Chapter 49: "A final amusement before I depart!"

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Lance Dare pulled Ella to the floor as the area where she had been standing was consumed in a torrent of blaster bolts. The hangar doors behind them was pelted by several shots in quick succession. Red hot metal spat onto the floor an inch in front of Ella's face.

She rolled away, pulled the pin on her concussion grenade, and hurled it into the courtyard below.

One of her followers screamed as he was struck in the chest with enough force to throw him back against the wall. As his life left him he staggered forward and pitched headfirst over the balcony wall and into the courtyard below.

The 'crunch' as he landed headfirst was the last sound Ella heard before the concussion grenade detonated.

She felt the force of the blast beneath her as the floor cracked and rose and then gave way. The balcony gave a sharp 'crack.' Her world slanted downward, so steep she started to roll, whilst Lance gave a cry of warning at her side as he followed her.

The dust blinded her. Nearby the sounds of shooting continued. The hangar door hissed open behind her.

She was confused. Disorientated.

Ella stood and reached for the only weapon she had, and took comfort in the 'hiss' of her electrostaff's ignition.

As she swung it in front of her, extending it to its full length, it gave a pleasing hum.

Lance crawled on his knees.

"I've lost my blaster," he wheezed.

The dust cleared and Ella found herself standing next to a stormtrooper who had been knocked down by the falling balcony. He stood and raised his weapon, pointing it at Lance.

Ella moved first. Her training kicked in. She saw the way he was standing, how his balance was precarious on the rubble, how his gun arm was held at an angle close to his body.

She struck. Her first blow landed on the top of the gun's muzzle where it gave a loud 'crack' as the electrified staff came into contact with the metal. The blaster was knocked from the man's hand. He gave a cry of surprise, but Ella struck again, spinning the staff over, bringing its other end down, hard, on the white top of his helm.

He staggered and fell to his knees.

Ella's final blow came up from below, to strike him under the chin, driving the staff with all her strength.

The trooper was lifted off the ground by the force of her blow and thrown for several feet.

When he landed, he didn't get up. Only a faint sigh sounded from his mouthpiece.

"Better that than a blaster bolt," she said, turning to Lance.

"Impressive, princess," Captain Alain said from behind her.

She spun to face the hangar door. The captain stood inside, his blaster levelled at her, but where he could just as easily target Lance with the merest flick of his wrist.

"Inside, both of you," he ordered. "I think I will need new hostages after your little ambush seems to have deprived me of my men."

Lance gave her a look. "Do it," he told her.

They stepped into the hangar area, followed by a cloud of dust that blew in from the courtyard. Outside, the sounds of battle were still present, but were irregular. Someone was screaming, whilst a second voice shouted obscenities down from the balcony, where the cry of a blaster would follow each sentence.

They were silenced as Alain sealed the doors.

"That's better," he said. "We can leave the barbarians to their games. Now, you will come with me to my shuttle." He stepped away and gestured to the Imperial landing craft that stood nearby. "I shall return to Commodore Sarn and the Assassin and order the Onslaught to reduce this palace to a burning pit."

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