Bloodlines
 
By Gray Lancer

Authors notes: This is about the times after Andross... an old enemy from the past that
Gray Lancer(me) and Fox McCloud got mixed up with... some other stuff. Listen, its
good, just read the story. The characters Brett MacDonald and FlareWolf ODonnell are
both real people and have given me permission to use them in the story. Please ask me if
you want to steal... er... use any characters in this story. And finally, Id like to plug my
web site:
 
        http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/Dungeon/8162/starfox.htm
 
 

           &nbs p;            Book 1: The Snare of the Huntress
           &nb sp;    If the bait is tempting enough... the prey will come.
 

-Two weeks into Gray Lancers special forces career, some unknown planet

        GET THE HELL DOWN! GET THE HELL DOWN NOW!
        Gray heard the captain shout over the noise of battle and threw himself into the ground. He heard
an explosion nearby and felt the heat of the blast against his back. He covered his head and prayed that no
debris would hit him. None did, so he was Ok for now. Gray lifted himself back to his footpaws... he was
rudely shoved down by someone next to him. Gray heard a rough voice,
        Stay down... they havent stopped yet!
        Another explosion sounded, slightly farther away. Gray nodded his head and continued to lie in
the dirt. The sounds of explosions faded out... only to be replaced with the sounds of gunfire. Bullets
began to rain down close to where Gray was lying. He shut his eyes and waited for something to hit him...
        Nothing happened. Gray opened his eyes again. The noises of gunfire had stopped. He spoke in a
whisper,
        Is it Ok to come out now?
        Whoever had shoved Gray down laughed,
        No. Now we wait. Get used to it.
        Gray groaned and settled down in the dirt. He kept his head below the edge of the small pit he
was in.
        There was a sound behind Gray... the sound of a gun being cocked. Gray couldnt see who was
holding the gun... but he didnt seem to need to.
        He kicked a footpaw up and heard the sound of it connecting with someones kneecap. Whoever
it was gave a yelp and dropped the gun. Gray whirled around and pulled out his service pistol. He saw that
it was indeed an enemy soldier.
        He squeezed the trigger once. A perfect shot, dead center of the enemys skull. The soldier
collapsed without another sound. The wolf who was in the pit with Gray smiled,
        Whered you learn that trick?
        Gray stared down at his gun,
        I dont know... I just sort of... did it.
        Then we didnt waste money training you. Welcome to the CSF.
        A shout rang across the field,
        CHARGE! STORM THE BUNKERS AND KILL EM ALL!
        Gray and the wolf next to him hoisted themselves up and armed their weapons. An entire squad
of Cornerian Special Forces commandos was about to storm down the hill they were on and kill
everything before them. That was a position no foe wanted to find themselves in.
        But the enemy had a little bit going for them. They were expecting it. Gray began running down
the hill next to the wolf who had been in the ditch with him. Then the wolf was no longer there. Gray
looked down and saw the wolf. He was obviously dead. Gray turned away and continued to work his way
down the hill.
        Something hit Grays right leg, near the top. He felt a flash of pain and looked down. A bullet
had winged his leg and taken off some of the flesh. Gray gritted his teeth and stumbled down. He hit the
ground and lay there. He was then hauled to his footpaws roughly by a large ferret. The ferret growled at
Gray,
        Listen soldier! You get hit, you keep on going! Got me?!
        Gray weakly nodded and stood on his own. He brought his rifle up and continued down the hill.
Other commandos were around him now, firing at the enemy. The enemy gave as good as they got and
some of the commandos dropped around Gray.
        Somehow Gray managed not to fall again. He fired almost at random into the enemy units.
        And it was all over. The firing stopped and Gray dropped to the ground. He felt nothing but pain
as he lay there on the ground. A small rat came up and looked down. The rat laughed,
        Wadda wimp.
        Gray felt his blood boil he lifted himself to his footpaws and grabbed the rat. Gray stood at least a
foot taller than the rat and glared at him,
        Leave me alone.
        Gray released the rat, who only nodded frantically and ran off. Gray fell back down to the
ground. He felt his leg numbing. Hopefully a medic would find him before the injury got much worse. Not
that it really mattered.

-The present day, Corneria Central High School

        Gray Lancer hated class reunions. His wife Mira wasnt too crazy about them either.
        So they both stood together outside the school where the reunion was being held and tried not to
fall asleep. They had both been mercenaries, and they both still were. They had few friends and no
relatives. They lived every second of life together and loved it.
        And this bored the hell out of both of them.
        Mira leaned heavily against Grays shoulder and yawned. Gray nudged his wife to keep her from
falling asleep against him. She smiled and snuggled close to him. Gray also smiled and put his arm
around Mira.
        Mira spotted someone in the crowd who looked familiar. She poked Gray,
        Uh-oh. Old classmate known for being annoying, recommend we get outta his line of site!
        Gray nodded and they walked into the crowd, avoiding a meeting theyd rather not have. Gray
leaned over and whispered to Mira,
        What the hell happened to the classmates who we dont hate?
        Mira smiled,
        Our few friends in this crowd had enough sense not to come. Tell me again why we came at
all.
        Because we had absolutely nothing better to do.
        Mira nodded sagely and smiled again. Gray laughed softly to himself. Mira looked up at him,
        What is it?
        I was just thinking, we COULD just go back to the hotel and make out for the rest of the night.
        Mira laughed and shoved Gray playfully,
        Youre a funny fox, Gray. Dont test me, I might take you up on that.
        Lovely.
        Mira grinned and put her arm around Grays neck. He grinned back at her. The two foxes made
their way out of the crowd and headed towards the edge of the area the reunion was in. Neither really
wanted to head back to their hotel yet, but neither wanted to hang around either. They both heard someone
speak over the speaker system set up outside,
        Gray Lancer, I have something for you...
        Gray ignored the speaker... then he heard that his own name was being called and turned around
and began to work back into the crowd. Mira trailed closely behind him.
        He worked his way up to the front where the speaker was. They were a small male mouse
wearing a suit and tie. The mouse smiled and spoke in a low voice directly to Gray,
        Sevantra sends her regards!
        Grays eyes opened wide and he reached into his own suit. He pulled out a Cornerian Special
Forces service pistol and aimed it at the mouse. The crowd backed away. Mira ran next to Gray. He used
his other paw to motion her back. Gray spoke to the mouse,
        What do you want? Why wont you just leave me alone?!
        The mouse sneered,
        Lancer, well all see you in hell.
        No such luck.
        I think so!
        The mouse pulled out a gun of his own and fired one shot. The shot wasnt aimed at Gray, it was
aimed at Mira. The bullet grazed her arm and she yelped. Gray pulled the trigger on his own pistol and
the mouse fell over dead. Gray ran over to Mira and took off his jacket. He pressed the cloth against her
wound to try and stop the blood from flowing. He shouted into the crowd,
        Somebody call an ambulance! Get me a goddamn first aid kit!
        Someone ran up with a first aid kit. Gray thanked them and opened the kit. He retrieved a roll of
bandages and began to dress Miras wound. He spoke softly to her,
        Did it go in?
        No, the bullet only skimmed my arm, its gone.
        Good. Youll be fine then.
        Whos Sevantra?
        Grays face twisted into a pained expression,
        Ill... tell you some other time...
        Mira frowned and touched Grays face. He winced. Mira looked hurt,
        Gray? Is something wrong?
        Its something... from the past. I will explain it to you... when were alone.
        Mira closed her eyes and a tear streamed down her face,
        Listen Gray, I know what kind of pain your past holds... Rilah... Mike... your old friends... your
entire special forces career... Janus Arkon... everything. I dont want another of those things to tear you up
like this.
        Gray only nodded. He wasnt worried about this thing tearing him apart. He was more worried
about it getting anyone and everyone he cared about. And he had good reason to feel that way.

-High-rise Hotel, Corneria City

        At the hospital, they had merely told Gray to go home and wait for a call. They hadnt let him
talk to Mira or stay with her.
        Gray paced restlessly... why hadnt they just let him stay with his wife? This was the first time
hed been separated from her for any length of time. Gray sat down on a couch in the center of the room
and buried his head in his paws. What was everything coming to? Why was it all happening again.
        His old friends were mostly dead. His really close friends were ALL dead. All that was left was
some friends from high school... and Mira.
        And Gray had thought that all the loose ends from his past were all tied up. Janus Arkon was
dead, Nightwake was dead, Srilana was dead, everyone who had wanted to kill him was now dead... or so
he thought.
        So why was Sevantra turning up? Why was she choosing this moment? What did she know that
Gray didnt.
        And why wasnt she targeting Gray? He hated to admit it but he knew it was true. No one could
have missed a point-blank shot like that mouse. He hadnt missed at all. He had been aiming for Mira.
And Gray had a feeling that he hadnt been trying to kill her.
        Sevantra must have known that Gray would kill whoever was sent. So that mouse had been
expendable. Was it just a warning? Or was Sevantra trying to taunt him?
        The com unit chimed to signal an incoming call. Gray jumped up and picked up the receiver.
Must be the hospital.
        But the voice which came on the other end was harsh and disturbing,
        Hello, Mr. Lancer. Your responsibility is doubling, so to speak.
        Who are you?
        I say again, your responsibility is doubling.
        What the hell is that supposed to mean?
        I suggest you visit your wife... better make it quick, you never know what might happen.
        The line went dead. Gray slammed the receiver back into place and ran out of the room. He
decided against the elevator and took the stairs to the ground level. He ran out onto the streets... the
hospital where Mira had been taken was only a couple blocks off... within running distance.

-The Mother Germaine Hospital, Corneria

        The night watch at the Mother Germaine Hospital was bored out of his mind. The aging terrier
sat at his station in the front and yawned. Hardly any emergencies turned up on his watch. The most
exciting event of the day had been some vixen who had been shot at a high school reunion. That was
several hours ago. Nothing was happening now.
        The terrier sat back in his chair and sighed happily. No news was good news, as the old saying
went. If no one came in at all, the aging guard would be perfectly happy.
        But someone came in. A gray fox who looked like he was in his mid twenties. The fox walked up
to the desk and placed both paws on it. He panted for breath, obviously he had been running. The guard
looked up at the fox,
        Whats wrong, son.
        I... need...
        The fox gasped for breath,
        To see... my wife...
        The fox was panting hard, trying to regain his breath. The terrier squinted at him,
        Whats yer name, son?
        Gray Lancer... my wife... is Mira... Lancer.
        The terriers eyes opened very wide,
        The one who got shot?
        Gray nodded his head.
        God, son. Didnt they let ya visit er?
        Gray shook his head.
        Im not supposed to let any visitors in, but they shoulda let ya see er earlier. I know she means
a lot to ya, dont ya worry. Come with me.
        The terrier left his station at the desk and walked off down one of the halls. Gray followed after
him. The terrier went to one of the elevators and inserted a key card in the slot.
        They keep the main elevators shut down at night. But this is the quickest way to yer
sweethearts room.
        Gray smiled. They stood and waited for the elevator to come. The terrier looked over at Gray,
        Lessee... if yer wife is the one that got shot... oh yeah. There was something else they found out
about er that youll be interested to hear.
        Gray looked scared,
        What? Bad news?
        No, rather good. Ill let er tell ya erself.
        The elevator reached the correct floor and Gray stepped in, followed by the night guard. The
guard pressed the appropriate floor button and the doors to the elevator slid shut.

-Outside the hospital

        Hes moving up. Must be in the elevator.
        The radio crackled,
        Well obviously, you idiot. So whats the verdict?
        Hmm... good question. What did she say?
        Move in.
        Right. Kill?
        No. Absolutely not. She wants him alive.

-Inside the Mother Germaine Hospital

        The elevator slid upwards silently. Neither Gray nor the guard made any attempts at
conversation. Both stood and thought. Actually, the night guard was doing less thinking and more
whistling. Gray let his mind wander and found his thoughts concentrating on one thing...
        Sevantra.
        Why wouldnt she leave him alone?
        That was about the only question that came up. It kept popping into Grays head. Why the hell
wouldnt Sevantra leave him alone?!
        So Gray just stood in the elevator and thought about that one, rather limited concept. The doors
soon slid open again to reveal a new floor. The guard stepped out and Gray followed. The elevator doors
closed again behind them
        The hallway into which they had stepped was dimly lit at night, but lit well enough to see. The
guard walked to one of the doors and inserted a key card. He looked at Gray and explained,
        Since she was shot under... interesting circumstances... we decided shed be safer if we locked
the door at night.
        The guard smiled upon seeing Grays relieved expression. The terrier unlocked the door and
opened it. He and Gray stepped into the room. The terrier smiled and backed out of the room, closing the
door behind him. In the dim light, Gray saw Mira lying in bed. He walked over to her and knelt by the
bedside. He whispered softly,
        Mira? Are you awake?
        Mira opened her eyes. She looked confused. Then she saw it was Gray who had spoken and she
smiled,
        Gray! Why didnt you come earlier? I was really worried.
        They wouldnt let me come earlier. I came to see if you were alright.
        Im fine... is something wrong?
        No.
        Mira frowned,
        Somethings wrong, isnt it?
        Gray nodded,
        Someone called me on the com and said to go see you quick because something might happen.
But youre fine... so maybe it was just a trick.
        Oh, it doesnt matter. Ive wanted to see you all day! And Ive got something big to tell you.
        Gray remembered what the guard had said,
        Yeah, the guard said something about good news.
        Mira gave a large smile,
        Uh-huh. Its pretty good... I guess I should have expected it by now.
        What?
        Gray... Im pregnant!
        Gray only stared. He began to smile,
        Really?
        Yeah, I asked them to test it and the test came out positive. Youre gonna be a father soon!
        Gray leaned over and embraced his wife. They sat and held each other for a long time. Gray
suddenly gasped.
        What is it, Gray?
        Im not going to hide this from you, because you need to know. When the person called, they
said something about my responsibility doubling. I had no clue what they meant, but now I think I
know.
        Our child?
        Gray nodded,
        When do you get released?
        Tomorrow morning, first thing.
        Good. Ill pick you up at seven. Ive got to explain whats going on to you.
        What is going on?
        Ill tell you tomorrow, Im not even sure about everything myself at the moment.
        Gray kissed his wife and stood up. Mira gave him a sad look. Gray winced,
        Mira, I promise Ill be back by seven tomorrow. I hate to leave you... but Ill see you again
soon.
        I love you, Gray.
        Gray nodded and walked up to Mira. He leaned down and they kissed.
        I love you too. Ill know whats going on by tomorrow. See you then.
        Mira nodded and waved to Gray. He opened the door to her room and left. The door
automatically locked behind him.
        Him? A father? It was kind of funny. And kind of nice too. All he had to do was survive long
enough to enjoy it... and make sure Mira survived long enough too.
        The guard wasnt in the hallway. Funny. He must have gone back to his station already.
Hopefully the guard hadnt shut the elevator off. Gray made his way to the elevator and pressed the
button.
        It still worked. Maybe the guard had other things to do on this level. Gray stood and waited for
the elevator to reach his level.
        The door slid open.
        Inside stood a tall weasel, smirking and holding a gun to Gray. The weasel spoke,
        Sorry, Lancer. Im not supposed to kill ya, but I can if I really want to. You recognize this thing,
dontcha? Its a Tal-5 Laser Rifle. Quick sucker, blow a hole right through ya. Now get in the elevator and
face the door.
        Gray knew that trying to fight at this point would probably only get him killed. He complied with
the weasels directions. The weasel went to the back of the elevator and kept the gun trained on Gray.
Gray spoke to the weasel,
        Where are you taking me?
        Shut up. You dont get ta know nothin!
        Gray shrugged. He heard the weasel raise the gun a little.
        Dont worry, I wont try anything. Im not stupid.
        Neither am I, Lancer.
        The elevator began to descend. Gray watched the numbers indicating what floor they were on.
The elevator went below the ground floor and down to the sub-basement. The doors slid open and the
weasel shoved Gray roughly out. The weasel then turned Gray around to face him and pulled out a large
hood,
        You wear this now.
        The weasel slipped the hood on over Grays head. With the hood on, Gray was unable to see
anything, but the weasel kept prodding Gray on. He was going somewhere... he just didnt know exactly
where.

-Near Aquas

        Fox McCloud pulled his Arwing into a quick loop followed by a barrel roll. Close by, his wife
Fara imitated the move almost perfectly. Fox smiled and spoke into the com on his headset,
        Nice job, Fara! Wanna head down to the planet?
        Fara yawned audibly,
        Nah, lets not. Lets pull a few more moves and then head home.
        Fair enough. You lead this time.
        Alright. Lets go!
        Fara accelerated her Arwing and Fox pushed his own to catch up. Fara pulled a quick roll and
shot downwards. Fox managed to stay in formation with her, but just barely,
        Calm down, Fara! Its been a long day.
        Fara laughed,
        You know me better than that, Fox.
        Ha ha. Well, lets keep going here.
        Fara went into a fast U-turn and decelerated her Arwing. She started to pull a loop and broke off,
choosing only to fly straight.
        Fara, what are you trying here?
        Nothing. Fox, look at your threat display!
        Fox glanced down at the threat display. He saw several incoming unknown contacts closing fast.
        What the? I hope those are neutrals.
        Fox switched his com frequency to the general band and spoke again,
        Attention unknown ships, please identify yourselves.
        The missile lock warning on Foxs threat display answered his questions. He pulled a loop and
broke the enemy lock.
        Fara, theyre enemies! Lets get em!
        Fara whooped and charged at the enemy. She locked a missile and fired. The enemy ship
skillfully dodged the missile and fired at Fara with lasers. The vixens Arwing took several hits before she
could get out of the way.
        One of the other fighters, Fox counted about five, flew at Fox and started firing its lasers. Fox
was ready, though, and only took one or two grazing hits. He fired his own lasers and caused serious
damage to the fighter. Fox heard Faras voice on the com,
        What are these things? Ive never seen them before.
        I dont know and the threat display doesnt either. They can suck a lot of damage.
        Fox found the fighter he had been shooting at earlier and targeted his lasers. He continued to fire
at the fighter. It took too many hits for the armor and exploded. Fox cheered,
        YES! Finally! They arent invincible after all.
        Fox! Threat displays picking up something incoming from hyperspace!
        What?
        Were about to find out.
        Fox checked the threat display and confirmed Faras statement. The display registered another
five fighters coming out of hyperspace, and something else. Something bigger. Fara spoke in an awed
voice,
        That things as big as one of those new super-heavy carriers! Look at it!
        Fox switched on the visual register on the threat display. The ship was massive, easily as large as
a super-heavy carrier... probably carrying numerous squadrons of fighters.
        The com crackled and hissed, as if someone was trying to break onto the frequency. Whoever it
was succeeded,
        Hello Fox.
        Who the hell are you?!
        Shut up and prepare to be brought on board.
        Fox pushed his Arwings throttle to the maximum setting... too late. He felt the Arwing being
restrained by an energy field. There was no way in heaven or hell that he could break free of an energy
field from a ship that size.
        Why are you doing this?!
        No answer came to Foxs question.
        WHY THE HELL ARE YOU DOING THIS?!
        Still no one responded to Foxs question. His Arwing was being quickly draw inside the ship.

        Fara saw Foxs Arwing on the threat display being draw towards the enemy ship. She almost
screamed before she realized that Fox couldnt hear her... the channel was completely locked out. She
tried to punch in the auxiliary... that didnt work either. Foxs Arwing was completely out of his control
and completely locked off.
        Faras com crackled briefly. Then a clear and menacing voice spoke over it,
        Do not try to reach your husband. His ship is completely in our command.
        What do you want?
        We want your husband.
        What about me?!
        We want you to... die!
        The channel went dead. Fara looked down at the threat display.
        One missile lock on her Arwing...
        Two...
        Three...
        Seven...
        Fourteen...
        Twenty-nine...
        Fifty... how many more missile banks could track her?
        Seventy... holding at seventy.
        Fara closed her eyes. Tears streamed down her face. She spoke quietly to herself,
        Fox, I hope youre Ok... and have a good life without me...
        The threat display announced with a simple chime that all seventy missiles had just been
launched.
        Fara kept her eyes closed and prayed.

-Gray Lancers location, unknown

        Gray wasnt exactly sure where the weasel was taking him.
        Actually, to be brutally honest, he hadnt the slightest idea. But even if he couldnt see, he could
still smell, hear, and feel.
        He could hear the weasel taunting him nearby. Gray blocked that out and concentrated on
ambient sounds. He heard dripping water...
        And everything felt damp. The air was cool and damp, and it felt like he was in a closed space.
So he wasnt outdoors, and there was dripping water.
        It smelled damp too. It smelled damp and musty. So he was probably still underground. The sub-
basement of the hospital probably led to all sorts of secret passages and forgotten maintenance shafts.
Gray figured he was traveling in one of those right now.
        Now his attention came back to the broader picture. The weasel was beginning to get annoying,
but he had the gun and Gray didnt. The weasel spoke to Gray in a mocking voice,
        Guess yer wifes fair game now. Man, she is pretty. Id like to do a few things to her before I kill
her... cept thats not my job. But a guy kin dream.
        Gray snarled and spun to where the sound was coming from. He nearly screamed at the weasel,
        LISTEN YOU PIECE OF CRAP! IF YOU EVEN TOUCH HER ILL KILL YOU!
        Gray heard the weasel step back and cock the gun,
        Listen yerself. If ya keep shoutin, Ill hafta blow yer head off, orders or no.
        Gray only snarled at the weasel, who prodded him with the gun,
        Now keep movin.
        Gray complied, but the way he walked was different. The weasel kept his distance and no longer

spoke.
        After another ten minutes without incident, the weasel hauled Gray to a rough stop. Gray heard
the weasel whistle sharply. Above the sound of a grate being moved was audible. The weasel spoke to
Gray,
        Climb the ladder.
        Gray put his paws out and felt a ladder. He gripped it and began to climb. He could probably
escape now, drop down and land on the weasel... grab his gun...
        No. Now was not the time for heroics. Anything stupid he did now wouldnt cost him... it would
cost his wife Mira and their still unborn child. Gray wouldnt put his life above their safety. Even if that
meant getting killed by some over-zealous bounty hunter.
        Gray reached the top of the ladder and was roughly hauled up by someone above. He felt cold
night air. He was outside again, probably on a back street. He heard the weasel come up after him and
close the grate again. The weasel spoke, apparently to whoever had hauled Gray up,
        Good timing. Lets get im into the car and get the heck outta here!
        The other person grunted and picked Gray up. Whoever it was had huge and very rough paws.
Gray was half-carried, half-dragged across the street. The weasel ran up and opened a door on what was
apparently a car. Gray still wore the hood and could still see nothing. Gray was picked up and thrown
inside. The weasel jumped in and closed the door. Gray felt the weasels gun being pressed to his head,
        The car is where they always try somethin. Yer not dumb like that, are ya, Lancer? Dont... I
dont wanna disobey my boss here.
        Gray heard another door open and then close. The engine of the car started. Gray felt the car
begin to move. The weasel spoke again,
        You comfy? This is only temporary until we get ta the next car. Youll be treated like a king
then... heh heh...
        The car drove on for about twenty minutes, throughout which no one said anything. Finally, the
car came to a stop and the engine died. The weasel spoke at last,
        You get out now.
        The door was opened and Gray was shoved roughly out. The weasel walked up and ripped the
hood off his head.
        Looking around, Gray saw grassy fields all around. He could see Corneria City in the distance.
He could also see the weasel holding a gun to him. The weasel grinned,
        Ya make the rest of the trip without a mask... but the scenery aint so good.
        Gray was prodded over to another car. The person who had driven before, a massive wildcat of
some kind, opened the trunk of the car. The wildcat then went over to Gray and picked him up. Gray was
thrown roughly into the trunk and the weasel pulled out a pistol,
        You make the rest of the trip with whatever scenery your brain provides...
        A flash... then blackness...

-The Maker, on Corneria

        Fara Phoenix-McCloud opened her eyes and looked around the room she was lying in. It was
clean, white, and sterile-looking. She blinked widely and spoke to herself,
        Am I dead?
        Someone behind her laughed lightly. Fara turned around and saw a female wolf leaning against
the wall. The wolf nodded to Fara,
        Sorry, I shouldnt have done that. My name is Alana Petrikov, welcome to the Maker.
        What?
        Oh... you dont know about this, do you? Listen, you arent dead. Remember where you got your
Arwing?
        Yeah, the Cornerian Military let me keep it as a way of saying thanks.
        Uh-huh. Well, before it was given to you, it was modified. Weve been working on a lot of
defensive systems that fall under the code-name Guardian Angel. This is the base for the project, its on
Corneria. What was on your ship was a Guardian 4.
        Whats that?
        Right before all those missiles... uh, seventy of them... hit you, the system sent your Arwing into
hyperspace. It didnt go very far, but it did get you out of there. Of course, you still clipped one or two of
the missiles and took some pretty bad damage. Dont worry, its nothing our techs cant fix.
        Am I Ok?
        Do you feel Ok?
        Fara sat up in bed and flexed her arms,
        I guess.
        Well, you didnt have any serious injuries, but we want to keep you until were sure youll be
fine.
        Fara yelped,
        But I have to help Fox!
        Hold it. We found no debris around the area. Foxs Arwing didnt have the system so we should
have found some remains... after seventy missiles.
        No, he wasnt fired on. He was captured.
        Alanas eyes opened wide,
        Captured? By who?
        There was a big carrier... I think it took Fox aboard... Arwing and all.
        Hold on. I think you need to rest a little.
        What? But I feel fine!
        Alana had been working with something in her paws. Now Fara saw what it was, a hypodermic
needle. Alana walked up to Fara and grabbed the vixens arm,
        Listen, you need rest, whether you want to admit it or not!
        The wolf injected Fara with the needle. Fara felt herself getting tired. Alana stepped back,
        Dont worry. Its just a heavy sedative. Youll be out for a few hours. The restll do you some
good.
        Fara heard the last words as one mash of syllables and sounds as she lost grip on consciousness.
Reality faded into blackness and Fara was soon in a deep state of drug-induced sleep. Alana lowered Fara
slowly to the bed and smiled,
        Sorry, but you needed that. Save Fox? What kind of idiot suggestion is that?
        Alana turned and opened the door to Faras room.
        Standing in the doorway was a medium-sized male cat with a leather jacket on. Next to him was
a female cat of the same size wearing a similar but longer jacket. The cat grinned at Alana,
        Hello.
        Alana stared,
        Who are you and how did you get inside?
        Ah yes. My name is Brett MacDonald. This is my associate, business partner, and wife, Kelly
MacDonald.
        The female cat nodded.
        Anyway, we came to pick up that young vixen over there.
        On whos orders?
        Well, shes being placed under Mercenaries Guild protection.
        Wait just a minute. Youre a bunch of vigilantes! You cant do that!
        Please dont make me hurt you.
        Alana raised her paws into a fighting position. She glared,
        Dont push your luck... I was in the special forces for three years!
        Brett sighed and rolled his eyes. He stepped aside. A huge ferret stepped into the doorway and
smiled. Brett motioned to the ferret,
        Hallen, please dont hurt her.
        The ferret nodded and picked Alana up by the head. He put her aside and set her down. Brett
stepped inside the room and nodded to Alana,
        Look here, you. Fara Phoenix-McCloud is in a huge pile of trouble, and even you dont know
much about it. Ever stop to think exactly WHO would be firing seventy missiles at her?
        Alana shook her head nervously. Brett sighed,
        Well, we have a few theories... all of which end with Fara dying if she stays here. You wanna
hear something interesting?
        Sure...
        Earlier today... no...
        Brett looked at his watch,
        ...yesterday. Anyway, yesterday afternoon Mira Lancer was taken to the Mother Germaine
hospital after being shot in the arm. Her husband Gray is a member of the Guild... a reasonably important
member... also a good friend of Kelly and me. We tried to call him on his personal com. He isnt
answering.
        Maybe he isnt carrying it.
        Brett shook his head quickly,
        No. He ALWAYS carries his com on him. Even when he sleeps he keeps it by the bed. If he
isnt answering, something is wrong. So we sent someone to his apartment to check up on him. Guess
what, hes not there. We also had someone sneak into the hospital and talk to Mira... see if he visited her.
Turns out he had. We didnt tell her that he was missing... its hard enough for those two to be separated
from each other for any amount time. Point is, sometime after Gray visited Mira, he disappeared. He
disappeared and we have no clue where the hell he is. Do you understand?
        Alana gasped,
        Fox McClouds Arwing...
        Brett nodded to Kelly,
        Kel, I want you to call two Guild members who were on assignment.
        Which ones?
        Uh... first call FlareWolf ODonnell and tell her that Alana Petrikov is no longer considered a
target. Basically tell Flare to stop aiming her gun down here, pack up, and head home. Then call Wraith
and tell her to await assignment from me.
        Kelly raised her eyebrows,
        Wraith? Oh, you mean Aue... er... Wraith. We havent used her since... oh... the CSF corruption
thing way back before Gray even joined.
        Brett nodded his head and looked over at Alana,
        What kind of sedative did you give Fara?
        Serigen-5. Why?
        Watch.
        Brett opened his jacket a pulled out a small hypodermic needle. He removed the cap and walked
over to Fara. He poked the needle into Faras arm and injected a clear liquid. Fara groaned and blinked
sleepily. Alana stared in amazement. Brett explained,
        Ive got these things for most major sedatives. Im just glad you used a normal one. Think of
them as the antidotes to sedatives.
        Alana nodded with her eyes still wide. Fara groaned again and looked around the room. She
opened her eyes completely and tried to sit up. Brett gently pushed her down,
        Dont yet. Your body will take a second to get used to this.
        Fara turned to look at Brett,
        Brett? Brett MacDonald? I havent seen you in a long time. Hows Kelly?
        Kelly walked into Faras field of view and smiled,
        Im fine.
        What are you guys doing here?
        Brett answered,
        Were placing you under Mercenaries Guild protection. Ill explain in the car.
        Fara finally sat up. She looked down and remembered that she was wearing a generic hospital
gown. She began to speak when Brett realized the same thing. He smiled,
        Dont worry. Here are your clothes.
        He threw them to Fara. She took the clothes and walked across the room to where the small
shower area was. Fara stepped inside the area and closed the door to change. Brett turned finally to Alana,
        Ok then. Faras coming with us, whether you like it or not. Now you have a few choices. You
can come with us, we can give you a drug which will erase your memory of what happened, or you can
agree to another option which wed prefer.
        Whats the other option?
        You said you were in the special forces. Cornerian Special Forces?
        Yep.
        Brett grew very serious,
        Did you have any connection with project Dead Watch?
        Uh... yes.
        Were you in it?
        No. I was in the 12th Commandos when they saved the people working on the project.
        Bretts eyes widened and his jaw dropped,
        Oh crap. Why did we have to run into you. Kelly, is FlareWolf still outside.
        Kelly nodded.
        Whats her com frequency and the override?
        Frequency is 1114-986... override is not in use.
        Brett pulled out his own com and punched in the frequency. FlareWolf answered on the other
end,
        This is Overlord 1.
        No code names, Flare. This is serious.
        What is it, Brett?
        Do you have the patch equipment set up?
        Uh-huh. Why?
        Give me an energy reading patch on this building.
        Hold on... got it.
        Brett looked down at the visual display on his com. His eyes opened even wider. Fara stepped out
of the shower area, fully changed. She saw Bretts expression and frowned. Brett spoke into his com,
        Flare, get the equipment packed and head home. Were getting the hell outta here... one over
mission load. Go to plan B.
        Whats that?
        Get the hell away from the building.
        Brett shut off the com and looked around the room. He walked over to the shower area and went
inside. He came out holding a small electronic device.
        Figures that theyd hide it in the shower head. Everyone, were getting out of here. Alana,
youve just joined our little mission here.
        What? How did I do that?
        Because someone heard what you said. And... well... youll all see.
        Brett led the way out of the room. Kelly followed and walked by his side. Fara went next, then
Alana, finally Hallen Karsair brought up the rear. They walked quickly down the hall. Alana spoke to
Brett,
        Whats going on here?
        Shut up. I have no clue.
        But you said...
        Brett stopped briefly and turned around. He motioned all around the hall and pointed to his ears.
Alana nodded. She got the hint.
        They continued down the hallway. Brett pulled out his com and checked the visual display again.
He broke suddenly into a run and motioned for the others to follow. They took a quick left turn followed
by a right. After several minutes of running down one long hallway, Brett stopped at one door. He swiped
a keycard through the lock and it clicked open. Alana looked at Brett,
        Howd you get a keycard for our locks?
        Trade secret. This is a service entrance that leads to our car.
        They walked into the small hallway beyond the door and Brett closed it behind him. They walked
to the end of it and found two other doors. Brett opened the one on the right. The door opened to reveal
the night outside. They all stepped out into the open air. Brett spoke aloud,
        Our car is in this alleyway. Were getting out through the back street.
        Alana looked around,
        I dont see a car...
        Brett pointed at his ears and spoke,
        Its right here, see?
        Alana nodded in realization. Brett walked across the alley to a small door. He opened it and
motioned for the others to follow. Beyond was a tiny passage leading to another alley. When they were all
inside Brett closed the door behind them. They all walked to the other end of the passage and Brett opened
the door there. On the other side sat a large car. Brett opened the back door and motioned the others
inside.
        The inside of the car was spacious, arranged so that the seats all face a large central area.
Everyone sat down and Hallen closed the door. Brett spoke to the driver in the front,
        Tyris, lets get the hell outta here. Plan B escape route.
        The car began to move. Brett sat back and spoke,
        We can talk again. They had that whole building bugged. Alana, you and Fara are both like
semi-official Guild members now. If our theory is right, then someone is trying to capture Alana and kill
Fara. Wed also better get to Mira before its too late. Kel, have you handled that?
        Yeah. The team we sent to Mother Germaine should have gotten to Mira by now.
        Brett, out of curiosity, looked at his coms visual display,
        Guys, look back behind us, towards the building we were just in.
        They stared in that direction for a minute or so. Nothing happened.
        Then a huge blue bolt came down from the sky and hit the building. The whole thing was
consumed in a huge fireball. Fara spoke in an awed voice,
        That was just to get us?
        Brett shook his head,
        No. That was just to get Fara and Alana.
        But why?
        Let me and my people work on our theories, well tell you in another hour or so.

-Fox McClouds location, unknown

        Fox was beginning to piece things together.
        He was in a dark room.
        He wasnt outside. There were mechanical noises all around him.
        It was cold and dry.
        And he was upside-down... which, as far as he was concerned, was the worst part of the whole
thing.
        Where was Fara? Foxs brain wasnt quite up to remembering things. He was quite satisfied with
being able to find out what was going on right now.
        The noises meant he was probably on a ship of some kind. The cold and dark didnt mean
anything. They were probably just thrown in to make him uncomfortable, to make it harder for him to
think. It all hit him at once and he thought out loud,
        Im the son of the great James McCloud... Im married but my wife was left behind while I was
captured by some unknown ship... Im freezing cold and Im hanging upside-down in the dark on some
ship in the middle of god-only-knows where... what the hell is gonna happen to me?
        The lights went on. Fox squinted his eyes against the sudden brightness. He could see that the
room he was in was blank and white... hinting against any practical use for it. He appeared to be roughly
in the middle of the room. Someone spoke behind Fox,
        Ah, bravo. Youve gotten it all pretty much right. What is going to happen to you indeed. I say,
the things that might happen to you. Of course, all Im authorized to do is a little torture. Nothing heavy.
        Fox found that his eyes were getting used to the brightness. He opened them and spoke defiantly,
        Ill never tell you anything.
        I dont expect you to. Im just going to cause you some pain. Oh, by the way, your wife is dead.
She got hit by... about ninety missiles. See you in a half-hour or so.
        Whoever it was left the room. Fox heard a snapping noise and felt himself fall to the floor. He
picked himself up painfully and untied the rope around his footpaws. They had let him down. Why? He
could now figure out a way to escape.
        He could. But he really didnt want to. Fara was dead. He didnt want to do anything right now.
        Fox went over to the corner farthest from the door and curled up. He was cold and he was
miserable. But then he thought for a second...
        Why would they tell him if Fara had died now? Wouldnt it work better to use that information
later?
        Unless they hadnt been able to kill her. Unless they had failed.
        Fox continued to curl up. He felt like someone was watching him. But he was no longer upset...
Fara was probably still alive... and terribly worried about him. Fox muttered too low for any surveillance
equipment to pick up,
        You just made the biggest mistake of your lives.

-The Mother Germaine Hospital, Corneria
 
        Mira woke with a start. She was fine physically... but something felt wrong. She stared at the
ceiling of her room and tried to place the feeling.
        She told herself it was fine. Gray would be here in the morning and everything would return to
normal. It was just some crazy guy... maybe the mouse had been a friend of Grays... maybe.
        But something was wrong with that explanation. Only a few things had ever upset Gray as much
as he had been... and none of those things were the deaths of minor friends. He hadnt even been all that
upset over Charlie Henshaws death... and those two had been good friends.
        So why had what happened made Gray so upset?
        Maybe it wasnt what had happened, maybe it was what was said. Mira tried to think about what
had been said between the mouse and Gray... the only thing she had been able to hear was Lancer, well
all see you in hell. But it had looked as if the mouse had said something to Gray before that. She would
have to talk to him tomorrow... and he HAD promised to explain in the morning.
        She heard the door being unlocked. Was it morning already? It didnt look light outside...
        A tall rabbit and a short, pudgy marmot walked into the room. The marmot spoke softly,
        Dont say anything. Were friends. My name is Gerdin, his is Falway. Were with the
Mercenaries Guild. Weve got orders to take you somewhere safe.
        Wheres my husband.
        Gerdin frowned,
        Hes been missing...
        Oh...
        Mira put her head down and started to cry. Falway walked over to her and patted her lightly on
the back,
        s not so bad, missus. ell be found ventually. e cant be dead r wed ave heard somethin.
        Mira sniffled and looked up,
        You really think so? You mean that Grays still alive?
        Gerdin perked up,
        Uh, yes. Most certainly.
        Falway nodded,
        Aye! Yell see yer oney soon!
        Mira couldnt help laughing at the rabbit and marmot. Gerdin frowned,
        I say, is something funny about...
        Gerdins sentence trailed off. Mira looked at the marmot closely,
        Well... its just that... oh lord...
        Miras eye caught a flow of red coming from near the marmots heart. The marmot slumped to
the ground. Mira rolled off the bed to the floor and reached for the bedside table where her clothes were.
Falway jumped behind a table,
        Whats goin on?
        Someone just shot Gerdin. They must have a silencer on the gun!
        Mira hurriedly took off the hospital gown she was wearing and changed back into her normal
clothes. It was pitch dark, but she knew what she was looking for. She reached into her jacket and pulled
out a well-hidden pistol. She checked the laser charge and turned off the safety,
        Get out your gun, Falway.
        Aye, missus!
        Just call me Mira.
        Mira jumped up over the bed and rolled down. She heard a bullet impact the wall behind her. She
quickly dived to the side of the door and peered into the hallway. Where was the gunner? She heard
movement behind her and a yell. Mira turned and saw Falway lying on the floor. He had a wound in his
chest. He spoke,
        Get outta here! Theres a car below... eres the key!
        The rabbit threw Mira a keycard. She caught it and put it in her jacket pocket.
        Another bullet from the gunner hit Falway directly in the head. The rabbit fell forward, dead.
Mira looked out across the hall. There was a balcony going around a large central square. It would
probably lead all the way down to the bottom. That was five floors. She would have to hit water to survive
with only minor injury...
        Of course, there was a very deep pool down there. It was just for decoration but it might save her
in this case.
        Mira jumped up and ran. She felt a bullet graze her right arm. She reached the edge of the
balcony and threw herself over it. She aimed for the pool... she was going to hit it... and she was probably
going to survive the fall.
        She was getting pretty close to that pool.
        Even closer...
        Mira slammed into the pool at the bottom with a huge amount of force. She felt her left leg give...
probably dislocated... and her right arm was really hurting. But she was mostly alright...
        Why hadnt the gunner shot any more? Were they trying to kill her or not?
        The world was becoming a haze. Mira swam to the edge of the pool and flopped over onto the
hospital lobby floor.
        Everything faded into blackness.

-Gray Lancers current location, unknown

        Gray Lancer forced his eyes open. His head was pounding... throbbing with pain. He groaned and
tried to sit up.
        Then he remembered where he was. He was inside the trunk of a car travelling to a destination
unknown. He groaned and thought out loud,
        Oh god, how the hell did I get myself into this crap?
        The car was loud. Its engine needed a tune-up. But this only worked in Grays favor. His captors
wouldnt know he was awake yet... and he had a feeling that this trip was going to be a long one. That
gave him a little bit of time.
        What had happened? Gray ran through it in his mind... he had been blindfolded and led outside
the city through tunnels. Then they had shot him with a stun laser and left him in the trunk. He was
probably supposed to be out cold right now.
        Gray couldnt see his own paws in the trunk, it was far too dark... but he could feel all too well.
First of all, his head hurt like all hell had broken loose inside of it. Secondly, there was a heavy object...
probably a wrench... near his right paw. Gray grasped it. Definitely a wrench. That could be very useful
later on. He felt around for anything else. A crushed beer can... several rags... Grays paw caught on a flap
in the bottom of the trunk.
        He pulled hard on the flap and it came loose. There was a small compartment underneath... Gray
fished around inside with his paw... and found something hard and metallic...
        A gun! Grays paw closed around the weapon and he pulled it out. He muttered to himself,
        Good lord, a Tal-1G laser pistol... I havent seen one of these in four years... thought they were
outlawed on Corneria.
        So he wasnt defenseless anymore. This was going to be fun... and a little crazy. But they had
trained him for this sort of idiocy in the Cornerian Special Forces...
        Gray aimed at the lock to the trunk and flicked off the safety on the pistol. His finger began to
squeeze the trigger...
        Suddenly Gray thought better of it and released the trigger. He put the safety back on and
concealed the pistol in his jacket. Gray then carefully put back the flap that had hidden the pistol.
        What was the use of escaping if Mira was going to pay the price? The only attempts at violence
had been directed at her. Best to wait this out... Sevantra, if it really was her, wanted him alive for some
reason. If he waited, he might be able to find out what was going on... and even the score a little.
        It had been a long time. Now it was time to make her pay.
        The only trick was survival.
        Gray curled up in the trunk and waited.

-The roof of the Mother Germaine Hospital, Corneria

        The small cargo ship flew in silently. It came down through the cloudy night sky and landed on
the small pad on top of the Mother Germaine Hospital.
        A lone male squirrel held the unconscious vixen in his arms and frowned. Was it already too
late?
        On his part, he had failed. They had been a little too quick for him. But how could he have
known theyd use such a dirty trick.
        The squirrel looked again at the vixen lying in his arms. Gray Lancer was lucky to have someone
so pretty for a wife. And she had his child now. Which made it all the more important that she remain
safe.
        The squirrel placed her on the ground. He picked his rifle that had been on the ground and slung
it over his shoulder. He picked up the vixen again and walked up to the cargo ship. The hatch to the ship
opened and the squirrel stepped inside. The squirrel was greeted by an aging terrier wearing a white coat.
The terrier looked at the vixen and sighed,
        Hello. My name is Dr. Kiurtus. Please take the vixen this way... we have surprisingly advanced
medical systems on this ship. If she is still alive, shell probably be fine.
        Thanks.
        Dr. Kiurtus led the way, followed closely by the squirrel. They came into a small room with a
medical table in the center. The squirrel laid the vixen down on the table. Dr. Kiurtus nodded,
        Thank you. Please leave her to rest. You may talk to her when shes awake.
        No, thank YOU.
        The squirrel turned around and left the room. He went forward to the cockpit and took the co-
pilots seat. The pilot turned to him and spoke,
        You know what youre doing?
        Yes. Were getting this thing back to base. And yes, I am familiar with the co-pilots station in
this thing. Lets get going.
        The pilot nodded and worked several controls. The ship began to lift off from the roof of the
hospital. The pilot turned to the squirrel again,
        Youre sure that you checked for surveillance devices?
        Yes Im... oh crap... the keycard! The vixen still has the keycard on her!
        Oh damn, theyll be coming soon.
        The squirrel got up and ran back to the medical room. Dr. Kiurtus walked over and put his paws
up,
        Im sorry, youre not supposed to be back here.
        Shut up and give me the keycard the vixen had on her!
        The terrier walked over to the table and picked up the vixens jacket. Inside one of the pockets
was the small keycard. The squirrel took the keycard and snapped it in half. He then turned around and
ran back to the cockpit.
        The squirrel again took the co-pilots seat and strapped in. The pilot turned to him,
        What do we do?
        We run! Get this thing back to the base and loose anyone following us.
        Good thing, that, cause we got about twenty I-32s following us.
        I-32s?! Those are the latest pirate customs... they arent military models.
        No kidding, well we still got twenty of em on us!
        Then lets start running!
        The pilot slammed the throttle forward and started to pull the ship up. The squirrel unstrapped
and stood up,
        Were switching stations NOW!
        The pilot nodded and unstrapped. He switched with the squirrel. The squirrel strapped into the
pilots station and grabbed the controls. He jerked the cargo ship down into a dive. The pilot looked over
with eyes wide,
        Are you insane?!
        No, but I do want to live!
        The cargo ship swooped down between the buildings of Corneria City. The squirrel looked at the
threat display... eleven of the I-32s had managed to follow closely. The squirrel spoke to the pilot without
taking his eyes away from the cockpit window,
        Does this thing have any weapons?
        Yeah, four front-facing lasers.
        Well hold on!
        The squirrel pulled at the controls violently and cut the throttle back. The cargo ship began to
sink, but it also turned sharply around. The squirrel pushed the throttle back and targeted lasers. He
squeezed the trigger and fired several rounds at the incoming fighters. One of them turned to avoid the
fire and rammed right into one of the buildings. The squirrel looked down at the threat display,
        Looks like only these ten are actually pursuing us.
        One of the fighters had taken bad damage in one of its stabilizers and began to plunge towards
the ground. It collided with another on the way down and both were consumed by fire.
        The cargo ship dived down into the canyons of the city below, the squirrel weaving it between
buildings to avoid the enemy fighters. One more of the fighters missed a turn and slammed into a
building. The squirrel turned to the pilot,
        Uh... where is the base?
        You idiot! Its on an orbiting ship!
        Are the coordinates locked in?
        Yes.
        Hold on.
        The squirrel turned the ship up and pushed the throttle as far as it would go. He turned on the
intercom for the ship,
        Everyone strap down tight. Im gonna turn off all non-essential systems in about five seconds!
        He turned the intercom off and poised his paw over the control panel. The pilot stared at him,
        What are you doing?
        Re-routing all unnecessary systems to our engines... watch!
        The squirrel flipped several switches. The cockpit lights went off and the red emergency lights
came on. The pilot and the squirrel began to feel the effects of their acceleration as the G-compensators
were cut back.
        The trick worked... the cargo ship began to gain speed. The fighters below were beginning to fall
behind. The squirrel steered the ship towards the base orbiting the planet. He looked over at the pilot,
        If you had been flying, wed be dead right now. But you can fly now... were safe. Theyve given
up.
        The pilot and the squirrel switch back. The pilot restored the systems to normal and throttled
down to a normal speed. The squirrel smiled,
        I just hope theyll be glad to see me.
        The pilot only glared at him.

-Fox McClouds current location, unknown

        Fox guessed that he had been curled up in the corner for about an hour when the lights went off
again. The temperature in the room began to drop. Fox curled up tighter to preserve his body heat. He had
a feeling that this was only going to get worse.
        Someone entered the room and spoke. They sounded like the same person who had come in
before,
        Sit up straight and look at me!
        Fox complied slowly and reluctantly. He uncurled and faced the voice. A bright spotlight came
down from the ceiling of the room and illuminated the speaker. She was a pretty ocelot with bright orange
eyes. She smiled... a smile which held no warmth or friendship,
        Hello Fox. Dont you remember me?
        Fox squinted into the light,
        No... should I?
        Come now... it was several years ago... before you even met Fara. On... oh lord, what planet was
it?
        The ocelot thought for a second and then put up a finger,
        Ah yes, it was on Titania. Do you remember Titania?
        Fox struggled to drag the memory up from his past,
        I still dont know who the hell you are.
        Careful now... you shouldnt use such language around a lady... especially a lady who can rip
your throat out!
        I still dont know who you are.
        Maybe I can give you a name thatll ring a bell... how about it?
        So who are you.
        The ocelot smiled slowly. Fox shuddered. The ocelot grinned again and spoke,
        My name is Sevantra. Oh, Im sorry, I havent told you about my little home... welcome to the
Heart of Steel... no one has ever escaped from this prison. Of course, no one has ever lived long enough to
try it.
        Foxs eyes widened. The name had indeed rung a bell. He knew who Sevantra was. He had hoped
he would never hear that name again... but here she was, as terrifying as that day so long ago... the day of
the pact...

-The Remorseless, in orbit around Corneria

        Brett strode onto the bridge of Remorseless, the ship which served as a temporary Mercenaries
Guild base. A small muskrat scampered up and held out a folded piece of paper. The muskrat cleared his
throat and spoke,
        Sir, message from Ms. FlareWolf ODonnell.
        Brett nodded and took the paper. He unfolded it and read:

           &nbs p;    -To: Brett MacDonald
           &nb sp;    -From: FlareWolf ODonnell
           &nb sp;    -Subject: Mission accomplished
           &nb sp;    -Message body, received code-p 334 Delta:
           &nb sp;            They lost the trail. /end
           &nb sp;            Havent found me either. /end
           &nb sp;            Im going home, see ya later. /end
           &nb sp;            /end message
           &nb sp;            /code-p 334 Delta standard encoder
           &nb sp;            \code-p 334 Delta standard decoder mark
           &nb sp;    -End message

        Brett smiled. His wife Kelly walked up and looked at the message over his shoulder. Brett
explained,
        Flare tells me that they couldnt find our escape route. She wasnt discovered either... I think
she deserves the break after working as our overlord for one mission.
        Kelly nodded and whispered in Bretts ear,
        We found another member of the 12th.
        Thats great.
        No its not... theyre dead!
        Oh... how?
        Sniper outside their room. Oh yeah, our retrieval group picked someone up.
        Whazzat?
        I think youd better see yourself.
        Brett nodded and turned to follow his wife off the bridge. They walked down the main corridor
until they came to the elevator leading down to the medical bay. The elevator was on the same deck and
the doors slid open. Brett and Kelly stepped inside and Kelly pushed the button for the main medical bay
deck.
        As the elevator went down to the medical bay, Brett turned to Kelly and asked one question,
        Which retrieval team?
        Youll see.
        The elevator reached the medical bay deck and the doors opened. Kelly went out first, followed
by Brett. She turned left into the first medical area and stopped at one of the doors. She opened it slowly
and both she and Brett stepped inside the room.
        Inside were counters around the room and a bed in the center. One of the ships medical
attendants, a young female raccoon, stood next to the bed. She smiled at Brett and Kelly as the entered the
room. Brett walked over to the bed. The attendant spoke up,
        She just woke up a little while ago.
        Brett saw who was lying on the bed... it was Mira Lancer. Mira opened her eyes and saw Brett
and Kelly. She spoke quietly,
        What happened and wheres my husband?
        Brett looked nervous,
        Well... I think I know whats going on here...
        Kelly broke in,
        Ill explain.
        Mira nodded for her to continue.
        Ok. It works like this. Our recovery team was only one guy going in to pick you up...
        But two people came in to get me, and they both got killed.
        Yeah, they werent the team. The guys orders were to go in and get you out alive. We knew
about the other two. Did they give you a key?
        Yes.
        If you had used it, youd be dead. Their whole plan was to lure you into their car... it was loaded
with explosives.
        So why did your person shoot me?
        For a good reason. Lets face it, you wouldnt have believed him if hed tried to convince you he
was on your side. He wasted the enemy to get them out of the way... and he had to drive you away from
that car... which meant shooting to injure. He was never intending to kill you... and I think he wants to
talk to you alone.
        Mira closed her eyes partially,
        Let him in.
        Brett and Kelly left the room, followed by the attendant. The door opened again and a squirrel
walked in. He was tall and trim, wearing a long black overcoat. He walked up to Miras bed and sat on a
chair by the side. The squirrel hung his head,
        My name is Paul Lycanis... I was the one who was sent to get you out... I want to apologize for
anything I did... I also came to see if you were alright.
        Mira felt anger rising inside her. How could he have the nerve to... but then she thought about
what had happened. If it wasnt for Paul, shed probably be dead right now. She put a paw on the
squirrels shoulder,
        I accept your apology... it wasnt your fault. If I had been smart enough to tell that those two
werent really with the Guild then you wouldnt have had to do that.
        The squirrel raised his head again,
        No hard feelings?
        No hard feelings.
        Mira extended her paw. The squirrel took it and shook. Mira spoke to him,
        Have you heard anything about my husband? Where is he?
        The squirrel looked down again,
        Hes been missing since he visited you. No one knows exactly where he is or who is
responsible.
        Mira looked around the room and noticed that Brett had been standing in the doorway. He spoke
up,
        Thats not entirely true. We have a pretty damn good idea who took him. Mira, you wont like
this... but you have to hear it. Did Gray ever tell you about someone named Sevantra?
        No... does this have something to do with his disappearance?
        Unfortunately it does. It has to do with him, Fox McCloud, and several other people... mostly
him and Fox. It was a long time ago... before Andross... and I think that Gray and Fox got deep into
something they never wanted any part in... something evil.
 

           &nbs p;            *                *                *

           &nbs p;             ;        Book 2: Souls of Glass
           &nb sp;    The illusion has been shattered... and it cannot be repaired.
 

-The planet Titania, during project Dead Watch(several years before the war against
Andross began)

        Fox McCloud looked out over the barren desert before him with the binoculars. He saw nothing...
but he didnt exactly know what he was looking for. He turned to his friend Falco,
        What ARE we supposed to be doing?
        Falco shrugged,
        Who the hell knows. They told you more than they told me anyway.
        They told me to look for a bunch of soldiers with a banner. The banner has a skull wearing a
Cornerian Special Forces beret and two knives crossed under it. Thats all they told me. I dont see any
soldiers or any banner.
        But I do... look over here.
        Fox walked to the other side of the mesa they were on and looked down. Sure enough, a group of
soldiers was moving along, one of them carrying the banner. Fox pulled out his com and turned it on,
        This is Point to Base, do you read?
        The com crackled,
        This is Captain Lancer, whats your report?
        Weve spotted the D Unit. Just north of post Gamma.
        Gotcha. Any pursuers visible?
        Nope.
        Right. Are they moving.
        No, actually. Looks like theyre digging in.
        Ok. Base is on the move, well be there in another half-hour.
        Itll be dark by then.
        I know. Were gonna be wearing light-amp goggles.
        The com went to static as Captain Lancer cut off his end of the transmission. Fox shut off the
com and walked over to his swoop. He sat down on it and leaned back. A half-hour of free time. Falco sat
down on his own swoop and promptly went to sleep.
        Fox just stared up at the rapidly darkening sky and thought.

        Fox felt someone poking him. He opened his eyes and saw Captain Gray Lancer standing over
him,
        Wake up Fox. Its time to get down to business.
        Fox realized that he had been sleeping and got up quickly. He smirked at Gray,
        Sorry... sir.
        Dont call me that. Lets get going, we need to find out whats going on with D Unit.
        Falco walked over and yawned,
        Do I hafta go down there too?
        Gray rolled his eyes,
        No. Youre staying with the two other guards on this mesa and watching things. Fox, the rest of
my unit, and I will go down to talk to whoever is in charge of D Unit... there also seems to be a terrorist
unit thats following them around. We think we can be of some help.
        Falco nodded and walked back to his swoop to sit down some more. At the edge of the mesa,
several members of Grays unit were rigging rope systems to scale the sheer sides of the mesa. Fox and
Gray walked over to the edge of the mesa and sat down. Fox spoke to Gray,
        So what is this D Unit thing?
        Theyre the members of a secret project called Dead Watch... officially, they dont exist.
        Unofficially?
        Theyre the most lethal and efficient enforcers in the CSF. The secret shame and pride of
Corneria. They do the real dirty stuff, things a normal soldier wouldnt touch with a mile-long pole.
        So why are we talking to them?
        Theyve failed to report in and havent contacted us in a long time. Were worried that theyre
trying to break off on their own... so were being sent in to negotiate.
        Fox nodded and looked down over the camp of D Unit. They had fires burning outside. Fires?
Fox looked on and felt a shiver running down his spine. There was something eerie about that camp...
eerie and evil.

        Fox McCloud, Gray Lancer, and several members of his unit lowered themselves on ropes down
the side of the mesa. Fox Looked out to the camp of D Unit and shivered again.
        Gray hit the bottom first and released the clasp holding him to the rope. He walked a few feet
away from the mesa and waited for the others to get to the bottom. The next person down was a female
wolf named Alana Petrikov... one of Grays officers. Fox was the next down, followed by several other
members of Grays unit. They all stood at the bottom of the mesa and looked towards D Units camp.
        Gray went first, followed by Fox and the others. It was about 200 yards to D Units camp. When
they were about one-hundred feet away, someone shouted to them,
        Halt! Who goes there?
        Gray answered,
        Gray Lancer and the 12th Commandos. Also Fox McCloud, a mercenary attached to my unit.
We want to talk to your commander!
        Hold on. Wait there.
        The guard trudged off. Gray stood with his unit and waited.
        After ten minutes of standing in silence, the guard returned and shouted to Gray,
        She agrees to let you all within the camp. Only you and Fox will be allowed to talk to her.
        Fair enough.
        The group moved forward and up to the camp. The guard opened the perimeter fence gate and let
them through.
        Fox took a look around and realized why he had gotten such a bad feeling about this place. There
were skulls of various species stuck on poles... and bonfires everywhere. Strange flags and banners all
around, most of them depicting horrible scenes.
        A guard walked up to Fox and Gray and motioned to them,
        You two will come with me.
        Gray nodded. The guard walked towards a large tent in the center of the camp. Gray and Fox
followed closely. They came to the big tent and the guard held the flap open. Gray and Fox both stepped
inside the tent and the guard released the flap.
        Inside the tent was a central fire, which burned brightly. Around it were rugs made of some
unidentified furs... in the center of the room, sitting on a large chair made of wood, was a very attractive
female ocelot. She motioned for Gray and Fox to sit,
        Sit down. What have you two come for?
        Gray held up a paw,
        First, who are you?
        My name is Sevantra. I took over command of this unit when the old commander... couldnt
handle it. Why have you come?
        We have the positions of the terrorists following your unit. Weve come to give those to you and
ask why you havent reported to command recently.
        Sevantra gave a small laugh,
        Right. Ill take the info now. You may stay at my camp until tomorrow night... by then Ill have
disposed of the terrorists. Then well talk about the other issue... I think youll find the answer
surprising.
        Gray nodded and took a data card out of his jacket. He handed it to Sevantra,
        This is the info. Wed prefer to sleep at our base.
        You have no choice. You WILL sleep here.
        Fine. Tomorrow night?
        Yes... be here when it gets dark...

        The day passed quickly and uneventfully. About halfway through, Sevantra came in to announce
that her troops had killed off the terrorists and that Grays information had saved her unit. The rest was
mostly spent by Gray and Fox sleeping and wandering around. What they saw in Sevantras camp scared
them... it looked as if she had reverted to some primitive tribe.
        Then it came time to meet with her again.
        Fox and Gray entered into the large tent that they had the previous night. There was one
difference, there were numerous people along the sides wearing black cloaks... the hoods hiding their
faces and snouts. Both Gray and Fox noticed some things that were different about the room.
        Both noticed the shield hanging on the wall behind Sevantra. It had the logo of D Unit on it... a
skull wearing a beret with two knives crossed under it.
        Gray noticed that Sevantra looked wilder and more fierce than the other night. She had a wild
look in her eyes. And she was holding a large spear in her right paw.
        Fox noticed more about the room they were in. The rug on which they were sitting appeared to be
made of one large piece of something... but closer inspection revealed it was made of many pieces of fur
stitched together. They looked a little small to be from the large animals that roamed Titania... but where
could it have come from.
        There was a huge fire in the middle of the room, as on the other night. It blazed even higher than
before.
        Sevantra picked herself up from her chair and grinned a wicked grin... flashing her large
canines. She motioned around the room and grinned again. She picked her spear up and pointed it to the
ground... she thrust it down quickly, lodging it in the dirt. Sevantra finally spoke in a loud voice,
        We are here to complete the pact set before us by our master... it is time to seal his will and
make him live on forever in our minds and souls!
        Sevantra jumped through the fire and landed on the other side. She walked up to Gray and Fox
and sat down next to them,
        Our eternal master has promised those who follow him much... Gray Lancer... you understand
something of the situation... YOU have seen death! Join me! Join me as my mate and together we will be
immortal!
        Gray, who was getting some very bad feelings about all of this, only glared at Sevantra,
        Im sorry, but I have to tell you to go to hell.
        Sevantra looked over at Fox, who merely shook his head. Sevantra jumped up and glared at the
two foxes,
        You fools! You will not join me?!
        Both shook their heads. Sevantra spoke in a low growl,
        The time is not here now... but you will both live to regret what you have refused... for you do
not know what true evil is... but I SERVE IT!

-present day... Gray Lancers current location, unknown

        Gray realized that he had been sleeping. He silently swore at himself for being such an idiot... but
then he thought better. He would probably need the rest... and what did it matter if he fell asleep in the
trunk of someones car? It wasnt like he could do anything else.
        But there was reason he had woken up... the engine had stopped. The car was no longer moving.
Gray felt his jacket to make sure the pistol was well hidden and impossible to feel from the outside. He
then curled up again and waited for the door to the trunk to open.
        The trunk did open. The one who opened it was the huge wildcat who had thrown Gray inside in
the first place. The wildcat grabbed Gray and pulled him out of the trunk. Gray was roughly set on his
footpaws. The weasel stepped out of the car and walked over to him, holding a rifle. The weasel sneered at
Gray and spoke,
        From now on, you go exactly where I lead you or tell you to go. You do not try anything and you
do not speak unless asked to. If you break these little rules, your wife and child die... then you die.
        Gray only nodded... he knew exactly what was at stake here. He knew that acting too soon or
without planning would mean his death... and, much worse, the death of Mira and their unborn child.
This was one game he couldnt just muscle his way through.
        The weasel prodded Gray with his gun to signal the fox to move. Gray complied and walked
where the weasel led him. After five minutes or so, they came to a small train set on a rail. The rail led
away into a long tunnel. The weasel motioned for Gray to get in.
        Gray walked inside. The weasel also walked in. The wildcat stayed behind. The weasel pressed
several buttons and the train shot off down the rail and into the tunnel. The weasel could not resist
needling Gray again,
        Sevantra is going to be very pleased to see you. She knows you never really believed... not you or
Fox McCloud. Well, shes going to show you...
        The weasel grinned,
        Shes going to show you both how wrong you were...

-The Remorseless, in orbit around Corneria

        Fara leaned against a railing on the bridge of the Remorseless and listened quietly to the chatter.
The Mercenaries Guild was organizing something big. Fara heard Kelly MacDonald speak to someone,
        Listen, heres the situation with our ships in the Guild fleet... Ill put it up on the display.
        Fara glanced at the main display and saw the fleet status listing:

           &nbs p;    -Mercenaries Guild Fleet
           &nb sp;            -Capital ships:
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;        -Remorseless
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;             ;    -fully operational
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;        -Rightful II
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;             ;    -fully operational
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;        -Severance
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;             ;    -needs transfer fighter squadron from ground base
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;             ;    -needs transfer bomber squadron from ground base
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;        -Hostility
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;             ;    -needs VS-17 missiles to be loaded
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;        -Vehemence
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;             ;    -needs shield generator repairs
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;             ;    -needs translight repairs
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;        -Restoration
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;             ;    -fully operational
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;        -Vengeance II
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;             ;    -needs F-90B squadron from op base
           &nb sp;            -Medium ships:
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;        -Daring flight
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;             ;    (6 modified cruisers)
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;        -Versatile flight
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;             ;    (10 enhanced corvettes)
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;        -Lance flight
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;             ;    (4 heavy cruisers)
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;        -Rapier flight
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;             ;    (10 modified freighters)
           &nb sp;            -Notable free-lance ships:
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;        -Quicklight
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;             ;    (heavily modified G-Class Repulsor Starfighter)
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;        -Guidance
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;             ;    (modified gun-runner)
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;        -Attrition
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;             ;    (custom heavy gunboat)
           &nb sp;           &nbs p;        -

        Fara glanced down the list and saw a few things that struck her as very odd. She walked down to
where Kelly was standing and tapped the cat on the shoulders. Kelly turned around,
        Yes? What is it, Fara?
        Uh... I want to ask you a couple things about your fleet.
        I suppose... youre in the fight with us. Ask away.
        First, I thought F-90s were out of use...
        Oh, thats our little Guild secret. Weve been secretly developing the technology and enhancing
it. We built exactly twelve of these new prototypes. The F-90B enhanced heavy fighter... the official name
is the F-90B Soul Harvester. Theyre some nasty suckers... but those twelve are all that will ever be
produced.
        Ok. Second, why are VS-17 missiles being loaded on a cap ship?
        Were trying a little something. See, the VS-17s are heavier than most cap ship defense
missiles, and they can hit fighters. We figure a little heavy defense wont hurt. Rebels on Venom captured
tons of those missiles and sold them to us wholesale.
        Right. Next question... the Quicklight? Grays ship? Is he back?
        Yeah right. Mira can fly it by herself... we offered to get her a co-pilot, but she refused. She said
that only two people could fly that ship... her and Gray. Since hes not here, shes going to do it by
herself.
        Gotcha. And finally, whats with that last bullet point? Youve got no info on it and no name.
        Kelly smiled slowly and motioned to Fara,
        Listen, come with me and Ill do better than tell you, Ill show you.
        Kelly walked off the bridge, followed by Fara. Kelly spoke to Fara as they walked,
        Bretts already down there. He and I are two of only five people with knowledge of this thing
and keys to enter the hangar... the five people are me, my husband Brett, Gray Lancer, Mira Delinax, and
the pilot herself.
        HERself?
        Yeah, youll recognize her.
        They came to a very small elevator with a keycard slot on it. Kelly pulled out a keycard and slid it
through. The doors on the elevator opened. Kelly and Fara stepped inside.
        The elevator automatically went down. After ten seconds or so, the doors opened again. Kelly led
the way out, Fara close behind. Kelly stopped before the next door and reached into her jacket,
        Listen Fara... Ive got a little gift for you. We were deciding whether you and Fox were ready for
this... we figured you were. Too bad Fox isnt here.
        Kelly produced a small keycard almost identical to the one she had used on the elevator door.
        Now there will be two more people with access to this. You and Fox are now officially in on this
project.
        Kelly opened the next door and she and Fara stepped into a large hangar beyond. The only ship
in the hangar was a fighter in the center. Kelly smiled proudly and explained,
        Officially, this does not exist. It is unknown to anyone but a select few... those who have access
and a few techs who worked on it. This is the Mercenaries Guilds second best kept secret. This is the
most advanced fighter in existence... the F-90X Wraith. Its a modified F-90B... big time modified. Ill
walk you around the new features...
        Kelly and Fara walked up to the fighter and looked around it. Kelly talked as they circled it,
        We quadrupled the shield power, changed the armor to the latest, most durable variety... and
added another few centimeters to it. Its got five forward-facing lasers... all triple normal strength... its
got a railgun on a turret that can cover the entire top of the fighter. It has 20 large missile hardpoints, four
missile launchers, and 8 large torpedo hardpoints. It has the most powerful sensor and targeting package
in existence... the best thruster package out there... and a little surprise.
        Fara glanced at Kelly,
        What kind of surprise?
        Kelly smiled,
        A couple surprises actually... it has the ability to do minor maneuvering in hyperspace and even
some in translight... it also has a cloaking device.
        Faras eyes nearly bulged out of her head,
        But the ArSpace annual report said thats impossible!
        We paid many people a great deal of money... including top officials at ArSpace... to make sure
that news of a working cloaking system never got out. Officially, it cant be done... but this is not an
official fighter.
        Ill say.
        You realize, of course, that this is all top classification and is NEVER to leave the selected few
who are authorized to know about it. Even your children cant know about this.
        Right, right. You said something about the pilot?
        Oh yes. I believe shes here... she works under the code name Wraith but happens to hate that
name.
        A voice spoke behind them,
        Damn straight I hate it. Hey Fara, good to see youre in on this too.
        Fara turned and saw someone she recognized from her past. A vixen about her age wearing a
green tank-top and jeans. The vixen smiled. Kelly looked at both the vixen and Fara,
        Fara, meet Auerulis Varius... the Mercs Guilds best kept secret.
        Fara grinned,
        Yeah, weve met... a while ago. Best kept secret?
        Kelly nodded,
        Yep. There are techs who know about this project, and have worked on it, who dont know that
Auerulis is the pilot. Oh yeah, everyones heard of her... but no one really knows that shes piloting our
little friend over there.
        Auerulis nodded,
        Oh man, that fighter is something else. God, Im glad they didnt pick Fox McCloud, Katt
Monroe... or you... to fly it... cause that thing is just fantastic!
        Kelly frowned,
        Dont everyone get too happy... we may have to use it sooner than you think.

-The Vehemence, in orbit around Corneria

        FlareWolf ODonnell sat by herself against a small console tucked out of the way. She just
needed some rest, that was all.
        It had been a very long day. She had been assigned to sniper and watch position on Bretts rescue
op... that was never very easy.
        And FlareWolf had figured that when she got done, she could go back to the apartment in the
city that the Guild was lending her and sleep.
        Wrong. Of course, the Mercenaries Guild declared a full state of emergency... basically they
were gearing up for war. So FlareWolf had been called up to the Vehemence.
        But she had thought that shed be assigned to a normal crew position... probably as a pilot. That
would mean that she would do basically nothing until someone actually attacked.
        Wrong again. She had done such a great job recently that Brett assigned her as the fighter
operations commander. That meant lots of people coming to her to ask about training schedules, pilot
rosters, weapon loadouts, and a thousand other concerns that they probably could have handled on their
own.
        But the job wasnt really all that important until actual fighting started. They could handle their
own damn weapon loadouts... FlareWolf wanted to sleep. So she had found a nice out of the way spot and
curled up to rest. Nobody had found her yet, so it seemed to be working... and fighter operations hadnt
collapsed so she was completely right.
        FlareWolf smiled and opened her eyes to small slits. She was actually sitting in a small hallway
that ended in a balcony above the hangar. FlareWolf was on the balcony behind the small console... no
one came up here and she had a un-obstructed view of the hangar below.
        She glanced around the hangar below... a ship was coming in... and judging from the amount of
activity below it was a pretty important ship.
        The ship flew in slowly and settled on the deck. A number of techs and operations officers ran
around the flight deck. The ship was a large cargo ship... why was it so important?
        Oh yeah, the Vehemence needed repairs to the shield generator and translight systems... they
must need replacement systems and techs to work on them. So the ship was the key to getting the
Vehemence combat operational again. Well, that meant that FlareWolf wouldnt be missed for a while.
        A very tall hawk had come out of the cargo ship and was talking to the lead tech. The other
Vehemence crew members had all left the area to make preparations for the repairs. From where she sat,
FlareWolf could hear the conversation between the tech and the hawk. The tech was speaking,
        So we need a replacement translight drive?
        The hawk responded,
        Yes... and a new shield generator energy converter.
        Oh, Ok. So how long will it take?
        Not long... we have a lot of help on board.
        FlareWolf opened her eyes... what kind of response was that? She looked down at the tech, a
dingo wearing a dirty jumpsuit. The dingo glanced around nervously and whispered something to the
hawk. The hawk nodded and motioned for the tech to follow him. The hawk walked around to the side of
the cargo ship that faced FlareWolf. From that spot, the only person in the hangar who could see the hawk
and the tech was FlareWolf. She heard the hawk speak quietly,
        It should be a good three days before they find out that the shipping schedule was changed. Oh...
we had to suppress a few curious guards to get this going.
        You didnt kill them, did you?
        What the hell do you think? Of course we killed them.
        The dingo tech groaned.
        Listen you idiot, in this business killing is a perfectly normal operation. Now give me the access
codes for the systems area.
        But you arent really repairing it.
        Yes we are. Our instructions are to fix this ship and capture it without the Guild finding out.
Weve got enough troops to take this place and crew it too.
        But wont they just send out a distress signal when you start killing people?
        No, weve got a very powerful jammer on board. Now give me the access codes.
        The dingo glanced around nervously and handed the hawk a small packet. The hawk placed it in
his jacket and pulled out a small object. FlareWolf squinted to see what it was...
        No mistake, it was a small pistol with a silencer attached. The dingo was still nervously looking
around and didnt notice the gun. The hawk grabbed the dingo and covered his mouth. He pressed the
pistol against the dingos throat and spoke in a low voice,
        Youre no longer useful.
        The hawk squeezed the trigger. FlareWolf heard a short noise from the gun and saw blood
running through the hawks fingers. The hawk lowered the dingo to the deck. The hawk then looked
around the hangar and walked back to the front of the cargo ship.
        FlareWolf stared down at the dingos body. If that hawk had enough troops to take the ship...
when could they possibly move out?
        Of course, the jamming device and the dead time. Once every twelve hours, the hangar was shut
down for about ten minutes... no techs would be in there. That ten minute period was known as dead
time. That would give the hawks troops enough time to get into position.
        And dead time was in another half-hour. She had to warn the ships captain...
        But then FlareWolf stopped herself, if the hawk had a jammer and a lot of experienced troops...
what was going to stop him from just storming the ship right now.
        FlareWolf heard gunfire coming from below in the hangar. She looked down at the cargo ship
and her fears were confirmed.
        The raid had begun.

-The Rightful II, in orbit around Corneria

        The captain of the Rightful II, an old red fox with fur that was turning gray here and there, sat
back in his chair and looked up at the Guild fleet status. He noticed something wrong with the Vehemence
and addressed his young tactical officer,
        Lieutenant, please give me the full status for the Vehemence.
        Yessir.
        The information popped up on the screen. The captain studied it and spoke again to the tactical
officer,
        Theyre not sending out the friend-foe signal, get them on the com.
        Cant sir. Something wrong with their com unit... no, wait a minute... the Vehemence has sent
out a message to all ship informing us that their com system has to temporarily go down so that they can
do some minor repairs.
        The captain nodded,
        Oh, thats Ok then. Forget it. Take me back to the fleet status.

-The Heart of Steel

        The door to the room where Fox was being held opened slowly. He stood in the middle of the
room and faced the door. He figured it had been at least an hour since Sevantra had spoken to him.
        It wasnt Sevantra who entered the room, it was a very large and very ugly rat. The rat sneered at
Fox and laughed stupidly,
        Huh huh huh... you come wit me now an you come now.
        The rat was holding a big rifle, so Fox wasnt in any situation to argue. The rat poked him out of
the room and down the hall. The halls in the Heart of Steel were devoid of anything interesting... or
anything that could be used as a landmark. One section looked exactly the same as every other section.
Every ten feet or so, there was a heavy door. Probably more cells. Fox wondered exactly how many
prisoners could be held in place like this.
        Soon, they reached the only different part of the endless walls... a small elevator. The rat pressed
the button on it and laughed again. The elevator door opened and the rat prodded Fox inside. The rat did
not enter. Instead, he just pressed the button again, laughing with that same stupid laugh until the door
closed again.
        Fox was getting confused. Being escorted to torture was beginning to seem like it would be
considered normal in a place like this. But the rat had just left him unguarded... couldnt he just escape?
        The door opened again and answered his question. There was no way he was going to escape.
        On the other side of the door was a very large room. It was more of a hall than anything else...
and it appeared to be paneled in wood. Down at the far end was a large wooden chair. On the chair sat
Sevantra. Behind her was a crest. The crest was shaped like a shield, divided into four parts, two red and
two green. In the center was the image of some unknown skull wearing a beret and grinning. Under the
skull was the image of two crossed knives.
        On each side of Sevantra were two guards. The two to her left held someone between them.
        Fox walked in the direction of Sevantra... it didnt look like he had much choice. The two guards
on Sevantras right grabbed Fox and held him tight. Sevantra smiled and looked at Fox,
        Just a standard precaution... though I doubt youd be terribly effective against me.
        Fox glared at the guards holding him. They were wearing body armor which prevented him from
seeing what species they were. He looked over at the other two guards to see who they were holding.
Sevantra quickly explained,
        Oh yes, him. That fox over there is Gray Lancer. The reason he is not currently conscious is
because he tried to resist the guards. We had to stun him. Hell wake up in about... ten seconds.
        Sure enough, Gray began to groan. He shook his head groggily and looked up. Even though he
did not look good, his eyes burned with hatred for Sevantra. Fox wasnt very worried about him switching
sides right now. Sevantra smiled again and looked at both foxes,
        Several things disappoint me right now... both your wives have successfully evaded me until this
point... all thanks to the damned Mercenaries Guild! But neither of them have the slightest clue where
you are or who has taken you. That leaves me only with you two... but that is what I wanted all along.
        Sevantra paused, as if for effect, and continued speaking,
        My master has informed me that the time has come.
        She narrowed her eyes to slits,
        If I had my way, you wouldve died when you refused me all those many years ago. But that was
not to be. I am going to ask you both one last time... do you want to join me? Actually, Im only going to
ask you, Fox... because Im quit aware of what Gray thinks of me.
        Gray stared defiantly at the ocelot. She turned to Fox with a questioning look. Fox smiled very
slowly and motioned for her to come closer. She did and Fox spoke quietly in her ear,
        I wouldnt betray my friends and join you if I were offered all the power in the universe.
        Sevantra growled and spun around. She sat back in her chair and spoke in an angry voice,
        So you both refuse me again! Well, so be it. But be warned... eventually...
        Sevantra grinned widely... the grin was one of pure evil,
        ...you will wish you hadnt refused me...

-The Quicklight, in orbit around Corneria with the Mercenaries Guild fleet

        Mira Lancer was sitting in the co-pilots seat in the Quicklight with her head down. She found
herself thinking back in time. Back to when Gray had first hired her... when she had first sat in this seat.
        She had thought she hated Gray... but he had never returned the hostility she showed. After they
had worked together for a while, things had changed... she had grown attracted to Gray... and here they
were. They had a kit coming.
        But where was Gray now? Mira began to cry... making no sounds, but the tears rolled down her
cheeks.
        Mira turned her head to the pilots seat... and saw something she had never noticed before. It was
a small bag sitting by the chair. It was held by a strap so that it wouldnt come loose.
        She stared at the bag. Why had she never noticed it before? It must belong to Gray. She reached
over and opened the bag. Inside were a whole bunch of file folders. Mira lay them on the console and
opened one.
        Inside were lots of papers, some glossy photos, data sheets. Some were official military forms,
others looked like hastily written notes... probably written by Gray. Mira began scanning the first paper...
and then one word caught her eye:

        Sevantra

        Miras eyes opened and she stared at the name. Sevantra... Mira turned to the top of the paper
and began reading in detail:

        Project overview: Dead Watch
        Classification: Disavowed-to be destroyed
        Project purpose: In light of recent inability of our normal special forces to deal with certain
threats, both internal and external, we have decided to fund a new ultra-secret project to counter these
threats.
 
        Mira read the entire paper... about halfway down was an interesting piece of information:

        ...so to work as enforcers effectively, they need to work as a team. We have isolated one
commander who we believe can bring the unit together as we wish. The commanders name is Sevantra.
She has had experience in command of armored units and ground troops. She has a knack for really
forming community between the troops. Such a soldier is perfect for leading D Unit.

        Sevantra! There is was again. She was the commander of something called D Unit... but what
was that? Mira flipped through some more of the papers until she found a likely message transcript:

        -To: Operations command
        -From: Field operations officer, 78th Reconnaissance

        -Subject: D Unit
        -Message body, received multiple Code-p:
           &nb sp;    D Unit has not reported in at the scheduled time/end
           &nb sp;    We are unable to reach them/end
           &nb sp;    Recommend send search force/end
           &nb sp;    /Delta 406 enhanced encoder
           &nb sp;    /Delta 333 enhanced encoder
           &nb sp;    /Delta X standard encoder
           &nb sp;    /Unknown Delta encoder
           &nb sp;    /Unknown encoder
           &nb sp;    /custom encoder
           &nb sp;    /lock out
           &nb sp;    \Delta standard decoder
           &nb sp;    \Delta enhanced decoder
           &nb sp;    \X Mark decoder
           &nb sp;    \Fireblock decoder
           &nb sp;    \decoder sequence: 229190-993919-291929-929192-254085
           &nb sp;    \lock sequence: 3333-192910-192094093-21994092-2190291
        -End message, destroy

        Six encoders and a lock out for three lines of text?! That must be pretty damn important. Mira
continued flipping until she got to something else interesting. It looked like a mission roster... a list of
names. Among the names were those of Alana Petrikov, Fox McCloud, Falco Lombardi, and Gray.
        Mira kept on looking for something which would shed more light on the mystery of D Unit and
Sevantra. She finally came across a hand-written note. It was in Grays paw-writing:

        We are now pulling off of Titania. Sevantra and D Unit have disappeared without a trace.
According to her, she has sold her soul to some dark force in exchange for power and immortality. Her
camp is frightening and strange... and she tried to convince me and Fox to join her. We both refused. She
didnt do anything to us but kick us out and say some things about finishing it all later when the time was
right.

        Was this it? Mira read the note again. He and Fox McCloud... the two who had disappeared. So
Sevantra must want them alive. But for how long would she want to keep them around... and on whose
orders?

-Fara Phoenix-McClouds quarters, on the Remorseless

        Fara had been sleeping rather uneasily. Now she woke covered in a cold sweat. She stared at the
ceiling of her room. She sat up in bed and looked beside her... it looked so wrong without Fox there beside
her. She thought about Fox and began to feel very depressed and saddened.
        Fara got out of bed and turned on the lights. The shadows disappeared but Faras mood didnt
change. Fox was still gone. Tears welled up in Faras eyes. It wasnt fair... it just wasnt fair!
        She flopped back on the bed and started to cry. She missed Fox... and she hated to think what
might be happening to him.
        Fara didnt have long to think about it before the general alert sounded,
        ATTENTION ALL CREW! ATTENTION ALL CREW! This is NOT a drill! We are under
attack! Repeat: We are under attack! ALL CREW TO BATTLE STATIONS!
        Fara stood up, eyes dry... she quickly dressed and ran out into the hall. Battle stations meant
shed be in the cockpit in under five minutes. Something to keep her mind off of Fox, at least for a while.

-Severance, in orbit around Corneria

        An explosion ripped through the tactical officers console, throwing the young rabbit who had
been working it to the ground. The captain, a female red wolf named Namara Karius, stood and yelled
across the room,
        MEDIC! We have someone down!
        Two medical officers scrambled onto the bridge and went over to the rabbit. He was lying on the
ground gritting his teeth against the pain, but the injuries didnt look serious. The reserve tactical officer
at his station turned to Namara and spoke,
        Theyre moving around for another run!
        Is anyone out there on stand-by?
        The attack had come right when the fighter squadron was being transferred. The fighters were
fully operational, but had no weapons. The tactical officer stared at his console before replying,
        Not from our ship, but theres a flight of seven I-25 interceptors from the Hostility out on a
practice run, theyre loaded.
        Send out the general distress!
        Cant, sir. Weve got no com function... its like somethings jamming us.
        DAMMIT! Set up a laser link!
        Again, we cant. The I-25s arent in line-of-sight.
        Try to run it through some other ships... whos the nearest...
        The Vehemence is within laser link range. Ill run it through them.
        The tactical operator set up the link with the Vehemence and nodded to Namara. She spoke into
her com unit,
        Attention Vehemence, this is Severance. We are under attack by unknown enemy forces. Please
set up a laser link with the seven I-25s out on practice from the Hostility. We need to talk to those fighters
but somethings jamming out signal.
        The response was crackling and filled with static,
        Say again... arent picking... signal... cant... laser link...
        An explosion resounded through the ship and the com went dead. The tactical officer sat back in
his chair and shook his head,
        We lost the laser link-up unit. But that transmission shouldnt have been all broken up. Laser
links cant be messed up like that unless theyre at extreme range...
        Not that it matters... we need help now! Can we launch any fighters?
        Most of our hangars are out, we have a few I-11s that could launch... but without that jamming
effect, theres no way for them to talk to us or each other.
        Namara nodded and turned to her fighter operations commander,
        Scramble all available fighters, tell them to shoot anything not us, especially bombers.
        The lights went dead, replaced by the red emergency lights. Namara looked around,
        Now what?
        The tactical officers eyes grew wide with fear,
        Sir... we lost all systems... only a Vampire Missile can do that... and only three of them were
ever produced because it was so difficult and expensive... and all three of them were on the Vehemence.
        Namara gasped,
        The laser link! The Vehemence has mutinied!
        I dont think so... I knew their entire bridge crew... and the person who answered the laser link
call wasnt any one of them. You know what, I think the Vehemence has been taken over by someone.
        We had to find this out now... its too late... are any of our fighter out?
        No. No one outside this ship knows whats going on.
        Dammit. So the rest of the fleet doesnt know that they probably have an enemy ship in their
midst?
        No.
        A series of explosions ripped through the entire ship. Soon the entire ship was consumed by
brilliant fireballs that quickly faded... leaving only a blackened hulk behind.

-Remorseless, in orbit around Corneria

        The attack had ended as soon as it had begun. Brett MacDonald paced the bridge and studied the
logs from the attack yet again. He spoke his thoughts aloud,
        I dont get it! Five enemy bombers come out of nowhere, all com operations are mysteriously
jammed, and they start attacking. We send out fighters and manage to kill all five bombers, and then
another five come out of nowhere again! We kill off three and the other two just disappear! How the hell
does that happen?!
        Kelly MacDonald walked over and put her arms around her husbands shoulders,
        I dont know. You know, I really think we should get some sleep. Weve been going constantly
for the last couple days.
        Brett nodded,
        Yeah, but theres so much to do! Weve been attacked once... it could happen again...
        The situation officer, who had been standing near them, spoke,
        It did.
        Brett looked over at the officer,
        What?
        The Severance has been destroyed by enemy bombers. They just disappeared, just like the ones
that attacked us.
 
-The Vehemence

        FlareWolf ODonnell poked her head around the corner and looked around. The coast was clear.
She ran across the corridor and pressed her body against the wall.
        The enemy had a veritable army with them. They had quickly taken the area around the hangar
and moved onto the bridge. The ship was now under enemy control. The only area that wasnt yet under
enemy control was the engine control... a company of marines had managed so far to hold that area
against them.
        FlareWolf leaned against the wall and sighed. This was such a bad day. She had been called into
the middle of a war and now the ship she was on was being invaded by enemy soldiers.
        She heard someone walking up behind her. She spun around and held her pistol out. She saw a
large red wolf. The wolf was wearing a ripped uniform and was covered in blood. One of his eyes had a
big cut going down it. The wolf put up his hands,
        Dont shoot. My name is Jake Redstone...
        Oh... the marine captain...
        Yeah.
        Jake groaned and slumped down to the deck. FlareWolf dashed over and helped to lower him
down,
        What happened at the engine control?
        They rushed us... I got past their line, but most werent that lucky. We lost the engine control
room.
        FlareWolf swore and hung her head,
        So its over? Theyll be able to use the Vehemence to destroy the Guild from the inside.
        Not so fast... theres one last thing we can do... but you need to hurry...
        What?
        One of our unit, an otter named Arset, knew the codes to deactivate the self-destruct on this
ship. He flipped out when the enemy rushed us and he ran off. After a while, hell probably surrender and
give them the code... you have to get to the bridge before him and blow up this ship!
        But there had to be a better way.
        No. This is the only way. Most of the crew are dead. You and I are probably the only good guys
left on this damned crap hole. Get to the bridge and destroy this ship... and do it before Arset gets the
enemy that code. Once you start the sequence, only the master code can stop it... and the only vixen who
knew that code was the captain. Shes dead now... but, bless her soul, she never told those bastards
anything! I saw her buy it... one of the bravest people Ive ever known. Flare, you have to stop them before
they can do some real damage to our fleet... good luck...
        But wont you come with me?
        I dont think Ill be doing that.
        Jack smiled and let his head fall onto the deck. Blood splattered out onto the cold metal.
FlareWolf gasped and checked the wolfs skull... he had a wound on the back of his head that was
bleeding badly. Jack groaned lightly and spoke for the last time,
        Do us proud, kid.
        His eyes closed. FlareWolf straightened his body out and lay his paws over his chest. She stood
up and saluted the marine captain.
        FlareWolf knew what she had to do. She would get to the bridge and set the self-destruct for ten
minutes. That would give her time to get to the hangar and escape on a ship. And if she couldnt get there
in time...
        At least they would remember her as the good ODonnell... the one who didnt betray her friends.

-The Guidance, in orbit around Corneria with the Mercenaries Guild fleet

        Captain Steve Delestes sat back in his chair and sighed heavily. So far, they had lost one capital
ship and still had no clue where the attacks had come from.
        Steve was an old husky. He had been a very good mercenary... and he had married, had a
daughter. His wife had died after giving birth, but he had done his best to raise his daughter well.
        She had followed in her fathers pawsteps... becoming an officer on a mercenary ship, the
Rightful. Seeing how well his daughter was doing, Steve had retired and gone back to his old home on
Papetoon to see his daughter become a successful mercenary.
        But then her ship had been shot down... she had survived and was put in command of the other
survivors.
        For only a day or so before she had been killed on Venom by renegade Cornerian Special Forces
commandos under Janus Arkon. Steve had heard about his daughters death from a mercenary named
Gray Lancer. Lancer and a vixen named Mira... now actually married to Gray... had been the only two
survivors...
        His daughters death brought Steve back into the mercenary world. He had used his considerable
money and influence to buy a ship and hire a crew. Even though the ones who had killed his daughter
were dead, the evil which they had killed in the name of lived on. Even now that the war against Andross
was over... another wanted to carry that mantle.
        Steves tactical officer turned and interrupted his thoughts,
        Capn, Ive got something on scope... looks like one of the bombers that destroyed the
Severance!
        Steve sat up straight,
        Engage stealth mode and track im!
        The tactical officer nodded and gave the order to go to stealth mode. The stealth mode was not a
cloaking device, but it did make the ship nearly invisible to any forms of sensor detection. Steve had
added it to the ship after they had nearly been shot down by missile batteries when running cargo over
MacBeth.
        The Guidance slowly slid after the bomber, following it at a distance to avoid visual contact. The
tactical officer looked down at his console and an expression of surprise crossed his face,
        Uh... capn... youll never believe where that bomber is going...
        Tell me.
        Its headed for the Vehemence.
        Its going to attack it!
        No... it looks more like its going to dock...
        WHAT?!
        What do you think?
        I think that we should look around on the Vehemence...
        But will the let us dock?
        Who cares? Sneak around to the underside and attach the ship. They shouldnt be able to see us.
Do we still have those space combat suits?
        Yep. But we only have three.
        Fine. I want one for me, and the other two should be for Jason Tyren and Mara Kevik.
        Yessir!
        The tactical officer got the ordinance chief on the intercom and arranged for the three suits to be
prepared. Steve sat back in his chair again and clenched his paws in front of him,
        I wonder what has happened on the Vehemence while we were away... well soon find out.

-The Heart of Steel

        It had been nearly an hour since Sevantra had last spoken to... or even paid attention to... the two
foxes in her company.
        Right after Sevantra had said her piece, she had ordered Fox and Gray to be tied to large wooden
posts... the guards had then left.
        Fox had never imagined how painful being tied up could really be. The ropes cut through his fur
and rubbed against his skin. They were coarse and hurt a whole lot. They were also far too tight for him to
get comfortable at all. He looked across at Gray Lancer, similarly tied to a post.
        Gray looked even worse than Fox felt. His head was hanging down and his eyes were half-closed.
Fox thought he could see tears welling up in the corners of Grays eyes. Probably not because of the pain...
Fox had seen some of the things Gray had been through... it wasnt pain.
        Fox began to really think about what had happened to him for the first time. The realization
came slowly, but spread like a fire over dry brush...
        They had tried to kill Fara...
        Hell, they had been certain that she would be killed... but some stroke of luck had saved her...
        They had tried to kill his wife...
        It was as if, until that moment, Foxs senses had been clouded... now everything became clear.
Fox felt anger rising inside him. No, anger wasnt it... it was pure hatred... and it was directed entirely at
Sevantra...
        Fox did not struggle against the binds, he knew that was useless. Better to wait and save his
strength. The less Sevantra knew... the more confident she would become...
        And then Fox would destroy her. Her and whatever damned force she served.

-The Remorseless, in orbit around Corneria

        The main conference room of the Remorseless consisted of a large room with a massive oval
table in the center. At one end of the room was a big screen and a podium. Around the huge table were
chairs, and in the center was a holo-projector.
        Around this table now sat representatives from the ships of the fleet, including the fighter
squadron heads and seconds. Brett MacDonald sat at the head of the table with his wife and second-in-
command Kelly at his right. At his left was an empty seat... everyone in the room knew that the seat
would normally be occupied by Gray Lancer. To the left of the empty seat was Mira Lancer, Grays wife.
She looked distraught... still not taking the disappearance of her husband very well. She also seemed
distracted, as if something had come up recently that was taking her mind off of the meeting in general.
        To the right of Kelly sat the Guild guard head, Hallen Karsair. To his right was the empty seat
which would normally be occupied by the guard second. Falco Lombardi had once sat there, even though
he had rarely attended meetings, but he was kicked out because he never paid his dues. Of course, the
Guild was now due-free... they turned up enough business to make all membership totally free... but Falco
had not been re-instated. For some reason, no one had rushed to fill that spot.
        Other members of the Guild core staff sat near the head of the table. After them sat the ship
captains and tactical officers, as well as some of their core staff. One of the capital ships, the Rightful II,
had its entire bridge crew there. Of course, the whole bridge crew and supporting staff of the Remorseless
were there.
        Then came the captain of the Attrition along with her first mate. The squadron commanders for
the various fighter squadrons were seated next. After them were the captains and sergeants for the marine
squadrons on board the Rightful II and Restoration.
        Then were the tech specialists. There were the missile ops specialists from the Hostility, who
managed the handling and preparation of the VS-17 missiles. The F-90B technical specialists were near
them and exchanging insults, talk, and jokes with the VS-17 specialists.
        Next there came the unorganized grouping of mid-high Guild members. These members were the
ones with particular skills or talent. These were people like the fighter ops directors and munitions
specialists.
        Finally were a few people who kind of sat back from the crowd and kept quiet. Fara Phoenix-
McCloud sat quietly and looked around the room. Auerulis Varius was there, almost impossible to notice
and wearing a generic flight suit.
        The last person at the meeting was actually seated back a ways from the table. He was a tall and
thin coyote wearing a long black overcoat and dark sunglasses. He had been brought in on the advice of
Mira Lancer. His name was Arrek Largen. Only Mira and Brett knew what he was supposed to do. He did
not speak or look at anyone but kept his head down.
        Brett looked around the room, sighed, switched on the intercom system, and dimmed the lights.
Everyone in the room instantly shut up when the lights went down. Brett spoke,
        Thank you. This is a really important meeting and Im glad you could all come...
        Brett looked around the room. Of course, the positions normally occupied by crew from the
Severance were not filled... but it looked like there were more empty seats than there should have been. It
hit Brett rather suddenly,
        Hey, where the hell is everyone from the Vehemence?
        No one moved to answer Bretts question. He asked again,
        Does anyone know where the Vehemence reps are?
        Finally the tactical com officer from the Rightful II spoke,
        Oh yeah, the Vehemence was having all these problems with systems. They probably all stayed
behind to continue working on things.
        Brett nodded,
        Alright. What about the crew from the Guidance?
        Nobody moved to answer. Brett sighed,
        Oh well, it doesnt matter. Lets get this meeting started.
        Brett pressed a series of buttons on the console in front of him and a 3d image of the Guild fleet
appeared, along with statistics. Brett nodded to the image,
        This is the current general arrangement of our fleet. Of course, this isnt exact because its not
updated in real-time, but its the general view of things. As you know, we dont have the Severance with
us anymore. Other than that, the Vengeance II has received its new F-90Bs, the Hostility has its missiles.
We can assume that the Vehemence is still undergoing repairs, and that the problems may be worse than
we thought.
        Brett switched the image to a 3d view of the Remorseless,
        This is, obviously, the ship we are on right now. Let me put up the attack that happened
earlier.
        Brett pressed some buttons and several colored lines appeared around the image of the
Remorseless along with spheres colored red, yellow, and orange. Brett explained,
        The lines are the various bomber runs on this ship. The orange circles are hits we took that hit
the shields, the orange are ones that hit armor but did no real damage. The red are ones that actually did
some damage. If there were any flashing red circles, which there arent, they would indicate a hull breach.
So, as you can see, we didnt take a lot of damage.
        Brett let that soak in and then continued speaking,
        But one thing is very interesting... at the time of the attack we experienced a jamming field,
which means the enemy has the technology to do that... which scares the crap out of me.
        Brett turned the holo-projector off and the lights came up a little. Brett continued speaking,
        Now for some other business. We need to talk about why were all up here...
        Brett paused momentarily and let them think about that before launching into it,
        Two people associated with our Guild are missing... Fox McCloud and Gray Lancer. Their
wives have both been attacked. Obviously, something very important is going on which may center on
something these two were involved in a while ago. Believe it or not, this all is coming down to them and
the one who took them. Someone named Sevantra. I believe our new associate, Mr. Arrek Largen, can
help clear these things up. Mr. Largen?
        Arrek stood up and came to the front podium. He spoke in a deep voice,
        You are correct in assuming that this centers around Mr. McCloud and Mr. Lancer... they are
the key of this all. More specifically it is what they did... or rather, refused to do... that is the key of this
all. Mira Lancer knows a bit about what I mean... but I know more.
        He looked around the room, everyone seemed very interested now,
        I once knew Sevantra... and I know what she had done and why it is important. I knew Sevantra
rather well... actually, I was her second in command back in D Unit. All you need know about D Unit was
that it was a very secret group of Cornerian Special Forces commandos. The unit was assigned to a project
known as Dead Watch. Their job was to kill those that the regular CSF couldnt touch. Thats not
important, its what happened back on Titania thats important.

-The planet Titania, during project Dead Watch(several years before the war against
Andross began)

        Arrek Largen walked into his commander Sevantras tent and saluted. She returned the salute
casually. Arrek made his report quickly,
        Sir, we lost track of the terrorist unit about two hours ago. They must have gone into the caves.
        Sevantra gave a loud expletive and put her head down,
        Thats it then... we need to get to shelter. How long until those caverns underneath the cliffs?
        Uh... we could get everyone up there and inside right about nightfall.
        For the first time in three days, Sevantra smiled,
        Good. Lets do it. The faster we can get into a defensible position the better. We can just go
hull-down and wait for them to come to us.
        Arrek nodded his head but said nothing. Sevantra looked at him and nodded,
        Well, go to it.
        Arrek gave another sharp salute, which Sevantra didnt even bother to return. He walked outside
the tent, leaving his commander sitting there.
        Arrek strode out into the bright daylight and heat of the camp and looked around. He saw just the
mouse he was looking for, the camp sergeant. He shouted over to the sergeant,
        Hey! Jennis, get your butt over here, Ive got camp orders!
        Sergeant Jennis ran over and gave a half-serious salute, which Arrek returned casually. Even
though Arrek outranked Jennis, the mouse was many years older. The two were good friends. Jennis
cocked his head,
        So, whats the boss say?
        Get the camp ready to move. Were heading for the cliff caverns. She says well get there by
nightfall and hold the position.
        Jennis nodded,
        Sounds good. Well make them goddamn terrorists feel somethin, so we will.
        Arrek smiled at the mouse,
        Exactly. So, can you get em going in about... ten minutes?
        Jennis grinned,
        Can I? Son, I was doing this before you were born. Just pack yer things and dont fret over the
camp. Ill get them youngsters moving fast, so I will.
        Good. I know you will. Ive got to go and talk to the tactical people. Sevantra isnt coming out
of her tent as much anymore.
        Jennis shrugged,
        Mayhaps shes got somethin else on er mind. Not surprisin, really.
        Arrek nodded and walked off in the direction of the planning tent. He only need five minutes to
tell the tactical people that they were idiots and should all go to hell. Arrek could already hear Jennis
shouting around the camp and getting his job done. That was the most effective camp sergeant who ever
lived.
        So they would hide in the caves. It sounded like as good a plan as any they could come up with.
They knew virtually nothing about the enemy positions and strengths. They didnt know where the
terrorists were coming from or what the were packing. They were good enough to evade the scouts that
had been sent out to recon the enemy.
        Hide in the caves like worms crawling back into the ground. Sevantra wouldnt like that... there
were few commanders in the field as aggressive as Sevantra... and absolutely none more aggressive.
Certainly none as ruthless. She was rather unique in the world of covert operations.
        Arrek sighed and continued on his way to the planning tent. The camp was bustling with activity
now that Jennis was doing his stuff.
        Arrek entered the planning tent and the shade. It felt good to get out of the damned sun and heat.
The worst part of this whole thing wasnt the squad of enemy terrorists bearing down on them intent on
their destruction... it was the heat.
        Inside the planning tent sat the small camp planning staff. They were the biggest joke in the
Cornerian Special Forces, they didnt really do much of anything. Sevantra wouldnt have anything to do
with them so Arrek was forced to act as a go-between. He hated the job. They were a fine bunch of fighters
but were incompetent as planners. Their job wasnt all that important to them or anyone else. The CSF
required that they be their, but they didnt lose too much sleep over the job. Sevantra did a fine job on her
own.
        The lead planner, who obviously wasnt enjoying this any more than Arrek was, looked over the
brim of his sunglasses and glared at the coyote,
        Youre late.
        Go to hell. You dont care, I dont care... nobody cares. But make this quick, were breaking
camp right now.
        Hmph. So what IS our glorious leader saying?
        Sevantra said Ok to the plan I suggested... we run for the caves.
        Shes running?! Thats not exactly her style.
        So what? Its not like we have any other choice... I mean... stay and be slaughtered?
        Another of the planners, a short beaver wearing ill-fitting fatiques, rolled his eyes and looked at
his two senior officers,
        Shut up, both of you. Just agree on the plan so we can all leave. Why do we even bother?
        Arrek nodded,
        Ok, Ok. So spread word or whatever you guys do now... I forgot.
        The lead planner glared again,
        Just because Sevantra rarely consults us does not make us useless.
        Uh-huh... sure... let me make you feel more used. Can you guys give me your opinion on this...
were going to run into the caves and hide.
        The lead planner nodded and turned away to consult the rest. They only talked for about a minute
before turning back to Arrek,
        Ok, we think that, based on the current tactical situation, running and hiding like cowards is the
best choice.
        Arrek glared but said nothing. He had enough to do without getting into an extended argument
with the planning head... a notably disagreeable person. Instead, Arrek turned sharply and marched out of
the tent back into the hot Titanian sun. Time to pack his own things. The camp was rapidly dissolving
around him as the camp sergeant went about his business. The voice of Jennis echoed around the camp,
        Hurry up, damit! Weve got to be outta here in another six minutes!
        Arrek shook his head and smiled, muttering to himself,
        Going about his business as loudly as usual.
        Arrek reached his own tent and stepped inside.  Not much there, just a small bag of personal
items, a roll-up mat, his combat armor, and his weapons. He crouched down next to his bag and fished
through it. Not much in there... Arrek didnt have much of a past. What he had, he didnt care to
remember.
        A few photos and items picked up in his CSF career... and a few photos of a female coyote who
would be about Arreks age.
        Except that she was dead. Her name was Diana Mycelles... was... a long time ago.
        She had been a friend of Arreks back when he was in high school. They had actually started
back in junior high by hating each other, then had become friends in high school... then they had become
much more than friends.
        Arrek had been terribly shy about asking Diana, but had finally caved in and asked her on a date.
Things went well... very well in fact, and the relationship stuck fast.
        She had been Arreks only really good friend. They had spent a lot of time together because they
didnt really have anyone else to be with.
        They had both planned to go into the military together. Not much else had seemed interesting.
They would both request the same division... the military had some laws about keeping those who were
engaged together...
        And they had been engaged. Even before leaving high school, Arrek had proposed to Diana. And
of course, she had accepted.
        But fate had decided it would not let Arrek and Diana be content together... their happiness was
to end...
        Diana had been killed in a car accident only one week after graduation. It had ripped Arrek apart
inside. And it had changed him. His emotions became hardened, locked off. He was now someone who
kept to himself and did not share his emotions with anyone... not even with himself. Instead, he
concentrated on doing his job right and well.
        Maybe it was that lack of emotion that had landed him the job with D Unit.
        Arrek felt a tear welling up in the corner of his eye. He sighed quietly to himself,
        Why did you have to leave me behind? No matter, I still love you.
        Arrek kissed the photo of Diana and put it back in the bag. He zipped up bag quickly and went
over to his sleeping mat. He rolled up the mat and stuck it next to the bag. Next he went over and picked
up his armor and examined his weapons.
        Someone outside the tent spoke loudly,
        Hey, Major Largen, weve gotta take your tent down!
        Let me get my stuff on.
        Arrek picked up the combat armor. It was surprisingly light. He slipped it on and strapped it on
tight. He picked up his weapons, bag, and mat.
        He stepped outside into the light again. A few soldiers were now taking his tent down. They had
it down and stowed in about twenty seconds flat. Arrek smiled, the whole camp was in time with each
other. They practically breathed in sync.
        Arrek looked across the camp and saw sergeant Jennis. The sergeant waved his paw at Arrek and
walked over,
        Hey, Major Arrek Largen, all ready for action?
        Yeah. How long?
        Tell Sevantra that were moving whenever she wants.
        They both heard Sevantras voice and realized that she was standing behind them,
        Ver y well. Lets get going.
        They both saluted Sevantra and moved off to start the march to the caves.

        A day of marching in the hot sun sounded bad  to begin with... after a few hours of actually
marchin, it was hell itself. Arrek was broiling under his combat armor. The engineers had made it light
and they had made it strong... but they had not made it cool. He wiped a paw across his face and leaned
over to talk to camp sergeant Jennis,
        Seems like a funny way to run things... arent we supposed to be the hunters?
        Jennis shook his head,
        I dont care what they say, half of being a good soldier is knowing when to turn your tail and
run. Its that simple. We cant win if we fight in the open.
        I suppose you have a point.
        And you saw the same point from the start.
        Arrek nodded and looked straight ahead. They were probably about half way to the cliffs. Jennis
looked over at his friend and commander,
        Hey sir, weve got some time... how about a little conversation to keep from gettin bored here?
        Why not do a marching song or something?
        Jennis laughed,
        Yeah right. Sevantra ordered there to be none of that... even if this bunch were into it. So, its
amazing how little I really know about you.
        Hows that?
        Sir... er... Arreck, Ive been working with you for a long time, but I dont really know anything
about your past or anything, why dont you start with something Ive been wondering for a while...
        Arreck squinted at the sergeant,
        Shoot.
        Ok, Ive noticed a photo in your stuff... a photo of some female coyote... a girlfriend?
        Arrek turned his eyes away,
        Id rather not talk about her...
        Jennis nodded,
        I understand. The past can really hurt.
        Yeah... it really can...
        Arrek and Jennis continued on in silence.

        Around sunset, D Unit came up to the cliffs. The entire unit knew exactly what to do. First
advance scouts were sent out. The rest of the unit sat in the dust below and waited. Jennis had gone off
with the scouts and Arrek sat with Sevantra. She growled low and looked over at Arrek,
        You know I hate this damned running. We should be holding our ground and fighting them, not
scampering into caves and covering our tails.
        Listen, if we decide to stand, we will die. The only way to win this is to play the waiting game.
Besides, help is likely to come... the CSF will wonder if we dont report in.
        Sevantra nodded absently. She seemed distracted by something. Arrek thought he knew what.
There was something odd about the place. A feeling. Arrek had learned long ago how eerily accurate his
feelings could be.
        The scouts came back at last and made their report. The caves were extensive and seemed to be
perfect. Easy to defend, signs of running water, not too hot, dry. So at least they would be comfortable for
a while.
        The whole unit marched up the cliffs and made their way inside. Once again, camp sergeant
Jennis was responsible for getting everyone in the right place at the right time.
        Under his supervision, the camp of tents quickly rose inside the caves. It was amazing just how
expansive the cave system actually was. Arrek walked up to Sevantra and saluted,
        Sir, requesting leave for the night.
        Sevantra waved her paw,
        Sure, whatever.
        Arrek walked to his new tent. He had chosen one that wasnt too close to Sevantra... or anyone
else. He wanted to stay by himself and think a bit. That was all.
        Arrek stepped inside and zipped the flap closed. He sat down on his mat next to his stuff to think.
        Thinking was apparently a stupid idea. His thoughts were about what he least wanted them to
be... Diana.
        Arrek sighed and lay back on the bed. He opened his bag and grabbed the photo he knew he
would find. He held it in front of his face and looked at it for a minute or so. Then he held it against his
chest with both paws and closed his eyes,
        Why did it have to happen to me? Why?
        He felt his eyes begin to water,
        I could have been stuck with an utterly mundane military job with my fiancee, but instead...
instead... I am alone.
        Arrek kept his eyes shut and kept on clutching the photo to his chest.

        Sevantra had expressed no interest in staying at camp and sleeping or relaxing, like most of the
troops of D Unit. She had wanted to explore, and that was what she was going to do.
        Sevantra walked along the caves with three members of her staff. She had wanted to bring Arrek
along, but had decided against that. He had been through a lot lately, and he needed to sleep a little.
Sevantra, on the other hand, didnt even feel like sitting down. She wanted more than anything to explore
these caves. She was feeling a strange draw to them. Something was in there... and Sevantra wanted to
find out what it was.
        One of Sevantras aides shined a flashlight into the stygian gloom and looked around nervously.
He looked quickly at Sevantra,
        Uh... sir... shouldnt we be getting back to camp. Were pretty far into these caves.
        Sevantra glared at him and growled,
        If you dont like it then you can walk back in the dark... without a flashlight.
        That seemed to shut the aide up. Sevantra only really got along with a few people. She liked
Arrek, that was why he was her second-in-command. She also got along well with camp sergeant Jennis,
probably the most effective and organized person she knew.
        Those were about the only ones. As far as Sevantra was concerned, everyone else was useless.
That was why she let Arrek run the camp operations. He had always been better at deciding who should
do what.
        Sevantra and the three camp aides turned a corner. Beyond was a large hall. Sevantra ran ahead
into it and looked around. The aides dashed after him and shouted for her to slow down. Sevantra
disappeared into the darkness. They aides heard her hiss in delight and shout to them,
        Come look at this...
        The aides ran to where Sevantra was shouting from and shined their flashlights around. Their
eyes caught on something...
        There was a wooden chair sitting behind a small stone altar. Sevantra was sitting on the chair
and grinning. On the altar was a skull of what looked like a fox. Around the room were skeletons and
poles with skulls on them. It all looked old, but no less horrible. One of the aides gasped,
        Sir, what the hell are you doing?
        Sevantra grinned wider,
        Its horrible, isnt it? But cant you feel the POWER?! Cant you feel the energy of it all?! Its
evil... its hideous... I love it!
        Another of the aides gulped loudly,
        Sir... uh... whats that?
        Sevantra stood up and walked over to the aide who had spoken. She grabbed his collar and
growled in his face,
        The POWER! It s incredible... if we could tap only a small portion of the power... if we could
get that energy, harness it...
        The hall was suddenly bathed in a green light. The aides looked around nervously. Sevantra
merely sat back on the chair and smiled. The light was growing stronger, and the air began to feel moist.
Sevantra spoke in low tones,
        The power... so much power... can you feel it...
        The only aide who hadnt spoken yet breathed only one word,
        Yes.
        The light was now bright enough to light most of the hall. It was large, but not nearly as vast as it
had seemed in the dark. The energy did seem to be building to a head. Sevantra spoke in a louder tone
than she had a moment ago,
        I am here... I am your servant.
        The aide who had answered Sevantras question looked around eagerly, the other two stared at
Sevantra.
        A deep voice came out of the darkness. It carried both a feeling of incredible age and a feeling of
insane power... an evil sort of power,
        You claim to be my servant... are you prepared to prove it.
        Sevantra gave a whimper of pleasure,
        Show me who you are!
        What form would you prefer I take?
        Sevantra let out a short, rising laugh,
        Whatever form you want!
        A mist appeared to the front of the altar and swirled around. It resolved itself slowly into a hazy
shape. The shape was that of a skeletal knight. At one time, the knight had been a powerful timber wolf,
now the flesh was gone. The knight was dressed in full battle armor made of some gray metal, and
wearing a ragged cloak. The green mist swirled around the knight and the voice spoke again,
        I enjoy this form when appearing to potential followers.
        Sevantra grinned and clapped her paws together,
        I love it.
        You are indeed different than my old following. Maybe you will be able to handle my service
and perform... satisfactorily...
        I will serve you forever!
        You are quick to answer to my call, let me set before you a proposition...
        Go ahead, name your terms.
        Fine then... the following are my terms... I offer you ultimate power, I offer you control over
your following like you could never imagine, I offer you abilities beyond your wildest dreams... and I offer
you immortality! In return I ask the following... you must serve me completely and without question.
When I give an order, you MUST follow without question. You must gather a strong following and build
your forces... for a war will take place within the lifetime of those who first serve you and I. The outcome
of this war is uncertain, but if we are prepared then we can win it when it comes.
        Is that all?
        No. There is one more condition... you must pledge to me your eternal soul. Should you ever
betray me, you will be condemned to wander eternally in the neither realms. Do you still wish to serve
me?
        Sevantra stood up and raised her paws to the image of the skeleton knight,
        I agree to your terms! My army will be your following, and it will grow and be strong!
        Very well.
        The knight disappeared but the mist remained. It moved to Sevantra and enshrouded her... she
closed her eyes and opened her mouth wide. The mist entered into Sevantra and she gave a short yelp. The
light faded away and Sevanra spoke to the aides,
        We must return to camp and ready our following.

        Arrek heard someone shouting through the camp,
        Sevantra has returned! She has news! She has news!
        The coyote put the photo of Diana back in his bag, stepped up, and dried his eyes. He walked out
into the camp and made his way to the camp center. Sevantra was sitting there on a large wooden chair...
no, more of a throne. Arrek made his way near the ocelot and saluted. Sevantra smiled and nodded to him,
        No need for that anymore. I have an announcement to make to everyone here.
        Sevantra stood up and shouted over the crowd,
        Are you prepared to serve me?
        A loud roar affirmed this.
        Are you prepared to die for me?
        Another roar affirmed this as well.
        I have found something incredible... I have found a power unlike any I have ever seen before. I
ask you one more question... are you prepared to give your souls to who I serve in exchange for more
power than you could possibly imagine?
        Most of the crowd again roared in assent. Sevantra was literally glowing with an aura of evil
energy now. Arrek spoke up,
        Sir! This isnt right! Whoever youve struck a deal with, it is wrong!
        It is already too late. If you are not with me, then you are against me.
        The voice of camp sergeant Jennis came to Sevantras ears,
        Then Im against you too. This is immoral!
        Sevantra motioned to four of her guards,
        Take these two dissenters and leave them deep in the dessert without provisions. That will give
them a few days to think before they die of thirst, exposure, or are killed by local predators. Everyone else,
you now serve me and my new master... FOREVER!
        Sevantras former second-in-command Arrek Largen and former camp sergeant Jennis were
dragged away from the camp within the caves. The rest of the camp was roaring in approval of Sevantra.

-The present day, the Remorseless, in orbit around Corneria

        Brett MacDonald sat in his cabin with his wife Kelly and talked softly with her. Brett held her
left paw and spoke,
        What are you thinking about, honey?
        Arreks story.
        Yeah, me too. Thats some pretty weird stuff.
        Do you believe him?
        Honey, I dont have any other choice... and because of it, things are beginning to make a whole
lot more sense.
        Kelly embraced Brett. He held her tight. Kelly whimpered very softly,
        I have a nasty feeling... a really nasty feeling...
        What?
        That everything has been building up...
        Yeah.
        And that now its all going to come crashing down on our heads.
 

*           &nb sp;   *                *

           &nbs p;             ;        Book 3: It all comes down to this
           &nb sp;    The time for preparation is past... now is the time for war.

-The Vehemence, in orbit around Corneria

        FlareWolf checked the hall for enemy troops, then quickly dashed across it. She was almost
halfway to the bridge. Oddly enough, there were not very many guards around. If the enemy had taken the
ship, why werent they bothering to guard it?
        Unless... unless she really was the only one left. It didnt seem so unlikely anymore.
        That didnt change her mission. She needed to get to the bridge and activate the self destruct
before Arset could get his head together enough to get the enemy the de-activation code... which would be
incredibly bad.
        FlareWolf was beginning to notice something. She didnt give a damn if she lived or not
anymore. Untold numbers of people depended on her blowing this ship to tiny particles... if that meant her
death... so be it.
        She ducked around another corner and checked carefully for enemy soldiers. Still none.
FlareWolf walked down the next hall and around the next corner.
        This time there were guards, four armored guards holding assault rifles. So there was defense on
this ship. Probably a tight ring around the bridge, to prevent any unwanted attention. FlareWolf stayed
hidden and watched the soldiers. One of them seemed to be listening to a com message through their suit
com. The soldier turned to another of the guards and spoke,
        You, get your tail down to cell block fourteen. Theyve got all prisoners down there and need a
little help babysitting.
        The guard who had been addressed gave short laugh and went off the opposite way from where
FlareWolf was hidden.
        FlareWolf scratched her head, if they had prisoners... other people on the ship... so she wasnt the
only one. This wasnt looking as straightforward as it had before.
        Now FlareWolf needed to save those prisoner and destroy the ship. She wouldnt put her mission
above those peoples lives...
        And she knew that it would cause more than a few problems.

-Outside the Vehemence, in orbit around Corneria

        Steve Delestes moved slowly along the outside of the Vehemence in his heavy combat armor.
Next to him, Jason Tyren and Mara Kevik wore similar suits of armor. The moved quietly and slowly,
avoiding the external sensors on the Vehemence and looking for a good way inside.
        Nobody knew what was inside the Vehemence... and they werent going to take any chances, no
matter how minor it seemed.
        Steve spoke over the com unit that operated between the three suits. It was a closed circuit,
impossible to tap into from the outside,
        You two doing Ok?
        Yeah, Im fine.
        That was Mara Kevik. A young cat with a surprising amount of ground combat experience. She
was an expert with small arms and a vicious hand-to-hand fighter.
        Im alright.
        And that was Jason Tyren. Steve had picked the fennec fox because of his amazing skills at
breaking and entering. There wasnt a security system around that Jason couldnt crack wide open.
        They were picked for their skills, and for their loyalty and ability to work well in high-pressure
situations. Steve didnt know what theyd find inside the Vehemence... but he was pretty sure it wouldnt
be very pleasant.
        Mara spoke over the com quietly,
        Hey, Steve. I think I found a way inside.
        What is it?
        A small access hatch with outside controls.
        Ok, lets do it. Jason, I think this is your department.
        Jason walked over to the hatch that Mara was indicating and knelt down beside it He checked the
lock system and took out some equipment,
        Easy. Give me a minute.
        He slipped something onto the lock unit and entered a series of numbers. The light on the lock
went from red to green. Jason opened the hatch and motioned inside,
        Lets get going.
        They all stepped inside the airlock beyond and Mara closed the hatch. Jason entered something
on the side controls and air hissed into the chamber. Soon the airlock registered another green light and
the far hatch opened. Steve, Mara, and Jason stepped into the ship beyond and the door shut after them
and sealed. Steve removed his bulky helmet and motioned for the others to do the same. After they had
both taken the helmets off, Steve addressed them,
        We leave the suits here and leave a beacon too. That way we can get them again if we need to
make a quick exit. If we have a choice, we will not go out the way we came in.
        They quickly took off the unwieldy combat suits and hid them away. They all took out their side
arms and opened the door leading out into the hall. It was odd that no one was around... even in this kind
of area there should be some people around...
        How very odd.

-The Heart of Steel

        Sevantra finally spoke to Fox and Gray again,
        I know that neither of you really believe me about my... ahem... powers... so I see a need to
prove this to you both...
        Fox looked up and glared at Sevantra, Gray didnt even bother. Sevantra growled and stood up.
She waved her paws in the air and a green mist encircled, them. She waved her paws forward and the mist
traveled to the ropes binding the two foxes. The ropes disappeared, leaving no trace behind. Fox and Gray
rubbed aching limbs and joints.
        Fox was careful to restrain himself... now still wasnt the time. An attack now would only get
both him and Gray killed.
        But why wasnt Gray doing anything at all? He hadnt responded in any way to Sevantra. Gray
Lancer was the last person Fox expected to break... what had Sevantra done to him?
        Sevantra smiled again, she lifted her paws and the room was filled with a swirling green mist
which quickly dissipated. Just another little trick to prove to her two guests that she indeed had such
powers as she claimed.
        Sevantra sat back down,
        I dont really think that I need to do any more stupid tricks. You know I have the ability, I feel
no more need to prove it further. Remain where you are, I will have attend to you after I have conversed
with my master.
        The ocelot disappeared in a burst of green mist, leaving Fox and Gray alone. The two foxes
looked at each other. Gray perked up noticeably, Fox squinted at him,
        You havent exactly been very active until now.
        I took a few acting lessons from a true master. You know Auerulis Varius?
        Ive heard the name.
        Among her many other talents, shes a master of covert ops, disguise, and acting. She taught me
a few things. Among them was that its best to conceal your feelings. Anyway, thats not important. We
need to put our heads together on this one and get the hell outta here!
        Fox nodded his agreement and looked around the room,
        But how do we know when Sevantra will be back.
        Gray sighed,
        Good point. Lets just wait things out a little longer. I have a feeling that the Mercenaries Guild
may be mounting an offensive.
        How do you figure?
        Just an educated guess. Nice talking to you...
        Grays face returned to its original expression of lost hope and shattered spirits. Fox decided hed
better keep acting the same or Sevantra might get suspicious. Fox looked deep into Grays eyes... the fox
was good at burying his feelings. But Fox could see, if he look closely enough, a deep hate that ran far
back in time and burned like an endless fire. Gray had been through plenty of bad things with those from
his past... but Sevantra had made it one too many. The wildcat had come too close to Grays soul... she
had hurt those who were very close to him.
        And she had hurt those close to Fox. Fox felt his own hatred for Sevantra rising within him. He
didnt care who killed Sevantra... he just wanted her dead! Her and her damned dark lord too.

-The Remorseless, in orbit around Corneria

        Brett MacDonald sat at the head of a much smaller meeting. Only a select few were present this
time. This was no situational overview, this was the real council of war. This council was much smaller...
        Kelly MacDonald, Hallen Karsair, Arrek Largen, Fara Phoenix-McCloud, Mira Delinax,
Auerulis Varius, and the captain and tactical officer from the Restoration and Attrition. Them and Brett
were the entirety of the assembly this time.
        Brett stood to the front and addressed them all,
        Were here for pretty much one reason, were getting the crap beaten out of us and we dont
know jack about the enemy. Ive got a plan, and a damn good one, but we need utter cooperation and we
need to do this exactly right. Does anyone have the slightest idea whats going on?
        No one made any moves. Brett sighed,
        I thought as much. Let me briefly recap what we know... the enemy has destroyed the Severance
and attacked the Remorseless. We are still having trouble with the Vehemence, which seems to be getting
more problems than its fixing we need a plan. I thought one up with the help of my wife and exec,
Kelly... and of course Missus Lancer was extremely helpful, and Mister Karsair was nice enough to keep
prying eyes away.
        Everyone not mentioned looked at Brett expectantly. He explained,
        So far, the enemy has been primarily preying on vulnerable ships. I think that the attack on the
Remorseless was just a ruse to distract us from the Severance. Anyway, were going to pull a little trick.
The Restoration is going to pretend to have some serious problems that need fixing. On top of that, were
going to run a mock fighter transfer op. If they think the Restoration is vulnerable, theyll probably go for
it. The Restoration will actually be fully able to defend itself and will have the support of the Attrition...
which will have a little cap killer power. The Attrition will try and scare a couple of the attackers into
retreating. Theyll follow and find the cap ship that theyre based off of. When they get their... ba-bam.
No more cap ship. Simple enough?
        Everyone nodded at the proposed plan except the tactical officer for the Attrition. Brett nodded
for him to speak. The officer stood up and spoke,
        Sir, not to insult you... but heres a few things that can go wrong right off the bat. If we have to
nuke all the attackers, we wont find the ship...
        Brett sighed,
        Obviously.
        The tactical officer raised a finger and kept speaking,
        Thats not what worries me. The Severance wasnt exactly helpless.
        What?
        I said that the Severance wasnt exactly helpless. It was receiving a fighter transfer... but it
already had a combat ready fighter compliment. They were nuked before they could even launch a single
armed fighter... Brett, they NEVER HAD CHANCE! They were SLAUGHTERED!
        Brett frowned,
        Do you have a better plan?
        No... its just that Im warning you... if we all die, dont try the same thing again.
        Hopefully it wont come down to that.
        Nobody else at the meeting noticed, but Fara Phoenix, Mira Lancer, and Auerulis Varius were
holding their own little council in the corner of the room. They had a plan... and they needed one.
 

-The Heart of Steel

        Sevantra clapped her paws together and snarled,
        Enough waiting! Im sick of keeping you two alive and comfortable... my master has not
requested that you be kept along any more. I honestly do not know why he even bothered to keep you
around this long. Well... now I get my way... starting with Mr. Lancer.
        Sevantra walked up to Gray and extended her claws. She grabbed Gray and hauled him off his
footpaws,
        Ah, the famous Gray Lancer. Excellent special forces officer, good guy mercenary, loving
husband... you have no idea how much I hate you and all you stand for.
        Sevantra dug her claws into Grays left arm. Blood flowed down the arm and Gray grimaced.
Sevantra grinned,
        How does that feel? Let me tell you a few things that Im planning for your wife... her and her
new child... your new child...
        Grays eyes widened... he was losing control over his emotions. Sevantra smiled and dug her
claws into his chest. Gray let out a short yelp and blood flowed down Sevantras claws. She spoke again,
        I will make sure she is captured in our holy war against the people of Lylat... I will make sure
she is taken alive... and I will kill her with my bare paws! I will kill her slowly, making sure she is
screaming every single step of the way.
        Gray was near his breaking point. Sevantra knew where Grays emotional weaknesses were... she
knew that he couldnt stand to see Mira hurt or threatened. Sevantra continued on,
        Yes... just like your friend Rilah... your poor friend Rilah... she was so close to you. The only
one closer is... well... Mira. Too bad you wont be around to see her die screaming... no, Ill keep you alive
enough to see that.
        Gray felt hot tears running down his cheeks. He sobbed out a few words,
        Oh Mira... Sevantra... you goddamned soulless whore... how the hell can you do this?
        Sevantra laughed and slashed Gray across his cheek, drawing more blood. She strode over to Fox
and slashed his chest quickly,
        And here we have Fox McCloud, the great Cornerian hero and also a wonderful husband. Oh,
your wife is not going to evade her fate this time. She is going to die... but first I will tell her how I killed
you! I will make you scream for mercy... but mercy will not come.
        Fox spat at Sevantra,
        Up yours, you friggin slut.
        Sevantras eyes went wide open and she hissed at Fox. She stabbed him in the stomach with her
claws. Fox yelped but managed to keep from crying out from the pain. Sevantra stepped back and wiped
her paw on Foxs shirt. Fox clutched his paw to his chest and blood oozed around his fingers. Sevantra
looked at her handiwork. She sniffed at Fox and turned her nose up,
        You know that insolence will not help you... nothing can help you...
        Sevantra was interrupted by the chime of a com unit. She went over to her wooden chair and
pressed the receive button. Someone on the other end of the com spoke,
        My lady, the time has come. The Heart of Steel is prepared and the Great Secret is prepared.
        Sevantra grinned,
        Ah, good. I will be on the bridge shortly.
        She shut off the intercom and turned to Gray and Fox,
        I will deal with you two later.
        She waved a paw and binds appeared around Gray and Fox, holding them to the posts they had
been bound to before. She waved another paw and disappeared into green mist.
        Fox looked over at Gray and spoke,
        The holy war is beginning. Lets pray that our friends and families will be ok without us.
        Gray smiled,
        Who the hell said they would be without us?
        Huh?!
        Gray smiled broadly and lifted a paw... he was free of his binds and held up a small box,
        This transmitter has a short range, but itll give them an idea where we are...
        How did you?
        My old friend Rilah was something of an escape expert. Fox, she was a good friend. More than
just good... she was my best friend. Lets get the hell outta here...
        Gray took out a knife and slashed Foxs bonds. He spoke softly to Fox,
        But when we fight Sevantra... I am going to kill her myself. Do not try to stop me or get in my
way.
        Grays voice changed to a low growl,
        Do I make myself clear? Youre my friend and I dont want to hurt you.
        Fox only nodded.

-The Vehemence, in orbit around Corneria

        FlareWolf looked around quickly to see if anyone was coming, then pressed the button for the
elevator. If she remembered correctly, this would lead her down to the number seven air ventilation
system. From there, she might stand a chance of getting to cell block fourteen. A chance of getting down
there and saving those prisoners.
        The elevator doors slid open... FlareWolf looked down at the elevator floor and jumped.
        There was a body on the elevator floor. Wearing a combat uniform.  It was a rather pretty cat, she
didnt look suited to the uniform she had on.
        Oh god...
        The fox stirred. FlareWolf jumped back again and stared down at the young cat. She moaned in
pain and tried to roll over. FlareWolf knelt down beside the cat and whispered in her ear,
        Dont try to move, youll be Ok.
        The cat whimpered and spoke softly to FlareWolf,
        No I wont be... Im going to die. Please find my friends and tell them...
        Who and where are they?
        They had to run, I went down and couldnt keep up. Their names are Jason and Steve. Please
tell them?
        Who are you?
        My name is Mara Kevik... can you tell me your name?
        FlareWolf looked surprised,
        My name is FlareWolf ODonnell. Glad to meet you.
        Mara looked up and smiled. She looked so innocent. She raised a paw and offered it to
FlareWolf. FlareWolf took the paw and gladly shook with the young cat. She smiled and slumped to the
ground,
        Im glad I met someone as nice... as... you...
        Her voice faded. Her eyes went slowly cloudy. FlareWolf moved the body out of the elevator and
into the hall. She took the rifle out of Maras paws and placed it at the cats side. FlareWolf then crossed
Maras arms over her chest and laid her straight. FlareWolf spoke softly to herself,
        Rest in peace.
        So someone else was fighting on this ship. There was no Mara Kevik on this ship, but there was
one on the Guidances crew... so the Guidance had sent some people over to check things out.
        The entire ship shuddered... something was happening. A voice came loud over the intercom,
        Attention all crew. We are now moving out. Together and proud we serve on the newest
addition to Lady Sevantras fleet... the Great Secret.
        FlareWolf stepped into the elevator and pressed a button. Not for the air ventilation system, but
for the hall leading to cell block fourteen.
        The time table had been moved up. FlareWolf needed to do this now... because the war was
starting... and terrible things were being set in motion.
        The elevator doors slid shut and the elevator silently moved down to the cell block floor.

-The Attrition, in orbit around Corneria with the Mercenaries Guild fleet

        Captain Neefa Saharis, a pretty young female kit fox, stood on the bridge wearing her favorite
fatigues. The fatigues were, in all honesty, the favorite of her tactical officer as well. The tactical officer
was a male kit fox of exactly the same age as Neefa. His name was Lark Seervis. He had been going out
with Neefa for several months now. Most experts would claim that was bad for the chain of command, but
the Attrition was a mercenary ship. If the tactical officer wanted to date, and indeed sleep with, the
captain, then so be it!
        Neefa leaned back against the wall and stretched out. Lark swallowed hard and tried not to stare.
That position managed to show off almost every aspect of Neefas figure. Lark was having trouble not
staring at his girlfriend and commanding officer.
        She noticed his attention and smiled. She struck a rather distracting pose just to taunt Lark. He
walked over and held Neefa in his arms. The two foxes looked at each other and smiled. Lark ran his
paws over Neefas back and the kit vixen laughed. She kissed Lark lightly on the lips and he smiled down
at her. Neefa sighed and leaned back in her boyfriends arms,
        Youre still not convinced that this will work?
        Of course Im not convinced. Why the hell would I be.
        She sighed again,
        You know, Im beginning to think youre right. It is a little bit ridiculous... oh well, we do our
job and hope for the best.
        Lark squeezed Neefa tighter, running his paws down her back and through her tail. She sighed
and closed her eyes tight. She snuggled up against Larks shoulder and nuzzled him affectionately. The
rest of the bridge crew gave them their privacy. Everyone on the Attrition knew about Neefa and Lark.
They respected the two kit foxes and gave them space to conduct... personal business.
        Lark whispered in Neefas ear,
        We still have another hour before we have to execute the plan... thats a lot of time...
        Neefa giggled and kissed Lark. She turned to look across the bridge at the navigation officer,
        Hey, youre in charge until Lark and I get back.
        The navigation officer nodded and smiled broadly.
        Lark and Neefa walked off to their shared cabin paw-in-paw. In exactly one hour, the great Guild
offensive would begin.

-Orbital Observation Station #23, in orbit around Corneria

        The main observation officer looked up from her station and shouted across the room at the
station commander,
        Sir, we got something on radar... something really bloody big.
        The station commander walked over from his position in the center of the bridge and looked
down at the observation screen. His eyes widened and his mouth gaped open,
        My god, what the hell is that?!
        I dont know, sir.
        The commander at once became very alert and active. He ran to the center of the bridge and
shouted to the crew,
        Jake, give me the threat readings. Westen, get the station intercom up. BATTLE STATIONS
EVERYONE!
        Jake, a great horned owl who acted as the tactical combat officer, spoke in his normal deadpan
voice,
        Sir, threat display has not been able to identify the object.
        Well, what does the situational analysis say? Hostile? Neutral? Does it have a combat situational
yet?
        Yes, actually.
        What?
        Whatever it is, its on an attack approach. Its launching fighters!
        The commander grabbed the intercom unit and spoke loudly into it,
        BATTLE STATIONS EVERYONE! This is a class one emergency... WE ARE UNDER
ATTACK!
        The lights on the bridge turned red and the attack alert sounded.
        Then the explosions started. The damage control officer shouted out, her mouth wide,
        We just lost the forward turret control! All of our forward guns are down... hangar control is
history... we cant launch any fighters!
        The commander sat down hard and slammed his fist into the console,
        DAMN! Dont we have any offensive capabilities?
        The damage control officer shook her head quickly as the explosions continued,
        We just lost the main control... rear guns down, missile batteries down... weve just lost all our
weapons!
        A massive explosion sounded somewhere in the station and the shade of the red lighting changed
to indicate a power outage. The damage control officer buried her head in her paws and began sobbing,
        Were all gonna die... we dont have any power left... its all over...
        Jake ran over to the commander and shook his shoulder,
        Sir, should we get a new damage officer?
        No.
        Why?
        Because shes right.
        Several alarms sounded. The station commander muttered to himself,
        Hull breaches, weve probably got another five minutes. Jake, did we get a message out?
        Yes... but...
        The commander shook his head. He walked over to the damage control officer and held her in his
arms. She sobbed louder,
        Were all going to die...
        The commander squeezed her in his arms and felt a tear rolling down his own cheeks,
        Itll be Ok...
        They didnt even feel it when the fireball consumed the bridge.

-The Remorseless, in orbit around Corneria

        The com officer walked up to Brett and tapped him on the shoulder. Brett nodded and the com
officer handed him a printout,

        -Urgent from Orbital Station #23
           &nb sp;    -SOS under attack, systems failing
        -End urgent

        Brett swore. He strode to the center of the bridge and spoke loudly,
        Battle stations! Will someone please find Orbital Station number 23?
        The situational officer responded,
        Sir, Ive got the position on the station. Its not too far from here... why?
        Because the place is under attack.
        Kelly MacDonald looked up from her station and spoke,
        Not exactly... its just been wiped out of existence.
        By what?
        I dont know, but theres something really big coming this way...
        Good lord... OK, FULL ALERT! GET THE FLEET ONLINE!
        The bridge lights went to red and the general alert sounded. The crew ran to battle stations. Kelly
sat down at the tactical station next to Brett. She switched on the station and checked the threat display,
        Well, it looks like the fight is beginning.
        No kidding. Give me the fleet situation.
        Kelly pressed a button and the main display showed a 3d picture of the entire Guild fleet. Brett
stared at the display,
        The Restoration isnt showing any readings!
        A jamming field?
        The attack!
        Exactly. I have to contact the Attrition.
        Kelly punched some buttons on the com system and  contacted captain Neefa Saharis,
        Captain Saharis? I need you and your crew to help us out...

-The Attrition, in orbit around Corneria with the Mercenaries Guild fleet

        Captain Neefa responded in surprise,
        What?! We arent getting any readings...
        Kelly MacDonalds voice answered over the com,
        Theres a jamming field up near you... its blocking your sensor view of the enemy ship. You
guys need to get around the field and use a las link to relay info to the Restoration.
        You got it.
        Neefa shut off the com and turned to Lark, her tactical officer and lover,
        Lark, we need to move the ship around the jamming field.
        Lark nodded and gave the orders to the ships pilot. The Attrition started to move around the side
of the jamming field.

-The Mercenaries Guild fleet, in orbit around Corneria

        The Attrition pulled up and around the side of the Restoration, coming into sensor view of the
enemy ship. The enemy ship was huge, looking sort of like a carrier only far bigger... and it was
beginning to launch fighters.

        The Restoration was launching its compliment of fighters without really knowing what was going
on. The enemy had fighters and bombers in space around the Restoration, but nobody knew exactly where
they were.

        The corvettes of Versatile flight were the closest medium ships to the Restoration. They knew
about the jamming field. The captain of the lead corvette contacted the rest of the squadron,
        This is Versatile 1 to Versatile flight... we are picking up reports from the Attrition of fighters
and bombers near the Restoration. Lets go.
        Versatile 1, this is Versatile 6, were getting some strike fighters coming this way!
        Right everyone, break formation and open fire!
        The corvettes broke out of their tight formation and locked weapons on the incoming strike
fighters.
        This is Versatile 3... those are SF-39s!
        Thats not possible!
        No mistake, theyre definately SF-39s... the Vehemence is the only ship in the system that
carries those things.
        So thats it then... the Vehemence is in enemy paws... we have to warn Admiral MacDonald!
        I know, get the Rem...
        The com went down in a burst of static. The jamming field had expanded and covered Versatile
flight as well.
        The SF-39s opened fire at Versatile 2. Their concentrated attacks with missiles and torpedoes
quickly destroyed the modified corvette. Versatile 7 and Versatile 10 fired their own laser batteries and
destroyed three of the enemy strike fighters.

        This is captain Neefa Saharis to the Restoration... can you read me?
        This is captain Jacob Seelanta of the Restoration. Neefa, how are you? Hows your boyfriend
Lark doing?
        Uh... well I suppose. We had a very nice night.
        She gave short laugh and continued speaking,
        Were relaying your status through our com to the Remorseless. Were outside the jamming
field and...
        Neefa paused and could be heard talking in the background. She then went back to the com,
        Sorry. I guess I was wrong. The jamming field has expanded... its as if something is adding to
its power. Well, I think we should try to create a las linkup between any ships inside the field.
        Good idea... its beginning to look as if two different battlefields are being created. The one
outside the field and the one inside.
        Neefa sounded thoughtful,
        I think that Versatile flight is inside the jamming field, maybe we can get them to help us out.
        Good, your ship is smaller, look around and see what you can find.

        The fighter squadrons from the Remorseless were out the door before the enemy ship got
anywhere close. Whatever it was, it was big and it was extremely mean looking. The ships off of various
capital ships were identified by their ship name, followed by the flight number, and finally the ship
number. The Remorseless had almost all of its fighters out already, and the strike bombers were on
scramble alert.
        The Remorseless itself was in full defensive mode, watching the enemy slowly approach. When
they came, the Remorseless would be ready.

        Mira Lancer flew the Quicklight into close formation with the Remorseless and set up a laser
linkup with the large capital ship.
        This is Quicklight to Remorseless... come on Brett, how are you?
        Were fine for now. Weve scrambled our fighters but they havent engaged anything yet.
        Good. Any word from the Attrition.
        They sent out a couple reports on the Restoration and then the jamming field expanded. I think
the enemy cap ship coming in is adding to the power.
        Good thinking, Mira. Listen... are you going to be Ok out there?
        Why?
        Well... without Gray... are you going to be alright without him?
        Brett... I know that my husband... that Gray... is alive, I can always keep my hopes up.
        Thats all we really have left, isnt it?
        Mira didnt answer, but Brett could hear the faint sounds of her crying,
        Listen Mira... Im really sorry... I didnt mean it like that...
        Its Ok... youre right. Its just that... Gray is all I have... and Im all he has...
 

-The Heart of Steel

        Fox McCloud and Gray Lancer moved silently down the halls of the Heart of Steel. Most of the
ship, and they knew it was a ship, wasnt like Sevantras throne room. Most of the ship was cold steel and
harsh corners, modern but not refined.
        So far they hadnt seen any guards whatsoever. Not a single one. For a ship so expansive and
seemingly important, there werent many people around.
        Gray checked around the next corner and motioned for Fox to move up. They both rounded the
corner and stayed against the wall of the hallway, watching for enemy guards. Still nothing. Fox shrugged
his shoulders and kept on moving.
        They came to a four-way intersection in the hall and Fox spoke up,
        Which way do we go?
        Lets start by going left. If that doesnt go anywhere, we can always go back.
        They turned left and walked into the new hall, it lead down for about twenty feet and ended in a
large metal door. Gray squinted down the hall at the door,
        You know what, I think that might be something...
        No kidding, it is a little... uh... unusual.
        They walked to the end of the hall and examined the door. There was a large handle but no signs
of a lock. Gray reached out and pulled on the handle.
        The door swung inwards, revealing a dim room beyond. Fox and Gray stepped inside. The room
was large and they didnt seem to be able to see the ends of it... as if a strange haze cut off their view. Fox
muttered to Gray,
        Gray, Ive got a really bad feeling about this.
        The door slammed shut behind them. Gray try frantically to open it again to no avail,
        Dammit! The doors stuck fast. Somebody wanted us in here.
        How can you be so sure?
        A very familiar voice spoke through the gloom,
        Because he is absolutely right! From the minute you decided to escape, you have been doing
exactly what I wanted you to!
        The same green mist that Fox and Gray had seen on numerous occasions now swirled around
them once again. The mist resolved itself in front of them into a shape with which they knew all two well.
Gray spoke in a voice that was quiet but filled with an immeasurable amount of hatred,
        Sevantra... so youre back.
        She nodded and walked up to the two foxes. She spoke in a voice dripping with evil intents,
        Yes... my master has told me that I may do whatever I want with you. Whatever I want... he had
no more use for you.
        Sevantra walked up and grabbed Gray around his throat and snarled in his face,
        Oh Gray Lancer... youve made such bad choices in your life. You and I should have been
together. But you had to refuse me and choose your friends instead. You and that needy bitch Mira. She
makes me sick. You choose the wrong way in life... the wrong way!
        Gray sneered at Sevantra,
        Youre wrong and you know it...
        Gray then kicked out at Sevantra, catching her in the middle and knocking her back. Gray hauled
the ocelot up and spoke in a growl to Sevantra,
        And dont... ever... call... my... wife... a... bitch!
        Sevantra quickly reached out with her claws and slashed Gray along the stomach. Gray yelled out
but didnt let go of Sevantra. She grabbed Grays arms and her paws began to glow. Grays eyes widened
and he yelped in pain. Sevantra reached down and touched his chest, he yelled out and was thrown several
feet back. Sevantra stood over him and reached down, she hauled Gray up again and snarled at him,
        Ah, I hate you, I hate your wife, and I hate your unborn child! I hate everything about you!
        Her paws glowed bright and Gray screamed in pain. Sevantra released him and he fell onto the
floor and lay still, breathing slowly and haltingly. Sevantra then turned to Fox and pulled him up by his
throat,
        And you, Fox McCloud... if anything I hate you more than him...
        She motioned at Gray, who was still lying on the floor, and continued speaking,
        Youre even worse than Lancer... youve never even come close to the edge... youve always
been on the right side, youve always been afraid of living on the edge, of cutting things too close.
        Gray lifted himself from the floor and spoke to Sevantra,
        So he never sold his soul like you did? So he never made the same mistakes I have? You know
what, I dont regret my special forces career, but sometimes I wish I hadnt been through it. Sometimes I
wish I hadnt lost my friends because of what I did.
        Sevantra snarled at Gray and kicked him in the head. He kept on speaking,
        You hate me because of what I stand for... you hate him even more because he stands for the
same things, but he hasnt made the mistakes in life that I have!
        Youre wrong! You are wrong!
        She stepped down on Grays head and pressed his face down into the ground. Gray spat dirt and
growled at Sevantra,
        Somehow I dont think so! What did you plan to do to us anyway?
        I will give you and you alone one last chance... will you reject your bitch of a wife and join me?
        Gray lifted his head a little to glare at Sevantra,
        I said, dont call my wife a bitch!
        Very well then, you can both die.

-The Vehemence, in orbit around Corneria

        FlareWolf leaped around the corner and the enemy bullets slammed into the wall behind her. She
checked the ammo in her rifle and jumped out of cover, firing the weapon. One of the enemy guards took
several hits to the chest and went down in a shower of blood. The remaining guards fired their weapons at
FlareWolf, who quickly threw herself to the ground to avoid the bullets.
        But FlareWolf had not chosen a good spot to duck... she felt one of the guards bullets enter her
arm and go out the other side. She gritted her teeth to keep from crying out. One of the guards walked
over FlareWolf and pointed his gun down at her head,
        Yer a pretty thing, too bad that I have to kill you... I can think of some other things I would
like... ARGH!
        The guards chest exploded into a shower of blood as the large caliber bullet tore its way through.
FlareWolf looked up and saw a husky wearing the same kind of fatigues that the young cat Mara had been
wearing. He looked down at FlareWolf and offered a paw. FlareWolf took it with her uninjured arm and
the husky hoisted her up,
        Hello my friend. My name is Steve Delestes. Im the captain of the Guidance. Who are you?
        FlareWolf smiled at the husky. She was beginning to like him,
        My names FlareWolf ODonnell. Im the fighter operations commander aboard this ship. Or at
least I WAS. Looks like Im out of a job.
        Funny. Allow me to introduce my friend and fellow mercenary Jason Tyren.
        A fennec fox standing next to Steve nodded and raised his rifle,
        Pleased to meet you, miss ODonnell.
        Likewise.
        Steve spoke again,
        There was another member of our crew named Mara Kevik. She dropped behind... have you
seen her?
        FlareWolf lowered her eyes,
        Yes... she was dying when I found her... now shes dead.
        Both Steve and Jason held there heads down. Steve spoke quietly,
        Poor Mara. She never deserved anything like that. May her soul fly straight to heaven.
        Jason raised his head and looked to the ceiling,
        Ill make whoever did this pay.
        FlareWolf checked her rifle and looked down at her arm, which was now bleeding badly,
        Do you have any bandages?
        Steve reached into a pack and drew out first aid equipment. He dressed and bandaged
FlareWolfs arm. She nodded and thanked him. She then turned to face Steve and Jason,
        We need to blow this ship up.
        Steve blinked his eyes,
        What?
        We need to get to the bridge and set the self-destruct. The Guild doesnt know that this ship has
been captured. If this thorn stays... theyre in a whole lot of trouble.
        Steve nodded and picked up his own rifle,
        Lets go.
        Oh, wait. There are prisoners down in cell block fourteen.
        No there arent.
        What?
        We just came from there. Everyones dead! Theyve all been killed in some sort of weird ritual.
        FlareWolf shook her head and closed her eyes. Why the hell would anyone do something like
that? What kind of people were they dealing with? She opened her eyes again,
        Then all we need to do is destroy this god-forsaken ship.

-The Mercenaries Guild fleet, in orbit around Corneria

        The giant ship had begun to launch fighters in the direction of the Restoration. The Guild capital
ship called out to the Attrition over the laser linkup,
        Attrition, do you read? Neefa!
        This is captain Neefa. What is it?
        That enemy cap ship just launched fighters. They look familiar...
        Hold on, weve got visual... give me a second to ask Lark...
        So whats the word?
        This is really bad. Those are F-90As... the F-90 prototype.
        Right, weve scrambled our fighters. Have you found Versatile flight yet?
        Nope.

        The SF-39s had suddenly pulled off from the attack on Versatile flight. The corvettes pulled into
formation and set up the laser linkup within in the squadron.
        This is Versatile 1 to Versatile flight. Anyone have any damage?
        No answer.
        Well good. Lets keep our eyes open for any enemy sh...
        The communication went dead. Three fighters flew in over Versatile flight, firing lasers and
missiles in on the Corvettes. Versatile 6 and Versatile 2 went down quickly. Versatile 3, Versatile 10, and
Versatile 9 were destroyed shortly afterwards.
        Oh crap! Theyre coming in fast!
        The rest of the corvettes were taken out quickly by the attacking fighters. The F-90As swooped
away from the combat zone and went off to hunt other prey.

        This is Remorseless 1 1 to Remorseless 1 flight, everyone ready?
        Remorseless 1 flight checked in to their leader. Now almost all the Remorseless fighters and
strike bombers had been scrambled. They were all flying in close formation with the Remorseless and
various medium ships.
        But one was missing.

-The Remorseless, in orbit around Corneria

        Kelly looked up from the console she was working at and called to Brett,
        Honey... weve got a problem.
        What is it, Kel?
        The Quicklight has moved away from the Remorseless.
        So?
        So its moving towards the enemy cap ship!
        Brett picked up a com unit and punched in the Quicklights frequency,
        Mira, what the hell do you think youre doing?!
        Im going to help my husband.
        Alone?
        No. Ive got someone to help me.
        What?!
        The com shut off. Kelly looked up again,
        Brett... Fara Phoenix has moved her Arwing into formation with the Quicklight.
        Oh damn it. Theyre going to that enemy ship.
        Theyll be slaughtered.
        I dont know... remember what Mira sounded like when she was talking to us?
        So?
        So I think that the enemys the ones wholl be slaughtered.

-The Vehemence, in orbit around Corneria

        FlareWolf ODonnell, Jason Tyren, and Steve Delestes moved quickly but carefully down the
halls of the Vehemence as they made their way to the ships bridge. They needed to do this exactly right.
If Arset decided to surrender and give the enemy the deactivate codes, it was all over. Their only hope for
success was to make it to the bridge and activate self-destruct before Arset gave the enemy those codes.
        Jason and Steve swept to either side as they passed an intersection, making sure to keep all
approach routes covered. FlareWolf looked down at her datapad, which displayed a map of the ship,
        Ok, we turn right here.
        Without another word, they turned right into a new hall. This hall was a little bit wider and better
lit. Steve spoke out through the silence,
        I dont like the looks of this... were getting a little close to the main corridors for comfort.
        FlareWolf sighed,
        I know. Unfortunately, we dont have much choice. The final approach to the bridge has to be
up the main corridor, theres no other way in.
        Ugh... that sounds pretty damn bad.
        Oh... its much worse than you think...
        FlareWolf sat down in the hall, as did the others. She then continued,
        First well be moving into the main corridors. If the enemy has any intelligence, theyll have
regular guard checkpoints all linked by intercom units... just as a safety precaution. After we make it past
those checkpoints, well need to get inside the inner part of the ship. Theyll probably have set the security
locks... which will require us to enter a series of six digit codes... most but not all of which I know. After
that well only have to make a run under heavy enemy fire for the door to the bridge, which can be totally
locked down so we might need to blow it open.
        FlareWolf cocked her head,
        Sound fun? It better, cause we dont have any other choice.
        They raised themselves to their footpaws and continued walking down the hall. FlareWolf led the
way, followed by Jason, with Steve taking up the rear.
        They came to another intersection and turned left onto a small passageway. Steve walked up to
FlareWolf and tapped the wolf on the shoulder. She turned around,
        Yeah?
        Just wondering, didnt you say were going into large passages?
        Yep, but this is just a connecting passage. Nothing special.
        Steve nodded and went back to the rear. The three companions moved out of the small passage
and into a hall about the same size as the one on the other end of the connecting passage. The new hall
ended in a metal door with a keycard lock on the side. Jason, Steve, and FlareWolf walked up to the door.
Jason looked at FlareWolf expectantly,
        Well, how do we get through.
        FlareWolf reached into her jacket and produced a small device. She stuck it onto the keycard slot
and pressed a button on it. The device beeped and the door clicked open FlareWolf smiled,
        Fortunately, they didnt try very hard with the lock encoding.
        Jason pushed the door open and led the way into the hall beyond. The hall went around a corner
a few feet ahead. Steve walked around the corner to scout the way.
        He quickly dived back around the corner, followed by enemy bullets and laser blasts. FlareWolf
and Jason ran up to the corner. Steve explained quickly,
        About five guards around the corner.
        FlareWolf leveled her repeating rifle and dived around the corner, fanning the trigger. She rolled
back without taking a hit. She looked back at the other two and nodded,
        Theres one left... I got three.
        Jason marched around the corner and fired once. A death cry answered from the end of the hall.
Steve and FlareWolf followed the fennec fox down the hall to another corner. They turned this one and
didnt find any guards. There was another code door.
        FlareWolf walked up to the door and inserted the decoding device again. The door slid open and
the guards on the other side raised their weapons and fired. FlareWolf ducked back and avoided enemy
fire. Steve was grazed in the leg and Jason escaped harm. Jason and Steve ended up back around the
corner, while FlareWolf was pressing herself to the wall next to the door, using the large doorframe as
cover. She shouted back to her companions,
        Steve! Jason! Help me out here!
        Steve jumped around the corner and ran forward firing his rifle. His leg was bleeding badly but
he kept on coming. He fired his rifle at the guards standing beyond the door. All four of them went down
without hitting Steve again. He stopped running forward and clutched his leg. He handed his medical kit
to FlareWolf, who bandaged the wound on his leg. Steve nodded to her,
        Thanks, FlareWolf. You know... youre about the same age as my daughter would be, were she
still alive.
        Daughter?
        Yes. Her name was Fenica Delestes. She might actually be a little bit older than you. She was
killed a while ago.
        Im sorry.
        Dont be. I brought it up to begin with. Besides, you had nothing to do with her death. Oh,
forget it. We have a job to do.
        FlareWolf nodded and helped Steve Delestes to his footpaws. Jason walked over and tapped
FlareWolf on the shoulder,
        Ive been doing a little recon work...
        Yeah.
        It looks like were coming up on the first of those code doors pretty soon. I hope your cracking
skills are up to par.

-The Quicklight, on approach to the enemy capital ship

        Mira guided the Quicklight skillfully into the jamming field, keeping in touch with Fara Phoenix
via laser linkup.
        After their mission together on Venom all those years ago, Gray had showed Mira all the tricks
he had built into the Quicklight. It flew slightly differently than other ships of its make, and only Gray
and Mira really knew everything about it.
        Mira didnt really know exactly why she knew Gray was on the enemy ship. She just got a
feeling. It was very odd but there nonetheless.
        Fara Phoenixs voice came over the com unit through the linkup,
        Mira, are you there?
        Yeah. What is it?
        Does the Quicklight have anything to scan for ships through this jamming field?
        Yes. Gray installed a laser flash scanner after we fought those pirates in Sector Z. Its like
taking a scanner snap shot. The only problem is it takes a few seconds to recharge, so its not a constant
feed.
        Who cares? Give it a shot.
        Mira reached down and pressed the button to activate the flash scanner. The scan results
appeared on the scanner display, giving a scanner picture for the moment when the flash scanner was
used. Mira looked over the display and then spoke,
        Were about ten minutes to the enemy cap ship. A few fighters but they dont seem to see us
yet.
        Good. You know, I have this terrible feeling... that Fox and Gray may be lucky to survive
another ten minutes.
        Mira nodded grimly and kept on flying.

-The Remorseless, in orbit around Corneria

        Brett stood around the tactical holo table with the rest of the combat tactical staff. He motioned to
the 3d representation of the battle,
        Ok, the enemy capital ship is currently throwing up a jamming field all over the place. The
Restoration is inside, as is the Attrition, the Quicklight, and all of Versatile flight. The Vehemence is still
having com trouble and other problems. The Rightful II, the Vengeance II, and the Hostility... along with
most of our medium ships. The Guidance is still missing in action.
        Brett used a remote to shift the angle of the display. He motioned and began to speak when the
general alarm sounded,
        Attention all crew! We are under heavy attack! Will all key staff please report to the bridge, all
other personnel to battle stations!
        Brett walked out of the situational room followed by his wife Kelly and the rest of the bridge
staff. Brett and Kelly went to the elevator to the bridge. They didnt have to wait very long. The elevator
doors opened and the two cats stepped inside.
        In another thirty seconds, the doors opened again on the bridge. Brett and Kelly stepped out and
went to their stations. Kelly looked up at Brett and spoke,
        The same strike bombers that attacked before are at it again.
        Kelly watched the display and suddenly stared wide-eyed in amazement,
        Uh... theres a little problem...
        Brett stood up,
        What is it?
        The Vehemence... it wasnt having com trouble, it was hiding something from us... I think its
under enemy control!
        How do you figure that?
        Because its attacking us!
        The strike bombers? Of course... how else could they come so suddenly and disappear so
quickly. Tell all squadrons to defend the Remorseless. Were going into a little ship-to-ship combat with
the Vehemence.
        The  bridge lights went red and the combat alert sounded. The Remorseless combat operations
officer walked up to Brett,
        Sir, the Vehemence seems to be emitting a jamming field!
        Oh damn it. Can we get locks?
        No sir. Well need to get in close.
        Right, lets do it. The thorn is in our side, now we need to pull it out.
        Brett looked around the bridge and a thought suddenly occurred to him. He spoke it aloud to no
one in particular,
        Hey, whered Arrek go?

-The Heart of Steel

        Sevantra lashed out at Fox and hit him square in the face, knocking him to the floor. He felt
blood running down his lip. He picked himself up and backed away from Sevantra, who had her claws
fully extended. Gray was lying on the floor across the room, half conscious.
        Sevantra suddenly rushed and stabbed at Fox with her claws. She connected with the fox and
lifted him up on her claws. Fox gave a choked cry of pain as he was lifted from the ground. Blood flowed
from his stomach and down Sevantras arms. The ocelot gave a wild snarl of triumph.
        McCloud! Now you will die! Next I will kill your pathetic friend Lancer!
        You will not kill anyone, Sevantra... commander of D Unit... coward... dark servant of Satan!
        The voice was deep and did not belong to either Gray or Fox. Sevantra turned in surprise and
dropped Fox to the ground. The door to the room was open and someone was standing in the doorway.
They were wearing a long overcoat. Sevantra seemed to recognize them. She stared at the newcomer,
        You...
        Yes Sevantra. Its been a long time.
        Damn you... I trusted you! You were the only one I trusted! But you betrayed me!
        No Sevantra, YOU betrayed ME!
        How dare you talk to me like that?!
        Youre the one who sold your soul! Youre the one who betrayed everything you should have
stood for.
        Sevantra snarled at the newcomer. He walked inside the room. Fox looked up and saw that it was
a coyote with medium brown fur wearing a long black overcoat. He walked up to Sevantra and stood about
six feet away from her, facing the ocelot. She gave a low growl,
        Ill make you die screaming.
        Please Sevantra. You cant intimidate me. I have some very powerful forces on my side.
        So do I.
        Sevantras paws glowed bright and a bolt of energy shot out at the coyote. He took the hit
squarely in the chest and fell over. Sevantra stood over him,
        Arrek Largen. I am severely disappointed. You could have served alongside me forever. Instead,
you chose the wrong path and the wrong way.
        No Sevantra, you chose the wrong way.
        So what do you intend to do about it?
        I charge you by the souls of all you have killed in cold blood to fight me in a spiritual duel.
        What?
        You must fight against me, one on one. Only ancient weapons are allowed. It must be to the
death.
        What if I refuse?
        You cant. I charge you by the souls of all you have killed, by the spirits of all you have hurt, by
the essence of all you have shattered and destroyed... I charge you by the very powers of life and death to
fight this duel.
        So be it. Youll not only die screaming, youll die screaming my name!
        Never Sevantra. If I die, Ill be happy at last... youll never understand why.
        The lighting in the room went green and a mist started to swirl around. A long pike appeared in
Sevantras paw. She snarled at Arrek,
        Choose your weapon.
        Arrek produced a simple double-edge sword and held it aloft,
        This belonged to a friend of mine. A friend you hurt. His name was Jennis... camp sergeant
Jennis. He never did recover from his time in the desert. Died shortly after we got back to civilization.
        Shut up and fight, coward.
        No Sevantra... you are a coward...
        Arrek launched a sudden attack and grazed Sevantra. She screamed in pain and her blood
spattered out of a light wound. Arrek continued,
        You have no honor...
        He swung again, this time cutting a deeper wound. Sevantra tried to attack with her own pike,
but failed rather miserably. Arrek spoke once more for a longer time,
        You have sold your soul to a dark god who no longer cares about you, you are immortal but not
invincible. You are merely an arrogant servant of darkness and an overly confident BITCH!
        Arrek rushed at Sevantra and swung his blade again and again. It caught the ocelot every single
time. Blood spurted forth from her wounds as she screamed in pain and anger. Finally Arrek screamed at
the top of his lungs,
        FOR ALL YOU HAVE DONE I DAMN YOU TO THE DEEPEST PITS OF HELL!
        With that, Arrek ran Sevantra through with his sword. The ocelot gave a final demonic scream
and slumped to the floor. Her body disappeared into a red mist which quickly evaporated. The lighting in
the room returned to its normal color.
        Arrek walked over to Fox and helped him to his footpaws. He then walked over and lifted Gray
up. Gray groaned and looked at Arrek closely,
        I know you... Arrek Largen... the supernatural bounty hunter! Good job.
        The fight isnt over yet. But first, Ill need the help of both of you... and the help of your wives.
        Gray shook his head,
        But theyre not here. I dont even know if Mira is alive...
        I am.
        It was Mira, standing in the doorway. She smiled at Gray. Gray ran to his wife and threw his
arms around her. He twirled her in the air and she laughed. They kissed and Gray held his wife and
smiled at her. She looked Gray over and saw the cuts covering his body,
        Gray, what happened to you?
        I had a little fight.
        Sevantra?
        Gray nodded. Someone else walked into the room. Fox called out,
        Fara!
        Fox and Fara embraced and kissed each other. Arrek smiled at the two couples and spoke,
        Im glad youre happy to see each other again. We need to do something rather difficult now.
        Fox looked at the coyote,
        Whats that?
        Arrek sighed,
        We have to find and kill Sevantras master. I can perform the exorcism but Ill need your help.

-The Vehemence, in orbit around Corneria

        The new captain of the Vehemence was a vicious mongoose with a reputation for effectiveness
and cruelty. That was why Sevantra had promoted him this far.
        One of the ships aides walked up and saluted. The aide did not look happy,
        Sir, the Guild knows about us.
        WHAT?!
        The Mercenaries Guild has found out about the Vehemence. Our cover is compromised.
        DAMN IT ALL!
        The captain slammed his fist into a console and howled. The aide winced and ran off. The
captain snarled and shouted across the bridge,
        BATTLE STATIONS! We fight to the death.
        A voice came from the vent above the captains head,
        And how long do you think that will be?
        The captain looked up to see a rifle pointing at his head. It was the last thing he saw. Jason Tyren
dropped into the bridge followed by Steve Delestes and FlareWolf ODonnell. They came down fighting.
The enemy bridge crew immediately got their own weapons and fired on the invaders. FlareWolf dived
behind cover next to Steve Delestes. Jason jumped out of cover and fired his rifle at the enemy. He
managed to take down three enemy soldiers.
        FlareWolf looked up at the console she was hidden behind and spoke to Steve,
        Hey, this thing IS the self-destruct control.
        Good, get going.
        FlareWolf leaned over the console and began tapping on the keys. Steve leaned over and shot an
enemy soldier who was angling for a shot at the wolf.
        Ok, Ive got the primary sequence set... another five minutes.
        Right, hurry up.
        FlareWolf continued working the console. The ship shuddered lightly. Steve looked around and
then turned back to FlareWolf,
        I think the Guild has locked onto this ship.
        You think?
        The fighting in the bridge continued as FlareWolf worked the console. She finally ducked back
down behind cover,
        Ok, the self-destruct is set. Weve got ten minutes to leave the ship.
        Steve nodded. He and FlareWolf leapt from behind the console and made their way back towards
the vent. Jason ran up and joined them. Steve looked up at the vent,
        How do we get back up there.
        Jason raised a paw,
        Ill boost you two up. You can lift me up from there.
        Jason lifted FlareWolf up first and she helped Steve to climb up. But before Jason could be lifted
up, he gasped and fell to the floor. Blood oozed out from under him. He groaned,
        Go... on... get out of here... weve won...
        FlareWolf and Steve turned around and ran down the air vents. Steve spoke to FlareWolf,
        Theres a bunch of combat suits near one of the airlocks. Our ship is docked outside.
        FlareWolf nodded and they continued down the air vents.

-The Heart of Steel

        They had entered an unholy place and they knew it. Arrek led the way, followed by the four
foxes. They had entered a sort of chapel to the dark master of this place. The remains of various sacrifices
lay around. Fara shuddered and moved her eyes away from the grisly sights.
        They came to a large stone altar and Arrek spoke in a loud voice,
        By the power of the ancients I order you to show yourself!
        A strange red mist began to swirl around the altar. A deep and very evil voice spoke from the
center of the mist,
        And who are you... to order me around?
        Everyone but Arrek felt themselves begin to tremble. Arrek merely spoke defiantly,
        Go back to hell. You dont scare me and you know it.
        Ah... I know you... your name is Arrek Largen... supernatural bounty hunter. Do you honestly
think that your seeming powers can save you?
        No... but you should be a little worried.
        And why... might that be?
        Because I know who you are, Jharik the Betrayer.
        The mist resolved itself into a single form. It appeared as a hideous creature... a wolf with scales
and the ragged wings of some demonic bat. Its eyes glowed with a red fire and its hands were like the
skeletal claws of a great predatory bird.
        You... know my name...
        Yes... and now I will destroy you.
        That... is impossible...
        I know. But I know something you dont... I know that you can be banished forever.
        I... cannot.
        By the souls and spirits of all you have hurt and killed and by the energy of these four who have
survived your efforts to destroy them I BANISH YOU FOREVER FROM THIS PLANE OF
EXISTENCE!
        What... no...
        All too easy.
        The red mist returned and the demons physical form faded. The demon let out a last cry of
anguish and faded completely. Gray looked in astonishment at the place where the demon had been,
        Its... gone?
        Yes. Forever. I banished him by everyone hes ever hurt or killed. Thats a few billion souls.
Enough for a ticket to an eternity of sitting and wondering what went wrong.

-The Remorseless

        Sir, sir! Theres something happening!
        Brett ran up next to the situational officer and grabbed the officers chair,
        What is it, soldier?
        Sir, the jamming field went down! Its gone!
        Kelly ran up and tapped Brett on the shoulder,
        Were getting some massive energy readings from the Vehemence. I think something big is
happening over there.
        An alert sounded and the situational officer checked his console,
        Sir! The Vehemence just exploded!
        What?!
        I said the Vehemence just exploded.
        Kelly looked down at the situational display,
        You know what?
        Brett and the situational officer looked at Kelly expectantly. She smiled and responded,
        The Vehemence is gone, the jamming fields are down, were getting responses from the
Attrition...
        She looked at the display again,
        And from the Guidance!
        Brett squinted at her,
        So?
        So... everyone seems to be agreeing on one thing... we won!

-The Attrition, in orbit around Corneria with the Mercenaries Guild fleet

        Neefa and Lark embraced passionately and kissed each other. The news was wonderful. The
Heart of Steel had been completely neutralized and was then destroyed by a massive attack on the part of
the Hostility. The space combat had been brutal, with nearly half the Guild fighters being lost in combat.
The Vehemence had been blown sky high when its self-destruct had been activated.
        The loses had been insane, but the Guild had won the battle. Sevantra the enemy leader had been
killed, her master had been banished, her fleet had been completely destroyed.
        They had won against incredible odds. They had proved what most of them had thought all
along.
        Good can and will survive in the end.
 
*           &n bsp;   *                *

           &nbs p;             ;        Epilogue and afterwards

-Several months after the Mercenaries Guild victory over Sevantra

        The following is a journal entry made by Fox McCloud several months after the Guild defeated
Sevantra and her dark army around Corneria:

        The battle over Corneria was confusing and extremely frightening. The official word is that sixty
percent of the Guild fighter force was destroyed. The Restoration took serious damage and isnt going to
be fully operational for another two months.
        But after the battle, things are beginning to piece themselves together again. FlareWolf
ODonnell and Steve Delestes escaped from the Vehemence without any harm. Myself and those who
were with me on the Heart of Steel all escaped in one piece. Arrek has returned to his former job as a
supernatural bounty hunter... somehow finding more business to keep him occupied. The Heart of Steel
itself was destroyed by the Hostility, using its new VS-17 missiles.
        Sevantra has no forces left, they all fought to the death. Im glad to put all that behind me, and I
think that Gray Lancer is as well.
        Speaking of Gray, his child was born a few months after the victory. His wife Mira gave birth to
a beautiful baby vixen. Gray is insanely happy with having a daughter and looks forward to watching her
grow. About her name... Steve Delestes was very happy with Grays choice. Gray and Mira chose the
name Fenica... the name of Steves daughter who died on Venom. Gray thought it would be fitting honor
to Fenica Delestes if her name could live on in Fenica Lancer.
        Oh, the most interesting thing was the kits fur color. Because Gray has gray fur and Mira has
brown, the kit ended up with gray fur with reddish brown streaks and highlights. Shes going to grow up
to be a beautiful vixen indeed.
        All I can say is that Im glad to put all of this far behind me. Sevantra is dead and her legacy has
disappeared. Gray and Mira have not stopped their job as mercenaries or stopped moving around because
of their daughter. Fara and I have taken some vacation time to collect our thoughts. Once the Cornerian
Military found out about the fight, they rewarded everyone who had played a part in it. We got enough to
live comfortably for quite a while.
        My old friend Falco Lombardi contacted me a few days ago saying he had heard about Sevantra,
was happy for Gray and Mira, and how come Fara wasnt pregnant yet. It was nice to talk to that bird
after so long.
        So life is going on and things are ever changing. We never know what will meet us the next day,
or the next year, and so on down the line.
        But whatever comes up, we will face it together.

        This ends the journal entry of Fox McCloud.
 

           &nbs p;             ;        The End

A final word: Hope you enjoyed this. I do my best to say it once more, with feeling!