ooc: Posting Opened! ~Mac
ARES RISING: CNS PREPARES FOR WAR
The clouds moving just outside the large window of Joseem Maruuch's office had a tint of orange. Joseem could not tell if that was from the sunset or the pollutants in the air. He stayed turned toward his window, watching the traffic of the city far below.
Feema, Joseem's BD-3000 Luxury Droid, walked into the office. The sway of her hips provided by the servomotors was a constant source of entertainment for the Prefect. He watched her reflection in the window as she walked closer to his desk. "It seems your feelings were correct again, Master" she said. Her vocoder gave the impression of a young Zeltron's voice, maybe twenty-two, who had been smoking deathsticks since the age of nine. It was sultry and recognizable. "The Clan's fleet does seem to getting ready for something. I have not ascertained what the movements are for, though." Joseem turned from the window, the sun having completely moved below the horizon. "Thank you Feema. You could have just sent a comm message though." He said. Feema walked over to the end of the desk and planted herself on the edge, sitting down and crossing her legs. "I know, Master, but I figured you would appreciate if I handled this personally."
She was right about that, he thought. Calling on the Force, he moved his chair back and sat down, his back now to the large window. Pushing a few buttons on his holo-generator, Joseem waited and soon the familiar blue light resolved into his best friend, Tsingtao Ming. Tsingtao was the Aedile of Clan Naga Sadow, but as far as the citizens of Seng Karash knew, he was the Lt. Governor of Aeotheran, the planet where the city of Seng Karash was located.
As he looked at the image, he noticed that his friend was dressed only in his robes. "I got you at a bad time again, haven't I?" he said. Tsingtao rubbed the bridge of his nose, his eyes closed. "You have an uncanny knack for calling me while I am…busy." Joseem cleared his throat and continued, "Yes, well, I thought you may want to know that I am headed for Gamuslag. Events are moving as we have seen. It is time that I got ready. Will you and the Quaestor need me?"
Tsingtao looked at his friend for a few seconds, seeming to try to gather thoughts and feelings from a great distance. His holo image flickered, unfocused, then flickered back to a crisp signal. "No, my friend, continue with what you think is best. In Sadow, We Serve." Joseem stood and repeated "In Sadow, We Serve!" Joseem turned to Feema and gave her directions that would be needed. "Inform Krill that he needs to get the Starhawk ready. I need to get to Gamuslag today."
Krill was Joseem's Dlarit Advanced Commando, or DAC. He was assigned as an instructor aboard the Skyhook, but in actuality, he was a lethal killer. He assisted in ridding the Prefect of undesirables, those beings that got in the way of plans that Joseem had set in motion. Krill was never seen without his full armor. He usually felt incomplete anytime he was out of it.
With his newest promotion to Sith Warrior, Joseem now had the means to advance plans that had been set in motion years ago. He had gathered contacts, material, and position. He had people completing projects that, when seen as separate events, would not raise any alarms, but when put together, would show that something very fast, violent, and large in scope was coming. No one in the Clan suspected him, but that was the way of the Sith.
With a final look at his office, Joseem walked out and punched in his personal code for the lock. A war was coming, the perfect cover for his plans to start implementing….
"Why can't I remember anything?" wondered Cyrus Raze. "I'm told I bombed Dystopia, and they even have it on security feeds. But I remember nothing." He turned the pages in an obscure old book about memory cognition and the Force. He closed his eyes, red flames licking around a pillar of fire in his mind. "I only remember... The Sword," he whispered.
"Gorram it all to Zandru's seventh hell," snarled Robert Sadow as he rolled over out of bed and checked his chronometer. "Shi... it's 0200," he growled. "I should be asleep." He rubbed his eyes, trying in vain to wipe the grains of weariness from them. Sleep had been hard to come by of late. And now, there had been slight memory lapses. He consulted the notes on his bed-stand he had written the previous evening. One hand darted to the comlink switch, opening a secure channel to research facilities deep in Gamuslag. The signal relayed through a satellite orbiting Sepros, was sent to Gamuslag, and then piped deep into the vitriolic moon's rocky surface.
"Come in, Marshal Commander," spoke the tired Consul.
DSOG Weapons Research Lab
"I have you loud and clear," came the reply punctuated by a tiny giggle. "How may I serve you?" The scene behind was one of dim red lights, durasteel racks, and a host of bubbling tanks, whimpering beasts, glowing crystals, and obscure instruments. This was the heart of the Cenota Facility deep beneath Gamuslag, and it was here that Macron worked his brand of magic in the classified DSOG Weapons Research Lab.
"Sorry to bother you so late," commented Bob. "But I know you don't sleep much."
"That is natural for me," replied the Warlord as he peered closely at the holonet image of Bob. "But not for you, my friend. Quite frankly, you look like fried bantha pudu. I'm a little worried about you, man."
"Excellent bedside manner you have there," chuckled the Consul dryly as he poured a snifter of fine brandy. As long as he was awake, a drink and some work were in order. "Right. I need a status update on the projects." Perhaps the work would help him sleep.
"Everything is coming along as planned," replied Macron. "The combat drugs appear to work well on the clones, and seem to 'relatively' safe for short periods," chuckled the madman as he pointed to a graph that appeared like a summoned phantom in the link's holographic interface. His fingers stroked a few lines of data that lit up. "As well, the samples of Alpha Red you had delivered from your Republic sources are viable and effective against the Vong cell cultures I have. Assuming it's a representative sample and statistically accurate as to their genetic makeup..."
"Get to the point," yawned the Governor General. "I'm going to try to go back to sleep soon."
"Indeed. The Alpha Red and Violator cocktail is 99.999 percent lethal against all known Yuuzhan Vong lifeforms," smirked the clown-faced lunatic. "Kills grayskins dead, bossman. Oh, the prisoners are still having shared hypnogogic phantasms," commented the Warlord.
"I see. Gnight then," said Bob as he cut the link and laid back down.
Inos Moon 42
Tombs of Urias Orian
"The Sword moves...." hissed the grizzled Adept as he peered into the glowing red crystal. "I will wait here, for now. Aleho will return I am sure, and then her real training in the Dark Side can truly begin," he said to the flickering shadows. "Soon. In the meantime, will be amusing to watch the children of Yuuzhan-Tar suffer."
Krath Training Facility
The Rodian Dark Jedi was thrown across the room as he encountered the Aedile's telekinetic throw. "Use the Force like a razor, not like a club," snarled Jade as she stood before the assembled Journeymen. "This is K-R-A-T-H academy, not any other. Think unconventionally! Remain calm, analyze your opponent. And get up please. You are wasting my time laying there, apprentice." Her teeth flashed as she smiled.
"But Masters, does not the Dark Side encourage passion?" asked an Arkanian who raised his hand as the Rodian struggled to his feet.
Tsainetomo regarded him cooly as he looked on. "Yes it does young one. You approach knowledge. One of the greatest truths I can teach you is this. Feel passion, but channel it to serve your will. Do not let it rule you like the Sith do," he lectured. "Then you will understand what it means to be a Krath. Many say that we are too new to understand the Force truly. But they are wrong. What we are is the future, and evolution. We have a duty to contribute something unique to this coming war with the Far Outsiders. Our Clan needs us to think and fight like Krath to gain the upper hand. Be proud of that."
Somewhere in Seng Karash
Wind bit through alleys and cold rain turned the metropolitan area of Dystopia into mist filled dreamscape splattered about water colored landscape. Zaxen's breath fogged in front of him as he made his way through the mindless crowds of shoppers, business people, criminals, street urchins, and prostitutes. He was one of them and yet he was not. He was alone in the middle of the mob that made up the pulse of the most interesting city of Orian space.
Large spires and business towers of all shapes and sizes challenged they gray sky which broke with the occasional bluish purple. The inner city smelt of toxicity, filth, lavishness, sophistication, and intermingling body order from the plethora of species that had gathered to call this place home. Among the buzzing of speeders, crowds, cantinas, and pleasurable company scurried the prey of Zaxen. He had hunted his target for a week. An agent he knew to be a usurper of his Overlord.
All he had was the general address of a message sent from a now dead nurse. He had tracked it to an old run down warehouse owned by a company known as Regalcorp. A local corporation housed locally in Dystopia but owned by other corporations which formed into a giant net of trails and dummy corporations which ultimately folded in on itself creating a web of deception. At least he knew he was on the right track.
He had watched several higher level officials of Regalcorp for days, trailing them and setting up surveillance on their homes and other associations. So far nothing, but there was a whispering in the Force that was constant and he knew that the key to this puzzle was nearby.
Zaxen currently was tracking the Vice President of Advertising. He trailed the young businessman to his home and he crossed the street to the large building standing adjacent. As he stepped out on to the roof he pulled out his binoculars and scanned for his target's window. Once he had acquired what he was searching for Zaxen set himself up as comfortably as possible for what was sure to be another long and boring stake out.
He noted various instances during the stake out such as what foods the man ate, news channels he watched, the comms he made and what sort of entertainment channels he pulled up on the cortex. Zaxen was about to pack up as his mark was readying himself for bed when suddenly the man recieved a comm. He ran from his refresher into the living so fast that Zaxen had trouble keeping with him with his binoculars. The holographic image burst into blue light casting the apartment in a ghostly hue. As Zaxen focused in closure his mind raced as a familiar face was presented in the holoprojector.
It took a moment to recall the name which fit the face but it came out in a whispering hiss between Zaxen's teeth. "Agrist."
Krath Training Facility
Three Days Later
Zaxen watched the gathering from across the training area as his former Mistress and Tsainetomo
lectured the trainees. He smiled watching the young students and remembered his own days of strenuous training.
The Force lit up around him as the presence of Arch Priestess Jade Atema, Zaxen's former mistress found his mind. A touch of elation mixed with surprise and even a mental image of happiness flooded towards Zaxen from Jade. It was a far cry from the days of his training, where scolding, physical anguish, and mental and emotional bombardment ranging from doubt, failure, anger, sexual lust and denial were the norm. Ever since he had rescued Jade's son from her now estranged husband Ylith, things had been different, especially after his elevation into the ranks of Knighthood. He was not yet used to it.
The assembled students began to disperse and Jade quickly made her way towards Zaxen and embraced him tightly, Zaxen returned the embrace even though his natural emotional defenses sprang to life in the outward display of even this small friendly show of affection.
"What brings you here Zaxen?" Jade asked in her naturally sensual tone.
Zaxen nodded towards the dark skinned Arch Priest approaching who was easily identified by his large mane of hair. " I am actually here to see Tsainetomo. I have a small concern that perhaps he could help me with."
Sai perked up with noticeable interest. "Is that right? What is it exactly?"
"It concerns yet another internal threat to the Clan. The Overlord has had me tracking him since the recent bombings and the incident in the caves of Inos 42." He replied.
The Son of Sadow cocked his eyebrow. "Indeed. Let's step into my chambers for a drink then shall we."
Malisane sat in the ante chamber, and put his feet up on the coffee table in front of him. One of the DSOG guards gave him a disaproving look and the Battlelord returned it. "Don't stare at me like that soldier you only guard a damn door you know."
The man moved his gaze away from the Sith to look blankly at the wall and gripped his rifle to give him a boost of confidence.
Malisane looked up as the door opened and an officer entered. "He will see you now Commander."
Malisane got to his feet and entered the room. Ashura looked up as he entered. "Thank you for coming Malisane."
"You didn't give me much choice," Malisane replied with a raised eyebrow. "What do you want?"
Ashura sighed. It was going to be one of those meetings. "I summoned you on the Consul's orders," he replied, "he has duties for you."
"Does he really?" Malisane asked coldly, "can I remind you I resigned from the Summit nearly three years ago and my Prefect position a year later."
"So?" Ashura asked meeting his gaze, "so long as you serve Clan Naga Sadow you serve the Summit and the Overlord of the Sons, as do we all."
"I've served enough in the past as well," Malisane replied, "I think I've done my bit for king and country."
Ashura clicked a button and a display opened up hovering above the desk. "Since you left the Summit your actions have been questionable to say the least. You have assaulted other members and Dlarit personnel, you left a gap in the security of the Marakith Skyhook that allowed the True Brotherhood take over and obliterate a large portion of Seng Karash, you entered into a personal deal with the spirit of a known enemy to the Clan, namely Severina, in order to give her a new body against any possible interest to the Clan we can see, you were implicated in the murder of your own apprentice.."
"That was never proven!" Malisane snapped.
Ashura ignored the interuption, "Last year you were detained by the Chamber of Justice attempting to leave Dark Brotherhood space for a suspected meeting with Darth Severak."
"For which I served a year in their service as a Hand," Malisane replied.
"And lastly you threw a party for the Consul in an alledgedly secure location which was overtaken by saber wielding droids whilst someone planted a bomb that could have destroyed half the city in the basement."
"And I got us out of that," Malisane replied with a shrug.
"Yes which leads us onto the fact that you have still not removed the backdoor access codes to Marakith's database!" the Pro Consul snapped.
"A simple oversight. It has been done since."
Ashura pressed another button and the display disappeared. "I will be clear with you Malisane. It is only your previous service that is keeping you out of Gamuslag, which several of the Sons have called for."
Malisane glared at him. "The Sons," Malisane replied with a sneer, "all they do is plot and scheme pointlessly and hold airs above the rest of us."
Ashura shrugged. "That is your opinion, I would be careful who you voice it to."
"So what is this damn assignment," Malisane asked.
"You are assigned to the Final Way as of now. You are to undertake a full assesment of the weapons capability and procedures, under orders from Senior Commander Agrist."
"What?" Malisane said sitting bolt upright in his chair, "Agrist?"
"Oddly enough he had the same response," Ashura replied with a slight smile, "which is part of the reason. I know of the problems you had in the past between you. I want an end to it. We have war ahead of us and I want an end to petty squables in this Clan. You will work together until further notice."
Malisane stood up angrily. "Is that all?"
Ashura nodded. "I have arranged a shuttle for you, you may take your DAC with you."
Malisane turned and stormed out of the room.
Zaroth reclined in his seat as he inputted co-ordinates for Tarthos. He had received a message from his Master saying there had been a change and Zaroth was to travel to Tarthos Cathedral to meet with Zaxen; Muz would postpone the completion of Zaroth's training due to the circumstances. As the ship lurched into Hyperspace Zaroth heard a voice; a familiar voice that he recognised as that of Jade Atema.
“Hello, little Zaroth,” the voice said through the Force. It was as if she was right next to him; Zaroth even felt a wave of happiness she must have been feeling. There was a niggling sense of unease to be felt, though.
“Hello, Jade,” he replied, smiling, without making a sound. “Something wrong?”
She laughed. “No, not at all. Zaxen received your Master's message, he awaits you on Tarthos. Do you know why you two are meeting?”
“No. How did you know I was meeting him?”
“Zaxen told me; I think he still considers me his Mistress.”
“I'm sure he had a reason. He probably has information that Muz wants me to know about. How is Kalei?”
“She's happy. Are you?” The simple question she asked carried much weight. Zaroth had loved Jade, perhaps he still did; but he had sworn his loyalty to Jade and realised she did not, would never love him, so he acted on an attraction he had felt for Kalei since he first met her. He missed Kalei now.
“I am. I will be at the Cathedral soon.” he said.
“Good. Don't be late.” Jade said as her presence faded. It was a short time until Zaroth fell asleep.
The darkness of space exploded as the Lambda-class exited Hyperspace in a cascade of light and energy into the Orian system. The comm blurred almost immediately; security was tighter now.
“Lambda-class Shuttle, identify yourself.” a male voice said.
“This is Jedi Hunter Zaroth Rakiroyo, piloting Shuttle Twenty-two Thirteen, passcode Omega-Fifty-Thirty-Four.”
“Clearance granted, Hunter, you're free to land.”
The shuttle touched down minutes later in the Cathedral's hangar.
The Sadow Archives were renown throughout the Brotherhood as arguably the greatest single collection of dark side lore outside the Dark Hall on Antei itself. If the answers could not be found in the Archives, then the answer most likely did not exist. Many had walked its walls, both now, and back when the title of Sadow Palace had been held by the governor’s mansion on Sif at Phare; many from the disciples of the Lord Sadow himself, Astronicus Aurelius Sadow, but many more pilgrims who had come to Orian from other Clans, seeking answers within these endless halls of knowledge.
But for Cyrus Raze, the answers still eluded him.
He slammed the tome he had been reading shut. One of its pages came free and flew off into the dimly lit hallway by where he sat but he didn’t bother to go and get it. The Threefold Mysteries of Tio Azurd, as recorded by Trevarus Caerick. Another wasted reading. Was there anything in these Archives which would help? All he wanted was to find out why he could not remember. But his memories eluded him as much as the answers. Just as his fingers closed around an answer, it would slip away, as if it had never existed.
Why can’t I remember?!
He could remember when he’d disposed of the security team who claimed to have caught him red handed though. But video recordings could be faked. And there was always the chance it was someone else: security cameras were rarely high definition. But still, their deaths had been necessary. He wasn’t going to Gamuslag or Cenota for a crime even he wasn’t sure he’d committed.
His shoulder nearly jumped out of its socket when a hand touched him. ‘What?’ he snapped. His eyes went wide when he arched his head back to check who it was. Well, not that he could tell who it was exactly, not behind the mask, but what he saw sent shivers enough through his spine: the black faceplate of a member of the Black Guard. ‘Oh, oh, um, sorry, um, sir.”
The Black Guardsman gave a slight electronic rumble, which Cyrus suspected was a snort; his, or her, or its–it was impossible to tell– voice distorted by the helmet's electronic vocabulator. ‘His Honor the Lord Consul requests your presence in his study.’
Cyrus fidgeted in his chair. The Consul? This could not be good. Did they know? Had they found out?
‘That means now, Raze.’
Cyrus swallowed hard. At least he couldn’t feel a gun pressed against his head; that was one good sign. It could be worse: the Lord Sadow himself could be requesting his presence. Cyrus nearly knocked himself on the head to stop himself panicking. ‘Okay, okay. Let me just put this book back and I’ll be right up.’
The Black Guard waited until he’d retrieved the missing page from behind a shelf and returned The Threefold Mysteries of Tio Azurd to its rightful place. If there was a worse thing than getting on the wrong side of Robert Daragon, it was the ghost of Trevarus Caerick coming after him for not putting one of his books back where he found it. Fortunately, Trevarus Caerick was unlikely to ever be around these parts ever again. Well, maybe in a body bag, or with his head impaled on a stick. Yes, that would be good. Cyrus would enjoy seeing that.
He never had forgiven his so called ‘Master’ for running off with his ‘favourite’ apprentice, and leaving him behind to rot. How long had he been Marked when the two apostate Sons of Sadow had gone rogue? Six months at best, maybe? His forehead still felt raw and burned most mornings, his bed sheets covered in blood from fresh bleeding. It had been fine for the first year or so since the Battle of Lehon; but in the last few months, ever since Dystopia, it had just been getting worse each day. He wished he could learn the control it. But he couldn’t. Who was left to teach him? Nobody else with the Mark knew anymore than he did.
Macron Goura, possibly; but Goura had learned to shield his mind from the urges long ago. Not like Cyrus. His mind remained open. He half suspected the nightmares were the work of Caerick himself, reaching out from wherever the traitor had wound up now, but he pushed that thought aside as fast as it formed. No. He wasn’t even going to begin down that road. The idea of being manipulated like a marionette by Trevarus Caerick was just too karked up to even contemplate.
OOC: In case you're wondering, Cyrus Raze is basically (one of) the character(s) I'll be using during the Great Jedi War. You'll find out much more about him (and his team) as this run-on unfolds. If you took part in the Tombs of Inos/Dystopia Bombing run-on the other month, you'll already have seen a little of him in that, although he hadn't been given a name at the time back then.
The alchemist removed his gory smock, hung it on a steep peg and carefully washed his hands in the sonic-sink. Random thoughts bounced around in his fractured brain, various chemical combinations vying with formulae for space. "Yes, yes," he mumbled and smirked. The thought of more dead Far Outsiders was a panacea for the madman's troubled soul. Hate was a word that truly applied to them in his mind.
A chime sounded as the door opened deep within the facility under the scarred stone of Gamuslag. "Come," replied the Sith as he leaned over and looked in the mirror above the sink. He flashed his metal-clad teeth, absent-mindedly picking a bit of errant flesh from between them. Gungan steak was so good. "Tastes like chiucken," he giggled to himself.
"Macron, sir, the Consul requires your presence on Sepros at your soonest," said the man in uniform.
Macron stood up. "I see. In what capacity, Major Qek?" He turned with a quizzical look in his yellow eyes. "Something interesting, I imagine? I hope?"
"Yes. You are activated in your capacity as a Black Guard. It's my understanding you will be questioning a suspect involved in the recent spate of bombings, sir." The DAC Clone stood calmly in the doorway, glancing about at the glowing symbols that told the story of the madman's latest work. "You are to report to the Consul's office immediately, in Guard gear to obscure your identity."
"Indeed. Unusual, I seldom am needed in a Black Guard capacity these days. It hardly seems appro.."
"He has the Mark, sir." the clone's voice seemed to fall on a now-silent room. Seconds seemed to pass by like hours and the room fell into a seeming dead silence as the Sith looked at him coldly. The evil he radiated was almost palpable for an instant as the air seemed to darken around him. The topic had definitely hit a nerve.
"Very well then. You are in charge here until I return, Major. I'm entirely sure you can finish the final tests and trial runs." The madman gestured to the head of a Far Outsider that spat and fumed in a bubbling tank of Bacta. "This work is very important for our upcoming campaign. Feel free and hurt him as much as you wish- but record the screams. They help me relax."
The head of this particular grayskin had been captured aboard the VSD Covenant during the Battle of Antei by Malisane and others. Ever since, it had had a dubious distinction. It provided cell cultures for the experiments carried on by the shadow side of the Special Operations Group as they studied the weird biology of the aliens.
"Um. Yes, sir," replied the Major as he stared at the disgusting severed head. Even seeing it many times in the past few years still did not keep a mild shudder of revulsion from creeping up his spine. The head in the tank was far too close to his own beginnings for comfort. "By your command."
"Right. Well then, get me a fast shuttle to Sepros immediately. The Nachzerer is still in drydock, and I'd like to be a little less conspicuous." The Warlord turned to gather his kit and strode out the door. It closed with a final whoosh behind him.
The Knight sat there, viewing the many patrons of the local Cantina on Seng Karash. He knew all their histories, their feelings, and he even made some facts up about them as well. Guards, posted outside, would routinely come in to check out the area, making sure the Gamorreans in the corner didn't disrupt any more paying customers. He saw all this, the occurrences of the Cantina, and he began to smile. He could manipulate any mind in the Cantina if he wished, and he was filled with a strange sense of pride because of that knowledge.
Jaredi's eyes began to dance as his gaze rested upon a Twi'lek slave girl trying eagerly to please her Master, a small time crime lord that had proclaimed no one could kill him, he even staked half of his Criminal Empire on it. Jaredi wanted the Crime Boss's Soup, and he would've gotten the Dug's soup, but his comm link began to buzz.
“What?” said the Sith angrily, not liking to be disturbed while stalking a potential meal.
“You are wanted on Sepros. I want you to train your combat prowess, instead of feeding on Crime Lords. You are the bane of my apprentices, being the lowest one.” said the voice on the other end.
“Be right there...I'd rather feed on Crime Lords then fight synthetic abominations. Feeding has gotten me where I am today. And only lower in Rank, not in skill or power.” preached Jaredi as he closed the comm link, still staring at the Twi'lek slave. “I promise you...your memories will become mine soon. As will your masters.”
The Anzat left the Cantina, gracefully making his way through a crowd of shocked citizens. His appearance was not the prettiest, and he routinely forgot about his promise to covertly make his way around the City, even though he loved stealthy operations. As he finally left the crowded street that harbored the Cantina, he saw the voice that had contacted him, and he wasn't pleased.
“Lowest of all your apprentices? Must you always put salt in that ancient wound?” asked the Dark Jedi as he stood face to face with Shin'ichi, who only stared at the Sith.
“I know your anger fuels you. If angering you is what makes you powerful...then anger I shall use. Hatred, Pain, Anger, these are your strengths, these are what make you who you are. You must utilize this power before it is too late. Before you become like Trevarus, split in two.”
The Sith only festered in his hatred as his Master took him to the Starport, where Shin'ichi's starship was waiting for them.
Alexander Anderson stood in the hall and waited. Stretching his neck slowly to one side, then to the next he smiled to himself as he heard that satisfying sound of his neck cracking. The door slid open as Kir Katarn strode through glancing around, his eyes falling on the Priest.
The attention of the Justicar, the supposed embodiment of Justice, was fixed elsewhere. Pinned to the curving wall, taking up perhaps half of the entire chamber, were sheets of paper, each representing a case. Each marked with a name, and a verdict on the cover. Whether human or alien; big or small; great or humble – each stood equally in the eyes of justice.
Below the names were written lines of small, dense script. Too small for Xander to read from where he was standing, but he knew what they said. “Treason” , “Apostasy” and so on as the papers unfurled.
Xander moved forward as he was motioned to follow the Justicar. The man strode forward with a purpose which few possessed, power emanated which seemed to engulf the room in a dull glow.“Once again, Good Work on that last investigation Anderson. Your work was key in helping us investigate, and process the claims against the Brotherhood.”
Xander nodded “It was easy, once one of them confessed. After that, the rest simply fell into place like dominoes.”
The Elder nodded, and continued walking along the corridor. “For now, the court is going to be officially out of session. I take it, you will be eager to return to see to your affairs back home?”
Xander nodded “I can hear the winds of change. It is time for me to return to my other duties.”
Kir laughed “Sometimes I think you might be wearing too many hats – Hand of Justice, Squadron Commander and so on..”
Xander shrugged “I have been also sent a message that I am being recalled due to some sort of unrest among the clan.”
“Well, watch your back. Keep in touch, in case anything we should be aware of arises” Kir said motioning towards Xander's waiting X-Wing.
They had arrived in the hanger bay. Technicians scurried about doing the final preparations for the departure. Xander once again nodded, saluting before climbing into the cockpit. He turned to see his astromech behind him. Giving the thumbs up he started working the control of his vessel. He was headed back, another objective completed. It seemed many years ago, the Young Priest had departed – leaving instructions on what needed to be done in his absence. Leaving the hanger bay he switched control to Angel, letting the small droid take over the mundane task of making the hyperspace jump. Xander closed his eyes and dragged the air in hard through his nostril. Who knew what lay ahead now?
The consul’s study was a glass dome—reinforced and heavily shielded—that stood atop the main spire of what had been the Temple of Sorrow, but was now designated Sadow Palace. Most of the palace was hidden beneath the colossal trees, which resembled the wroshyrs of Kashyyyk and covered most of the landmass of Sepros. But the clan summit from the time of the Exodus had not wanted to hide behind the foliage, and had been specific in their designs for the reconstruction of the ruined temple’s main spire.
Cyrus had never been in the study before. The artwork stopped him in his tracks, nearly causing the Black Guardsman escorting him to ram right into him. He winced when instead he felt the butt of a lightsaber jab him in his left kidney.
He moved a few steps inside until he heard the door whoosh closed and the locks click into place one by one. For all its artistry, the observation dome remained an impenetrable fortress. Rumour said the shield generator was warship grade, and that it would take a full orbital barrage from a Star Destroyer to bring it down. No need to worry about interruptions then...
Robert Daragon stood facing out on the grand observation deck on the far side of the round study. The Temple of the Void could be seen far in the distance, towering out above the tree level. In different circumstances, Orian’s palace would probably have become the new Sadow Palace instead, but at the time it had stood in ruins. Only two years ago had Trevarus Caerick ordered its reconstruction—and everyone knew how that’d turned out. Not many wanted to go there anymore. Some had said the Lord Sadow had wanted to tear it down again, but that seemed to have turned out to have just been idle gossip.
A bookshelf flickered into existence in front of Daragon as he put a book back, then vanished again; it must have been cloaked to allow the full three-sixty field of view. Cyrus gave credit where credit was due: Caerick had been artistic. The consul turned around, his mood impenetrable behind a heavy black hood that cloaked his face. But when Daragon looked up, Cyrus could see the exhaustion behind the older man’s eyes.
“Do you know why I have called you here?” Daragon said, and at the same time gestured with his hand to take a seat at the only noticeable furniture in the room: a large desk with one chair—more like a throne—the far side; two more modest chairs—but still clearly expensive—in front of Cyrus.
Cyrus sat down, the Black Guard behind him moving to cover his shoulder. For a moment he thought it was a good sign Daragon had only deemed a one-man escort necessary; then he felt a cold shiver run up his spine and swallowed his breath, remembering Daragon didn’t need protection: the Black Guard was just there for show. It was working.
He shook his head. “I don’t know, Your Honor.”
“You don’t know...” Daragon seemed to lean forward in his chair, studying Cyrus’s face for several uncomfortably long seconds; then he turned his attention to the Black Guard. “Macron, you can remove your mask.”
Cyrus flinched at a sequence of metallic chinks, followed by a hiss of air. In the window, he watched the reflection of the Black Guard lift off his helmet, revealing the face of Macron Goura. He gulped again. Being privy to the identity of one of the Black Guard either meant he was about to be prompted, or that very soon him knowing wasn't going to matter anymore. He knew it wasn't going to be promoted.
“You look tense,” Daragon said. Even under the thick shroud, Cyrus saw the thick smile form on the man’s lips. “Macron, show my guest your... hospitality.”
Before Cyrus could turn around, an armor plated arm fell across his neck and yanked his head back into a choke hold against the high backed seat. Goura giggled behind him and he felt something sharp pierce the side of his neck. He screamed, but all that came out was a throttled gurgle.
“Relax,” Daragon said, speaking slowly in exaggerated concern. “Macron is just administering a light truth serum... because we want to know the truth now, don’t we?”
Cyrus struggled against the arm hold, but the Black Guard was just too strong for him. A few minutes passed while they said nothing, then the Temple of the Void started to blur, its spires rising into a spectral phantom that began to swirl. Then he passed out.
“Is he awake?”
Cyrus opened his eyes to see Daragon and Goura staring back. He had no idea how long he had been out for. He was still seated in the consul’s study; its glass windows, staring out across the vast jungle. His eyes settled on the Mark carved into Goura’s forehead, a slight rivulet of blood trickling down along the man’s nose.
Daragon glanced sideways at the Black Guard. “Well?”
Goura’s eyes—all three—pierced Cyrus. Cyrus wriggled in his chair; there were no straps, but he couldn’t move. He tried to screw his eyes shut, but he couldn’t. He could feel Goura’s mind plunge inside his, clawing through memories as it ripped through his soul in search of truth. Goura reached a door that had been chained shut and barricaded to an invisible wall. He screamed but no sound came out. His hand shot to his own forehead, and he felt the torrent of blood pouring from his own Mark. His head was on fire. Like Goura had pierced his mind with a metaphysical sword. A sword—
Goura leapt back. “SHAVIT! FRIPPING RANKWEED SUCKER!”
The Black Guard took a deep breath in, and out, and in again, and out...
“Macron!” Daragon repeated.
Goura steadied himself. “I... I don’t know what that was. Fire... such anger... I can’t breach the memor—”
“Enough. You’ve confirmed what I suspected.”
Goura gasped for air. “You want me to stop?”
Daragon inclined his head to get a closer look at Cyrus, whose face was now flooded bright scarlet. “That will be all, Macron. You can leave us.”
Goura wrinkled his brow. “Alone? Are... are you sure? He might—”
Cyrus watched as Goura collected his helmet and left the room. There was a clear tension in the room, but the consul did not wish to discuss anything further in front of the other man. A cold tendril of fear started to snake its way back up his spine again. Being left alone with the consul; something even Daragon’s own Black Guard was not privy to hear; this was wrong on so many levels.
After the door slid shut, Daragon reclined back in his seat and let out a long, tired sigh. The consul lifted up his hood and slid it all the way back, exposing his face fully for the first time. What Cyrus saw nearly froze his blood. Daragon’s skin was pale—so, so white that it made him look almost like he belonged in a morgue; his eyes were ringed black, as if he hadn’t slept in days—maybe weeks; and his eyes were grey and cloudy—distant, as if his mind were only partially present.
It was like looking into his own reflection.
“Cyrus we have much to discuss...”
"So let me get this clear. You suspect Commander Agrist, Commisar of the Final Way and Battlelord of the Brotherhood who is considered one of the more respected members of the Dlarit corporation and the Clan, to be a traitor?" Asked Tsainetomo.
Zaxen sipped the rich pungent Kyataran tea the Archpriest had offered him. "Its not that far fetched. He's a former mercenary, former member of the True Brotherhood, and his record suggests megalomanic precursors. Besides the evidence speaks for itself."
Zaxen pulled a recording from a feed he had gotten from one of many surveillance droids he had placed on Agrist's trail. He pressed the forward button on the datapad which displayed several pictures in succession showing the unmistakable one eyed face of Battlelord Agrist.
Zaxen continued. "During the Orian 42 incident and the issue on Seng Karash at Dystopia with the Consul and company I set about tracking an information leak that proved most critical to the safety of the Overlord and the future of the Clan. I tracked the leak to a young nurse who with a little coaxing revealed to me her contact or at least the method in which she communicated with her contact."
Zaxen took another sip of his tea as both Sai and Jade leaned in with interest. " As it turns out I was able to trace the link she was using to an old warehouse near Dystopia. It was here that I nearly hit a dead end. I was able to track the various dummy corporations and I tailed several officials but it was not until I trailed this particular individual..." Zaxen keyed in the image number which brought up the face of the Vice President of Advertising for Regalcorp. "...that I actually found the connection."
Zaxen scrolled several pictures over until he came about the image showing the Vice President speaking to the holo image of Agrist.
"It was not difficult then to catch Agrist's tail and set up extended, covert surveillance. I currently have a steady feed."
Sai sat back taking a sip from his own tea. "Ok...so how do you know he is the one who is receiving these messages?"
Zaxen tapped a few buttons and selected the volume switch on the datapad and the picture sprang into life and motion.
"I am telling you... I think this is a bad idea. I have not heard anything from our contact in Sadow Palace for twol weeks now." The voice of the Vice president was shaky and weak.
"Listen I don't care. Things are in motion and this needs to be done now. I want those funds transferred back through the main account. We need that money now." Came the sturdy voice of the Sith Battlelord's holo image.
"If I transfer the money directly then it will be traceable and will probably send up a million red flags." The Regalcorp executive shot back.
"The Sadowans will be far too busy to be monitoring bank transfers. As it is now they are preparing to aid in a strike against the Yuuzhan Vong and are most likely headed to Antei. All their energy is focused on that. So shut your pathetic mouth and do as I ask. The normal delayed channels take almost two weeks and I need those credits yesterday. I want it done and I want it done now!"
Zaxen hit stop and looked over at the Keibatsu. He nodded his head a few times as his tripartite eyes stared at the image as if to burn it permanently into his brain. Finally he looked up at Zaxen.
"Ok you've sold me. But what exactly do you need from me?"
Zaxen leaned back and took another sip of the steaming brew. "First I will need all records House Ludo Kressh has on Agrist's personal and professional activities. Next, I need to be inserted as part of the Krath Training Facility here as an instructor temporarily. Which leads to my last request, I need to find my way unto the Final Way and in close proximity of Agrist."
The Son of Sadow looked over at Jade who had remained silent through out the discussion. "He doesn't ask for much does he?"
Jade smiled and shrugged her shoulders. "It's up to you."
Tsainetomo Sadow’s Chambers
The Archpriest sat as his desk for a long time mulling Jade's words and Zaxen's report, having replaced his tea with a snifter of Corellian brandy. When the Knight had begun his tale, the Son of Sadow had steepled his fingers in front of his face, letting the words sink in, mentally filing details both important and unimportant, logging dropped names within the recesses of his mind. When Zaxen finished, Tsainetomo barely moved save to acknowledge the man’s report.
Now, in the silence of the Cathedral, Tsainetomo’s mind began to process the information, his eyes hardening at the realizations that had come to him. Indeed, the implication of a public figure such as the Vice President of Advertising in the current turmoil was in and of itself a nuisance; dealing with him would take a surgeon’s touch, lest questions from the general population beg answers of him and his Force-born ilk.
Shelving the issue, he focused briefly on the matter of the mercenary, Agrist. True, he had been loyal of late, but a krayt dragon couldn't change its scales, or so a saying from his homeworld went. Careless, letting yourself get found out, Agrist he thought, shaking his head. Still, it seemed that the Knight had things well in hand, and didn't really need his 'go-ahead', as such. The audience that Zaxen sought was done only as a matter of politics; a means of covering his six should something go awry. The Knight was coming along nicely. Jade, too, was developing into quite the manipulator. By putting the onus on Tsainetomo, she had effectively tried to distance herself from the situation as well. The Archpriest couldn't help a grin from forming on his lips.
If portents were true, the stormclouds of conflict were once again gathering. He would be ready, though he had neither the luxury of an esoteric religion to guide him nor any cabals of internal followers to support his efforts. His master Shin’ichi had trained him to be self-reliant, and he would be so again. To be utterly prepared, he would need to be crystal clear on his path.
Jade and Zaxen began to shift uncomfortably as Tsainetomo let the silence weigh on them like a bantha pelt. He finally stirred, as if registering for the first time that the pair were still in the room. When he spoke again, his words left no doubt as to his support.
"Very well...whatever you need, you shall have."
Jade gave a start, acting as if she didn't believe the Son of Sadow was actually going to grant the request.
Zaxen took a breath and visibly straightened in his chair. "Thank you," was his curt reply as he made to leave; Tsainetomo's next pronouncement stopped him short, however.
"Understand this: this is your rodeo. I will support you in any way that I can, but know that you shall bear the brunt of any miscalculation. Of course, it goes without saying that should you be successful, you shall have the glory. You, and Priestess Jade." The Archpriestess' mouth gaped at the last. Tsainetomo saw the look of shock and added, "Zaxen will need help, of course. and who better than you?"
Both Force-users stiffened at that; they well knew the risks of the operation as it stood, but to be placed in such close proximity, what with their shared history, could present certain...complications.
Resigned to the situation, the pair made to leave, and Tsainetomo's last words burned into their backs. "Oh, and have a care; Malisane may catch wind of your doings, and may want to have a word or three with you. He has a stake in Agrist; how personal it is has yet to be determined."
Outisde the Prefect's Office
Kalei knew that the war was coming closer and closer. She could feel what others were feeling most of the time; whether it was a stray bit of nervousness that was in the back of their head that they were ignoring, or it was the fact that they were visibly nervous, she could feel it. One thing she at times wished she didn't have to deal with was the fact that she could read people very well. At times, it could get her in trouble.
However, today was one of those days that she was on Black Guard duty and could not let the feelings of others impact what she was doing. Standing just outside the Prefect's Office door, her hand resting on the hilt of her lightsaber, mostly out of habit, the Dark Jedi Knight was ready for anything. She had managed to get away from Battle Team duties for a bit and get a change of scenery. Although it was a nice change, it kept her more on her toes. Whenever she was near Tsing, she knew she had to keep alert.
With no one really walking by or no one really in site, she relaxed a bit and sighed. For some reason, she had gathered just from the feelings around the area that there was a trip planned. For whom, she did not know. But the upcoming war had everyone on edge.
Pulling her now longer brown hair back into a ponytail at the base of her neck, she looked down the corridors to see if anyone was there. When she was first appointed Black Guard, where ever she went, there were many people and a lot of the time, she would strike up conversations with them. This time, it was quiet, almost to quiet for her own liking.
Glancing over her shoulder at the door, Kalei was curious what was going to be happening, whether she would be on a mission or have to stay here or something else. She hoped she found out soon, because she was not enjoying just standing there, hidden in the shadows around the door.
Aboard the yacht Violator
"Sir, Prefect Dismal requests your assistance," came Major Qek's voice across the static-ridden com from the cockpit. Amphor had a powerful magnetic field, and it played hell with communications. "There's been a bombing in San Korinar and the natives are growing restless."
Macron stared at the scrolling landing readouts. The thought of what had just played out was fresh in his mind. The man had the Mark as well. His mind contained a powerful block, one that even a Warlord with a strong mind and an iron will could not penetrate. Flames and fire were what he saw, and then Bob had literally ejected him from the room. Something was being hidden from him, and the madman did not like it at all.
"I see. Get me landing authorization in San Korinar at the Spaceport compound," replied the Sith. "Let Dismal know I'm coming. Macron out." The alchemist sat in the rear of the shuttle in one of the comfortable flight chairs. There were some perks to being so heavily involved with DSOG, and this was one of them. He had requisitioned the vessel for a short time, much to the annoyance of one sergeant in the shipyards.
The Marshal Commander returned to his black musings. Thoughts of the Sword mentioned of late swam about in his cracked mind. That, and the satisfaction of knowing one day he would kill Cyrus Blaze personally. He smiled and picked up a holonews sheet from San Korinar that spat from the transceiver.
Gin Rose bar
The attractive red-skinned Zeltron sat slumped at the wyrroshir-wood bar. This watering hole near the Spaceport was generally for offworlders and money, and a bit less rowdy than those frequented by the locals and refugees. Certainly the service and booze was better.
She idly swirled an ice cube around in her glass of brandy with a svelte finger replete with blue-lacquered nail. "Real ice cubes, how neat," she sighed in a bored voice. "Real crowd pleaser."
downed the liquor with a practiced gulp, smacking her pouting scarlet painted lips. "Another please," she said with a gesture of the empty snifter at the barkeep. "Keep em coming."
"You sure?" queried the fat-bellied Dug as he reached for a bottle of Corellian brandy. "This stuff'll get you sleemo drunk, lady. Don't wanna hafta carry your drunk arse out of here again."
"That's my plan, my good fellow," she grinned seductively with a muscular wiggle in her tight blue synthleather body sheath. "Besides, it takes a bit for me. I can take care of myself. And I can hold my liquor, ya know?" Of course, he had no idea she was a fallen Jedi and could detoxify herself. Or that she carried an illegally modified Deathhammer blaster pistol and a lightsaber in her courier pack. Not much in the way of security these days here in San Korinar. If recent events were of any measure, you had to make your own.
The gruff Dug frowned as he slid her the glass, dropping in fresh ice cubes in a final gesture. She spoke the truth, as he had never seen a human down this many milliliters of booze every time she came in. Still, she just smelled so good and tipped him lavishly... he couldn't help himself. Dehodru liked the woman, even if she didn't have enough wattles to truly be his type. She was a good sort, but drank too much lately. Like most of his clientele.
"So what's the scuttlebutt, Dee?" asked the Zeltron as she peered about the dimly lit bar in the glass behind him. Few beings of interest were in the room, but an interesting man in expensive black robes sat in the far corner apparently arguing with a Rodian missing one ear.
"Someone tried to bomb the crap out of the Prefect's gatehouse," he said quietly. He planted himself on his strong arms and leaned in close. "Word is, it's not the 'regulars' either. Suicide bomber."
"Truly?" she said and turned her smoldering brick-colored eyes back on him with renewed interest. "Not the Families?"
"My sources say no," replied the dug as he grasped a polishing rag with one smaller leg. "And I hear everything that goes on around here eventually."
RSD Final Way
The shuttle landed on the deck and immediatley ground crew rushed towards it. Malisane strode down the ramp as soon as it was lowered, Captain Senth behind him. He looked around. "I would have thought that *&^% would have been here to meet us."
Senth glanced about, "Obviously not."
Malisane frowned. "Well he can come and damn well find us then. I apparently have an executive suite in the officers deck," he said looking at a datacard he'd been given, "We'll head up there."
Senth nodded. "Very well boss."
They exited the turbolift a few minutes later and immediatley Malisane bumped into a figure in a long coat and a wide brimmed hat. The brim lifted and a grey face with ridged features stared angrily at the Battlelord. "Watch where you're going!" he said harshly. Malisane clenched his fists but took no action as the figure walked into the lift and pushed the button.
"Who the hell was that?" the Battlelord demanded as the doors shut.
"Sith Warrior Mecros," Senth responded automatically, "House Ludo Kressh. Khommite, previously known as Mecros 23. Joined about six months ago and progressed quickly."
Malisane shook his head. "He needs to learn his place then.." He strode off looking for his quarters.
"Hello De Ath," Agrist said from an armchair as the Battlelord and the DAC entered, "I'd say welcome but you're not."
Malisane looked in distaste at the eye patched wiry but powerful equite. "Save it Agrist I'm not in the mood. What are you doing in my quarters?"
Agrist studied him, then glanced at the DAC. "Senth leave us." The DAC glanced at Malisane who nodded after a second and Senth turned and left. Agrist sat back. "I thought we needed to have a private word."
"I want to make one thing clear," Agrist said, "I keep things going on this ship. I don't sit on the bridge thats the Admirals job, but I keep an eye on things and watch out for troublemakers, and the last time you were here you made a bucketfull of it."
Malisane shrugged. "That's in the past."
"I don't want it in the present De Ath," the former mercenary replied, "I'm a plain speaker. Last time you were saved by your pet on Lehon, this time you won't be. You put one foot out of place, you get any ideas about making a fast credit at our expense or you put one bit of this ship at risk you'll be floating off this ship with the rest of the garbage."
Malisane took a deep breath, fighting the surge of anger that burned up through him. "You have anything else to say? I could use a shower I feel dirty suddenly."
Agrist shook his head. "Nothing for now, I'll see you in the briefing room eight hundred hours tommorow to discuss assignments."
As the mercenary left Malisane slammed himself down into a chair. Senth entered calmly. Malisane looked up at him. "That one needs sorting out."
Senth shrugged. "I'd recommend about doing anything direct. Leaving aside the fact he's as good as you with a saber he's in favour with the Summit and you're on his turf."
Malisane nodded. "One day though, when it's more convienient. I think a warning though."
"Such as?" Senth asked.
Malisane sat back thoughtfully, pouring himself a glass of wine from a nearby decanter. "I think something important to him, something he'll miss."
"He doesn't have much by way of possessions," Senth replied.
Malisane shook his head. "Popular rumour suggests he has been seen about town with a certain restaurant owner."
Senth nodded. "True, early stages but he seems quite smitten."
Malisane smiled. "How sad for him. Have her removed, find thug for hire in Seng Karash and then when the jobs done liquidate them. Leave no traces back to me he can use."
Senth nodded. "Very well sir." He bowed then left.
Cyrus sat affixed to his chair, rigid as a statue. The consul’s face was like a mirror image. Skin taught and weathered, hair greying, eyes ringed black. He swallowed and lifted his gaze to the two black pits that adorned Daragon’s face which stared back, although they did not quite meet his gaze. Something cold closed atop his wrists and ankles; he glanced down to see four metal restraining clamps had physically locked him in place.
‘You’ll excuse me if I take precautions,’ Daragon said softly. ‘But, as you surely appreciate, you never know when you may not be yourself.’ The consul smiled, but there was no warmth in his face.
‘I didn’t do anything. It wasn’t me—’
Daragon sighed. ‘I’m not interested in your excuses. I want answers. Answers only you can give me.’
The consul keyed a datapad his side of the desk and a hologram appeared between them. A cramped room, boxes stacked high to the ceiling, tubes and wiring knotted along the floor and walls. A droid scuttled past, making a high pitched shrill when it passed under the camera. Cyrus easily recognised it: the Dystopia basement, on the Undercity level.
Cyrus gripped the armrests hard and watched. A man stepped out from behind a stack of boxes. The man’s face was shrouded, but he didn’t need to see it. He knew who it was. He watched himself lower his hood, his unscarred face now looking like a stranger. The Hologram-Cyrus stooped down out of view to deposit something on the ground from under his robes. The image just about showed Hologram-Cyrus working the device into the loose wiring, before he got up, rose his hood, then hurried off back between the stacks until out of view.
The timestamp rolled forward to a few hours later. There was a bright flash then the hologram cut off.
Daragon was quiet as his eyes scanned his, though the consul’s eyes still did not meet his. Goura had freaked out when he had linked his third eye to his. Maybe the consul was scared of him too? Cyrus couldn’t exactly blame them. He was scared of him too.
‘As you see, I know you bombed Dystopia,’ Daragon finally said. It wasn't a debate: the truth was plain for any to see. The consul stopped again, his eyes roaming around the room before they settled on Cyrus again. He leant forward across the table and lowered his voice, ‘I’m willing to cut you a deal.’
Cyrus jerked back in his chair, mouth falling ajar. ‘What?’
‘Quiet!’ Daragon snapped. ‘Understand, what you did is treason. If the Overlord sees this, you won’t just be facing a stay in Cenota. You can be sure he will order your execution.’
Cyrus felt a lump form in his throat. His hands had started to shake, so he gripped hold of the armrests again. He nodded, unable to find his voice.
Daragon stared out of the window when he continued, ‘I can make this go away. But there is something I need. Something I can’t do myself.’ The consul’s face turned back and met his eyes for the first time. ‘I need you to go to Kalekka Tower.’
‘Kalekka?’ Cyrus gasped. ‘But... that’s on Antei. I wouldn’t be... The Vong... That’s impossible!’
Daragon looked away again. ‘What I ask will be... difficult.’ He turned back again. ‘But it’s this or you take your chances with Lord Sadow.’ The consul gave a lop-sided smirk. ‘I can tell you... after what happened last... He won’t be taking any chances.’
Last year—the betrayal of two of the Overlord’s closest Sons—it was nearly two years ago now, but the wound was still fresh. It was possible it wouldn't ever heal. Cyrus could hardly blame Sadow. He didn’t want to take any chances too. He’d done that once already. And look where he'd ended up. ‘I don’t really have much of a choice, do I?’
Daragon smirked, his smile genuine this time. ‘No.’
Cyrus frowned. One thing still didn’t make sense to him though. And he’d been used before. He needed to ask it: ‘What I don’t get, is why this helps you?’
Daragon shut his eyes and reclined back in his chair. He took a deep breath and exhaled loudly before answering, ‘You need only look in the mirror. I saw it in your face the moment I lowered my hood.’ He paused. ‘I have seen it too...’
Cyrus’s eyes shot open. ‘You've...?’ His blood froze in his veins. Daragon was nearly an Elder; he’d been one of the Overlord’s closest allies ever since the Clan had first formed; the loyalist Son of Sadow if ever there was one; staunchest disciple for getting on for seventeen years; if he could be seeing it too... It meant bad things were coming. Seriously bad things.
‘You won’t have read the reports—I ordered the files closed—about prisoners at Cenota screaming in their sleep. Can you think why?’
Cyrus shook his head. He had a good idea, but he’d lost his voice again. ‘No,’ was the best he could mutter.
‘The reports all shared a common theme. The same that cropped up on the shrapnel found at Dystopia. And on Brother Goura’s visit to Inos Forty-Two. An image... a recurring motif...’ Daragon opened his eyes again and looked even older than he had before. He hissed the words: ‘...a sword.’
Among the streets of Seng Karash
The people of Seng Karash were lively today, going to whatever destination that they deemed worthy of their time. Mack walked among them, enjoying his free time away from the DB. Since discovering his power over the Force, he had become more and more accustomed to being among a crowd, feeling their Force energy surround him as he walked. Especially on these streets. They were not of the higher class, like he was used to, it being one of the seedier places of the city, and as such, seemed to have a darker output of energy. Lone men and women sat on street corners, acting if there was some other reason for their being there, yet Mack could always tell which ones were the deathstick dealers.
Though only an Acolyte, he felt like his connection to the Force had progressed by leaps and bounds, enabling him to do things that he had only dreamed of doing before. He had always enjoyed being around sentients, had loved trying to figure out just what each person was thinking each moment. Now, with the Force, he had discovered that with practice, he could read people, though at the moment it was only fleeting thoughts and feelings. He yearned to be able to truly delve into someone's mind, twisting them to his will, much as he had before when he had credits. Though credits, he had learned quickly, were no match to what the power of the dark side could do.
He stopped walking and closed his eyes, embracing the energy that flooded this particular corner. Hate, anger, aggression, all of these were present in practically every being, human and non-human alike. It was no exception to where he stood. Especially near...
Mack opened his eyes and looked down one street, spotting two figures moving quickly towards him. Their presence practically screamed Force-users, something that he did not expect to see in this part of the city. Then again, why wouldn't they be? Am I not here killing time, a Dark Jedi myself? he mused.
The pair came closer into view and Mack grimaced. One man he had seen before, though had never met. He delved into his memory, bringing up facts about the personnel that he had seen. His memory had always served him well, telling himself that he knew him to be a Pontifex, and a Son of Sadow at that. But although his person gave off the most energy, it was the man next to him that caught his attention. It seemed as if he moved purely by willpower, the image of a dead person walking among the living. He stepped back, his face turning even paler than normal.
It had always been his fear as a child, seeing the holovids that his father had loved so much. Dead people rising from the grave, becoming something that was not themselves in life. He had never thought that one could actually exist in this world, and had been reassured when he had studied about life through the Force. Wait, he thought. Even the dead cannot be brought back to life. He must be living.
The two walked past him, seeming to be oblivious to his stare. His gaze followed after them, wondering who that was, and more importantly, what had them moving so quickly. His curiousity got the better of him, his legs moving in their direction, albeit slowly. I am going to regret this... he thought, moving among the people a good distance behind.
Tsingtao's Personal Booth
The music filled the Cantina as its patrons enjoyed the dancers on the stage. Barmaids moved across the room filling drink orders while a couple of bouncers threw out a rowdy customer. In the corner of the establishment, a Dark Jedi sat at his usual table, nursing a glass of Sock Whiskey. War was approaching, war against enemies of the Brotherhood. Tsingtao downed his shot and poured another glass.
"War," he thought to himself as he downed another drink. "This time we will be ready," he said to himself as he reached for his comm link.
"Kalei, meet me in my hanger."
"Acknowledge." was the only reply.
The hanger was empty save one XJ3-Wing starfighter. The door opened as a dark robed figure walked into the hanger. The robed figure walked towards the ship and began examining the craft. The hull was refitted with an irregular, dark matted fiberplast. The third torpedo tube was removed, as well as modifications to the engines. This ship was designed to be invisible to the eye and to sensors. The Sith Battlemaster marveled at the ship. One of many projects he administered on Gamuslag.
The door opened again as a dark armored figure walked into the hanger. The newcomer walked silently towards the ship.
The footsteps echoed throughout the hanger as the Black Guard strode towards the Sith Battlemaster.
"What is thy bidding?" the Black Guard spoke as she kneeled before the Battlemaster.
"I have a mission for you, my Black Guard." Tsingtao said as he motioned for Kalei to rise. "Take this ship to the Antei System and bring me information. I want to know what forces are currently there."
"As you command." Kalei replied. "Won't I be detected once I enter the system?"
"This ship has been configured to hide you from any sensors, even against those damned Vong," he said. "Keep communications offline and do not engage any forces. This will definitely compromise your location."
Kalei nodded as she began to climb aboard the ship.
"One last thing. I want to know patterns in patrol and potential flaws in their defenses."
"As you command," she replied as the canopy began to lower.
Tsingtao stood back as the ship's engine activated. He watched the ship leave the hanger and into the night sky. He turned towards the door and returned to Leppy's.
Commercial and Leisure District
It was half three in the morning, and the district was full of people heading for the monorail system home from their night out. It had been a pleasantly warm and dry night, and despite over twenty thousand people drinking and dancing in the bars and clubs there had been little trouble. Gerient Demas had done neither of the above, he liked to keep a clear head when he was on business. He was currently stood in the shadows of the alley behind the restaurant and checked the time on his chronometer. The building had been closed since eleven o’clock when the late diners had left and was now shrouded in darkness. He took a deep breath then took the grapple from his belt and fired it, and watched in satisfaction as it attached itself to the wall above. He gave it a few tugs to make sure it was secure then pressed a button and it pulled him effortlessly up the building.
He examined the window. It was reinforced duroplastic and close to unbreakable. Fortunatley he had the right tools. He took a small electric device and ran it slowly around the frame, until there was a click and it slid aside. He allowed himself a smile of satisfaction before slipping in and landing softly on the carpeted floor inside. The corridor was empty and dimly lit, a few wall brackets glowing softly. He adjusted the scope on his goggles until the beams became clear then picked his way through them until he reached the door. Reaching down to his belt again he removed the small electronic syringe and checked again that it was fully charged. He preferred quiet untraceable methods, others in his trade preferred guns or knives or poison, but he preferred more subtle techniques. He slipped the door open and entered the bedroom.
It was dark inside naturally, but he could see well enough with the goggles. The room was pleasantly furnished, with expensive furniture and artwork. He moved closer to the bed, studying the softly breathing figure in it with her calm beautiful features. He gripped the syringe and leaned down then stood quickly upright as his targets eyes snapped open and regarded him. “Drop that.” His hand automatically opened sending the syringe tumbling to the carpeted floor. He tried to move backwards but his muscles wouldn’t respond. He waited quietly as she rose from the bed in her nightdress and walked around to where he stood frozen. “Now,” she said quietly, “tell me who you are and who sent you.” They were the last words he ever heard.
Fifteen minutes later Captain Senth was still stood opposite the building. He was concerned, the man should have been in and out by now. What was he doing, looting the place or something? "Don't send amateurs to do a proffessional job." he muttered. He didn't seem to have been captured, Senth was listening into the local police communications and no alarm had been raised, and Vanise Tower was still shrouded in darkness. Should he go in and complete the assignment himself? That was against his orders. He sighed and resummed his vigil over the building. Eventually as the sun began to rise he slipped quietly away.
Between seen and not seen...
Silence is indeed a sound, just as shadow is a light to those who are equipped to discern nuance. The emanations of nothing will cause the ears of one sensitive to hear, to understand. That is the path through oblivion... knowing when to hear, to see... and when to not.
He has spent years sleeping and dreaming. In the midst of those dreams, chaos revealed a song to him. In his imagination, he saw a vast orchestra of instruments. Cellos, violins, violas... the bass line. He heard the construction of melody and harmony in the vibrations between worlds. This was an overture.
Him whom has been forgotten, now rises.
He felt himself the conductor, standing at the fore. His right hand a baton, swirling a hurricane that was still some miles from landfall. Yes, he liked that image. Music the hurricane. His will a tempest to drive all life from the sleeping city.
The Dragon shifted his attention. A image came to him, of fire and violence. Of blackness shrouding latent intent. Will overlaying ignorance, but for what purpose?
He believed he knew. The time was coming, he would be called out of the mists, back to his home. He brothers would call for him to destroy that which the man he destroyed had created. The last vestige of Trevarus Caerick would be brought to heel.
Muttering something under his breath, Shan Long scribbled a note in the margin of the book he was reading. Sword was rising out of the flames, and Shield would be called to answer the battle-cry.
Office of Quaestor
The door slid open with a chirp as Xander entered the room. The room was well lit, and bore the signs of an increasing amount of wealth. Behind the rather large and ornate desk sat Faeril Munlear, the Quaestor of House Ludo Kressh. She wore a low cut top, which showed off her assets, which Xander dismissed without paying any attention to them. To most people the Quaestor would seem like a towering intimidating presence. She stood 5’9 but she carried herself with the presence of someone much larger.Xander waited patiently for the Sith Warrior to look up from her papers she was scribbling on. It had become quite obvious from the amount of papers which littered her desk that the woman had become little more than a petty bureaucrat in the power structure of the clan. Her skin was pale, and she showed all of the signs of someone who spent more time pushing papers than actually engaging in activity.
Faeril looked up and Xander waited patiently “Ahh.. Alexander Anderson, how may I help you?”
It was obvious to the Battle Team Leader that sitting in this musty room snacking on those chips had addled the females brain. “Madame Quaestor, it is you who summoned me.” Xander said behind a veil of civility
Faeril blinked in surprise and then looked back to her papers as if to gather her thoughts. “Yes, Xander” she said gathering herself with obvious effort. “There has been strife within the clan and we recalled you to find out about the affairs within your Battle Team.”
Xander nodded “The Sapphire Squadron stands ready as always, Macron, who is works as my XO when I am away attending to Chamber business has maintained the group as a state of the art trained battle force. As for the strife within the clan, or wherever else it has not affect our battle preparedness. Strife, and muttering are hardly new, and nothing to worry about” Xander said stopping himself from mentioning that summoning him back to the system for such a minor concern was a waste of both her time and his.
“Ashura, has also been interested in certain investigations which have been undertaken by ..” Faeril trailed off
“Well, if his honorable Pro-Consul is interested with such investigations, he is free to contact the Justicar Kir Katarn. However, beyond that I am not at all at leisure to mention any such things.”
“Well, ok” she said distractedly “Dismissed.”
Xander shrugged and walked out the door without further comment.
Passage to Hanger Bay
To be quite frank he was tiring of many things which was going on within the clan and specifically the summit. Since he had left the clan to spend time as the successor to Malisane as the Left Hand of Justice, it had become obvious to him that the once proud Clan Naga Sadow had become ineffective, impudent, and obsessed with it’s own ennui to the point that, what once may have been called a sleeping giant was simply little more than a turgid oaf.
As he stalked through the corridors contemplating simply climbing into his X-Wing and flying back to report to the eighth fleet his communicator beeped. Looking down he so that he was being summoned by the Aedile of the House. Ironically enough, being summoned by a lesser member of the House Summit, likely had a greater importance, than being summoned by the Puppet-Quaestor of House Ludo Kressh.
Altering his course he headed towards to the rendezvous point sent to him.
The Anzat, following his master, knew that he too was being followed. He knew that it wasn't his Force Sensitivity that allowed him to know, but his telepathy, born from generations of Anzati dominating weaker minds. Fear welled up within the individual that followed him, and Jaredi could taste every last delicious drop. He motioned to his master, who could sense that his apprentice wanted to split from him, knowing they would join together again on Tarthos.
The Ancient felt the Human's presence stop, not knowing who to follow. His fear becoming escalated as he regrettably began to follow the Sith, leaving the stronger Krath to his own devices. The Anzat began to smile more and more as the weaker Human followed him down the dark paths of Seng Karash, meeting the faces of what would one day turn into an army of corruption. The Human, still full of fear, slowly walked up behind the Anzat, who had stopped at the dead end of the alley.
The Ancient turned, staring down at the Human who had tailed him for quite some time. The Anzat, probing the Human's mind, began to smile. The weaker human, though having some blocked off areas of his mind, was like an open book. Memories of the Human began filling the Anzat's mind, memories that the Anzat would be sure to remember.
"Mack...You follow me, even though The Clan has sent out calls for all Journeyman that need it to go to Tarthos." said Jaredi, using his telepathy to dominate the Acolyte. He began to roam further and further into Mack's mind, swallowing up every detail he could to hurt the young Human, emotionally, mentally, or physically.
"Yes, I know who you are. I know what you are as well. Poor, poor young boy, whose mother died from an abusive, gambling father. Tell me something, how did it feel knowing you were the reason your own mother died? How did it feel to know that you couldn't even run to your own father for help? For love? And when the Vong came...I bet it burned you up inside knowing that you couldn't do anything, all your wealth and power evaporating as your stocks became destroyed from the Vong attacks on the Core Worlds." spat the Anzat, trying to break the Human.
"Come...follow me, and on Tarthos, you and I shall train together. I will prepare you for war." said Jaredi as he walked towards the Starport.
Cyrus stepped into the shower and just stood there, letting the cold water wash over him. He hadn’t realised he was coated in sweat until he returned to his quarters. He smelled, and his face was caked in dry blood from the mental probing Goura had performed. The meeting with the Consul had been exhausting. He hadn’t expected to survive. To be hauled before one second only to the Lord Sadow himself had been a terrifying experience.
But not so terrifying as what the Consul had said.
The Consul himself had seen the burning effigy too. The revelation had nearly made Cyrus pass out. For the ghost that haunted his dreams to have spread that high and infected half the Cenota Facility as well could only mean one thing: Trouble.
It was no surprise Daragon had not wanted Goura to know the truth. Who would? Cyrus hadn’t wanted to divulge his condition either; not while the Lord Sadow was practically enforcing martial law, disposing of any who posed the slightest threat to security. Daragon probably didn’t want to take chances, or be accused as the next turncoat Son. Sadow had not been seen much since the Battle of Lehon. Not in public anyway. No doubt in private he was having regular audiences with his Sons to spread his will. And with those accused of treason. Many had disappeared, never to be seen again lately. No doubt personally executed.
Rumours abound about the existence of a new heir. Cyrus suspected that may have had something to do with the Sadow's recent extremism. He was clearly clamping down hard to protect his child. That was bad news for someone accused of harbouring a plague.
As for the visions, Cyrus hadn’t learned anything new. Daragon was as in the dark as he was.
But the Consul had suggested a solution; which was one step further than Cyrus had been. Kalekka. Abandoned three years ago in the Fall of Antei; Kalekka Tower stood in the Jadan Pass, at the heart of the Du’san Boundary, within the turbulence fires and storms caused by the Dark Star.
On Antei. That was the not-so-small catch.
Back before the war, before the Vong, Kalekka had been the personal retreat of Trevarus Caerick. As eccentric a building as there ever was. Rumour was it supposedly contained an archive greater than even Sadow Palace—in typical egotism, Caerick would have said greater than even the Dark Hall itself. But one thing was certain: it contained secrets to be found nowhere else; the life’s work of Trevarus Caerick; the unfinished extended volumes of the Chronicle of Dark Souls, on which the very foundations of the modern Dark Side Compendium had been based, the prophecies that had defined belief in the Final Way.
It was claimed the whole reason the Clan had been dragged to Antei three years ago was to enable Caerick to recover it before Antei fell, and that Lord Sadow had never forgiven the Oracle for placing his whole Clan in jeopardy for a book. There was no certainty anything would still remain. No guarantee Kalekka would hold the answers he and Daragon needed. No promise that the tower even still stood.
But what choice did he have? It was Kalekka, or Daragon would turn him in to Lord Sadow.
No, he had no choice. None at all. He would go to Kalekka.
Daragon had planned it all. Cyrus was to assemble a team, handpicked to form an advance scout party. In a few weeks, when the rest of the Clan and the Council’s allies were assembled, they would travel to Antei ahead of the main battle fleet, a small team, silent and invisible, and go behind enemy lines–before the Council could lay claim to Antei and all its secrets once more. He could only hope Kalekka still stood. That it was not infected with Vong bio forms. Some alien warlord had not claimed it as his throne.
That what he needed was there.
This was his one chance. Not just to escape Lord Sadow. Death at the Overlord's hands would be a welcome release. But nothing could free him from his mindlessness. It was Kalekka, or surrender to the nameless madness that hammered constantly to escape from inside his skull. No. He would not surrender to the death beyond death. He would do this. He must.
Office of the Jade Serpents Battle Team Leader
"Alright" Krandon said thinking of what he had to to do to prepare for the war
"I believe I have done all the planning I can do for the Battle Team, well...what we have a Battle Team".
The Guardian was the BTL for the Jade Serpents, but who his Jade Serpents were, is unknown. The only members that are actual members are him and Krath Epis Ashia Kagan Keibatsu Sadow. He had serveral members who have sworn allegiance to the Battle Team but were not members so to speak yet, more that their names are not on paper.
There is Dismal, my acting left hand, and Jaredi, my acting right hand. Both are very hard working and have givin a lot to this Battle Team, our Battle Team. To Krandon, they were members of the Jade Serpents...no matter what.
Krandon got out of his chair at his desk and went to get himself a cup of jawa juice and some food. As he was returning to his desk, he saw the red blinking of the holo emitter sitting on his desk. With an electronic ping the holographic image of Dismal came on the screen.
"Krandon, just checking in, how are those plans coming?"
"Things are going as planned, I have a finished copy of the plan that will be set forth about the new rules and regulations for the Jade Serpents and their role in the Great Jedi War." Krandon said.
"Alright, I will talk to you about it later, with Fenris being away"
"Thank you, Dismal." With this, Krandon shut off the holo emitter, sat back down at his desk, and finished his lunch.
The cosmetic-droid finished spraying his face with skin-tone colorant, adding puffs of air to direct the spray. "I look ridiculous," groaned Macron as he regarded his now-boring visage in the mirror. An even skin tone made his face appear almost normal. His lips were a normal shade of pink, and blue contacts covered his yellow eyeballs. The lunatic's hair was now an even shade of dark red. Even the scars had been peeled and covered with putty. Little could be done about the sharp durasteel teeth implants, but he was hoping it would be seen as a modern cosmetic body alteration. "This is not befitting a Sith."
"Ahem. Most people would say you normally look pretty ridiculous," commented Major Qek dryly.
"The dye will only hold for a few days, as it seems those tattoos of yours are quite chemical-resistant. Here's your clothing," he said as he handed an expensive pressed gray business suit to the Warlord.
"By Darth, you expect me to wear... this? I mean military uniforms make me uncomfortable, but I can handle that or dress robes on occasion. But this? Hogwash." Macron held the suit by it's hangar like someone would hold a piece of offal.
"It's Nashtah skin, sir. Also, you'll find it is quite expensive. Put it on. Also, here is the ring with a Corusca stone as you requested." The major slid a steel tray with the items on it across the table, standing to retrieve his own watch and ring. He was already dressed in a crisp black suit that hid the holdout blaster holster under his shoulder quite well. "I was trained for this sort of espionage work, you know."
Macron Sadow eyed the glittering ring, it's stone a shade of sparkling argent. "Corusca..." he mumbled. "I spent so many years out there, gemfishing. So many years..." Memories flooded back. The coldness of Yavin space always seemed touched with red, as the giant ruddy planet loomed nearby. It was befitting of the blood greedily shed in the trade, both his and others. Befitting of a Sith.
He snapped his black curved-hilted lightsaber into a hollow pole of ebony wood, clicking it into place to resemble a very expensive gentleman's cane. "However, the cane is a nice touch Major."
"Thank you sir. According to the Prefect's Office, this Gin Rose bar near the spaceport may be a place the bombers frequent. Our information indicated that they apparently are fairly well-off."
"I'd agree. From my analysis of the bomb fragments, it wasn't just simple detonite. I found baradium traces in that mess, and the isotopes match the material from Sepros. The trigger was Republic stuff. I'd love to know where 'they' got it," he growled low in his throat. "I'll put this damned thing on, and then we go."
Gin Rose Bar
Aisha looked up, regarding the bar mirror as two new patrons walked in. Both were fairly tall, well muscled human males with an air of seriousness about them. Both were well dressed and apparently affluent. As they sat in a private booth, The Zeltron whistled quietly under her breath. "Very nice," she chuckled and downed her drink. "You see those buns, Dehodru? I've just got to check this out." She picked up her shoulderbag and removed a credchip.
"Buns?" barked the Dug. "I saw no bread?" He bared his teeth as he ran her credit chip and returned it to her. "Aisha, you're paid up."
"Figure of expression, my arboreal friend. I was admiring their bodies," said the red skinned woman as she stood up and returned the credchip to a slim pocket in her bodysheath. "Zeltrons appreciate a beautiful body. Those fellows work out. And they move like martial artists." She smiled, relishing in her keen eye for physicality.
"I'm aware that you like that sort of thing, Qifaxa. Be careful, they look like offworlders to me." The fat Dug turned to the next customer as the Zeltron strode gracefully down aisle towards the back. "I've got a bad feeling about this."
Aeotheran, Orian System
Domain of Clan Naga Sadow
He woke up screaming.
Sweat poured down from his body in sheets of anxiety, staining the dingy bedclothes in spreading dark stains. Like every dream, he couldn't remember the how or why, and even the images were fading quickly. Yet, he distinctly remembered a figure holding a shining white object and a flashing as a lightsaber would. Broad and curved, it shone like the glittering gem of his homeworld seen from space. It was almost like a shield.
In fact, he was sure of it. The Force was showing him a shield. Jaspen reached across to the nightstand, where he had placed his lightsabers within easy reach. In his years of travelling, he had been threatened and robbed more times than he cared to remember. Here on a backwater world in the outskirts of the Vong war, he could only imagine what brigands would be out.
Ostensibly a mining colony, but Aeotheren was home to something much darker. That he was certain of.
Jaspen stood and half-sleep-panic stumbled over to the small commode and sink situated in the cheap room. Splashing cold water on his face helped calm him down. He couldn't remember the last time he'd enjoyed a good nights sleep. He must have been very small.
A lithe finger traced over the small scar--at least that's what he thought of it--or tattoo on his forehead. It looked remarkably like an eye. At times, he could swear he even saw it open. He'd always had it, any almost every Jedi he'd ever encountered cursed him for the Mark. They called it the Mark of the Wanderer, and the sign of a Darksider as evil as any Sith.
He'd always had it though, and could not remember ever not.
In a deft motion, he brought his lightsabers to bear. A deeply sapphire blue blade swirled in time with a shoto of shimmering viridion green in his left hand. Though small of frame, his was the grace of a dancer. He remembered the scant instruction in the arts of the lightsaber. A secretive Jedi on a backwater world named Kormanal had taught him to fight, emphasizing the secondary lightsaber. He called the form 'Kirili'. Jaspen didn't know what it was, but it felt natural to him.
He grinned broadly, almost laughing at himself in the mirror. Like his lightsabers, his eyes were mismatched, yet matched his favored hand for each blade. Deeply blue, shimmering green. His eyes were slightly upturned, high cheekbones and a narrow jaw, hair so dark it was almost black. He was shorter than average, but he was fast. Watching him swirl through the forms of Ataru into the grace of Kirili and through the brutal efficiency of Shien was a study in lightning.
Yet, Jaspen Kraitus feared something inside him. He tasted blood on his lip, and heard a shadow calling out to him. Deactivating his lightsabers, he knelt on the floor of his hotel room and brought the serenity of the Force into his soul.
Yet, he would not be at peace for long.
Gin Rose Bar
"Good evening, gentlemen," whispered the sibilant Zeltron woman. "May I join you?" Her seductive body language intimated that she was interested in knowing the two men at the private booth. "My name's Aisha Qifaxa." Long eyelashes over smoldering eyes winked at them both with a practiced smile. "It's a bit boring around here, and I'm looking for company." She leaned over the table provocatively, while secretly scanning them for weapons. She quickly noted the holdout blaster hidden beneath the suit of the dark-haired human male.
That younger military-looking man with dark hair and hawk's eyes answered first as he scanned her for weapons. "Pardon me, Madame...?" Major Qek was slightly annoyed at the distraction in his surveillance. The young lady was very attractive and smelled wonderful, he noted. In fact, he found her increasingly interesting as the pheromones worked on him.
The older man with the dark red hair and blue eyes merely gazed off into the distance. A Zeltron bar slut was none of his concern. Keeping the Mark closed took more effort these days... Macron sifted his thoughts, a whisper of the Force caught his attention. The Zeltron had some apparent ability, noted the Sith with growing interest. He kept his own signature in the Force squeezed down into a small knot, hiding it from prying eyes.
She was marshaling it even now. "Buy a girl a drink?" Aisha asked with a sweet alluring smile. Her hands waved in front of her, concentrating the Force as she had done so many times before. "You really want to." A wave of energy designed to lull people into agreement washed over the men. The usual effects involved free drinks, and maybe sharing their bodies later. The former Jedi licked her blue lips. It was looking like this night would be interesting.
"Yeah, I really..." replied the DAC clone trooper as his eyes glazed over. Top of the line combat model or not, clones were generally susceptible to mind tricks. "I really wanna help ya." Qek gestured at the server droid. "Drink for the lady," he quipped. The mouse droid scuttled off, having run the credchip payment almost instantaneously. It returned with shots of contraband Corellian brandy.
"Idiot," though Macron distantly as he watched the muscular Zeltron work. "That woman strikes like a cobra," he whispered to himself. "Pardon me, mademoiselle," he spoke up clearly. "But you really should work on that." He waved his right hand at her with a smile. The Sith marshaled his entire will, concentrating it into a crushing tool to serve his intent.
"Work on that..." echoed the increasingly odd man's words in her head. She could tell that she had the dark haired man in her power, but yet the redhead resisted. In fact, as she looked at him with the Force she began to worry. He had spoken in her mind- without her consent. As her senses focused, she began to realize that he had a presence in the Force of his own. He was passion, irresistible...darkness... a Darksider. And his will was significantly more than hers, especially drunk.
"Come with me," ordered the Warlord with all the mental power he could muster. Tiny flecks of blood dripped from Macron's nose as he focused his eyes on her. "It is your destiny." Major Qek continued to sit at the bar eyeing sports vids as Macron stood up and took the svelte Aisha Qifaxa by her offered arm. "Shall we talk?" asked the Sith as he walked along with Aisha. The confused red Zeltron looked at him with clouded eyes as she slowly nodded.
Dehodru nodded at them both as they stepped into a private booth. He was well paid by the network that supported the Lord Sadow, ostensibly known here on San Korinar as the Viceroy. Many people of questionable intent had passed through his establishment. He had shared all he knew to the Prefect, as ordered by the Shadow Network. The Dug sincerely hoped the sweet Zeltron woman would come out of this alright. Nonetheless, the 'ghost' paychecks from the Dlarit Corporation continued to feed his family well. Very well, indeed. And much better than getting quite dead by a Dark Jedi.
The dreams had come more frequently of late. Jaspen didn’t know why. His fingers dabbed the scar on his forehead—it stung. Blood black as the night sky.
This city was surely behind it. The entire world dripped with darkness. Everywhere he looked, the shadows haunted him. It had been worse on San Korinar: children destitute, clothed in tired rags, feet as young as five already callused. Crime had been rife. The mining corporation that owned the system didn’t seem to care. The refugees were not their employees. And they were not a member, so not subject to the controls of the New Republic—not that anybody was anymore. There hadn't really been a Republic now for over two years.
It was different inside the city walls. The sky city may have been left to rot, but inside the mining city life went on. There were cut backs, there had to be; food supply was limited; rationing was enforced; the police pursued a zero tolerance policy to all crime. But for those lucky few able and willing to work the long hours—which meant very few—they were treated to a comfortable life. Or at least as comfortable as any could expect during the Long War.
Long. That was what it truly was. It had become more than just about the aliens. It had shown the true side of the Galaxy. The Republic—torn apart by its own greed. Corrupt Senators hanging the Jedi out the dry, the only people who might have been able to stop the invasion. The Peace Brigade—cowards choosing appeasement over principle, simply to save their own hides. For all the talk of the Vong existing outside the Force, the Galaxy was being drowned in its own darkness.
Corruption and betrayal were everywhere. But for Jaspen, it was all the same. He’d been an outcast his entire life. He knew what it was like to fight for the poor and vulnerable and be turned on. The Jedi themselves spat on him for the tattoo he carried—a tattoo he had never asked for. The Jedi had no idea of true justice.
But he did. That was why he was here. It would have been simple enough to procure transport and head back to the front lines had he wished. But there were worse things than Vong in the Galaxy, and he was certain the darkest of all had something to do with this system. The Dlarit Corporation may have ticked all the boxes and passed all the checks, but something was wrong about this place.
And he would find out what. And maybe, just maybe, he would get answers.
He headed outside into the smoggy alleyways of the Outercity, the hastily constructed mismatch of prefab buildings that seemed like they’d been thrown over the city wall and landed wherever they felt. The street reeked of urine, there being no proper sewage system installed outside the main settlement. A beggar slept nearby—several beggars in fact. Not everyone out here got a building—more a hut really—to themselves.
This had been Dlarit’s ‘answer’ to the overcrowding on San Korinar: to let it overflow to Seng Karash. But it didn’t overflow to Seng Karash: they just dumped people outside. It had been a mission just to find a way past the guards and inside the city itself. If you weren’t an employee, you weren’t welcome. One may have wondered what Dlarit ultimately planned to do with all the homeless, whether they had a plan or were just hoping to send them all home once the war was over?
It was a bit of both. Those who survived would almost surely be kicked back to wherever they’d come from. But Aeotheran had a more ‘natural’ deterrent: the jungle. Inside the city walls it was fine, the army patrolled the perimeter twenty four seven. But outside they were subject to the elements. That included the hordes of unnatural beasts that infested the jungles. Jaspen had found the life expectancy of most people in the Outercity was lower than San Korinar: lasting a month was lucky.
He had to turn several beggars away as he made his way toward the city wall. Some might have said that was wrong. But he knew better. If they didn’t spend it on spice it was death sticks. No, if they wanted credits, it was their lot in life to earn them.
The guards at the gate were plated in their trademark navy blue armour. He’d become accustomed to seeing members of the Dlarit Security Force. Thankfully, they weren’t usually too bad. It was the men in black you had to watch out for; there was just something a little off about those Special Ops troopers.
‘Halt there,’ the guard said, his voice obscured a little by his helmet. ‘Identification?’
Jaspen produced a form from inside his jacket, making sure to keep his head bowed just enough that the hood of his travelling cloak masked his forehead. The guard scanned the paperwork then handed it back to him.
‘This checks out.’ The guard spoke into his wrist: ‘Open the gate.’
The gate was ridiculously big just for one man, but it had not been built for civilians. When Seng Karash was built, only mining transports would leave the city walls—and even then, most would go via the spaceport—or patrol walkers from the Dlarit Army, so the gate had needed to be big enough to accommodate them.
Jaspen strolled inside, nodding at the guard when he passed. The smell of urine dissipated and he headed on into the streets of the jewel of Orian, the mining city Seng Karash. He had a date on San Korinar to get to, and he did not want to disappoint.
Bounty hunters tended to charge overtime when you kept them waiting.
Note: If it seems random, that's because the stuff Trev and I are doing is a trailer for the Clan Feud after the Great Jedi War. Expect to see a lot more of both Cyrus Raze and Jaspen Kraitus as time goes on.
Seng Karesh, Aeotheran
Domain of Clan Naga Sadow
Despite the new surroundings, some things never changed. Something was calling to Jaspen as he checked the arrival and departure schedules for shuttles to the Amphor Colony. He checked his little pocket chronograph against the charts. The next departure would be a little over an hour away. The meeting he was going to in San Korinar would reveal more of the mystery.
His stomach rumbled a bit, but there was no left over money for a meal. He wasn't even sure if Republic credits were even accepted out here. The Vong war had destroyed so much.
Jaspen found a faded newsprint haphazardly folded on a bench. Minimizing himself in the crowd, he settled on the bench to wait for his shuttle.
Most of the articles were too dated to be of interest. He scanned them anyway, trying to distract himself from the rumbling in his head and gut. News about the war. News about the curfews. Lockdowns, wanted criminals. He was about to throw the paper away when he saw an image that made him choke on his own breath.
There was no possible way.
A sadistic, grinning faded rendered in cheap ink. A reward of 3,000,000 credits was being offered for the death or capture of Trevarus Irad Caerick. To be considered armed and extrememly dangerous. No other information was offered.
But there it was, right there, rendered in black. The same tattoo he had.
If he was right, then there was a a Darksider presence in the Orian System. He carefully tore the picture out of the paper, and left the rest on the bench.
Jaspen might have felt a touch guilty as he waved his hand, suggesting that the pilot of the shuttle had already collected his fare, but he didn't. His mind was reeling. He had to find Aisha, find out what she knew. This was going to be huge.
In his twenty years of life, Jaspen Kraitus had never been so afraid.
San Korinar, Amphor Colony
Domain of Clan Naga Sadow
"What a bloody dive!" He said out loud, walking through the smokey door of the crowded bar. It seemed that everyone was smoking something, and the haze made him a bit dizzy. No-one paid attention to the obvious-looking urchin in a worn travelling cloak. Had they seen his lightsabers, they might have. He was more concerned about his face, having tied a bandana over his forehead to hide his deformity.
He edged his way to the bar, and ordered a local ale. Taking a sip, he allowed his eyes to scan the crowd, looking for any sign of her, checking his chrono again.
By the time he finished the beer, she still hadn't shown up.
Wondering where he might find a public comlink, didn't keep him from feeling the cold of steel to the back of his head.
"Your wallet, now." A gruff, barely recognizable voice said
"I don't have any money" Jaspen replied, reaching under his cloak. He sensed evil intent, even more so.
In a lightning flash, his cobalt lightsaber had swept through the creature as a shot ripped through the ceiling. Everyone had their eyes on him, he felt naked, standing his his shimmering weapon.
"Di'kut Jedi" Someone shouted. A few were laughing or growling in their own language.
He wiped a bead of sweat off his forehead, and shut down the lightsaber. Hidden away under his cloak, he turned to leave the bar. A hand on his forearm forced him to turn around.
"Who the hell are you?" A soft, yet stubbornly menacing voice said into his ear.
"I.." Jaspen started to say, fully turning around a bracing for a fight. She was a good twenty years older than him, peircing green eyes behind weatherworn and battered features. Yet, a glimmering of beauty remained in her faded blonde hair. She motioned for him to sit down in a small booth. He did so, she followed and closed a curtain.
"That's one hell of a way to end a robbery," she said between puffs of smoke on a small cigar.
"And who are you?" Jaspen asked.
"Name's Stacia. But you must know what, walking around with his mark."
"What are you talking about?"
"That tattoo. He's passed a fair few out over the years. Usually to his pet bitches."
He reached into his satchel, and withdrew the fugitive profile. "You mean this guy? I have no idea who he is."
"Trevarus Caerick. They say he's dead, I don't believe it. Bastard's too evil to die." Stacia said. "I thought you knew something about him. What Clan are you from?"
"Clan? I've only been in system a week."
"Oh shavit. What's your name then." She suddenly seemed to understand.
"Jaspen... Jaspen Kraitus. I'm looking for Aisha Qifaxa. She's been missing too long, and has information I need."
"You're a Jedi then, obviously."
"I've never been through the trials, or had a formal Master... but yes, I am a Jedi."
"You even fight like him. Kriffing hells, kid. You'd better be careful walking around this place. And keep the damned Mark of the Wanderer covered." Stacia said, her hand pushing the bandana back on his forehead. "I saw it when you wiped your forehead. The Dlarits will kill you for sure if they see it."
"You have a certain presence," Jaspen said. "You have been touched by the Dark Side."
"Its everywhere on this world, Jedi. Watch your back. But if you want more information, its gonna cost you. Now get the hell out of here."
Gin Rose Bar
About an hour later, Aisha and Macron exited the concealement of the privacy field. The Zeltron looked dazed, and her normally ruddy complexion was somewhat duller than normal. "I have to meet someone," she said slowly. "A client. But first, you sure we can't...?"
"No. Pleasures of the flesh do not interest me in the slightest, Aisha. Flesh is a canvas to me. The Dark Side is so much more fulfilling. I feel that stifling that urge in you will allow you to transmute the passion into a deeper knowledge of the Force," commented Macron as they walked toward Major Qek at the bar. "Besides- it's good for you to find a man you cannot have, my Apprentice."
"Yes..." she agreed with a smile. The normal red color was returning to her face. "Major Qek?" she said to the waiting clone.
"I am," he said with a frown. "You are indeed a very attractive lady," he replied. "That was not very nice trying that mind trick on me." The officer peered about the bar, winking at the Dug who had conveniently moved away to the other end of the bar.
"Oh don't worry, that won't be happening again. Aisha has seen the Final Way," chuckled the Sith. "Aisha has gratefully agreed to serve me as her new Master."
Major Qek looked at them both silently for a few seconds. "Riiight. Well, I'll call us a cab so you two lovebirds can..."
"Lovebirds?" growled the Warlord. "I do not resemble an avian in the slightest. Besides, there is no love left in me." Once there had been, he thought, At least love for a teacher. But now Vexatus is dead and I was instrumental in the killing like a true Sith. He spoke up again as the aircab arrived outside. "Perhaps an apprentice that might live will provide a pleasant distraction." And maybe a night's sleep without those damn dreams of a Sword, he thought. I am used to such madness, but the source must be found.
As the trio rode down the crowded street in the security of the private aircab, Jaspen caught a force-glimpse vision of Aisha's face through a window as she peered out. She looked different than the last time they had met, somehow older and with a large scar across her right eyebrow. She noticed him, eyes dilating wildly. "Jaspen" she mouthed silently with a pleading hand splayed on the window as they sped off towards the Prefect's compound. "Help me".
Jaspen kept the curtain pulled while he finished his drink in the booth. The woman—Stacia she had called herself—had left. She’d reeked of darkness, like practically everyone else in the system. And what had she meant by what Clan was he in? Was that like a gang or something?
Whatever it was, it stunk. The Dlarit Corporation could pretend all it wanted that it was a center for excellence, and that Seng Karash was home to a prosperous mining guild. But the streets of San Korinar displayed the cold reality: crime and corruption, everywhere.
He checked his pocket chrono again. It was well past the arranged time. Aisha wasn’t coming. That wasn’t unusual. The Zeltron had a habit of being late; but this felt different. Something was wrong.
Jaspen downed the rest of his ale and got up to leave, adjusting his bandana. A barmaid was cleaning up the lowlife who had tried to mug him. ‘Sorry about the mess,’ he said, and tossed some credit chits on the table as he left, making a mental note not to arrange a meeting at the Miner’s Daughter in future.
Outside, the air was hot and heavy with dust and smog. It was hard to see that far ahead and certainly impossible to the next street down. He kept his hand closed around his lightsaber under his jacket. It was far too easy for someone to jump out in the tight back alleys. He passed a boy wrapped up in a makeshift quilt, knitted together from polythene bags. The boy could have been no more than eight, but still he clutched a dagger close to his small and angular frame.
How could anyone let people live like this? Citizens lived in luxury, while those displaced from their homes by the Yuuzhan Vong were forced to endure torturous conditions and poverty. He’d been there himself once; had it not been for Master Sejj Beriss, he may have ended up like the boy just he’d passed.
He passed a worn recruitment poster that depicted a Falleen and carried the caption PREFECT ZORRIXOR WANTS YOU. Someone had graffitied so it now read WANTS YOU TO JUMP DEATH’S EDGE. There’d been a makeshift sign for this “Death’s Edge” on his way to the Miner’s Daughter. The first man he’d asked about it had not responded pleasantly. What he actually said was ‘Why don’t you go kark yourself? Kriffing Huttkarker.’ The next person Jaspen felt compelled to approach had been more useful, and pointed out Death’s Edge was where residents of the Lower City went to be freed. He could guess the rest.
A strained, but familiarly sultry voice stopped him dead in his tracks.
Aisha. She was in trouble. He had to get to the spaceport in the Upper City. Fast.
Kalei sat in the back of the ship she was traveling in with her eyes closed. What Tsing had asked her to do was one of the most dangerous things she had been asked to do. A slight sound from ahead of her brought her out of her meditation.
Going up to the cockpit, she glanced out the window of the ship she had set on autopilot for her traveling time. Slipping into the pilot seat, she realized what she was hearing. She had somehow been passed by some ships that had not managed to see her. "Appears Tsing was right. I'd just better be careful and keep an eye out."
Taking the ship off autopilot, she was only about an hour away from her destination.
An hour later
Just inside the Antei System
Slowing her speed, the young Dark Jedi Knight looked out at her final destination. Taking in a small breath, she focused herself on the task ahead. She knew that she would not be here unless others felt she was ready. Now was the time to put all of the training she had to the test.
She now hoped that what she was told, that she'd be hidden, was true. Looking over all the readings, it seemed no one had spotted her...so far.
San Korinar, Amphor Colony
Domain of Clan Naga Sadow
A few scattered bits of trash billowed through across the sidewalk. The gust of wind from the alley he crossed chilled Jaspen, he drew himself deeper into his worn cloak. A thousand problems crossed his mind, gripping his lightsaber even tighter in a clenched fist.
Darksiders were everywhere. From the seething stench of the Force, from its pain, he felt they must be everywhere. Dozens of them. In the face of so much conflict, death, it appalled him to think that there could be any left that were filled with so much hate as to fall prey to their passions. If the Jedi were powerless to stop this flood of evil, he would find its base.
He thought again to the wanted poster. He knew enough about his disfigurement to know that it was rooted in the blackest arts of the Dark Side. If the Dlarit Corporation had placed such a large bounty on the head of Trevarus Caerick, Jaspen rationalized that he must be the center of all the corruption.
Yet, in his brooding, he failed to notice that he was being followed.
"You there! Stop!" Voice filtered through heavy face masks shouted above the early evening crowd.
Jaspen turned, senses flaring to high anticipation. A thumb brushed the switch on his lightsaber as he realized that he was being chased by a pair of black-armored warriors. Dlarit Special Operations.
He swore, ducking into another alley some meters ahead. Through a small gate, then back around to his right, he ran as if all hells were chasing him. He couldn't risk a fight with the authorities, he should have just given the thug that robbed him the last of his money. Swearing again, he ducked behind a massice refuse container, and wiped the sweat off his brow, but carefully making sure the Mark was covered completely. He breathed a sigh of relief.
"Hands up, and we know you've got a lightsaber." Four black-clad soldiers with heavy blasters stood ready to fire.
The ground beneath the Sith Warlord began to burn and the heat began to engulf him. Once again the image of the inverted crucifix appeared out of the darkness calling to him, the same flaming sword that he could not escape from. Along with the calling came the agonizing pain that was beginning to affect the Consul of Clan Naga Sadow.
A knock on the door awoke the Sith from another nightmare. At first relieved that the noise had spared him of yet another disturbing vision, he quickly grew annoyed as he had given very direct orders not to be disturbed. Since the visions had begun, the Consul had gone into a semi seclusion to investigate recent events and determine what the cause was as it was also very likely to do with his current episodes as well. Also he did not want word to get out of his weakened condition and give one of his enemies’ incentives to strike while he was vulnerable. It was a private matter that the Warlord wanted to keep that way.
Robert Sadow had just set in motion a portion of his plans in finding the answers he was looking for. Something told him Kalekka Tower held some insight into the strange happenings of not only Cenota Facility, but with himself as well. Hopefully, this Cyrus Raze would be capable of completing his mission; the Consul had given him a good enough reason not to fail. The Sith Warlord shivered at the thought of Cyrus and the Mark he bared on his forehead. The Mark of the Wanderer had always made the Consul uncomfortable, as if some disturbing revelation of his future was looking at him behind that third eye.
“Enter” the Consul barked at the door.
The annoyance and harshness quickly subsided as the only person that Robert Sadow truly considered his Master entered.
“I trust I am not disturbing you Bob,” Astronicus Sadow stated as he entered.
The heir to Naga Sadow himself had quickly taken a liking to a then young Sith just starting out some fifteen years previous. All of Robert Sadow’s strengths and leadership abilities he know possessed was due to the Clan Overlord. The bond of loyalty and friendship between these two Sith was very powerful and those few who had ever tried to break this had paid a very high price.
“Of course not, a visit from the Clan Overlord always enriches my day,” the Consul replied.
“Good, I just noticed your absence of late and wanted to see what could keep someone as yourself away from even visiting your usual bar stool at the Sorrow Saloon,” the Lord Sadow stated as he looked upon with concern at his friend’s condition.
“As you well know, the duties of a Consul never cease to end. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, something new emerges,” the Consul replied.
“Very true,” Lord Sadow answered, “To serve one’s clan is a never ending responsibility that takes much and offers little. Just keep mindful, a Consul must lead from the front so those loyal know the direction to follow.”
“Even if that leader shows signs of weakness?” Robert Sadow stated as he gazed out the window at the mighty forests of Sepros.
Lord Sadow nodded as his long time friend had confided in him and confirmed his concerns, “The greatest weakness of all is the fear of appearing weak. However, the Sith have always been able to deceive and cover our weaknesses by many different means.”
The Overlord took a white cowboy hat off the Consul’s wall and tossed it in front of Robert Sadow, “Perhaps your solution is as simple as a change of attire.”
RSD Final Way
"He definately didn't leave?" Malisane said again, half to himself and half the the slightly blurred image of Captain Senth on the screen in front of him. The prototype scrambling software was distorting the signal slightly. Still he was confident no one on Aeotheran or the Final Way would be able to listen into the conversation, especially not the Commisaar.
"I waited until six hundred hours, then replayed the surveilance tapes around the building for the next six hours. If he came out of there he came out in small pieces."
"Hmm,"Malisane sat back in his chair, "and you're sure he didn't complete his mission?"
"I can not say that for certain," Senth replied, "but no alarm was raised to the police or medical services so it is unlikely, and the restaurant opened at twelve hundred as usual for the lunchtime shift."
"Which also makes it unlikely they managed to overcome him, otherwise she'd still have called the police." The Battelord took a sip of his drink and considered this. "There are two likely possibilities then. She somehow persuaded him by whatever means not to complete his assignment and he's in there having a light lunch, or he's dead and in the cold meat store or the pate."
"This casts a whole new light on Miss Vanise," Malisane continued, "what do we know about her?"
Senth didn't need to consult a datapad. "Model busineswoman, pays her taxes on time, health inspector gave her a glowing report, ingredients only from approved Dlarit sources, she's produced a line of healthy ready meals on sale in supermarkets, and she's even started an initiative taking catering students from local schools on work placements with guaranteed jobs for the best when they qualify."
"She's too good to be true," the Battlelord said with a grunt, "she's covering up something. Besides anything, what on earth would an attractive, successful and popular busineswoman be doing within five miles of battered, monosylabic space fungus like Agrist?"
"I couldn't begin to hazzard a guess at that Sir," Senth replied. "except that maybe opposites attract?"
"She's up to something," Malisane said taking another sip of his drink, "and I want to find out what. Anything that can embarass Agrist and get him out of the Summit's favour and my hair I can use."
"You think he's implicated in something Sir?" the DAC asked curiously.
"I doubt it," the Battlelord replied, "he's not got the imagination. Besides he has almost no possessions except for his saber and a few spare uniforms. His quarters look like a prison cell. If I gave him a thousand credits he wouldn't know what to do with it. But the question is can we make it look like he is. I want an investigation into this Meria Vanise. Where she goes, who she meets, her financial transactions, everything. And find out what she was doing before she came to Orian. Use those Dystopia security staff you trained up and keep it quiet."
RSD Final Way
Agrist sat down at his uncluttered desk and took a deliberately slow amount of time reading the report, then he glanced up at the khommite Sith in front of him. "I assume you have an explanation for your actions Warrior?"
Mecros stood staring blankly at the metal wall over the Battlelord's head. He didn't answer.
"You have no explanation?" Agrist said leaning forward, "maybe you've forgotten or is it simply all a mystery to you why you threw a perfectly good gunnery lieutenant over the bar and at the barman?"
The Khommite Dark Jedi continued his apparent study of the wall. Agrist sighed then got to his feet, walked around the desk and with a quick movement and a strength that belied his wiry form slammed the Warrior against the bulkhead. "I'm used to a answer to my questions."
Mecros adopted a furious look and struggled against the Battlelords grip, landing a random kick on Commisaar's shin. A second later the Khommite was on his knees gasping and clutching his stomach.
Agrist looked down in distaste at him. "You are nothing Warrior, except an annoyance. Your career to date has shown quick adaption to combat and force techniques that has earned you your rank in a short period of time, and a total lack of on the more basic day to day common sense most sentient beings learn the same time as walking. You were put under my supervision because your Quaestor is sick of your behavior and doesn't want you on Marakith, and because though killing you would be easier we need every Sith who can stand upright and hold a saber when we go to Antei. On your feet."
The Khommite got to his feet and regarded the Battlelord with pure hatred. Agrist met his look cooly. "If you feel like taking a shot at me do so Warrior, you can have another trip to the floor for your trouble."
"No, Battlelord." Mecros replied quietly.
"I'm going to make a useful Sith of you Mecros, even if it kills you. Besides I've had a bigger problem than you placed under my wing by our Summit, and you can do something useful. You know De Ath?"
"I am aware of him," Mecros replied.
"Good you're proving useful already," Agrist replied, "now you seem to me with your attitude to be the last person anyone would expect as a spy so that might make you a good one. You know anything about hyperdrive engines or turbolaser coolant systems?"
"Nothing," Mecros replied.
"Well you will do, assist De Ath in his inspections and let me know if he says anything odd. And don't pick a fight with him he's not as forgiving as I am. Dismissed."
Agrist watched the Khommite leave with a frown. He was mildly annoyed at the Summit for dumping their rubbish on him. At least putting the scheming untrustworthy De Ath and the short tempered irrational Mecros together ought to prove amusing and keep both out of his hair. With luck they might kill each other.
Krath Training Facility
"So what is all this about?" Jade said as they walked down the long, regal halls of the Krath training grounds.
"Sai, is covering his backside is all. I could have operated without Sai's permission, however I would prefer to cross bridges rather than burn them. Besides he serves good tea." Zaxen replied keeping pace with Jade.
The Arch Priestess and the Dark Knight approached the south end of the instructor's wing and opened the chambers Zaxen had been assigned. He threw his duffel bag onto the large bed and opened it. He rummaged through various pieces of equipment including the obsidian armor of a Black Guardsman.
"So what are you planning to do about Agrist?" Jade asked. "He is not exactly weak and while you are very good you simply don't have the knowledge and skill that he has."
Zaxen smiled. "You would be surprised at what I have mistress. Besides, I am not going to do anything with Agrist. Warlord Malisane will do that for me. I mean why work when I don't have to?"
Jade looked sideways at her former apprentice. They both were Krath but Jade was always astonished at how much in motion Zaxen's mind always was. He always seemed to have things figured out five moves in advance. She smiled as it came to her.
"Agrist is not your target."
"Certainly not. Agrist as well trained and effective as he is lacks the imagination for any sort of grand scheme such as what we are dealing with." Zaxen replied as he made a quick scan of a data pad he pulled out of his bag. "However, he is tied closely to the source of this scheme and if I were to venture a guess, his new love affair is playing a major role in all this." Zaxen tossed the datapad onto the bed towards Jade.
Jade looked down at the image of the stunningly beautiful Meria Vanise. "So if you suspect Meria why not go after her?"
Zaxen continued unpacking as he answered. "Because Agrist while being unimaginative is in a position of great influence and appears to be the hub of information being passed back and forth. I don't know just how far his influence stretches or where else he has spies. Besides Meria is a guess, I have no evidence pointing directly at her. All I have is association."
Jade nodded taking it all in. "So why here? Why an instructor?"
Zaxen having sorted his gear to his satisfaction walked over to the plush chair near the chamber window and sat. "First, I like Sai. I would rather have him in the know than drop a big surprise on him. Second, the instructor role allows me to have a cover. Third, the instructor role gives me a great excuse to spend a few days with students on the Final Way allowing me to get close to Agrist."
Jade smiled and sat on the edge of the bed leaning back on her hands, stretching her legs out in front of her. "You certainly seemed to have thought of everything. What do you want me to do?"
Zaxen paused for a moment. Watching his former mistress's form splayed on his bed played havoc upon the darkest corners of his mind. Mentally shrugging off the imagery he began to speak but just as he opened his mouth a knock came from the chamber door.
"Enter!" Zaxen called.
The door clicked and swung open to reveal Jedi Hunter Zaroth. "Hello Zaxen...Jade." He nodded. "So I got the message to be here. What's going on?"
Zaxen smiled as he walked over to his young friend. "Zaroth my boy, I am going to give you what you have always wanted... a date with Jade Atema."
Both Jade and Zaroth turned to Zaxen with a look of astonishment and confusion. Jade was the first to speak. "Zaxen what are you getting at?"
Zaxen smiled chalking up a small revenge to Jade's mental attacks on his physical desires over the past two years. "Why you two are just going to be the most perfect, happy couple on honeymoon."
"Zaxen this is not in the least bit amusing!" Jade was fast becoming annoyed and an edge began to form on her words. "What does this have to do with anything? We don't have time for jokes."
"Oh I assure you mistress that this is no joke." Zaxen replied as his smile grew larger. He went over and picked up a soft brown package he had taken from his equipment bag and tossed it over to Jade. "I even picked out a nice dress for you. No mysterious robes for you this time around. I chose something both stylish and flattering to your shape I believe."
Jade was fuming as she opened the package to reveal a sleek cocktail dress of various shifting hues that changed based on the light and movement of the fabric. It was silky smooth and short enough in length to reveal it's wearer's lower mid thigh. It was beyond expensive.
"Its one of a kind." Zaxen said as if reading Jade's thoughts.
Zaroth coming out of his stupor finally spoke up. "Where are we going?"
Zaxen replied quickly. "To Vanise Tower of course."
Jaspen cursed finishing his drink rather than bolting from the Miner’s Daughter as soon as he’d spoken with “Stacia”.
‘Drop the lightsaber and move away from the refuge container slowly.’
He’d heard enough rumours of the men in black to decide he wasn’t going down without a fight. Anything would be better than being hauled off to the Cenota Facility on Gamuslag. He kept his arms above his head, lightsaber still clutched in one hand as he moved out of the shadows.
‘I’m coming out.’
Wind flowed down the street, clearing the layers of smog. He could see them now, four Special Operations troopers, the red optical sensors of their helmets mirroring the bloodlust he could feel projected from them in the Force. He was a murderer and they didn’t care if they took him alive.
‘I said drop the weapon,’ the trooper barked in harsh monotone. ‘Toss it over here.’
The one who’d spoken—the group’s officer presumably—‘s hand slowly move toward his gun’s safety. There wouldn’t be a third warning. He only had one shot at this. He tossed his lightsaber in the air, and in the momentary distraction launched himself into the air, grabbing the weapon as he somersaulted back to land atop the refuge container.
Snap-hiss. Kecheew. Sparks filled the alley as Jaspen’s lightsaber sprang to life with cerulean blaze. There was no time to unclip his second lightsaber. Blood red rain fell upon him as he danced atop the container and deflected the bolts, guided by pure instinct. His forehead started to burn, a trickle of heat that slithered down his nose; he pushed the thought aside and fell into a trance as he let the Force fill him, his body becoming a shining beacon of light.
He could see every move before it happened; every laser bolt before it struck. The troopers were good, but they were not good enough to hit him. But nor was he able to defend and attack at the same time. They were locked in stalemate.
And every second he delayed Aisha was further away. Faintly, he felt her still reaching out to him.
He closed his eyes, his hands continuing to move on instinct, and tried to push aside the envelope of darkness that ringed this planet to find any spark of hope, the smallest glimmer of light. There. A series of torches, all converging on the spaceport in the Upper City. They resisted; then gave way to meld their minds with his, and fill him with their shared light.
Jaspen pressed forward and released the flood of Force energy in a kinetic blast that threw the Special Operations team back down the alley, disappearing into the fog.
When he reached out again, the torches were gone. Who were they?
He had no time to reflect on it; the drum of metal feet rattled down the alley. The troopers were still coming. More this time. He had no choice but to run. He turned on his heels and took off, passing a sign to Death’s Edge as he careened down the alleyway, thoughts for passers by who he slammed into momentarily lost as he fled for his life.
"You understand that your former Master and lover Dar died because of you, right?" taunted Macron as he faced the Zeltron. Both were wearing light workout gear, and had practice swords of round duraplast rods. Both had worked up a sweat. Now the alchemist intended to break her mind so she could be re-educated as a Sith in the warrior tradition. "All because of you."
"Kark you, jerk!" snarled Aisha as she raised her mock blade before her in a classic Hapan stance. "That's ridiculous." Her eyes shifted as she sent a mental plea for help to Jaspen. If she could only hold on, he would be sure to reach her soon. In the meantime, it was an unbelievable workout dueling this strange man.
"Oh no, it's quite true," chuckled the madman as he lowered his guard purposefully. "If you hadn't been so pathetically weak, dear Ms. Qifaxa, you could have protected him. If he hadn't been a piss-poor teacher, he would still be alive. Unfortunately, he's taking a dirt nap right now because he screwed up and should never have fallen in love with a wimp such as yourself." He giggled nastily, feeling the truth of his vitriolic words sink in. The taunts were designed to infuriate his new student. Being so close to the truth made them sink deep. Sith were notorious for their bending of words and pliable minds. Yet another thing I have to thank Vexatus for, he thought.
"Shavit..You BASTARD!... YAAAHHH!" screamed the red-skinned woman as spittle flew from her lips. The blue lipstick had melted off some time ago, and sweat sprayed from her braids as she swung the blade ferociously at Macron with a two-handed grip. He had hit a nerve. She intended to show him his place.
The alchemist grunted and parried the false sword clenched in her hands up high. Then the lunatic dropped underneath her guard in a low crouch. A foot lanced out, hitting her in the gut with a simple but hard Broken Gate front kick. It had just a 'little' Force behind it to augment the synthetic human's already respectable strength. He snickered as he stepped backwards.
Her eyes closed in disbelief as the wind was literally driven from her stomach by the blow from his heel. Aisha sat straight down, clutching her abdomen as she dropped the sword. "Ack!" she gagged as she tried to catch her breath. Tears streamed from her eyes as her nose began to run involuntarily.
The Warlord threw his own practice blade to the ground in passionate anger. A back-handed slap resounded as the woman's head recoiled. "You think the Vong would cut you a break so you could play little girl and cry in the corner? I'll tell you what they'll do. They'll torture a weakling like you for months until you die. Months of unending agony in the Embrace of Pain..." He let his eyes close as she gagged a little less. "That's what they did to your man. Tortured him, for months. Violated him in every way you can imagine, and from what I hear ones even you can't. And Aisha- it's YOUR fault," he whispered evilly.
She began to sob quietly as Macron sat down next to her. He waited a bit until she stopped gasping. "I'm sorry to have to hurt you," he murmured sweetly. "I think you are a decent person, and it is for your own good. I hate to see good material go to waste." He held her lightsaber hilt in his hand, taken from her bag where it lay. "Nice work. A bit primitive, but functional. Did you make this yourself?" he asked approvingly as he handed her a flask of water and an ice-pack.
She drank greedily and wiped her lips before speaking. Her brick-red eyes gazed into his own impassively blue ones as she held the pack to her face. He obviously had on contacts, and the bounty hunter wondered what his real eyes looked like. "Sort of. I did everything but the final crystal alignment. The power generator one we found on Ilum." She stood up and caught her breath, palms resting on her knees as she hunched over.
The Warlord stood up, a frown of surprise on his face. "Ilum? Very interesting. I have never been there, actually. I'll make you a deal, Aisha my sweet. I can show you how to be strong, to touch your inner power so that you need fear nothing ever again. You have great potential. Would you like to be powerful?" he asked gently, his words sliding around like snakes on a greasy plate. "Would you like to help those you care about? Protect them? Have a good life?"
"I would, yes. Yes, very much," she said quietly as she regarded him with hungry eyes. She could read very little of him in the Force, although a sense of power came through clearly.
"Then willingly submit to me as my Sith apprentice," replied Macron as he handed her lightsaber back. "Learn from me. It's an honor to be offered the chance."
"I thought the Sith were all destroyed long ago?" she asked quickly. The Zeltron had heard of them in children's stories designed to frighten bad kids. She had always wondered if the stories of their unnatural abilities were true in secret. The power to control minds... any man she wanted.
"Not at all. Heh. You had better make your mind up quickly, because your little friend is coming here to kill you. I have forseen it," the Sadow lied easily. Lies were also an excellent tool, although he used them somewhat less than most.
"Jaspen?" she said with a look of disbelief. Shock was evident on her exercise-flushed face"That's..." Her eyes widened with horror. No one will ever catch me being weak again, she thought. "I'll do it." The room grew silent as seconds passed.
Aisha had accepted of her own free will, and things began to change with her. Many Sith before her had made the same deal over the millennia, and they were all changed forever by it. Some became great, and others were broken. Both outcomes were even possible in the same person. And some simply died. Only time would tell if she was made of the right metal to be forged into a true weapon.
"Impossible? Oh no, my apprentice. He is a Jedi after all. Sworn to kill heretics- like Potentium believers. Like you," he hissed silently as he drew forth his own lightsaber hilt from behind his back. Aisha looked surprised at the brandished weapon, recognizing it for what it was.
"Now, let me show you something different," he snickered as the sizzling orange blade ripped from the hilt. "Defend yourself- and if you let your guard down this time, I will surely kill you. Then you'll never be able to avenge Dar."
“So you have found nothing?”
The figure shrugged, “Unfortunately not mistress. The assassin was just a local for hire, he had gained something of a positive reputation in his field but who hired him is unclear. The face of the man you leached from his memory is unknown to the local police or underworld.”
She frowned. “If this is an attempt at a protection racket I will not be impressed,” she replied, “though killing me first would defeat the objective.”
“You do not think it was them do you mistress?”
“They don’t send local assassins. If they even suspected the truth they’d tear this building apart, subtlety is hardly their way.”
“I still feel being here is too much of a risk mistress.”
She turned angrily on him. “You are not here to have feelings, I am aware of the risks I take. I will have back that which they stole from me.”
He had given up trying to find out what it was she alleged was stolen. “When mistress?”
“Agrist has unwittingly revealed their intentions to me. Soon they will embark on a military campaign and anyone who could stop me will leave the Orian system. Then I will enter their Sadow Palace and take it from under their noses. After that we can leave this system for good.”
“I hope so mistress.”
“You doubt me?”
“Of course not mistress.”
“Good,” she said, “you may leave.”
Between seen and not seen...
The Dragon felt a bit restless. An odd confluence of emotions played across the fore of his mind. Emotions were not a state of being that he was accustomed to. Yet, he felt distinctly at ill ease. There was a sensation coming from somewhere, out of nowhere, that was distinctly disturbing him.
Five books and six scrolls were laid out on a table before him. In a moment of hesitation, he forgot which he had been reading. Feeling for the book that was warmest, he resumed where he believed he had left off...
Sepros, Orian System
Domain of Clan Naga Sadow
His eyes scanned the man standing before him in the red robes of a Guardian. They were of similiar ages, builds, yet at the time neither were the legends they would become. Bob's eyes met the ice blue of Trevarus Caerick.
"Guardian Caerick, House Ludo Kressh... I do henceforth name you Hunter, by the power vested in me by the Master-at-Arms. Step forward and take your place."
"As you command, Lord Consul."
Robert awoke with a start, his eyes falling on the chronograph near his bed. He'd been asleep for barely an hour, and didn't even remember falling. Two bottles of Ishir whisky stood empty on the bedside tables. He vaguely remembered them.
A sour taste lingered in his mouth as he considered what he had seen. Nearly two decades had passed since the vision of his dream. But why would he dream of Trevarus now? All reports said the man was dead, that the Oracle of the Brotherhood had been slain by Darth Vexatus. He had not been at Lehon, but had spoken with several of the Keibatsu and Lord Sadow at length about the affair. Muz hinted that Shan Long, the insane counterpart of Trevarus had taken over the Sorcerer... Robert didn't know.
He still saw the man standing in the red robes of a Guardian in the fore of his mind.
He knew now.
He chased a glass of water with a glass of bjodka. Considering another image. A telepathic projection of Trevarus and Vexatus at the annual celebrations of the Exodus, not even two years ago. The man was much more worn, weary... weathered. Yet, the Eye glowed evilly violet in the center of his forehead.
That must be it.
If there was any lingering trace of the man, it would be at Kalekka Tower. As the bjodka warmed his heart, imagining the terror of the last months chilled his soul.
RSD Final Way
"G43297," he leaned closer, "level at eighty-three percent, within guidelines but below target." Malisane paused then looked up at the figure standing over him with the datapad. "Some sort of response would be good Mecros, 'Acknowledged' or 'Yes Malisane' or even application of the minimalist but functional word 'check' would be acceptable."
The Khommite grunted, "This is beneath me, I am a Sith. This is a task for menials."
Malisane sighed. "It may surprise you to know that as a Battlelord and reasonably successful leisure company director this isn't how I like to spend my mornings. Sleep in until ten, a healthy fried breakfast, swim in the pool, lying in the sun with an improving book, maybe a trip to the spa for a sauna and massage. I don't generally like to start the day at eight checking ion charge levels with a morose Khommite."
"It is beneath you as well then." Mecros insisted.
"This is true," Malisane agreed, "but as my adopted father used to tell me when life deals you onions cook," he paused for a few seconds, "some dish or other involving onions I can't remember exactly what but the metaphor stands." Given Mecros' similar situation to his own as join detainees and his obvious hatred and resentment towards the ships one eyed Commissar, Malisane was surprised to find he was actually beginning to warm to the surly Knight or at least learning to tolerate him.
“I fail to see the relevance.”
“The point is like me you’re stuck here. You can either kick off and beat up on the crew before Agrist stuffs you in the brig then transports you to Centoa or you can put up with it until something changes. As you know there’s a campaign on the horizon and one there’s Vong swinging those staff things about you’ll get your chance to make a name for yourself in the field of battle and earn some points back with your House Summit. You can’t do that in a cell.”
“That makes sense,” Mecros admitted. “Check.”
Hydroponics Sector 7G
Soolin looked up as the senior tech approached her. “We’re having a few drinks at Dystopia tonight,” he said looking at her closely, “are you playing out?”
She forced a smile. It was blatantly obvious that he was attracted to her and had been following her around like a puppy since she’d arrived. “Sorry can’t tonight I’ve got work to finish off.”
His face fell, “Alright maybe next time.”
She smiled again, then rolled her eyes in distaste once he turned away. With a shake of her head she made for her quarters. Once there she locked the door and sat in front of the terminal. She took a small chip card, inserted it into the access slot and waited while the secure connection established.
Tsingtao’s face appeared. “Ah punctual as ever Soolin,” he said with a smile, “how is the investigation going.”
“It’s looking likely,” she replied, “I’ve found an error in the power transfer figures. It’s a barely noticeable thing but left for another few weeks the system would eventually trigger a major shutdown that would fuse half the plant.”
“Could it be a co-incidence?” the Aedile asked.
She shook her head. “It looks innocent enough, a simple mistake. The point is though there’s nothing in the audit trail about a change being made, even accidentally. That ought to be impossible so someone’s covered their tracks extremely well.”
“And there’s no way it could have been like that all along?”
“Not a chance,” she replied, “the entire plant would have shut down years ago. It’s been in the few weeks.”
“Do you have any suspects?” he asked.
“Well in theory only three people should have had access to do that. I shouldn’t on the level job I’ve been assigned but obviously I can bypass that. Transmitting the list now.”
“I’ll have them reassigned then picked up by the Dlarit Police on routine charges,” Tsigntao said studying the list, “we have replacement staff from other sections with those skills. Once the police deliver them to Marakith we’ll work them over.”
She nodded, “What do you want me to do now? I’ve fixed the error.”
“Stay there for now,” the Aedile told her, “keep digging. If this has been done elsewhere we could loose the entire cities food production. We don’t want a food crisis or rioting on the streets. I’ll report your progress to Faeril and Ashura."
Krath Training Facility
“So, what, do I have to wear a suit?” Zaroth said to Zaxen's back as Jade laughed.
In reply, Zaxen turned and pulled a purple tuxedo with a red tie out of a bag and fished out black loafers from the bottom of the same bag. Zaroth's mouth fell open.
“Interesting choice of colours, Zaxen.” Zaroth finally managed to say.
“Purple is all the rage now, Zaroth. Clashing colours are fashionable, too.” Zaxen insisted as Zaroth began to pace
“Won't Kalei be jealous?” Jade cut in, curious at to Zaroth's relationship with Kalei.
“I'm sure she won't mind. This is all purely professional, after all.” Zaxen clarified, with a glance at Zaroth.
“Yes, Jade. I'm not gonna come on to you or anything. This whole thing is just a cover for an investigation. House business and all that.” Zaroth agreed.
“Yes, yes, okay.” Jade said, defeated. “I'll go get changed. No peeking, Hunter.” she said, sultry as ever. Zaroth tripped over a nearby stool at this, as Jade closed the door behind her.
“Smooth,” said Zaxen, offering his hand. “You going to be this clumsy forever?”
Zaroth laughed as he was hauled up. “What is it we'll be looking for? Schematics, calls... what?”
Zaxen shook his head. “Nothing as obvious. Meria's cover is extremely good. For all intents and purposes, she's just a businesswoman. On the surface, that is. I don't expect you to find anything blatantly incriminating in the tower; it's the minute details that matter."
Muraue Rakiroyo waited in line as the men and women ahead of him were checked in to their seats on the shuttle. His brother, Zaroth Rakiroyo, had helped him to escape from their father about two years earlier. The speeder bike Zaroth had given him had malfunctioned and crashed, and Muraue was captured by criminals who had tortured him for over 18 months. Of course, he had escaped 3 days ago and booked passage to Aethoran under a false name. Muraue stepped forward to the stewardess to be checked in.
"Karihm Shebuq?" the attractive woman inquired.
"Yes," Muraue said as he flashed her his passport.
"Okay, you are row 21, seat 7. Thank you for flying with EasyShuttle, enjoy your flight."
"Thanks," he said as he walked off and took his seat.
Jaspen charged down the crowded street because his life really did depend on it. And not just his life: Aisha’s too. A female Rodian screamed at him as he barged past her, slamming her up against a Weequay who was peddling false IDs to access the Upper City. The IDs flipped into the air, but Jaspen kept running. He couldn’t stop. The thunder of armoured footsteps rang out from behind, as teams of Special Operations troopers converged on his location.
A suspected murderer. And a Jedi. He’d leapt to the top of their Most Wanted.
He passed another sign to Death’s Edge. The street seemed to gradually be funnelling tighter. More and more people—human and alien alike—physically had no room to get out of the way, forcing him to leapfrog over them, often landing on their shoulders to sprint along on top of large clusters.
His forehead burned. His face stung from black blood. Why it had turned black he did not know. It felt like acid to his fingertips, a blistering heat that seared to the depths of his being and soul. Right now he didn’t care. The torches he had sensed earlier had fallen silent, and all he had was the fading light as he drowned in the darkened alleyways, the shadows closing in around from behind.
One bright spark, in a world of darkness.
Distantly, he saw Aisha. Fading. Fading fast. Her candle was flickering out, drowned in blackness.
Or was it his candle he saw? Was there even a difference? He no longer could tell. He was floundering in a sea of dark. A poor white dwarf on a collision course with a bottomless singularity. He could see the darkness before him. Beckoning.
Come hither little Jedi. We are one now.
NO. The darkness would not take him. He reached the end of the alley and the skyscrapers gave way to an overhanging mezzanine. Graffiti was scrawled on the waist height barriers, broken bottles and discarded waste littered the ground. Nobody had come here for days. Weeks. Months. Possibly since the Sky City had even been built. It looked deserted. But a lone wooden signpost, written on with traditional paint marked the reason it was abandoned:
WELCOME TO DEATH’S EDGE
THE END OF LIFE’S TROUBLES
PLEASE THANK THE DLARIT CORPORATION ON YOUR WAY OUT
Someone had scrawled KARK YOU ZORRIXOR across the white writing in red paint. Or maybe blood.
The thunder reached its crescendo and the hammer of boots like a blacksmith’s mallet against his forge deafened Jaspen’s ears. The young Jedi stopped beside the signpost at the edge of the floating city and turned on his heel. No less than twenty troopers had amassed in a hemispherical formation and blocked every possible exit; no less than twenty barrels levelled on one man; no less than forty blood red visual sensors glowing in the dim street light.
‘End of the line, Jedi.’
Jaspen took another step backward, not that he had anywhere left to run. ‘I didn’t want to kill the guy, but he tried to rob me.’
The trooper who had spoken grunted. ‘You think we care? We’re grateful for removing one of the many lowlife scum that infest this colony. But that isn’t why you’re under arrest.’ The trooper nodded at the glowing blue lightsaber. ‘That is why you’re coming with us. Now don’t try anything stupid. And don’t even bother trying to mind trick me. We’re trained against that osik.’
Jaspen swallowed hard. He was out of options. And he’d be kriffed if he was going to surrender. He still had to save Aisha. What could he do? There was nowhere to go.
He shut down his lightsaber and clipped it back on his belt. ‘Okay... okay... I surrender.’
It all took less than a second. When he clipped his lightsaber back on his belt, the guards’ attention lapsed for a slither of an instant. That was all he needed. Drawing the dying embers of light to him, he channelled the Force into his legs and pressed off with all the strength he could assemble, and launched into the air, backflipping as he went.
The mezzanine exploded in red flashes, blasters set to kill, and not a single set to stun. He somersaulted through the air and spun backward, passing over the barrier that ringed Death’s Edge and past the edge of the city. The guards charged across the mezzanine after him, still firing. But gravity kicked in, and Jaspen was gone. Falling. Down. Out of lethal blaster range.
Toward the swirling crushing purple and violet gases of Amphor.
He had one chance, a radio mast poking out of the side of the floating sky city. If he could just muster the strength to push himself toward it... to grab hold...
His fingers closed around the mast, but his weight still pulled him down. One by one his fingers pinged free. He couldn’t hold. He was too heavy. He let go. And continued falling.
Oh kark. This hadn’t gone the way he’d expected.
Well, I guess this is it. Forgive me, Aisha...
His forehead tore open, blood spilling down his face. He felt pain shoot through his body and light headedness fill his mind as he began to succumb to the rapidly falling air pressure as he descended into Amphor’s lower atmosphere, nearing the end of the breathable life zone.
The threads of reality filled his thoughts and the world burst into black and white cords of reality that joined every aspect of existence to every other in an endless tapestry. Touched by death, he gazed upon the very construct of the universe, in all its golden majesty and blackened terror. The threads of being spilled out from the inanimate city in the clouds above, joining one to another; cords of life enjoining one relationship to the next, such that all meaning and purpose was laid bare.
In what were to be his last moments, he gazed upon pure enlightenment. The truth of creation.
Then the threads began to pull together, weaving their way into a crisscrossing mesh that spread out below him and rose up from the gases below. He opened his eyes and saw the clouds coalesce into a single, pearly blanket, like a shield. A sole impenetrable black thread stretched out before him from the Mark, joining him to the shield; tying them together, as one. It reached up, spreading its webwork of cords into a hand, as the threads of reality enclosed around him.
Now is not our time to fade...
The cloud-formed fingers wrapped around him in a net of threads as black as the void.
Then he passed out.
Macron sat in deep thought as he sifted possibilities in his mind. The Eye throbbed in his forehead as the lines of probability swam before him. One in particular was of great interest. It was the blue of a Jedi, but it was fading fast. And darkening with fear and hopelessness. This was one who also bore the Mark, but of a lesser puissance as a Force-user. Still, it was a resonance Macron was unfamiliar with. Another who bore the Mark, and was unknown to him. He must be found, and examined.
If one person in this system had their finger on the pulse of data that ebbed and flowed across the hyperlanes, it was Tsainetomo. The Sadow's information collecting was something of a fetish for the Krath.
The Warlord opened a hyperwave channel to Tarthos as he sat in the swivel chair. "Come in, Tsainetomo," he asked quietly.
"I am receiving, my good man. To what do I owe this dubious honor?" came the Korun's rich voice after a bit. "It's been a while."
"Truly, my friend it has. I wish it was good news and chit chat. But you know me too well for that," replied the alchemist.
"I do. Like all Dark Jedi, violence and destruction follows in our wake. So what's the rub?" The signal from Tarthos grew static-filled as Amphor's vast magnetic field twisted it back and forth.
"I'm curious to see what you know about actual Jedi in-system," said the Sith.
"Right to the point as usual. I did get some traffic from Amphor today, ironically. You have anything to do with that?" queried the Archpriest.
"Not exactly. Or not yet, I should say. What's the skinny?" said Macron as Aisha exited the refresher. He gestured to her to sit for a minute as he finished his conversation.
"DSOG has it that a blue-saber wielding man killed some bar scum earlier today. From their transmissions, they tracked him to an area on the city's edge. He jumped."
Macron grunted at the information. "Death's Edge," he whispered. "Suckin."
"Yeah, looks like it. Now for the trade part of our exchange," stated the Krath. "What do you have for me?"
"I know his name. It's Jaspen," commented the alchemist. "I'll give you more when I wring it from his lips. Also, I'm headed to Inos 42 in a few days if you're interested. I'm going to help my new apprentice get acclimated."
"New apprentice, eh? I heard a rumor about that, according to 'Them'." The line spat and crackled more as the signal began to break up. "Signal's degrading," Sai warned.
"Name's Aisha," replied Macron. "Looks like the signal is gone to shavit, must be Orian Minor's flares acting up. Catch you later," giggled the Sith as he closed the link.
Mac turned to his apprentice as she sat in a chair of her own, regarding him with wide russet colored eyes. "It appears your friend killed someone," he remarked. "And then jumped Death's Edge. I don't think he's dead though. We are going to find him, you and I. And then you are going to fight him."
She lowered her eyes. "Yes, Master." The man had taught her more about the Force in a few days than anyone else ever had. She felt stronger than ever, and her new Master had called her "Knight." Opening herself to the Sith way had many benefits, not the least of which was the assets of both her Master and the Dlarit Corporation.
In short, she was now wealthy beyond her dreams and had access to all sorts of 'illegal' weaponry, cash, goods, and other things. Being a Dark Jedi was not so bad, except for the training. Aisha wondered which day it would be that her guard dropped and he killed her. "Not anytime soon, you bastard," she thought.
"Very good," was the startling telepathic reply. "Don't forget- I can hear your thoughts. Gather your gear, and we are going for a little stroll." The madman stood up, and stalked over to her as she met his steely gaze. He dropped an ident chit on the counter in front of her.
"Aisha Qifaxa," it read. "Special Attache, DSOG Research and Development Department." It was signed "Marshal Commander, Macron Sadow." Her jaw dropped. Things just kept getting worse. Her new Master was a high ranking black operations official and could probably make her dissapear easily, or send a strike group to kill everyone she ever knew. His threats were not idle ones. And his superiors were bound to be even worse, if that could be imagined. No wonder the deep access to monies and supplies. "That's just karking Great," she mumbled as she stood up and pocketed the chit. "I need a drink."
Kalei had been gathering all the information she could on the Vong. She was truly amazed that she hadn't been noticed yet, considering how close she was getting to them. She had seen a pattern in the movement though it was never exact. With how much data she was gathering, she wished Tsing hadn't told her to have radio silence, though she understood why.
She had found out, right before she left communications range, that she was the new BTL for the Night Hawks. This wasn't a priority though, as she had to complete the work she was given. She would soon have to head back and share the information. A little longer...she wanted to get all the information she could.
A fit of coughing woke the young man from his dazed delerium. Doubled over retching, he balanced himself on one knee before trying to stand. For a few seconds, he had relief and managed a breath. Jaspen clutched at his temples, then to his forehead. A trickle of blood ran from his scar. He wiped the blood on his robes.
Wearily, the last few hours came back to him--at least, judging by the light it had been that long. He remembered the soldiers in black armor. The Dlarits knew a Jedi was in system. If there were Darksiders among them, undoubtedly their leaders knew now too. He would need to change his appearance. But first, to clean himself up a bit.
Jaspen must have landed in a trash heap. It obviously broke his fall enough, but still knocked him unconscious. Yet, he couldn't shake the sound of that voice. And a presence. Something deeper than the Force was pushing him to hide. He used the bandana to wipe the blood off his face, then tied it back around his forehead. He would be recognized now. Cursing himself, he climbed down out of the trash. and looked around.
Perhaps a few score empty bottles lay broken or strewn about carelessly, most of them around the remnants of fires. A few of the piles seemed to still be smoking or smouldering. This area must have been a homeless community of sorts. The kind of campground were vagrants and other uncouth characters would associate. Moving through the ouskirts of both economics and the city itself would suit his purpose.
After walking for a few minutes, he found a small public transit station. The refresher door was locked, but looking around quickly, he overlayed the Force and let himself in, carefully relocking it behind him. The smell of death and waste nearly overpowered him. The mirror was dirty and cracked, but he checked his forehead anyway. The Mark seemed to have stopped bleeding. That in itself was no minor relief. His face would give him away to any that were looking for him. One blue eye, one green eye, and the monstrosity between them. If what Stacia said were true, that Mark alone would give him away to any Darksiders. They would know of it from the wanted poster, or from association with such Cultists. Maybe there were more of them in the system. The thought crossed his mind
But it might be the only way to protect himself.
Taking a deep breath, Jaspen crouched on the floor of the floor of the disgusting refresher, closed his eyes, and allowed the Third Eye to open shimmering vibrantly blue-green.
Between seen and not seen
Shimmering violet light defined the black space. Shan Long immersed himself in the Weavery, allowing it to flood his senses. He pulled along the strings, climbing like a spider through a vast web. Any lingering trace of Vexatus would be readily apparent to him.
What he saw amazed even the jaded Dragon. He was correct, he knew it. A beacon of intensity so bright, it was almost pure light... but shimmering blue-green.
Between seen and not seen
Jaspen opened himself to the nonspace beyond even hyperspace; the tapestry upon which the fabric of reality was woven; the intricate web of interlaced threads that joined every point, light and dark, to every other; the construct of the natural Balance of all creation; the Weavery.
In this dimension, there was no question of age, or health, or physical strength. There was only the power of will. He was a shining beacon of blue and green, caught in the orbit of a much larger star that shone with pure violet resplendence. Other smaller stars like his, mostly red dwarfs, hung in the violet giant’s well, bound to the Weavery’s sun, the prima will: the great Dragon.
In the Weavery, threads invisible in the realm of realspace joined the stars each to the other, all bound together by the central nexus of interconnection that was the violet sun, the absolute center of a private cosmology that joined them together as one, whether in realspace they were stood in the same room, or thousands of light years apart. In the Weavery, time and space, distance and meaning, became second to the Dragon of the Marked, against whose will the universe was nothing.
In the infinite distance, Jaspen heard the Dragon roar in defiance, its fires illuminating the never ending webwork of threads in glorious violet splendour. But far in the distance, hidden beneath even the vast tapestry of creation itself, in the nothingness that stretched forever, his timid blue and green luminescence limped fraction by fraction ever downward, towards the centre of a well that rivalled even that of the Dragon himself, a second will to oppose the prima, Jaspen's light fading beneath the bottomless blackness of the hidden singularity’s infinite depths, into the endless Void.
Cyrus dreamed the cosmos. He dreamed it every night. His heart burned red, trapped in the wellspring of the Dragon whose will he forever fought to break free of. But trapped in the unholy union that bound them together as one, his mind wrenched free of his body whenever he shut his eyes, pulled counter to his will.
In the centre of the galaxy, the Dragon burned with violet intensity as it always did. But as he had become increasingly aware of of late, the Dragon was not the only pull on his mind, and his efforts to break free had pushed him into the hands of another. His crimson fires did nothing as they drained away into the dark singularity that eclipsed even his waking thoughts, his light funnelled into the bottomless abyss of the Void.
Ruins of Chunasca Palace
Karan’s forehead dripped with black stained blood as the nightmare swallowed his consciousness and his head crashed against the stone floor. Dimly, the stars burned as they ever did in the far distance, a lone violet nova almost managing to penetrate the shadowed layers that shrouded his broken star, but as always never quite breaching the bottomless depths. He had forgotten himself, a blackened ball of cooled plasma, falling forever into the endless Void.
Jedi Star Destroyer
The Black Mark on Tradis’s forehead swirled as all light in the room vanished and it fell once more into infinite blackness. His eyes swam with the same emptiness, any spark of life in his soul forever snuffed out. Three black orbs, forever lost in the Void’s haunted abyss...
Beneath seen and not seen
Every last lumen of light vanished into the bottomless pits. In the heart of the Void lurked the darkness that extended beyond all feeble talk of light and dark sides of people’s hearts. In the endless Void, there was no fire raging, all light was swallowed, all stars had burned out, ashes of the dead had themselves turned to ash.
Far beyond the fabric of the Weavery, in the Void, there was nothing. No lights stirred. No darkness in men’s hearts. There was only truth, the one and only truth, the only true reality: Nothing. There was nothing except the Void. And in that there was power, the only real power, the power to destroy. For everything was fleeting. People died. Civilisations fell. Stars burned out. Entire Galaxies swallowed themselves until there was nothing left. Evanescence pervaded reality, for the Void was reality. In the endless void, entropy and the Reign of Chaos held dominion.
The Sleeper wandered endlessly beyond the false pale of reality, outside time, outside space, his mind and body lost forever in the truth of the Void. He had forgotten his own name, but they remembered him still. Their bonds drew them to him, and he saw with many eyes of those who fell into his grip, joining him forever in the endless Void.
For he was that Void, and they his hands, his eyes, his mouth, and his fist.
Between seen and not seen
Roaring, washing and crashing waves of brilliant thunder tore through the Tapestry. As a great stormcloud, swirling and breaking on the horizon, Jaspen tried to keep his prescence away from the attention of the great will. He sensed it as an immutable paradox of understanding. Immense black threatened to flood him, he tore and climbed through levels of perception. Yet, it was split. He had only a vague sense of direction, but he felt that he was perhaps being tangled between two vast webs.
Pulling along a particular string, he traced a metaphorical layer of his own perception to a possibility. His Sight was not sufficient to follow it to the core, but he understood on an instinctual level. The Great Will was drawing him away from the Sleeping Will.
Yes, that was it. He was being pulled between two powers. Through his own sight, he sensed a miasma of other possibilities. Beings that seemed to be watching him as carefully as he did them. He would find them, he would purge their stain.
Not so fast... young one... there is a lesson to be learned here...
What? His thought construct reeled. Who was speaking to him, it was a voice cold, distant, and throughly evil. It must be the man, Caerick. Yes, he sensed it.
He knew very little about his Sight. Yet he knew there was the one, the greatest of them all. The cloaked warrior with a smell like burnt ash had told him of the Prima. He said that everyone who wanted to see deeper had to kill, to scar and tear the soul into mortal ruin to understand the great mysteries of the Essential Construct.
Yet, he had been born with the Sight.
If you venture to Sepros, you will be slain. Obfuscate your prescence... there is much work to be done, young one.
Again. Only this time he was pulled, away from the Great Will.... he felt as if he was falling further, diving into hell itself. His vision began to fade black, and he heard one voice.
Screaming, Jaspen leapt to his feet. Panting, breathing in the short rapid gasps of one woken from a dream of death. Yet, that had not been a dream. He touched the Force, drawing peace back into himself. Steeling his resolve, he considered the warning.
Sepros. That was the capital of the Dlarit Corporation. It would likely be the base of power for any Darksiders lurking in their ranks. He alone could not stop what he saw in the Weavery. There were so many, he had never sensed so much evil in his entire life. Raw hatred, distilled malice, it seeped into every aspect of time and space. The entire system must be corrupt. He must rally those few other Jedi he knew. They would stand and fight.
Between seen and not seen...
The Dragon mumbled something unintelligible into the Dark. He had encountred an Avatar. That was the only possible explanation.
A Jedi staring into the Weavery. He considered how this might be possible, but he always came to the same conclusion. He knew was Trevarus Caerick knew, they were as one. To see into the Essential Construct required long, carefuly studies and violent meditation. The sorcereous rites pushed one even deeper into the Dark Side. Hatred funneled through the Will to tear apart the intricate balances of the Universe.
A Jedi could only see if he was born with the Mark. And what a powerful Apprentice such would make.
Ahhh Vexatus... so the games begin again....
There was silence for a moment... but then he heard the reply.
We are... we... as one.... my.... Master.....
"How long to fight, my Apprentice... the fires of war smolder yet." Shan Long said into the empty air of the empty place.
The Warlord scanned the filthy streets, regarding the human offal that strolled by. More than fifteen years ago, he had parted ways with scum like these on Coruscant. However, his former gang leader past was useful in situations such as this. People always went to the worst places to go to ground, as it were.
"He's here somewhere," spat Macron as he peered about. "I can feel him..." He closed his eyes, sensing the blue green tracery in the Force. There was a brilliant greenish-blue light up ahead in the in-between space of the Mark. "He's using the Mark, stupa Jedi. That makes it too easy."
"Nasty place," commented Aisha. "I've been here a few times tracking prey. You've got to be pretty damn desperate to shack up down here." She walked erect, her whole frame resonating with alertness. A Deathhammer blaster pistol rode on her hip along with her lightsaber hilt, and her skinsuit was made of armorweave cloth now. Nice toys, she thought. The new red crystal in my blade will be interesting.
"It's refreshing to find an apprentice who is not so naive," replied Macron. "I do get rather tired of the look of shock on their faces. The ones that live, that is." The Sith chuckled. Of the many he had trained, only four had made it to Knighthood. Some had died, and some ran away never to be seen again. Such was the path of the Final Way. Still, he hadn't killed as many as Shin'Ichi had. The thought made him snicker.
"Ones that live?" quipped the Zeltron as she gave him a dirty look. "That's not sounding too good to me." She hoisted her electrobinocs, scanning the area ahead. A few bums crawled out of their way, sensing the uncanny presence of the Dark Side around them both.
"The stress of the training is not for everyone, but you are doing remarkably well Aisha. Congratulations," he said dryly. A scream resounded from a disgusting looking public transit station ahead. "That's it," commented the Sith as he smiled. "He's in there." The Warlord lifted his wrist comlink to his blackened lips. "Major Qek, do you copy?"
"Copy," replied the elite trooper. "I'll rendezvous on your location in 20 minutes with four squads and vehicular support."
"Roger. That should be plenty of time for us to have a little fun," replied Mac. "See you then."
Macron reached deep inside himself, drawing his Force signature to as small of a point as he could. It would limit what he could do until released, but it might help screen his presence from Jaspen.
Aisha turned to him, a look of surprise on her face. "How did you do that?" she asked as they walked toward the transit station. "You have quite a few tricks up your sleeve," she whispered as she drew her lightsaber hilt in a loose ready grip.
"It's a Sith thing," said the alchemist with a smile. "You too can learn this. If you survive this fight, I'll show you more. Either way, he'll sense you coming. But I'd like my presence to be a little surprise."
"Might I ask why you called for delayed backup?" queried Aisha as they reached the doors to the station. "Not up to the task, Master?" She punched the button to open them with a balled up fist.
The Sith regarded her calmly. "Always attack an enemy with overwhelming force whenever possible," he quoted. "In this case, I asked them to hold back so we can have some fun," he giggled. The doors opened with a groan of old and abused machinery. "Don't forget, all Jedi are your enemies," he reminded her as they passed through the gaping portal to the inside of the station. "They all hate you now and want to kill you."
The woman screamed before his hands closed around her neck. His hands were black with the unholy blood that dripped from the Mark. The woman coughed but he only tightened his grip.
He watched her mouth droop wide and her eyes contort in horror as, drenched in his own blood, he choked the last embers of life from her. She seemed to resign herself to her fate when her nails stopped clawing at his back, and her face took on a sombre look.
Her mouth moved silently to whisper: Why?
When she finally stopped moving he let go, her body crumpling lifelessly to the refresher floor.
When Jaspen looked up at the mirror he did not see himself looking back. His blue and green eyes looked as if they were glazed over with grey mist, their light faded. The Mark burned, but not with the intensity he was familiar: it burned with a dark fire that seemed to drown out the fresher’s light, leaving him standing in darkness.
He gasped when he looked down.
His mind was a blur. He remembered the bright violet star, and then falling. He fell forever. Into a Dark that was beyond darkness. A Void where no light shined and all hope was lost. He swallowed. How was that possible? He would never...
He stumbled back and crashed through the nearest fresher door into the wall, sliding down to the floor and drawing his arms around him into a tight crouch. He didn’t need the Force to know the truth. His impatience had killed an innocent victim. Because he’d opened the Mark. He'd lost himself in the Dark.
He didn’t even know how long he’d been out. Aisha was probably dead by now. Or worse.
He felt the white torches in the distance converging on his location. They must have found him, whoever ‘they’ were. Dlarit? Darksiders? It didn’t matter. There was nowhere left to run. He unclipped his lightsabers from his belt and stood up. This was it. There was no ledge to jump off this time.
He started to make his way toward the door...
Emergency klaxons exploded in his ears. Red alarms began to flash, filling the filthy refresher.
[EMERGENCY. PLEASE EXIT THE STATION FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY. EMERGENCY.]
There was no running now. That could only be because of him. He pushed the door open and stepped into the crowded transit station. People were running in all directions, sprinting for the nearest emergency exits. Who knows what they thought was going on. After the terrorist attack on Dystopia in Seng Karash, nobody was calm anymore.
But none of them would imagine the truth. That they were the subjects of a dark side conspiracy. And that a Jedi was about to be sentenced to death. That he was designated for extermination.
Across the station he saw her. She was staring back at him. A scar crossed her once flawless face. Her lips pressed together in abject resolve. Behind her stood a monster of a man, his face a mess of tattoos and scars. And on his forehead... the Mark.
Jaspen prepared himself as the three waited for the station to empty, the Marked darksider sneering back at him. ‘Caerick’s pawns are unwelcome here,’ the darksider spat.
Caerick. The wanted sorcerer. The darksider thought he...? ‘I don’t know any Caerick!’ Jaspen said. He saw Aisha’s face tense. ‘You better not have hurt her, you sick schutta!’
Unbelievably, the darksider giggled. ‘Why would I do that?’
‘Aisha, move away from him, now!’ Jaspen urged, but Aisha didn’t move. What looked like a teardrop ran down her right eye, disappearing into the groove of the fresh scar.
‘You see?’ the darksider laughed. ‘Aisha is here because she wants to be. Tell him, my apprentice.’
Aisha’s eyes glanced at the floor when she spoke, ‘It’s... true. I serve Master Goura now.’
Jaspen stared, unable to speak. No. He couldn’t be too late. He couldn’t! If only he hadn’t opened the Mark! ‘No... Aisha! Let me hold him off! You can get away! Run!’
Aisha’s face dropped and she shook her head. ‘I... can’t. I’m... sorry... Jaspen.’
A bloodshine blade appeared in her hand and she shifted into a ready stance. ‘Forgive me.’
The Zeltron charged him.
All he could do was watch in horror as blue and green lights flashed to life all around them.
Such a primal cry of raw hatred. The newest Darksider, his sister Jedi splaying out in a flashing bloodshine blade. Jaspen could hardly believe it. His lightsabers, swirling cobalt and viridion snarled in reply, yet he maintained the defensive posture. He could not kill her, she could be saved.
But if not...
The dark thought swept through his might like a lightsaber strike. Of course she would have to be destroyed. There simply would not be any other way. The culimination of this little adventure into the backwaters of the failing Republic would see him fighting his own; yet those who had fallen to the Dark Side. They should be uniting amongst the Vong, not waging the same war that had been fought for twenty-five thousand years.
It almost made him feel sick. Yet, he let his anger awash into determination. Aisha would see the error of her ways.
His shoto swept forward, then up towards her midsection, flashing against crimson in a thunderclap. She fought so differently now. Aggression, hate, outright malice. A primal expression of dominance and passion, there was no peace behind her eyes.
Striking quickly, swept three short blows against her's. Advancing, he would back her into the corner, and disarm. His stance, the obscure Kirili Variant would not allow her to overcome him.
There, an opening.
She slipped on a bit of trash, and even in her rage the shock radiated through her hate-stained eyes. Pivoting low, he scissored his blades into hers as a grapple. Confused, she let her grip slide, and her blade clattered to the floor.
"Not so fast, Jedi." Unseen from a shadow, a tall warrior with a hideously scarred and tattored face stepped forward. His armor was a malevolent design of unknown artistry to Jaspen. Power radiated from him, he could feel outright evil.
"Time to die, kiddo." Giggling hysterically, the Darksider leapt forward. Jaspen saw the Mark on his forehead.
"You're Caerick!" Jaspen shouted, falling back into every defensive posture he knew against such a powerful foe.
"No!" The demon said, then another fit of hysterical giggling. "Caerick wouldn't be caught dead playing with a toy like you." He swept across Jaspen's midsection, and the Jedi barely parried.
"No, he'd just kill you. But I learned a few of his dirty tricks."
Macron brought his free left hand up to bear, levitating Jaspen helpless to move. Advancing, the Sith prepared to deliver the killing blow.
Out of the shadows, eight more lightsabers of varying colors snapped to life, hissing in the gloom.
"Kraitus! Stand back! We'll deal with him!"
"Kark it! Kriffing Jedi!" Macron muttered even more unintelligble curses under his breath. "Aisha! Time to go!"
Lower City Transit Station
"Kraitus! Stand back! We'll deal with him!" shouted one of the interlopers.
The alchemist surveyed the room in an instant. Besides the now incapacitated Jaspen, no less than eight other actual Jedi stood in a semi-circle surrounding them. It had been many years since Macron had fought a real Jedi. Even on a good day, this would be a nearly insurmountable problem. One or two could be taken, but this was too many. There was only one responsible solution- a hasty retreat.
There was no time to waste on crushing the life from Jaspen or sundering him with a lightsaber. The Sith bared his flashing metal teeth in a grimace. "Kark it! Kriffing Jedi!" Macron muttered even more unintelligible curses under his breath. "Aisha! Time to go!"
He released his Force Crush on the now-unconscious Jedi, dropping him unceremoniously to the ground. Every iota of his being wanted to crush the man's bones to powder with the Force, but Macron choked the rage down. Aisha darted behind him as he palmed another saber blade, igniting it with a sizzling hiss. The crimson blade sprang out to compliment the orange one in his other hand.
"Aisha, call for an immediate extraction. I'll do my best to protect us," said the Warlord with a snarl. "Tell Qek to hit this place with every man he has." Macron drew a deep breath, reaching into himself. Using Force powers against so many would be a waste of energy. They key in a situation such as this lay in enhancing his body, speed, and combat senses to their fullest by turning within.
The horrified Zeltron raised her wrist comlink and spoke as the stern Jedi began to close. "Code zero-xray-niner, immediate extraction..."
"You'll not get away, Darksider. You'll pay for what you have done," remarked a young Corellian Jedi. He stepped forward with a verdant green blade raised in a Shii-Cho grip.
"Wait!" yelled one of the other Jedi. "Krisstof, he's too much for you!" All seven remaining Jedi drew breaths in anticipation of the erupting conflict. The Force began to scream through the room as every single one of the combatants tapped it in their own fashion, some light and some dark.
A feral scream erupted from Macron as the arrogant young Knight sought to attack him. The Sith's body rippled with all the power the Dark Side would allow someone such as he. The Shii-Cho beheading stroke arced in at him, and Macron side-stepped it.
The Sith's tangerine colored blade parried the Jedi's green one to the side. Then, the bloodshine blade in the Sadow's other hand snapped off and then on in a blinding instant. The Trakata strike punched through the young man's side, piercing both of his kidneys and liver neatly with a smoking hole. Krisstof's arrogance had cost him the ultimate penalty, but the Warlord doubted the others would be so foolish.
"The forbidden Trakata," spat one of the menacing Jedi as the young Corellian fell stone dead at his feet with a meaty thud and staring eyes. "You'll not find us such easy prey, Darksider scum," he warned as he raised a cerulean blade.
I don't doubt that, thought Mac as he shut both his blades off tauntingly and began to back away. "Keep them from flanking us, Aisha. Help is on the way," he admonished as he stared the blue-eyed man down with his own unwinking yellow orbs. By Darth, get here soon, he prayed silently as he lobbed a smoke grenade from his belt with the aid of the Force as an invisible third hand. I can't hold them for long.
Tsainetomo Sadow’s Chambers
Within the Archpriest’s unassuming quarters, a small niche in a far wall held a secret door. Accessible by only those who both knew where it was and who employed a certain nudge in the Force, as Tsainetomo did now, it was fairly non-descript, as was the room that he entered.
However, as was the case with most non-descript things, it was within that would pique even the most jaded being’s interest. It was filled with computers, data storage towers, vidscreens, and holodisplays, all of them humming along in quiet efficiency. Tsainetomo had spent a great deal of his career after his formal tutelage under Shin’ichi had ended amassing these materials and secreting them in many such rooms on worlds varied and sundry. And when the Clan had deemed it necessary for the creation of DSOG, it was as if he’d been given the virtual keys to the kingdom.
Tsainetomo, as had many of his so-called peers, had been taught that their power came from their innate abilities. A small percentage of them who decided to follow the Krath Mysteries came to the wisdom that knowledge was power. But he alone seemed to realize that knowledge could only come from information. Not what others had written about in dusty tomes, but what others were doing in the here and now.
As he did not possess the Mark of the Wanderer or some other esoteric religious ‘in’, he had to rely on other tools. His own instincts, for one; the Son of Sadow knew that anyone, from the lowest Acolyte to the Grand Master himself, would tell you anything you ever needed to know, if you just listened long enough. The caveat to that was did you have enough patience to wait for them to get to the important stuff. So, Tsainetomo had to learn to ‘push’ people to get to what he needed, faster. That was when he began to gather the surveillance equipment.
He sat down on the lone stool the enclave held and began to pour over the information that had been coming in, gathering his wild mane of hair in a bushy tail behind his head. As he tied it off with a scrap of cloth, his body protested at the lack of comfort. It was a purposeful move, that; comfort invited complacency, and when you were effectively spying on your friends as well as foes, you might as well had made the best of your time, and alertly at that. All of the rooms were similarly situated: wall-to-wall technology with a lone stool for him. Tsainetomo had told no one of these rooms. After all, ‘three could keep a secret if two of them were dead’, as the saying went.
He suspected Macron had an inkling. Him, and his cousin Muz. Neither had approached him directly about it. Macron would call from time to time to ask him questions that it seemed that only he had the answer to, and the Alchemist seemed to be content in that. Muz, on the other had, always looked at him in that sideways manner, when he had come around on official Dark Council business. Family had a way of knowing things about you that others would never dare to suspect.
To be fair, Tsainetomo did have a sense of restraint. True, he had listening devices and recorders planted in nearly every corner of the Clan’s holdings, and tracking nodes floated in the bloodstreams in most young, and some not-so-young, members of Naga Sadow, but he had not been so foolish as to traipse within a light year of the Dark Council or any other august body of governance of the Brotherhood. Besides, he mused, as history had proven time and time again, there’d be plenty of time for him to fall victim to his own hubris.
But, that time was not now. Tsainetomo’s tripartite eyes swept over the varied displays as his fingers deftly flew through the holoresponsive technology he slaved from the Nachzerer, Macron’s sled of choice.
The Keibatsu zeroed in on what he was looking for. His hub synched with the one he had on San Korinar and allowed the vital information to begin flooding in. Tsainetomo came from a certain school of thought that said to know the name of a thing was to have power over it. Where some would be frustrated at Macron’s single utterance earlier, Tsaintomo rejoiced in the revelation.
His hands played the controls like an instrument, adjusting the gain on some monitors, fiddling with frequencies on others. ...Jaspen... The Archpriest’s eyes flashed as his ears picked up on the static filled utterance and he closed in. Other names came through, punching through the static as if voiced only for him. ...Kraitus...Kristoff... He filed them mentally, vowing to try to match any information he had to those names at a later time, until one came from a voice he’d never heard before. “Must be that Jaspen character,” the Archpriest muttered to himself. He played back the recordings that matched Jaspen’s voice from a few moments ago, and sat straight up at the mention of one of the Apostates themselves.
Macron had laughed it off, the recording revealed, but voice analysis told Tsainetomo that Jaspen had truly believed. This was something that really needed to be followed up on. But, first things, first. Major Qek was longer in transit to extract Macron than the Alchemist had planned, and Tsainetomo would not leave his friend to die at Jedi hands. Besides, Mac would have the first hand account of those shutta, and it would give them something to talk about on the way to see Curwen Sunei on Inos 42.
The Archpriest’s hands typed in a few commands on a keyboard, linking him to the transit system there on San Korinar; specifically, the fire suppression controls. More keystrokes had shut off the klaxons and the emergency lights; his vidfeed showed the transit station blanketed in darkness.
A few more keystrokes, and a separate display confirmed the release of an inert gas, one that was designed to rob the air of its oxygen, all the better to douse flames that might have erupted in the station.
He killed the uplink, and the information ceased to come in from San Korinar, and his listening station went quiet. Tsainetomo sat in the silence, his fingers steepled in front of his face.
Alright, Mac; I’ve bought you some time. Don’t waste it, my friend.
Aside from the glow of lightsabers, the transit station was cloaked in total darkness. Macron danced amidst a sea of blue and green, deflecting the blows from the seven remaining Jedi. The Sith was as good with a blade as any Elder, perhaps even better than most—but even the secrets of Tulak Hord didn’t stop being grossly outnumbered.
Aisha kept her back to Macron, deflecting stray blows that lunged her way. Her identity didn’t seem to register for the Jedi. Some had been former associates—Jedi, stranded in Orian by the wartime restrictions on public transport. But all they seemed to care about right then was the bloodshine blade in her hand. Then again, she had been a bounty hunter. Maybe they figured she’d just been lying to them all along?
‘Aisha, how could you do this?’ a voice called from the shadows. ‘How could you join them?’
She had no answer. A lightsaber flashed against her face and she brought her own blade up to parry. She recognised the face: Sophus. ‘I had no choice,’ she said.
Sophus sneered in her face. ‘There’s always a choice,’ he snorted. ‘And you tried to call yourself a Jedi? You’re no better than they are.’
‘What was I meant to do? Let him kill me?’ She sighed. There was no point explaining. The war had been too hard on all of them. She was an enemy they could beat. After defeat after defeat against the Vong, could she blame them for taking out their anger on the silly girl who wanted to be a Jedi?
Who cared about the Jedi Code anymore anyway? The Jedi Order was finished. ‘With this power we could defeat the Vong!’ she snapped. ‘You’re all just too blind to see it!’
In the darkness, the blue blade of Sophus’s lightsaber hesitated for a second. Aisha grinned: she saw now the Jedi were just living in denial. Her retort was cut off by a thunderous explosion above them. Twisted girders crashed from the rafters as light flooded the station. A rope hit the floor with loud thud, nearly hitting Aisha’s head. She glanced up: A Dlarit gunship hovered in the sky above, Major Qek leaning out the side.
Macron was still caught in the middle of the Jedi swarm. All of them were starting to stagger a little, their strikes going wide, their movements lethargic.
‘Commander Goura! The fire suppression system! Grab the rope now!’ Qek yelled from the gunship.
Macron’s nose twitched, giving the air an inquisitive sniff. ‘Gas,’ he muttered. ‘Aisha, do what Qek says. Grab on.’
The Sith grabbed hold of the rope, his armour’s gauntlet locking into an unbreakable hold. Aisha grabbed hold of her new master, wrapping her arms around his suit’s heavy plates and clinging on as tight as she could. The suppression gas was starting to affect her too, even though she hadn’t been fighting so intensely. Her head was going fuzzy, but the second she grabbed hold of Macron, the rope started recoiling, launching the pair out of the battle arena and up through the station’s new skylight in the ceiling.
Sophus looked down at Jaspen who was starting to come to. The Jedi kept his lightsaber live. ‘Hey, kid, get up! We need to get out of here now!’
Jaspen blinked. He stood up then blinked again. ‘Who...who are you?’ he said woozily.
‘No time. Kraitus, we need to get out of here. Now.’ Jaspen glanced down at the blue blade. In the Force, Sophus didn’t feel like any darksider: he was a shining torch, like those Jaspen had sensed earlier. ‘Come on!’ the Jedi repeated. ‘There’ll be more goons on the way!’
‘That’s if they don’t just firebomb this place from orbit,’ muttered one of the other Jedi.
Jaspen looked around. He didn’t recognise any of these people; at least, not their faces. In the Force, they were all familiar. ‘Okay,’ he said finally. ‘Lead the way.’
Sometime later at the Bloated Beldon, Lower City, San Korinar
Everything had been fine until the adrenaline rush had subsided. After coming back down to the real world, reality finally started to catch up with Jaspen: they’d addressed him by name. He’d only been in the system a few weeks, maybe a couple of months. How did they know who he was?
One of the Jedi guided him into a private room in the back of the bar. Another pulled the door shut. They gently guided Jaspen to a sit and gestured him to sit down. They remained standing.
‘So...’ said one, who on the trip to the Bloated Beldon had already explained that his name was Sophus, and how they were a team of Jedi who had been trapped on San Korinar by the war. They’d fought at Telos, but during the planet’s evacuation they themselves had been forced to seek transport on one of the civilian evacuation ships. Damaged, and without the fuel to make it all the way out to the Corporate Sector, they’d been forced to seek sanctuary in the nearest safe haven: Orian. Supposedly home to a harmless little mining colony, they’d ended up stranded on San Korinar by the Dlarit Corporation’s tough measures on public transport.
It wasn’t unreasonable, really, Jaspen thought. Orian had—somehow—weathered the storm. They didn’t want hysterical refugees or idiots with a grudge shooting out of Orian back to the front lines only to be chased straight back to Orian and bring the Vong right down on top of them.
‘...who are you?’ Sophus finally finished. ‘We know about what happened in the Miner’s Daughter. Some trick. Not many carry a lightsaber.’ The Jedi’s face sneered slightly. ‘Well, actually, maybe around these parts they do, if you catch my drift.’ The man’s face turned sour as he faked a laugh. ‘So, care to explain how you came by those?’ he said, his eyes glancing at Jaspen’s lightsabers, which had currently been confiscated and were sat on the table in the middle of the room.
‘I made them,’ Jaspen said slowly, ‘it took me a few years but I managed to find enough parts.’
‘Really?’ the Jedi raised an eyebrow. ‘That’s mighty clever of you, son.’
One of the other Jedi grunted. ‘Sure you didn’t just find them?’ the woman said bitterly. ‘Prise them from the fingers of a Jedi's corpse?!’
‘Easy, Carla,’ Sophus said, turning his eyes back to Jaspen. ‘Please, forgive her. She lost someone close to her not so long ago. This city... well, you know.’
Jaspen realised what they were getting at. They thought he stole them. Worse, they maybe thought he had something to do with killing the guy they thought he stole them from. Aisha was a bounty hunter, and he’d gone to the Miner’s Daughter to meet her. The dots slowly came together. He exhaled sharply then said, ‘Look, I’m telling the truth! I made them. My Master, Sejj Beriss, he...’
‘I’ve never heard of any Beriss,’ Sophus said, cutting Jaspen off. ‘But now that you mention it, you did seem to know a lot about lightsaber combat. You stood your own against that darksider pretty well. And your old girlfriend, or whatever she was.’
‘Aisha is a Jedi,’ Jaspen spat back.
‘Jedi, right. Whatever you want to believe, kid.’ Sophus rolled his eyes. ‘Whatever she thought she was, well, she wasn’t. She was just a naive girl who sold herself out to the highest bidder.’
The Jedi didn’t bother to argue the point further. ‘So, what about you? And this supposed Master Beriss... what was he? Your Sith Master or something?’ Sophus snorted, nodding at the tattoo on Jaspen’s forehead. It had apparently been bleeding again while he was unconscious. The Jedi hadn’t noticed it in the fighting and had genuinely thought he was on their side. As soon as they’d gotten past the troopers though, it hadn’t taken a matter of seconds for one of the Jedi to grab him by the throat and slam him up against the nearest wall.
‘That’s not exactly in vogue these days, is it?’ Sophus continued. ‘Well, maybe if you're possessed by Exar Kun. Care to explain where you got it? You may want to think before opening your mouth.’
‘I don’t know,’ Jaspen said. ‘I’ve had it ever since I was a kid.’
‘Your mummy give it to you?’ one of the other Jedi spat. ‘Here baby Jasp, have a Sith tattoo. It’s your birthday present!’
Jaspen sighed. How many times in his life had he had this conversation? Jedi never understood. They never accepted that he just didn’t know. ‘I’m telling the truth. I’ve had this kriffing thing my whole life. I don’t know what it is. I just want to be rid of the karking thing. Honest.’
Sophus reached inside his jacket and pulled out the poster Jaspen had picked up earlier. ‘Is that why you’re looking for this guy then?’ Sophus asked.
‘Know who he is?’
He shook his head. ‘Not really. Just that his name is Trevarus Caerick. And the Dlarit guys want him for murder.’
‘Then how are we meant to know he’s not your Master and that the Dlarit Corporation wants you dead as well because this whole Sejj Beriss thing isn’t just a load of schutta?!’
Jaspen didn’t have an answer. This wasn’t like the normal interrogations. Normally Jedi just looked at him strangely and kept their distance. Not this time. Sophus knew there were Dark Jedi operating in Orian as well as he did. Maybe more. And they were scared. They’d been stuck here. How long? Weeks? Months? Years? Sophus hadn’t said. Too long in this dark world must have taken its toll. They wanted off this rock same as he did.
And the Vong had spooked them. They’d lost so many of their own.
They weren’t taking any chances.
Jaspen sighed. ‘Look, nothing I say is going to convince you, is it?’
Sophus stared at one of the walls for a long moment. Jaspen half expected this was it. Jedi they may have been, but the Jedi Code wasn’t worth much out here. And was there even an Order anymore? The Republic was in such disarray. Even with the Vong on the retreat in the Core, the Jedi had been worst hit. There were maybe no more than a few dozen Jedi Knights left.
‘Well,’ Sophus began, speaking slowly, ‘you don’t feel dark. At least, not like that guy back at the airspeeder station.’ One of the other Jedi hissed something, but Sophus scowled at him to cut him off. ‘All I know is that this place has a habit of messing with everyone's heads. I don't trust anything anymore. Everywhere I look all I feel is darkness. So, I don’t know. Anyone else want to say something?’
The woman who’d spoken earlier grunted. ‘I say we kill him.’
‘No!’ snapped another. ‘Think of the Code!’
‘What Code? Can any of us even be sure Master Skywalker is still alive? The HoloNet doesn’t work this far out. And the last news I heard was that he’d gone missing in the Unknown Regions a year ago. The Code’s failed. We need to adapt.’
‘But the Republic are starting to fight back,’ said one of the others, a Rodian. ‘Hopefully the war will be over soon...’
The Jedi started arguing and Jaspen stopped paying attention. Nothing he said would change their decision. Thoughts swirled in the back of his mind of an endless abyss. He felt as if he was falling, like in the dream he had every night. He still didn’t understand what had saved him after he’d jumped off Death’s Edge. By all accounts, he should be dead right now. Not negotiating with a bunch of stranded Jedi.
Patience...they cannot harm us...
The voice snapped Jaspen back to the backroom of the bar. ‘Okay, so, we’ve agreed to give you a chance,’ Sophus announced. ‘But you’ll be staying with us. This place is our safe house. The owner is not a fan of the recent martial law the Dlarit Corporation has placed on the colony, and he says his grandfather served as an officer in the Clone Wars alongside the Jedi. So, you can trust him.’
Jaspen nodded. ‘Thanks. I appreciate it.’ He forced a smile. ‘Not many Jedi tolerate me with the Mark.’
Sophus’s expression dropped. ‘Well, you’re still on probation. We don’t trust your... Mark. And we don’t exactly trust you either. But we’re willing to work together. For now.’
‘Welcome to the Order of the Shield.’
From the abyss, laughter echoed at the back of Jaspen’s mind.
Between seen and not seen...
A few shuffling sheafs of loose parchment swayed in a nameless breeze, perhaps caused by the roaring fire in the otherwise dark study. They were of great interest to the Dragon, studying them as one might read the diaries of luminaries from ages past. Notes and small diagrams had been scribed into the margins in a hand that was distinctly similair, if of its own character to that of the original author. Like that author, the Dragon eschewed technology throughout academic study. His concepts too were similiar if not wholly different from those of the original author. These too might be described as observing the appreciation of skill between years of work. Studying the sketches and illustrations that develop into a master artisan's magnum opus.
The Dragon sat in a high backed chair, his face obscured in its shadow away from the small blaze. Three faint pin-pricks of violet might have been seen in the darkness. It could have been a trick of the fire.
The Heretic seeks to utilize the anomaly, my brother... The Dragon's voice resounded quietly, yet with a deep baritone of purpose. Yet I have foreseen events that shall undermine his ways...
The Lion answered out of the darkness, it was impossible to determine if they were speaking face to face, or at great distance. It really didn't matter to either man's purpose.
See that your efforts succeed, my old friend. Long have I watched you, and long have you stayed your hand. This task will finally destroy the last vestige of the man you devoured, and his most heinous atrocity. The Heretic should not have been to Lehon. That was for you alone, my brother.
... what has been made by Trevarus Caerick, will be un-made my friend... I shall see to that. I have foreseen it.
Yet my brother, I still feel the craving of the Heretic. It burns as a singularity in the Force, it draws that which is right and proper into its depths, seeking to unmake what has been established.
Was I not the same, once? Single-minded bloodlust? The Dragon said, a slight grin revealed in glittering white teeth that shone out of the darkness.
You were conceived by the Lords of the Force to be their avenging spirit, to conquer the man who saw too far without the depth of character to master what he truly was. The Lion smiled imperceptively. This shall be the final battle. How apt the analogy. That Sword and Shield shall again go to war.
Yes, it is so my Master... my brother. What has transpired created a true avatar of suffering... yet my old Apprentice has forgotten what it means to die gracefully. Perhaps there is enough left of his soul to suffer the conclusion.
See that it is so...
Yes my Brother... the time draws near... the storm surge is lapping at the breakwater... and soon the levies will burst forth to the shore. All shall be swept away in the rage of battle... and our domain shall be reclaimed.
The Dragon's smile broadened in the darkness. For a moment, it seemed that another, smaller flame flared in the shadow. After another heartbeat, it was so. The glowing ember issued small clouds of blue-black smoke into the contrasting orange-white of firelight. In the darkness there was stillness, only rich smells of aged tobacco and malice. Shan Long knew. He knew that war would once again flash violence into the calm. In the darkest of his heart, he was glad.
Two figures burst into the tiny room, lightsabers in hand. Jaspen bolted forward, bare from the waist up, body drenched in a sheen of sweat. In a flash, the illumination rose to full as Sophus and Carla swept the room for danger.
"What happened, Kraitus?" Carla asked. "You were screaming."
"I saw it again.... the bright, shining shield. Yet, it seemed that there was another face in the darkness, holding the shield aloft as if in battle. A face with three glowing eyes and blood running from it in rivers of gore."
He panted, gasping for breath as he relived the terror. "I felt that I might drown in blood"
"Before this is over, we'll all be karkin' choking on blood." Sophus said, relaxing a bit. "Do you have these dreams often?"
"Yes. I hardly knew Beriss, but he said they were caused by this thing on my forehead. I have dreams every night that terrify me."
"That's the stain of the Dark Side on your soul, kid. It's that thing, that evil thing. Its trying to corrupt you." Carla said. She seemed to spit at the word 'thing", as if she didn't want to even address it by name.
"You'll feel better when we've finished our intelligence of the Orian System, and have a better idea of what the hell the Darksiders here are up to with the Dlarit Corporation." Sophus said, his voice was a bit warmer, as if he was truly sensing the trouble that plagued the young man.
"Faith in the Force, and my lightsabers. That will see me through" Jaspen said, holding the quiet blades aloft.