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Newsletter Archive

FREELANCERS #32 - 06/15/24

Apologies for the late night send. Surprising no one, this one went a little longer than anticipated. Is a fun wrap to this little adventure that I'm sure you'll love.

As a note, I’ll be switching to one newsletter a month from now on where I’ll condense the personal update before the Freelancer news report and short story. It should be a bit easier to do it all in one go so I can focus more on writing throughout the month. Please let me know if you prefer them being separate like I've been doing.

Below is a link to the previous Howling Scars story in case you missed it.


Hey, Freelancers!

Lina Ro'Shaer here with this month's Bullet Points.

Chaos erupted in the orbit of Makmatar I as the chase for Loquazi Tuveek’s crashed treasures came to a head. With hundreds of hunters and interested parties on the hunt, skirmishes raged across the edge of Juno’s Heart. No doubt due to the insider information given by the eccentric collector, Apex Security’s task force found the crashed yacht. Unfortunately, they also found an entire pirate fleet waiting for them.

Apex earned their reputation for ruthless effectiveness, but one can never underestimate the off-kilter tenacity of pirates. The battle resulted in a pyrrhic victory for Apex, but, by all accounts, the collector’s yacht remains MIA. Was it claimed by the gas giant’s tumultuous storms, or did someone sneak in during the brawl and lifted the bounty before it fell into the abyss?

We may never know, but for now, the bounty is still active. It isn’t over until it’s over, hunters.

An Alpha's Prerogative


The fringe of this otherwise unassuming solar system saw a curious stellar feature. Chains of glaciers the size of moons covered in spiky icicles lined the periphery like a frozen mountain range in the stars. A network of hidden caves leading inside the larger structures revealed rivers of water floating in zero gravity. It was the heat generated from a hidden mining operation and smuggler port called Kivineth’s Redoubt that created this unique stellar situation.

A silhouette of the micro-carrier, Wolf Mother, cast reflections on the slick icy caverns as it navigated the waterways toward the station. The craft exited a tight corridor into the massive chamber where the smuggler port was tucked away from the prying eyes of local authorities. The shifting displacement of heat and the lack of gravity created almost fractal icicle formations along the edge of the chasm. Loose helices of water splashed on the ship’s hull as it cruised toward the landing bay.

Once they touched down inside, the wolf-like humanoid, Skara Vranig, tapped her clawed hands on the cockpit controls and said, “Excellent flying, Weaver. If you were a regular crewmate, I’d give you a raise.”

The ship’s advanced virtual intelligence replied over the speakers, “Thank you, captain. I appreciate the challenge, and it’s my pleasure to serve. I’ll be sure not to tell the others you said that.”

Wrapped up in an oversized parka, the rodent-like humanoid, Lucky, poked his head in the cockpit. “Don’t tell the others you said what?”

The captain’s chair slid back and spun around. Skara used the momentum to hop to her feet, stroll up to her teammate, and wrap him in a headlock. “Don’t tell anyone how excited I am to cash in this fat bounty, then go on that vacation we’ve been planning. Put any more thought into where you’d want to go?”

Lucky shuffled along beside her as one of his cybernetic hands tried to free himself in vain from the strong woman’s grip. “I got some ideas, but I’m holding out until it’s a sure thing.”

She held him closer. “You saying you don’t trust I can get the job done?”

Unsure how to phrase it, Lucky shrugged. “Ehhh.”

They entered the ship’s lounge, where the other two crew members waited. Sitting in her darkened nook of the couch surrounded by her colourful artwork covering the nearby walls, the plant-like humanoid, Belladonna, maintained her vicious hi-tech blade while watching an old martial arts holovid. The ground quaked as the porcine-like humanoid, Diesel, dropped into a chair near the kitchen. Fresh out of the refresher for a shower and stripped to the waist, he wiped the remaining moisture off his well-muscled body covered in tattoos with a towel.

Belladonna looked up from her program and smirked at the struggling cyborg. “Oo la la. What did Lucky do this time?”

Skara addressed the room. “This little scamp is threatening my good mood by hinting that he doesn’t think our vacation plans are going to happen. Can you believe it?”

Belladonna and Diesel shrugged in unison. “Ehhh.”

Skara’s jaw dropped as she dropped Lucky to the floor. “Really? Et tu bozos? We hustled so hard and almost got crushed in torrential lightning storms for this bounty, and you ungrateful waifs lose faith when all I need to do is drop the goods off to the fence?”

Diesel lit up a cigar and spoke in his baritone voice. “Never too late for things to go south. This is outlaw territory. A lot can happen, boss.”

Skara put her hands on her hips. “It’s not my first rodeo, Diesel.”

Belladonna ran a finger along her wicked blade’s edge. “Do you know where the artifact is?” Even when she wasn’t trying to, her tone was laced with poison.

Skara tutted, then checked her pockets. The search continued for some time. She stopped herself after a spin almost made it seem like she was chasing her tail. Remembering where it was, she clenched her jaw, raised a finger cautioning anyone else from delivering further jabs, then marched down the corridor to her quarters. She let out a laugh that was too loud to be completely natural.

Lucky watched her turn the corner, then spoke in a harsh whisper. “I know I’m one to talk after being partially responsible for that strange drug-fuelled spirit quest rescue mission y’all embarked on to save me a few months back, but I’m worried she’s losing it. You know how Sarakem can get. Those jokes she keeps making about going feral aren’t funny anymore.”

Diesel scratched his bearded chin and exhaled cigar smoke. “Been a rough few months. She can hack it.”

Lucky paced about the lounge. He jumped as clattering sounds and frustrated growls rang out from the captain’s quarters. “Don’t know, man. I swear she was staring at me and licking her lips when I wasn’t looking yesterday. She had that hungry predator look in her eyes. See, just like that.” He pointed at Belladonna who gazed at him with her deep black orbs.

She cocked her head to the side. “You’re imagining things. Give her a break. She’s just trying to be happy. Is that so bad? A little attitude adjustment could do wonders for some people.”

The cyborg rubbed his flesh arm to warm up some more as he looked down the corridor. “At least she stopped grilling everyone about who ate her bacon.”

Belladonna hurled a bottle of lubricant at his head. “Shut it, fool! It took her weeks to let that go. Are you trying to make her lose her mind?”

He pointed a finger in her direction. “You’re still my prime suspect for that case, you skinny sneak. I know more about what goes on in this ship than you lot give me credit for. Might give the boss some closure if I came forward with new evidence.”

The lithe assassin got to her feet and emerged from the shadows to loom over Lucky in one smooth motion. “If you’re so smart, surely you considered what I’d do to someone who ratted me out, if that were true.” Her whispers were soft as silk, but cut like a knife.

Skara marched back inside and held out a palm-sized ornate box. “See? I’ve got this. Nothing to worry about. So stop worrying before I slap you all silly. Get your vacation ideas sorted because I’ll be back in an hour with the fattest stack of credits you mutts have ever seen.”

As she turned to leave, Diesel stood up. “Need some backup, boss?”

She threw on her armoured coat with fur lining and tucked the item into a pocket. “I’m good. Don’t want to spook Koshena. She’ll be miserable enough from this cold as is.”

Belladonna put a hand on Skara’s shoulder. “This is a hot bounty. What if that mage, Mirage, shows up again? He turns up so often, I’d swear he has a crush on you.”

Skara smirked. Her lip curled up higher over a nasty scar down the side of her face. “Aww, you jealous?”

Belladonna scoffed, swatted Skara’s hand, and turned away. “As if.”

The captain checked her plasma pistol and spun it into her holster. “Remember what I said about the worrying and the slaps. I left that wannabe magician in the dust back on Makmatar. If he somehow snakes this bounty from me now, I’ll buy you a garden world. How does that sound?”

As she headed for the exit ramp, she said over her shoulder, “Seriously, stay away. Check out the station, relax, stretch your legs, grab a drink. Or stay here and play with yourselves. I don’t care. When I get back, we’ll be rich! That’s a promise from your favourite alpha.”

The three remaining members of the Howling Scars watched her go, then exchanged concerned glances.

Lucky broke the silence. “Think they got some of that rare bacon you stole here?”

Belladonna groaned, then stomped back to her quarters, uttering harsh invectives in her native tongue.


Unless you were near the mining lasers deeper in the station, the biting cold permeating Kivineth’s Redoubt could only be mitigated so much. Spaces that could maintain room temperature were at a premium, and everyone could see each other’s breath. Made it easier to spot ambushes, at least.

If you were paying attention, anyway.

Skara marched into the station with a big smile on her face and a spring in her step. A peep at her holopad to view the potential payout of this bounty made her grin even wider. She played it off like it wasn’t an issue, but they’d been creeping into the red financially for a while now. This payout promised to make all the effort, wounds, pain, and tears worth it. For her sake, it had to.

She passed a procession of other Sarakem, jackal-like Altahnset refugees by the look of it. Clearly downtrodden, but their resolute sense of togetherness was palpable.

A wave of melancholy washed away Skara’s fragile good vibes. Growing up a discarded youth in a dog-eat-dog world, the other Vulfar Sarakem around her abandoned most of their ancient traditions revolving around the sanctity of the pack. Even after her penchant for violence granted her a way off of that cold, miserable place, she never quite clicked with any of the groups she worked with.

The Howling Scars were the stubborn woman’s attempt at creating a pack of her own.

Turning a corner, there was a blinding flash of light, and a baying beast rocking its cage broke Skara from her musings. A parade of exotic beasts came rolling by and almost rolled over her. She jumped back and reached for her pistol, but one of the masked handlers grabbed her and yanked her out of the way.

Unnatural eyes peered at her from behind the mask. “Watch yer step, unless yer monster enough to join the menagerie!”

Skara’s sensitive nose wrinkled in disgust as she noticed the animal filth covering the handsy handler’s poncho. She shoved them back as they cackled and waddled off with the rest of the train toward the docking bay. Stepping aside, she rubbed as much of the foul smell off her coat, then hurried to the meeting place.

A neon sign at the end of the wide corridor beckoned weary travellers inside for a much-needed rest. The soft music inside weaved through deep shadows and islands of dim lights. An ideal environment for the dubious clientèle of a smuggler station like this.

Stepping inside, Skara surveyed the establishment and locked eyes with the smoldering, fiery eyes of her contact across the room. Parked as close to the heater as possible, the demon-like Daemar, Koshena, shivered and rubbed her arms. Adapted to volcanic climates, she’d long since given up on trying to look cool in the cold lounge. Her bright eyes lit up when she noticed Skara enter.

“Finally! Quick, let’s get this over with, Skara.” Koshena tapped a mitten on the table and made grabby gestures.

Skara, much more accustomed to the cold, smirked and slid into the booth. “What’s the matter, Koshena? No small talk? No chit-chat? I know Freelancer posted a story about the battle already, but don’t you want to know what really happened with the—“

Koshena’s eyes flared, and she slammed a fist on the table. “I don’t have time or energy to wax poetic with your bullshit, Skara! Fuck being courteous. I have dangerous clients waiting. Give me the goods so I can pay you and get the fuck out of this Infernal ice box!”

Skara rubbed the frazzled fence’s hand and reached into her coat. “Okay, okay. I’ve got it. Relax. Shit, Koshena. I’m usually the one making jokes about losing my mind.”

The Daemar took a deep breath as the server droid delivered their drinks. Before it could blow out the flames on Koshena’s steamy beverage, she up-ended the whole thing down her throat. “Apologies, Skara. As I’m sure you know, this bounty’s been a little cursed from the start. I just want to get this sorted, get my fee, and go on a much-needed vacation. I’m about ready to dive naked into a boiling sulfur pit.”

Skara chuckled. “I know exactly what you mean.”

Koshena prepared the tools she needed to verify the artifact’s authenticity. “I know you can be a little rough, but please tell me it’s in good shape. It’s value, and thus your pay, directly correlates to the item’s condition.”

“It got a little dinged up when that idiot, Mirage, tried to swipe it… but overall it’s—“ Skara’s breath caught in her throat after checking her pockets for the third time. The box was missing. She pushed past the residual stink of the animal filth and sniffed her coat. Her keen nose detected trace amounts of aether and something else that was all too familiar.

Trying to hold back a scream, Skara clenched her fist and bit her lip so hard it drew blood. That thief, Mirage, did it again.

“Is something wrong?” Koshena regarded her with a curious expression.

Skara flashed her a toothy smile and touched her ear, pretending to get a call. “Nothing I can’t handle. Slight issue, nothing major, but time sensitive. Just let me slip back to my ship for a quick second, and I’ll be right back with the goods. Order some spicy lunch to keep warm.”

Koshena looked at the merc in shock and confusion as she slid out of the booth and briskly exited the lounge. She almost shot the server bot telling her about the house soup.

As soon as the doors hissed shut behind her, Skara broke into a full sprint back to the dock.


The menagerie was big enough that nobody noticed or cared about one more handler joining their procession. The newcomer certainly smelled the part. Separating from the pack near an airlock, Mirage, the expert thief and accomplished illusionist, needed to sell the disguise to his mark and her cursedly keen nose. It pained him to don a physical mask, poncho and smear himself head to toe in shite instead of using magic, but this had to work.

“The things I do for success.” He muttered to himself as he used magic to flick stubborn pieces of rubbish off himself.

It was one hell of a gamble that Skara would come here of all places after she violently snatched the bounty from him on Makmatar I. He smiled and spun the item in his hand. The spell he used to phase it through her jacket was a speciality of his. Part of him felt guilty for not challenging himself and picking the pocket without magic, but a lot was at stake, and he put aside his pride for one moment.

He wished he could see her face when she embarrassed herself in front of the fence. Not too close, though. A fitting comeuppance for a rude person like her who keeps getting in his way and not appreciating his art.

As planned, Mirage donned his spacesuit, exited the airlock and drifted over to his stealthed ship hidden off to the side. He almost regretted having so many expensive contingency plans in place since it seemed his plan worked perfectly. He even swindled an advance on the payment from the collector themselves, Loquazi Tuveek, to pay for extra help in an emergency.

No matter, he thought. He bested his arch nemesis and secured a massive bounty. Mirage smiled to himself upon rationalizing that this further proved how much of a genius he was. Surely, nothing could go wrong from here.


The frigid air stung Skara’s lungs as she sprinted through the smuggler station. Several bystanders who weren’t paying attention got bowled out of her way, while others shrank at the angry Vulfar baring her teeth and sniffing the air around them. The merc felt the feral side taking hold of her, but she needed that energy right now if she had any chance of catching her quarry.

She skidded to a halt and latched her claws onto a door as her nose caught the scent of something familiar. Just outside the airlock, she found the pickpocket’s foul-smelling disguise. Catching his unmasked musk made her clench her fangs. Despite the cold, it was still warm. He couldn’t be far off.

Continuing her sprint into the port, she had to slow down again as Lucky poked his head out of a compartment on the Wolf Mother’s hull. “That’s not the gait of a rich person. Everything okay, boss?”

Skara forced a smile and laughed too loud. “Thought I told you to relax. Everything’s just peachy. I ran into an old friend and we’re gonna have a little race. For fun! Do something loud and complicated for the next hour and I’ll be back before you know it.”

Lucky kept his welder’s mask up and raised an eyebrow as she leaped into the ship.

Once inside the ship’s launch bay and throwing on only the necessary parts of her flight suit, Skara hollered, “Weaver! Scan for traces of stealth systems and get my fighter prepped for launch.”

The speaker in the room chimed. “Captain, it is inadvisable to launch the fighter inside the station’s dock. The catapult isn’t properly aligned with the—“

She hopped inside her fighter and booted it up. “I can make it. Just find me that ship.”

As her fighter locked into the catapult, Weaver piped into the cockpit. “Shall I notify the others?”

Skara said, “No! I can handle it. Don’t say a word. Do you understand?”

There was a long period of silence as the sophisticated program bordering on sapience considered its response. “Yes. I hear you, captain. Not a word.”

As proximity warnings flared in her cockpit, Skara hit the overrides and launched out of the Wolf Mother’s bay. As soon as she cleared the vessel’s nose, she banked hard to the right and left a nasty scrape on her wing as she practically bounced out of the dock like a pinball.

Once clear, she kicked Weaver’s sensors into high gear and watched for the slightest slip-up.


Now comfortable in the pilot’s chair of his stealthed ship, Mirage kicked his feet up on the console and magically levitated the item in his hand. Speaking to someone on the comms, he said, “That’s how it goes sometimes, old chum. You lot were hired as a backup in case the worst happened. So, when I execute my brilliant plan to perfection, you and your gang of ruffians are stuck having a twiddle.”

A gruff voice on the other side of the call grumbled. “It ain’t cheap getting everyone and their kit down here on such short notice. You gonna comp us some rinn for our time?”

Mirage tutted. “Unfortunately, Krajj, that wasn’t part of the deal.”

The ork mercenary commander grit his teeth. “You cocky prick.”

The thief, cocky enough to transmit this conversation over an unsecure frequency, sighed with self-satisfaction. “What can I say? I can’t help being this good.”

As he went to end the call, a burst of cannon rounds peppered his ship. The artifact flew out of the thief’s hand and clattered off the console. Weaver was able to triangulate the ship’s antenna from the call. Skara watched for the slightest visual distortion she could spot against the massive icicles in the chasm and opened fire. There were many advantages to stealth and optical cloaking systems, but the trade-offs made the ship fragile.

Enough of the system got hit that the cloak failed, revealing Mirage’s ship on sensors.

Skara swooped around for another pass and tapped into the thief’s comms. “Nice try, you cocky prick. Give me the artifact before I board that flimsy fop-mobile and bite your fucking head off!”

Still on the call, the ork chuckled. “Ooo, she sounds mad.”

Getting a grip after his moment of panic, Mirage punched the throttle and took evasive maneuvers. “Skara, darling, muffin, my favourite fur maiden. You’ve got the wrong man. I don’t have the artifact. You took it from me on that cloud that fell apart, remember?”

“You don’t? Oh, so I can blow you up and not worry about damaging the goods?”

Mirage shrieked as a rocket streamed past his cockpit and blasted some nearby ice. He spoke to the ork, “Krajj, mate, my bestest compadre. Good news! I’ll be needing your services after all.”

Krajj scratched his scarred chin. “Sure thing, ‘mate’. Only problem is my rate just tripled.”

“Hey, that wasn’t part of the deal.” Another burst of cannon rounds perforated his ship. Sparks flew and the cockpit door sealed shut as the inside started to depressurize. “Alright, alright! Triple the rate. Just get her away from me!”

Warnings flared on Skara’s sensors as multiple attack drones surged toward her. She broke off the attack on Mirage’s wounded vessel to dodge their opening volley of laser fire, giving the thief time to dive into one of the many caverns in the ice mountain.

The mercs he hired as a contingency for a situation just like this figured it’d be an easy kill with the element of surprise and their overwhelming number. It was just the one Howling Scar instead of all four like they anticipated. But Skara had been fighting against overwhelming odds her whole life.

The handful of neutral ships turned on their kinetic barriers and gave the combatants a wide berth as a messy and brutal dogfight broke out outside Kivineth’s Redoubt. Skara’s rugged fighter took some hits in the initial salvo, but turned and obliterated the attacking drones in short order. After cutting Mirage off by blasting out a side tunnel, both ships had to dodge ice shards with barely any room to maneuver.

The second wave of merc fighters forced her to flee, but it was only a temporary withdrawal as her rugged craft took their hits and pressed the attack. Seeing an opportunity, Mirage hit the afterburners and slipped into a dark, narrow passage off to the side. He extended his powers to create an illusion of his ship going a different way. The thief breathed a sigh of relief as both his escort and his pursuer took the bait and followed the fake ship.

Slowing down and turning on the exterior lights, Mirage found himself in an empty section of cave deep enough to be in pitch darkness. A scan illuminated an abandoned mining station off to the side embedded in an asteroid. The abundance of liquid droplets in the chamber hinted it had been occupied recently. The sudden silence chilled more than the cold.

A sliver of light shone through the ice on the far side of the cave. A literal ray of hope that led to open space and freedom.

Mirage adjusted in his seat and wiped sweat from his brow. He was so close. Maybe killed enough of the mercs that he didn’t have to pay them. In truth, he didn’t plan on paying them anyway unless he had to. After that brief scare, things were looking up for the master thief once again. He was untouchable.

There wasn’t enough time to react as the ice to his right burst open. Skara’s damaged fighter screamed through the cave and rammed Mirage’s ship into the abandoned mining station. Sparks flew as their vessels slammed into the far side of the landing dock.

With blood trickling down his face, Mirage regained consciousness after a few moments. The onboard computer glitching out with its diagnostic of all ship systems in the red made his throbbing headache worse. His eyes widened and his adrenaline spiked as he heard creaking metal outside. The thief retrieved his helmet, activated the distress beacon, then searched the cockpit for the artifact. After finding it, a little more banged up, in the corner, he stumbled out of his broken ship.

With no gravity in the abandoned station, Mirage crept down to the metal floor. He winced as the magnets on his boots latched on with a loud clang. He drew a small holdout pistol he kept for emergencies. Raising it as he turned the corner, he spied the silhouette of Skara’s smashed fighter against the adjacent wall. There was enough air lingering in the station or venting from their ships to fuel fires and provide a meagre amount of light. Holding his weapon with a shaky hand, he couldn’t see inside the fighter’s cockpit.

Thinking he heard some movement, Mirage prepared to work his magic. He saw stars and his world flipped all the way around as something struck him from the side. After spinning 360 degrees from the impact, something strong grabbed his neck and his hand holding the pistol. With a crack in her helmet leaking air, Skara pressed her face mask right into his as she pressed him into the hull of his ship.

Struggling to breathe, Mirage said, “Skara, sweetie-kins… Ack… Fancy meeting you here.”

Snarling and wide-eyed, she continued to press her helmet into his. “Insufferable to your last breath. Is that it? Has this all just been a fucking game to you?”

He struggled against her tightening grip in vain. “If it is a game, it’s certainly not fun anymore. You losing your marbles? Can’t say I much like that look in your eye.”

With ancient Vulfar deities clawing at the back of her mind imploring her to embrace the beast, Skara spoke with a growl behind her words. “You’ve been a pain in my tail for long enough, you wretched shit. Everything was finally coming together for me, and you slithered in and fucked it all up again! Well, this is it. I’ve had it. Game over. No more jokes. No more stupid fucking tricks—“


She slammed him against the hull a few times. “If I can’t have a dream vacation with my pack, then I’ll at least have the satisfaction of watching you die before I lose my fucking mind!”

As lines of red closed in on the edges of her vision, Skara squeezed his neck with all her might. One-handed through the space suit, however, it was a slower process than she would’ve liked.

Unable to breathe, Mirage raised a finger with his free hand. She loosened her grip ever so slightly and snarled. “What?!” Saliva dripped from the corners of her mouth and ran down the big scar along her face.

He said, “You should know, I’ve learned something new since last we danced, Skara, old girl… I brought… backup.”

A light flooded in from the side as one of the merc’s drones entered the landing bay. As she squinted against the bright light, Mirage took the opportunity, freed his hand, and shot her in the side.

Skara cried out in pain and let him go. Mirage crawled away as the drone opened fire with a repeating laser, forcing a wounded Skara into cover. She braved the suppressing fire, taking a few more glancing blows, and blasted the drone with her plasma pistol.

Still raging, she marched over to finish off Mirage. A laser shot from a second drone hit her in the leg, and she dropped to her knees. She emptied the last of her ammo to drop the second, but her world slowed down as a third and fourth drone rushed in with blinding lights and weapons primed.

Skara Vranig held out her arms and roared with everything she had left. Part of her knew it was always going to end like this. Fighting for her life, overextended and alone.

Something large charged in, leaped on the fourth drone, and ripped it in two. The third drone turned to face the new threat. Its camera filled with the mass of Diesel, the armoured battle boar, rushing in and delivering a spike fisted punch so hard it launched the drone to shatter against the wall.

Lights from two merc gunships closed in from outside and poured heavy fire into the breached landing bay. Taking some hits, Diesel dove for Skara and yanked her behind the wreck of her fighter. Tracking their targets, the mercs prepped larger weapons to annihilate the opposition.

A charged blast from Lucky’s particle projector obliterated the first gunship. The second tried to turn and fire in time, but Lucky’s craft, an extension of his cybernetic body, transformed into a mech and he latched on to shred it.

Inside the bay, Skara surveyed the scene as Diesel treated her wounded leg. After she realized Mirage was missing, she moved to shove him aside and get up. The big man finished the patch, then helped her to her feet as they pursued their quarry. Diesel wasn’t in a rush, since he knew who was also on the hunt.


Deeper in the abandoned station, the merc leader, Krajj, found his mark before the Howling Scars did. Much to his chagrin, a rattled Mirage refused to shut up.

“I’m sooo glad you lot arrived when you did. I had a cool line and everything, but no idea if anyone was actually going to arrive in time. Ha! It was brilliant. Always flush when a plan comes together.”

Inside his armoured space suit, the ork rolled his eyes. “I’m gonna have to negotiate an even bigger fee to put up with this.”

Mirage leaned in. “Hm? You say something?”

Their escape lay on the other side of an airlock up ahead. They just had to cross through a hydroponics lab to get there. Droplets of liquid floated in the air as overgrown, decayed and frozen plants sprawled out beyond their basins. With only the lights on their suits providing illumination, the room filled with sharp, menacing shadows.

Mirage slowed to take in the scene and whistled. “Now this is some quality atmosphere. Super spooky, yeah? I could work some real magic with this. Really blow some numpties’ minds. Give me a moment to take it all in.”

A voice, soft as silk and sharp as a knife, whispered in his ear, “Yes. Take it all in.”

The nearby plants parted and something jammed into Mirage’s face mask. A puff of mist sprayed in his face and filled his nostrils.

His pupils dilated within seconds, and the room expanded into infinity. The frozen, decayed plants sprung to life, spreading bladed vines and bulbs filled with sharp teeth. The loquacious mage found his voice caught in his throat as the slavering vegetation closed in all around him. Every neuron in his brain fired overlapping calls for fear, and he shrank into the corner. Reduced to a blubbering mess.

The gruff ork turned and noticed the dart in his mark’s mask. “Ugh, poison… In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m on a tight schedule and don’t have time to fool around. So kindly just die.”

A spark ignited on a flamethrower that extended out of the merc’s gauntlet. He painted the room in gushes of white-hot napalm that danced around the frozen plants and sizzled the floating liquid in zero gravity. The shadows grew erratic as a lithe figure leaped through the support struts all around them.

A unique magical force reached through the room. Leaves all around the lab, even some wreathed in flame, sharpened into blades, quivered under an unseen force, then launched themselves at the ork from all directions. Many scored lines along his armour, but some impaled his suit to find flesh.

He caught enough of a glimpse of his attacker to put the pieces together. “Zyldari. What’s the matter? Gonna cry hearing the screams of all the rotten salad in here. Come out so I can turn you into mulch.”

Something reached out and grabbed his shoulder. He drew a chainsaw axe, turned, and rended his attacker in two. He swore the animated plant matter he just cleft almost smiled at him.

Belladonna landed on his back, jammed her blade in his neck, and said, “Careful what you wish for.”

As paralyzing venom coursed into his bloodstream, he froze in place, unable to move with no gravity to let him fall.

Diesel helped Skara limp into the room. Curled up in a cupboard with his life support seeping out of the cracks in his mask, a panicking Mirage looked in her direction.

From his perspective, an immense, snarling beast with burning red eyes stalked through the writhing vines and dancing flames toward him with an unnatural gait.

As it approached, he kept mumbling as he tried to shrink deeper into the cupboard. “It’s not fun anymore. It’s not fun anymore. It’s not fun anymore.”

The beast opened its jaws, took something from him, then left him in this waking nightmare.


Back in the lounge, a still shivering Koshena glowered at the audacious, impertinent mercs sitting across from her. She raised the mangled, once ornate box they presented her and observed it. She looked in horror and gave it a light shake. The precious contents inside rattled like a million broken shards.

Skara Vranig sat in the booth, surrounded by her pack. Koshena couldn’t fathom what they were smiling about.

Hope you liked this fun finale with the Howling Scars! I might package this into a novella and upload to stores, or cook up another story with this crew to sell. Will see.


Here's the link to the archive of newsletters in case you missed any.


Talk to you next month. Have a good one!

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