Part 36: Auroran - Part 05 - February 4th, 1179 NC: Lil' CubFebruary 4th, 1179 NC: Lil' Cub
All warriored up, we return to Heraan.
Upon touching down on Heraan, you are welcomed with open arms by Kuron, who confirms your place amongst the warriors of the House.
"Albeit the least, as yet!" he smiles. "There is work to be done, even for the youngest. Come, this will require your skill, ingenuity, more than a little patience, and discipline."
Kuron leads you along the higher paths of the arcology, and you talk as you walk.
"But you're a girl," he begins, "all warriors of the House must be capable of holding their own, and no warrior can do so with poor equipment. As a fully-fledged warrior, you are now allowed, and expected, to arm yourself with as much equipment as you believe you need to make yourself into a deadly weapon for the Heraan cause. Some things will still be denied from you until you prove yourself worthy, but most of our ships are now yours to buy.
"On the subject of re-making yourself into a deadly weapon," he continues quietly, "all Heraani warriors are expected to be at least familiar with the martial arts. I know that you can punch and kick without causing yourself permanent damage, and even though you are a Cunjo Hunter," ", but I'm afraid that the clumsy flailing that you call fighting will not do. You must go to an old friend of mine. He might seem a little grumpy, but he's a decent soul. Just don't upset him or he may send me back your body parts to inform me that I should not have wasted his time. You have potential, so you shall see him. He chooses not to live amongst us but is an honored Heraan warrior. Go to Arabus in Caryo system; I shall send word. He will be expecting you. Once he is satisfied with your progress, return here, for we will need your skills..."
The destination is pretty far off. At least it isn't in Moash territory.
Much destruction en route reminds us that the Federation isn't the only enemy out there.
We pass through Tekel and Vella space on the way in. They're not hostile, at least.
Many Polaris ships show up on the border. I stay far away. A few fuel stops later, and we arrive.
Tekel LP posted:
The Tekel House maintains a listening post here, manned by a group of extremely dedicated warriors. It is their duty to warn the Tekel fleets of any incoming hostile attackers and then hold them off for as long as possible, to give their fellow warriors time to prepare. It is an arduous position, but the honor earned is immense, and those who survive can wear their many battle tattoos with pride and are treated with respect by all.
Arabus is a largely barren world that is almost devoid of life, and is surrounded by a thin, cold atmosphere. This is another planet that falls under the jurisdiction of the Auroran central government, which maintains a supply depot here to support Cunjo in the Sender system. This depot would not be necessary if the Five Families were prepared to work with the central seat of the Auroran Empire. However, because they are not, and because of the immense distance from here to the center of Auroran space, this supply dump is needed. It is also here that young warriors go to prove that they have actually come up against the Polaris and are worthy of the respected purple battle tattoo that signifies such an event.
And off we go! It's mid-March when we arrive.
Arabus's Bar posted:
This bar is filled with a number of freighter captains whose job it is to keep this depot supplied with everything it needs. The few warriors here treat them with respect because they know that if these captains decide not to return here, they will have difficulty surviving for too long with the amounts of supplies they have.
On a windswept plateau overlooking a huge canyon, the only structure your sensors could detect is the ramshackle hut off to your left. An elderly Auroran warrior walks out of the door. "You must be - but you're a girl," he rasps, walking back inside without further word. Hesitantly you follow, into an incongruously technological interior. The man turns and begins to poke and prod at you.
"I am Karlaekaar," he says as he lifts your arm and bends it back and forth, "former Heraan martial arts instructor, of the Heron Style.
"Kuron must think highly of you, girl, or you wouldn't be here." He continues to scrutinize you. "Don't think that your time here will be easily spent."
He escorts you to a lift. "It may be some time before you ever see daylight again. I have spent years developing a form of training that will harden your body and expand your mind, allowing you to begin your journey as a warrior. Not all of my past students have survived."
Karlaekaar teaches you how to cope with the privations of each of the five subterranean levels, as well as training you in the martial arts, until he is satisfied that you could survive in each subterranean world without help. In a world without days or nights, your training seems to take forever...
I check the news - looks we got off lucky with that drop-bear attack. All you can eat for 2 credits!
After six months underground, it is strange to have a sky above your head again. The stars seem long lost friends.
Karlaekaar speaks. "You are the first to master the caverns in under a year. Your Warrior Spirit has grown to encompass more than the mere flesh of existence. You have experienced the darkest parts of the path, but also the lightest joys of battle. You will be my last student in the arts of the Heron Style of combat. I am too old to wait for another who will learn as well as you have. Now only experience and the Spirit can teach you. Listen. It will give you insight, revealing how to overcome all. You are my protege, my greatest gift to the house Heraan, and to you I leave all of my studies."
He hands you a stack of data cubes. You realize you have grown to love this man in your time in the caves. Through the mental, physical and spiritual hardships, he was the beacon to enlightenment. You feel your spirits merge in a final act of companionship; a final sharing. In that instant you know that the data cubes are not needed, for Karlaekaar has gifted you with the very workings of his spirit. You know all of his dreams, his nightmares, and the sum total of his days. He turns and walks back into the hut. You doubt that you will ever see him again. With a heavy heart, you prepare your ship for your journey back to Heraan.
It's March 11th. Our "six months" actually lasted a day. Time flies, eh? Heading back to Heraan, we're attacked by several raiding Federation ships...
Nothing we can't evade. I try to avoid killing Federation ships - I need Hellhound missiles and they're the closest source.
Though some targets are just too easy to pass up. We return to Heraan.
You are enjoying the feeling of Esprit de Corps that comes from being with the warriors in the bar. Kuron comes in and pulls you aside.
"I am afraid I am going to have to send you on a mission right away, rather than allowing you time to recover from your training and kill off a few more brain cells. Tactically, you are the best candidate for this mission. It involves much travel and a face unknown to our enemies. I am going to use you while you are fresh, to confound our enemies in their plans to hinder us."
Outside the bar, Kuron pulls you towards the dock. "Bazara has disappeared. His last report said that the Federation was onto him, and that his effectiveness as a spy may well be gone. He told us that if he didn't send a report by today, we were to consider him compromised and send someone to rescue him."
"Let me guess," you say. "I'm the 'someone' to pick him up?"
"If only it were that simple, but you're a girl. I can't tell you where Bazara is other than in the galactic north of Federation space," Kuron smiles wryly. "I have given you what once would have been called a 'doozy' of a first mission, but you'll do fine. So, go get him!"
You about-face and double-time it to your ship, which has been cleared for immediate launch by Kuron himself. Your first mission feels good, and you hope that you can live up to the trust that Kuron and House Heraan have in you.
As it turns out, Heraans are really just Herons in disguise. I suppose the Heron family just wasn't intimidating enough. We head north.
Refueling in Sol ends up with a promising lead:
Syracuse is more like the Galactic northeast, really...
As you sit sipping your drink, your ears prick up when a couple of Federation soldiers sit at a table near you.
"I hate this spy crap," one mutters, "why can't these bloody Aurorans just come out in the open and fight like real men?"
"Oh, come off it," laughs the other as your blood begins to burn, "it's not like our side doesn't try to do the same. Come on, Syracuse isn't that bad, just a bit polluted. Chances are that there is no spy up there, even if there was, he'll probably be gone by the time we get there, and we'll just patrol around for a few weeks looking for him and have a holiday from the front. The girls up there aren't half bad looking either."
As both of them grin and get down to some serious drinking, your thoughts turn to your mission. So far, this is the only lead you have that might be related to Bazara. It might be a wild goose chase, but you decide to check it out nonetheless and head over to Syracuse in the Galvan system.
Remember Syracuse? Famous mostly for giving ill-fated Vocaloid concerts.
The world of Syracuse is a snapshot of the state of the Federation. It's a bustling progressive world hovering on the brink of overpopulation. Heavy industrialization has caused many environmental disasters, but the agencies charged with cleaning up do a fairly good job of hiding the mess. Not exactly a refuge of the rich and famous. Syracuse is a high-tech world on the surface, and low-tech when you start to get into the slums. Don't wander too far, or look like you have money. Some of these people are desperate.
The local authorities aren't too happy about this, and we depart for Heraan under heavy fire.
As you walk down the ramp to continue your search, you see a group of Federation ground troops patrolling nearby, obviously searching for something or someone. Becoming instantly alert, you eye them warily, and you are surprised when an old beggar approaches from behind you.
"Spare a few credits, kind mistress, for a hungry beggar?" He looks somehow familiar, but beggars such as he are not uncommon sights along the Federation's northern borders. You've started reaching for your credits when the beggar whispers "And a bunk on your vessel to get me back home?"
You are stunned to discover that the 'beggar' is Bazara. His disguise is perfect, even down to the smell of rank clothing and bad wine. Bazara slips past you and hobbles up the ramp of your ship. You smile to yourself, and follow him.
By the time you reach Heraan, you and Bazara have become fast friends. The trip back has been a vast learning experience for you, as Bazara has told you much of what it means to be a warrior. Bazara's father was a Thurokiir - 'Obsidian Heart, Arbiter of Reckoning', one of the awesome beings who act as judge, jury and executioner for all of the House's affairs.
Bazara confides, "The role of Arbiter is way above me, but we warriors continually strive for the impossible: perfection."
The time you've spent with Bazara has been as enjoyable as any you can remember. As you walk down the ramp together, he turns and clasps your hand warmly.
"Well, Little Wolf," he smiles, "you've delivered me from a desperate situation, and have followed my trail as unerringly as the cunning hunter whose name I give you. You're still a pup, but you are well on your way to becoming a Wolf of some renown. Who knows? Perhaps one day I will be coming to you for arbitration."
He hugs you warmly, and goes to report on the latter part of his mission to the Heraan Council.
Kuron seeks you out some time later.
"Well done, my young hero," he congratulates you. "Your conduct has greatly impressed Bazara. His report was full of praise for you. You are a crafty warrior, wise beyond your years, with abilities amongst the greatest weapons that the House possesses."
You feel yourself blush deeply as Kuron continues.
"The council has invited you to the Great Hall tomorrow. You will have to wear this."
He hands you a small piece of cloth and you quail at the thought of wearing only this to cover yourself. Kuron smiles, as if reading your thoughts.
"Meet me in the bar tomorrow at noon."
You feel rather foolish standing at the bar in nothing but a loincloth, worried that your uncovered chest will draw the wrong type of attention. The attention you attract, however, is polite respect and not the licentiousness you expected. In the distance you see Kuron approaching. Fully clothed? Only when he gets closer do you realize most of his skin is covered in tattoos. Only now do you realize the significance of near-nakedness to an Auroran. The tattoos display a warrior's career. The more tattoos, the more honored the warrior.
You look down at your pitifully small collection, and understand why Kuron continually tattooed your kills on your arm. As you look at them, each one springs freshly to mind.
This game really resents us for having a distinct name. See: Ory'Hara; this.
The doors of the Great Hall of Heraan are made from ancient stone, as is the entire interior; contrasting with the steel and plastics of the rest of the Arcology. Huge bonfires are set in recessed fire-pits in the basalt floor. A rolling drumbeat introduces the Heraan Council as they enter the hall.
Kuron steps forward from their midst, and bangs his staff on the flagstones. Silence falls.
"Honored warriors! Hear me! The Council has heard the words of Bazara, stalwart and true warrior. We have counselled with the Arbiter. There is a traitor among us, to be rooted out, an honorless cur hidden among us too long, turning our affairs against us, and nearly succeeding in the capture of Bazara. Only the courage of our Little Wolf," he declares, his palm outstretched toward you, "allowed him to return with news of this foul business."
He turns to you.
"Little Wolf, you are amongst the youngest, it's true, but also the least well known. Our faces and ships can be recognized too easily to allow us to join in this hunt, which is yours alone. Find this traitor, and bring them before us. Search our borders, listen at our posts; leave no stone in Heraani space unturned, and if you find nothing look to the Moashi dogs, as they will be involved somehow. You leave this hall a cub," he smiles. "May you return in glory."
Off we go into the wild black yonder! No points for guessing which border we need to go to. Next time: We get married?