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Post Info TOPIC: Liandri Tournament


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RE: Liandri Tournament

Damn it, damn it, why isn't he here? Mander thought to himself as he gazed through a list of competitors both past and present, at his side Gina looked on curiously sensing Mander's stress she stood next to him taking ahold of his arm and tugging it.

"This is sooo boring, can't we do something else?"

The origanal hard features of Mander's face melted along with his stress and he playfully put his hand on top of Gina's head pressing it down. "You need to learn some paitence," he smiled, "This is very important to me,"

"I know, I know, but you looked at the same lists yesterday and the day before, he's not here."

Mander sighed, he knew Gina was right, truth is ever since he arrived at the tournament every night Mander spent his time searching for his lost son, looking through list of competiors, prisoners, slaves and even visitors ever scanning the many new faces met everyday as he walked through the compond, he also made the effort to stand out during fights so if his son was watching he could find him, but now Mander was starting to lose hope.

"Ok Gina you win, lets go get something to eat."

Mander and Gina sat at a busy cafe Mander's thought still elsewhere, Gina looked into her adobted fathers yellow Geoian eyes, it pained her see the man she loved like a real father under so much worry and torture searching for his biological son the only real family he has left.

"You know dad," she said with a full mouth. "Y-"

"Swallow first Gina," he smiled, "And breath between mouth fulls, your almost as bad as Diego,"

Gina swallowed hard, "Sorry, I only wanted to offer my help with Trace,"

"Don't trouble yourself Gina, its fine I will find him eventually, living or dead I'll find him,"

"No I want to help, how about you ask someone else to have a look for you?"

"Like who, will need to be someone who could have a good idea on where to look or as maybe heard of him in the past,"

"Well what do you know? Why'd he leave? Where was he first aiming to go?"

Mander sat back on his chair, deciding to co-operate with Gina's questions, normally when Gina asked about Trace, Mander would normally brush it off and would distract her with something else, but he could tell that was no longer possible, he looked at his adobted daughter and relized how much she was growing, slowly her innocent child eyes where fading and women was readying to develop, she was now nearly 13 after all.

"Very well Gina, I'll answer your questions," Gina smiled to herself leaning closer in putting her elbows on the table and supporting her chin with her hands.

"Well by now Trace would be 20 he's around the same age as Diego, he left home at 18 disgusted by the way those who live in old Geoearth were treated by those in the Liandri run cities, however instead of joining my resistance he left Geoearth in search of allies and a way to stop Liandri destroying Geoearths natural beauty, I've never heard from him since,"

"So he left to more or less challenge Liandri, well then why don't you ask someone in the Liandri corp to search, maybe he's works for them planning on taking them down from the inside, or maybe at one point he was an enemy or maybe still is an enemy considered a threat to Liandri, also if he did challenge Liandri and become an enemy of them then its highly likely they put a bounty on him in the black market like they did with all of us,"

Mander looked at Gina in amazment, she could be right but one problem still arose. "You have a good idea there Gina but, the person would need to be high up in the Liandri corp, or involved in that part of the company, who would I ask, the only high ranking member I have contact with is Ro-" Mander paused and smiled at Gina who gave him a puzzled look in return. "Gina I need you to return to the ship, I have something to do."

Mander quickly rose from his seat a quickly made his way down the street examining every angel he passed. I could ask Jerry, surely he could find something, I wasn't captured during the incident at the HQ so it should be safe. Thanks Gina for reminding me.

Looking desperatly Mander finally caught sight of a familar face over the growds of people he saw Rowena in the distance, pushing his way through the crowds, Rowena so the Geo approach her and gave Mander a puzzled look before casually drifing into an ally followed eventually by Mander.

"Rowena right?" Mander asked hopeful.

"Y-yes, and you're Mander I beleive. So what's this all about? We run a large risk meeting like this, you should wait for one of us to approach you,"

"I'm sorry but I need to speak with Jerry, I wasn't captured during the Liandri incident so it should be safe,"

"I'm well aware of that Mander but Jerry is a busy man it may take time to meet him, although I'm sure he'd love to meet you,"

"I know, I know but please could you contact him,"

Rowena took step back and examined Mander, normally the serious and strict member of Natures Deadiest was here pleading like a child. He is quite handsome, when he's not pleading he's just my type Rowena thought to herself with a slight smile and quickly gave in, she took a deep sigh, "Ok, ok, I'll contact Jerry for you, just straighten up will you? How old are you seriously? And your standing there with the excited eyes of a child, may I ask you why you wish to speak to Jerry?"

"I want him to help me find someone,"


"My son."



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Mander sat uncomfortably on the elabrorate sofa, the room was far to bright for his taste, all the yellows and pinks made him dizzy. On an opposite chair an attractive young girl no older than 17 with bright blonde braided hair and soft green eyes sat calmly humming to herself a tune Mander had never heard before.

"Are you May?" Mander asked breaking the silence.

"No I'm Mai," she replied slightly offended.

"I'm sorry I'm terrible with names, comes with age I'm afraid," Mander laughed.

"May will have her hair tied in a pony tail, I have mine braided, we don't like being confused, didn't Diego tell you?"

"Sorry Diego missed out that detail, his exact words descirbing you guys were muscular transvestite, hot twins and shy emo, but they all seem pretty cool,"

Mai smiled and rolled her eyes, "hot twins so typical, and Rene is much prettier than me and May when her hair isn't in the way,"

"I see well I look forward to getting to know all of you better as we work together, do you have any particular reason to wanting to bring down Liandri?" Mai went silent and looked to the ground, "I'm sorry to have asked," Mander apologized, "if it pains you to remember then forget I asked,"

"No, no its fine, I'll tell you but could you tell me your reason first?"

"My quarl with Liandri goes way back when Liandri first arrived on Geoearth and discovered the abundance of precious minerals to mine, we Geo's never had any interest in it we had our own tech and resources and willingly gave Laindri permission to mine provided they take care and don't destroy the natural beauty of Geoearth, for awhile they kept there promise but as more mines where unearthed more roads were built, forest were starting to get cut down and Liandri even started building high tech cities, many of the younger Geo's sided with Laindri and started living in these cities which steadily grew and grew and even started working in the mines. Eventually Geo was divided in two those who lived in the major cities goverend by Liandri and those who still lived in what is now called Old Geoearth where we tried our best to keep our age old traditions, however many of the younger Geo's loyal to the old way started to rebel and many resistance groups were started, they attacked transport roads, blew up mines they were labelled as terrorists and soon one by one these groups were brought down shown no mercy, but then things took a darker turn, Laindri accused all those in Old Geoearth as being terrorist and we were all put under tight rules and made to suffer it was about this time my son left, but then one day a child threw a rock at a high ranking offical the result the entire town was put to the flame that town was my home, my wife and my young daughter died that day leaving me with nothing, angerly I started my own resistance group and was a major thorn in Liandri side we were to be the last resistance on Geo and wanted Laindri to never forget us, but unfortunatly even my group was destined to fall, it was Diego's enemy Draulic who would eventually be the cause of our fall ordering one of his best spies to locate our base and lead the Laindri eradication squad to our distruction we wiped them all out unfortunatly we had to blow our a base, all my men went down that day I was the only surviving warrior and when our resistance fell so did all the old ways of Geoearth, having nothing left for me on Geoearth I joined Diego to help him and find my son,"

"Thats some story, I'm sorry about all your loses and I hope you find your son,"

"Thank you, with Jerry's help I'm sure I will,"

"Guess I'll tell you why I joined Jerry, Laindri once had a research institute which specilzed in psychic abilities, they would preform terrible experiments to discover its secrets and tried to create artifical means to harness psychic powers, a particular interest with them was the psychic bonds twins shared, me and my sister were but one set of many twins researched, natrually Liandri found nothing psychic abilities is fantasy, or is it, slowly I started to be able to read my sisters thoughts and she could read mine, this was the only success Liandri had and the other twins now traumatized from the experiments and seriously unstable were terminated to make room for another batch me and my sister were moved on for the experiments to continue, nearing instanity we were rescued by Jerry who helped us escape, since then we have dedicated ourselves to making him the new leader of Liandri, I know he will change things,"

"It's tragic what Liandri does to children, they must be stop-" Mander was interupted when a wall slid and a large screen emerged and with flash Jerry appeared.

"Ah hello there Mander it's a pleasure to meet you," Jerry said politely

"And you Jerry, on behave of my children I wish to thank you for all your surport,"

Jerry laughed, "So really are the father of natures deadliest,"

"These kids need a good role model, although none are my children by blood and I have only adobted Gina I see them all as children I would be proud of,"

"What a man you are Mander, I wish only my father, no all father could be like you, now I believe you have a favor to ask me?"

"Yes speaking of family I'm currently searching for my long lost, last remaining blood relative, my son Trace,"

"The universe is a big place Mander it would be difficult to find one man,"

"Yes but I have information which could make the search easier but only for someone with some accses to the ins and outs of Linadri,"

"My resources are limited but I will try my best for you, what information can you provide?"

"My son Trace would currently be 20 years old, a full blooded Geo, he left home at 18 to find away to bring down Liandri, expose their dark secrets and make them stop the discrimination on those in old Geo, if he has ever attempted such a thing Liandri should have information on him, if we was a successful thorn then perhaps Laindri would have placed a bounty on his head in the black market, another theory I have is that he currently works for the company in an attempt to bring it down from the inside and expose secrets,"

"I see, well there are currently many 'terrorist' groups against Liandri I could try and dig up as much information available on them as possible, accessing the Black Market bounty heads posted by Laindri will be an easy task, as for finding an employee, that could be difficult like I said the universe is a big place and Laindri has countless employees, our only hope of finding him in that situation is if he has worked is way to respectable position,"

"So you will help me?"

"Yes, I'll have one of my best work on it for you and I'll let you know about any developments, you should just focus on the tournament, now I must leave,"

"Thank you," Mander bowed as the screen went blank.

"That you happy now pops?" Mai said rising from her chair, "Don't worry if Jerry says he'll do something then you can bet your ass he will, come on I'll show the way back to town,"

"Thank you Mai, we are very fortunate to have such reliable allies,"

"Heh, and we see ourselves fortunate in having such powerful allies, with us together Liandri will fall,"

"Hmph, perhaps,"



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As the evening wore on Pop's Pub steadily began to get busier and busier and Diego's highly sought after peace faded with the day, sitting alone his mind soon wandered to his friends where abouts and he considered going back to the ship.

"Diego!" Alex shouted out, Diego spun his stool to face the door to see all his friends including Mander walk in.

"Well well isn't this a surprise to see you out gramps," he smiled.

"Well something good happened today so we have much to celebrate,"

"Yeh? Like what?"

"Oh nothing much really, one step closer to finding Trace, but thats not all,"

"Lets just say Cleet's lost his innocence," Alex smiled looking at the new couple.

"Bout time," Diego said raising his drink, "I no longer think your gay mate," he said turning to Cleet noticing his new hair cut. "You look better like that mate,"

"Yeh with the exceptance of this afternoons events things went pretty good today," Cleet replied, "And I don't know what happened but Snowva seems pretty pleased with himself, he won't tell us what he's been doing tho."

"Well I've got some good news to guys, met a long lost friend today,"

"Who?" Gail asked curious.

"Hey barkeep!" Diego called out down the bar grabbing the attention of Walker who was currently washing glasses.

"Whats up Diego?" Walker said walking up to him.

"Walker!" Alex called out running up to the bar leaning, she strectched over the bar putting her arms round his neck and hugging him, Gail also came over pulling Walker close.

"Long time no see," he smiled.

"Hey Walker, I'm not paying you to hug the customers," Pops said smiling.

"Sorry Pops, hey could I finish early?"

"You'll have to make up for it tomorrow,"

"Yeh, yeh no problem,"

"Go on then, you all have much to catch up on," Putting aside his towel and apron Walker cleared the bar with a single jump and joined Nature Deadiest.

"Well, lets get wasted, never got the chance on Metalic,"

"Couldn't agree more, with ya mate,"


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<OOC - Something to break Sean's posting streak ;) >

Marcus was sitting up on the end of the bed, gingerly testing the strength of his injured arm. Azazeal's plasma bolt had cut through the Alitan armour and seared most of the flesh off his right shoulder, but the Liandri surgeons had expertly reknitted the wound with a cloned muscle graft mere hours after he had been rushed to the campus hospital. Marcus laughed to himself - he could die as much as he liked in the tournament but Liandri didn't want to lose any of their valuable competitors outside the arenas. Under a thick bandage his shoulder was still slightly stiff and tender, but the wound was now well on its way to healing, much faster than he would have thought possible. Of course, he thought wryly, the faster he was back on his feet the faster he was back making money for Liandri in the Tournament.

His mood was good. His first delirious night in the hospital had been plagued by nightmares of the Twilight Wraiths, but those raw memories like the wound in his shoulder were fast being covered up by scar tissue. And the winnings from their first victory had been considerable. The Battleclaws agent handled all the funds for them of course, but once the money was released at the end of the Tournament, even with a seven-way split, affording the passage to Ramiel now didn't seem so impossible provided they continued to win.

He looked up as the door to the recovery ward hissed open, and the Liandri Angel standing outside stepped aside to admit a lean Solstice warrior with glossy white-striped fur.

<Hello Aino.> Marcus said in Alitan, ignoring the stiffness in his right arm to bring it across his chest in the Alitan salute, <How did the match today go?>

<We won,> Aino replied in a satisfied voice, returning the gesture and padding across the palely-lit ward to Marcus' bed, <Battleclaw and Swiftpaw have been straining at the leash to take part in a match, and when Koda pulled out to try and get some more research done they both got the chance.>

<Good for them.>

<I think Swiftpaw impressed the games masters with his martial arts; he took down a gene-boosted human twice his size one-on-one. Him and Blackfoot had a right feud going on, I think they were competing to see who could score the most points in the last five minutes. Can't blame him for wanting to prove himself again in his first match.>

Marcus smiled, <No.>

<Battleclaw was taking it very seriously, she really wanted the humans to see us prove our team skills and realise that we were most formidable as a purely Alitan team. No offence.> she added apologetically.

<None taken,> Marcus replied, thinking about the aloof and brooding Minqua with whom his inclusion in the team had sat worse than most, <Battleclaw never liked humans like me that much anyway, did she?>

<She can be quite pig-headed when it comes to Alitan supremacy,> Aino
grinned, <She just hasn't seen much in her life to endear her to humans, that's all. Give her time - she'll respect you as a warrior eventually.>

Marcus nodded.

<How's the arm?> Aino queried.

<Better. A little stiff.>

<You should get back to the training arenas as quickly as possible. Trust me, it'll help it get stronger quicker. It's...>

<The Alitan way, I know,> Marcus smiled, <You told me that yesterday. I would've done but the med-tech wouldn't let me out; something about if I strained the ligaments by working them hard too early I'd be stuck here for at least another few days.>

<You reckon they'll let you out today?>

<Yeah, I think so.>

<Come on then, I'll train with you.>

*   *   *

Marcus ducked a massive haymaker's sweep of his opponent's bastard sword, sidestepped the follow-up attack and jinked inside his guard. His tarydium knife pierced the side of the man's neck in a flash of translucent blue and he went down hard.

They were fighting a close-combat deathmatch, Aino's preferred kind of warfare. Marcus hated it - it was even more brutal and horrific than the most intense firefight, and he had developed an aversion to it on Na Pali where to tangle with a Necris up close usually resulted in a swift death. But the Necris liked to press their advantages of speed and blade work at every opportunity, and he had had to learn something of the vicious craft for the times when he had been unable to keep them at the preferred arms-length with his ASMD.

What really unnerved Marcus about hand-to-hand combat was how you could see every detail of your opponent's face as you fought - the set of their features, the colour of their eyes, and the blank, glassy look that came over those same eyes as life left them. Years of experience had hardened him to it as they had hardened him to killing and death in general, but the dreams that followed a face-to-face struggle were invariably the worst.

The eyes of the man Marcus had just killed had been fixed and dilated, either from adrenaline or something more illegal. Marcus wouldn't have put it past Liandri to dope their gladiators up on narcotics and combat stimms, and doubted they would deny the same to the individual-ladder competitors, who had volunteered for this training match as extra practice, if it improved their scores. As before the training match opponents were a very mixed bunch. Marcus reeled through all the faces he had seen in the last half hour of intense combat - a dark haired man, eyes glazed with psychosis as he ran at Marcus screaming his hate; a tall black man with a face laced with surgical scars and arms bulging with vat-grown muscle enhancements; a gnarled veteran of the individuals tournament, his teeth gritted in grim determination; a young woman whose multiple battle scars had been flawlessly repaired by cosmetic surgery, and whose eyes were so hard and cold they reminded Marcus of a Necris blademaiden.

Another face appeared and came charging towards Marcus. Marcus spun round and saw a tall man, shaggy haired, with the muscular build and dark skin of a deep space miner. Dark blue tattoos snaked up his arms. Marcus ducked as the man swung a punch at him, but a lightning-fast jab followed it and connected with Marcus' face with bone-breaking force, causing him to stagger backwards. Marcus spat blood from his split lip, and more blood was running from his nose and dripping off his chin. Droplets of it flew as he dodged another punch, stopping it with his forearm in an impact that stung enough to tell Marcus it would leave a severe bruise. His opponent was attacking relentlessly, his face set in a snarl, but in his savage attempts to pound Marcus into the ground he wasn't giving a thought to his own defence and left himself open for a slash of Marcus' crystal knife that raked across his exposed throat. The man fell backwards, clutching at the spurting wound. Marcus' eyes flashed left and right for other threats, then he straightened, wiping blood from his mouth. The miner, still conscious, was looking up at him, black eyes wide, choking.

Marcus had no desire to watch the man bleed to death. He stepped forward and rammed his blade down. As he turned and headed for higher ground, an uncomfortable thought nagged at the back of his mind. Even before Marcus had cut his throat, it wasn't anger he had seen in the miners eyes. It was despair. Shaken, he crushed the thought, falling back on the Nali litany to focus his mind. Then the locator at his wrist beeped.

*   *   *

"For ****'s sake!" one of the Liandri technicians monitoring the training match snarled.

"What's up?" asked his companion, leaning over the first tech's shoulder to look at his computer screen.

"Number 327's just hiding in a corner again."

The second tech sighed, straightening up, "Okay, switch on her tracker so the cat and her team-mate can find her. They ordered six gladiators to fight against so we'd better give it to them..."

*   *   *

Marcus looked down and saw that a target down in the lower levels had been lit up for him, and a dashed line on the LED display similar to the ones that indicated flags and team bases in the more complicated types of match was guiding him to it. He turned around and headed down, following the locator while staying alert for other gladiators that might ambush him on his way down. He slowed to a walk as he approached the indicated area, crouching down with his knife held out in front of him and placing his feet carefully so that they made no sound against the floor.

He sensed the attack coming a split-second before it happened. Whirling round, he grabbed the lunging wrist, chopped down hard on his attacker's elbow so that they dropped the knife they were carrying with a yelp, and kicked them back against the far wall. All this had happened in the space of a heartbeat, and as his mind finally caught up with his instinctive action he was surprised to register that his opponent was a young girl. She couldn't be more than 16 or 17, her features soft but her expression of hard defiance a sharp contrast. She was wearing a Liandri jumpsuit that seemed too big for her thin frame. Her black hair fell into her eyes, which stared up at Marcus with the intensity of one who has seen more than someone of her age should. But what really threw Marcus was what she said next.

"Go on then," she challenged him, "What are you waiting for?"

Marcus just stood frozen, his knife hanging loosely in his hand.

The spell was broken as Aino, in full feral form, darted in like a flash of white lightning and sideswiped the girl away from Marcus, pinning her to the floor and delivering a crushing bite to her neck.

<Too slow!> she celebrated, <What's wrong?> she added, turning her red-stained muzzle towards Marcus and ****ing her head curiously. Marcus didn't answer; his voice had temporarily abandoned him.

<You can't afford to hesitate,> Aino chided him. And to prove the point, she sprang at him with claws extended.

<OOC - More to come soon.  Also, may I draw your attention to my new avatar :D Looks scarily like Eevee, don't you think?>


Captain Thule: We have yet to meet our betters, alien. All we have seen are deluded tyrants, heretics and alien scum.
Farseer Taldeer: You should have looked beyond your mirror then.


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Diego leaned across the crowded bar as the one of the barmen walked past shouting at the top of his voice yet the loud banging of the club's music drowned out the mere humans voice.

"Hey! Hey!" he called out again waving a note yet the barman failed to take notice as many other club goers were attempting the same.

"Jeez, how long does it take to get a drink here," Diego said to himself sinking back, "Thats why I hate this place," he continued to moan when his ears picked up the sound of the girl standing next to him also trying to get service. Casually he leaned towards her ear, "Hey, whoever gets served first buys the other one a drink," he said with smile. The girl turned towards Diego and caused the man the step back as he reconised the face. "**** you're Blakes girl, sorry,"

"Don't be, I'm sorry for what happened back then,"

"Hey I don't hold a grudge, where is Blake anyway is he here?" Diego looking around.

"I think you should leave before you see Blake, Diego,"

"How so?"

"Blake disappeared for awhile went away with Liandri and when he returned he'd changed dramatically."

Diego face soon turned to concern after examing Shiva's face he noticed a bruising on her right cheek, which she tried to hide from him and others with make up. "I don't surpose you got that through a match," Shiva did not answer but instead put her hand over her cheek.

"I got off lucky, Stilgar's in hospital,"

"Come with me, lets go somewhere quieter, I want you to tell me everything."

Outside the club Diego and Shiva stood in a darkened alley, heavily shrouded by the surronding buildings in the back ground the music from club could still be heard aswell as the people hanging around outside.

"Ok tell me everything you know,"

"Diego you should just avoid Blake it is none of your concern,"

"If he was taken away by Liandri then you'll be surprised on how much it is my concern,"

"It doesnt involve you Diego, just leave it,"

"I have a funny feeling it might, so just tell me,"

"Ok, after the incident at Pop's Blake was approached by some Laindri angels, we all just thought he would be getting told off for fighting but when he didn't return and an angel said that Stilgar was to be the team leader for the time being we got worried, we couldn't focus on our next match and we lost, shortly after that Blake returned at first we were over the moon, but he looked different,"

Oh god don't tell me Diego thought to himself, "How so?"

"His skin was reder, sorta looked like he had been sun burnt, he was bulkier, his vains were more visable and he now wheres black glasses which he refuses to take off, he also seemed irritated bout something I didn't know what, Blake has always had a temper but he wasn't a bad guy he would get into fights with those who annoyed him but never his friends, after learning that we lost a match and that Stilgar was acting leader when we lost, he completely lost it and started attacking Stilgar even when he was knocked out he continued to hit him, I tried to stop him and got this for it, eventually he stopped now we are all frightened of him."

No way, what the **** is Liandri thinking, could they really do what they've done to me and so quickly, no I can't be perfect as Blake seems perminantly stuck in it. What is Laindri thinking it'll kill him for sure

Shiva gave Diego a weird look as he seemed lost in thought, "hmm Diego?" Diego quickly snapped to his senses.

"Oh sorry, was lost in thought,"

"Well now you know, so please just avoid Blake,"

"I don't think I can," Diego said looking over Shiva's shoulder to see Blake standing at the top of the alley.

"Shiva! What the hell are you doing here with him!?" Shiva froze in fear and dared not turn round to face Blake. "Well? Answer me women!"

"B-Blake, w-we were just talk, I swear," he said turning around slowly.

"Oh, and what about!?"

"N-nothing really,"

"Diego! you've got alot of nerve to be coming onto my women!"

"No Blake! Leave him alone, we were doing nothing I swear," Diego placed his hand on Shiva's shoulder.

"Blake! Who do you think you are hitting a women,"

Blake tensed up, fury taking complete hold, "Just what the hell did you tell him shiva?!" Shiva ran up to Blake.

"Blake please don't lets just leave," ignoring her completely Blake threw Shiva against the wall. Quickly she got to her feet and fled the alley.

"I'll deal with you later," he said coldly turning to Diego.

"Don't ever hit a women infront of me again Blake,"

"Oh yeh and what the hell you going to do about it?"

"I know exactly what Laindri did to you, and let me tell you it will only end in your death,"

"Don't give me any of your ****, I'm now like you, stronger, faster, unbeatable,"

"Their's nothing glamerous on what you've become,"

(will finish later as well as correct any spelling or mistakes.)



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Blake charged towards Diego and in a blink delivered a powerful shoulder barge to his chest, before he knew Diego was thrown back landing heavily, slowly he got to his feet heavily winded, but before he could catch his breath Blake had grabbed him by his coller and with ease lifted Diego off his feet and slammed him against the wall, blake tightening hands round Diego neck and slowly Diego began to blank out.

Damn it, I'll have to go level 2, Blake will kill me Diego thought to himself raising his hand he punched Blake across the face knocking off his glasses and revealing his blood shot eyes and showing his untamed fury. Angerly Blake threw Diego down the alley. Diego flew through the air several feet before finding himself in the safe arms of Snowva.

Gently Snowva placed Diego down back on his feet. "Nice catch Snow, thanks," From behind the pair Cleet came out standing in front of Blake ready to battle.

"Bastard," Cleet said angerly ready to strike.

"Wait Cleet, don't fight him," Diego said calmly, "Blake, that power you have isn't safe, you think your like me but you aren't, far from it what you have will only kill you and along the way lose you all you're friends, they're scared of you now thats no way for a leader to be,"

"You don't understand Diego! With this I'll kill you all and any who look down on me, I don't need friends they are all only there to make up the numbers, I will win this tournament and nothing will stop me, not even you," Blake noticed from behind Nature deadliest his team had gathered, turning round Blake picked up his glasses and calmly walked past all members of Nature's Deadliest to join his team.

"Lets go everyone, see you in the arena Diego,"


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<Feeling better?> Aino asked as Marcus thrust his ASMD back into the weapon rack distractedly, allowed the retina scanner to sweep his eye to log the weapon's return and strode over to the supervisor's booth.

<My arm seems to be working fine again.> Marcus replied, glancing back towards the Solstice as the wall panels slid closed and the weapons racks dropped into the floor, vibrating the metal deck beneath their feet as they rumbled away to the secure armoury. He had respawned once or twice over the course of the match so the injuries from his fight with the miner were no longer in evidence, although a couple of new minor cuts had replaced them.

<What did I tell you?> the Alitan smiled. Marcus shrugged ambiguously as he collected his pass card from the supervisors.

"Do you want the match statistics and analysis, sir?" one of the Liandri technicians asked him as he handed over the small piece of laminated plastic.

"Yes, thank you. Opponent profiles as well."

"Certainly, sir." the tech responded, and he obediently tapped keys on his console to upload the relevant files into a data slate which he then handed to Marcus. It was after all, not uncommon for competitors to want to compare their performance with their rivals, especially when there was a chance they would meet them again in the Tournament.

*   *   *

"Good to see you back on your feet, Fantom." Lune nodded a brief acknowledgement to Marcus as he entered the Battleclaws hab. He had noticed their agent's black vehicle parked outside and was therefore not surprised to see the Elsinoran standing talking with the Alitan commander, apparently passing on the necessary details for their next match. It could have been done over a video link, but their agent seemed to be aware enough of Alitan practice to pay them the courtesy of a more honourable face-to-face discussion. Then again, perhaps it was just another example of the over-familiarity that the Alitans found so irksome. Marcus waited for Lune and their agent to finish their conversation, then stood up to intercept the man as he turned to leave.

"Excuse me?"

The slender man turned, reflecting Marcus' face in his dark glasses, "Yes, Mr Fantom?"

"I wanted to talk to you about the gladiators you assigned to me and Nyantooth for our practice match today."

"Were they to your satisfaction? We have to select practice match opponents from those that are currently available, but we try to find ones that will provide a suitable challenge to our players."

"I wanted to find out who they were."

"I'm hardly up to speed on every gladiator on campus."

"I know that. I looked them up myself on the Liandri datalinks."

He handed his data slate to the agent, who tapped it with his thumb to scroll through the lines of bright green text.

"Gladiator 259 - Skaarn, Theo, convicted murderer serving time in the Tournament...Gladiator 289 - Flintlock, Gideon, Liandri miner, volunteer...Gladiator 327 - Tajheri, surname unknown, escaped Nahk'ti prisoner." he read aloud.

"Exactly.  Surname unknown?" Marcus asked pointedly.

"I remember something about the NEG handing an escaped prisoner over to us a while back but I dont know the details. It was a bit rushed as I recall so it's possible our records werent completed properly. To be honest we've got more pressing concerns than all the lawbreakers and other never-do-wells that end up in the Security Zone when we comb the prisons. They're useful for numbers and sometimes we find someone who plays a major part in the Tournament proper, but thats the exception to the rule."

"So you dont know anything about your own gladiators?"

"On the contrary, we know everything. But we only put in the datalinks what's really important."

"Okay then, what about 'escaped Nahk'ti slave'? How would someone like that end up in the Tournament?"

"I honestly don't know. But an escaped slave would be a major embarrassment to whatever Nahk'ti family who owned them. They probably asked the New Earth Government to make her disappear, and they passed her on to us."

"Slave does not equal criminal." Marcus growled, "So what basis did they have to confine this girl Tajheri on the Liandri campus? I saw the girl in the arena - she can't be more than 17 for Christ's sake!"

"The minimum competitor age is 16 years Earth standard. I'll admit it's unusual to find a player under 21 but it's not unheard of. And we're not about to argue with the NEG or the Nahk'ti. The ways of the Nahk'ti may be different from ours, we may not always agree with them, we might even have our occasional territorial disputes, but the fact remains that the Nahk'ti and their Desert Legion are the first and best line of defence against Necris activity in this sector and we aren't about to jeopardise our non-aggression pact by deliberately antagonising them."

It was true enough. The Nahk'ti were a martial, tribal people from the harsh desert world of Khemri. They were genetically human, but the original colonists had been split off from outside contact for so long that they had developed their own distinct culture that bore little similarity to that of the Terran federation. Indeed, they did not count themselves as the same as the humans of Earth at all, and preferred to maintain their own independent empire. In a frontier sector where direct Terran control was minimal and territories were regularly carved up by the corporations, such behaviour was barely remarked upon by the NEG.

The way of the Nahk'ti was a pragmatic, martial society shaped by their unforgiving planet. Out of necessity or expedience they had also adopted some customs that Marcus found less palatable, like slavery. But Khemri bred hard warriors and its proud Desert Legions were held in both fear and awe by the citizens of the neighbouring systems. They had matched the corporate mercenaries in the occasional brief feuds where the corporations and the Nahk'ti had squabbled over new planets and mining rights, and in the comparatively more common periods of wary truce were a major asset in repelling the mutual threat of the Necris raids that plagued the frontier.

The Battleclaws' agent handed the data slate back to Marcus with a shrug.

"The datalinks is open to all Mr Fantom, so continue your research if you wish but I doubt you will find much more than what is presented here. Anything that isn't in the Liandri datalinks is either classified or simply not important enough to be worth recording. I strongly suspect this is a case of the latter."

As the agent nodded to Marcus and turned to leave, Lune padded up behind the frowning human. The exchange had drawn the attention of the Battleclaws who could speak English, and most of them were looking over curiously.

<Pull yourself together, Fantom,> Lune chided Marcus, who had crossed his arms and still appeared ill at ease, <You should be focussing on our next match, not on trivialities.>


Captain Thule: We have yet to meet our betters, alien. All we have seen are deluded tyrants, heretics and alien scum.
Farseer Taldeer: You should have looked beyond your mirror then.

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If Diego was concerned by the encounter with Blake, Cleet thought to himself as he cupped his hands round a cigarette and thumbed the lighter, he wasn't letting on. They were taking a quick break before moving on to the next club and Diego, who was by now more than a little drunk, was complaining loudly that he hoped there would be more female competitors at the next venue.

Cleet blew smoke down his nose and began walking while Diego continued to talk away to Snowva. Diego Turner was not an easy man to read, but Cleet knew him well enough to know that the playboy attitude was essentially a smokescreen. Diego had had more one night stands than Cleet cared to remember, but hadn't committed to a serious relationship since finishing with Alex two years ago and Cleet could tell he missed one. Cleet didn't think about it often - he felt uncomfortable overanalysing his friend - but study and analysis was Cleet's strong point, and when he applied it to Diego he usually narrowed the cause down to the same possibilities. Either Diego was still secretly hung up on Alex (although Cleet admitted that this was the least likely option - he had never sensed any awkwardness between Diego and Alex, indeed their friendship seemed only to have strengthened), he was afraid of spoiling their friendship with another serious girlfriend, or he was afraid that any new relationship wouldnt compare to the one he had with Alex.

Although, Cleet thought as he stubbed out his cigarette, there was another, more recent possible cause. Diego had stepped up his playboy lifestyle considerably since Liandri had come back into the picture. Perhaps it was his form of escape, rebelling in any small way he could against their Liandri masters who kept them all on such a short leash.

Cleet threw down his cigarette stub and ground the butt under the toe of his shoe. This was dangerous. The deliberate lack of cooperation, the revealing of Level 2 before Liandri had authorised it...if they drew too much attention to themselves before Jerry and the others could put his plan into action...

Diego looked up, and Cleet followed his gaze to see a young girl leaning up against a hab wall, arms folded, staring intently up the main campus thoroughfare. There was almost nobody around this side of the campus at this time of night, but the girl had still withdrawn into the shadows of the alleyway, as if she didn't want to be noticed. Her dark eyes were fixed on the solid metal gates that stood closed at the other end of the road, surrounded by high walls, patrolled by blue-armoured Angels and skimmers with scissoring searchlights, and blocking anyone from getting in or out of the campus. She was frowning at the massive stylised L that was emblazoned on the gates, and the Liandri symbol frowned back.

"Hey there!" Diego called out, putting on his most charming smile. The girl turned, slightly startled.

"It's awfully quiet out here, why don't you come back with me and I'll show you where the action is."

The girl's face hardened.

"**** off." she snarled.

Diego's well-practiced smile faltered slightly.

"That's a bit harsh. I'm sure you'd like me if you got to know me better."

"I don't want to get to know you better," the girl retorted, "Odds are you'll be trying to kill me in the arena tomorrow."

"Hey," Diego said, spreading his arms wide and grinning broadly, "What happens in the arena stays in the arena."

The girl's small fist connected with Diego's mouth. Diego's alcohol-slowed brain was caught off guard and he lost his balance, tumbling over backwards to be caught just in time by Snowva.

"Whats her problem?" Diego asked, looking genuinely surprised.

"Guess you can't win them all, Diego." Snowva said, his deep voice tinged with amusement.

Cleet and Snowva looked round as two Liandri Angels appeared and seized the girl's arms, twisting them roughly up behind her back.

"Alright 327," one of them growled, "We don't let you out of the security wing twice a week so you can start on paying competitors, let's go."

"Love a girl who can kick my ass," Diego slurred as the girl was dragged away.
She offered no resistance, but looked mutinous, "I said that to the Angel the other night too - you remember that, Cleet?"

Cleet was frowning up the alley in the direction the two Angels and the girl they had called 327 had disappeared, wondering what to make of what had just happened. Diego meanwhile, still half-slumped against Snowva, looked up at the big man and grinned.

"Nice catch, Snow. Second time tonight."

*   *   *

Marcus sat in the common room of the Battleclaws hab, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to the elbows and his head supported on one fist against his temple. His other hand was scratching behind Kiwi's ear as the Na Pali rabbit dozed on the seat beside him, her nose twitching occasionally. The only light in the room came from the blue glow of the hologram projected from the data slate resting on the table in front of him. Marcus had been too absorbed in his task to notice that night had fallen outside the windows, and the internal lights remained unlit as the room gradually darkened.

Between matches and Commander Battleclaw's incessant training exercises, Marcus had surfed Liandri corporation;s labyrinthine datalinks until his eyes and head hurt but had turned up very little more than what their agent had already told them. It was almost as frustrating as the research he had tried to perform on Nature's Deadliest. For such an apparently comprehensive and free-access database, there were a lot of gaps and classified sections.

Finally giving up, he had turned to browsing old picture files. The hologram that flickered before him was a six years old snapshot taken of the crew of the ISV Kran shortly before its first mission. Liandri files on the ship were sparse - he would probably have had more luck with the datalinks of the Kran's home corporation, Inuit - but they were all Marcus had access to for the time being. Marcus had very few mementos outside his own memory, as most of his things had either been lost along with the Kran, or sold on during the four year period in which its crew were listed as missing, presumed dead. Plus, Marcus smiled faintly to himself, it wasn't like he had had a camera or many opportunities to use one on Na Pali. Nevertheless the planets stunning scenery and the brief periods of peace he had enjoyed among the Nali were burned into his memory alongside the far more numerous memories of hardship and horror, and provided just enough of an offset to keep him sane.

Had it been worth it? Na Pali was still a war zone, and perhaps the Nali themselves were in a worse position than ever now they were caught between both the Necris and the newcomer humans of Inuit corporation. Anger gripped Marcus as he thought of Myscha and the others - they had met through freak chance in the aftermath of the Kran disaster, but the four years that had followed had changed both him and them. Now he didnt even know where they were, or if they were even still alive.

He didn't know if Luthienne was still alive either. Even if they denied him access he would find a way in, but the possibility that he would arrive on Ramiel only to discover he was too late was his worst fear. He was stuck here until the end of the Tournament, and his impotence grated on him.

The thought of Luthienne brought his eyes back to the bottom-right of the hologram, and the smiling young med-tech with her dark red hair brushed down one side of her face. How that face had changed in six years. His eyes flicked over to his own holographic self, shorter haired and with engineers insignia across the chest of his blue Inuit uniform. He didn't even recognise the young, unburdened face that looked out of the picture at him, the face of a man who worried about little beyond the next mission, and had already made plans to revisit Luthienne's homeworld of Mar Sara along with Tom and Lu when their next shore leave rolled around. His eyes scanned across all the other familiar faces - the XO Keith Dallas, grinning like an idiot, and in contrast the sober, controlled face of the captain Mikael Leatham. Tami Carter, their Alpha Centauri-born friend from the science and research department. Kira Argmanov - Marcus remembered she had been engaged to petty officer Nikolai Onalopov at the time of the crash. Tom Reynor, standing between Luthienne and the ship's dockmaster, Ivan Romanov. The Marcus Fantom in the picture was as dead as they all were.

I'm still here, Marcus thought savagely, and I'm not going to give up.

He reached out to touch the hologram, blurring the image of Luthienne's face as his fingertips passed through the immaterial hologram.


Captain Thule: We have yet to meet our betters, alien. All we have seen are deluded tyrants, heretics and alien scum.
Farseer Taldeer: You should have looked beyond your mirror then.


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Diego groaned annoyingly at the banging of his door the pounding almost as irritating as the pounding in his head.

"Diego! when do you plan on getting up!? Diego!" Alex called out from behind the door. Diego merely groaned again putting his head under his pillow. "Diego!" Alex called out irritated. "Have you for-" Alex was cut off and all Diego heard after that was muttering, suddenly the door slid open and angry footsteps stomped across the floor, Diego chose to ignore the steps until a pillow struck him in the back of the head, sleepily Diego slowly raised his head from under his pillow his tired eyes welcomed by an irritated Gail.

"Not much of a morning person are you?"

"Gail! you can't just barge into peoples rooms," Alex protested.

"Yeh Gail talk about rudeness," Diego mocked sitting himself up.

"You haven't forgotten we have a match today have you?"

"Thats not till the afternoon,"

"And don't we need to prepare?"

"This early in the damn morning? Get out,"

"Well unfortunatly we can't all me so laid back like yourself, poor Alex here was up all night, and now her banging is keeping us all awake," Gail said turning her glare to Alex who backed away shyly. "Alex next time you want to try and wake him up just walk in and hit him with something,"

"G-Gail I can't do that,"

"Sure you can and it will give whatever bimbo he's taken back a shock, by the way Diego sleeping alone tonight?"

"None of the girls was my type, well except one," he said with a smile rubbing his cheek, Diego soon diverted his attention to the door where a groggy Cleet slowly walked past. "Speaking of getting lucky, I need some details from my shy little friend. Cleet how was last night. good?"

Cleet stopped looking into the room with a smile, "You know I dont discuss such things," he said before walking off.

"Oh no I need all the details," Diego said spring from his bed and chasing Cleet down the ship corridor. Brushing past and leaving Gail and Alex in his room.

"Where did he get all that energy from?" Alex questioned silently.

"Seriously that guy will never grow up, they all need to grow up for that matter," Gail complained

"He could of at least put some clothes on,"


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<How much longer are you going to continue this pointless exercise?> Lune snapped to her brother, who was once again hunched over his computer terminal pursuing his covert research.

It was the day before the Battleclaws next match, and it was an important one because it would be one of their final games of the first heat, after which their progress or disqualification from the Tournament's next phase would be decided. To Lune the thought of failing at the first hurdle was unthinkable, and she was frustrated that their agent had been unable to secure them another Tournament team to practise against, instead relying once again on Liandri's sub-par stable of gladiators. At this crucial stage of the Tournament keeping her team sharp was critical, and they needed the challenge of a coherent team more than a random rabble of humans.

<You seem to be forgetting to put your clan first.> she added savagely as Koda failed to reply. Koda snapped round in his seat at the grave insult.

<You should know better than to question my devotion to the Battleclaw clan, sister,> he growled, making it clear that he felt she had overstepped the mark, <The honour of our tribe is all that concerns me, and if our clan has been wrongfully slandered then I want hard evidence to to show to the cabinet.>

Lune sighed, looking past Koda out of the hab-block's transparisteel window and found little in the bustling, ugly campus with its blocky grey buildings and garish lights to lift her mood. She longed for the sight of her homeworld, but knew she was honour-bound not to return there until her duty was done. She thought of her father, trying to draw inspiration and find the right words to smooth the troubled waters between her and Koda.

<Why are we really here. Lune?> Koda asked, fixing the Battleclaw commander with his sharp intelligent eyes.

<Before our first match you reminded me why we were here - to bring honour to our clan. Whatever the truth of the matter is, the fact remains that the Battleclaws have lost face among the other tribes. Anything we try to present to the elders will be worthless if we do not regain their respect by proving ourselves in this human Tournament first.>

<Truth is the guardian of honour,> Koda growled, quoting an old Serelian maxim.

<Please don't make me pull rank on you, Koda,> said Lune seriously, <If truth is the guardian, so is trust.>

She touched Koda's neck with her claw, brushing the fur aside from the scar concealed there.

<I can do this without you, but I'd much rather not.>

Koda did not answer, but he got up and padded over to the door to join their team-mates downstairs.

*   *   *

<Swiftpaw, Nyantooth, circle round to the left,> Koda's voice barked over the team radio, relaying Lune's orders, <Blackfoot, Fantom, go right and take the high ground.>

Marcus sprinted through the training arena's maze of passageways to get into position. It seemed that Koda had finally relented and agreed to rejoin the team proper. Marcus had noticed the icy interactions between the team commander and her brother, but had not been able to figure out what it had been about. Granted he was wrapped up in his own worries about the Tournament and what would come after, but from what Aino had told him none of the other Alitans seemed to know what to make of the feud either. They did however seem noticeably galvanised by the return of both their leaders.

<Come on, Mushroom!> Nokoni roared, his teeth bared in a hungry grin as he bounded off ahead of the human.

Marcus dropped into position on the first floor balcony and shouldered his ASMD, covering the open area below.

<Hostiles inbound on your position, coming up through the western corridors.>

<Copy that.>

Marcus shifted aim to cover the approach vector. He found himself getting more and more uneasy with every training match that Lune put them through. He hadn't had time to review the Liandri datalinks before the game, to find out the story behind the latest group of gladiators that their agent had pitted them against. Would not knowing who his opponents were make killing them easier? On Na Pali, a Necris was just a Necris - soldier or assassin, male or female it didn't matter, it was kill or be killed. How much difference was there? Wasn't it worth it to do what he needed to do?

Marcus had learned long ago to push such thoughts to the back of his mind in battle. He had had to make much harder decisions in the past, and knew that when the time came he would pull the trigger just like every other time. The mixture of fear and exhilaration would take over, and he would kill. And just like every other time, the aftermath wouldn't be any easier.

He put a searing blue energy bolt through the chest of the first gladiator to appear. Nokoni roared a Solstice warcry and leapt from the balcony into the melee below, racking the slide on his shotgun as he fell. Left alone on the balcony, Marcus continued to track and fire and kill. He cursed as he missed his intended target - a female gladiator in a plain Liandri jumpsuit. She had only been visible for a split second before she disappeared into cover. He ejected the empty shock core from his hissing weapon and seized the new one that had just been teleported in for him, but in the time it had taken him to slam the core home the gladiator had broken cover again and sprinted away unnoticed by Nokoni. This time he got a better glimpse of her, and saw that her face was pale from shock underneath her dark red hair.

The impossible thought hit him like a hammer.

He hadn't seen her face. It was impossible, but he had to be sure.

< Kick in scene music - >

Without thinking, Marcus put one hand on the balcony and vaulted over. He landed badly on the hard metal of the deck below, rolling to break his fall but still twisting his ankle painfully. He gritted his teeth, pushed the pain to the back of his mind and half staggered half sprinted to the open corridor that led out of the central chamber.

<Mushroom?> Nokoni called out from amongst the savaged bodies of three Liandri gladiators, <Where the hell are you going?>

Marcus didn't hear him. As he entered the corridor he saw a brief flash of movement as someone darted through a door on the left wall. He sprinted after the gladiator, stealth forgotten. He still carried his ASMD but it hung loosely in his hands as he ran. Another gladiator came briefly into view as he sprinted across an intersection ahead. He didn't notice Marcus, and Marcus let him go. His vision had narrowed to one point, one target, all his self-taught combat experience forgotten and irrelevant.

He skidded slightly as he turned down the brightly-lit side corridor, and was just in time to see the red-haired female gladiator dart right through another door. Marcus ran after her, dull riveted metal flashing past on either side of him. He reached the doorway and threw himself through it, with no suppressing fire and no thought given to cover. There were two entrances to the room - the one he had come in by and a second corridor that looped back to the main intersection they had run through earlier. The gladiator whirled as she realised she had backed herself into a corner, and as he skidded into the room Marcus saw her face for the first time.


Her face was pale and drawn, and her eyes were wild and dilated with panic. Her auburn hair was clean and neat but the way it sat about her head seemed slightly incongruous, as if it had been brushed and ponytailed by someone else. She gripped an M32 assault rifle so tightly to her chest that her knuckles were white. Marcus was still staring in shock, his own weapon forgotten in his hands, as Luthienne snapped up the M32 and blew his head apart.

*   *   *

Marcus stumbled off the respawning pad, his mind still reeling. He immediately began running, not even bothering to pick up the shock rifle that had teleported in front of him. His foot clipped it as he sprinted past, sending the sleek gun spinning away across the floor.

<Fantom!> Lune's voice was crackling in his ear, <Fantom, where are you? Report!>

Marcus tore the microbead out of his ear. He felt as if he was dreaming. The light that swam over the arena, distorted by the flickering shield overhead as it shone down into the open-topped level, added to the surreal feeling. He found Luthienne again in the same room, backed up against the wall with her gun barrel darting rapidly between the two entrances. The split second it took her to react to Marcus as he burst into the room for a second time allowed him to tackle her to the floor, bullets whining over his head. Luthienne struggled and screamed, kicking out at Marcus as her M32 clattered away across the floor. Marcus finally succeeded in pinning her underneath him, his heart breaking with the effort. He caught her left hand in his right, seeing the thin scar slashed across her palm and feeling the matching scar on his right hand burn. He seized her hand in a vice-like grip, touching the two scars together. Luthienne still struggled. Her terrified eyes didn't seem to be looking at Marcus, but through him - she didn't recognise him at all. Marcus tried to form words, but they caught in his throat and he had to try again.

"I must not fear," he finally whispered. Luthienne wasn't even screaming any more, just fighting Marcus with the feral strength of one fighting for their life. She battered at the black plates of his Alitan armour, trying to twist away from him and free her hand but he held on tight. He held on even as Luthienne wrenched her other arm free and closed her hand around the tarydium knife at his back.

"I must not fear," Marcus repeated, more forcefully. He felt the knife hiss out of its scabbard, but then he saw Luthienne's lips move.

"Fear is the mind-killer..." she said, her voice the barest whisper. Abruptly her struggles slowed and stopped, like a clockwork toy finally winding down.

"I will face my fear." Marcus whispered.

"I will let it pass through me." Luthienne replied, and the shimmering blue blade she had been about to stab into Marcus' back dropped to the metal deck.

"And when the fear is gone there will be nothing - only I will remain."

Luthienne's eyes cleared, focussing on Marcus for the first time. Still too in shock to feel almost anything Marcus looked down at her, his hair falling into his eyes and his face scratched with bloody welts from Luthienne's nails.

"Marcus..." Luthienne stammered, and then seemed to just collapse in his arms.

Claws clicking quietly against metal made Marcus turn. It was Lune, who looked both confused and angry. Marcus released a still shaking Luthienne and stood.

"Stop the match!" he yelled, looking up through the heat-haze shimmer of the energy shield surrounding the arena towards the games master's box overlooking them, "Stop the ****ing match!"

He moved to put himself between Luthienne and the incredulous Battleclaw commander, his arms spread protectively.


Captain Thule: We have yet to meet our betters, alien. All we have seen are deluded tyrants, heretics and alien scum.
Farseer Taldeer: You should have looked beyond your mirror then.


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Teams - Nature Deadliest V Commandos
Match Type - Capture the Brief Case
Map - Street
Objective - Score 10 points
Current Score - 9 - 9
Time limit - 20mins
Time so far - 14mins 41secs

"Damn it he has the brief case! Gail shoot him down!" Diego yelled over the heavy sound of gunfire, around him a heavy firefight was raging, crouching next to him a newly respawned Cleet divied out of cover firing his shockrifle into the stomach of a brave fighter closing in on his position.

High on top a building away from the firefight Gail scanned the area for the man with the flag. Finally she caught sight of him darting away from Cleets and Diego's position. "I have him in my sights!" she roared pulling the tigger she saw the man turn round to face her before a well aimed shot pierced his eye collapsing in a heap the brief case skidded on the ground. "The case is up for grabs,"

"Yes!" Diego shouted out. "Snowva go!" Diego roared jumping out of cover in unison with Cleet firing well aimed shots at there enemies positions, the commandos fought back fiercely forcing Diego and Cleet to take cover. "Snowva? have you got the case? Snowva?" Diego looked at Cleet, Cleet sharing the same puzzled look. "Snowva what the hell is taking so long? Snowva!"

"I'm-," Diego heard Snowva say in his ear before quickly being cut off. "They have a sniper camped out at our resp-" Snowva manged to say before being cut off again.

"Those cheating bastards!" Diego roared.

"Actually thats quite an effective yet annoying tactic they're using, they've disabled our tank, what now boss?"

"Hmm, they have us pinned down and Snowva,"

"They are militry men Diego they're bound to know plenty tactics,"

"Hmm judging by the angles where being shot at there must be three targeting us, they must have one camper, one moving man, and three pinners, meaning for the time being we're ****ed, they've completely disabled our tactic of having our tank take the case, once there man respawns and obtains the brief case its a clear win for them."

"Don't worry boys I'm here to save the day," Heather's voice said softly in there ears, "I've located there camper," slowly Heather emerged from a dark corner her eyes fixed on the sniper laughing to himself every time he put a bullet through Snowva's head, suddenly she dashed forward her delicate but quick steps making little noise the man turned round only to see Heather briefly disappear, gracefully she flipped over him with inhuman athletic skill and now
standing behind him she blew in his sending a chill down the mans spine, in a panic he spun round swinging his sniper rifle but was intercepted by a jawbreaking kick half turning and stumpling the man now in a rage gained his composure, angerly he turned to Heather who once more had vanished looking up he saw Heather's legs wrap round his neck and in one quick turn Heather snapped his neck. Gracefully she backward rolled of the man and allowing the his body to fall to the ground the body disappering as it did.

"Thats there camper gone, you're free to go Snowva,"

"Thank you Heather." Snowva replied releaved.

"What took so long in taking him out?" Diego complained, "You could of just shot him!"

"Too messy," Heather smiled leaping out the building window.

"Either way great job Heather, damn Cleet your girl is hot," Diego nudged his friend. Just then an almighty hail of bullets ripped over Diego and Cleets head, a sign Snowva was back in the game. "Now lets go for it, I'll take the lead, Cleet you follow, when I drop the case you pick it up, Snowva and Gail cover us, Heather should both us fall be near to collect the case,"

"Roger!" The crew replied in unison, leaping from cover Diego and Cleet charged into the enemy bullets lowering his hand Diego swept up the case ducking low he picked up the pace closely followed by Cleet, emerging from cover the teams running made an effort to stop him but dismissivly Diego swung his arm his collapsable Tonfa crashing into the mans jaw causing him to spin the air hitting the ground hard, before he had time to come to his senses a blue bolt from Cleet's rifle burned into his chest. Emerging from cover the pinners attempted to to give chase, the first unexpectantly reeived a bullet in the back of the head from Gail, the second was shredded by Snowva's gatling gun and the third after a sudden attack from Heather recived a shock rifle shot to the chest. Nearing the goal a lucky shot struck Diego's heart causing him to collaspe on the ground but before the case even hit the ground Cleet has swept it up making it to the goal. The moment Diego respawned he saw the area change back into the teleport room, victory was his.

Sitting back on a chair Diego breathed a sigh of relief, "that was a close one, great work guys, after our last lose I dreaded another." The remaining members relaxed also, the first heat was nearing an end and after losing there last two matches Nature Deadilest needed this win to seal there place in the next round. The changing room door slid open with a hiss, clapping his hands the gamemaster entered.

"Congradulations Nature Deadilest, with this win you have sealed you're place in the next rounds, win or lose you're next matches you're still through. Although a highly recommend winning as it would put you in an even better position, the people lost interest in you after your two loses in a row, you'll need the wins to increase ratings."

"I really couldn't care less about fan ratings," Diego replied

"Ah but the Laindri Company do, always remember that Diego, you are a Liandri funded team, we have very high expectations of you all, and if they are not met it could mean trouble.  Now you are currently several matches ahead most other teams so looks like you'll have quite along break, use the time well now, we shall contact you on the details of your next match."

(I havent proof read to could be some crappy grammer in there, its midnight now so gonna call it a night, will edit later if any crappy grammer)

-- Edited by The Underdog at 00:14, 2008-09-12



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(Just a bit of fun :) lol)

"Do not stop the match!Lune growled at the game master box, her cold glare drilling into Marcus.  "What the hell do you think your doing Phantom?!"

The three of them turned to the 2nd door leading to the main intersection as a man from the gladiators team ran in, raising his gun to fire at Marcus, not seeing Lune from his angle. Marcus didnt have a chance to react from the man entering and disappearing in a haze of blood as a bullet from Lunes pistol racketed his head back.

Marcus turned back to the Serelian commander who was checking the bullets left in her magazine, "You have to stop this match, I cant let anything happen to Lu!Marcus yelled at the feline

Lune glanced at the red-haired female peering past Marcus, her face was etched with fear, she wasnt a fighter.  "Phantom, she is our prey.  Move aside.Lune only had one bullet left in her current magazine.  Marcus didnt move, Im ordering you to step aside, now move.  Marcus shook his head.

<What the hells going on over there?> Kodas voice appeared in Lunes ear

<The human isnt behaving himself!> Nokoni retorted with a howl of laughter as he tore down another gladiator.

"She is not your prey, she hasn't even attacked you!  Killing her won't bring you any honor!  She's not even supposed to be here!"

"Move aside."  Lune said a final time after a short pause.


"Sir, what do you want me to do?One of the controllers of the match asked from his seat in the front row of computers that handled the match.

"The BC commander doesnt want it stopped, so dont stop it.  Besides, this will get some great ratings.  Nothing like a fight between team-mates.The supervisor said with a smile.

"This is a training match, its not live."  The controller said quietly.

"Maybe not, but it is being recorded."


Frustrated with Marcus lack of cooperation, Lune raised her gun and aimed it at him cutting him off mid-sentence as he yelled for the match to be terminated.  <Your willingness to die for this human is cowardly, but since your just going to respawn, it just makes you an idiot.>  Lune pulled the trigger; the point blank bullet tore through Marcus despite the armour and exited his back.  Marcus staggered back a step and turned to see Luthienne fall and disapear before he too fell to his knees and respawned breathing deep for air.

"Now you can stop the match.Lune holstered her weapon.


"Oh, ouch that was harsh.The supervisor and his colleges laughed, Lets get them out of there then.  "This fights over."

-- Edited by [BOSS]Asreal at 07:53, 2008-09-18


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<In case you didn't see my OOC edit, and to reiterate even if you did: That was brilliant!>

No sooner had Marcus respawned then there was a bright flash of green light and he found himself stumbling off the floor-lit teleporter pad back in the armoury. He looked around as the Battleclaws began to materialise either side of him, and then strode angrily over to the compu-tech manning the console across the room, dropping his ASMD with a clatter.

"Where is she?" he demanded.

"Who?" the startled tech replied.

"Luthienne - Luthienne Thrace!"

"Gladiator 624? Why, do you know her?"

"You could say that!" Marcus snarled. How the hell had he missed it? With all the searching he had been doing in the Liandri datalinks, how had he missed the fact that Luthienne was a Liandri gladiator in the Tournament? If he'd only looked up her profile, or maybe even just followed the links from the ISV Kran entry far enough, it would have been right there. It was the last thing he had expected, and he cursed himself for his stupidity.

"What's going on down here?" the dark-suited games master inquired, appearing at the bottom of the stairs that led from the observer's box above the training arena. At the same time, the two Liandri Angels flanking the metal detector at the armoury exit started towards them, guns coming fluidly up into their shoulders, pointed towards Marcus. Safety catches flicked off with a menacing click as the Angels braced their weapons.

Marcus raised his hands and took a slow step backward, away from the alarmed compu-tech.

"Luthienne Thrace," he said slowly, turning towards the games master,

"Gladiator 624, where is she?"

"Thrace is a level 2 security competitor," the supervisor replied, his dark grey eyes unfathomable, "Diagnosed with violent schizophrenia, prone to attacking those who approach her. Useful for a training gladiator but unpredictable. Accordingly, like all competitors that are deemed a risk to Liandri or to fellow players she is teleported to a separate secure antechamber after matches, sedated if necessary and escorted by armed guard back to the security wing."

"The security wing?" Marcus repeated, recalling the grey, windowless buildings with their ranks of guards and forbidding laser fences that he had driven past on his first day at the campus.

"Correct, and I'm afraid competitors do not have authorisation to access it without prior clearance from a Liandri executive. Now are you going to calm down, or are the Angels going to have to escort you back to your hab?"

*   *   *

"What happened?" the Battleclaws' agent inquired as he entered their hab-block. The native Elsinoran had arrived almost immediately after the Battleclaws had returned from their match, and although his black business suit was as sharply pressed as ever, his clean-shaven face looked harassed. In his hand was a data slate displaying breaking news from HNN, who were covering the Tournament live for viewers across the sector. The fight between Lune and Marcus had got straight to the attention of the Liandri executives, and had simultaneously been sent to the Hyperwave News Network.

"Good, just the man I was wanting to see," growled Marcus as soon as the agent had stepped in through the door and removed his dark glasses, "I need you to get me a clearance for the security wing."

"You are not going anywhere, Fantom," Lune barked before their agent could respond, "Until you explain what the hell happened back there! What is so special about this training prey?"

"Training prey?" Marcus echoed indignantly, "That was Luthienne!"

Koda frowned, "Your mate Luthienne? From the Nali planet?"

The Alitan folded his forepaws across his chest, his face - as far as Marcus had learned to read the feline aliens' expressions - neutral. Koda's twin sister on the other hand continued to look agitated. Aino, who had withdrawn into a corner kept out of the exchange, her ears laid back, while Seneca who understood the tone if not the language of the human conversation growled from next to Nokoni, his tail switching back and forth.

"You said that she was on Ramiel." Lune stated accusingly.

"I thought she was!" Marcus replied, "This changes everything!"

"It changes nothing, Fantom," Lune growled softly, "If she is here, then she'll still be there at the end of the Tournament. Until then, remember your duty! You will wait until your obligations to the Tournament and to my team are discharged."

"You've got to see I can't do that, Commander."

Lune snarled. She was not used to dealing with this kind of insubordination. So soon after the altercation with Koda, she was not inclined to be tolerant of another threat to her team's integrity. Especially since while Koda was a vital part of her team, Marcus definitely wasn't. Lune scarcely needed to remind herself that for all his talents Marcus Fantom was still little more than an unnecessary extra foisted onto them by Liandri red tape. Their original intent had always been to win the Tournament as a purely Alitan team; they had the numbers and the skill to do so, and now that they were just one match away from qualifying for the second round and had shown both Liandri and the human population at large what they could do, the whimsical rules of ratings-chasing Liandri executives couldn't find any excuse to hold them back. She stared down at Marcus, her pupils contracting into angry yellow slits as she took in the grim set of the man's jaw, and the hardness in his dark eyes that reminded her of the traits she hated most about humans - the stubborn self-righteousness that had led the Izanagi Ghost Warriors to try and invade Alita. At that moment, outside the protection of the nanowhite arenas, she would gladly have shot Marcus dead on a far more permanent basis if only Liandri had allowed her to keep her gun.

"In the arena I shot you to show you that order must be maintained. If this were the Alitan military I would have done far worse. Soldiers who will not follow orders are no use to me. I have to know I can trust you."

"You showed me in the arena exactly how much you trust me, Commander." Marcus replied cynically.

"Humans!" Minqua snarled from the back, and for once Lune did not restrain her, "You're weak! You have no honour! I always knew you would let the team down!"

"There's no honour to be had in this Tournament! Don't you Alitans understand - there's nothing glorious about death, and definitely not death like this. I'm getting out of this and I'm taking Lu with me. **** your honour! **** your ambition!"

Lune and Minqua seethed, while their agent just stood back, arms folded, an amused smile playing across his face.

"This'll make for one hell of a press release..."

*   *   *

Marcus strode from the hab block, still simmering. He had said some things that he had not entirely meant, but he had vowed to himself to do whatever it would take to get Luthienne off of Ramiel Prime, and now that he knew she was actually here with him in the Liandri campus, he wasn't going to wait. He wasn't going to let anything get in his way. If entering the Tournament as a way to get to Ramiel had rekindled the fire of his drive, then seeing Luthienne had fanned it into a raging inferno. And he knew exactly what he was going to do.

"You can't just walk out," the agent said, striding along to keep pace with Marcus as he stormed out of the hab block, "Liandri regulations are very specific in that no competitor may leave the campus for the duration of the Tournament, even if their team is eliminated."

Marcus laughed mirthlessly, "Oh, I'm not walking out..."


Captain Thule: We have yet to meet our betters, alien. All we have seen are deluded tyrants, heretics and alien scum.
Farseer Taldeer: You should have looked beyond your mirror then.

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The Underdog wrote:
Yay things are getting real interesting! But ur stopping there! *Jumps up and down* I want to get on with the story!

LOL Some people are never satisfied...ah well, here you go:

"Let me get this straight," said the Liandri executive, a stocky woman called Sutherland with straight blonde hair and an unsympathetic attitude, "You want to resign from the Battleclaws and start your own team? Even if we release your share of the team funds, it won't be enough to buy professional players even if you could convince them to join a new team this late in the Tournament."

"That's alright," Marcus said, tossing a data slate across the desk towards her, "I've already picked out my team."

"Only three?" Sutherland said pointedly, glancing over it, "You'll be screwed if one of you gets injured. And what about the larger matches? You'll need at least one more member."

"Those arent compulsory until phase 3 of the tournament. We'll have won enough matches to get the money together to buy another player by then."

"This is all very irregular, and very risky," the executive said, steepling her fingers, "See this from my point of view Mr Fantom. Why the hell should I risk money sponsoring your team?"

"I know what I'm doing," Marcus replied, "You'll get your return on this, don't worry."

"Have a look at his match records," the Battleclaws' agent put in on Marcus' behalf, "He's already proved that he can fight."

"He might have," the executive replied, skimming the data slate again, "But what the hell is this? I understand that gladiators are probably all you can afford Mr Fantom, but you haven't even requested some of our more lethal ones!"

"Those are my selections," Marcus persisted, "Just leave the rest to me."

"I need more than your assurances, Fantom!" Sutherland snapped.

"Ma'am," the Battleclaw agent said, leaning close to whisper to the seated executive, "We could stand to get a lot of publicity out of this."

"There's not enough potential reward for the risk and effort," Sutherland hissed back, "We'll have to reorganise the match timetables, pay for advertising on top of everything else, and if they don't qualify then we'll have thrown Liandri money away. And the boss," she added in a low voice, "Will not be happy about that."

"We don't have to pay for any serious advertising until it's off the ground and we can gauge how it goes. And even if this does crash and burn, who cares? The ratings boost from the split in the Cats' team will more than recoup the start-up costs. So if this does work we could be looking at major profits."

Sutherland held the man's gaze for a second, then turned back to Marcus.

"Alright Fantom, make it happen. If you can get this new team together and prove yourselves in the last few matches before the second phase starts then you'll have our backing. If not..."

The threat in that unfinished sentence weighed on Marcus as he was escorted to the security wing. After passing through several security checkpoints that checked both his card ID and his retina scan he explained his business to the Liandri supervisor, who had two Angels lead him down a lift that opened into a long corridor.

It was uncomfortably bright in the corridor, throwing the featureless walls and floor into stark relief. On either side were rows of plasma-gated cells, and Marcus tried to ignore their occupants who glowered up at him as he passed. Some of them were alien; others just not entirely human.

"Marcus Fantom."

The low, sinister voice made Marcus snap round to look at the cell on his right. A pale shadow clad in a black jumpsuit rose from its seat, black hair framing a chiselled, handsome face with flat white eyes that bored into Marcus like searchlights. Marcus felt an involuntary chill - the last time he had seen those eyes had been as his vision faded to black with the pure freezing agony of two Necris daggers between his ribs. The eyes were as devoid of expression and humanity as they had been last time.

"I have nothing to say to you," he told the Phayder, his hands curling into fists at his sides.

"I was never on Gryphon IV," Azazeal said, his tone soft, almost conversational, "But I did hear of the little uprising you started. Quite impressive for two humans and a rabble of Nali to cause so much trouble. And yet I found myself somewhat disappointed when I came face to face with you in the arena."

Azazeal began to pace up and down the cell, his head turning to keep his beacon eyes fixed on Marcus as he walked. He moved with a slow, hypnotic grace that made it look almost like he was walking in half gravity. Marcus clenched his jaw; he found everything about the Necris unnerving. A Ghost had never spoken to Marcus before, certainly not in his own language.

"You'll die here," Marcus growled at him, covering some of his fear with anger. A flicker of a smile crossed Azazeal's face in response.

"This cell won't hold me forever," he said, "But for now, what better way to pass the time than killing humans in this Tournament?"

Marcus stared into the Phayder's inhuman eyes, as if he could burn the alien with the force of his will. Without any warning Azazeal darted forward, crossing the cell in a split-second and reappearing right in front of Marcus, his teeth bared in a predatory snarl. In spite of the plasma force-field between them, Marcus instinctively jumped backwards in shock. Azazeal froze a centimetre behind the energy barrier, and again the sinister smile flickered across his face before melting away just as quickly.

"I'll be seeing you," he whispered.

Marcus turned in disgust and began to stride down the corridor. The heads of Azazeal and the other Necris in the cells around him turned to follow Marcus as he walked away.

"Give my regards to Diego Turner," Azazeal called out as Marcus reached the steel doors at the end of the corridor and strode through as a guard parted them before him without looking back.

*   *   *

Marcus didn't know what to make of the Phayder's parting comment. Shaken by the close encounter, he took a second to compose himself and push the Twilight Wraiths to the back of his mind before addressing the two armed Angels on the other side of the security door.

"I have a release order here for gladiators 624, 327 and 289. They've been drafted into a new team."

After double-checking Marcus' authorisation, the Angels led Marcus to the three cells in turn. The first one they reached was Luthienne's, and as soon as the plasma gate was deactivated Marcus ran forward and swept her into his arms. He squeezed her tight, putting months of isolation and regret into that one embrace. She hugged him back, and for a good minute Marcus just held her wordlessly, not wanting to ever let go of her again.

But there was a lot more to be done yet, and within ten more minutes Marcus was sitting across the table from Gideon Flintlock and the Khemrian girl Tajheri in one of the security wing's spartan interrogation chambers. Marcus had made a point of asking the Liandri Angels to give them privacy, and the three of them were alone.

The two gladiators regarded Marcus curiously. They saw a tall, hard-faced man in black trousers and a short-sleeve collared shirt of black cotton, unbuttoned to the breastbone. His eyes were dark and expressive, showing a complicated mix of having borne more than their fair share of cares, but glittering with the willpower to carry on regardless. This was not the world-weary, cynical Marcus Fantom that the Battleclaws had found on Acheron; this was the focussed and determined Marcus Fantom who had galvanised the Nali into resistance against the Necris on Na Pali. Tajheri looked at him with a guarded expression of distrust on her face. The miner, Gideon Flintlock, sat with his muscular tattooed arms folded on the table in front of him, and his expression was unreadable. But then, his kind of person was always inscrutable - right up until the moment they chose to act.

Marcus leaned forward in his chair, and his face softened as he addressed them.

"I've called you here to make you an offer."

Flintlock looked back at him levelly, "What kind of an offer?"

His voice was gravelly, with the slight accent of someone from the inner colonies, possibly Alpha Centauri, or maybe even Earth. Life was hard on the once-verdant cradle of mankind, and although it was home to some of the NEG's richest citizens, it also housed some of its poorest. Many left the overpopulated homeworld to find work and better prospects elsewhere, but though some colonies - like the New Anglian Confederation planet of Mar Sara, or the Eastern Alliance world of Xingdao - were prosperous enough, those who sought out new homes on the frontier were quickly disillusioned by the harsh conditions in a sector of feuding corporations, minimal NEG control and the lurking threat of Necris raiders.

"I want to offer you both a place on my team," Marcus said.

Flintlock snorted a humourless laugh, "Now why would you want to do that?"

"Because neither of you deserve to be here."

Marcus laid a data slate down on the table, the PDA's green-lit screen displaying both of the Liandri gladiators' profiles.

"I'm not buying this line about volunteer."

"Is that what they're calling it," the miner grunted, "I guess I did volunteer, but only because I believed that lying bastard Ross Liandri who came round the mining colony promising us a way to make quick money. Didn't exactly work out the way he told it. Tried to get out but they pulled out some small print that Mr Liandri failed to mention, and when I persisted they turned nasty. Now I don't have a hope in hell of getting out of here and all I've got to show for it's an empty bank account and getting my face smashed in ten times a day in the arena."

"That's what I'm here to offer you. A way out."

"Liandri made it sound that simple too."

"Yeah, and why would you want someone like me?" Tajheri joined in, speaking for the first time. She wore the same defiant expression as when Marcus had disarmed her in the training arena, and Marcus could tell that that incident was on her mind right now, "I'm no fighter. What does a team captain want with someone who doesn't fight?"

"Because neither of you should be stuck here in the gladiator habs. Liandri's pulling anyone it can in to make up the numbers and it's little better than slavery. And I have strong opinions on slavery."

"You know, to look at you I didn't think you'd be such a wide-eyed idealist," snorted Flintlock, "What the hell you're doing in the Tourney I'll never know. There's not much room for idealism here. That's the kind of crap that suckers people out to the frontier and into Liandri in the first place."

"As for being able to fight," Marcus went on, "Neither I or the Nali knew how to fight either. You'd be surprised what conviction and experience can do, after a little training."

"Wait a minute," said Flintlock slowly, "You're that guy from Gryphon IV. The guy who stayed alive for four years on a planet crawling with Ghosts."

Marcus nodded. Flintlock leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. Tajheri's eyes opened a little wider.

"I don't want to be here either," Marcus said, "But with your help I can get us all out. It won't be easy, but we can do it."

"Sounds better than this dead end," Flintlock replied. Marcus nodded. He'd had his own dead end on Acheron, and knew how easy it was to fall into despair, but also knew how much hope and determination it could bring to discover a way out.

"You can really get us out of here?" Tajheri asked.

Marcus fixed her with an intense stare, which she returned levelly.

"I didn't give up on Lu, I didn't give up on the Nali, and I won't give up on you."


Captain Thule: We have yet to meet our betters, alien. All we have seen are deluded tyrants, heretics and alien scum.
Farseer Taldeer: You should have looked beyond your mirror then.


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"Alright boys stop holding back and go for it!" Mander taunted Diego and Cleet, breathing heavily the middle aged man wiped the blood from his nose.

"Has he lost his mind?" Alex said to herself, sitting at the distance Alex watched the entire fight unfold, just over 15 minutes ago Mander burst into the ships den where Cleet and Diego were relaxing and immediatly taunted and pushed the pair into a fight between them and himself. Everyone thought he had gone insane. Alex could remember the fire in his eyes the deadly seriousness in his voice and the horrid insults he spouted out when the pair refused. Mander crossed the line when he mocked Tyler hitting a soft spot Mander got his fight with the pair and the result was messy. The first 5 - 10 minutes in the fight Mander fought on par with his much younger opponents however as fatigue took ahold Mander was hopelessly out paced yet still he called for more.

"What the hell are you doing old man!" Diego yelled angerly.

"Shut the hell up! You think you can win this tournament! But you can't even defeat one middle aged Geo! Is this the extend of you're abilities?!"

So this is what its about. Diego smiled, "Very well Mander you want to see what we are capable of? Cleet follow my lead," Diego took a deep breath relaxing his muscles before tightening greatly releasing his level 2. Cleet shrugged his shoulders and did the same process. "Cleet in one hit I want to defeat Mander, I don't want to hurt him anymore. I'll set him up you follow,"

"Yeh don't worry I know what I'm doing,"

Mander chuckled he had gotten his wish, he wanted to not only see level 2 up close but also wanted to feel its power. "Finally," he said relaxing.

Alex jumped off her seat as an angry fist crashed into the crate she was sitting on. "Those idiots! What the hell are they doing that for and for training!" Heather roared worrying about her friends health.

"Take it easy Heather," Alex said calming her down, "I'm sure they all know what there doing, trust them."

"Ok Mander you asked for it," Diego said charging forward, his speed was unreal and before Mander knew Diego was crouched low at his side and swept his leg under Mander's in that instant Mander leap to the air clearing Diego leg.

"Ha! It's not so fa-" Mander froze as he saw the black trousered leg of Cleet come towards him this time aiming for his face, stuck in mid air and with no way to dodge Mander raised his forarms infront of his face, despite protecting his face the force of Cleet's kick sent a shooting pain down his arms and caused him to fly through the air, landing hard on his back Mander did an unintentional backwards roll and crashed into a metal crate sending pain through out his body. "Ok, you guys win," Mander admitted proudly. Diego and Cleet released there level 2 reverting back to normal.

"You're lucky Snowva wasn't here Mander,"

"That was a taster of our new combo, unfortunatly Snowva wasn't here to set up the finisher," Cleet said proudly

"Is this what you guys have been doing in your spare time? Coming up with combos?"

"It's fun," Diego said innocently.

"It's childish, no matter how much praticing you do the odds on pulling it off in an actual battle are slim, thank you for what you've shown me today, you may leave, and I'm sorry for the words I spoke earlier, Tyler was as much as my friends as he was yours."

"No hard feelings pops, now I'm really hungry," Diego said walking out the cargo hold. "Cleet cook something!"

"I'm just as hungry as you!" Cleet complained. The pair continued there bickering followed by Alex and an angry Heather.

Exhausted Mander lay on the cold metal ground of the cargo hold which soothed his throbing joints, aimlessly he stared up the ships roof, shielding his eyes from the bright lights.

It's just as I thought, I have trained those boys as far as I can but they still hope great potential, I can teach them no more, but now that I think about...Have they ever had any formal training? Perhaps thats what they need a personal trainer. I'm a genius.



Silently Snowva walked through the crowded complex, with Nature's Deadilest's success over the 1st heat the team had started to make a name for themselves. And people were pointing the large man out. "is that Snowva from Nature's Deadilest?" "He looks bigger during fights," "I wonder if its true he can crush a mans head with one hand," Snowva overheard the people talking although not as big as some of the others teams Nature's deadilest fanbase was steadily growing, the women of the team were counted amougst the most attractive in the tournament and even the males espically Diego and Cleet had accumulated many fangirls, Snowva too had his share many attracted to his shyness but feared his strength, unlike Diego, Snowva cared little, only one girl had ever attracted his heart and it was never ment to be.

Snowva couldn't help but feel slightly disgusted by the reconision they were receiving by taking part in this awful tournament and the fact that it was greater than the reconision they received from there efforts on Galland III. Avoiding anymore fans Snowva snaked his way through the crowds to the ususal back alley which led to the area where the Nali were forced to work. Snowva peered round the corner to see Rene was already there and haulted the forced labour tenderly she treated a deep gash on an elderly Nali's back while the other Nali rested there tired bodies, drinking deeply from the water Rene provided. Snowva smiled to himself it brough him great hope knowing there were others who cared like he did, yet this Rene girl was mysterious, her hair never stopped covering her face, he frame was also hidden behind her armor, and she hardly spoke. Very much like himself, the Nali had already grown used to there silent aiders. Despite the fact Rene was just as shy as Snowva, it still took courage for the man to step forward and speak to her. Pressing his back against the stone wall Snowva took a deep breath before stepping out drawing the attention of all those present. He calmly smiled before lowering his guiter case and started working.

"Please," a Nali called out, "You don't have to keep helping us, you may find yourselves in trouble, espically you angel,"

"Please don't try and stop us," Snowva said calmly, "We are only doing what we want to do, if my strength can be used for other means aside fighting then I will use it,"

"But this life isn't all that bad, it's not as bad as life on Na Pali,"

"I know very well on the situation on Na Pali," Rene cut in.

"As do I, thats why I wanted to help you so much, you are a peaceful people who deserve nothing that has been given to you,"

"You're kind is an example for us all, you fill my heart with hope that there is genuin kindness in this universe,"

Snowva froze with Rene's words, she had the exact same beliefs as himself, he never thought he would find someone in a Liandri uniform like her.

"For that..." Snowva butted in, "I feel obliged to help you're kind as a thank you for your ways, it is your reward." Snowva said looking at Rene, knowing exactly she was about to say the same thing, Rene went his gaze before suddenly looking to the ground.

"What is this?" A curious Nali asked pointing at Snowva's guitar case.

"It's a guitar, an instrument mostly used by humans it origanated from earth thousands of years ago,"

"What kind of sound does it make,"

"Depends on the person playing it," Snowva replied.

"Can you play?"


"Right now?"

"I-I'm not very good with audiances,"

"Please it's just us here," The Nali said handing Snowva the case. Without a word Snowva removed his guitar and sat himself upon a crate, the Nali gathered round him and Snowva's nerves peaked, with a deep breath he closed his eyes and started playing.



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(Im pissed to mostly dialoge here)

"Yet again it seems I'm honered by your presence Master Mander, tell how can I help you today and if its about your son I'm afraid I havent gotten round to hiring someone for the job,"

"I apologise Jerry and please just call me Mander, but this is not about my son, I have another favor to ask of you, tell me that day when we stormed the Liandri HQ was is the Liandri 7 we fought,"

"I've already told Diego this but yes it was,"

"And at the level we all currently are at do we even have a chance should we fight them?"

"Well according to my data you, although you all could put up a fight, I'm afraid it's a no, taking over Liandri is possible once my father and Ross are out the way but should you face all 7 members of the Liandri 7 we might aswell give up and go home,"

"I thought as much, it's unfortunate but I've trained that lot to as high as a level as I can, but I have a plan, I need you to collect a few people for and get them here as soon as possible,"

"I don't know what your planning Mander but I'll get on it right away,"

Roughly the same time

Snowva made his last strume of his guitar, opening his eyes he looked upon the Nali gathered around him, some even had tear in there eye the music twiging on there own inner pain, Snowva gave an embarrest smile as they clapped at his performance, looking over he caught a rare sight.

Bah Im tierd and prop gonna b sick, will finish it the morn or monday.



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From behind the growd of Nali the shy Rene down on her knees had swept her long black hair behind her ears and started to flick her hair completely obliveous to Snowva watching her. Slowly she looked up and Snowva saw her face in full clarity taken completely by shock Snowva froze as her face brought him back to his time on Galland III to the first time he met the Queen of Ueropia the resemblence was uncanny both having the same sapphire eyes which although gentle showed a strong soul, there skin was fair and although Rene looked more mature there facial features were similar Snowva also caught a climps of a burn scar on the right side of Rene face around her eye it was small only coming half way down her cheek and only covering half her eye but clearly the reason why Rene decides to hide her face.

However Snowva only had mere moments to see Rene as she quickly after seeing Snowva moved her hair back to cover her face.

(Jst short to get rid of the dry spell)


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It was evening, and in the Liandri training centre Luthienne Thrace stood back, arms folded passively as she watched Marcus stand with Gideon and Tajheri at the top end of the holographic firing range. He was helping Tajheri with the TCA M700 that Sutherland had requisitioned for her; the girl had no previous firearms training, and despite its recoil dampeners and lightweight construction the automatic shotgun was not best suited to her small frame. Marcus however had learned long ago to make do with whatever was at hand, and Tajheri seemed determined to master the weapon.

"Keep your weight on your front foot," Marcus said, standing behind Tajheri as she braced the M700 against her shoulder, "That's it."

Tajheri sighted experimentally along the barrel, "I still can't believe this."

"Sorry you got stuck with such an awkward weapon, I don't know what Sutherland was thinking."

"Are you kidding? If we're doing this for real I'm happy to have any gun at all."

Luthienne saw Marcus glance towards her and smiled encouragingly back at him, reminded of the time the two of them had spent instructing the Nali in a similar fashion. She remembered Na Pali vividly, but recent events were a blur for her. She had awoken in the bullet-scarred training complex as though surfacing from a dream, but before she had even had time to properly register her surroundings a white flash of pain had obliterated her vision and she had found herself in a cold grey antechamber surrounded by several women in dark blue power armour. Disorientated and scared she had fought back instinctively, but the female soldiers had subdued her with savage blows from prison-issue shock mauls before dragging her through a tunnel into another complex and throwing her into a small metal cell. Luthienne had had no idea where she was, and no-one had paid any attention to her shouts. She had guessed that she was underground in some kind of prison complex, but could divine little more from the forbidding steel walls and banks of cells visible beyond the plasma gate that barred her doorway. The human in the cell directly opposite hers, a heavily-built man whose face was an eroded mass of scar tissue, did not even seem to notice her presence. The overhead lights were bright, harsh and coldly indifferent - like the lamps of an operating theatre, or a dissection table.

She had still been standing there, confused, angry and desperately trying to think of a way out of her predicament, when Marcus had reappeared. He had strode across the cellblock and all but thrown the data slate he was carrying at the two blue-armoured soldiers standing guard before slamming his palm against the force field controls outside Luthienne's cell. The sheet of glowing plasma had flickered away and he had run across the threshold, sweeping Luthienne into his arms. For a long moment, neither of them could say anything.

"Are you alright?" Marcus had said at last. Luthienne squeezed him tightly, as if to assure herself that he was real.

"I'm fine. Where are we?"

"The Liandri campus on Elsinore. I'm sorry I couldn't get here sooner."

He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her forehead, stroking her ears with his fingertips.

Luthienne closed her eyes tight. Her mind reeled. "How...?"

"An Inuit expeditionary force pulled us off Na Pali. It's a long story. What's the last thing you remember?"

"It's all a blank..." Luthienne said faintly, "The Nali?"

"Still on Na Pali as far as I know. And so are the Ghosts."

Luthienne straightened, a new flame of passion burning in her eyes, "We have to go back."

Marcus, in spite of himself, smiled, "You're right. But we're going to have to fight our way through another war first. We're stuck in the Liandri Tournament."

A look of horror and disgust crossed Luthienne's delicate features, quickly replaced by determination, "What are we going to do?"

Marcus kissed her again and they drew apart, "Let's get out of here, and I'll tell you."

Now they stood with their two new companions in the Liandri training centre, under the watchful eyes of the company overseers with their cameras and automated security turrets, the Liandri logo stamped on every surface around them. The force fields at the other end of the firing range flared as they sent bullets screaming down the hall.
Gideon Flintlock made the holographic target opposite him flare red as he sent a machinegun-like stream of tarydium shards searing through it. The Riordan-Metzer V22, more colloquially known as the Stinger, was a weapon converted by Axon corporation during the first Necris incursions from the very mining tools Gideon had once used on the tarydium moons, proving that hostility was the mother of invention. It had been at the same time that Inuit corporation was pouring research into tarydium superconductors that Axon had realised that, once broken up by a powerful repulsor field, the energised shards of diamond-hard crystal made for lethal AP projectiles. Riordan-Metzer had perfected their design. The weapon kicked in Gideon's muscular arms as he test-fired another short burst.

Tajheri lowered her M700, flicking the safety catch and setting the shotgun down.

"You okay?" Luthienne asked.

"Just going for some air," the girl replied.


Captain Thule: We have yet to meet our betters, alien. All we have seen are deluded tyrants, heretics and alien scum.
Farseer Taldeer: You should have looked beyond your mirror then.


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"Oh man, some of these fans are hot," Diego thought to himself looking around the the crowded streets of the complex, the matches were still going on and more fans than normal flocked to the stadiums to see which teams were staying or going out at this cruical stage. It didn't worry Diego Nature's Deadilest were through and aslong as they remained in the tournament Haven was safe approaching a giant monitor Diego was about to the results of some of the days matches when something else caught his eye, stepping out of the training complex and into the crowded streets was the same girl who had punched him the other night. Without a second thought he pushed his way through the crowds.

"Heeey!" Diego called out to her, but Tajheri carried on walking not hearing Diego. "Hey! Number 327!" Suddenly she froze and spun round in anger at hearing her slave number.

"Not you again," Tajheri complained, "Look I told you before I don't want to get to know you and I don't appricate being called a number,"

"Well if we don't want it to happen again tell me you're name," ignoring Diego Tajheri turned around to resume her walk followed by Diego who walked at her side not saying a word steadily irritation began to grow, swelling up inside Tajheri till finally she snapped stopping in her tracks and threw her clenched fist to the grounded turning to Diego.

"You're persistance is annoying! Why the hell you following me?!"

"I'm not, this is the way to the exit, I'm going for a drink, yo-"

"For the last time no! I don't want to get to know you,"

"Because I could be trying to kill you in the arena, yes, yes I know, and then I said what happens in the arena stays in the arena, and that was followed by you punching me, we've been through this and I'd rather not do it again, and besides when did I actually ask you to go for a drink with me?" Tajheri went silent having no reply, "I actually came over here to say sorry about the other night I was more than a little drunk and the result got you in trouble with those angels, I proberly deserved that punch."

Tajheri now starting to feel quilty for snapping at Diego and still had no reply uncomfortably she swept her hand through her hair and looked to the ground avoiding eye contact. Diego slipped his hands into his pockets.

"Well that's all I wanted to say, I'll leave you alone now, oh and its good to see you're no longer a slave," brushing past Tajheri Diego headed toward to the complex exit.

"Uh please wait!" Tajheri called out to Diego but this time Diego was the one not to hear and carried on walking, with guilt on her shoulders Tajheri groaned before chasing after Diego out the complex and down the streets, she wanted to just turn around, he had apolgised and that should be the end of it but something in Tajheri wanted to follow Diego, was it his looks? or was it the scars on his arms that tweaked her curiosity was there more to this man? On that night all she saw was a drunken pretty boy flirt and proberly womanizer ****y and above all annoying.

"Hey wait already," Tajheri called again, Diego had finally broken away from the crowds and walked down a not so busy path full of dinners and pubs, this time there was no excuse for Diego to pretend not to have heard Tajheri and stopped turning round to meet the girl.

"Well look whos following who now, did you follow me all the way here from the arena complex? Sorry I didn't notice," Diego said innocently.

"Look, I'm really sorry for hitting you that night and for snapping at you back there,"

"hey don't worry about it, what could I expect our first impressions of eachother weren't very good, how about we start over you could tell me you're name for starts,"


"And I'm Diego Turner, pleasure to meet you Tajheri, would you like to get a drink sometime?"

"I don't think thats wise, after all we could be trying to kill eachother in the tournament tomorrow."

"Think I've said this three times now what happens in the arena stays in the arena, it shouldn't make a difference on how we act with eachother I often have a drink with a rival team, the commandos were a good laugh, lightweights tho, so stop the nonsense and have a drink with me, I'd rather forget about the tournament myself,"

"Why's that you not in it for the fame? Not enjoying the publicity?"

"Honestly not really I don't like the idea of killing people for sport even if we arent actually killing eachother, plus I'm not in the tournement by choice, you could say I'm like a slave aswell forced to compete against his wishes,"

"With you're scars you look like someone who's been in lots of fights, but you can't be much older than myself and someone who enjoys a fight,"

"Well yeh I've been in many fights I'm a mercenary you see, but I don't enjoy killing and these scars I got long before I became a mercenary, it's a long story,"

"So you've really travelled eh?"

"I'd love to tell ya all my storys but my throats dry, tell you what since you have so many questions why not come in with me, I'll buy you a drink and you can ask all the questions you like,"

"o-oh alright, one drink tho, jeez I don't know why you want a drink with me so much,"


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<OOC - If I was a better writer I might have found a neater way of doing this than info-dumping you all with 2 pages of dialogue...oh well :P >

Rather than Pops' bar, Diego deliberately picked a pub where he was less well known for him and Tajheri to sit down and talk. Once he had paid for their drinks on his Liandri ID card, Diego took Tajheri over to a corner table and sat down opposite her, reclining easily in his chair and sipping his drink.

"So what's your story then?" he asked, leaning forward across the table.

"Not much to tell really," Tajheri replied, toying with her glass, "I was born in Theros on Khemri, if you know the planet."

"I know it," Diego said, nodding, "So your parents were Nahk'ti?"

The girl snorted derisively, "Hardly. They worked for Izanagi corporation, and when my mother was still pregnant with me they got sent to help establish a mining colony on some rock in the Eden system."

Diego frowned, "That's awfully close to Nahk'ti space."

"Exactly. The Nahk'ti decided they wanted mining rights to the same moon. Well you can guess what happened. Our outpost was defended by a detachment of Izanagi's Ghost Warrior mercenaries, but the Nahk'ti Desert Legion rolled right over them. The colonists had no choice but to surrender. The Nahk'ti did what they always do to prisoners of war - took them back to Khemri as slaves."

"Wait a minute," Diego said, "I heard about that. There was outrage because Izanagi made no attempt to recover the colonists. They were too afraid of pissing off the Nahk'ti."

Tajheri nodded, "They sacrificed us."

"So your parents were taken along with the others?"

"And my mother was still pregnant with me at the time. Problem is, slaves on Khemri have few rights and being allowed to have children isn't one of them. I was taken away from them and moved to another slave hab on the other side of Theros."

"What happened to them?"

"I don't know," Tajheri shrugged. Her voice was neutral, almost indifferent, as if she were merely reciting events that had happened to somebody else, "I never knew them. I never knew any of this first-hand. Some of the other slaves had been part of the Izanagi expedition, and they took me in. They told me when I was old enough. I don't remember my parents, and none of the slaves that raised me knew them personally, so I don't even know my own surname. Hell, I only know my own first name because of this."

She shook her sleeve back from her right wrist to show Diego a simple bracelet. It was a crude thing really, just roughly fashioned wooden beads threaded together on a frayed piece of string that looked like it had been retied several times. Each of the gnarled beads was etched with a letter, so that together they spelled out the name 'Tajheri'.

"Apparently my parents gave me this when I was born...right before the Nahk'ti took me away."

"I'm sorry about your parents," Diego said, his words heartfelt.

"It's alright, like I said I never knew them. I don't need or want anybody's pity. You have to learn to look after yourself pretty quick if you want to survive on Khemri."

A slight smile crossed Diego's face, "Alright then, I completely respect that."

"When I turned 4 I was sold on to the Reydi family, one of the Nahk'ti noble houses. I worked for them for 12 years."

"Must have been hard for you."

Tajheri shrugged, "Some of the slaves just wanted to keep their heads down and stay out of trouble. Others, like me, kept trying to find a way to escape. We knew no-one was coming to get us."

The smile began to creep up Diego's face again, "I take it you succeeded."

"I was always very good at sneaking. I could move silently and hide just about anywhere. Sometimes I'd break into the kitchens and steal extra food for the others. They thought I was the only one who had a ghost of a chance of escaping, so they helped me. The first time I tried the Reydi guards caught me. The overseer beat me half to death for that."

Diego frowned, finding he had more and more in common with this girl with everything she said. He looked closely at her and noticed for the first time the slightly asymmetrical set of her eyebrows, as if the ridge of bone over her left eye had been broken and had set imperfectly. He looked down thoughtfully at the scars on his own arms.

"I had to wait years for a second chance," Tajheri went on, "But when it came the other slaves helped me escape my quarters and this time I made it out of the palace without being seen. I was on the run all night, but the city of Theros was easy enough for me to lose myself in. I hid out at the spaceport and managed to sneak aboard a Nahk'ti courier vessel the next day. I jumped ship when they got to Dargaard and thought I was safe."

"And then?"

Tajheri sighed, leaning back in her seat, "And then it all went to ****. When I got picked up by Izanagi police and tried to seek refuge with them they offered me straight back to the Nahk'ti, thinking that harbouring an escaped slave would strain relations. So that's the second time that bastard company's betrayed me."

She laughed bitterly.

"Bloody hell." Diego said.

"Lucky for me the Reydi didn't want the public embarrassment of an escaped slave, so they pretended I'd never got off-world in the first place and told Izanagi to make me disappear. They thought the best way to do that was to sell me to Liandri as an arena gladiator - which is just another way of saying slave. So I was out of one prison, straight into another."

"****..." Diego said quietly, but then a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, "But I'll bet all you did was start planning how to break out of here too."

Tajheri grinned, "Damn right. I wasn't classified as a dangerous prisoner, so they let me out of the security wing twice a week. But even during that time it'd be difficult as hell to get out - this campus is a fortress."

"They're pretty paranoid about their security around here. Firstly because they've got some of the most dangerous people in the galaxy running around in the Tourney, and secondly because they've got a lot of other stuff to hide too."

Tajheri looked at him, "And what would you know about that?"

"Ah ah ah," Diego grinned boyishly, "The deal was I buy you a drink, you tell me your story, and then I tell you mine. What happened next? Apart from the bit where you punched me, we can leave out that part."

Tajheri almost laughed despite herself, "As it turned out I didn't have to do anything. A guy called Fantom came into the security wing a few days ago and drafted me along with two other gladiators for his team."

"Fantom...Marcus Fantom?"

"That's him."

"Yeah, thought I recognised the name.  He was in the news today."

Diego thumbed the data slate that a previous patron had discarded on the table, and it lit up with a holographic article with a picture of Marcus Fantom in one corner, snarling at the camera. It was clearly a still frame from an arena holocam taken out of context, but it provided suitable accentuation to the title banner "**** your Tournament!" that dominated the top of the page.

"You guys caused quite a stir," Diego commented, "Very unusual to split from your team and try and start another at this stage of the Tourney."

"He's an unusual guy," Tajheri replied, "Four years on a Necris planet made him hard as nails but it also gave him some funny ideas. And he doesn't know when to give up."

"You can talk," Diego observed mildly.

"Alright. But just coming for us, me and Gideon specifically, out of the blue - I still can't figure out why he did it. But I've got to be grateful to him."

She reached into her back pocket for a laminated piece of plastic that she flicked across the table at Diego. He pulled it towards him and recognised it as a Liandri ID card.

"I'm an official competitor now. Fantom bought us off Liandri so technically he now owns us, but since we no longer belong to the company we're free to go at the end of the Tournament. Well, as long as we do well enough to recoup the costs..."

"So where are you going to go once you're out?"

"I honestly have no idea, but I'm focussing on the here and now."

Diego nodded appreciatively.

"So what about you?" Tajheri asked suddenly. Her face had returned to its neutral mask, but there was a slight edge of interest in her voice, "What's your story?"


Captain Thule: We have yet to meet our betters, alien. All we have seen are deluded tyrants, heretics and alien scum.
Farseer Taldeer: You should have looked beyond your mirror then.


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Diego leaned back on chair "hmm, where to start, well I guess'll need to go right back. Well I was born on earth, I don't remember my parents all I do know is my father was an ex employee of Liandri, think he did there dirty work, when I was 4 I was taken away from my parents right out my mothers arms by Liandri,"

"Why'd they do that,"

"You ever heard of the ESS experiments?"

"No why should I have?"

"No not at all it's highly secret illegal experiments conducted by Liandri, it stands for Experimental Super Soilder, they took in 50 kids and subjected them to tortuerous training, head splitting studying and crule experiments and modifications, I was one of those 50 children, one of the mere 3 that survived,"

"You mean they actually killed 47 kids? Just like that?" Tajheri replied finding it slightly hard to beleive.

"Don't ask me the reason for the experiments my information is low, but take a look at this," Diego lifted up his shirt revealing even more scars and one vicous looking scar down the middle, "Thats where they operated, and the results just ask you're friend Marcus he saw it first hand, naturally Liandri weren't happy with that stunt,"

"How long did this continue?"

"Until I was 16, after suffering 12 years of the torture a kindly Liandri employee called Gerald helped me, Cleet and Snowva escape, gave us a ship, Gail his own daughter as our pilot and thus I began my life as a mercenary all the while running from Liandri's hunter the legendary Draulic, we found a place we were welcomed called Haven, named our ship after it and steadily my crew grew we all have a hatred for Liandri, my crew my best friends became my family and I was happy, over the past 4 years life was exciting faced death many times, I've got lots of storys to tell you but we'd be here all day, so I'll skip to the end, on why I'm in the tournament."

Tajheri leaned back slightly disappointed, she wanted to know more of what happened the past 4 years of Diego life, she could tell his life was full of adventures and excitment, but above all it was free, he was free to have those adventures even with Liandri's shadow looming over him, and slowly she became to wish her life could of been that exciting. "You alrite?" Diego asked Tajheri who seemed to have drifted off.

"Yeh sorry, go on,"

"Well not that long ago we heard word that Gerald the man who helped us escaped had been found out and punished, naturally we were angry and without a second thought we returned to where we lived most our lives the hell we ran from the Liandri headquaters, by the time we arrived we found out Gerald had apprently killed himself due to mental disability but we new there was more to it, and we snuck into the Liandri HQ intent on taking out the CEO,"

"And what happened?"

"It was a trap, they knew how we would react, one by one we were captured and Cleet, Snowva and myself were brought before the CEO himself, although not in person he was on an oversized screen and we were given a choice either compete in this tournament and work for Liandri or risk the lives of our crew mates and the safety of the planet Haven, and here we are,"

"Thats some story, I can't beleive Liandri,"

"Hey this is nothing I've seen much of the evil they do, but one day I will bring them down,"

"And how do you intend to do that?"

"I'm working with the CEO's second son Jerry, we help him take the company he'll right Liandri's wrongs, but in order to do that, both the CEO and Ross the first son will need to be delt with...Anyway thats my story for ya, I'd love to tell ya some of my adventures, but I've talked enough, if you'd like to go for a drink again I'll answer any questions you want, for a seek preview why don't you check out the Galland III incident some articles on that should be easy to find."



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In an empty grey metal hanger a larger hatch on the roof slid open with a heavy clatter. In the hanger Mander stood arms folded a satisfied smile on his face next to him stood Rowena.

"You do realise the risk involved with this Mander?"

"Ofcourse I do but trust me it will be worth it," The loud roar of a ships engine filled the hanger and slowly descending came a small ship. Mander grinned "excellent they're here." Mander stepped forward as the ship door hissed opened and a ramp descending walking down came an old friend and enemy to Mander, Chief and Crimson Dragon.

Chief an ex mercenary one of a rare kind, a mercenary who made it to retirment he was now the head of the mercenary corp trading his gun for a computer accepting jobs from clients and handing them out to the most capable teams, his face was hard and scared his wrinkles were few betraying his actual age along with his dyed black short hair, and despite being over 60 years of age he still bore the same muscular body he always had, over the years Natures Deadilest had gotten to him him very well and chief himself took a shine to the team.

Crimson Dragon one of Azazeal's 10 dragons said to be the greatest swordsman in Galland III who battled and lost to Cleet, he was infact a universal traveler beaten and forced to join Azazeal, breaking the laws to visit planets and learn swordmanship a life long passion of his, just like chief despite his age he still bore a muscular body expected of someone half his age however unlike Chief his apperace was much more unkept wrinkles added character to this veteran and his hair was silvery grey long and tied back into a ponytail. After allowing Cleet to defeat him he lived out his retirement on Galland III before getting a message from Mander.

"My friends," Mander said arms wide welcoming the pair, "Thank you for answering my call I have a big favour to ask you both. Chief with a smile stretched out his arm shaking Mander's hand.

"I gladly help my friends, beside think I'll enjoy this break away from the computer, no mercenary groups have really caught my eye recently,"

Stepping forward Crimson Dragon also took mander's hand, "I'll admit retirement is slightly boring and beside I owe one to Cleet for allowing me to live,"

"I'm glad to hear you both will co-operate, I trust you have been filled in."

"Yeh we get to train you guys," Chief said with a wide grin.

"Yeh Crimsom I-"

"Mander I left that name when I won my freedom from Azazeal. Please call me Chiba,"

"Ok Chiba, I would like you to train Cleet, the boy wishes to be a swordsman I couldn't think of anyone better for the job, and Chief Snowva's plenty strong enough but to restrained please help him you were once considered one of the strongest men in the universe,"

Both men nodded before there attention was drawn to the door of the hanger slidding open, pacing out came the figure of Pop's.

"Heh, you're late," Mander called out.

"I had to wait for Walker to watch the shop, this better be import-" Pop froze as he caught sight of Rowena, Rowena herself froze at the sight of Pop and looked to the ground.

"Mander what's the meaning to this,"

"I wanted to confirm something,"

"You already knew,"

Mander laughed, "Well maybe I did, Pop I have a favour to ask you now that I've comfirmed something,"

"And what is it?"

"Please train Diego,"

"The boy has massive potiential, but I've long retired,"

"You know the task he has infront of him, he need's to be as great as you were,"

"That was along time ago Mander,"

"You're the only one,"

Pop groaned that looked at Rowena again, "You look well Rowena, athough differen't, I see you stuck to you're word,"

"It was to get my mind off things R-"

"I left the name behind on that day Rowena," Pop's interupted.

With a sad smile Rowena looked to the ground, "I see you've let yourself go, did you ever marry?"

"No, how about you?"

"I did, but I couldn't commit not after you left me and all because of that day."

Mander stepped forward between the two, "The past is the past, you both need to let it go a disasters like what happened on that day may happen again and you can help Diego and the others prevent it, what do you say. Robert?"

"Very well I'll help."


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As darkness fell and the strobing lights of the campus began to flicker on outside their window, Marcus and Luthienne relaxed in the small hab block that had been made available to their team. The third-floor apartment was cramped and spartan compared to the one Marcus had shared with the Battleclaws, and he wondered if it wasn't a calculated insult on the part of Sutherland to show exactly how much faith she had in his new team.

Gideon and Tajheri had still not come back to the hab. Marcus wasn't concerned - they'd be back in their own time. Even within the team they needed some time to themselves. Perhaps, Marcus reflected, it was partly due to the fact that he couldn't bring himself to confine his team-mates further after all the restrictions Liandri had put on them.

"How did you get here, Marcus?" Luthienne asked from where she lay on the room's single bed. Marcus, who was kneeling at the foot of the bed massaging Luthienne's feet, looked up as he replied.

"Looking for you," he said with a slight smile, "I thought you were still on Ramiel, so I entered to try and get the money together as fast as possible. I've been wondering if I'd made the right choice, but then I found out you were right here on Elsinore all along." he laughed sardonically, "It's a strange galaxy."

He got up to slide onto the single bed beside Luthienne as she smiled back and patted the duvet next to her.

"I never thought we'd end up here," she agreed, "I always hated the whole idea."

Marcus nodded in agreement. Na Pali had taught them both that death was not something to be trivialised. But now they were stuck here until the Tournament ended, and they had to play by Liandri's rules.

"At least we can do some good before we go." said Marcus, thinking of Gideon and Tajheri.

"I know, but I don't like it. This isn't where we're supposed to be. We made a promise to Myscha and the others and we can't just abandon them."

"You're right, Lu," Marcus smiled, and leaned over to kiss her. Luthienne was passionate by nature, one of the things that drew him to her. She didn't care that Na Pali was now on the other side of a sector for them. She didn't care that corporate forces had arrived to try and wrest it from the Necris, turning it into a warzone. Whereas Marcus was loyal to principles, Luthienne was loyal to people. People like Myscha, to whom they had indeed promised to not give up on until the Necris were driven from Na Pali. These dual perspectives had helped each of them see the bigger picture and remind each other what they had been fighting for.

"We've got to fight our way out of a different warzone first." Marcus sighed, "One that'll be harder, if anything."

"Myscha always used to say that the stars shine brighter as the night deepens."

Marcus smiled at that as Luthienne turned away from him, taking his scar-hand in hers and pulling his arm round her as she rolled onto her side.

"We can do it." she said.

Marcus laid his head down next to Luthienne's, taking in the scent of her hair.

"You know I'll do everything I can."

"I know." Luthienne smiled. For a while they were silent, then Luthienne asked:

"When's our first test?"

"Tomorrow. I've talked to our agent and the games masters and its all arranged. It'll be a straight team deathmatch against Raw Steel."

"And what's our team name?" Luthienne asked him. Marcus smiled slightly.

"I put us down as the Returned."

*   *   *


Tajheri followed Diego back to the Haven as the campus grew darker. The ship sat in an enclosed hanger complex housing several other atmospheric and space-capable craft. Among them were a Wayland-Hawke skimmer in sleek gunmetal grey, and a larger, raptor-prowed ship of an alien design that Tajheri didn't recognise.

"Home sweet home," murmured Diego as they approached the Haven.

"You don't live in one of the campus habs?"

Diego laughed, "Hell, no."

The gangplank linking the Haven's airlock to the ground was extended, and the outer door was open. At the top of the gangplank stood a young woman with short black hair and wearing a loose jumpsuit, one hand in her pocket and the other holding a multi-tool. Behind her a slender girl about twelve years of age looked out curiously.

"Well well, Diego Turner," the older woman said, leaning up against the edge of the hatch, "Who's this?"


Captain Thule: We have yet to meet our betters, alien. All we have seen are deluded tyrants, heretics and alien scum.
Farseer Taldeer: You should have looked beyond your mirror then.


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"This here is Tajheri, we got to talking today and I'd like to show her around the ship,"

"Well you've timed it right the place is clean and we have other guests, nice to meet you Tajheri, I'm Alex the ship's mechanic, and this heres my apprentice Gina,"

Diego leaned in closer to Tajheri, "She may seem all nice and polite but once you get to know her she's more common than me, also don't damage the ship if could be fatal,"

"I'll bear that in mind," Tajheri whispered.

"Come on lets go in," Diego led Tajheri up the ramp opened up into the cargo hold of the ship a large metalic room full of metal crates but it also sported many training mats and various training equipment and in the far corners a powerful looking bike and buggy. "Let me explain the ships history, this used to be a public transport ship for long or short journeys so naturally it had a large cargo hold, which we not only use for storage but also our training room. Over there is Cleet's bike and thats Snowva's buggy,"

"How can you afford all this stuff?" Tajheri said in awe admiring the beauty of the vehicles, the bike a clean black colour with a red stripe and the buggy of similar design, the open topped buggy also had an attacted gun.

"We'll the buggy came with the ship, it was run down and never used but it was Snowva that took the time to fix it up and modify it, so thats why it's his, as for the bike well Cleet, claimed it I should say, the previous owner was a follower of Draulic, I'll tell you the story another time. Anyway moving on," Diego pointed to a large door at the opposite end of the cargo hold, "That room leads to Alex's shirne, it's got the electrical equpiment and all the things which keeps our home moving, it also leads to our armory, which is now empty thanks to Laindri's rules. Now come on there aint much to see down here anymore,"

Diego ledd Tajheri up a set of metallic stairs leading to a single door, the door slid open with a push of a button. Tajheri looked on with amazment of the room which stood before her, a wide room dim lighted, decorated with homely colours and full of chairs, tables and various other furniture you would expect with a house. The room was also full of people who had all stopped what they were doing drawing there attention to the pair, uncomfortable Tajheri took a step back.

"Ah, everyones here, everyone this is Tajheri some of you may remember her," Diego said with a smile, not sure what to expect from the crew Tajheri stepped forward, looking at every member in turn, they all looked at her with surprisingly welcoming smiles. "Here we have Cleet my second in command, always a sharp dresser, and great cook,"

"Hey Alex told us you guys will be heading up so I've made you a drink if you'ed like," Cleet said walking up to Tajheri handing her a drink.

"Over there is Snowva, all round nice guy, doesn't say much tho, over there is Gail, ships pilot and wonderful singing voice, the old guy is Mander he keeps us all in order, and he's our instructor, thats Heather ships doctor and health nut, and I'll also introduce you to our guest, there's Walker long time allie and kinda part time member, soon to be full time I hope, thats Pop's a long time friend, and Cheif and Crimson why are you guys here?"

"We'll discuss things later Diego go show you're friend around the ship," Mander said. Leaving the room behind Diego and Tajheri stood in a long metallic corridor.

"Everyone seems pretty nice, and that room what was it?"

"Thats used to be the passengers seats before it was a big room full of chairs, but to make the place more homely the kind people at haven removed all the chairs and made it into the room it is today, from there we have four exits, one leads to the cook area and more strorage, one leads to the ****pit one to the medical bay and the last one leads to this corridor, which has all the rooms, 16 in total,"

"Whats that?" Tajheri pointed to a section of the wall covered in signatures, the signatures were of every member of Nature's Deadilest, including the date they joined and room number.

"Oh thats just our member wall,"

"Who's Tyler? Why wasn't he in there,"

Diego froze at the sound of Tyler's name he remembered all to well that day.

The city of Metallic burned around Draulic's tower the riots secertly orcastrated by Pop's had turned more fierce and the corrupted lawmen of Draulic had lost full control of the opressed poor. Escaping the mayem and Draulics personal guards Diego had fought his way to the tower and was running up the countless stairs to the roof where he knew Draulic and the traitor Tyler who after hating himself for betraying his true friends were fighting. Eventually Diego burst through the roof the door around the building explosions and fires were going off but Diego could only remember one image Tyler stood facing the door his head resting against Draulic shoulder, he sported several cuts and bruses evidedent of his fierce battle with Draulic. Vicously Draulic ripped out the blades from his gauntlet spraying Tyler's blood along the roof. Pushing himself off Draulic Tyler slowly began to walk towards Diego two puncture wounds in his torso but collasped inches from him.

After that Diego's rage burst and he began his bitter fight against Draulic, after serveral hours Diego snapped victory from Draulic plundging the spike on his tonfa through the man and pushing him to the edge. Finishing him off with a strike from his second Tonfa Deigo sent Draulic plummeting from his tower.

After the battle Tyler had stood up once again having enough time to part words with his friend before Gail arrived on the scene, Diego watched on as the lovers parted. But Diego would always remember Tyler's lasts words to him.

"Oh boy, here she comes," they were also the first words Tyler spoke when joining the crew.

Tajheri could tell by Diego's expression that she had asked question she shouldn't have. "Sorry Diego I shouldn't of asked,"

"Don't worry about it, its fine, he betrayed us, I thought he was my best friend, anyway lets continue the tour," Diego started walking down the corridor pointing to the rooms, "And here's the end of our tour, my room," Diego said with a cheeky smile.

(prob not any good, but ahwell)


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<OOC - Okay, want to rattle through this as fast as possible so Sean doesn't get stuck - expect another post soon>

Darkness had fallen outside the gymnasium, but Gideon Flintlock just wiped the sweat from his forehead and threw another flurry of punches into the punch bag hanging in front of him, this time mixing up his usual wild hooks with some more precise jabs. The slightly lower than Earth-standard gravity of Elsinore could sap your muscles over time, and if joining Fantom's team really was the chance that he and Thrace had said it was, Gideon was damned if he was going to face their first test in anything less than prime condition. He gritted his teeth and threw another punch into the centre of the Liandri logo emblazoned on the punch bag.

Gideon paused as he heard the automatic door behind him hiss open. He had thought the gym had been empty apart from himself - even the blue-armoured Angels watching for trouble from the balcony had finished, although the impassive black eyes of security cameras continued to watch him from all corners of the room. Looking over his shoulder to see who was starting a training session at this hour, Gideon saw his fourth teammate, Tajheri, step through the threshold. He nodded curt acknowledgement to her before turning back to his punch-bag.

"The others gone? Tajheri queried as Gideon double-jabbed with his left fist and followed through with a solid hit from his right that made the heavy bag swing back slightly on its rope.

"Back at the hab," he replied, stopping and turning towards the smaller girl while the punch bag swung slowly to a stop behind him, "It is late."

"You're still here."

He grunted a concession to the fact and grabbed a towel, "So where've you been, 'Heri?"

"I got talking with one of the other teams," Tajheri said offhandedly as she slipped her hands into her pockets and fell into step beside Gideon as he began threading a path through the gym equipment towards the showers.

"Don't know what Fantom would have to say about that."

"I reckon he'd be interested. Diego Turner's crew seem to be as keen to get out of the Tourney as we are."

"Shh," Gideon warned, jerking his head towards the security cameras above them, "Tell him later."

*   *   *


Tajheri however did not get a chance to talk to Marcus before their first official match early the next morning. She had just finished her breakfast and was about to walk through to the common room where Marcus was standing with Luthienne, his hands in his pockets as he looked silently out of the double window, when Sutherland and another Liandri agent arrived to shuttle them over to their arena on the outskirts of the campus. The Liandri agents didn't speak to them at all throughout the drive, and Tajheri couldnt bring up her story in front of them, so the car was silent as they pulled in to the arena complex.

"Make it happen." was all Sutherland said to them as she left them at the main doors and headed up to the games-masters' box.

This particular hub served several arenas, but the one they would be fighting in was an underground labyrinth not unlike Marcus' very first arena in which he had faced Seneca. They had to wait several minutes to be allowed access to the changing rooms and armoury. Apparently the six or eight teams that were scheduled for matches in this hub were carefully segregated.

Thus it came as a surprise to Marcus to see that the arena antechamber contained not one but two sets of teleporter pads. He was the first to step through from the armoury, dressed in loose dark-grey combat fatigues and a black body-warmer, his knife sheathed along his belt and his shock rifle held across his chest. The Liandri technician did not respond to Marcus' quizzical glance, and it was only when he saw the air between the two sets of pads shimmer slightly that he realised they were separated from the currently-absent enemy team by a forcefield. Marcus took a deep breath as he stepped onto one of the pads, lights winking green beneath him.

I must not fear, he mouthed silently.

"Fear is the mind-killer," Luthienne added the second line of the Nali litany, reading Marcus' lips as she stepped through the armoury door. A smile flickered across his face as she stepped onto the teleporter pad beside him. Nanowhite screeched through the pipes above them, flooding the arena in the final preparation before the match started, just as Gideon and Tajheri entered the room. The miner's face was impassive as ever as he checked his stinger and moved to take the pad beside Marcus. Tajheri's face was determined with traces of well-controlled fear.

"Remember," Marcus said, "Gene-boosted humans can take a lot of punishment so make sure you put them down. Two in the body, one in the head, if you get the chance."

He had had a bad experience with a not-quite-dead Ghost on Na Pali that he had no wish to repeat.

"Keep your head, make your shots count," Tajheri whispered to herself, remembering what Marcus and Luthienne had told her the day before.

The armoury door on the opposite side of the room ground open and the team's attention was caught by the four figures who entered the antechamber and mounted the opposite bank of teleporter pads. Four large and dangerous-looking men glared challengingly at them through the forcefield. Their shoulders bore the logo of their sponsor, Axon corporation. Marcus and Luthienne glanced at each other. Pre-match reading had told them something about their opponents - their names, something of their backgrounds, and the fact that they were all gene-boosted, putting them at the upper end of both human strength and human speed. Seeing them face to face taught them more. There were two extra Angels standing back on the other side of the antechamber, suggesting that Raw Steel were both dangerous and unpredictable. The man opposite Luthienne, who she recognised from the datalinks as Lugar Dahrl, shifted restlessly as he watched her, his fists curling and uncurling. He would be fast and ruthless and probably preferred close combat to the assault rifle slung across his back. Luthienne didn't need her medical training to recognise the significance of his dilated pupils and the small mark in the crook of his left elbow. Dahrl had recently injected himself with something potent, possibly combat stimms or maybe a narcotic to suppress inhibitions and fear - either way it was bad news for them.

Marcus was facing the team leader, Gregor Slain. His movements were as controlled and economical as a shark's as he pulled back the slide of his sidearm, satisfied himself that one of the high calibre rounds was correctly chambered, and let it snap back into place. He fixed Marcus with a predatory stare, ignoring the bio-scanners that cast a green glow over his face as they panned up and down. Marcus stared back as the sheets of jade light completed their scan.

"Stand by," the Liandri operator's voice broke the silence as he got the go-ahead from the games masters above. Beside her, Luthienne noticed Tajheri hold her breath.

"Match begins in"


Captain Thule: We have yet to meet our betters, alien. All we have seen are deluded tyrants, heretics and alien scum.
Farseer Taldeer: You should have looked beyond your mirror then.

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As soon as the flash of the teleporter had faded Marcus scanned the rocky cavern, which was dimly lit by shielded lamps around the walls. It was indeed almost exactly like his first arena, except this one had two more tunnels linking the caverns at either end, providing alternatives to the direct route through the central cavern. His eyes took in the terrain at a glance - firing lanes, cover, hiding spots. He noted a raised track of rock on one side that gave a good vantage point and dismissed it - it gave good coverage of the central cavern but if Raw Steel were good, and he had no reason to believe they weren't, they might spot it early and the raised platform offered no real cover or room to dodge. And once they had spotted it the first time they would keep an eye on it.

"Whats the plan?" Gideon asked.

"Hold here and let them come to us," Marcus replied. It was a plan that surrendered the initiative, but Marcus didn't want to charge in until he knew fully what he was dealing with. And from what he'd read, Slain and Raw Steel favoured an aggressive playing style. He could count on them to make the first move.

"They won't take the central tunnel," Luthienne said, "We'd be able to see them coming from further away, and they've all got short-range weapons."

"And they won't all come down the same tunnel in case they get held up,"
Marcus agreed, "Lu, you and 'Heri take the right tunnel. Gideon, you and me'll take the left."

They split up and took cover in positions where they could see as far as possible along the two curving side-tunnels. Marcus hung back slightly while Gideon sprinted into position - if they were wrong about the central tunnel, he wanted to be able to see enough to react in time.

But Luthienne's instincts proved good. The distinctive staccato whine of Gideon's stinger rang out, followed almost immediately by the bark of an automatic, forcing Gideon back behind his rock.

"Two!" Gideon shouted. Bullets on semi auto continued to stipple the rock, keeping his head down. Suppressing fire - that meant the second man would be advancing. Marcus darted forward. A larger section of tunnel came into view ahead as he came out low, just as one of the Raw Steel contenders - Bruce Desloc, Marcus remembered from the datalinks - stood up to come forward and close down Gideon. He probably knew from Gideon's shout that there was another Returned player nearby, but he could not adjust his aim faster than Marcus could pull his trigger. Marcus' shot caught him square in the chest, burning a hole through his solar plexus, but the second man's reflexes were fast. It was Slain, and Marcus cursed himself for not identifying him earlier by his semi-automatic pistol fire. Marcus dived aside as soon as he saw Slain's eyes turn towards him, and he still only just avoided the single pistol shot that tore a puff of dust from the cavern floor behind him, exactly in line with where his head had been. Gideon broke cover, stinger spitting. Despite the surprise attack, Slain managed to bring his gun round and fire at exactly the same time as Gideon.

Slain's bullet struck Gideon in the forehead, blowing a large piece of his skull out against the back wall. Three of Gideon's tarydium shards struck Slain in the chest, the blue crystal slivers throwing him back into the cave wall. The beam of Marcus' shock rifle vaporised his face before he had even come to rest. Not wanting to take chances, Marcus looked around for Desloc as Slain's body disintegrated but the second Raw Steel soldier had vanished - the first shot had obviously been fatal.

The whole encounter had lasted perhaps 10 seconds. Marcus heard a cracking and popping of gunfire from the other tunnel, interspaced with the distinctive chatter of a TCA combat assault rifle snarling in short bursts. That would be Luthienne - her weapon of choice was the shock rifle, but their Liandri agents had forced her to make do with the more common CAR. Marcus doubted that she couldn't put down fast-moving targets just as efficiently with the high-velocity automatic as she could with an ASMD.

"Lu, report?" Marcus shouted into his team radio.

"Two targets, one down. Dahrl came charging right in and we nailed him. Krige is falling back up the tunnel. You?"

That meant the Returned were 3-1 ahead from the first skirmish.

"Two targets down, Gideon's out."

"Right with you," Gideon's voice crackled, and the muscular ex-miner came running to rejoin Marcus.

"Push up?" Luthienne asked.


The central cavern was still clear, and Marcus and Luthienne let their less experienced team members head into it first while they hung back to counter any second push through the side tunnels. Then they regrouped and started forward. Marcus and Gideon covered either flank - the side tunnels intersected the central cave by alcoves at several points and Marcus was wary of an attack from either side.

An assault rifle barked ahead of them. The Returned ducked for the nearest cover, Tajheri and Gideon both sheltering behind a thick pillar of rock that rose up to meet the ceiling, while Marcus ducked behind a jutting slab of rock on one wall. Luthienne, furthest back, crouched in a rock formation behind him. She and Gideon returned fire but were almost immediately forced to duck back by accurate shots from Desloc and Slain, softer rock disintegrating under the bullet impacts. Then Marcus was horrified to see Dahrl spin out low in one of the side tunnel alcoves.  Marcus swore in horror. Crouched behind the central pillar, Gideon reloading while Tajheri with her shorter-ranged shotgun kept her head down, his two team-mates were protected from fire to their front but not to the side.

Dahrl pulled the trigger and held it down, and the long burst of fire got them both. Gideon vanished almost immediately, Tajheri choked on blood for a few seconds before dying soundlessly and dematerialising. A split-second too late Marcus raised his ASMD and fired, narrowly missing his target and burning a glowing hole in the rock wall. Marcus swore but bit down on his anger as Dahrl flattened himself against the alcove wall to reload, putting him out of Marcus' line of sight before he had a chance to fire again. He didn't get a second chance - the first shot had given away his position. As he shifted sideways to get a better view of the alcove and try for another snap shot at Dahrl while he was still reloading, a bullet ricocheting off the rock beside his head made him shrink back.

Marcus swore again. After coming under fire from Marcus, Dahrl would probably relocate. Marcus and Luthienne needed to fall back to avoid being flanked, but the Raw Steel team weren't giving them the chance. They were fast, deadly and professional, communicating by radio and rapid hand-signals while they set down cover fire for each other to take up new firing positions and close down the two survivors. A shell from Krige's flak cannon exploded against the other side of the jutting rock, sending chips of stone flying off the other side. They scythed into Marcus' face and chest, knocking him down. He fell into the open and saw Raw Steel advancing quickly down the cavern, firing from the shoulder as they went. Luthienne almost started towards Marcus as she saw him fall, but bit her lip and stayed in cover. Gritting his teeth against the pain Marcus managed to fire off one shot from prone, a single unaimed shot fired one-handed that went well wide. A single shot was all Slain allowed him, and as the Raw Steel leader levelled his pistol Marcus' vision turned blood-red.

*   *   *


Marcus respawned on a teleporter pad on the other side of the arena. After Raw Steel had wiped them out and over-run their position, the games master must have switched their starting sides to prevent Raw Steel covering their spawn points.

Bloody hell!
Marcus swore to himself, We just got annihilated!

On Na Pali they would probably have retreated. In the Tournament however there was nowhere to run to. Then fight back, Marcus snapped at himself, adapt. Fear is the mind-killer.

"Regroup, north cavern!" Marcus barked into the team radio. Luthienne and Tajheri acknowledged, while Gideon materialised on the pad Marcus had just left with a growl of pain.

"You alright?" Marcus asked. The miner nodded curtly.

The two girls joined them and they regrouped. Tajheri didn't look so much dismayed as angry.

"Central tunnel?" Luthienne asked.

Marcus nodded agreement, "Lu, take 'Heri and flank them. Gideon, suppressing fire with me."

Ahead on points and thus with time on their side, Raw Steel had gone on the defensive and established a tight perimeter around the south cavern that had been the Returned's original base. He could see Dahrl and Slain in the central cavern, doubling back as they realised the team spawn-points had been switched.

"Two targets in the central cavern," Marcus reported into the team radio.

The two targets opened fire but Marcus resisted the urge to duck for cover straight away - at the other end of the long cavern they were beyond their opponents' effective range. Marcus ran forward obliquely, presenting a fast-moving target as bullets kicked up puffs of stone around him. As he reached the centre he could see along the whole length of the tunnel to the south cavern behind. Krige was atop the rocky ledge Marcus had seen at the very start, dominating the near side of the central cavern with his flak cannon. Marcus had anticipated his position, and as he had noted before there was no room to dodge. His long range ASMD shot took Krige's head off.

"Rearguard down." came Marcus' voice in Tajheri's earpiece as she sneaked ahead of Luthienne, hugging the cave wall. He had said earlier that they were engaging two in the central cavern, meaning that there couldn't be more than one free to cover the flanks. Tajheri took another step forwards, conscious of loose stones. Right now her life depended on her skills of silent movement as much as it had in her escape from the Reydi mansion in Theros.

Marcus' ASMD flashed again from the central cavern, the strobe of the energy beam reaching part of the tunnel ahead and temporarily lighting it up. Tajheri felt Luthienne touch her arm. She turned her head and the older woman mouthed one, left side, accompanying the silent communication with hand gestures. For a second Tajheri wondered how she had figured that out, then realised she must have seen a shadow flicker in the brief flash of light. Armed with this information, Tajheri took a deep breath and jumped out before Luthienne could stop her. Desloc was fast, but with Tajheri keeping low as Marcus and Luthienne had taught her he took an extra split second to adjust his aim downward. With the element of surprise and knowing where to aim before she moved, Tajheri got to the trigger first.

Her shotgun barked, and at point blank range the bullets tore a four-inch circle of Desloc's right chest into bloody shreds. A few even punched straight through and whined off rock behind him. Desloc went down hard and Luthienne, right behind Tajheri, finished him off with a burst to the face. She strafed round behind Tajheri to cover her from the far wall, her CAR pressed hard into her shoulder, ignoring the strands of dust- and sweat-streaked red hair that were falling into her eyes.

Slain and Dahrl had worked out that Gideon and Marcus had the range on them, and were trying to fall back. Hearing the shots on their left they realised they had been flanked, but as Dahrl turned to fire at the two girls he emerged slightly from cover. As he planted a foot forward to steady the aim of his automatic, Marcus shifted aim and shot his foot out from under him. Luthienne finished him off almost before he had hit the floor, but was driven back by Slain as he fired a trio of shots in her direction to cover his retreat. The third one struck her right in the heart. She staggered, looking more surprised than hurt. She blinked once, and fell.

Not realising that shed been hit, Marcus and Gideon came sprinting forward.

"Man down!" shrieked Tajheri.

Fighting his shock, Marcus had to make a snap decision. Raw Steel were good, and if they gave them a moments respite they would organise an ambush or counterattack.

"Follow up!" he yelled, ejecting the shock core from his rifle and grabbing a reload on the run.

The Returned headed into the south tunnel after Slain, pressing their advantage. Marcus and Gideon took point. Having surveyed this half of the arena at the start of the match, Marcus could guess where a rearguard, if any, would be taking cover. He fired a couple of ASMD bolts to keep their heads down as Gideon advanced - it announced their presence, but the time for stealth was over.

Once again, Raw Steel demonstrated their professionalism. Not only had Desloc hung back to cover Slain's retreat, he had not been fooled by Marcus' unaimed covering fire. He spun out low, firing on full auto. Marcus moved as soon as Desloc began to emerge, and still he only just dived out of his line of fire, hitting the ground hard. Gideon, protected from the shots by his position hugging the nearside wall, opened fire with his stinger and drove Desloc back into cover, tarydium shards glancing off the rocks with a sharp pinging sound. A fresh magazine of shards materialised beside Gideon and he lunged at the reload; the second Gideon's fire ceased, Desloc broke cover to return fire. In the same second, the ice-blue beam of Marcus' ASMD lanced through his neck. Gideon stood up to push forward.

It was only when he tried to leap to his feet that Marcus registered the pain in his side. He clutched at the sudden burn, and his fingers came away wet. It looked like Desloc's burst had got him after all. Suddenly he felt weak.

"I'm hit," he croaked.

"How bad?" Gideon replied.

Marcus grimaced, and pulled himself into a sitting position. He had a decent shot at anyone in the tunnel and most of the south cavern if Gideon was able to flush them from cover. He braced the ASMD against his shoulder.

"Can't move, but I'll cover you. Don't give them a chance to regroup - we only need 3 more to win."

Gideon nodded, let out a shout and ran forward. Krige broke cover to ambush him. Marcus fired. The bolt went slightly wide, hitting Krige in the arm rather than the chest, but it was enough to make him drop his flak cannon. As the man yelled out in pain, his finger tensed on the trigger and the deadly flachettes buried themselves in the rock wall well wide of Gideon. A second later and a hail of shards from Gideon's stinger impaled him, throwing him back and nailing him to the tunnel wall behind. His body quickly evanesced, leaving the crystal splinters transfixed in the rock.  More shots rang out, but this time it was from a location Marcus couldn't see from his current position.

"Dammit, where is she?" he cursed, gripping his wound tight with one hand, "Lu? 'Heri? Where are you?"

Slain whipped round as the muscular, tattooed member of the opposing team ran right into his line of fire. He aimed in less than a heartbeat and pulled the trigger once. It was going to be close. By his count the Returned were currently ahead 8-5, though that would close to 8-6 by the time he finished pulling the trigger. As a professional of two Tournaments, he had to admit that the Returned were putting up a good fight - he had seen Krige fall and Desloc was probably down too, meaning that for a few crucial seconds there was just him and his rearguard Dahrl to hold off the opposing team. He could hold the north tunnel, Dahrl just had to hold the south and he'd be able to organise a counterattack. But, come to think of it, where was Dahrl? He hadn't reported in.

Slain's gene-boosted brain worked much faster than that of an ordinary human, and he was able to process all these thoughts in the time it took to pull the trigger of his pistol. And so it was that even as the muzzle of his pistol flashed and Gideon jerked under the impact, he realised his error.

He was just beginning to turn as a long burst of CAR bullets punched into his back. Slain coughed blood and his vision tumbled as the ground rushed up to meet him.

*   *   *


"Score limit reached. The Returned win the match."

The artificial female voice rang out through the arena, projected from dozens of hidden speakers. Luthienne let out a sigh of relief and lowered her rifle as the Raw Steel player she had just shot disintegrated to nothing. She had wanted to respond to Marcus' call for a status report, but they had been too close to Dahrl at the time and it wouldn't have been safe to answer. Not until Tajheri, who had followed the newly-respawned Luthienne round the back route, had ambushed him, anyway. Tajheri stepped up next to Luthienne.

"We did it!" she gasped.

There was a bright glare on Luthienne's right, and Slain materialised atop the pulsing respawner pad. His gun seemed to leap from its holster into his hand as he spun round and pointed it between Luthienne's eyes.

"You are about to be teleported out of the arena. Put down your weapons immediately."

As the pre-recorded voice echoed through the arena a second time, the Raw Steel captain realised that he had lost. For a second he didn't move, gun levelled, lips slightly parted as he breathed heavily through gritted teeth. Then he let his arm fall and, just before her vision whited out, Luthienne saw Slain dip his head in the slightest of nods to her as they were teleported out of the arena.

*   *   *


"Wheres Marcus?" Luthienne asked abruptly, looking around as Gideon and Tajheri materialised either side of her.

"He got hit," Gideon answered, "I dunno if he respawned."

On the other side of the forcefield the Raw Steel team filed out without a word, while a team of Liandri med-techs rushed into the Returned side of the antechamber through a security door. There was a fourth flash of light from the teleporter array, and they started forward and caught Marcus before he could topple over.

"Marcus!" Luthienne cried as Marcus, still clutching his side, was lowered onto an antigrav stretcher and quickly carried away. Marcus' jaw was clenched but he managed to catch Luthienne's eye and whisper "I'm okay, I'm okay..." as he vanished through the security door with the med-techs. It pistoned shut and locked behind them.

"Don't worry miss Thrace," the Liandri operator said from behind his console, sounding completely unconcerned, "Injuries of this kind are fairly common and our med-techs are the best - competitor recovery rate is 98%."

Luthienne stepped back, her left fist clenched tightly around the scar on her palm.

"Now," the technician continued, gesturing towards the armoury door, "If you would all kindly return your weapons..."


Captain Thule: We have yet to meet our betters, alien. All we have seen are deluded tyrants, heretics and alien scum.
Farseer Taldeer: You should have looked beyond your mirror then.


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Diego took his seat at the large metal table, where his friends where already seated. The air was thick with the smell of Cleet's cooking and coffee and the table was decorated with a vast array of delicously smelling food prepared by Cleet, the Cleet's breakfast, reserved for when guest are present. The table was packed not only were the regular members there but Diego also found himself surronded by his allies, Chiba and Chief who stayed the night in the ship, along with Rowena, May, Mai, Rene, Walker and Pop's. But despite being cramped Diego was proud of his space inbetween the two beautiful twins May and Mai.

"So," Diego began turning to Mander, "Whats this all about?"

"Hold on a minute," Rowena jumped in, "Girls," she said looking at the twins who nodded in acknowledgement. In sync the twins closed their eyes and suddenly Diego was taken by a sudden ear ache which developed to an painful headache, bewildered Diego put his hand to his head blinking hard. "Sorry Diego," Rowena said, "This may interfere with your Nano's just bear with it for now," Diego looked around the table everyone was fine with the exception of Cleet and Snowva who both shared the painful expression much like Diego then suddenly it vanished.

"Ok," May said opening her eyes.

"It's done," Mai added.

"What the hell was that about?" Cleet questioned.

"Its the physic propereties the twins developed shortly after escaping Liandri, it interferes with any of Liandri's tech, those bugs in your friends shouldn't work for awhile, its the same for your nano's they'll lay dormant for about 10 minutes,"

"Oh cool," Diego butted in, "Now thats damn handy, but next time how about we do it without giving me a hellish headache?"

"Sorry Diego," Mai added.

"It's unavoidable,"

"Guess you girls were rite to get anti-Diego abilities," Alex laughed

"Enough of the small talk," Mander interupted. "We don't have long, now I guess you're wondering why we are joined by Chief and Chiba,  basically I've evaluated this crews abilities and I've come to the conclusion we are not good enough, you want to take down Liandri you have no chance,"

"Thats abit harsh," Diego added with a smirk.

"It's clear to me this teams standards have slipped since Tyler's death," The room went deadly silent with the mention of Tyler, he had only been dead no more than 3 months, but the crew could not adjust without him, he was a friend, a member of the family he was part of the crew for over 3 years and 3 years of companionship cannot be forgotten in 3 months. No one missed Tyler more than Gail, for those three years the pair shared a deep intimate relationship, Tyler was ready to propose once he had severed his ties with Draulic, however a happy ending for the pair could not be achieved, everyone sympathied with Gail who had indeed changed since the incident.

"And what makes you come to that dicision?" Diego asked a hint of anger in his voice.

"Since Tyler died we've had nothing but failure, the attack on the Liandri HQ, it was stupid and impulsive, that battle should never have taken place I feel if Tyler had not sadly died you Diego would not have made such a foolish dicssion, Diego you call yourself the leader but you can't handle it before you would always turn to Tyler, he was more of the leader than you are,"

Angerly Diego slammed his hand on the table denting it and standing angerly to his feet, the twins next to him jumped and moved there seats further away, angerly Diego pointed across the table at Mander one hand resting on the table, "You shut the hell up Mander! How the **** can you rate my leadership skills! Whatever happened to you're resistance group eh?!"

Unlike Diego Mander kept his cool, crossing his arms he remained seated eyes closed facing the table. "Diego, Don't make it personal, I haven't finished yet, now sit down," Diego's anger was only heightened by Mander's calm reply and angerly he sat back down. "Diego, if you want to continue being the leader you need to learn from one of the greatest leaders of all time, our friend Pops,"

"I don't need training, I'll show you Mander,"

"Diego you're being arrogant its that arrogance which get's in you're way, you think since you killed Draulic where Tyler failed you've surpassed him, if you did not have level 2 you would never have stood a chance, and thats a fact," Diego clenched his fist and was ready for another outburst.

"Diego please?" Alex asked hopeful, Diego paused and looked around the table, everyone stared at him.

"Alrite..." Diego grudgenlly said. "I'll show you Mander, I'll surpass Tyler,"

"Excellent, now onto you Cleet, you think yourselve a swordsman? Your a lucky amature. You're our second in command yet you show no leadership qualities, you try to remain cool at all times running away from responsibilty you merely watch, not enough action frankly I think your cowardly,"

"Are you wanting everyone to be mad at you?" Cleet said with a smile stubbing his cigarette out. "Let me guess, that's why Chiba's here to train me to become a swordsman? Correct?"

"You need a wake up call, get your nose out of those books and actually learn the way you're surposed to," Cleet shrugged his shoulder's.

"Alrite," he said lighting up another cigarette.

"Finally, Snowva," Mander cast his gaze to Snowva who sat quitetly next to Rene. "Snowva frankly nothing about you annoys me so I won't be harsh, but you are another coward, I like you're nobel nature and you're refusal to kill and thats fine for a man leading a normal life, but you're not, you're a mercenary and you are currently stuck in a fight against a Tyrant, those idea's floating in you're head need to vanish you are one man and can't help everyone and spare everyone, you can put yourself and others in danger and have so in the past, being over sensitive is dangerous, so chief is gonna teach you to come out of you're shell, I trust you have no argument?"

"You wouldn't accept any argument anyway so it's pointless,"

"Snowva! Thats what I'm talking about! Be more asertive, hopefully chief will sort you out,"

"Is that you finished now Mander?" Diego asked still bitter.

"With you guys yes, but remember you three are the core of this crew if you lot are not up to scratch the whole team fails, Now Heather you and I also have work to do, Geo business,"

"Oh, ok,"

"Now thats all I have to say,"

"Is that it?" Alex asked looking around the table.

"Yeh," Mander replied

"What about me and Gail and Gina,"

"Alex you are not a fighter I don't expect you to fight, you have luck thats for sure, Gina is far to young to be involved and Gail I don't want to put her under anymore stress and also she's a sharpshooter, her skills are perfect enough as it is,"

"Don't worry about me Mander," Gail added

"So is that all?" Diego asked lifting his head.

"Actually no," Walker said standing up, "Diego, I'd like to become a full time member of the crew if thats all right? I want to help you guys again."

"Walker, I've always considered you a member of the crew," Diego said with a smile clearly pleased, "We've even had a room ready for you ever since that escort job we did,"

Walker laughed, "Great, unfortunatly I won't be able to fight in the tournaments you're already at maxium compacity, a shame but I'll stick to the solo tournament,"

As time ware'd on the twins anounced there blocking had faded and conversation soon shifted to pleasanter matters despite the previous argument the team returned to a relative normal, Gail however remained silent, Walker and Pop's where the first to leave off to open the bar, he was followed by Rowena, Mai, May and Rene who were stangely followed by Gail. Cleet left with Chiba minutes later and Snowva left with Chief, Alex and Gina left Alex hugging the troubled Diego as she left, till all that remained where Heather, Diego and Mander.

"Heather go wait for me in the medical bay," with a nod Heather left glad to escape the awkward silence between Mander and Diego, after several minutes neither finding no words to say Mander up and left, on his way he placed his hand on Diego's shoulder.

"It's a tough responisblility Diego I know, I don't want you making the same mistakes as I did, but if you do not become fit to being this crew leader, you may lose them all, imagin the pain with the loss of Tyler times 10, Cleet, Snowva, Heather, Gail, Gina, Walker, Alex, do this for them, for there lives, they'd give theres for you'res would you be prepared to do the same? Or Could you face losing them all?"

"You forgot about yourself old man," Diego said with a slight smile. Proudly Mander left the room, however upon leaving Diego slumped over the table, taking out a picture of the entire crew at happier times he stared blankly at it. "Am I really fit to be leader?" he questioned himself. "Can I really do this?" Diego sunk into doubt. Trying to push the thought of failure to the back of his head he rose from his seat leaving the ship.


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"See, I told you they could pull it off."

The Battleclaw agent's self-satisfied smirk made Sutherland grind her teeth as they walked side-by-side through the surveillance complex on their way to another meeting. Around them Liandri compu-techs worked away noisily at banks of computers, combining reports from Angel teams and skimmer patrols with live security feeds from across the campus to ensure that if any competitor was doing something they shouldnt they would know about it.

"We'll see how it goes," Sutherland replied, "If they make it through the rest of the qualifiers we'll know they're Tournament material. But we still haven't solved the problem of their fifth member."

Her companion shrugged, "Fantom knows. I'm sure he'll sort it out once their winnings are big enough to afford another player. He'll have all the gladiators and the disqualified teams to choose from."

"Make sure he does sort it out."

"I've got my hands full with the Battleclaws."

Sutherland stopped walking and turned to the other agent. Letting the Alitan team in through the loophole of including one human member had been at his urging as well. Other executives had praised his instincts, but Sutherland was always wary of spending corporate money on what she saw as hare-brained schemes. At the implication that his alien enterprise had fallen through, her eyes narrowed.

"Why? How are they?"

"Angry. To the point that they're more brutal than ever in their matches."

Sutherland looked at him carefully.

"Ratings are up, so you might say its a good thing. I would recommend keeping a closer eye on them though."

"The CEO never wanted those aliens in his Tournament in the first place..." Sutherland muttered.

"Sir?" one of the techs called across the room, pulling her headset down round her neck. As the security controller responded, Sutherland and the Battleclaws' agent wandered over curiously.

"What is it, DuGrae?" the controller was saying.

"We lost Alexandra Burke's trackers for a moment." DuGrae replied, frowning.

"How long?" the controller asked sharply.

"About two minutes. It seems to be transmitting fine now though."

"Glitch?" Sutherland suggested. DuGrae turned her head to look at the executive.

"Unlikely, ma'am. We also lost the entire Nature's Deadliest team over the same period."

The controller's eyes narrowed.

"Where are they now?"

DuGrae tapped keys, "Still in the Haven, apart from Turner."

She brought up a security camera feed that showed Diego walking away from the Haven, in the general direction of the recreation suites. As they watched he was joined by a female competitor who fell into step beside him.

"Who's that?"

DuGraes fingers danced over her keyboard a second time and a grid superimposed itself over the girl's face, cross-referencing with the Liandri datalinks and quickly scrolling an identification across the screen.

"Tajheri, surname unknown, until recently gladiator 327, now competing as part of team 849 'the Returned'." DuGrae read out.

The controller waved a hand dismissively, "He's taken a new girl back to the Haven pretty much every night of the Tournament."

Sutherland frowned. She didn't like the idea of Turner, a level 4 security competitor - only one level above necessitating confinement in the security wing - hanging around with members of a team that she was responsible for.

"Find out what caused the break in transmission," the controller was telling DuGrae, "And if there was anyone else present during the blackout I want to know who."

"Yes, sir."

"Where are you going?" the Battleclaw agent asked as Sutherland turned on her heel and began marching towards the door.

"To the mansion. I think Ross Liandri will want to know."

"Sir," DuGrae piped up, "It looks like Jerry Liandri and his personal guard of Angels were aboard the Haven at the time."

The controller smiled. So that was it. Liandri operatives sometimes manually turned off recording devices when they wanted to intimidate competitors and have the option of denying it later. Jerry had probably been putting Turner in his place for that level 2 fiasco. The CEO had already done so, and technically it was Ross Liandri's job to keep Turner in line, but a little off-the-record reinforcement couldn't hurt.

"It's alright, DuGrae. Jerry was probably reminding Turner of what we'll do to him if he doesn't toe the line. We'll log it, but don't take any further action right now."


DuGrae tapped another key, and Turner and his female companion disappeared from her screen.

*   *   *


Luthienne strode down the white corridors of the medical centre, walking fast. Their bitch of an agent hadn't so much as congratulated them on their victory - if anything she had seemed annoyed that with no replacement player Marcus' injury might impair their performance in the next qualifier two days from now. Luthienne hadn't wanted Sutherland's praise, but knowing there was one more person against them in this already hostile Tournament was hardly a comforting thought. She dismissed it - odds had never mattered to her. Liandri could throw what it wanted at them, she would do whatever it took. Marcus had once said that a true soldier had to be ruthless, had to want to kill. Acknowledging that fact, she knew, was what secretly terrified him. Luthienne was not a born soldier, but there was a part of her that had learned to be ruthless. What secretly terrified her was what had happened to her on Na Pali. Having once lost herself in the cold black oblivion that the nanoblack had irreparably scarred onto her mind, she was terrified to fall again. Marcus was her compass - their twin scars the light that led her out of the darkness and then held it at bay. He was more than her love, he was her soul too.

She brushed past a stony-faced Liandri Angel - there were fewer of them patrolling the medical centre but they were still present - and pushed open the door to one of the recovery rooms. Marcus was already sitting up in his bed, a slightly ironic smile on his face as Luthienne walked through the door as if he was amused at how quickly she had come.

"Hi Lu," he said, and it melted into a much warmer smile as he put out his free arm. Luthienne stepped round the bio-monitor that sat idling beside the bed and hugged him.

"How are you feeling?" she asked.

"Fine. The bullet missed all my vital organs, so they just took it out and filled the wound with bio-foam. I'll be up and about by tomorrow and it'll have fully healed in about a week."

-- Edited by [BOSS]Fenix at 02:20, 2009-01-05


Captain Thule: We have yet to meet our betters, alien. All we have seen are deluded tyrants, heretics and alien scum.
Farseer Taldeer: You should have looked beyond your mirror then.

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<OOC - Dammit, in trying to rush ahead I nearly got some bits mixed up.  This match has to happen before I can post the Nali bit.>

Tickets for all of next week's live matches have already sold out as the Liandri Grand Tournament 2299 prepares to enter its second round. Most of the fifty qualifying teams have already been confirmed, with Liandris flagship team the Corrupt under the command of the legendary Xan Kriegor topping the board by a considerable margin. Other household names that have also qualified for the next heat of the third annual Grand Tournament include Dark Phalanx, Axon Reavers and the controversial Twilight Wraiths. However new blood has also made an appearance, most notably in the form of the Steel Cobras and Nature's Deadliest which both finished particularly highly. Surprise qualifiers include Alitan newcomers the Battleclaws, and late entrants the Returned also fought back to claim a place in the next round after team captain Marcus Fantom's well-publicised split from his former team-mates...

Marcus thumbed the off switch on the data pad and pushed it into the pocket of his overcoat as his team made their way to the next hub. It was a large tower complex on the edge of the city, far removed from the packed live stadiums where the most prestigious teams were fighting out their final heat 1 matches while spectators roared at the carnage conveyed over vast holo-screens. Liandri patrol skimmers were still in evidence, while shuttle lifts sped up and down the long glass tubes that connected the hub to the Vault 101 arena twenty stories above. Having fought a match with the Battleclaws aboard one of the atmospheric platforms hovering several miles above the Liandri campus, Marcus was relatively unfazed. Vault 101 was a claustrophobic arena with a greasy, industrial theme in which they would face a team called Red Venom. Sutherland had seemed satisfied with Marcus and his team's performance so far but she continued to push them hard - this was their third match in as many straight days. Though all four of them were physically fit, the fatigue was beginning to show. Marcus had pushed his new friends as hard as he dared training for this latest gametype, a close-combat deathmatch variant called Tag Team that was gaining popularity in the organisers of the upper ladders due to its entertaining one-on-one style of combat. Facing your opponents alone, blade to blade, until the other team ran out of players or you were yourself killed sounded like a nightmare to Marcus. He had done his best to prepare his team, booking a brief combat practice against another team in the training arenas, but there was little he could teach about the psychological impact of such a situation. To make matters worse, he was not even truly sure who he was fighting. As always he had tried to gather as much information as possible on their opponents through the Liandri datalinks, but like a number of Liandri-sponsored teams the file on Red Venom was almost completely classified. He did know that Red Venom were on the verge of being knocked out of the qualifiers - the Returned had already secured their place, but their opponents had to beat them by two clear points to save their team. Which meant that they would fight all the harder knowing that this was their last chance.

The number of unknowns made Marcus feel both frustrated and deeply uneasy. On Na Pali he would never have willingly begun an operation feeling so unprepared, but this was the Tournament and he had to play by Liandri's rules. The classified files made him think of Natures Deadliest, of his first match with the Battleclaws where he hadnt been sure of what he was facing. They had lost. Like Koda, Marcus had been curious to follow up everything he could on Nature's Deadliest and the ability they had called Level 2, but more pressing concerns had quickly overruled his curiosity. Lately however he had begun to wonder about Nature's Deadliest again. Tajheri had been spending a lot of her spare time with their team leader, Diego Turner, and had hinted that they had more common ground than Marcus thought. Marcus had been interested to meet Turner, but with their late entry into the Tournament his team had had a gruelling sequence of matches to fight their way through; with so much time spent training, liaisoning with the obdurate Sutherland or trying to catch some sleep he had been simply too busy.

*   *   *

Soon Marcus, Luthienne, Tajheri and Gideon were prepared and standing on a cramped bank of teleporter pads. They were all scanned into the respawner matrix, the arena had been prepped with nanowhite, and the Liandri overseer only awaited the green light from the games masters. The computer screen on the far wall flickered through their pictures and displayed the randomised order in which they would enter the arena. First was Luthienne, followed by Tajheri, then Gideon. Marcus was last. Below the four pictures and the accompanying names a score counter flashed up with their team names: Returned 0 - 0 Red Venom.

"Stand by," said the tech, touching his earpiece as Luthienne's teleporter pad lit up.

"Good luck," Marcus said, squeezing her hand one final time before letting go.

"Match begins in"

There was a green flash, and Luthienne vanished. The three remaining members of the Returned were left standing on their pads in complete silence. The overseer said nothing, his face impassive as his eyes flicked between Marcus' team and his console. Security cameras linked to an automated turret glared at them. Marcus, Gideon and Tajheri stared just as intently at the screen, completely in the dark as to what was happening in Vault 101 save for the score indicator. Several minutes passed. Then abruptly, the score on the Returned side flicked over from zero to one.

"Yes!" Tajheri hissed under her breath. Marcus allowed himself to smile slightly - it looked like first blood had gone to Luthienne. Nothing happened for several more minutes, and the tight knot in Marcus' stomach returned. Then without warning there was a green flash and Luthienne reappeared, gasping in pain, as simultaneously the score changed to read 1 - 1.

"You okay, Lu?" Marcus asked. She nodded.

"I got the drop on the second one but I lost my footing and he overpowered me. He's a big guy, heavily built, probably vat-grown muscle grafts. Last I saw he was hiding out in the corner by the storage vessel but he might have moved since."

Tajheri's pad lit up below her, green lights winking in sequence round the raised edge.

"Stand by." said the overseer.

"The arena has a teleporter in each corner," Luthienne said to Tajheri, talking quickly, "You'll probably teleport in on the opposite side of the arena to him so use that as an indication of where he is and try and sneak up on him."

Tajheri nodded, her jaw clenched as the overseer began the countdown. To both her and Luthienne's credit, neither of them gave any outward sign of the fear they were feeling.

"Next teleport in"

Tajheri vanished. There was another long wait during which Luthienne slowed her breathing, closing her eyes while her lips silently formed the words of the Nali litany, while Gideon stood in grim silence and Marcus tried to take his mind off Tajheri's struggle by running through the Vault's layout, which he and his team had already memorised, in his mind one last time. His hands clenched into fists at his sides. He had faith in Tajheri, but for all her stealth pitting her alone against a full-grown opponent with only a knife stacked the odds against the teenager by virtue of strength alone.

There was a bright glare of green light as Tajheri reappeared. She staggered on the platform and would have fallen if Luthienne hadn't caught her. She was shivering, but she quickly pushed Luthienne off, defiance in her eyes.

"I'm alright," she said, softly but firmly, "I'm alright."

"Alright you bastard..." Gideon growled, balling his fists as his pad lit up and he too vanished.

Another minute ticked by and the Returned waited with baited breath. Then the scoreboard flickered again. Returned 2 - 2 Red Venom.

"Got the bastard!" Marcus hissed, and then Luthienne and Tajheri celebrated too as the score changed once again to 3 - 2. With no way now to score a 2-point win, that meant Red Venom was out of the next round. The match however was not yet over.

Gideon teleported out a minute later, his hair damp with sweat and teeth gritted in pain. He swore.

"Watch it, Marcus," the taciturn miner growled, "The last one's good. Don't try and sneak up on him. Take the high ground."

Marcus nodded.

"Finish it, Marcus," Tajheri encouraged.

Luthienne didn't need to say anything. It passed between them as they met each other's eyes.

Then Marcus heard the overseer begin his countdown. He focussed his mind, unsheathed his tarydium combat knife, and with a bright flash of light he was in.

*   *   *

As the glow of the teleporter faded and he took his first breath of nanowhite-laced air, Marcus had to immediately fight back a sense of menacing isolation. The teleporter pad was set in the middle of a claustrophobic mass of machinery, and the thick steel walls were windowless and let in no sound from outside. The air was damp, and left a metallic taste in the back of his throat. Marcus spun round quickly, his knife out in front of him - his opponent had scored the last kill, meaning that he was already waiting in here somewhere for Marcus. But no-one leapt from the shadows to get an early drop on him. All he saw was a mass of dripping pipes and rusting rivets, and a straight set of steps that led up to the metal grid of a central platform. The walls were scorched from previous matches and the lights flickered erratically. Remembering what Gideon had said Marcus immediately headed for the stairs - the second-floor platform was open and visible from virtually every other point in the tiny arena, and he never would have made for it if the match hadn't been limited to close combat weapons only, but in this case it gave an opponent the least opportunity to sneak up on him.

His opponent had obviously had the same idea. As Marcus ascended the rickety stairway, his Na Pali experience kicking in as he made a subconscious effort to keep his boots silent against the metal, a figure emerged from the shadows on the other side of the platform. Marcus froze, reversing the grip on his knife and holding it forward, but the Red Venom player let him climb the last few stairs and step out onto the platform without making a move of his own. The ceiling light directly above him had failed, obscuring his facial features with a mask of shadows. Marcus could only see that he was of medium height with a compact, muscular build that suggested he would be both quick and dangerous. He must have known that his team was out of the Tourney, but his unyielding stance showed that he was still determined to win at least a pyrrhic victory. He carried a wide-bladed combat knife in his right hand, held loosely away from his side.

Without taking his eyes off the man, Marcus noted the surroundings. A single holocam circled unobtrusively overhead. The dimly-illuminated metal floor was perhaps eight metres below, but on the right hand side there was the option of jumping down onto the flat top of a piece of derelict mining machinery. Part of the metal grate he was standing on was slicked with blood, which had dripped down to form a dark splatter pattern on the floor below. In the centre of the platform were two metal barrels, one overturned, the other also smeared with a long streak of blood like the stroke of an artist's paintbrush. Marcus stepped carefully round the bloody section of grate, keeping the barrels between him and his opponent. The mysterious other followed suit, and as he stepped forward he crossed the shaft of light from one of the still-functional lamps, revealing his face.


Captain Thule: We have yet to meet our betters, alien. All we have seen are deluded tyrants, heretics and alien scum.
Farseer Taldeer: You should have looked beyond your mirror then.

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A memory flashed across Marcus' mind. A crippled Inuit engineer, slumped up against a crate in a corpse-strewn docking bay, blood seeping through his fingers as he clutched at a vicious stab-wound in his chest and gasped two words.

Trap. Run.

"No way." Marcus said aloud, holding the translucent blade of his knife forward towards his opponent. Despite the jagged blade-scar that now distorted one side of his face, the man facing him was still unquestionably Thomas Reynor. A clone? No, that was impossible... He survived?

"That's what I thought," the other replied, a lopsided smile tugging at his scarred cheek. It definitely sounded like Toms voice. Marcus was silent, turning to face the ghost from his past as it took a few steps forward across the platform, its boots clinking on the metal grate.

"I didn't expect to see you in the Tourney news either." Reynor continued. He was now side on to Marcus but kept his head turned towards him, his dark eyes glittering. He had a thick bowie knife in his right hand.

"I thought you were dead." Marcus said quietly.

"Yeah," Reynor agreed, "I thought the same about you and Lu."

The holocam swooped down, side-slipping through the air behind Reynor as it circled the two fighters. Marcus didnt make the mistake of taking his wary gaze off his opponent. Tom didnt break eye contact either, but he sighed slightly as he heard the low whine of the cameras suspensors.

"I suppose wed better give them a show..."

Even Marcus' combat-honed reactions responded only just in time as Reynor lunged forward, spinning into a backhand slash. Marcus stepped back out of the arc of his blade and counterattacked instinctively, but both that slash and his follow-up thrust fell short as Reynor jerked his head back from the knife's extended tip. His retreat put some distance between them again and they circled. Marcus saw Tom drop into the same half-crouch that they had both learned in Inuit's basic self-defence training, but he could tell from Toms composure that his combat experience went further than that. His speed, his scars - not only had he survived, he had become just as much of a fighter on Na Pali as Marcus had. Possibly better, as unlike Marcus and Luthienne he had had to survive alone. The muscles stood out on his arms and his dark grey eyes were intensely focused. Those eyes now flicked towards Marcus knife, which was glittering slightly as it caught the light.


"Long story." growled Marcus, shifting his blade into a reverse grip.

Without warning Reynor attacked again, striking with the speed of a coiled viper. Marcus was forced to jump back, arms spread wide for balance as Reynor's bowie knife sliced through the air centimetres from his body. Reynor stepped forward into the attack and his following uppercut nearly gutted Marcus from navel to jaw. Somehow Marcus caught his balance and forced Reynor back, trying to manoeuvre away from the platform edge that Reynor had driven him towards. Side on he edged forwards, judging the distance and trying to get close enough to catch Reynor out with a fast lunge. Reynor wasnt fooled - he let Marcus take two steps before leaping forward with his own knife, but Marcus was ready and he dropped low under the strike, lashing into a spin that forced Reynor to twist and lift his forward foot out of the path of Marcus' blade. Marcus came up again while Reynor was on the back foot but he evaded and circled round to put the barrels in the centre of the platform between him and Marcus. They both paused, breathing heavily from exertion and adrenaline.

"What are you doing here?" Marcus snarled.

"Long story," Tom echoed Marcus' earlier response, twirling his knife into a reverse hammer grip. Marcus' eye followed the move and he almost immediately realised his mistake as Reynor got a toe under one of the bloodstained barrels and kicked it towards Marcus. Too late to dodge, Marcus put his arms up instinctively and the empty metal cylinder knocked him onto the back foot as he deflected it. The stinging impact to his forearms was only just beginning to register as Reynor came leaping through the air towards him, tackling Marcus to the ground with the force of the collision. Pain shot through Marcus' back as he impacted the metal grate but he forced himself to move, seizing Tom's wrist as his knife came down towards his neck. They struggled, arms trembling with the effort. Reynor put his other hand on the pommel of his knife and began to force it down with all his weight. Soon the point was quivering a hairs breadth from Marcus' throat. Marcus was gasping for breath through gritted teeth, his eyes fixed on Reynor's. The holocam was hovering just inches above them. Reynor leaned close, whispering almost too low for Marcus to hear.

"Meet me after the match."

With a final explosive effort, he rammed the knife down into Marcus' neck.


Captain Thule: We have yet to meet our betters, alien. All we have seen are deluded tyrants, heretics and alien scum.
Farseer Taldeer: You should have looked beyond your mirror then.

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