36 HOURS LATER …
We’ve gone over the essential details from the information you recovered, Roc Wieler, good work on getting this back to us. Here’s the decoded message from our Ammatar source:
“All right, my sources have traced the origins of the Khumaak and we’ve been able to get a little bit of information, but we’re still digging. There’s remarkably little mention of this stuff anywhere in official records.
It’s called a Wildfire scepter. Apparently, the Wildfires were a particular kind of Khumaak-like scepter that existed only in certain conclaves of Starkman Prime in the years while the planet was under Amarrian occupation. The physical details all match up; the holes in the shaft, the blood obsidian sun center, the slightly smaller sun spirals. Only one other has been found, ever, and has since gone missing.
According to its previous owner, the wildfires were all destroyed some years before the Starkmanir rebellion in 22947, and it’s not even known for what purpose they were initially created or why, indeed, they were destroyed. We’ll have our sources keep investigating.
Lastly, I’ve cleared you for entrance to the ruins of Arzad. I’ve attached the relevant security access codes. I give you my word that the people there will provide their full cooperation and discretion. I’m told that one of the historians even has a text that mentions this Khumaak of yours.”
There is nothing to suggest that our own agent ever made it out to those ruins. He did not pick up the package you recovered, and he has still not returned to base. As our temporary representative, you will be standing in for him.
Your task is to travel to the system of Arzad, to an orbital forward point for an archeological dig being conducted on a nearby planet – Starkman Prime. There’s a team of historians and archeologists there, a couple of which are supposed to have texts that reference the Wildfire Scepters. Make your way over there and await further instructions. We’ll get to the bottom of this mystery yet.
Nilf disconnected abruptly.
Hmmm, I thought to myself. There is definitely some things he’s not telling me.
Firstly, Arzad was in Devoid region, roughly 14 jumps from my current location and smack dab in the middle of hostile Amarr war territory. In fact, I knew from firsthand experience that the 24th Imperial Crusade had a logistic support station there near Arzad VIII.
Why would there be an archeological dig going on in the middle of a combat zone? It didn’t make sense, unless things were truly that desperate, which was plausible I supposed.
Still, it didn’t feel right.
I asked Aura to run an analysis on the transmission; just to check validation and authenticity. She quickly did as I asked, noting one discrepancy between the transmission and the objective data sent: Nilf had sent me Erstur as my destination system, which was much closer than Arzad.
Things just got more peculiar.
Either he was aware our conversation was being listened in to, and was feeding disinformation to our audience, which would hopefully buy me some time to go to Erstur; or he genuinely made a mistake.
From what I could gather of the man, he wasn’t one that tolerated mistakes, least of all from himself. This left me more inclined to believe the first scenario.
In retrospect, I simply could’ve commed for confirmation, but I didn’t want to appear to be slow on the draw.
It was time to make a decision.
I flipped a coin; Arzad won.
14 JUMPS LATER …
The Onslaught made her way across space slowly to Arzad. Passing through Dal enroute, I continued to get updates from military intelligence; the Amarr were out and about in force it seemed. At least it wasn’t going to be a boring day.
I had a scout escort me to Amarr space, wherein he had to rejoin his fleet for another op. I thanked him, wishing him “fly safe”, the standard farewell between pilots.
I jumped into Arzad.
My heart sank as Aura set off every alarm she possessed. There was a gatecamp of at least a dozen Amarr battleships, another fifteen or so battlecruisers, and plenty of frigates, destroyers, cruisers and interceptors to round things out.
I had found the roaming Amarr fleet. Lucky me.
There was no way with my current fit that the Onslaught would be able to stand against this many capsuleers. I had my crews ready their battle stations, and weighed my options.
The gate I had just jumped through was 14 km away. Unfortunately, it would take me nearly 10 seconds to align from my current heading to that trajectory. In that time, I was sure to get webbed, scrammed and killed, and there were too many crew members onboard to consider.
There was nothing remotely inline with my current alignment, so trying to make a quick jump to anywhere was out of the equation also.
I knew time was running out. Soon, the gate would fully have my ship resolved into real space, and I would be visible and vulnerable to the Amarr.
Shit! I thought to myself. There were no other good words to express how I felt at the certain loss of my billion isk command ship.
Well, if I was going to go, I was going to go out fighting.
I mentally picked my primary from my overview, took a deep breath, and was about to give Aura the command to engage the afterburners when something miraculous happened.
The Amarr fleet began jumping through the gate.
I literally held my breath. I refused to move or think. I didn’t want to do anything to jinx this gift I had been given. If I was lucky beyond measure, the entire fleet would jump out before I resolved into realspace.
That wasn’t destined to happen, but what did happen was pretty damn close.
Two interceptors and a single cruiser were still on this side of the gate when I finally reverted.
They instantly targetted me.
I managed to pop the first with my artillery before he could get any speed, all the while urging Aura to align me to the nearest moon. It was time to leave.
Undoubtedly, reinforcements were on the other side of the gate, and would be more than eager to get a kill.
Long story short, we got away by the skin of our teeth. My adrenaline was pumping, and I wanted nothing more than to take a step back and relax. The Amarr wouldn’t afford me that luxury. I knew they would be scanning down the system, looking for the safespot I had bookmarked, and that my time here in Arzad would be short today.
I spent the next half hour performing my own scans, trying to locate the archeological site Nilf had sent me to.
I managed to stay ahead of the Amarr for quite some time, but came to the point where I knew I was pushing my luck.
There was no dig going on in this system. Time to head to Erstur. Damn you, Nilf.
I warped on top of the exit gate, easily breaking through the anticipated Amarr camp waiting for me there.
I quickly jumped through, pleased to see the Tribal Liberation Force reinforcements I had called in engaged with the Amarr on the other side.
I hurried on my way to Erstur.
16 JUMPS LATER … AT THE ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE IN ERSTUR
Shit… the Cartel is here, and they’re targetting the outpost. You need to act quickly. Secure the area and protect the archeologists!
Four Gistii battleships pounded at me, effectively blockading me from the outpost. Six battlecruisers joined them, leaving me no choice but to play on the defensive side.
It was very slow going, and during the entire engagement I could see frigates, cruisers, battlecruisers and battleships bombarding the outpost.
I had to get through.
Finally, I got through the hull of a battleship. This was far too slow going.
By happenstance, I scanned the outpost, only to find it was now in structure. A spike of fear surged through me.
Were they actually going to destroy it? I thought incredulously.
That is when the archeological outpost exploded, and my stomach sank. Nilf was quick to chime in.
The outpost is down. We’ve lost this battle … and the Cartel knows it. I’ve just received word from one of their commanders; the terms of agreement for an exchange. Forget the base; it’s a lost cause now, just come back to me.
Fucking hell! I cursed myself. Goddammit!
I berated myself as I set a course back to Nilf. I hated failure, especially in myself. I had entirely misread the situation at the outpost, and after the hell I had gone through to get there in the first place … dammit.
I had let the RSS down.
I had let myself down.
I had let the Republic down.
I had let those archeologists down.
We have a transmission from the Angels. Those god-damned slime-excreting vermin. I think you better get back here right now. We’re gonna need you for this next part.