'd feared as they did. Their last lesson; they forced Knight Zhiss to not only face that fear, but to face it alone. The Knights and the padawans went to war without their masters to guide them, the wisdom withheld. And like Nomi Sunrider, who'd headed the Praexum on H'ratth, where she'd attended as a youngling, though Sunrider was dead by then, she knew that events forced her to pick up the lightsaber.
It was a twisted joke the Force played on her. She'd done everything she could to avoid this, but now, staring down from space as Tranoraan's dusty brown-pink surface loomed larger, then filled her vision, she embraced it. They were dropping from space into the atmosphere in stealthed, sensor-baffled pods that would produce no real IR signature; these pods would break apart once they survived re-entry, allowing the individual within to plummet down toward the surface; that was when the compute,r assuming all worked properly, would deploy the alloy mesh wings of their parafoils and allow them to sail to their target insertion zones. They were networked on a tight beam the whole way through, monitored above on the Intruder.
The pod was like a meditation sphere, though it was strictly built to bring individual beings through atmospheric entry intact -- it was made of the lightest of alloys and a couple thrusters to steer itself automatically while guided by tight-beam network from the Intruder, the ship that brought them here -- rather than for more esoteric uses. The weight of the being inside was heavier than the device itself, so when the thing split up, the being would fall faster than the shell of the pod, which would further break up into chaff. It was an IRSOG design for covert insertion.
But it was dark and quiet, like a meditation chamber, though the meditation in this place did not provide much in the way of reassurance; there were choices, and the byproducts of those choices were too terrifying to really behold. Perhaps that was real life, the stark calculus of the benefit versus the consequences. Where her ability to see forward usually only extended into the heat of a duel of sabers, in a fight where her mind was clear, she found the clarity now to see even further, though it was hazy and hard to make sense of the impressions -- there was too much emotion to cloud that reckoning of the future and she was no seer or consular, experienced in such matters, though her Master tried to unlock such potential to little avail.
It was unlocking now, to a degree, here and now, as the pod rattled with the entry into Tranoraan from orbit, as the friction of entering any sort of atmosphere from vacuum created flame and sparks.
As suddenly as the moment of meditative clarity, rare for her, came, it ended as the sphere's rudimentary systems beeped warning at her. A red light blinked on and bathed her vision in crimson. Then a second one, and a third, notifying the being within that the systems were activating; when the red lights hit the bottom of the sphere's wall, the thing would break open.
The last red light came on, and the sphere fell away in five parts, along the seams that ran the length of it, floating above her, lighter than she was at the moment and she was left with the thrill of free-fall from flight, with a breather mask and goggles, and, ironically, the standard brown jedi outer-robes. After all the problems she'd had with some Jedi regarding her set of silk robes, the ones she'd used on Nar Shaddaa when she'd picked up some credits as she worked undercover, whilst earning tips as a dancer in a Hutt cantina, and decided to use them for the purpose in a brief moment of non-Jedi normalcy, she wound up having to borrow one of Azor's sets, getting it cut down to her size.
These billowed in the air as she fell; it didn't feel like falling from this high up, but the ground came closer and closer...then there was a jolt, a yanking sensation as the harness holding her to the parafoil wings jerked her back with the wings that just deployed, leaving her to wait as they glided in the night, as the software took over and the squad, VORNSKR, were steered to their pre-designated landing zone -- she could sense Azor now, a sensation of fresh outrage and welling resolve that she'd never particularly detected from him before. She felt the trepidation of Padawan Braith, about to confront something she deeply loathed and feared; that earned the Padawan. The contrast was the calm lethality of the Thrysian sergeant whose unit they were attached to, an armored former Sun Guard who felt mostly contempt for the mass-produced Mandalorian neo-crusaders that he was about to fight against -- little better than droids, in his mind and the man was a towering wall of egotism, though he was actually rather receptive to the idea of using Jedi, particularly Jedi that were willing to fight. The others of the squad were there, a range of feelings, but also a sense of common purpose. They knew their jobs.
Her booted feet felt the ground as the wing landed, and she ran along with it; thankfully the release system was not automated, so she could choose her moment to release and roll into the ground to diffuse the remaining force of the landing; she came up easily to her feet -- she'd even enjoyed the sensation of paragliding for the first time -- with her blood up and her eyes sharp. This was it, and as much as she'd spent time in agony before, she was like a kath hound ready to hunt. The sand shifted and crunched underfoot and she felt a faint chill under the borrowed brown robes, which she'd actually bleached into the tan-pink of the terrain around her -- the sergeant, Kandor Thex, seemed to approve of the initiative, if Azor was a little dismayed to see one of his robes subjected to that sort of abuse. In the end, though, she blended in and that was the point.
In the distance, there was another team making their move already, KRAYT by the sound of it -- a quick check on the comm confirmed that. There were three teams to the mission, all with different tasks. Theirs was to reprogram droids -- that was why Raynard was there, and it was natural that she go with the only Jedi among the Revanchists that didn't seem to think that her work for the masters -- it was widely suspected why she was there and the suspicions were true -- was some sort of indictment against her ability. Knight Azor was going to slice the mainframe that controlled this particular batch of droids and they were going to turn those numbers against the Mandalorians.
The Thyrsian sergeant, Thex, had his men toting ion-disruptive weapons in addition to the usual equipment, though he went as the Sun Guard he was -- armor, some sort of staff weapon and blasters. The IRSOG troops were a mixed bag, a number of talented misfits along with more conventional Republic troops. The gamut of opinion of the new additions of Jedi, misfits in this lot to say the least, ran many different ways from relief to annoyance to rage.
But Thex was not one to be overly impressed of Jedi; he'd told them, "You are a part of my squad, this is not a Jedi-led operation. You will not countermand my orders in this operation -- there is a chain of command, and your place is after me." And the men of the unit, hearing this, nodded along -- the Thyrsian, all shades of black, was towering grace and calm-expression. They were an offshoot of the Echanis, used to communicating their opinions and feelings through the mastery of normally subconscious bodily functions. They also had a long-standing antipathy with the Mandalorians, and this antipathy was returned in full as a rival warrior culture. In the case of the Sun Guard sergeant, the dominant feeling being communicated there was that he would -tolerate- the Jedi.
Zhiss was eager enough to prove the man wrong, but she knew that she was here mostly because they needed Azor's skills and she was backup for Azor; in a sense, she was in the same boat as the Padawan among them, who was there largely because her Master was, though that wasn't something that Zhiss really worried about; one person's skills were a specific fit to the situation and two others went in. So she also knew that she needed to prove that she could cooperate and be an asset, rather than a problem. Thex pretty much made the challenge clear upon the first meeting when the mission briefing was given; he expected the Jedi to prove themselves, he didn't take them for granted.
"Thex here, proceeding to navpoint spanner, out." That was the Thyrsian's communique with the IRSOG commander on the ground as the man started his advance toward the facility -- once they had confirmation that the defense net was disabled. The squad moved as one, and she felt the pull of that particular communion, not fighting it a bit, as she fell into a natural place, on the flanks, where Jedi senses and sharp eyes could be of use -- she'd grown up, for a time, on Iridonia, and knew how to move in terrain. This place, with its rocks and sand, slightly reminded her of parts of it, without the acid pools, of course. The breather mask hindered the recognition, and reminded her that this was an alien place; the four visible moons in the sky, in their various phases, also informed her of this fact.
Mind in the game, she told herself, and her sentimental awareness of Iridonia receded as she fell into her senses.
Then, suddenly, the comm unit crackled, "Team VORNSKR, we have movement on the sensors; Mandalorian patrol coming in on your flank, checking the perimeter. They are approximately three clicks away on bearing five-eight. Over."
"Copy that, INTRUDER." was the Thyrsian sergeant's response, but then he started making signs toward his men, indicating firing positions and cover. The same motions sufficed to explain where he wanted the Jedi to go, but Zhiss shook her head and indicated a different position, something flanking. There wasn't much time to argue, so the armored Thyrsian agreed. It might be his command, but she wasn't about to sit so closely to the republic troops and essentially occupy a position of little to no worth for her.
The various elements of the squad broke into their parts and their places; there were a couple folds in the sands and some rocks for cover. The problem was the wide open spaces of the terrain; movement was easy to detect, and that was why the ELINT types in the Intruder notified the unit of the problem; a quick switch of the comm showed them that KRAYT was underway with their mission and NEXU was ready to make their move when they could. But VORNSKR's objective and mission profile were not as vital as the others, so they were the ones tasked with neutralizing a patrol that might interfere with the mission of the other groups.
Movement was easy to detect in this terrain, so they held still; even when the Mandalorians moved closer and closer. Zhiss felt as if she were broadcasting herself, but unless there were a Mandalorian force user there, they'd never notice. And odds were, a Mandalorian who could use the force hadn't trained in it.
The squad of IRSOG troops were experienced and well-trained, they held themselves stock still while the silhouettes became more distinct; at least one of them waved and moved like he was in charge -- this wasn't an alert group, looking for a fight, this was a regular patrol and she could almost taste their boredom and annoyance; with their sergeant, with their job, that they could have been back at the barracks and in their bunks, sipping kaf and reading or something.
The waiting got to the point where she was becoming almost annoyed herself, and she understood that Thex was trying to get them into the kill zone of the repeating blaster than one of the men in the fireteam carried. She assigned herself the task of taking out the same man on the other side, the one with the repeating blaster...it felt right, somehow, and correct, to take out the Mandalorian squad's biggest source of firepower. She figured Azor might have chosen to take out the one with the backpack; that could have been a comm unit, and that being might have been a leader of some sort. After that...they'd have to see. But she knew that Thex was still waiting, and had a plan. There was a sense of that, and of waiting. So she waited as well.
When Thex finally opened fire, it wasn't initially with the repeating blaster like she thought; the Thyrsian was more canny than that, and used grenades instead -- not weapons that the Jedi were terribly familiar with. And yet, the wisdom of the choice was instantly apparent; blaster fire gave their positions away, grenades did not-- they sailed through the darkness in near invisibility. Her first instinct was to leap forward into the fray, but that changed when the grenades exploded among the enemy in several places and men were brought down -- her own chosen target included. There were screams among the flashes and explosions, and those forms that lay still or writhing on the ground were beings; not necessarily willing combatants -- the Mandalorian recruiters didn't offer a lot of really good choices for many people.
She let her senses guide her here, once off the leash, moving rapidly in the Jedi Guardian fashion, using a jump to propel her forward; guardians, like her, practiced three hours a day in various athletic uses of the force, and the leap was a signature method for closing the distance to lightsaber range. To an uninformed observer, it looked like suicide, but the rapid movement caught her opponent, in yellow armor, off guard, and she brought the saber about in a pair of swings; the first found joints between the beskar'gam's plates on a leg, and the second moved up for the decapitation strike -- the audacity and speed of the attack seemed to bring the whole thing together for a success, but there was little time to gloat; by the prompting of the force, she took off on foot from where she was, and a moment later that place exploded from a grenade's landing.
Thex's fireteam opened fire and she was vaguely aware that the other knight and the padawan made their attacks, but her focus was on herself, not on the lethal beauty of the blaster bolts searing the air or the racket that she filtered out of her mind, for the most part.
Her doubts died on that ground alongside the first Mandalorian she killed in the war; Ihna Zhiss had no choice but to move forward.