Arcona Family Feud: Storyline
The Citadel was an even more oppressive force in the crisp, dewy mist that clung to the high-walled fortress of Estle City. Of the many Drexls that inhabited the aviary-cum-bestiary at the apex of the tower, only two circled the city: a drastic change from the dozens that ‘guarded’ the hallowed ground of Estle in these dark times. The Citadel’s spires were lost in low-lying clouds and only a few lights flickered in the dark, frosted windows. It was an almost serene spectacle, only appropriate for the joint funeral ceremony of two former Consuls of Arcona.
Inside, the Throne Room was almost as deserted as the city. The room itself was expansive, sizable enough to contain the Clan and its affiliates. A constant wall of flames licked at the tall, elegantly carved pillars that lined the room and a plethora of candlelit chandeliers flickered with the light draft from the windows. With the previous three Consuls, those flames had burned orange. Not since Mejas’ time had they burned cobalt blue, as they did now. The light threw a titian veil over the figure pacing up and down the dais. His Lordship, Wuntila Entar Arconae, Consul of Clan Arcona was deep in thought. He walked slowly, his arms clutched behind his back, adorned only in his training bottoms and a thin vest. A light dusting of stubble was visible and his eyes screamed for sleep. He had become anxious, dishevelled by the growing unrest. It was he who had ordered the death of Zandro and Sashar; it was he who had put them in that circumstance; it was now he who was left to pick up the shards of broken allegiance. Since his ascension to Consul after the battle of New Tython, his counsel had become more distant. Unnerved by talks of upheaval and denouncement, he was left with his handful of advisors and his thoughts. This burial, he thought, hoped, would alleviate the struggle and finally give him some direction.
He sidled up to the Throne and sat heavily down onto the cold hard stone, gritting his teeth at the ‘death sentence’ he had supposedly given his mentors.
“Milord.” Marick had slipped into the Throne Room unnoticed and now stood before the seemingly vacant Consul.
“Good morning, Marick.” Wuntila clicked back into focus, “Are you ready for today’s proceedings?”
“As ready as I can be.”
“Today is going to be a hard day for us all, Marick. Let’s just make sure it’s a smooth process then we’ll be on our way.” Wuntila rubbed his temples and stood, working the knots out of his heavily-muscled shoulders. “So what is the meaning of this visit?”
“I was told you were in here all night meditating. I came to make sure you go get some rest, milord.”
“I appreciate the sentiment, but rest is something I seldom have time for. I’d best be getting ready for the ceremony. Is there anything else?”
“Good. Mobilise the Arconan forces. Zandro and Sashar deserve a decent send-off. Ensure all are rallied at Doto Rock by 1300.” Wuntila patted his Proconsul on the shoulder as he walked past.
“As you wish.” Marick watched as Wuntila walked out of the throne room and off towards his personal quarters.
The QH-7 Chariot darted along the Selenian coastline, throwing up plumes of cold, sharp sand in its wake. Rain had started spitting as they had left, but before long it had become a wall of thick droplets that hit the metal shell like a chorus of hammers. Seven other chariots followed a quarter-mile behind, and behind them, the MAATs and LAAT/I squadrons; it was customary for the Consul and his associates to arrive before all others. At the helm of the chariot, Felix, commander of the T’ad Summit Guard was quiet and complacent. Next to him sat Captain Bly, the loyalist Solus Summit Guard Captain. Wuntila stood over the two pilots with a calculating stare through the front viewport.
Marick shifted slightly and nudged the Consul, “Wun?”
“What?” Wuntila turned, spitting venom at the Proconsul.
“Sit down. We’re nearly there. It will soon be over.” Marick seemed to raise his voice only slightly, but an assertiveness resonated through his words.
“If you think sending off Sashar and Zandro will quell the bloodlust of that insolent little being, you’re mistaken.” Wuntila sat down, instinctively caressing the metal of his lightsaber hilt.
“With all due respect, Lord Consul, he is one of us.” Celahir was sat in the rear of the chariot, tapping relentlessly at the screen of a sliced datapad. He almost wasn’t there, tucked away in a dark corner of the passenger compartment with only the screen of his latest venture throwing a dull curtain of cerulean over his chiselled face.
“He chose not to be one of us, Quaestor. You know that as well as I.” Wuntila’s brow furrowed as he sat forward, listening intently for Celahir’s reply.
“Perhaps. Or perhaps he is conflicted. You were once the same, Wun. You have told me many a time.”
“I’d advise you to not compare me to degenerates in future, Quaestor. It may be the last thing you utter.” Celahir had hit a nerve, and Wuntila knew it was purposeful.
“Celahir, follow his advice. I don’t think we need to bury three today. Two is quite enough.” Timeros delicately removed his hood and cupped his hands together, slinking back into his seat.
The awkward silence was cut by the tinny voice of Captain Bly, “We’ve arrived, Sir.” Wuntila stood and brushed the dust from the new formal robes, gifted to Arcona by the Dark Council for their success at the battle of New Tython. It was perhaps ironic that Wuntila had ordered the Summit to wear the same robes given to them for the battle that claimed the lives of those they were now burying. He thought it something Zandro and Sashar would have wanted.
The upper Summit jumped out of the speeder and into the maelstrom of torrential rain and ripping gales. They darted for the modest entrance to the temple carved into the dense stone of Doto Rock. Just as they reached the door, the other speeders began to arrive and more Arconans began spilling into the huge entranceway. Wuntila waited as the last remaining members to arrive and grabbed one of the flaming torches from the wall. He looked at Timeros and Marick and nodded before proceeding through the narrow halls of the jagged temple towards the ceremonial chamber.
The Exarch turned to his Proconsul just before they reached the hall, his voice quiet. “He isn’t here. I need you and Invictus to stand with Felix. Give the T’ad the signal that should anything happen, they are to fire-at-will.”
“Milord, this is consecrated ground.” Marick was unsettled.
“Indeed it is, but do you think he will take that into account?”
“Of course. As you wish.” Marick slipped back into the crowd towards the rear, nodding for Invictus to do the same.
Arcona’s might emerged in a decorated hall of jagged rock, supported by intricately carved pillars. At the centre was a circular platform which contained two pillars either side of a hole in the stonework above, through which a dull circle of light shone down onto a growing puddle in the carved rock underfoot. People began moving into their own groups: the Entars on one side; the Erinos with the Solus Summit Guard on another; the d’Tana at the rear and all others gathered in their particular Houses and Battleteams. It was a sign of division, of broken unity. A sign of what was to come.
Wuntila stepped up onto the podium and scanned the sea of faces around him. He caught Marick’s eye, stood in an alcove at the back, behind Felix’s men. He seemed concerned. Understandably so.
“Arconans,” Wuntila began authoritatively, “I have gathered you here today to say goodbye to two of Arcona’s elite. Two Arconae who lived and died for Arcona. Two individuals who made Arcona what it is today, and helped sculpt many of you into perfect Arconans. Zandro and Sashar, although not here in body, remain with us in spirit. They are the soul, you are the beating heart. We were all there on that fateful day. The day that I gave the order. It was their choice, but it was I to allowed them to make it. Yet they died so that we could live.” Wuntila turned and removed Zandro’s eyepatch from his pocket, tying it round one of the two pillars that flanked him. He then took one of Sashar’s old Lightsabers, resting it at the base of the other. “These are two men who fought for unity, for strength and prosperity. They are to be remembered for their courage and their dedication to this Clan. Nevertheless, what they fought for has failed to happen today. There is no unity between us; there is no camaraderie. Look at you. All of you. Sat in your own divided little groups. I care not whether you think I am the legitimate heir to this throne, or whether you feel I am not the best man for the job. I care for Arcona’s future.”
Wuntila stepped down from the podium and turned to kneel in front of the pillars. The others followed in step. All but the group of the Erinos, who stood firm.
“I will leave you now, but I expect each of you to pay your personal respects. I don’t care whether you knew Sashar or Zandro personally, they made you.” Wuntila flicked his hood over his head and walked over to Marick.
“I’ll be taking one of the Chariots. If you hop in one with the others, I’ll meet you back at the Citadel. I’m going to find him and speak to him.”
“I’m coming with you.” Marick began to walk towards Wuntila, but was stopped by the Consul’s hand on his chest.
“No, you stay here. Keep face. Felix, you’re coming with me.” Wuntila walked off with Felix trailing behind.
“Wun,” Marick jogged after the Consul, “Why not take Bly and the Summit guard? You’re a target as it is, and Solus is assigned to the Consul.”
“Because Bly is a clone of Kieran Erinos. I don’t trust him, or them, at the moment. Felix, let’s get moving.” Wuntila walked off, leaving Marick to dissipate the ever-growing tension in the room.
The rain had stopped and fingers of golden light began to break through the clouds. A light wind still tugged at the controls of the speeder, but the weather had cleared and in the distance Estle City grew closer. Wuntila had avoided speaking to him after the first assassination attempt, only a few days after his ascension to Consul. Now he had to face his attacker and finally set this dispute to rest. Either that or kill him.
Wuntila surveyed the empty plateau and took in his dominion. The dusty fields of nothingness that the Citadel constantly overlooked, watching for the breath of deception or attack, were lifeless. This time, however, the Citadel failed to protect Wuntila with its gaze.
As if from nothing, an Arconan transport slammed directly into the left side of Wuntila’s speeding Chariot, destroying the portside repulsorlifts. The Chariot swerved sharply to the left and smashed into the ground. The front of the chariot crumpled and threw the body into the air. It dropped into a roll and Wuntila felt the blunt thud of metal on skull before the crumpled wreck faded to black.
“… this… get… killing… father…” A familiar voice pierced the black as Wuntila waived in and out of consciousness. He opened his eyes to a blurred figure standing over him on the plateau, Lightsaber extended at his neck. The blurred vision soon faded and he matched the face to the voice.
Teroch Erinos. The boy he was looking for.
Wuntila felt blood running down the back of his throat and cold crimson beginning to dry on his face. he instinctively move his hand toward his belt, but found it bare. Teroch had evidently taken the Lightsaber when he dragged him from the wreckage. “Where’s Felix?” Wuntila asked with a voice akin to a gargle.
“Dead.” Teroch motioned towards the wreckage behind.
“Teroch. I was coming back to talk to you.” Teroch simply spat in response. “You wont be the end of me, boy.” Wuntila eyed the Erinos, searching for a break in his defence.
“You let them stay. I wont forgive you for that.”
“Zandro and Sashar were as much my brothers as they were your father and uncle.” Wuntila stalled, continuing to search for an opening.
“Rancor osik and you know it.” Teroch had had enough. He lifted the lightsaber and lunged at Wuntila’s neck, but the Consul had different ideas. The Dragon of Selen kicked wildly out at Teroch’s knees and buckled the left backwards. Teroch tumbled to the floor and scrambled to his feet. It had given Wuntila enough time to stand, albeit laboriously. He scanned the floor and found his hilt. Channelling The Force up into his hands, he reached out telekinetically, gripping the it, but Teroch did the same. The boy had a noticeably stronger Force affinity, and the hilt snapped back into Teroch’s left hand. The Human-Theelin felt a deep pounding in his ribs and he was dizzy beyond belief, but using his connection to The Force, he was able to stay compos mentis.
Teroch let a thin smile push at the corners of his lips as he snapped his left leg round, relocating his knee. “From what my father told me about you, you were never one for compromise, Wuntila.”
“I’m still not, but you could be a valuable asset to Arcona, Teroch. You’re throwing away an opportunity.” Wuntila tried to stall the Erinos long enough to shake away any lasting effects.
“To work under you? Not likely. In my eyes, by killing you I’m creating a better opportunity for Arcona.The Erinos wait for your denouncement. They are only biding their time. You will fall at their hands, whether you choose to appease them or not.” Teroch, although half the size of Wuntila, was twice as fast, twice as agile and thrice as accurate. He darted toward the Consul, changing step at the last minute, and jumped right past the Entar, his Lightsaber switching into a Sokan grip as he did so. Wuntila dipped, but it wasn’t enough. The blade carved into his head, splitting his scalp from the forehead and down the left side. He clutched at the side of his head and dropped to his knees. Teroch walked back round to face Wuntila, his blade again at the Consul’s neck.
“I was told you were a great warrior. I fail to see it.” Teroch lifted his hand for a decapitating swipe – but he was cut down by a resonant tackle by the T’ad Summit Commander. The two men slammed into the floor in a plume of dust. Wuntila pushed himself to his feet. He reached down and picked up Teroch’s hilt. Wuntila hobbled over to the two men who had begun to wrestle on the floor. With a quick snap, the Consul drove the pommel of Teroch’s hilt down into his head knocking him unconscious. Felix pushed the limp body off his own and looked up at Wuntila.
“I thought you were dead?” Wuntila gave Felix a hand to his feet.
“Not quite.” Felix took off his helmet to reveal another blood-stained face.
“Patch me through to Marick.” Wuntila held his hand up to his ear and cursed as he found his earpiece must have been knocked out in the crash. He reached down and grabbed the older receiver from his belt. “Marick, do you receive?”
“Right, Teroch’s just crashed my Chariot, and attempted another assassination. He’s in restraint, but the Erinos aim for the throne once more. They feel their time is not yet up. Have them taken into custody.”
“Sir, we’re still in the Temple.”
“I care not for your semantics. Capture them or kill them.”
“Wun, they know what’s going on...” Marick’s voice became louder, “Oh slice, they’ve got their sabers out...” The comm channel went dead.
“Felix, can you call on any available transport? There’s a civil war erupting back there, and we’ve got to return.”
“Sir, you’re seriously injured, we will have to go back to the citade...”
“Now! Get me a fragging transport, or I’ll run.”
en-route to the temple
The Force coursed through Wuntila, tiding the pain of his head injury. This was the second time Teroch had come within millimetres of killing him. As it was, he’d have a permanent scar – a disfigurement that bespoke weakness. A child had managed to give him so much trouble. It was only fitting that Sashar, a man who’d never accepted Wuntila, would adopt such a…troublesome prodigy.
“What?” Wuntila snapped behind him, trying to edge more speed from the transport, which had been sent from the Citadel along with a replacement squad of Summit Guardsmen.
“Uhh…he’s gone.” Felix stammered, sounding completely befuddled.
“The two guardsmen we had keeping guns on him in the rear compartment were rendered unconscious by blows to the head, he’s evidentially slipped the restraints and must’ve jumped out of the cargo access after disabling the alarms. I’m at a loss as to how he survived the fall…or woke up for that matter. We pumped enough sedatives into him to drop a Gorax.”
“I suppose it’s too much to ask that he plummeted to his death. Very well, one thing at a time. First, we need to regain control of the Clan.”
Marick’s saber was in-hand before he realised it. They were an intimidating lot, clad in armour, each wielding a nasty glare and a lightsaber, and they represented a good portion of the Force sensitive membership as well as around 85% of the special forces Arcona currently utilised. The Erinos had made their mark on Arcona, and Teroch was their newly appointed Alor – their Clan Chief. They’d let a child take over Sashar’s mantle. Now that new Chief was throwing them into a war they were more than happy to die for if for no other reason than boredom.
He knew how Mandalorians thought. Oh, they thought that they were all very xenophobic and private, but Marick had made a life of watching others, picking out weaknesses…it was all part of the training every Shadesworn underwent; you had to know your deaders better than they knew themselves, and, like any skill if repeated enough, it was impossible to turn off. The Erinos, like all Mandalorians, thrived on conflict. During New Tython they’d been in their element. They’d fought hard, died hard, and loved every kriffing second of it. Now that it was back to shoring up the defences on the home front, they had nothing to do other than sit with their thumbs up their asses either drilling, training, or pretending to care what the aruetii had to say. A chance for a good scrap like this, whilst futile, would give them a welcome break from the mendacity of living.
Outside, it began to rain.
“Arconans… I know you’re hurting over their loss.” He struggled to make himself heard over the rumbles of dissent, and not just from the armour-clad thugs on one side. On the other, the Entars were gearing up to fight, most prominently Strategos, James and Timeros. Two Elders and perhaps a dozen other Equites. They were a very, very nasty mix, but then the Erinos weren’t exactly lacking in numbers. A dozen Equites and no less than seventy of their armour-wearing brethren. Seventy. The entire Erinos Clan, as Sashar and Zandro’s family, had been invited to the funeral, even though Mandalorians didn’t believe in holding remembrances for their dead – they honoured them a different way. They’d clearly only shown up as a show of force, and what a show. Even though Doto Rock was sacred ground, he was under no illusion as to what the Erinos thought about that particular tradition. It was about to get very, very messy. He signalled for the Summit Guard to close in around him.
Something shifted in the Force. It was the Serpentine Throne. It connected every single last Arconan to the Consul. Even when he wasn’t sitting on it, the Throne transmitted his mood as if he were standing right next to the membership. They could feel his moods, but not individual thoughts. No, for clear, verbal communication, he had to be sat in the ancient Sith artefact. However, every single Arconan at Doto Rock, nearly all 70-odd of the Clan’s Force sensitives who’d survived the War felt Wuntila’s spike of panic, then resolve. They knew what it meant. He was being attacked. There was some inbuilt part of the Throne that urged all of them to rush to his defence, even if they wanted him dead. Many of the older members, Marick included, had felt it before, only much stronger. Mejas Doto had been the last true master of the Serpentine Throne, and he had compelled many a member to kill themselves or fight one another to the death in senseless duels simply through the merits of that accursed chair. When Sashar had finally performed his coup, the insane Zabrak thrown every iota of strength he had into compelling his subjects to rally to his defence.
Unfortunately, the savvy Mandalorian had arranged it so that there’d been no other Arconans in the Citadel, or even on the planet at the time. Now, though, several of the junior members made a move towards the exit, but almost before they’d taken a step, it was over. A wash of….’safe’ passed through the chamber, and the Entars exhaled. It wasn’t that Wuntila was particularly well-liked in their escoteric little clique, more that he was one of theirs in power. If they lost him, their control of Arcona would be questioned again, and they’d worked so hard to wrest control from the Erinos not weeks before.
However, it wasn’t the Entars Marick had his eyes on. He found his attention welded to Malidir. The gruff Prelate wasn’t particularly powerful in the Force. He had never needed to be. One of Sashar’s first prodigies, he’d made his presence known to the wider Brotherhood over the stretch of two wars, where he’d racked up more kills in single combat than most of the rest of the Clan combined. He’d singlehandedly accounted for fifteen percent of Crask’s casualties in the battle to reclaim Antei. The man was probably the most dangerous being in the room, save for the elders, and he was pissed.
“Shab this.” He pronounced abruptly, pulling a sawn-off EPL (the Erinos’ version of a shotgun) from the folds of his robe.
Celahir’s saber flashed to life seconds later, as did Talos’, Maaks’, and even Celevon seemed content to side with his brethren in Soulfire.
In answer, Strategos and Timeros moved closer to the Erinos, their own blades burning into existence. Cethgus tried to follow them, but his feet got caught in his robe and he fell over. Nobody even glanced in his direction.
“My brothers! No!” Marick roared, moving to place himself between the two approaching families.
There was silence. No murmurs of angry Arconans hungry for a fight, no metallic jangle symptomatic of a clan of burly Mandalorians eager to test out their new Consul, not even the sound of laboured breathing laden with the adrenaline which inevitably preceeds a fight. Every single person stood like a statue, not moving muscle.
The was in Mandalorian Armour, but unadorned with the colours or sigils which littered the Erinos’ accoutrements. A crimson cape billowed behind him, and a golden lightsaber was in one hand, yet unlit. In his other, what looked like a lightsaber fused with a…glaive.
He was a Dark Lord of the Sith, twice presumed dead, and former Grand Master of the Brotherhood.
“You are a Clan.” He spat contemptuously, looking around the assembled Arconans he’d somehow managed to place in stasis.
“You are a Clan of my Brotherhood, and you’re defiling it by turning your blades on one another. Worse, you’re doing it for the sake of families. They hold no weight amongst Brethren. I am letting you keep your wicked lives for one reason: I may yet need you all to give them for me down the line. Killing yourselves in a petty squabble like this would be folly, and I…hate….waste.” The Grand Master seethed.
“You will all think on your misdeeds, and how you might prove your worth to me should I see fit to release you from my bondage and you will think hard. I am not easily placated.”
Wuntila’s feelings of unease grew as he approached Doto Rock. Something had changed. There wasn’t the conflagration of conflict he expected to emanate through the Force. Worryingly, there was a deadening weight of peace and dark serenity to the surroundings. It was such an intense blanket of nothingness, it was as if he couldn’t feel his subjects at all. But surely, if they’d died, he’d have felt it.
The Shuttle landed and he crossed to the Temple’s entrance, then stopped dead in his tracks, the Summit guardsmen fanning out around him, blasters in hand and ready. His Clan were all stood motionless, several sabers lit and burning through oxygen, his Proconsul halfway towards intercepting what looked to be the biggest flash zone…but everyone was frozen. Then he noticed Darth Sarin knelt in the aisle between the Entars and the Erinos, apparently meditating.
“Lord Sarin.” He managed, unsure of whether or not he was to kneel before a Grand Master, given that he was a member of Arcona (albeit only through association) and as such his subordinate.
“Wuntila Zratian Entar…recently made Arconae. I’m sure your brothers made that leap possible. It seems your rule isn’t as iron-clad as you’d have hoped. What are you going to do about it?”
He expected this amount of insolence from Mejas. The certifiable Dark Jedi Master’s career was littered with examples of how he considered Consuls less than him. He’d even executed one before, but Sarin was on a whole other level.
He didn’t bother lying. Sarin would just see through it anyway. “I’m going to arrest the Erinos, ensure their loyalty, and kill Sashar’s progency. He’s clearly too much of a danger to be left alive.”
“No you’re not.” The Grand Master answered shortly, standing and turning to face his Lord Consul. “This conflict is useful, but I’m not going to let Arcona massacre itself in a hall built by an insane blue mutant in cackling self-congratulation. This hate, this animosity…it’s powerful, but you have to control it. Regulate their hate. Make them fight, yes, but make them fight on your terms. Have you even stopped to think why the Erinos are actually willing to go to war?”
Wuntila blinked, thinking the question through. He’d initially assumed that they wanted power for themselves, but then a memory flashed by his eyes of Sashar saying on more than one occasion that he’d never wanted Consul; he’d simply taken the mantle initially to protect his brothers from Mejas, and then to prevent Arcona from collapsing into civil war. Power wasn’t the end-game here, and neither was revenge, at least not for anyone but Teroch (misplaced though it was).
“They’re fighting if for no other reason than to test you, Lord Consul,” When Sarin said the title, he made it sound almost patronizingly indulgent. “You have shot through the ranks with the speed of a blaster bolt and never once have you realised that each predecessor to the Throne has fought tooth and nail to the title. All Consuls do, and their seat of power is never secure. They’re constantly alert for coup attempts, assassinations, political intrigue. This is your crucible, Wuntila, not the war. Everyone knows you can handle yourself in a fight, else you wouldn’t have survived Menat Ombo. You have to prove to your Clan that you’re fit to lead them in more than just war. Let them have their squabble, but make yourself known. Make them fight for you, not against you. You have many a platform from which to accomplish this.”
He was right. The Dark Lord of the Sith clearly knew what he was talking about.
“Rule your Clan.” Sarin intoned, then brushed past Wuntila bodily, the heavy beskar of his armour staggering the huge blue-skinned humanoid as he went. A moment later, the stasis field dropped, and several of his clan dropped to the floor in surprise.
Without waiting, the Consul crossed to Malidir, punched him in the face with a beskar crushgaunt he’d taken from Teroch on his last assassination attempt, and floored him. Before any of the other Erinos could retaliate, he augmented his voice with the Force and hollered to the ceiling of the temple.
“You are my Clan, and you will all settle this in the manner I see fit!”
Wuntila sat in the Sanitorium with a 2-1B fussing about his head wound. He itched to be restoring his Clan to order, but he’d be no good to anyone if he let the wound turn septic; it needed to be cleaned and treated. The Son of Sashar would pay for such an affront. He seethed. How could his Clan so easily be forced to one anothers’ throats? A mere teenager had brought Arcona to its knees, and he’d been powerless to stop it.
No. I had all the power to end it weeks ago. I should’ve killed him when I had the chance. Damn Socorra and Timeros for staying my hand.
Felix had been hastily bandaged up on the way over, and despite one arm being in a sling, his free hand still wielding an SSK-7; Arcona’s standard issue. He hadn’t left Wuntila’s side since the latest attempt on his life. Captain Bly was conspicuously absent. Wuntila had taken the T’ad Summit Guard Squad as his personal protection detail upon obtaining Consul. Solus Squad and Captain Bly (who was a unique Clone, engineered to be the perfect soldier, and based on Kieran Erinos’s genome) had been pushed to the sidelines. Whilst Bly was still officially in charge of the Summit Guard, he was not at the Consul’s side, which was a first for the ARC Clone. Frankly, Wuntila didn’t trust Bly; he’d been the protector of Sashar, Celahir and Zandro Erinos; he was bound to have conflicting loyalties.
As such, the 14 Commandoes of T’ad Squad had been assigned to Wuntila and Marick, the House summits had had their Summit Guardsmen reassigned to guard the Citadel, and Bly was relegated to guarding the Throne Room. The Consul would deal with ensuring his entire Guard’s loyalty later on, but right now he could only have people he trusted near him, which was why Timeros stood next to Felix, lightsaber in hand, his expression unreadable.
Wuntila winced at the medical droid’s ministrations, then looked over to the tall, emaciated Heregan who guarded him. “Has there been any word?”
“Of Teroch? No. Doubtless the Erinos know where he is, but we don’t have time to interrogate them. Regulating the conflict into a series of personal matches in the ACC will stave off the majority of the fallout and allow the members to get the fights out of their systems…but he won’t settle for it, my Lord. He wants you dead, and he’ll stop at nothing to see it happen.”
The Dragon of Selen nodded heavily, his own hand resting on his saber. “I know. He has the means to do it, as well. Surrounding myself with all the loyalists I can won’t work, either. He knows my guard has to come down at some point, and it’s no way to run a Clan whilst cowering in fear. I’ll have to face him.”
“Not necessarily.” Tim answered, his voice giving away nothing.
“He just needs to be dead. We may lose the Erinos, but frankly now that we’ve been pushed this far, we need to know we can trust our brothers. They’ve proven unworthy of that trust, if they’re prepared to go to war over so little. Excising them from Arcona won’t be pleasant, but it may be necessary if they continue to rebel after their Alor is killed. Nobody said anything about killing him in a fair fight, and there are ways to take down an opponent without ever having to touch them, or even be in the same star system.”
Frowning, Wuntila weighed the thought in his head. Timeros was right, of course. Arcona would survive only by being loyal to him, and any members (regardless of their ability in combat) who didn’t comply would need to be removed for Treason. It was as simple as that. However, the idea of killing Teroch in anything other than direct combat didn’t sit well with him. The Obelisk in him found it dishonourable. Nevertheless, a Consul had to do what was best for his Clan, and that sometimes meant doing distasteful things.
“What do you mean?”
The ghost of a smile appeared on the Heregan’s lips. “Look in the Consular archives when you get the chance. You’ll understand.”
The nineteen members of the Summit Guard not belonging to the T’ad Unit sat in the circular briefing room which served as the hub for their entire detachment. Like the other chambers belonging to the clones, the briefing room was entirely white marble, polished to a shine, and there was very little decoration, save for a few choice items: First, the large desk at the front of the room. On one side was a large leather-bound book, also bleached white, but with platinum corners. In it were the names of anyone ever to have held the position of Summit Guardsman, as well as their accomplishments, and (if necessary) their place of death. On the other side was the Captain’s Sword. Meant more as a ceremonial piece of weaponry than anything, it was still a mark of office. Felix had been entrusted with the blade since Wuntila’s ascension to Consul, and it’s absence from the desk was noticeable.
Behind Captain Bly, who was seated at the desk, and whose black armour contrasted sharply with the white cape and white background of the room, were two items of interest on the far wall. One was a glass case displaying a series of lightsabers which had once belonged to Jedi and Dark Jedi alike who the Summit Guard had felled in the name of protecting the Consul. To the right of that was a large platinum plaque with the name of every Summit Guardsman who’d given his life in service of the Consul and his Summit. The list was worryingly long, given how shortly the unit had been in existence.
“Who guards the Consul?” Bly intoned solemnly, beginning the meeting with a ritual.
“Commander Felix.” Answered the other Commander, Ravi, who’s unit was the Reserve.
“Then we can rest easy.” Bly finished the little tradition and leant back, steepling his fingers. “Those of us in Solus Squad have been dismissed from the Consul’s protection detail. It doesn’t take an idiot to work out why: We served three consecutive Erinos Consuls, and our new Consul, an Entar, is worried that he can’t depend on us.”
“It’s kriffing insulting.” Muttered one of the Guardsmen, who was silenced by a sharp look from the Captain.
“It is our duty to follow the Consul’s orders to the letter. He is entitled to have whoever he wants guarding him. If he favours Felix, then that is his prerogative, and it’s still our duty to protect him with our life. We were created to do this and if one of my brothers sees fit that he’s better than the rest of us, I’ll kill him myself. Clear?”
A stony silence answered him, but he knew that his brothers, each who shared the more youthful and unblemished features of Kieran Kodiak Erinos (as he was their clone template), would agree and gladly give their lives in the Consul’s defence. They’d been genetically altered to be loyal to a fault. Obviously, Wuntila didn’t understand that, but as Bly had said, it was the Consul’s prerogative.
“Teroch Erinos is loose. Erdin and Caul were unable to subdue him and are recovering in the Sanitorium, and Felix very nearly lost his life in the boy’s latest attempt, but he is still on duty. I’m putting it on record that we salute his noble and brave actions. However, Teroch is still at large, and has made it clear that he will stop at nothing to kill the Lord Consul. Thus far, he has not fatally wounded any of those, however I believe the child is not entirely sane. Usually, this would mean he is easier to dispatch and subdue, however Teroch has made it apparent that he is incredibly gifted in the Force. More dangerous than Sashar was, even. True, he is the son of one of our former charges, but he is threatening our current charge, so we have been ordered to show no quarter. And we won’t.” Bly said pointedly, looking each of his brothers in the eye.
“Have we been ordered to search the Citadel for him?” Asked Commander Ravi.
“No. We don’t know that he’s returned as yet. He could be anywhere in the Citadel or Estle City in general. Our job is the remain on alert. If he is sighted, then we are to proceed to his last known location and dispatch him by any means necessary. Collateral damage is acceptable in this case. Until then, we are doubling the Guard on the Consul’s Chambers, his Hangar, and the Throne room, whilst T’ad focuses on protecting his person.”
“Will we have Soulfire helping us?” asked another Commando.
“No. Like Solus, they’ve been dismissed. Too many Erinos amongst them to be trusted. There may be one or two Entars around Wuntila to help protect him, but for the most part, we’re on our own. Make no mistake, if Teroch wants to kill us, we haven’t got much we can do to stop him, but if we rely on our training and don’t take any risks, together we can save the Consul’s life. Make sure your gear’s in prime condition, carry extra ammunition with you, and don’t be afraid to stim up if you need to. We need you all alert and ready to fight at a moment’s notice. Dismissed.”
Teroch sat with his feet up on the Consul’s desk, smoking one of the Consul’s cigars. He idly tapped through the security feeds, watching Marick in communiques with the Antei Combat Centre, arranging a number of matches. He watched Wuntila have his head sutured back together, and the nominal heads of the three factions (Timeros, Malidir and Invictus) as they prepared for battle.
Forcing the Family members to fight in the ACC had been a stroke of genius. Not only did it almost legitimize the animosity the members felt at the Consul or the Erinos, thereby excusing them from wrongdoing, but it also focused their rage into a non-lethal form of combat, thereby not wasting Arcona’s resources. Finally, Wuntila could monitor the fights and discern who was the biggest threat to his survival. Furthermore, if Teroch didn’t take him on in open combat, he’d be seen as a coward.
It still wasn’t going to stop adolescent from killing him.
He flicked to the Summit Guards’ chambers and noticed a meeting in progress.
Heh. Bly’s probably shitting bricks about me right now. It’ll be fun to fight him.
One of the camera feeds caught his attention. Leaning forwards, Teroch watched intently as a Grand Master came up from his sanctum and travelled the short distance to the Hangar, then welcomed a huge, hulking red-skinned being, whose bare torso was littered with Sith tattoos and markings. He carried a war hammer over one shoulder, and bowed shortly to Sarin before following him back to the turbolift.
“Now who is that, I wonder...”
Seeing that the Summit Guard conclude their meeting, he swiftly closed down the terminal, left a small present for Wuntila clamped to the underside of the desk, and opened the viewport. He took great care to reset the alarms, then quickly abseiled down the exterior of the Citadel’s main tower.
18 hours later...
Wuntila paced about the throne room, swearing quietly to himself. His office had been bombed earlier, and when the Summit Guardsmen had searched the chambers, they had inadvertently triggered the device. It wasn’t enough to kill them, but that was only thanks to their armour. If they’d not been wearing helmets and full protective suits, they’d be dead. Both were in the Sanitarium. He’d not slept in nearly three days, and since his office, there’d been no sign of Teroch anywhere. The entire Citadel Guard as well as a good dozen Equites and Journeymen were scouring the Citadel, but the facility was massive and sprawling. It could take weeks to search even the common areas, and Wuntila himself was yet to learn all of the Citadel’s secrets.
Wuntila remembered what Timeros had told him earlier, and summoned one of the footmen to his throne with a datapad. A moment later, he was scouring through the Consular Archives, not even sure what he was looking for. More on an impulse than anything, he opened up Sashar’s old files, and frowned at what he saw. There were detailed profiles on nearly everyone of import in the Brotherhood, lists and lists of potential contacts, details on the Ghost Cell project, research notes on something called ‘The Project’ - a research facility on Gethsemane he didn’t even know existed, however it looked like The Project had been Sashar’s private little science lab. Opening up the sub-folder, he scanned through the records. It had been destroyed during the Yuuzhan Vong invasion of Dajorra, however two files caught his attention: the first detailing a clone having been bought from Kamino, strangely an almost exact replica of himself, apart from several modifications: the first being an eidetic memory, a boosted metabolism, altered aging genes from a certain point in the clones’ life onwards... it was basically the ingredients for a perfect soldier. There were footnotes indicating that another clone had been made, but they’d attempted to tamper with whatever made a being Force-sensitive. And the results were disastrous. He then checked the timestamp on the files and nearly choked. Seventeen years prior. Sashar had commissioned the clone when he first arrived in Arcona, when he was only fifteen himself. Clearly, he’d also stolen from his new home to have said clone created.
It can’t be. He must’ve sent him to Dxun to be raised by one of the Kodiaks, then adopted him himself when the Kodiak Camp was destroyed. Teroch can’t know. Do the rest of the Erinos?
The second file was another task ‘The Project’ had been set, but this time the timestamp was a lot more recent: six months after the Ninth Great Jedi War. It was a genome-targeting microvirus...and it was complete. The interesting footnote was that it was geared towards killing a very, very specific DNA sequence; a clone’s, in point of fact.
He must’ve had it created as a fail-safe in case Teroch ever went out of control. He really did plan for everything.
Stunned at the revelation, Wuntila copied the nanovirus’ production information into his personal datapad and summoned his Proconsul, Marick.
The Hapan appeared a few minutes later and hurried down the length of the Throne room, stopping to kneel before the blue flames which seperated Wuntila and the Serpentine Throne from his subjects.
“Marick, I want you to take this datapad down to the Arcane Labs. Tell them to replicate it and release it into the ventilation system of the Citadel. Talk to no-one else about this, understood?”
The Proconsul bowed deeper after taking the pad. “Of course, Lord Consul. Preparations are complete for the tournament. They are awaiting your convenience.”
“Will we be required a travel to Antei?” He asked, dreading the thought of getting into a shuttle when the possibility of sabotage was so high.
“No, Lord Consul. The officials from the Combat Centre have said that they can set up a temporary and portalbe Morph Hall in our arena. We won’t even have to leave the Citadel. They have already arrived and should be ready by morning.”
“Who came?” Asked the Dragon of Selen, curious to know how the Combat Centre was being run when it’s Combat Master was a renegade assassin on the run, and both Timeros and Xathia (the two Senior operatives for the ACC) were handling the crisis.
“The Deputy Grand Master is running the Centre in Teroch’s absence, and they’ve sent the Grand Master’s Praetor, Kal, to adjudicate along with the Staffers who are already here, however I reckon that the Iron Throne simply sent his lap dog to get a report of what was happening here under the guise of judging the matches.”
“I agree. See that the Praetor is given every comfort, and try to play down the level of alert that we’re at. We don’t want anyone thinking my grip is less than ironclad, do we?”
“No, Lord Consul.”
“That is all.”
Teroch’s bed was soft, luxurious, and his shower had been incredibly refreshing. He knew that Wuntila would be unable to sleep since he’d bombed his office - it’d be madness to let ones’ guard down at a time like this, but the Kiffar didn’t need to; he was quite safe in the Consul’s Harem. The chambers were tastefully appointed and there were no less than twenty of the willing concubines of various races and cultures waiting ready and eager to see to Wuntila’s every need. By nature, all of the Citadel guards assigned to the Harem were eunuchs, and Teroch was singularly lucky that (in order not to raise any suspicions and not anger the Consul) none spent much time in the beautifully appointed area of the Citadel themselves; they just guarded the entrances. That said, it was reported that Wuntila hadn’t made use of the women, either. The concubines were taught their trade by an in-house Companion; a kindly woman who was still beautiful, despite pushing sixty. She had also been a friend of Sashar’s (however, he obviously didn’t make use of her, or her girls’ particular talents). Teroch had called in a favour, and was now safely tucked away in one of the vacant rooms after having a good meal and a wash. While he planned his next move, he’d be content to wait it out in the life of luxury and the added satisfaction of Wuntila’s discomfort only added to his stay.
Smiling to himself at the mental image, he turned off the light and allowed himself to drift back off to sleep.
The being known only as Raken, former Praetor to the Grand Master and newest member of Arcona proceeded down one of the dimly lit corridors cut from the earth of Mount Doto, when a hooded figure stepped from an archway, barring his path. He was backlit, so it was impossible to tell his face, but just a glimpse through the Force told Raken all he needed to know; this was a formidable person.
“So far, Sarin’s not taken a stance on the Family war in Arcona. where do you stand?” The voice was completely unexpected - youthful, lighthearted, and still clearly in adolescence.
“By the Grand Master.” Raken grated out, his eyes flashing dangerously.
“What do you want from Arcona?” asked the youth, leaning casually against one of the two walls.
“What every man wants deep down; power.”
“The power to do what?”
Raken’s lightsaber was in hand without him even remembering plucking it from his belt. “My reasons are my own. Begone, before I tell your Lord Consul just where you are.”
“I know that look, Raken. I see it in the mirror every morning. You want power for vengeance. So do I. You help me achieve mine, and I’ll make sure the Erinos return the favour.”
The sound of the red-skinned being laughing was like chunks of ice falling into water. “What can one petty Clan of Mandalorians do besides the might and resources of a Grand Master? No, I have all the allies I need, young one. You can offer me nothing.”
Grimacing, the youth nodded. “Fine, but I know the Grand Master seeks justice too. Pass my offer onto him. He may feel differently.”
Without waiting for an answer, Teroch turned back into the doorway and hurried down the darkened corridor. He stepped carefully, wary of the guard patrols, and disappeared into the alcoves.
1 Week later...
“Maybe he’s fled the Citadel.” Marick suggested from the Consul’s box as they watched the proceedings below. The Arena had been rife with conflicts, and thus far the Entar were proving their dominance in the Clan.
“No, he’s here. Keep up the searches. This battle is already decided.” He pronounced, watching a Barabel fell a Mirialan with a savage blow to the head from a heavily clawed arm.
“Ah, yes Lord Consul. I have a report from the Arcane Labs. They have successfully produced the nanovirus to your specifications, and are ready to release it on your orders.”
“Is it in the quantity I asked for?” Wuntila bored Marick’s eyes with his own.
“Yes. And they’ve done the tests. Its non-lethal to the subjects.”
“Very well. Release it into the ventilation system. If he’s here in the Citadel, he’ll succumb to it.” Wuntila’s voice cracked with a tired malevolence.
The two leaders of Arcona left the Arena’s observation box accompanied by a full contingent of the summit guard. En-route, Wuntila summoned Talos to the throne room. On their arrival, the Consul gestured for Felix to come to his side. “Restrain him and strip him of his weapons.” He muttered in the Guardsman’s ear.
Felix obeyed instantly, and a dozen blasters were raised at Talos. Soulfire’s Sergeant was pushed to his knees before he was able to take on board what was happening. He was disarmed and had his hands cuffed behind his back, then dumped before the Serpentine Throne, his clothes torn, his face already bruising from the Summit Guard’s ministrations.
“Summon the rest of the Guard. We’ll be needing them.” he ordered, then flicked a switch, turning on the holocams.
“This is what your rebellion has wrought, child.” Wuntila growled at the receiver, then got up and punched Talos in the face whilst wearing the same pair of Crushgaunts Teroch had used to try and assassinate him with months before.
The Equite cried out as blood and shards of teeth spattered the floor before the throne, but he didn’t have long. A heavy boot planted itself in the Erinos’ stomach, causing him to throw up. Further kicks to the kidneys evoked more cries of agony, but Wuntila wasn’t done. A pair of heavy punches to the chest snapped ribs, making every breath a nightmare for the young Mandalorian.
“Every five minutes you delay, I remove something from him.” He snarled at the camera, flexing his gauntleted hand.
Four and a half standard minutes later, the doors flung open. All thirty-two of the Summit guardsmen raised their blasters, and Captain Bly, Captain of the Guard, stepped into the aisle running towards the throne, a Greatsword in hand. They’d arrived just a pair of minutes before, relieved to be trusted by the Consul (or rather, needed) once more. Effecting a hasty protective semi-circle placing themselves between Wuntila and the main doors, they had a clear range of fire at anyone stupid enough to come in.
The Dragon of Selen stood before the Throne, blood dripping from his hands. At his feet, Talos moaned softly through a shattered jaw. Despite it all, he’d still managed to stay conscious.
Teroch glared pure venom at Arcona’s ‘Magnificent Blue Beast’ and didn’t even spare a look at the Guardsmen in their ceremonial black armour and white cloaks.
“Back off, Bly. I’ve got trade.”
“Stand down!” Ordered Wuntila as he stepped through the blue flames, cracking his knuckles.
Muttering curses in his native tongue, Teroch spat, then began running down between the guardsmen, his lightsaber in hand. Bellowing a challenge of his own, the larger being activated his own blade and charged at his would-be assassin.
They met halfway down the Throne Room.
They clashed. The thunderclap of raw energy reverberated around the throne room. A brief impasse. Four eyes locked above the piercing brightness of plasma. Four eyes hard as granite and brittle as ice. The Kiffar had been forced to throw his own lightsaber up in defence. His Beskad did not have the leverage. The Consul pressed his blade against Teroch’s, their expressions unwavering. Sheer brunt begun to prevail, the searing blades almost kissing the boy’s cheek. And then Teroch broke away.
As the clone reeled back, Wuntila swung his lightsaber like an avalanche. He didn't control it so much as guide its momentum. The Kiffar dropped into a roll, easily avoiding the cleave, and plucked his pistol from his belt. A quick burst of bolts rained on the Consul. He struggled to bat the majority away, the others leaving deep scores in his armour. A loud clank resonated through the hall as the Arconae’s concussion rifle hit the floor, its burnt strap smoking.
They peeled back from each other: Wuntila to catch his breath, Teroch to bait his foe.
“You killed my father and my uncle,” Teroch ground through clenched teeth. He glanced over the Exarch’s shoulder and saw Talos wiping the blood from his face with a sleeve. “And yet you still find it necessary to attack those closest to me?”
“You have brought it on yourself, Teroch.” Wuntila thumbed the ignition on his lightsaber and the blue blade retracted back into the hilt. He clipped it to his belt and reached down, snatching the rifle from the cold marble floor. “You fail to hear my plea.”
“Your plea?” Teroch’s voice dripped venom. He began pacing. His eyes spoke in his silence. Those eyes. Sashar’s eyes. Dark and hazel and penetrating. The eyes Sashar had lost at the hands of the Yuuzhan Vong. They gave the adolescent an authoritative, piercing stare. A stare that bored through Wuntila with a heavy vengeance. “You sent my father to his death. Sashbuir and Zand’ika, both dead. And their blood is on your hands.” His voice cracked. Lips quivered as he spoke. A clenched jaw and furrowed brow. The Consul could see one angry tear stream down the boy’s cheek.
They had both lost fathers that day. Zandro taught Wuntila everything he possibly could. Sashar had taught him the rest. They had both taken in the Human-Theelin. He had been raw emotion, wrapped up in thick layers of musculature. Belligerent. Disturbed. Standing before Teroch was like standing before a mirror. Sashar and Zandro had sculpted him, refined him into the iron-fisted Consul he was today. They eased his pain. But Teroch would never hear those calming words or learn those vital lessons. He was lost in the dark void of space, and his two guiding lights had been extinguished.
The Consul waited for Teroch to continue, but met only silence. The young Kiffar slipped his pistol back into its holster and clipped his hilt to his belt. His arms shot across his body, wrenching two nohgri sickles from their scabbards. A disturbing scowl flashed across his youthful face. He called upon his strongest asset, ordering it almost effortlessly to his bidding. Arteries of the Force coursed into his body, flowing through him with an unnatural potency. He channelled the energy down into his thighs and darted, a blur disappearing into the ethereal.
Wuntila didn’t have time to think. He felt the flesh part from his leg. A flood of adrenaline surged through his body. It failed to stop the agony. Teroch had carved a deep furrow just above the knee. And he had kept going.
Clearing the line of summit guard, the young Kiffar had continued through the Consul’s blue flames. He landed in a crouch on the dais. Now he sat, perched atop the Serpentine Throne. The Exarch turned to see the boy spring at the dark iron chandelier overhead. Teroch floated through the air almost elegantly. He landed with feet light as feathers. The candles, blue like the flames below, flickered only slightly as light fixture swayed. And then the boy stopped. A wry smile contradicted his pained glare. He was poised and waiting.
Wuntila heaved himself to his feet with an agonising grunt. Hefting his concussion rifle, he unleashed a barrage of hissing ionised air. He grinned at the irony of using the rifle against the son of a man who always liked to employ the weapon in battle. However, Teroch simply leapt from one chandelier to another as the concussion bolts tore the candelabrum from their fixtures. Dense halos of dark metal crashed to the ground. The summit guard scrambled, avoiding the raining ironwork. Wuntila did the same. Teroch dropped from the last remaining chandelier by the door. He darted down the corridor and further into the heart of the Citadel.
The Consul cursed and pulled himself to his feet. He tapped into his own connection to the Force and channelled it into his wounded leg to stay the pain. He at least needed to be mobile.
“Bly, get the boy to the medical bay. He’s served his purpose,” Wuntila ordered, motioning towards Talos and trying to conceal his feelings of disappointment in the man. He then picked up his rifle and stole away into the corridors.
The Dragon of Selen skulked through the winding corridors of the Citadel, his senses amplified by the Force. A dull light seemed reluctant to stretch through the long, thin windows that stretched the length of the building’s northern face. The Consul could see the silvery-grey clouds slowly filling the sky. The weather had taken a turn for the worse. Straining, he extended the invisible tendrils of the Force further, trying to catch even the slightest of traces.
He couldn’t help but be taken back to his first meeting with Teroch. The boy had never liked him. It was almost inevitable that the two would conflict. Wuntila struggled to understand why he had failed to see the similarities before. Sashar had once referred to Teroch as his alor’ika, and Wuntila now truly understood what he meant by it. The Force could have a strange effect on those who saw only what they wanted to see. And Sashar had been meticulous in hiding the boy’s origin. For that he was to be commended. Nevertheless, Teroch had so much potential, an augmented Sashar. He could have been the successor to the throne, should Zandro have wished it. Yet he was left underdeveloped. He had his family snatched away at the time he needed them most. Wuntila felt the boy’s pain. He too had lost family at a young age, albeit by his own hand. It was a test set by his old master, Valerian Orzon, then Consul of Plagueis. His hand was forced and he could only abide. It had made him stronger, but at great expense to his emotional stability and his will.
“Everyone has their own path,” Zandro had once said, “and that path is theirs alone. They can only truly learn from experience. To hear of terror is not enough, one has to feel it; to read of tragedy is not enough, one has to experience it. People discover, you cannot discover for them. One way or another, they will change. And, when your Consulship comes, it is your job to make sure they have support when that change happens.”
Those words seemed more pertinent than ever. He shook the thoughts from his mind and re-focused.
He finally emerged in his private hangar. There sat the Saracen – his personal ship – and its three support craft. Wuntila walked further into the hangar, carefully assessing his surroundings. A spike in the Force raised his defences and he spun, his concussion rifle trailing behind… but it was too late. He felt the deep crunch of pommel meeting cheekbone. Teroch snapped a vicious kick at Wuntila’s ribs. He stumbled backwards, undeterred.
A quick feint. Teroch dipped left and came in from the right. But Wuntila, his Force connection still strong, had anticipated it. An ionised ball of energy shot millimetres from the boy’s arm. The young clone stepped back, his sharp eyes locked on the Consul. He sheathed one of the sickles and ripped his pistol from its holster. Another flurry of brilliant red bolts came at the Exarch. He dipped out of the way. Teroch was not as skilled as Wuntila was with ranged weaponry.
The boy backtracked, disappearing between two of the support craft.
Marick ran through the Citadel warrens, his dark cloak casting a widening shadow on the hard stone underfoot. Heels clicked with every stride. There was a purpose in his eyes. A strong, burning passion. He was heavy with anticipation, anxiety. The battle raged within these very walls, the culmination of months of bloodshed and not-so-idle intent. Yet he, Arcona’s voice of reason, was forced into siding. His loyalties ultimately rested with his Consul, and whatever decision he cast, Marick would follow. He had learned of loyalty on Hapes, his family being of noble blood, and he would never cast aside those principles. Not for the sake of petty violence. He was resolute in his dedication to the Dragon of Selen.
Remorse flickered over his face as he entered the throne room. The expectation of bloodshed and violence and pain washed over him. It was a feeling he knew a little too well.
The Summit guard darted in all directions across the great hallway. Arconans and soldiers alike had been summoned to begin clearing the debris. For hundreds of years the throne room had remained unscathed. Now it was a scene of chaos and destruction. Small fires had cropped up from the candelabrum, blue flames licking the walls and pillars.
“Captain Bly!” Marick barked. He wrapped his cloak around him. A gesture to pull his garment away from the flame.
“Sir.” Captain Bly ran up to the Proconsul and stopped, snapping a salute.
“At ease.” Marick pushed his long, auburn hair from his face. “What’s the situation? Has the battle ceased?”
“No, your honour. Not to my knowledge. Teroch ran from the throne room. We were ordered to stay.”
Marick had organised the delivery. The air would soon hang thick with the nanovirus. And with it, Teroch’s demise.
“Which way?” The Proconsul’s icy blue eyes flickered with the flames.
“Up into the higher tiers, sir. I can’t say for certain-” Marick held up a hand, cutting Bly short. He turned on the ball of his foot, reached down to rest a soft hand on his lightsaber hilt, and marched from the hall.
Flashes of lightning framed his thin physique as he strolled through the windowed corridors. He was going to find them. He was going to stop this madness.
A colossal hammer fell with a heavy clunk. Fingers of cracks meandered their way through the thin veneer of marble, radiating away from the weighty head. The Elomin’s ruby skin was illuminated by dim flickering candlelight. He massaged the knots from his heavy musculature with a thick hand and looked around. The room was a small hovel containing only the essentials. Tall mahogany bookcases lined the walls, filled with an eclectic mix of leather-bound books. These aged scriptures left the smell of worked hide and dust looming heavy in the air. Artifacts glimmered through glass displays in the bookcases, slowly swaying with the candles. The amulet, the holocron, the sword. They all bore the mark of one man - the man Raken was here to see.
Beyond the reach of the quivering light sat a shadowed figure. He was hunched over his polished oak desk, his mind wandering from the tome at his fingertips.
“Good evening, Raken,” rumbled the figure, his voice like churned gravel.
Raken silently sat down in one of the steep chairs, leather creaking as he shifted his weight. He steepled his fingers as the shadowed figure stood and walked into the trembling light.
“I can sense your skepticism, but I have faith in the Consul. He has heart. He means well. Even if his methods are somewhat… unrefined.”
Raken smiled a thin smile, but then worried gripped his eyes. He had strong features, chiseled like stone; they were not made to show emotion. He spoke briefly, in his Elomin-Dathomiri hybrid language.
“You have precious little time.”
The former Grand Master settled into a chair in the far side of the room. He crossed his legs and set forefinger against temple. He remained quiet for some moments with a calculating stare.
“We need to -” Raken was cut off by the rattling voice of the Sith Lord.
“I have seen it too, Raken.”
“Then you see the urgency.”
“No. I do not. Sometimes leaves are pulled from the trees, sometimes they fall. But they never fall from the trees because they are old. They fall to make room for new leaves to grow.” Sarin ran a hand through hair flecked with grey.
“Damn your honour.” Raken’s wide chest heaved with a sigh.
“I’m glad you’re here, Raken. Come, let us make our way to the throne room. We’d best cut this petty quarrel short before the power is lost to stop it.” Darth Sarin stood and walked over to his companion. He patted Raken on the shoulder, a shoulder roped with gnarled muscle. The Elomin stood and picked up his War hammer.
Sarin started for the door but pulled up short. He turned and smiled. “I don’t think the Arconans will be best pleased,” he said. “They gave me this room a day ago, and you’ve already cracked the floor.”
“What do you mean, you lost him?” Marick’s voice was calm as water lapping on the shore.
“I mean he jumped from the hangar doors, Marick.” Wuntila paced up and down the dais. His eyes burned with frustration and his lips were no more than a thin line. In truth, he had been grateful for the respite. It had given him time to collect his thoughts and calm himself. With any luck, the nanovirus would be taking effect soon. Then this predicament would come to an end. Then he could resume his reign over the Shadow Clan. “I was unable to follow. He has a keen sense of the Force. He is a finely tuned warrior. He was engineered for battle.”
“As were you, Wun.” Marick folded his arms across his chest. “Forgive me if I speak out of place, but you have said yourself that you seldom find a challenging opponent.”
“I was wrong.” The Exarch fell back into the throne with a resounding thud. His hand wandered down to his leg unknowingly. An FX-10 Medical Droid rolled up to the Consul as he looked back up at the Hapan. The droid jabbed a bacta-filled needle into the wound and the Theelin sucked in air through gritted teeth. Around them, the clean-up had nearly finished. Two hours had passed since the beginning of the fight and the throne room was looking familiar again, save for the absence of the candelabrum overhead. “Teroch was made to fight. That is why Sashar constructed the countermeasure. I was born to lead. If I could have drawn the boy back in on a leash, I would have. But I could only play his games up to a point.”
“Many people will look unfavourably on your decision to eradicate the threat, Lord Consul.” Marick’s official tone was an attempt to soften the blow.
“Let them.” The Human-Theelin slouched back into the throne, his gaze wandering from one side of the hall to the other. “I am not a tyrant. I am not devoid of emotion. As much as I may have the cold face of a callous leader, It is not who I am. I do it to keep Arcona safe. We are all expendable. That is the harsh reality. All of us are susceptible to the same forces. Zandro and Sashar were, too. They knew it. It still doesn’t make it easy to send someone to their death. Especially when they uphold the values of this Clan. Arcona is one. And it hurts me every time we lose another piece of the whole. We either stand as one or we fall divided.”
“So why this unnecessary violence?” The Proconsul’s voice was composed, but his face told a different story.
Wuntila cocked an eyebrow. “Should an individual threaten the unity of this Clan, every opportunity should be taken to destroy them. This civil war is the result of misplaced loyalty. In this instance, Teroch’s loyalties lay with his brothers, the Erinos. He questions my dominion over the throne. It just so happens that those I trust, my counsel, are fundamentally those of my own. Thus the divide between the two great families. The d’Tanas spotted an opportunity. It is something for which I cannot fault them. As a result, the Clan fractured into these three divisions, the loyalists, the anarchists and the opportunists. It is the misfortune of fate that this is the situation. But it is as it is.” The Consul stood from the throne, his leg numbed by the bacta, and walked towards his Proconsul. “In time you shall learn that the top priority is also the most difficult to maintain.” Marick nodded in understanding, and Wuntila reciprocated with a smile.
Then he spotted the two men over Marick’s shoulder.
A quick wobble of the Force let Marick know to turn. The Consul and Proconsul dropped to their knees as Sarin walked into the throne room with a strong, purposeful stride. Raken walked alongside his master, his hammer slung over one shoulder.
“Darth Sarin.” The two Arconan leaders bowed their heads.
“I care not for your formalities.” Sarin waved a hand, signalling for the two men to stand. “I see you still haven’t brought the situation under control.”
“I have contained the threat. A nanovirus is currently being filtered through the Citadel’s ventilation system. Teroch will soon be in no condition to question the authority of his Consul.” Wuntila’s face returned back to its normal, stoical expression. His previous monologue was lost in the shadow of the former Grand Master.
“And that is where you are wrong.” Sarin looked to his companion, then back to the Consul. “Do you understand the severity of your actions? Not only have you attempted to kill one of your strongest members, you have betrayed his loyalty-”
“He holds loyalty to nothing,” the Exarch interjected.
“The next time you interrupt me, Consul, you die. Is that understood?” Sarin bored into the Arconae with a piercing stare. Wuntila simply nodded. “You have betrayed his loyalty. In the wake of your reckless action, you have overlooked one primary factor.” Sarin pulled a datapad from beneath his cloak and presented it to the Consul.
The colour drained from the Consul’s face as he looked up at the former Grand Master.
“It can’t be so.” The Exarch’s eyes flickered between the datapad and the Sith Lord.
“Unfortunately, it is.” Sarin’s jaw clenched as he watched the Arconae stare at the datapad.
The findings were clear as day:
Project ID: 273-591-7009
Customer: Sashar Erinos Arconae
Single clone. Genetic structure to be based on that of customer. Genetic modification permitted. Enhance to specifications of customer.
Project ID: 273-591-7971
Customer: Sashar Erinos Arconae
Nanovirus production. To combat DNA of Project: [DELETED]. Required: Complete destruction of all organic material. Destruction of project stem cells confirmed. Dispatch.
Calculated Analysis of DNA match between 273-591-7009 and 273-591-7971 = 0%
The realisation struck Wuntila like a blaster bolt. The nanovirus had not been designed for Teroch.
He hung from the ventilation grid for a few seconds before dropping into the room. Landing as nimbly as a Bothan, the boy crouched on his haunches. He scanned the all-too-familiar surroundings. The luxurious Neimoidian creak silk curtains, the stained oak four-post bed, the rare Bantha hide rug, the calming smell of Pantoran incense. It reeked with the stench of wealth and power. The boy knew it was actually Strategos who had begun collecting the finer items that his successors undoubtedly enjoyed. Those beneficiaries also included Sashar and Zandro. Still, it was Wuntila’s dominion now.
Teroch had reverted to his alternate plan. He had bolted away from the Consul and scurried into the ventilation shafts. Much to his displeasure, they were on full output. Nevertheless, he had pushed on, clambering up the maze of tight tunnels. Now he was here in the Consul’s Harem and the hard part was over.
A youthful smile pushed at the corners of his lips as he rose. The adrenaline still surged through his veins. He loved the heat of battle as much as he loved a clean kill.
He walked over to the computer terminal inset within a decorated alcove in the corner and quickly tapped into the Consul’s feed. He spat, finding nothing of interest, and walked over to the ornate desk in the opposite corner of the room. It was rare, delicately carved mistwood. He wanted nothing but to slice the legs off then and there. But he couldn’t. He had his own agenda to settle. Dropping a small, green vial on the desk, he turned and opened the nearby bureau with a makeshift key. It was built from the same decorated mistwood. Teroch scoffed at the extravagance. The thin smile flourished into a crazed grin as he saw it.
A gilded tray, upon which sat the decanter.
He pulled the vial from his cloak and poured its contents into the decanter, whisking the concoction carefully with a glass stirrer. He had stopped worrying about Talos when Juda had taken him in for treatment, giving him time to plot. His brother was medically trained and he knew Talos would be in safe hands. Still, it gave him yet another reason to carry out his vendetta. The glass stopper rang with a crystalline ding, as he placed it carefully back in place. He locked the door, taking great care to leave the bureau exactly as he found it. He turned, lightly pushing the ventilation shaft grate with the Force, and flicked the latch back to hold it in place. He walked onto the balcony, closing the doors behind him, and clambered into the recesses of the Citadel’s dark walls that surrounded the terrace. He was now at the mercy of the weather. Battered by stinging rain and violent winds, but he was resolute.
All he had to do was wait.
(1 Hour Later)
Invictus was the first to arrive. He walked with soft steps, almost floating across the scarred floor. A slender, elegant frame possessing only poise and grace. He was a creature of eloquence. And it was all a facade. At least to Wuntila. Invictus had proved himself a capable warrior. Those red-hot eyes revealed the true Sith. He possessed a mind sharp as cut glass. He was cunning, masterful in his actions. That elegant fluidity, the unwavering stare, and the cold calculation. They created an assassin worthy of the highest honours. He nodded to his superiors and fell in step.
The others were quick behind him. Socorra was the next to arrive, flanked by Malidir and Nadrin, Zandro’s own secret son. Then entered Sanguinius, with Strategos and Timeros on his heels. All of the members of the Summit lined up behind the Consul and Proconsul, who looked intently up at the dais. They all faced Sarin, who sat in the Serpentine Throne clutching his abdomen. Raken stood to his right, holding the helve of his hammer in a tight, two-handed grip.
“All of you,” Wuntila stepped in front and turned to face his Summit. “We are calling an end to this. It has gone on far too long. We are united under the banner of the Shadow Clan. These petty squabbles do nothing but hurt our reputation. I am asking you to put aside your differences and stand with me as one. Those of you who see this as unreasonable, I ask you to relinquish your position, and we shall find someone more worthy of your title.” Wuntila scanned their faces. He saw no movement, so he continued. “You have made the right decision. Darth Sarin wishes to reiterate my point. I’d suggest listening to him.” Wuntila stepped back alongside Marick and dropped to a knee, gesturing for the other members of the Summit to follow.
“This has gone on...” Sarin hacked up a globule of blood and spat it onto the floor, “... far too long. You are all responsible in one way or another. Your actions have culminated in a civil war and it is now your responsibility to piece this broken Clan back together...”
The former Grand Master erupted into a fit of coughing. He doubled over and droplets of mucus and blood sprayed out in front of his feet. Strategos and Malidir sprung to their feet and darted for the former Grand Master. He held up a hand as he erupted in another coughing fit, stopping the two Arconae in their tracks. Raken pointed back to the line of the Summit and they backed off, returning to their positions.
The Sith Lord regained his composure and continued. “Your actions have cost a life. But not that of Teroch. The nanovirus you have all heard about was a countermeasure against a particular clone. That much is correct. It was commissioned by Sashar only two years ago. But it was not to defend against Teroch. It was a countermeasure against myself, lest I try to reclaim power or dominion over Dajorra or the Brotherhood at large. It was a last resort. The knowledge died with him. Unfortunately...”
Grand Master Sarin doubled over again, his weight pulling him from the seat. He collapsed in front of the Serpentine Throne, the guttural sound of rasping reverberating around the room.
“Get a stretcher in here! We need to take him to the medical bay!” Wuntila turned, barking to Bly and Felix. They quickly scurried from the room.
“What’s the verdict?” Marick propped himself up against the wall next to the medical bay, arms folded across his chest. The Summit, joined by Celahir, had joined their Proconsul outside.
“The Medical Droid said he’s resisting it, but it’s not looking good.”
“Is that all they had to say?” Timeros inquired.
“No. They said it would’ve taken any normal clone less than half a standard hour to die. Sarin’s pushed the three hour mark and he’s only now showing the visible affects.”
“And it was Sashar’s nanovirus?” Strategos’s icy stare met Wuntila’s own.
Wuntila was cut off before he could answer. A thick trunk of an arm pinned him against the adjacent wall. The Elomin’s face was a tight knot, his lips a thin line and his eyes narrowed to slits. Beads of sweat clung to the veins sticking from his forehead.
Raken growled, pushing the Consul harder into the cold stone wall. The Adept was only marginally shorter and lighter than the Exarch, but the Force enhanced emotions. And Wuntila was helpless to this act of fury. Passion burned through Elomin, his roped muscle trying to break free from his crimson skin.
“Raken,” Wuntila choked, “I’m sorry... there’s noth.... nothing I can do.”
Raken only snarled in response. He bared his gritted teeth and pushed harder. It was as if he was trying to break Wuntila through the foot-thick wall of stone.
Wuntila choked an incomprehensible retort. Raken simply gripped him by the collar and threw him to the floor. The Consul pressed himself onto his feet and pushed his face against Raken’s. The two men stared at each other, their jaws clenched and their brows furrowed.
“There is nothing I can do, Raken!” Wuntila shouted. “The nanovirus was designed to kill. I was unaware of Sashar’s intentions.”
He broke from the Elomin, who turned and threw a punch into the wall. Dust billowed and rocks fell from the shattered stonework. And Wuntila simply walked away.
The Consul had nearly reached his Harem before he heard Marick’s voice over the pulse that resonated through his skull like a drumbeat. Wuntila simply tapped the code into the security door and walked in. Marick rounded the corner and saw the Arconae holding the door, welcoming him inside.
“This has gone from bad to worse, Wun,” said Marick as he walked in and took his customary seat in front of the Consul’s desk. The desk was a purchase of his own. A commissioned mistwood piece from a renowned artist in lower Estle. A gift for himself upon his ascension to Proconsul. Now he loathed it.
Wuntila sat behind the desk. He reached over to the bureau and took out the decanter of Whyren’s Reserve, a gift from Ronovi after his announcement as patriarch of the Shadow Clan. He pulled out a glass and gestured to Marick. The Proconsul replied with a polite shake of the head.
“I know, Marick. I know.”
He poured a substantial measure of the potent liquor into his glass and looked over to his companion. The two men, although very different in background, stature and style, were one and the same. They were passionate about the Shadow Clan. They would do anything to protect it. Most of all, though, they were brothers.
“I have a great deal of respect for Sarin, and he is dying at my own hands.”
“He isn’t dead yet.” Marick reached for the datapad on the desk. He flicked through it as he spoke to the Dragon. Wuntila poured the whole measure of the whiskey down his throat and decanted himself another glass.
“The only reason he’s lasted this long is because of his connection to the Force. It is inevitable, Marick. You must see it. He has done well. He’s coming up to his fourth hour... but I fear he wont make it through the night.”
Wuntila downed the second glass of whiskey and returned the decanter and glass to the bureau. The Hapan looked up from the datapad, the blood draining from his face.
“Wun...” the Proconsul began, his voice cracking with anxiety, “Look at this.”
The Exarch took the datapad from his companion and stared at the screen.
A simple comment read along with the other menial news on his feed:
Feed (1 New):
You have just imbibed enough Synox to fell a herd of Rancor. You have 6 hours until it completely consumes you. I would like to say it will be painless, but it won’t. The antidote is on your desk. I’m surprised you didn’t see it when you came in. It is up to you: do you feel you deserve to die for killing two of the Arconae and now a Grand Master? (Yes, I did know what was going on) or do you feel that you can die with at least a shred of honour?
I will let you decide.
The Dragon of Selen shot a gaze towards the doors leading out to his balcony. He jumped to his feet, pushing Marick aside as he bolted towards the mezzanine. He ran out into stinging rain and violent winds. An inferno burned behind his eyes. There was no visible sign of entry. Wuntila cursed and threw the datapad from the top of the Citadel. He turned before it reached the ground.
“That KRIFFING kid!” Wuntila slammed the doors shut and turned to his Proconsul.
In a confined space of white and gray, Raken hovered slightly over the cot that held up the dying Grand Master. Even with the claws of the nanovirus tearing away at every fiber and orifice - the weathered skin, the slackening jaw, the graying hair - Sarin still managed to pull off a grandiosity and aura that many only dreamed of exuding. His coughs had diminished to deep, laborious wheezing, each rattle of air causing his chest to shudder like a failing engine. And the Elomin, watching him fade away, could say nothing.
His red brow lowered, Raken almost couldn’t look at his ally, a man he had trusted and confided in for so many years. He reached out a large hand to stabilize Sarin’s outstretched, shaking arm, but the Grand Master drew away from the touch.
The Elomin stiffened. His back arched, he launched himself toward the perceived target. But when he saw the armored stranger in front of him, he stopped dead in his tracks. He could felt the air explode from his nose and mouth, like his chest had become a wind tunnel expelling all of his breath. And he immediately knew who it was.
The armored man silently turned to look at the dying Grand Master. His boots, no matter how heavy they seemed, made no noise against the slick floor of the medical bay. The hideous mask over Pravus’s face appropriately hid the blazing of his eyes as he gazed upon his dying master. Raken bore his visage into the six foot Kuati’s face, or where it should be, and bared his teeth.
Pravus still did not look at Raken. Sarin was convulsing now, his fingers closing against the beams of his bed. His eyes burned with golden fire.
The Elomin insisted. He’s dying. Do it.
He knew Pravus would succumb to the desire. He knew the way the Kuati ticked, despite not ever seeing his face. The craving for power escaped no Dark Jedi, no matter what their counter argument was. And now, as Sarin’s body stiffened, was the perfect chance to obtain the power of a Grand Master. The power of a dark lord, earned when the master’s death was already inevitable...
“Pravus - ”
He was silenced by Pravus’s outstretched fingers. Raken’s nostrils flared and his muscles jolted as he sensed the energy suddenly pouring from every outlet in Sarin’s body. His strength. His will. His passion. Everything that made him mighty was being sucked away. The entirety of his power. Still, despite the fact that Pravus was literally draining Sarin’s life away, Raken felt a strange calm brewing from the Grand Master’s fluttering eyes. Calm despite such a harsh and dangerous warning. Then a harsh guttural noise, as if Sarin were choking on his own bile. A horrific seizure of the body. And then...silence.
There was no howl of anguish. No verbal cry of outrage. Raken wordlessly lifted the sprawled arms and laid them across the fallen Dark Lord’s chest. With one sweeping motion, he closed Sarin’s eyes with an open, shivering hand.
Pravus did not hesitate. He did not look upon the man he had just killed. He simply slipped through one of the thoroughfares and faded from Raken’s mental perimeters. All the Elomin could do was wait for the Arconans to return.
(Two Hours after consumption)
He writhed in pain. The bed squeaked with his retches. An increasing pool of cold sweat spread out around him. He drifted in an out of consciousness for some time. Visions of the ethereal filled his mind with a kaleidoscope of colour. He was lost in his own psyche. Almost. He still had the determination to refuse the increasingly worried attempts by Marick to give him the antidote. The Exarch refused not because of Teroch’s demands, but because of his stubborn nature. It had been two hours since he consumed the poison. And to him it was a lifetime. Still, he wouldn’t give in to the boy. Not ever.
Captain Bly and a small contingent of the Solus Summit Guard gathered around the entrance to the Harem. Another small fireteam was collected on the balcony. Marick sat at the desk in the Harem, running traces and chemical tests on the whiskey to see the particular strain of poison Teroch used. It was no use, though. The antidote was right there, it was just that the Consul refused to take it. Marick buried his head in his hands.
“Ma’am.” Bly’s voice was dulled by the thick blastdoor.
It slid open to reveal the Praetor to the Headmaster. Ronovi Tavisaen. Marick pushed himself from the desk and around to meet her.
“How is he doing?” Ronovi’s voice was sharp as a knife.
“Dying.” Marick’s eyes flickered and returned to meet Ronovi’s.
“I’ve heard. Where’s the antidote?”
Marick leaned over onto the table and picked up the green vial. He placed it in Ronovi’s hand but held his own there for a short second. “He won’t take it.”
“He bloody will.”
Ronovi walked round to the side of the bed and shook the Consul violently, snapping him into consciousness. He grunted and rolled over.
“Are you awake?” Ronovi asked, leaning over the Exarch.
“Yes...” Wuntila’s voice was barely audible.
Ronovi swung a hard punch down and straight into the Consul’s cheek. He grunted, surprisingly complacent.
“You deserved that.” Ronovi stood viciously over Wuntila, fist still clenched. “No, I take that back. You deserved more than that. But unlike Teroch, I’m not stupid enough to try to kill a Consul.”
“Ronovi!” Marick grabbed her arm, but she quickly wrenched it free.
“Sorry, Marick. I swore allegiance to this man and yet he still continues to probe this petty violence.”
“Ronovi... It was not meant to be this way.” A rasping cough thundered in Wuntila’s throat.
“You damn idiot!” spat the Primarch. “I’ve seen how inner conflict destroys Clans. I’ve seen it eat my home system from the inside out, like a vulture devouring the meat on a meager ribcage. I only allied with you because you were the rightful heir to the Arcona throne; and in return, I get this?!”
“Get...what?” Wuntila turned, wiping the sweat from his brow with a sleeve.
“You tried to kill Sashar’s son. Sashar trusted us with the boy’s life! And because of your stupid antics, Darth Sarin is dead! Has that not registered yet? He’s dead! Dead, dead, DEAD!”
“Oh! Brilliant! I wonder where you got that idea!” Ronovi snapped.
“I’m...so sorry. Tell Raken...I’m sorry. Sarin was the only Grand...Master I could trust.” Wuntila said, the grog clearing from his voice for a second.
With no verbal response, Ronovi jabbed the vial into Wuntila’s mouth. But he spat it back out, the anger, the rage still flickering within him.
“If you don’t drink it, I’ll make you drink it.”
“I think you’ll find I won’t.” The Consul rolled back over and closed his eyes.
“You may be a moron,” Ronovi retorted, “but now, ironically, you’re the only thing stopping Arcona from all-out war.”
“No. Marick will make...” Wuntila spluttered, “the necessary arrangements...perhaps Teroch will find him a more favourable successor to the Serpentine...Throne.”
“You don’t get it,” growled the Epicanthix. “Sarin expected you to keep the clan strong. He expected you to keep it united and stable.”
“I refuse to bow down to that INGRATE!” Wuntila hissed, jerking round to face the Primarch. He bored her with a heavy stare.
“That ingrate is Sashar’s son!”
“That may be the case, but he refuses to listen. He is as lost as I once...” Wuntila growled, cursing at his inability to finish the sentence, “...was. But I was able to overcome it!”
No matter what rage bubbled from Wuntila’s contorted figure, it did not change the permanent frown that creased Ronovi’s brow. She was not intimidated by his anger, nor swayed by his authority, no matter how he was physically affected. Still, she did seem to become less persistent, withdrawing the vial from Wuntila’s reach and letting it dangle from her gloved hand.
“I knew how affected you were by Sashar and Zandro’s deaths,” she whispered; although her tone was not laced with comfort, it was still calm. “I know how upset you were. How hard it was for you to leave them on New Tython.”
“We all have to learn... to live with grief.” Wuntila’s voice seemed palpably calmer.
“You may have told Teroch over and over that you viewed his father and uncle as brothers.” Ronovi lowered her head. “I viewed them with the same sentiment. But you never let Teroch truly see how their deaths really injured you, or how much you didn’t want them to happen. You never really exposed your passion or sorrow. He could have been brought to an understanding. Did you ever think of that?”
“It is not the Arconan way!” Wuntila coughed up a globule of phlegm as he shouted.
“Yeah.” Ronovi shrugged. “And look how well the Arconan way turned out.”
Ronovi turned on the ball of her foot and walked out the door, nodding a pseudo-salute to Marick before she left. Marick walked out of the room. He was going to start the necessary arrangements for the Star Chamber to collect Sarin’s body. He was also having to consider burying his Consul. His brother.
(12 Hours after ingestion of poison)
The Consul woke in a daze. His head was spinning but the worst of it was over. He wiped the sweat from his brow and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. His head was spinning, yet he hadn’t died. Then a sense of urgency washed over him. He jumped to his feet. He scanned his bed.
How long had he been asleep? And why had he not succumbed to a painful death yet? Teroch had said in his message that it was enough poison to kill him in less than a day. Yet here he was, cold and sweaty but alive. And then he heard the lilt of a woman’s accent from the opposite side of his bed.
“We trusted Teroch entirely too much.”
Whipping his head around, Wuntila felt his shoulders tense as he gazed into the face of Ronovi Tavisaen yet again. She was not alone, either. Marick was also there, somber as usual, but with a particularly bemusing brightness in his eyes.
“It wasn’t Synox that Teroch put in your whiskey, my lord,” Marick cut him off. “Just a particularly strong irritant. A liquid virus, if you will. To bring on flu-like symptoms.”
“What?” The Consul shook his head in skepticism. “But why?”
Ronovi wordlessly jabbed a finger at the antidote, which Wuntila turned to look at. And this time, he really looked at it, now that he had broken free of his feverish symptoms. As he lifted the tiny vial and stared at its contents, a sudden familiarity jabbed at the Human-Theelin hybrid’s ribs. He recognized the color and density of the liquid before him, the stuff they had assumed would heal him.
“Yep.” Ronovi grinned sheepishly. “And I almost killed you with it.”
“I don’t understand.” Wuntila sat back down on the bed. “Why would he...?”
“Wuntila.” The Epicanthix stared blankly at him. “Think about it.”
He did, and another realization hit him. If the Consul had desired to save his own life and, in turn, drunk the “antidote,” he would have died. But if he had decided he deserved to die, he would’ve lived. The boy had wished to spite him in one way or another. He had won.
Stifling an angry guttural roar in the back of his throat, Wuntila raised his fist to strike the beam of his bed’s canopy. But his hand stopped and hovered listlessly in midair. His strength was compromised, and he felt his muscles squeal in protest as he moved.
“Marick,” Wuntila turned to his Proconsul, “Organise a full Clan-wide meeting. The Summit is calm - I want the same to be said for the Clan.”
(1 Hour Later)
The throne room was a sea of faces, a palette of creeds and colours, all of the warriors Arcona had to offer. The dull hum of chatter reverberated around the chamber as everyone questioned the motives of this meeting. The general assumption was that there would be an end to the internal fighting. Nevertheless, some rumours still circulated. The crowds were parted down the middle; one side Galeres, the other Qel-Droma. At the front of the groups stood their respective leaders. Invictus and Socorra, his newly appointed Aedile, remained quiet with arms folded. Sanguinius and Celahir discussed the nature of the dispute and seemingly resolved their differences. Upon the dais stood Captain Bly and Commander Felix, the entire Summit guard gathered below them. They were there to maintain relative peace whilst the Upper Summit and the Arconae made their way toward the hall.
The chatter dissipated as a single hooded figure entered the room. Each head turned, the Arconans’ gazes following him up the aisle. The man stopped in front of the Summit guard and looked up at the two commanding officers. His auburn eyes punctured the shadow covering his face. They all knew who it was. Captain Bly and Felix jumped down to the young man, slapping stun cuffs around his wrists and knocking him to his knees. The boy did not struggle. He simply dropped and waited.
The Summit guard fell into frenzy, causing ripples of chaos through the confined masses. Pockets of arguments erupted into fights as the guards struggled to maintain order. Punches flew and lightsabers were drawn.
“Enough!” Wuntila bellowed, entering the room. Fists and weapons hovered for a few seconds before dropping. “I’m sick and tired of this confrontation.”
He walked through the aisle, taking note of the hooded figure kneeling before the dais, both arms restrained by his two most senior Summit guards. He nodded to them both, and the figure’s arms fell back to his side.
“I am here to address you all!” Wuntila shouted over the remaining din of voices, stepping up onto the dais. Marick followed to his right and the Arconae stopped, turning before the platform.
“This is it. It is over. Numerous attempts on my life, Grand Masters dead...”
The voices perked up, but the Consul raised a hand. The room fell deftly silent as he continued.
“Yes. Sarin died yesterday in the medical bay. Raken seemed insistent on organising the retrieval of his body. We have had too many casualties and too many sacrifices for this to be in vain. I am telling you now, I have the utmost respect for all the factions in Arcona. The families are the bedrock upon which this great Clan sits. However, if fractured, we are nothing but a rabble. We must become one again. We took New Tython with a singular spirit. Now we must regain that composure. We either stand as one, or we fall divided. And I am certainly not going to let the first Clan of the Brotherhood fall. Settle your differences and be done with it. I expect you all to return to active duty within the next twenty-four hours. If I don’t hear of reports to your posts, I will assume you have defected. Is that clear?”
A chorus of ‘aye’ and ‘yes’ rang out throughout the hall. The Consul turned and stepped down from the dais. He walked over to the boy and ripped his hood off. grabbing him by the shoulders with meaty fingers. Wuntila turned Teroch to face the Clan.
“This boy will learn in time. I expect none of you to persecute him for his actions.” Wuntila turned to the Erinos scattered throughout the Galeres collective and nodded. “The boy has turned himself in. I wish to speak to him. Fear not, I will look after him. This battle is over. I will take him and talk, then he will be free to return to duty. Not a finger will be laid on him.”
The Erinos nodded, albeit reluctantly, and Wuntila gestured to Captain Bly. The Solus Summit guard walked Teroch from the room and down towards the turbolifts at the far end of the corridor.
The Exarch turned back to his Clan and stopped for a moment, as if collecting his thoughts. “Arconans. You have served me well. I too lost brothers in the occupation of New Tython. I have been thrust into the position of Consul, but I aim to do this great Clan proud. We are the shadows, we are the darkness. Don’t let us be fragmented. You are all my brothers now, but you are expected to fulfil your duty. I implore you to learn from this. Dismissed.”
Marick turned and shouted above the dispersing crowd, “Whose Clan is this?!”
They turned, “OUR CLAN!”
“Who leads our Clan?” The Proconsul continued.
“THE DRAGON!” A chorus of cheers went up in the hall. Marick turned to Wuntila with a smile.
“Why did you turn yourself in?”
Some time had passed since Wuntila’s address to the clan, and as the Arconans had departed, he had traveled to where Teroch had been imprisoned. He would give the boy no sign of his anger, which still lingered after the little trick with the poison and the whiskey. However, as he beckoned for the guards to remove Teroch from his cell and sit him down across from the Consul at a table, he could not help becoming interrogative.
The reply was expected, as Teroch lifted his Force-shackled hands in a half-hearted shrug. A lopsided grin decorated his face. “My work was finished.”
“You desired to kill me,” retorted Wuntila. “Yet here I am.”
“Meh. Perhaps,” Teroch replied. “But simply watching you squirm made me happy, too. Seeing you flounder, watching you fall into my traps... it was worth it. But I’ve had my fun, and it’d be a shame to see the Erinos hated if I hadn’t surrendered, right?”
While the boy’s logic was more than questionable, Wuntila did not bother to argue it. He rose steadily from the table, glancing toward the dark stony walls that loomed at the two in the small space. His hands rested at his sides.
“You, too, harbour responsibility for the dead,” he murmured. “Sarin may be inadvertently dead by my actions, but I would not have done all this were it not for your delusional behavior.”
“There is nothing delusional about it. My father...”
“Your father,” cut in Wuntila, his voice rising, “wouldn’t have wanted any of this to happen. You think he’d be happy with you, Teroch, for causing such chaos and casualty in his clan, his pride and joy? Do you think he’d be proud of you?”
There was a lingering silence, and Wuntila eyed the wall in front of him that seemed to swell from the heat and the tension. He then heard Teroch’s voice behind him - still laced with defiance, but nonetheless deflating with his words.
“No,” he said, and Wuntila turned to look at the boy. His eyes were averted to the floor. “I suppose not.”
The Theelin breathed deeply, savoring the sharp air. He strode briskly back to the table and leaned toward Teroch, hands planted against the wood. He let his breath hover in front of Teroch’s face, hot streams of exhalations, as his mind throbbed from the one thing he had attempted to hide all this time. His emotion. The thing he had believed would make him look weak. But others, such as Ronovi, claimed it would make him look stronger.
He let the words simmer on his tongue, and he was not ashamed to speak them.
“When your father and your uncle both agreed to stay behind on New Tython, everyone in the room was opposed. No one wished to see them die. They were the foundation of Arcona...two men who had made it so much stronger throughout the years. But they were set on their plan. And Zandro, as Consul, ordered me as his Proconsul to carry out that plan.”
Teroch wasn’t buying it - not yet, anyway. Wuntila continued.
“When I heard the way your father spoke to you - I remember it well - it nearly broke my will to carry out the order. But I could not show weakness. I could not show sorrow or doubt when the Arconans expected me to take the throne that Zandro left behind. Celahir said it best, back in that room, where we discussed the idea of bombardment. ‘I can’t lose two of my brothers...’”
He felt his fists grow into two tight knots. He wondered if the stiffness of his muscles would ever go away.
“Sashar and Zandro...were responsible for everything I am today,” he pronounced with great difficulty. “And they were loyal to Arcona until their deaths. They sacrificed themselves to save the rest of us. To save you. No one wanted them to go. But they were decided. And no one could change their minds...”
“Someone could have.” It was the first thing Teroch had said in a long time, and no matter how hard he appeared to try, he could not stop his voice from shaking. “Someone could’ve changed their minds...”
Wuntila couldn’t help laughing. “Foolish boy,” he said, “did you even know your own father? The way he ticked? The way he functioned? To him, this sort of death was appropriate - martyrdom. For the sake of family. Do you remember the way he last spoke to you, asking you to take over Soulfire for him? The way he cuffed your arm and smiled, the last words he said to you. ‘Make me proud, ad’ika.”
Despite the heaviness of his words, the Consul felt as if the air was lightening around the two. Straightening from his position against the table, he beckoned for the guards to approach Teroch again, lifting him from his seat.
“You will spend the rest of the night here, and then I’ll release you back to the custody of House Galeres,” said Wuntila. “Your father entrusted me with your livelihood and with the leadership of this clan. To do anything less would be nothing short of disrespectful.”
Teroch smirked. “Disrespectful of my buir, or disrespectful of me?”
Turning on his heel, Wuntila started to leave the chamber. Teroch’s voice, however, stopped him.
“You have earned my respect, Consul,” the boy was declaring, “if only for being stubborn enough to hold your ground. I have to admit, I did expect you to shatter. But you didn’t. That’s admirable.”
Wuntila inhaled. He could not help manage a small smile.
“But that doesn’t mean I like you,” insisted Teroch, “so don’t get the wrong idea. I will respect you as much as you respect me.”
“Good,” sighed Wuntila, “because I don’t like you either.”
He departed from the chamber then, leaving the guards to send Teroch back to his cell for the next several hours. The Serpentine Throne was calling to Wuntila. For now, it was back to work.