As the convoy continued with their journey, they are within visual range of Alnus Hill. The commander of the AT-TE was communicating with the base before asking Raker to share the information.
"Got word from the driver: we are closing in on Alnus Camp." Raker informed.
"Thank you, Raker." Mikrak replied. "And there is one thing I have to check out."
"Anything in particular?"
"Two X-wings in that camp. Talor said that Incom engineers are doing modifications to gather data for the new X-wings they are proposing."
"So you are a starfighter pilot too, eh? I guess that you have double duties once finished." Raker then let out a small chuckle.
The locals are wondering about the situation.
"Who is 'Incom,' by the way?" Gaius asked.
"It's not a 'who,' it's a 'what.'" Krel answered. "Simply put, they are a guild of engineers crafting our starfighters. Others include Koensayr, Kuat Systems Engineering, Slayn & Korpil, among others."
"That's a lot of engineers." Bozes was surprised.
"Indeed. We also built the fighters in secret when the Empire is around and often we steal their tech to bolster our forces."
The locals were surprised by what Krel mentioned.
"Wait! The Republic stole the Empire's weaponry?!" Tuka exclaimed.
"Afraid so." Krel answered. "If it wasn't for those acts, freedom wouldn't have come sooner and causalties could be much higher."
Piña was contemplating on the topic.
"If the Republic did some acts of stealing, are they...bandits? I'm not sure. Maybe, I shouldn't go any further for the time being."
"Speaking of which, here is the background of this confusion: before, we are not the New Republic of today." Max began to explain. "We are once a shattered bunch of men and women, criminals, former soldiers and ordinary citizens alike, opposing the Empire but became more unified over time. And it was called the Alliance to Restore the Republic."
The locals felt surprised by the background. Piña's suspicions were confirmed.
"What do you mean?" Ennio wondered. "What happened to the Republic?"
Mikrak took a deep breath before letting out the answer.
""He?"" Tuka wondered.
"Sheev Palpatine. He was the one who established the Galactic Empire and abolished the Old Republic. But he didn't fully crush everyone; many opposed him for many years, stealing supplies and information that we can use to fight back. Even non-humans joined in as well since they have suffered the brunt of the Empire's cruel acts."
"It's true." Krel reinforced with some contempt. "Me and some of my friends suffered from slavery even if we didn't do anything wrong, used to manufacture some of the Empire's weapons projects."
"I feel sorry for what happened to you and your friends." Gaius expressed his sympathy. "You shoudn't deserve this."
"I know, but I'm returning the favor and that's why I fight with you guys here."
"Thank you, Krel."
"It wasn't until more than a year ago when we finally killed him and shattered his forces." Max continued. "Though the Empire is still around after that, they are crippled enough that we were able to score victory after victory and during those times, the New Republic was born."
"And about the battle in which the Empire was defeated once and for all?" Piña asked.
"You mean the Battle of Jakku, right? Yep...that's the battle which made the Empire lose the war."
When they approached the hill, the convoy decided to stop to allow Luger and Max to head inside the camp and to inspect the modifications of their X-wings. To their surprise, the camp has expanded considerably into a small base which includes various T-47 airspeeders, standard X-wings and other equipment.
"Look at that...the camp just grew into a base after our absence in here." Luger observed. "Do you think they are heading out to reinforce the others?"
"Likely, after all those Imperial attacks, guess command has decided to expand our capabilities." Max agreed. "But they are probably careful on what they are doing here. This place could become a sitting duck if the fighting grows intense."
Piña and Tuka followed them where they felt the same thing.
"The hill...it almost looks like it doesn't resemble the one we know." Piña uttered at the sight.
"Your Highness, after what happened...I guess this is for the best." Tuka quietly responded. "For now, at least."
They then found a Mon Calamari officer walking with a Sullustan colleague discussing various reports. The former noticed him and asked his ally to allow the Mon Calamari to excuse himself to talk to the human pilots. The pilots, in turn, saluted.
"Sir, Captain Mikrak and Lieutenat Sternbolt of Halo Squadron reporting in." Max informed the officer while saluting.
"Oh, good timing." The offiicer responded. "Command was about to inform you about the progress on those modifications but that's okay since you are here right now."
He then turned his attention to the two ladies. Tuka then saluted in response.
"Private Tuka Luna Marceau, sir." She responded. "Dragon Company."
"And...I'm Princess Piña Co Lada." Piña followed shyly.
"Colonel Rix Marrab." The Mon Calamari introduced himself. "I'm in charge of the base's operations here. Now if you follow me gentlemen, we are going to show you something you will use at any notice."
"Yes, sir." The two male soldiers responded.
Marrab began to guide the group into a secured area where both duraplast panels and tarp were extensively used in order to hide the works of the engineers. Two Republic guards were at the entrance to only allowed authorized personnel to enter. When the group arrived, the colonel told them the pilot's identities for them to enter. The ladies, however, were barred from entering.
"Sorry, ma'am." One of the guards told them. "Authorized personnel only."
"What do you mean?" Piña asked. "I'm the princess of the Empire, Piña Co Lada."
"Ummm...maybe we should wait here until Luger and Max come back." Tuka suggested. "They are the pilots who are assigned to that idea."
Suddenly, Marrab went back.
"Excuse them but let them enter." The colonel requested.
"Are you sure, sir?" The second guard questioned.
"Yes. I will allow them to see the progress."
The guards were nervous but decided to act on the order.
"Right away, sir." The first guard affirmed and the guards granted Tuka and Piña entry. "You may enter."
"Thank you, kind sir." Piña responded.
"Ladies, follow me." The three then went inside the area to meet up with Luger and Max. "What you are about to see is highly classified."
"Classified?" Piña was confused.
"Yes. We keep things secret from the regulars. I want you people not to spill a word out or we will be in a big heap of trouble."
"We will, sir." Tuka affirmed before they rejoined with Luger and Max.
"Tuka, Princess, glad you came here." Max said calmly.
"Uhhh...yes, we are. I want to see what your 'thing' looks like.
"Milady, look over there." Tuka interrupted to let Piña see the X-wings.
To their surprise, the X-wings of Halo Squadron were painted black after some hours of extensive work while retaining the red identification panels. Aside from that, other noticeable differences include a different laser cannon model in each end of the S-foils, different engines and upgraded systems needed to handle the modifications. Then, a blonde female Incom contractor went closer to the group.
"Ah, so you are here to see the progress of the X-wings, yes?" She asked the two pilots while holding her datapad.
"Yes, ma'am." Max affirmed. "We are inspecting our starfighters."
She then used her datapad to confirm the identities of the two men.
"You must be Captain Maximilian Mikrak of Halo Squadron, correct?"
"Yes, I am."
"And the other one here is..."
"Lieutenant Luger Sternbolt, second-in-command." Luger confirmed the data.
"There it is, thank you." The contractor responded before introducing herself. "Estel Falsheye of Incom Corporation, nice to meet you gentlemen."
"You too. Now can you please tell us about those modifications that are made?"
"Oh yes, I will." Estel nodded before showing the pilots and, indirectly, Tuka and Piña the modified X-wings. "When we heard about those modified TIE fighters, it presented an opportunity for the company to expand our most successful product. So much so that General Talor and Admiral Ackbar has invited my team to come here in secret. We are not allowed to disclose anything oustide the Board of Directors and us and we have swore an oath not to do so to maintain security over the project."
"I see." Max nodded.
"On to the upgrades: your X-wings are being heavily modified to suit the current situation on this planet. In addition to upgraded 4j.4 fusial thrust engines, the armaments are quite deadlier than the regular types."
"I don't get it." Piña doesn't understand what Estel is saying. "Tuka, can you understand them?"
"Not much." The elf shook her head.
"Four prototype Taim & Bak KX10 laser cannons would whip an Imperial pilot's ass quickly thanks to its better firepower. The computers and cryogenic power generators are also upgraded to cope with that."
"Neat." Luger commented. "Is there anything more?"
"The proton torpedoes remains the same, though. We were planning to include mag-pulse warheads but delays in development meant that we have to scrap it for the time being." Estel elaborated further. "Nevertheless, we are still testing them back at our facilities."
"Bummer." Max felt disappointed. "I was hoping we could use an extra 'oomph' for our fighters."
"Just make use of what we have to offer, Max. Oh, by the way...as of today, me and my team will be your ground crew to maintain your starfighters."
"Thank you for the help. It's much appreciated." Luger kindly responded which made Estel smile.
"I'll give you the instructions on how to use the upgrades. You need to do some homework if you want to skillfully use those birds. Estimated time of completion is about two to three weeks. Plenty of time to iron out the kinks."
"Well, we'll be on our way." Max said in their decision to resume the expedition.
"Take care of yourselves." Marrab wished to them.
The convoy resumed their trip south as Krel was busy reading something on his datapad. Lelei took notice since she was beside him. What she didn't understand was the fonts; they were written in a language unfamiliar to her.
"What are you reading?" She asked.
"I was reading some history of the planet of Takodana." Krel answered before noticing her struggle to understand the writings. "Oh...so you can't read this, right?"
Lelei nodded in response.
"Okay, I'll tell you what I am reading." Krel began to tell her the information.
"So what is it about "Ta-ko-da-na?""
"Well, many consider it as one of the places where they can escape war, pollution and other problems in their worlds. Travelers and criminals alike would enjoy the relative calm the planet has to offer."
"Criminals go there?" Lelei was surprised.
"Yeah, kid. Even them. There is even a cantina that allows everyone to join in eating...as long as no one is fighting; the owner is very strict about it. I even go there a few times before joining the Rebellion."
"And about those strange writings, what are those?"
"The standard writing system. We always use it whenever we have to type or write using a pen."
Lelei was curious about the writings.
"May I try to write down as well? I would like to learn more about your civilization."
"Okay, I'll help ya out."
Using the datapad, Krel began to teach Lelei how to use Aurebesh in writing documents, slowly allowing her to understand the writings on the device. As it continues, one Republic soldier took note of the scene.
"Speaking of Takodana, I've heard there was a discovery there that took place a long time ago." He tries to remember.
"Do you know about that thing?" Raker asked.
"Well...if I can recall, that took place about two hundred years ago. Once, there are explorers doing a hike in the woods when they stumbled upon an arch structure with some elegant carvings on the pillars and when they entered it, boom! News began to spread when they found another world."
"Hummmm...that is explosive." Another soldier hummed with agreement.
"After that, the Jedi Council took notice of it and sent two delegates to check it out. When they have returned, whatever they have seen are kept secret, probably to make sure no one took advantage of this. And seven months later, it poofed out of existence all by itself."
""Poofed"...out of existence?!" Some of the nearby soldiers reacted which grabbed the attetion of the other passengers.
"Yes, really!" The soldier answered.
Piña began to wonder what the soldier said but there is one thing that crosses her mind.
"Is he referring to the the holy Gate?" Piña thought. "It can't be..."
"Speaking of which, I have a small story to tell to you guys as well."
"Please, go ahead." Max decided to join in.
"One time during the Clone Wars, I was part of a raiding party tasked to retrieve data of special interest to the Old Republic. A Jedi by the name of Marhell Chesed was part of the efforts as well. It was a difficult battle, losing pilots and some good men fighting to retrieve it."
Max then began to remember something.
"Hmmm...Chesed, Chesed. Since when did I heard that name before? It's been a long time."
"You'll figure it out...eventually." Raker uttered with encouragement. "Anyway, we were at Bakura boarding a Separatist dreadnought and the moment we have found it, all it showed was unknown code. We weren't able to decipher much as far as we are concerned."
"I hope no one took hold of it."
"Me too. If the Empire were to have it...probably they would have won the war. Endor wouldn't have happened, Yavin wouldn't have happened. Think about the possibilities they would do."
Max nodded before the comlink began to pick-up a transmission from the spotter.
"Colonel, we have spotted potential fighting 1000 meters ahead of us." He reported.
"Any Imperial soldiers?" Raker requested confirmation.
"Negative, no Imperial forces at this time. It appears that a settlement is under attack. What are your orders, sir?"
Raker began thinking of possible options in order to handle the situation. After a few seconds, he had made his decision.
"Whatever it is, we shouldn't just leave it be."
"Roger. We'll close in."
He then began to inform Piña about the situation.
"Princess, looks like road trip will have to wait for a while."
"Yeah. Unknown forces are attacking a village and there is no Imperial activity at this time." Raker confirmed.
"Alright guys, prepare to disembark." Max ordered and the soldiers began to arm their blasters for a fight. "Set to 'stun' first. If things get ugly, let 'em have live laser fire."
"Roger!" They responded.
The AT-TE began to lower the legs before the doors are opened to allow Republic soldiers to disembark. The troops then head for the village as fast as they could. Rory then took notice.
"Heyyyy! Where are you people going?" Rory shouted.
"The settlement over there!" Luger answered. "We have a situation going on!"
Rory was starting to feel an opportunity. However, due to her position as the Apostle of Emroy, she began to feel the souls of the dead and feel sexually aroused in the process.
"Aahhh...not now!" She began to moan which made Luger and Tuka take notice.
"Rory, what's wrong?" Tuka asked.
"Go! I'll be fine."
Max then went closer after hearing her moaning.
"Is something wrong?" Max asked.
"Rory wants us to go ahead."
In the village, the bandits began their bloody adventure of looting, rape and murder as the villagers were terrified of what is going on.
"Nooo! Spare us please!" A mother of two pleaded but the bandit did not listen and took her anyway. "Aaaaahhh!"
"I have her!" The bandit shouted in glee "I have her!"
"Alisha!" The husband who is fighting the bandits shouted in shocked beforw the bandit stabbed him in the chest. "Gaahhh!"
"Noooooo!" A loud wail came from her as her husband was killed right in front of her eyes.
When Republic forces are closing in, the scope of the atrocities were slowly revealed which shocked everyone, especially those who have endured the Galactic Empire's harsh sentences. Blood and gore were everywhere.
"Tck! Damn all." Raker cursed.
"Bandits...that settles it." Mikrak uttered with anger. "We have no choice but to use live fire."
"Get the survivors the moment we went inside."
The bandits took notice of the soldiers
"Boss, soldiers are coming in!" One of them informed the bandit leader.
"Get 'em and steal whatever they have." He granted.
"Yes, boss." He then turned his attention to his brethren. "Men, it's time to take them down!"
"Hoo-raah!" They shouted in unison and began chargin at the Republic soldiers.
"Here they come, open fire!" Krel shouted and the soldiers pulled the trigger to release the blaster bolts, slowly mowing down the bandit forces.
"Aaahh, what is this?!" One of them reacted before being hit himself.
"Go, go, go! Get the survivors to safety!" One Republic soldier barked.
The Republic began to repel the bandits as they desperately try to mount an effective counterattack, not knowing what they are facing with. Tuka, alongside a fellow soldier, looked house-to-house for survivors. Upon entering one, they have spotted a bandit holding a young woman at knifepoint with a dagger.
"Leave or she dies!" He warned.
"Stay calm." The soldier suggested to Tuka and a nod from the latter was shown.
"Release her. I promise you can have our staves." She offered a proposal.
"Really?" The bandit reacted.
"Private Marceau, are you crazy?" The Republic soldier reacted.
"Trust me. I know what I'm doing."
The fellow soldier was having a hard time trying to refuse but decided to go with Tuka's idea with a nod. The two soldiers dropped their blaster rifles in an acceptable gesture. Feeling happy with the proposal, the bandit lets his hostage go and she went to the two soldiers still feeling traumatized by the experience.
"You okay, ma'am?" Tuka asked.
"I'm fine but...what are you elves doing? Your staves..."
The bandit gullibly went to the blasters and began holding one. Excited, he thought that he will become a powerful mage among the bandits that will bring gory glory to his allies, but the two soldiers are not letting it happen.
"Yes! The power is mine!" He declared but the appearance made him confused. "Huh? What kind of staff is this?"
"Hrraaa-ah!" Tuka landed a kick on the abdomen.
"Uaahh!" The bandit reacted to the pain before falling to the floor.
"Ma'am, you are safe now." The male soldier confirmed.
"Thank you, sir...who are you anyway?"
"Lieutenant Lowel Aschersi, New Republic."
"Private Tuka Luna Marceau."
"Thank you, people."
Outside, Raker was scoring three kills easily while engaging the bandits. Luger then came close to assist him.
"How many bandits do they have? That's insane!" Luger questioned.
"This village is caught off guard, kid. Well-organized in my opinion." Raker nodded before noticing a bandit behind Luger. "Luger, behind you!"
Luger looked back and noticed the bandit brandishing his sword. He dodged the attack before using his arm and the stock of the blaster to melee him.
"That's one for me, colonel."
"Stay focused. We still have some potential stragglers."
They then moved away from the two houses where they have fought off some of the bandits and began to head for the entry point to make sure no bandit escapes the village. Upon arrival, however, the two saw a five bandits taking with them two children.
"Let them go!" Luger demanded while aiming his blaster.
"Or what?" One of the bandits responded.
"If you don't comply, we will rescue them by force!"
"Please, mister!" One of the children pleaded.
"Help..." Another followed.
Luger and Raker were careful not to make any sudden movements that would threaten the lives of the children.
"Hehe." A feminine mirth was heard and it caught the bandits off guard.
"Huh?" It was a reaction the bandits uttered. They turned their backs away from Luger and Raker only to find a familiar figure in a black dress with red frills standing in front of them.
"It can't be..."
"Rory?" Luger uttered while staring at her.
"It's her, the Apostle of Emroy! Ruuuunn!" The bandits reacted as they immediately released the children and began to flee from her. The children then went to Luger and Raker.
"You okay?" Raker asked.
"Yeah. We're fine."
"Where are you going?" Rory taunted as she began to slaughter the bandits as punishment. "Emroy requests your presence."
Two bandits tried to fight back but Rory grabbed hold of one of the axes and sliced off the head of a bandit. Luger and Raker, for their part, used the 'stun' function on their blasters to neutralize two more bandits.
"Spare me, please!" The last bandit pleaded before Rory grabbed hold of his neck and snapped it.
The two surviving bandits, now under the mercy of the New Republic forces alongside Rory, were kneeling in fear.
"It's over." Luger declared.
"Thank you everyone for saving us." The boys thanked the men and Rory.
The boys heard loud footsteps which are not of a living being and they saw where it came from.
"Look, over there!" One of them reacted.
"Whoa...what is that?"
Not far ahead, the convoy arrived before the driver of the AT-TE got out of his post to meet with Raker.
"There you are, Miss Mercury." The driver sighed.
"Pixsacher, what are you doing here?" Raker asked.
"Sorry sir but while we are keeping her calm, she just went trigger-happy all of a sudden and jumped away from the convoy towards your position. A bit more like a Jedi."
"Thank you. The village needs medical attention, multiple injuries. Inform the others."
"Right away, sir!" Pixsacher then left to get the medical supplies with the aid of his crew. Raker then turned his attention to Rory.
"Is that so?"
"Well, it's part of what I do." Rory elaborated.
"What do you mean?"
"I can help." Lelei offered an explanation.
"Go ahead, Lelei." Luger allowed her to talk.
"You see as an Apostle for Emroy, whenever a soul pass through her during a nearby battle, she acts like feeling aroused. If atrocities are committed, she will become a cold-hearted fighter against those who did them."
"I see." Raker nodded.
Cato was speechless when he exited the walker. The devastation has wrecked his village straight to the core.
"Coda...I wasn't expecting that to happen." He bowed his head in empathy.
Minutes passed as relief efforts are under way. Medical stations were being set up to assist the injured. Fresh food and water from the supply skiffs were being distributed and surviving family members reunite while mourning those that they lost.
"Breathe easy." A medic said as he is tending a wounded villager who is impaled on the right knee. "There, there."
The two boys Luger and Raker rescued were looking for their parents. A woman with her hazel hair tied up in a ponytail made them recognize her.
"Mom!" They reacted upon seeing their mother.
"Boys!" Alisha cried upon reuniting with her children.
"What happened to Papa." The one with grey-and-brown clothing asked.
"I'm sorry..." These were the words confirming their father's death.
"Move the AT-TE and the T2-Bs over there." Raker requested nearby. "I don't want to see anymore shocks from the locals."
"On it, sir." Pixsacher complied.
While these were going on, a man on horseback wearing armour arrived only to see Coda reeling from the attack.
"What just happened here?" He asked himself before dismounting. Two Republic soldiers began to close in to attend his presence. "Excuse me, but what happened here?"
"There is a bandit attack that gripped the village here." One of the soldiers answered. "We are currently assisting the survivors as we speak."
"Oh, my...but I need to rest for the night. I am resuming my journey the next day as a messenger for King Duran of Elbe."
"I see. You may proceed."
"Thank you." The man returned to his horse to continue on to the village. There, the full scope of both the efforts and the damage from the battle were revealed. He then found Piña in one of the tents talking to another Republic soldier before leaving.
"Your Highness." The messenger called her while bowing in respect.
"Yes, I'm here." She answered.
"What are you doing with these men in green?"
"I was with them to provide assistance in their journey. A war is about to start soon."
"A war?" The messenger was nervous. "Against who?"
"None of the kingdoms or the Empire for that matter. Only...the Galactic Empire."
"And those men who you were with?"
"Their enemies, the New Republic. They are the ones who protected the village from the bandit attack and are currently helping the villagers."
"No wonder. Moving on from that, King Duran requests an audience with you."
"Why would he?"
"He wants to talk about a threat we have not expected. An alliance would help crush this mysterious army."
"I will inform their superiors about it."
"As you wish, Your Highness." Piña then head for Luger.
"Luger, tell Max and Raker about this: I am currently being summoned by the King of Elbe, Duran. Something tells me that the Galactic Empire is doing this."
"We will, Your Highness." Luger agreed. "Let's all go there, you navigate where to go."
In Italica, Skywalker, Talor and Varad were being briefed by Max on their latest development.
"We made contact with a messenger from the Kingdom of Elbe." He explained. "Princess Piña is being summoned to discuss an alliance between the two kingdoms and they believed that the Imperials are pulling the strings of the situation."
"Anything else?" Talor asked.
"We'll be leaving for Elbe tomorrow. A village suffered an attack from bandits early this day and we are currently assisting them in relief efforts."
"Alright." Skywalker agreed. "Turn on your beacon for further relief."
"Copy." The holoprojector transmission then ended.
The three commanders began to ponder on the latest news.
"It appears that the Empire is scrambling to get some allies here." Shyla thought. "That's no good."
"It's likely, Varad." Luke agreed. "General, what's the latest development on the fleet?"
"Two Nebulon frigates are scheduled to return to Endor to reinforce the Core Worlds as we speak in two days and a CR90 is also returning to solve some issues with one of the radiation shields in the engine bay."
"If the Republic keeps on recalling the ships here due to the situations in the galaxy and suffer constant breakdowns, chances are that the Empire will exploit this weakness."
"That, we have to watch our backs as well." Talor agreed with Shyla. "We can use the terrain we have explored to set up ambushes and traps."
"That's fine by me."
"Skywalker, is this enough?"
"That should suffice for now. Varad, Talor, I'll be resuming my journey with San Tekka. We still have much lore to look forward to."
"You may, Skywalker." Talor nodded.
"I understand, Commander Skywalker. Take care of you two." Shyla said
"May the Force be with you as well." Luke then left the room Varad and Talor were in.
A/N: Chapter 12 is here. Don't worry, the fanfic will continue as usual. Infinite Warfare just kept me kind of busy for some time.