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A Warden's Resolve (Complete)
"They're breaking through the lines! Multiple units headed to engineering! Get more soldiers there now!"
"We've got our hands full on the bridge! Too much damage! Can't spare anyone right now!"
"Shuttle bays are overrun, we're barely holding our own!"
"How long until the spin drive is back up?!"
Voices streamed over the datachrons as unit leaders gave their reports. The Dominion boarders had started to break through the outer layers of the ship. Shaori panted as she rushed down the corridors, her familiar crimson sword slung over her back and a polished leather belt in her hands. Pistols once emblazoned with emblems of the Dominion sat in the holsters marred with scratches and scrapes. Now those marks of pride were chipped away. Spotting the elevator at the end of the hall, Shaori smiled and rushed forward with renewed vigor.
"I don't mean to alarm you, Shaori," Jarren stated with a hint of worry, his image flashing into view before her eyes. "But I believe company is on its way. "
"Don't worry, I'm at the lift now!" Shaori called out. Her body came to a stop before the heavy doors. Pressing the call button yielded no response. She poked it again and again, never receiving any sign from the lift. "Hold on a sec." Tossing the belt to the floor, she pulled the blade from her back. Heat radiated from the blade as it hummed to life, the hot plasma blade glowing intensely. A diagonal slash ripped through the door, then another, and another, a flurry of strikes carving through the barrier. Chunks of metal collapsed and fell inward, clangs echoing through the shaft as they slammed onto the floor beneath.
"Dammit!" Shaori hissed as she stared into the empty shaft. Peering up, the car was jammed against the side, stuck in place. "Elevator's stuck."
"That would be a problem," Jarren noted. His attention shifted to his right as the sound of gunfire began outside of the engine room. "And it seems I have one of my own. How many decks up are you?"
"Umm....two," Shaori calcuated with a pause.
"If you can get down one level, you should be able to get to the upper catwalks and toss my guns down. Think you can manage?"
"Only if I try something stupid..." Shaori muttered, the sword flashing brighter as its generator surged with power.
"Works for me all the time!" Jarren joked with no confidence. "Just be careful, okay? "
"You know me," she answered as she picked up the belt, taking a few steps back.
"Says the woman with mechanical limbs...." he grumbled under his breath.
"I heard that!"
Shaori's eyes closed as she steadied herself. The display blinked to nothingness as her vision restored. With a shout, her arms shoved the sword straight downward, melting through the deck plates one by one. As the strength of her right arm could push no further, she leaned more with her left to bring the full force of the limb to bear. When the tip finally broke through to the next level she lurched forward, unprepared for the sudden drop in resistance. Pulling back slowly, she dragged the blade through the deck, carving a slit in the very floor. Each second grew more difficult as the sword's charge faltered, the overcharge quickly losing strength.
"I hope this is enough..." Shaori hoped while pulled the sword back. Her left leg raised upwards and stopped down on the fracture with a thunderous crash. Weakened metal bent from the strike. Rhythmic pounds rattled the floor as she stomped upon the opening. Each stamp opened the gap more and more until the metal would bend no further. A narrow opening, but it was enough. Sliding in feet first, she carefully wriggled her way through the gap, sharp metal edges tearing slits in her clothes and scraping against her flesh. A final push and she was through, hitting the next level with a loud crash.
"Just hang on a little longer, Jarren...."
"How much longer on that spin drive?" Jarren shouted back towards the massive engine. A dozen people scrambled throughout the engine room on various tasks. Sparks flew from severed cables, showering down onto the plates below in a spray of light.
"Ten, maybe fifteen minutes sir!" a technician shouted back over the fray of tools and combat.
"I'm sure my charm can hold them off for at least twice that," Jarren chuckled to himself. Beads of sweat mixed with globs grease and smeared a black trail down his cheeks in narrow streaks. His eyes narrowed as molten streaks began to burn through the thick doors, growing brighter and wider with each second.
"Just focus on your work, boys and girls!" Jarren commanded, barely able to maintain his cool demeanor. "We'll get through this one yet!"
A crimson blade carved through the door, the white hot blade cleaving through in slow, deliberate strikes. Each moment opened the gash further, cutting out a hole large enough for any soldier to get through. Low roars and grumbles cheered over the cutting. Draken. Fiercest soldiers in the Dominion.
"Out of way! Out of way!" a shrill voice cried out over the battle cries of the Draken soldiers. Jarren's brow perked curiously at the voice. None would mistake it for any but a devious Chua, but there was familiarity in this one's words. "Open now so I can explode something!" the voice barked out.
"Oh shi-" Jarren dove off behind supply crates as the newly carved section was kicked down. "Take cover!" A small spherical clump of metal and wires bounced into the room, jumping at unpredictable angles as the different protrusions struck the ground. As it reached the center of the room, a flash of light enveloped the room with a deafening clap of thunder. Jarren gritted his teeth as he felt the shockwave wash over the room, the concussive wave reflecting in the confined space to throw the entire engine room into chaos.
"Hmph! Zoba not pleased!" The yellow Chua waddled through the opening to survey the results. "Why half of room not vaporized?!" Five Draken soldiers filed in behind the Chua, lining up across the width of the doorway. A sixth strode through the opening, indigo eyes analyzing the room. He snorted as he saw engineers draped over equipment, their bodies limp and unmoving. A few more groaned as they tried to push upright, disoriented by the burst.
"In the name of the Dominion, I order you to stand down!" Veriz barked out. His thunderous tone was fierce and firm. "Surrender and you will survive to face judgment. Resist..." he continued with a bloodthirsty grin forming. "And you will make this day much better."
"I'd like to propose a third option, if i may..." Jarren called out from behind his crates. Guns and blades were raised at the ready as his head peeked out around the containers.
"Jarren?" Veriz stared in disbelief. Shock quickly turned to rage as he snarled, stomping towards the boxes.
"Why Stupid Humie here?!" Zoba questioned frantically. Though upset, it was not in the anger that Veriz showed. It's voice was pained.
"It's because he betrayed us Zoba!" Veriz howled as he grabbed Jarren's throat. Sharp claws poked against the Cassian's pale flesh, pin pricks of blood dribbling out. "You abandoned us! Betrayed us!"
"If you'd loosen your grip a moment," Jarren wheezed through the choking clutch of the Draken. Veriz bared his fangs with a snarl, but loosened his grip. "Good to see you, too, Veriz." Jarren coughed
"Give me one reason to let you continue breathing, traitor!" Veriz smoldered with rage, his body shaking with animalistic fury.
"Quite simple. As leader of your, uh, illustrious unit, you are honor bound to accept a duel should one be offered," Jarren smiled boastfully, his arms opening up to his sides as he shrugged. "Or is my grasp of Draken culture lacking?"
"You dare speak of honor?!" Veriz raged. The Draken's sword glowed bright as it swung towards Jarren. With an agile leave, he dove backwards to avoid the strike. As the wild swing went wide, it cleaved clean through a hollow pipe. Gusts of smoke vented out into the engine room, scalding the Draken as it engulfed him. "You wouldn't dare stand against me without your tricks, traitor!" Veriz continued to swing his sword wildly, blinded by the gas as it pumped into the room.
"I would!" a voice called out from above. Moments later a heavy thump struck the ground just before Veriz, the sound giving him a clear target.
"Then you are a fool!" A powerful downward swing from the Draken sliced through the air with frightful speed. Rising up to meet, a matching crimson blade reached up, colliding with Veriz's blade in a shuddering clang. "Who dares challenge me?" Veriz snarled. The flow of gas slowed, the emergency seal taking place. A silhouette emerged in the haze as the gas leaked out through the opening. Veriz stepped backwards, exposing himself from the clearing smoke and beckoning the other forward.
"I do," Shaori stated firmly as she strode through the gaseous veil.
Swords clashed as Veriz and Shaori swung their mighty blades, the hot plasma blades searing against each other. The two stared across at each other as the blades ground together, crossed between them. Neither budged as they pushed forward with all their might, trying to force an upper hand. The Draken raised his leg, thrusting it forward in a sudden kick to break the hold, staggering Shaori back from the impact. What distance opened was immediately closed as he leapt back in, their strikes a whirlwind of carnage. Deflected swings carved chunks off of supply crates, an evaded slash scarring the walls. Only between the two was there any calm from the destruction.
The remaining Draken soldiers grinned with pride as they watched the display, their own blood pumping with excitement at the clash. Jarren gazed on with concern, wincing and fidgeting with each strike, fearful that it would be the last. Zoba was lost. The Chua stared at the duel with horror, sensing the ferocity between the two of them. No words were exchanged between Shaori and Veriz once the smoke cleared.
"Why Zoba friends fighting?!" the Chua shouted, hoping his plea might silence the duel. "Why not listen to what Shaori and Stupid have to say?!"
"It's no use, Furball," Jarren yelled across the room. "They're in their own world now."
"Who you call Furball you intellectually deficient experiment extract?!" Zoba bickered back.
"Wow! That's a good one! When did you come up with that?" Jarren laughed. His grin remained only for only the brief seconds he allowed himself to gaze away from the fight.
"Zoba saving that for months!" it beamed with pride at the insult, filled with a warm feeling of smug intellectual superiority. And memories of such conflicts in the past. The Chua plopped back down onto the floor, a thick barreled gun being pulled from its back and set upon its legs.
The collisions remained a draw for several minutes, the engineers that remained frantically trying to manage what repairs they could during the chaos. A swift kick from Veriz shifted the balance, sending Shaori flying back against the engine room wall with enough force to bounce off. She barely had time to move as the Draken lunged in, his sword seeking to impale her. Sparks crackled as the sword pierced through her arm, ripping through the mechanical limb like it was nothing and jamming into the wall. Shaori staggered to her right and fell as her mass shifted unprepared. Veriz struggled to free his blade from the walls, buying her the time needed to return to her feet, body drooped to the side from the unbalanced weight.
"It would have been easier if you had stayed dead," Veriz solemnly commented as he marched towards Shaori. "I take no pleasure in killing you. You were....a good friend." The other Draken began to move forward, the line marching towards their leader. Blood was near and they wanted to make sure they had their fill.
"If having my body crushed and mangled couldn't kill me, what makes you think you will?" Shaori boasted with a smirk.
"You think you can best me with one arm? You can barely hold your sword!" Veriz scolded, not accepting her taunt. "But...I am also pleased. I would have been disappointed if you did not fight to the end."
"A Warden never quits. It's been an honor being your friend, Veriz," Shaori bowed her head for a moment. The gentle smile that she shared with them so many times before faded back to the stern scowl of battle as she grunted and strained. Her sword wobbled as she lifted it upright, using all her might just to keep the massive blade up with a single arm.
Veriz rushed forward, preparing his finishing strike. His strike sought out the sparking shoulder, prepared to cleave through her body completely. A brutal strike, but he had to be sure. And he owed her a proper death. Shaori let her sword fall forward, the tip clanking against the floor as she bent backwards. Leaning under the strike, she pivoted off her right foot into a spin and brought the full force of her left leg to bear. The heavy limb struck the Draken's hilt and knocked the blade from his grip, sending it clattering across the floor. Hopping onto her left foot, she continued to spin, allowing the momentum to carry her sword. Veriz's eyes grew wide as he felt the heat slicing through his armor, the first splashes against his torso. And he smiled as he felt it carry through him.
Veriz crumpled to the floor, sword lodged in his side. Shock overcame Shaori as she stared down at him, feeling his blood upon her.
"Well fought," one of the remaining Draken commented as he raised his sword. "But traitors don't get honorable duels. One has to have honor to risk it." The five approached Shaori, stil trapped in shock. Jarren scrambled to his feet, rushing to her side with pistols drawn.
"Well, for what it's worth, I thought you were marvelous, my love," Jarren smiled. His words snapped her from her trance.
"I could think of worse ways to die," Shaori chuckled weakly as the Draken approached. Three raised their guns as the last raised his sword to match.
"Any last regrets" Jarren questioned, lowering his pistols back to his waist and placing them in their holsters. His arms wrapped around her in a gentle embrace.
"I would have liked to see our child."
"Spin drive operational! Go! Go! Go!"
The engine roared to life as the ship prepared its escape. The sound of gunfire couldn't even be heard over the ship jumping out.
Jarren's eyes were the first to open as he clutched Shaori tightly. He stared into the room expectantly, disappointment clear as he frowned.
"Huh," Jarren stated unimpressed. "Perhaps I'm missing something, but I thought the afterlife would be a little....tidier?"
Shaori's eyes opened next, her downward gaze catching the sight before her. The remaining Draken laid sprawled across the floor, their backs filled with wounds. "Jarren...I don't think we're dead?"
"We're not?" Jarren cheered up with a wide grin. "We're not! Isn't that bloody surprise!"
"But why are we..." Shaori began before looking upwards. The barrel of the still smoking gun rested up on the floor beside Zoba. "Zoba? Did you-"
"Why Zoba always have to do saving?!" the Chua shouted with irritation. "Shaori and Jarren always running off into fights leaving Zoba to save day! How anything get done around here?" The Cassians looked to each other with a confused smile. Jarren released Shaori and approached the ball of fluff as it paced back and forth.
"Thank you Zoba," Jarren pulled the Chua into a gentle hug.
"Release me, Stupid!" Zoba protested. Though it squirmed to get out of the grip, Shaori giggled as she saw the smile. "Making me wish I let Drakens kill you!"
"Why didn't you?" Jarren asked as he set Zoba back down.
"Chua not caring about Dominion rules or regulations. Especially safety regulations. Redundant backup systems? HA! Wasteful I say!"
"That's all?" Jarren probed with doubt in his voice.
"And....maybe Zoba not want stupid Drakies to kill best friends..." Zoba finally admitted with a great deal of reluctance.
"But what are you going to do now?" Shaori questioned curiously. "Did you want to come with us?"
"Zoba may be Chua, but not crazy! Too much danger here! I'm gonna take a shuttle and get outta here!"
"Well...thank you," Shaori knelt down beside Jarren and gave Zoba a sweet smile. "You saved our lives."
"Yes yes Zoba big hero now," the Chua turned away and started to waddle towards the door. It's eyes flooded with tears as its nose twitched, unable to maintain the act. "Zoba...going to miss Shaori and Jarren."
"We'll miss you too, Zoba," Jarren answered. I'll comm and let them know to let you go." Zoba waddled through the opening carved into the door, peering into the room only for a moment before dashing off.
"So..." Jarren started but trailed off
"So...?" Shaori questioned.
"I guess you'll need a new arm then? You should be more careful, I hear they don't grow back..." Shaori swung her arm with a playful punch to his shoulder. "Oww! Careful! I was just in the middle of a very dangerous situation you know. I'm fragile..."
"Well then I'll just have to keep you safe then, won't I?" she chuckled. "But I think for now, I'm fine as I am."
30 years later
"Come on, mom! You're going to miss the party!" a male voice called out from the next room.
"In a minute! I just want to finish this up before I forget! Go get your father, you know how he is!" Shaori smiled as she looked down at her desk. The blank pad sat on the table, her aged face staring back up at her. She winced in pain, her arm reaching across to her left shoulder socket, rubbing the stumpy shoulder gently. As the pain subsided, she let out a soft sigh as she picked up a pen.
To the Grand Children I'll never know,
If you are reading this letter, then you have finally met the other half of your family. You no doubt have so many questions. You may not even think this is real. I'll leave it to you to decide what you think is true. I only hope that you will trust that these words come from a place of love.
From what I've heard, official Dominion reports are that I died from my wounds after sacrificing myself for a Luminai. I survived. And it wasn't long before I grew disillusioned with what was happening to our people. Cassians. Not just us Lowborn.
So I made a choice. I left. And now we Exiles wander the galaxy just trying to find some place of our own. I hope one day we'll find peace.
You might wonder why I left, why I betrayed the Dominion. Why I abandoned my family, my duty, my friends.
I learned that sometimes doing the right thing means going against everything else in your life. And it hurts.
It hurts every day to think of all that I left behind, that I never got to know you. But it was the right thing for me to do.
My dear distant grand child, I pray not that you follow in my footsteps, but in my spirit. No matter what you do,
know that I am proud of you for doing what you think is right. A Warden's strength comes not from muscle, but from will. The will to persevere no matter the odds. Doubt is our true enemy. Face it head and you will come out all the stronger for it.
So go out there into the universe, and show them your resolve. Show them what a Warden can do.