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"Beginning Landing Maneuver," Torg said from the bridge. "Standby. Two minutes till touchdown. We will drop you on the edge of the compound and then make a high atmospheric climb into our holding pattern."

"Acknowledged," Torlek responded gripping his bat'leth and disruptor pistol. "Monitor the airspace and intercept any ships attempting to leave the system."

"jiyaj joH," Torg replied. The occupants of the troop bay grabbed the cargo straps bolted to the bulkheads to steady themselves in the dark compartment. Laria took a deep breath and she looked around one final time. Her armor was buckled tightly, her mek'leths strapped to her back, and she held a disruptor rifle in her hands. The Klingons were also ready for total war. They appeared to have no discomfort at the heavy weight of their armor and weapons. Their eyes were fixed to the landing ramp in front of them. Laria was terrified at the explosion of rage that was about to be released when that giant piece of tritanium dropped.

"Laria," Torlek said softly into her ear. His concern caught her attention. "When we land, do not hesitate. The most dangerous time will be as we exit the ship. The engines will not have a chance to cool down and we will run straight through the impulse exhaust. It will feel very hot, but do not worry. It is not enough to burn you. If you stop, you are at risk of being hit.

The Dri'goth will immediately take off again once we disembark. The rush of wind from the thrusters could knock you to the ground. Be ready for it. Get clear of the ship, find cover, and then begin to fight forward. We must get to Toral before he tries to escape. The Duras are intelligent and very lethal. It is why they have lasted as fugitives this long. Do not underestimate their abilities or you could meet Kahless tonight. Do you understand?"

Laria looked him in the eyes and responded with only a nod. Torlek took in a deep breath.

"Elessa is far better at this than I am," he began uncomfortably, "but if I had a daughter, I would want her to be just like you. I am so proud. Qapla', Daughter of Amira."

"Ten seconds!" Torg yelled through the intercom.

Laria did not let any trace of emotion cross her face. It was not the time. Instead, she looked him straight in the eyes. "May the Prophets be with us, Son of Ro'vagh. If you die, die well." Then, she looked back at the landing ramp. Her painted face was hard as steel. Torlek grinned as they felt the g-force push up from the deck as they neared the surface.

****

On the edge of the Duras compound, a sentry leaned on a low stone wall. He stared out at the dense jungles and fought to keep his eyes open. It was nearly midnight and nothing was happening. Nothing ever happened. A fellow guard approached and leaned his disruptor against the barricade. He reached into the pouch on his belt and produced a can of yivjebol. The first sentry's eyes opened wide as his friend offered him a pinch. They sat motionlessly for a few moments silently taking in the chirping insects and hooting animals that were the only other inhabitants of this desolate world. It was their lot in life to be vassals of a disgraced house, but it was a living. However, Toral's guards often spoke of the day they all dreamed of: when the House of Duras would be restored and they could take their rightful place as leaders in the Empire once again…

Suddenly, a gale force wind roared around them. Their unsecured weapons were flung away into the darkness. Dust and debris whipped around the block houses and blinded them. The first guard threw his arm over his face just in time to see two deep impressions thrust into the ground. A doorway opened from thin air and a group of QLC commandos appeared from nowhere. They charged forward and readied their weapons. The sentry instinctively pressed the communicator on his shoulder that triggered the perimeter alarm. Klaxons echoed across the entire compound. It was the last thing he would ever do as a hail of green disruptor blasts from the QLC cut him and his partner to ribbons…

****

Laria felt the Dri'goth's landing struts slam into solid ground.

"Touch down!" Torg screamed through the intercom. The massive troop ramp dropped open and crashed into the stone pavement. The QLC led by Qas'DevwI Trall sprinted out into to the night. The sharp crack of disruptor bolts echoed from the buildings. The shrill crying of alarm bells immediately followed. Laria could see two of Toral's guards cowering on the ground about twenty meters away. They didn't last long.

Torlek ran forward. The only thought going through her head was to stick close to him. If he could navigate the hellish chaos of this battle, she would too. At the foot of the ramp, a massive sensation of burning heat slamming into her face causing her entire body to tense. The traumatic memory of a childhood dinner where she fell too close to an open oven in her mother's kitchen suddenly flashed through her mind. She couldn't breathe, she couldn't think, she just wanted to drop to the ground and cover her exposed skin.

"No," her brain fought through the panic. "Torlek warned you about this. Run, damn you! Open your eyes and run!"

Somehow she willed her legs forward and soon the cool air of night surrounded her once more. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw a short stone wall about five meters ahead. She finally made out Torlek's armored back making a beeline towards it. He dropped, rolled, and was soon behind cover. Laria dipped low and dove next to him. Several QLC were already in position beside them and firing their disruptors at the buildings. To their right four more commandos reached up to their vests, pulled out plasma grenades, and heaved them forward with tremendous strength. A series of explosions rocked the courtyard and momentarily drowned out the alarms.

From behind them, a loud metallic clang signaled that the Dri'goth's ramp had resealed.

"Get your head down!" Torlek shouted to her as he placed his left arm in front of his eyes. A blast of hurricane wind laced with sand and debris whipped all around as the bird of prey climbed back into the air. It was yet another piece of the chaos and confusion contributing to her utter disorientation. No other fight in her life had prepared her for this experience.

As soon as the air cleared, she looked to her right just in time to see a Duras sentry charge out from a doorway towards one of the QLC pulse disruptor gunners. The enemy warrior screamed as he swung a bat'leth like a club straight at the gunner's neck. The QLC fighter dropped just low enough for the sword to pass cleanly over his head. With a war cry that shook the ground, he reached out one of his tremendous, paw-like hands and grabbed the shoulder of the Duras sentry. With animalistic fury, he drove his knee into the enemy warrior's chest. Laria could hear the sound of crunching bone from six meters away. As the poor soul gasped for air through his shattered torso, the QLC grabbed his throat with a Mok'bara grip and then slammed the sentry into the ground with enough force to shatter his thick skull like it was made of glass. Laria's eyes grew wide with horror as the gunner immediately grabbed his weapon and continued laying down suppressing fire.

A bright red, flash momentarily blinded her. Instantly, she could feel the air sizzle around her with an ionized charge. The hundreds of green blasts coming from her allies' weapons began bouncing off an invisible wall ten meters to their front. Waves of guardsmen poured out of the buildings ahead and began firing back. Their weapons were able to pass through the invisible barrier like it wasn't there. Two Duras guards ran up a flight of stairs with pulse disruptors and mounted their weapons to the railing of a second story balcony. Disruptor fire began raining down on the QLC positions from above.

"What is happening?" Torlek screamed towards Trall. Laria rolled onto her side and pulled a Federation tricorder from the pouch on her hip. She flipped it open and furiously conducted a scan as enemy disruptor bolts began to rapidly reduce the stone wall they were hiding behind into molten slag. Three QLC were immediately hit as they dove for other cover. They fell to the ground motionless.

"My Lord!" Trall shouted. "We must push forward. If we stay here, we will be cut down like rabid targ!"

"Wait!" Laria screamed in reply. "That is a Level 10 force field! Nothing we have can punch through it. It has as much energy as a live plasma conduit and it will roast the flesh off your bones like a blow torch."

Tortured screams to their right sounded the deaths of two more commandos. Only five of the original ten were left alive.

"We cannot retreat!" Trall yelled. "I will not be die shot in the back!"

"I'm not suggesting we do," Laria said quickly glancing over her shoulder. "I'm detecting a power flow regulator station just inside that building over there. "If I can get to it, I think I can bring the field down."

Torlek glanced over the wall just long enough to see what she was talking about. An open doorway eight meters to their left contained a control panel covered with blinking lights. However, with the amount of enemy fire, it might as well have been a kellicam away. In front of them, the courtyard filled with every sentry in the compound ready to watch the landing team be exterminated.

"Laria," Torlek replied desperately. "There is no way you can cross that gap. You'd be dead before you went two meters."

"Do you have a better idea? We're getting massacred!" she said sucking in a quick breath. "At least I'm half the size of you guys. Smaller target…"

"Qu'vatlh!" Torlek said slamming his fist into the stone wall. He could already feel the heat from the melting stones on the other side. "May Kahless guide your path! yIQan!" he shouted to order the remaining QLC to provide covering fire. Instantly, their disruptors fired as fast as they could towards the enemy on the other side of the forcefield. They couldn't penetrate, but at least they could try to blind their opponents.

"Oh Prophets!" Laria shouted as she sprung to her feet and charged towards the open door. Green blasts from the Duras disruptors steaked past her head and torso and sizzled in her ears. Time seemed to slow down as the pounding in her chest drowned out all other noise.

"I'm still alive. I'm still moving. I have to keep moving!" her brain screamed to her legs. When she was within three meters of the doorway, she pressed her feet into the ground and dove for the safety of the building. At the height of her leap, she heard another disruptor shoot by behind her. Suddenly, she felt lightning pass over the back of her right leg.

"AAHHHHH!" she shrieked as she slammed into the wooden floor next to the power control console. She gasped for air as searing, burning pain streaked up her body, through her hips and towards her chest. It was like somebody had injected battery acid into her veins. She rolled onto back and felt behind her thigh. An enemy shot had grazed her hamstring. It was brutally painful, but she was alive and could still move her appendage.

"Laria?" Torlek screamed. "Do you live? Are you alright!?"

"I'm alive!" Laria yelled back as tears began streaming down her cheeks. "But I'm hit! I don't know how bad it is."

"You have to get that force field down! Otherwise, we are all dead!" Torlek shouted back. She pulled off her belt and wrapped it around her upper thigh like a tourniquet. The pressure was excruciatingly painful, but at least she wouldn't bleed to death if an artery was hit.

She grabbed the sides of the console and pulled herself to her feet. Immediately, she began scanning the controls with her tricorder. Her vision blurred with agony, but she wiped her eyes clear and set to work. The station was encoded, but it wasn't as bad as she thought. With every ounce of resolve she had, she broke through the lock-out and accessed the power controls for the force field. She ordered the computer to terminate all compound defenses, and then uploaded a new security protocol. It was her own special code. They would still be trying to break through it by next year's Peldor Festival on Bajor. She also added another wrinkle which might come in handy as a surprise later. With her work done, she collapsed to the ground.

Outside in the courtyard, the field dropped. Trall roared in triumph.

"THEIR LIVES ARE OURS!" he screamed to his surviving warriors. "KILL THEM ALL!" One of the QLC commandos reached over to a comrade's back and grabbed a metal tube. She raised it to her shoulder, aimed it at the balcony with the enemy pulse disruptors, and pressed the trigger. A rocket streaked across the compound and blew the entire building into rubble. The rain of stone, bricks, and dust caused the assembled mass of sentries to dive for cover. It was the only opportunity the QLC needed. They surged forward with weapons blazing.

Another commando grabbed a pulse disruptor and braced the weapon against his hip. He threw an endless stream of green blasts back into the foolishly massed enemy. It was their turn to begin falling in droves. The other QLC ran straight into the fray with disruptors, blades, and fists. The hand to hand skills of the Duras were nothing compared to the elite of the KDF. A lone sentry foolishly tried to thrust his disruptor at Trall, but the huge Klingon sliced the weapon in two with his sword before doing the same to the hapless young man in front of him. On the floor of the control room, Laria attempted not to black out from the pain as she heard the futile screams of the guards outside.

Torlek ran in the door and grabbed her arm.

"Laria!" he shouted. "Laria, stay awake!" He looked down at her leg and saw the singed flesh. Trall ran inside next.

"My Lord," he said as the adrenaline of battle still surged through him, "they are withdrawing back into the main building. We have them on the run!"

"Tell your men to find Toral!" Torlek said. "However, she is wounded."

Trall dove down next to Laria and checked the gash on her leg.

"It is not too deep," he said trying to reassure her as she used every bit of mental energy she had left to fight back from the brink of unconsciousness. "Don't worry, My Lady, it is a clean wound and you will not lose the leg. Remain here, I will send the medics from the Dri'goth back for you as soon as we secure the complex."

"Hu'teghjay'!" Laria shouted as she grabbed her disruptor rifle. Her powerful expletive caused even Trall to jump a bit. She drove the buttplate of her disruptor into the floor and used the weapon to help her stand. The slightest bit of weight on her right leg caused her intense pain, but there was no way in Gre'thor's inferno that she was going to let the Klingons carry on without her. "These plaQta'pu' haven't killed me yet." With another set of deep breaths, she stood fully erect and shouted loud enough to echo off the walls.

"Laria, no one expects you to continue," Torlek said desperately shaking his head.

"Exactly, My Lord," she said glaring back at him, the red stripes on her cheeks now streaked with sweat and grime. "That is why I will," she said reaching up and grabbing the handles of her mek'leths. She pulled them free and held her blades at the ready. "Mahkcha," she said as she limped towards the door.

Torlek and Trall exchanged amazed looks.

"They will write many songs of this day," Trall said as he lips curled into a grin.

"And I will make sure they are sung," Torlek added.


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