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Year

94,760 CE

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Krieg - Interplanetary Bounty Office

Krieg wasn’t exactly what many people would call a nice planet to live on.  Sure, there were many barren worlds scattered across the Cosmos, but Krieg, Krieg was different.  The whole damned place was essentially a planet-sized fortress, littered with bunkers, defensive emplacements, and trenches.  The people here were even worse, parading around like soldiers, saluting each other nonstop, and frequently beating those they saw as weak.  Even the children here were like that, emulating their parents in hopes that they will be seen as worthy enough to join the cause.  The cause in particular?  Spreading across the universe and conquering or exterminating anything in sight.  “Damn, these folks need to learn to smile more.” Richter remarked, making his way into the bounty office.

Richter himself was an offworlder, a bounty hunter looking for work.  Since he was human, he was allowed to land without being shot down, though they were still wary of him.  Non-humans weren’t exactly welcome on Krieg, being seen as the ultimate enemy of the Kriegsleute.  As Richter stepped into the bounty office, he was made to leave his weapons behind and guided into a room, sitting down in a chair.  Across from him sat a large, cybernetically enhanced man with at least eight blood-red optic units instead of eyes.  His mechanical right arm also had what looked like an auto-rifle built into it.  “So… what’s the job exactly?” Richter asked, trying his hardest not to stare at the man’s heavy augmentations.

The man opened a drawer in his desk and ruffled around through it, pulling out a small, disk-shaped device with a few buttons on it.  He pressed one of the buttons and the device flickered to life, displaying a hologram of a robed figure wielding what looked like an ornate, jewel-encrusted sword.  “This is your target,” The man said, his voice sounding slightly garbled due to the implants in his throat, “They have committed great transgressions against our mighty nation.  You will find them and deal with them any way you see fit.  We will transfer your payment to you once we have proof of you completing your task.  Should you choose to bring them in alive, we will happily pay you extra.  That is all.”  

The hulking cyborg gave the holoprojector to Richter and motioned for him to leave his office, the hunter nodding and leaving to collect his gear.  Walking out to the landing platform, he boarded his ship and activated the autopilot, taking off and flying away into space.  He implemented the coordinates of the target’s last known location into his ship’s navigation system and activated the warp drive.  He took some time to study his target as he traveled to his next destination, activating the holoprojector again as he looked over the target.  From the intricate patterns woven into their robes to the strange glow coming from their sword, Richter guessed that they must be a Magi.  Magi weren’t exactly common in Verpletter, being more spread out than the rest of Via Aylathia, but he fought a few of them before.

As he put the holoprojector away, he took some time to prepare his gear for the upcoming battle.  He tweaked his armor and calibrated his weaponry, but above all else, he took the time to prepare a very special device.  This particular piece of technology was known as a null shackle, a collar designed to completely block a Magi’s connection to the Lux Aeterna.  If Richter wanted the extra reward for bringing his target in alive, the null shackle would be vital to his goal.

Najima System - Sarkhani Station

Sometime later, Richter’s ship dropped out of warp and flew up to a large space station, one bustling with activity.  Judging by the apparent lack of any customs officers, Richter guessed that this place must be a smuggler’s station.  “Dammit, I hate these places.  Well, what better way to hide from the law than on a station full of criminals?”  Richter walked into the cockpit and activated the manual piloting mode, flying his ship into one of the station’s numerous docking bays.  Once he landed, he made sure to activate the onboard security system, just in case any of the station dwellers felt like losing a few limbs.

To say the place was packed would be an understatement.  People of all shapes and sizes crowded the station, bartering, trading, and heckling with each other.  The amount of exotic goods on display was also nothing to scoff at.  Rare animals, illegal weaponry, Richter swore he even saw some pallidite crystals on display.  Though, given how rare those things were, they very well may have been fakes.  “How the Hell am I gonna find this guy?  Hmm…” Richter’s eyes surveyed the crowd, trying to pick out any hooded figures hiding amongst them.  He then caught sight of what appeared to be a bar, figuring that he might be able to at least get some information, or at least some good beer.

As Richter walked into the bar, he saw that it wasn’t as crowded as he thought it would be, half the tables being empty. “Must be a slow day for business.” He remarked, sitting down at the bar.  The barkeep, an Asren-Asheir with a slightly rusted cybernetic wing, strolled up and asked what Richter wanted to drink. “I’ll take a Casorian Special, on the rocks.” The birdlike bartender nodded and went off to fix Richter’s drink.  

As the hunter waited, he heard the door open again and saw an odd-looking fellow walk into the bar.  They appeared to be human, but their clothing made it difficult for Richter to make out any features.  The person wore dark, heavy robes inlaid with intricate golden patterns.  A metallic mask covered their face, one that bore the image of a snarling beast.  At their side was a scabbard, containing a sword that seemed to hum with energy.  One good look at the guy was all Richter needed, they were definitely the target.

The Magi sat down at a table near the far end of the bar, a waiter walking up to them and taking their order.  ‘Gonna have to think carefully about this.’ Richter thought, not wanting to provoke the Magi too early.  He’d seen just how powerful some of them were, being able to use the Lux Aeterna’s power to achieve great feats.  One of them was even able to bring down his ship with their mind during a chase.  Richter would have to be clever if he wanted to capture the Magi alive, and he doubted that they would go easily.

For now, Richter just decided to act like he didn’t care, turning away from the Magi and taking his drink from the barkeep.  He occasionally looked back and watched as the Magi ate their food, the bottom half of their mask having been removed so they could eat.  Judging by how their skin looked, Richter guessed that they must’ve been a Zrelgerian.  Once the Magi was done eating, they stood up and walked out of the bar, leaving a small bag of credits behind as payment.  Richter stood up and followed them, not bothering to pay his tab, much to the chagrin of the barkeep, who shouted various profanities at him in at least three languages.

As Richter trailed the Magi through the station, he didn’t take the time to notice the people following him.  As the hunter tracked his quarry to a seemingly abandoned part of the station, an old refinery that hasn’t seen use in a while, he prepared to jump at the Magi and attach the null shackle.  However, he felt a hand on his shoulder, turning around and finding a fist in his face. He cried out in pain and reeled back, the Magi turning around to face him.  “Thought you were clever, weren’t you?” The Magi taunted, their voice invading Richter’s mind as their goons attempted to grab the bounty hunter.  What they instead got was an energy bolt in both of their heads, their craniums exploding in a shower of gore. “Well, I get by.” Replied Richter, smirking at the Magi as he let his plasma pistol vent.  The Magi hadn’t expected Richter to be such a quickdraw, but they didn’t seem to be fazed, calmly drawing their thaumablade as it hummed and glowed with power.

“Oh?  Let’s see you ‘get by’ THIS!”  The Magi cried out, outstretching their hand and unleashing a blast of aeternal lightning.  Richter barely had enough time to dodge it, some of the attack connecting with him and lightly scorching parts of his armor.  He fired a few shots at the Magi, but none of them hit, all being blocked by the bastard’s thaumablade.  “Your petty weapons are no match for my power!  Nothing can match the might of the Aeterna!”  The Magi then unleashed a mighty beam of thaumic energy, forcing Richter to hide behind a wall to avoid getting vaporized.

Richter cursed to himself before peeking out from behind the wall, only to barely avoid another thaumic beam.  “Give up, hunter!  A fool like you could never hope to kill a Magi!”  The beam subsided again.  “Well, I don’t really wanna kill ya.  My employer’s offering a big payday to drag you back alive.” Richter retorted, considering his next plan of attack.  He couldn’t jump out at the Magi again, he’d get disintegrated.  He weighed his options before noticing a pipe next to where the Magi was standing, getting an idea.

He quickly rushed out from behind the wall, dodging an incoming barrage of projectiles and shooting the pipe with his plasma pistol.  Hot steam erupted from the pipe like a geyser, showering the Magi with heat and causing them to lose focus.  “Argh!  You think that little trick is enough to stop me!?” The Magi barked, struggling to see through all the steam.  They then unleashed a telekinetic wave of force, blowing the steam away to clear their vision.  However, it wasn’t enough for them to notice Richter sneaking up to them, the hunter’s armored fist colliding with their face.  The force of Richter’s punch was enough to make the Magi’s mask shatter, the Zrelgerian snarling through his bleeding nose.

“Damn, do all Magi look that ugly?” Richter jokingly asked, the Magi lifting up his thaumablade to strike.  “DIE, WRETCH!” He cried out, slashing at the hunter with a fury unlike his kind.  Richter narrowly avoided the attacks, backing away as he opened up his armor’s wristpad and pressed a few buttons.  His gauntlets then glew to life with crackling blue energy, fully charged and ready for battle.  When the Magi swung at him again, Richter blocked the blade with one of his gauntlets, the energy field surrounding it keeping the Magi’s blade at bay.  

The two traded blows for what felt like an eternity, bursts of energy erupting from the collisions of their weapons.  Richter noticed that the Magi began to grow weary, their movements growing more sluggish as their breathing got heavier.  Still, he fought on with an unwavering spirit, unwilling to back down even though he was clearly outmatched in physical combat.  “Just… die… already… you… heathen!” The Magi prepared to unleash another burst of energy, a crackling orb of power appearing in his hand.  Before he could throw it, Richter rushed forth and delivered a powerful uppercut straight into the Magi’s face, knocking his thaumablade out of hand and causing the orb to dissapate.

The Magi fell to the ground in a crumpled heap, struggling to pick himself up as he tried to regain his bearings.  Richter then walked up to him, delivering a final punch to the back of the Magi’s head and knocking him out cold.  “There, was that so hard?” Richter then pulled out the null shackle again, placing it around the Magi’s neck.  “The extra pay for bringing this guy in better be worth it…” The hunter replied as he picked up the unconscious Magi and began carrying him back to his ship.  He also made sure to grab his thaumablade, figuring it would be worth a good deal if he sold it.

Once he boarded his ship, Richter unceremoniously tossed the unconscious Magi into the brig, noticing a small object fall out of his pocket.  He picked it up and noticed that it was a navichip, containing a set of coordinates to an unknown part of Verpletter.  “Hmm… did those Kriegsleute guys want this too?  Well, if it’s worth sending me out to nab you, whatever this leads to must be valuable.”  Richter smiled as he inserted the chip into the ship’s computer, watching as it plotted a course towards his new destination.  He had no idea where in would take him, but if it was valuable enough for a wanted Magi to carry around, then it must be worth a fortune.

The Casanova - Holding Bay

Sometime later, the Magi woke up and found himself in an unfamiliar location, still feeling the pain from Richter's punch in his jaw. It appeared to be a small room, only containing a bed and a door with a small window slit. He pulled himself up and felt a strange sensation around his neck, reaching to feel it only to find a metallic collar had been attached to him. In a panic, he tried pulling it off, but the collar held firm. He then tried to use his thaumic powers to blast the collar off, but strangely, he found his connection to the Lux Aeterna had been... blocked somehow. "Yeah, that thing's staying on, buddy. I ain't taking any chances."

Turning around, the Magi rushed over to the door and peered through the window slit and saw Richter leaning against a nearby wall, whistling and tweaking with his plasma pistol. "YOU!!!" The Magi cried out, pounding against the cell door. "What have you done to me!? Where am I!?" He then tried charging up a ball of thaumic energy between his hands, but he couldn't get anything to form aside from a few measly sparks. "Null shackle, makes it so you can't use your powers." The hunter replied, holstering his pistol and walking up to the cell. "As you've probably guessed by now, you're on my ship. Try not to make dents in the door, I'm still paying that thing off." The Magi didn't listen, kicking at the door with all his might and spouting obscenities at Richter.

A couple minutes later, the pounding grew softer and softer, the Magi growing tired as he slumped against the door. Letting out a sigh of defeat, he walked back over to his bed and sat with his hands on his head. As he was lamenting his situation, the door opened up and Richter walked in, the Magi's navichip in his hand. "Now that you're done screaming like an Elmaren in daylight, I'd like to ask you a few questions, magic man." The Magi gazed up at Richter with a defeated look, his weary eyes staring at the chip. "What do you want, hunter? Is seeing me locked up in this hunk of junk you call a ship not satisfying enough to your greedy heart?"

"Call my baby a "hunk of junk" again and we're gonna be having some problems, greyboy." Richter activated one of his gauntlets, his hand balling into a crackling, energized fist as the Magi recoiled in fear. Not wanting to experience more blunt force trauma, the Magi relented, keeping as quiet as he could. "Perfect, I love it when they cooperate." Richter smiled as he deactivated his gauntlet. "Now, you've got two choices. First, I turn you in and leave with my reward. Second..." Richter held the navichip up to the Magi's face, "...You tell me where this leads. Must be valuable if those Kriegers wanted me to nab you, eh?"

The Magi sat there, weighing his options as Richter stared him down. He couldn't just let himself get turned in, not after he's come so far already. It would ruin his chances at winning the Game. Then again, he wasn't exactly keen on being held prisoner, especially by an unenlightened fool who didn't even know the basics of Thaumaturgy. Although, he could probably use this fool to his own ends...

"It appears I have no other choice. Very well, hunter, I shall inform you of the chip's secrets. It contains coordinates to an ancient communications outpost, one that has existed for millennia. The Kriegsleute has been trying to find it, but I stole the chip and escaped before they could find me. I was trying to find safe passage on Sarkhani, but you arrived before I could board a ship. I guess this is better, at least I'm not being tortured in one of those bastards' slave pits..."

"A comms outpost? Why the hell would the Kriegers go through all this trouble just for a measly comms outpost? What, did the Commune Federation block all their frequencies again so now they gotta find a new way to blast propaganda?" The Magi sighed again, unamused at the hunter's ignorance. "No, you fool! This isn't some run-of-the-mill station, this is something ancient, existing long before your petty nations even arose! It's the only one of its kind known to even exist in Verpletter! It is... an AeterCom station!"

AeterCom... that was a name Richter swore he heard before. He remembered one of the other Magi he'd hunted saying the name before, but he had no clue what it meant. "So what, is it something you Magi use to share secrets or whatever?" The hunter chuckled out, further angering the Magi. "It's an intergalactic communications network, you imbecile! You can use it to speak to people in other galaxies!"

"Wait... other galaxies?" Was this being Magi serious? Verpletter's been surrounded by an unbeatable swarm of automated drones for the past five thousand years now, all communications with the outside universe were blocked! Then again, judging by the way this "AeterCom" thing sounded, it appeared that this Magi found a way to break through the barrier. "So that's why the Kriegers wanted you, huh? Wanted to call in the folks on the outside, I'd bet."

"Precisely. Should the Kriegsleute make contact with the rest of Via Aylathia, they'll no doubt try to appeal to other powers on joining them in their so-called "crusade." It's something that I fear even my great nation will not be able to survive." The Magi was right, not even the strongest powers in Verpletter would be able to withstand the Kriegsletue if they were backed up by outside forces. Even the Zrelgerian Kraterocracy, powerful as they were, wouldn't be able to stand up to an assault on all sides.

"Well, can't say that'd be good for the both of us. Or the rest of Verpletter for that matter." Richter remarked, the Magi nodding in agreement, "So, any bright ideas on how we can keep the Kriegsleute off our backs? Because I'm pretty sure I'm public enemy number one just by you being here." The Magi paused for a moment, scratching his chin as he weighed his options. "Well... how about you bring me back home, to Zagrah? I assure you, whatever the Kriegsleute is offering for my capture, my people can offer you more."

"Hmm... I'll consider it." Richter replied, walking back out of the cell. After locking the door again, he walked out of the holding bay and up to the cockpit, checking the navigations system to see if it was finished reading the coordinates on the navichip. "Well, looks like that's almost done, better pull on out of here." Sitting down in the pilot's seat, Richter activated the ship's engines and pulled it upward, retracting the landing gear as he pulled out of the station's docking bay. However, once he flew out into open space, his ship's radar detected something large jumping out of warp in front of the station. Pulling up his viewfinder, Richter saw an immense starship in the distance, one with the telltale flag of the Kriegsleute boldly painted on the side.

"Just my luck..." Richter groaned out, hearing his comms system ringing. The hunter sighed as he opened the frequency between him and the Kriegers, hoping to possibly talk his way out of this. "Attention bounty hunter," The voice from the Kriegsleute ship stated, "We have been listening to your conversation with the target via the listening device we placed on your ship. You will not turn them over to anyone but us. This is your first and final warning." The battleship aimed its guns at the hunter, the megalaser turrets glowing like multiple sets of angry red eyes.

A listening device? The bastards bugged his ship! He'd have to destroy it once he was out of this system, but now, he had to focus on not getting vaporized. "Listen, you people sound like swell folks, I'm sure. But my career's at stake if I let you get a hold of this guy, so I'll pass." Closing the frequency between the two ships, Richter set the engines to full power, flying to a spot where he could warp to another system safely. An enormous red streak of light passed by him, barely missing his ship as the Kriegers prepared another broadside. "Come on old girl, don't fail me now..." Richter gritted through his teeth as he flew far away from the station.

"Come on, come on..." As Richter was dodging countless volleys of laser fire, he set the ship's warp drive to jump to the nearest system, plotting a new course as the battleship got closer. When it was finally ready, he yanked the warp drive lever as hard as he could, jumping out of system just before his ship was hit by a megalaser shot. Once in warp, Richter breathed the biggest sigh of relief, slumping back in his chair with a smile on his face. "Thank the fucking stars..." He stated, laughing a bit to celebrate his latest near-death experience.

Richter then got up and walked into his quarters, a mid-sized room near the back of the ship. Taking off his armor, he flopped down onto his bed and thought back on the events that happened in the last day. Not only did he have a Magi imprisoned on his ship, but the Magi possessed what might just be the only way out of Verpletter. He'd wanted to see the rest of the galaxy he entire life, and now he had a way of doing so. He just hoped the Magi would be cooperative in the long run. "Well, better wait and see..." Richter said, closing his eyes as he let sleep overtake him, eager to see what his next adventure would be.

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