Title: Into the Fire Author: Anedon Timeframe: About 43 ABY Characters: Ulrika Grau, and other OCs Genre: Friendship, Adventure Summary: As the ORSF begins its campaigns into the Galatic Southwest our heroes are put before new challenges and meet new friends and foes. This story is the next part in my growing Ilona/Ulrika verse. Which includes the Main stories: -Shadow over Curean -Path of Lies -The Value of Freedom As well the additions: -Anarchists and Aristocrats -Summer Camp Shenanigans -Old Friends -Can Love be a Sin -To Dathomir, with a Friend Which also feature some of these characters. Thanks to @Adalia-Durron for her help and support. One "They're coming again!" Ulrika shouted and her squad quickly took cover as the roaring of engines above became louder. The tree she was leaning against looked solid, a healthy ancient plant giant who had probably survived a thousand droughts and ten times as many storms during its existence. But against the lasers of the Vulture Droids above it might as well been a piece of paper. The trees trunk was utterly annihilated and only quickly jumping to the side saved her from the worst. Her armor took the rest of it, but she knew she couldn't rely on it. As the Vultures made another turn Ulrika and her squad continued their move through the forest, the sinking sun barely illuminating enough of the terrain for them not to fall or stumble. Having fought in scouting operations for much of their military career Ulrika and her squad where trained to work in hostile terrain and with the enemy coming down on them from above. But this was the first time they faced droids. In some ways it was easier to predict them, but in others the droid pilots were able to perform maneuvers utterly impossible for living pilots. As the droids closed in again Ulrika turned around to them and fired with her blaster at the course she expected the vultures to take. It was risky, no she didn´t even have what little cover the tree had provided but stood straight against her enemy. If she didn't take it down in time she was as good as dead. The droids, who had clearly anticipated the soldiers to dash for cover again where unprepared for the sudden attacks as blaster fire ripped the vultures apart. More than half of them where hit, turning into burning meteors tumbling down to the planets surfaces, smashing trees apart and setting further ones on fire. The remaining Vultures quickly adapted to the losses and tried to disengage but several more where hit in the new few seconds and a minute later the battle was over. Ulrika took a deep breath and allowed her muscles a few seconds of relaxation, but she knew their victory was temporary at best. This was the third Vulture group they had come across since they had lost their vessel and she could only pray to the goddess that it was the last. "Everyone okay?" She asked her soldiers, quickly going from woman to woman to check on them. Most of them where unwounded, had a best a few close calls to report. Aurela had lost her helmet and taken a nasty burn on the left side of her face, yet she reported as combat ready for combat, as did Dilara despite the leg wound she had suffered. Meanwhile Kinga had squeezed her hand under a falling tree and was now unable to wield her blaster rifle anymore as pretty much all bones in her hand and lower arm had been broken. Dannika their medic had given her a dose of painkillers but they wouldn't be able to do more out here in the wilds. Ulrika was proud of them and the fact that so far they hadn't lost anyone from her squadron. She just wished she could say the same about the pilots of the shuttle, but the attack had come so quickly they had been unable to evacuate the vessel before it was too late. After the crash she had split her squad in two and given command about the other half to her right hand Elena. Now both groups moved independently through the forest to draw less attention from the vultures above towards the town they had detected the distress call from. Ulrika knew that quite a lot of pressure lasted on her shoulder in this battle, if the ORSF wanted to take a more active role against the Iron Alliance in the Southwest they needed to prove that they were able to do so. That they could protect its people. And so far we are not doing the best of jobs, she had to admit to herself. Entering the system had been easy and their landing ship had made it past the few pirate vessels in orbit without too much of a struggle, but then, once they had entered the atmosphere the vultures had awaited them. As they approached on the town Ulrika and the others could already hear the sounds of fighting ahead. Blaster fire mixed with the by now well known sound of further vulture droids. Like the animals they had been named after several dozen of them hung over the town, firing indiscriminately down into the streets from which some resistance fire returned. Glad that they at least weren't too late to find survivors the Eriaduan soldiers left the forest in the last lights of the day. Their dark armor and scouting cloaks blending in with the rising darkness of the night. Peeking through the deserted streets with their night goggles they saw the remnants of what must have been the first skirmishes of the battle. Doors where broken open, crates and cupboards emptied, furniture destroyed. But what worried Ulrika the most was the relatively small number of bodies they came across. A few of them where clearly pirates themselves decked out in the broken bits and pieces of metal that gave the Iron Alliance its name. Others meanwhile looked like the inhabitants and desperate defenders of the town. Most of them healthy adults who had died fighting from the looks of it, often found with blasters, knives or just pieces of furniture next to them that bore witness to their attempts at protecting their loved ones. But in some ways the elderly victims where the worst, where the younger ones had clearly died fighting, the couple in the house Ulrika checked had been executed, there was no other way of seeing it. Husband and wife still held each other on their bed, having hopefully found at least a small comfort in their last moments before being killed. And yet, as gruesome as this scene was Ulrika knew that those who had been killed where the luckier ones. The younger ones, the children and those adults unable to fight, their fate would be much darker and for a moment Ulrika remembered Hilda, who had only been a teen when she had been dragged from her home to be sold as a slave. "They killed those who resisted... because they were looking for slaves," Dannika said as she stepped next to her squad leader. The young medics eyes filled with sadness and confusion. "Why did they have to die?" "Because they were considered worthless," Ulrika said slowly. "Nobody would buy a slave that old. To the pirates they where nothing but dead weight they didn't want to burden themselves with." She heard one of the soldiers behind her choke, while another vomited at the sight. Most of the girls that had been in Ulrika`s class when she had joined the ORSF had died or retired from the military by now, and so her squadron had been filled with new recruits time and time again. Some of them had joined pretty recently and Ulrika made a note to advise a visit to the therapist for each of them, at least if they got out of this alive. Experiencing death in battle was one thing, but this slaughter could haunt them for the rest of their lives if they failed to deal with it. Taking a deep breath again as she stepped outside Ulrika looked down the street as she noticed something. The screeching of the Vultures was gone, replaced by a deadly silence between the ruins. Had they lost too much time checking the outskirts of town? Had the last defenders been defeated? But in that case, wouldn't the pirates still keep the vultures above to have an eye on the area? "Quick," she ordered, calling her squad back to her, now moving quicker through the deserted streets, coming across more bodies of dead pirates and destroyed droids, signs that the resistance against the attack had clearly increased. They also met the enemy, small groups of scavengers moving through the ruined buildings apparently uninterested in the main battle and more in filling their own pockets. After what they had experienced in the outskirts of the town Ulrika felt a burning desire for vengeance inside of her so she took the fights without giving the pirates a chance to surrender. Yet at the same time stopped herself from pursuing fleeing enemies, they could deal with them later and but now they needed to get to the center of town, the hopeful last bastion of resistance. Night completely covered them as they entered the central square, directly opposed to them was the administration headquarter of the world, a large building made from concrete that looked like a fortress. A view that was already enhanced by the anti air guns on its roof and the numerous barricades build in front of it. The square itself was covered with the remnants of a battle, destroyed ramshackle walkers and tanks and dozens of bodies littered the stone. The fighting was over it seemed, at least for now. But as Ulrika looked across to the building she let out a sigh of relief as she saw dark figures standing there at the barricades. The defenders it seemed had driven away their enemy, at least for now. "I'm going ahead," Ulrika said as the rest of her squad covered in the shadows watching the opposite side of the square. "Just in case it's a pirate trap or something." "Maybe Elena and her girls are there," Kinga suggested, still clutching her now useless arm. Ulrika hoped the defenders had medical supplies with them, cause if they hadn't there would be nothing left but to amputate the Kinga's arm. "Hopefully," Ulrika said. As they didn't knew about their enemies capabilities she and Elena had agreed to keep radio silence except in case of a true emergency and so far her second in command hadn't contacted them. Slowly Ulrika took off her helmet and disarmed herself. They weren't sure if the defenders had gotten the message that they were underway to aid so it was probably best not to risk anything. Then she raised her hands and moved slowly towards the barricade and the people there. For a while, a time longer than Ulrika would have expected nothing happened. No one called out to her, it almost seemed as if the defenders barely moved inside their positions. Ulrika's heart began to race more and more as she came closer. Then, as she had come almost uncomfortably close to the barricade with no reaction she took a deep breath to call over to them. Yet before she could do anything she was struck blind as several large spotlights where suddenly activated and pointed at her. She screamed at the sudden pain to her eyes and quickly covered her face with her arm. "Who are you?" A voice, harsh and commanding called over to her. "Ulrika Grau," she yelled back. "Commander of the ORSF." There was a moment of silence, whoever stood there, they clearly hadn't expected this answer. It gave Ulrika the time to blink several times and slowly restore her sense of sight. "ORSF? You've never come this far south?" Now that her eyes had gotten used to the light Ulrika raised her hands again and moved a bit closer towards the barricade. "Times are changing, we are here to fight the Iron Alliance." "Then it was you who caused the fighting in the forests?" "We did." Ulrika replied, then getting a bit more confident she asked, "and who are you?" The lights where dimmed, and now Ulrika could see the figures on the barricade. She blinked again, unsure if that what awaited her there was real. But as she opened her eyes again they were still there. Stormtroopers, soldiers in the iconic black and white garb of the Galactic Empire. How was this possible? The Imperial Remnant had no presence in the Southwest and the imperial colonial government had fallen decades ago. One of them, the man who had been calling out to her jumped down from the barricade and approached her. Taking off his helmet he revealed a stoic, clean shaven face. The pitch black hair filled with grey streaks "Colonel Grau, I'm Captain Victor Laric of the Imperial Army, servant of the Regent and Commander of these forces." He offered her his hand, which Ulrika, still utterly stunned, took. An Imperial Army, here? And what Regent did he mean? Jagged Fell? But his title was different as far as Ulrika knew. "How many soldiers did you bring with you?" He continued to ask before Ulrika even had a chance to say something. "About fifty, though only half of them are with me at the moment. The rest should hopefully reach our position soon." "It's at least something." The Imperial gave her a short nod. "The pirates will be back soon, we have given them a bloody nose, but that will only make them more angry." "Um... Sir..." Ulrika began. Laric turned around to her again, "I'm sure you have plenty of question colonel. But for now survival should be our top priority. If we are still alive by dawn, I will have some answers for you."