Team 2 Run-On
Members: Sarin, Raken, Legorii, Xanos, Sildrin, Troutrooper, Oberst
* Individuals must have at least 2 posts at 250-words minimum apiece to count as having participated
* Overall each Run-On must have a minimum of 20 posts at 250-words minimum apiece
* Cannot edit a post once someone else has made a follow-up post
* Cannot make consecutive posts; At least one other must have posted after you
All Run-On fiction must follow from weekly fiction posted.
Week 1 Details
* No cure can be found for the Plague
* It is not known how this Plague came to be
* Currently all Journeymen are in Stage 1 of the Plague; Equites and Elders are not yet affected
Stage 1 Details
At Stage 1 the Plague has taken hold, feeding on the Force abilities of infected. As it “feeds” on the infected it transfers some of that energy back into their bodies. At this stage the infected gain +2 to all physical attributes (STR, CON & DEX). Although the ability to summon the Force is fully removed, they do not appear to feel pain in the same way and appear to be channelling the power [CTP] constantly.
Any Force powers used on the Infected seem to reinvigorate them, rather than stop them. The infection takes such usage into itself and adds to its feeding.
His red eyes simultaneously both crazed and vacant, the Elomin just kept on coming as the troopers on guard outside the stationary corvette’s landing gear fired bolt after bolt. One volley struck the alien’s shoulder dead centre, and it crunched, as the green stream of plasma burst out of the other side, taking the broken pieces of the horn-headed humanoid’s scapula with it. The journeyman snarled.
But even with blood pouring down Nydo Kor’s side, still he climbed up the slope from the dig site where the Plagueian Star Destroyer had crashed during the recent failed invasion attempt by Houses Plagueis and Scholae Palatinae, the Elomin firing frantically with his own hold-out hand blaster. Like the other enraged journeymen, nothing seemed to stop him or slow him down.
The Dark Prophet had tired of the commandos’ efforts to bring the situation under control.
Without any further words, a black spear of Force Lightning crackled from Xanos’s fingers and surged down the recently unearthed hillside toward the Elomin who, either out of surprise or sheer instinct, finally paused and brought his free hand up to cover his face and shield himself from the Elder’s attack. The commandos ceased fire as well, confident that the situation had now been resolved as the smell of burnt flesh filled the muddy clearing and Nydo Kor let out a pained, animalistic hiss, like a wounded dewback.
A moment later the Elder lowered his arm.
But the blackened and burned Elomin, his flesh charred, his skin blistered, his freshly cauterised blood still pumping from the holes across his broken form, somehow, impossibly, in defiance of all the laws of mortality, fuelled by some arcane power foreign even to the Dark Prophet himself, still he remained on his feet, clutching the sparking remains of his now molten and worthless blaster pistol.
Far from the Force Lightning having brought the battle to a conclusion, the Zabrak-looking alien’s eyes in fact burned with renewed vigour and hatred.
“My body is not your tool!” Nydo screeched with his singed vocal cords, and he tossed his weapon aside and threw himself up the final steps of the slope toward the Falleen who did not move to defend himself. “I will not be used like the others!”
A second later it was all over.
A lightsaber sprung to life, its crimson blade piercing through the Elomin’s heart with a snap-hiss at the last second as Nydo’s hands fell upon the Elder’s shoulders in an attempt to grapple him. With a surprised look, the fire finally drained from Nydo’s eyes, and his life started to blink out, his anger quickly replaced with the pale look of fear as his last words spluttered across Xanos’s face:
The Dark Prophet held the dying creature’s gaze as its grip slacked on his shoulders before it slid to the blood smeared earth in front of him. The Force was in ruction. Across the planet, the star system, the galaxy itself, the same scene was playing out in countless streets and palaces, temples and forgotten archives, the weak turning against the strong. Something needed to be done, but right then, answers were not forthcoming. Not from the Libraries of Sadow, not from the ruins of Sepros, and most of all, not from the Iron Throne of Antei.
Sildrin Sadow clutched to the small satchel with data crystals to her chest; slowly backing away from the several Elomin in front of her. The landing gear of Trevarus Caerick’s personal Corvette was not far, but still at a considerable distance - enough to worry about the infected journeymen approaching her.
One of them tripped and fell - only to be burried by those moving up. Recklessly they stepped over him only having eyes for the red-haired Equite in front of them. Sildrin had stopped counting them, too high was their number. Sildrin Sadow, also named Xia Long, stretched out her right palm, forcing the earth to bend at her will. Lithic clamps snapped feet binding the journeymen to their current spot. Only the fallen Elomin was more unfortunate - a stony maw snapped around half of his head, crushing his skull with a sickening sound.
“Witch! You siphoned our strength and dare to use that power against us?!”, one yelled in crude basic. Another grabbed for his saber - once it had been like a part of his body - now it was a mere tool - no much difference than to a wrench. With no sign of pain he cut off his feet that were held by the earthen grip. The stench of cauterized flesh filled the air. Determined the journeyman continued his way towards Sildrin - on mutilated limps; and others followed his example.
The completely white blank eyes of the red-haired woman opened wide at this. “Ohh...”, she simply exclaimed and decided it was the best time to run. She made her way around the back side of the ship, speaking into the small communicator attached on her right arm: “Master Eosara? Everything ready?”
“Yes Mistress Long.” The voice of Trevarus’s Seneschal answered, just as the group of journeymen were at the backside of the ship. Sildrin came to an halt.
“Now!”, she calmly said. The Corvette’s engines powered up and the engine blast washed over the journeymen, allowing them to join the dance of energy particles in the hot stream - being now a part of those themselves. For a moment she watched the roundelay of ashen flakes with her force senses that compensated her lack of vision. Finally she made her way to the landing gear of the Corvette, brushing some dust off her pale porcelaine skinned cheek.
Ruins - Sith Academy
Subzero gales blasted the ruins of Odacer-Faustin’s ancient Sith Academy with daggers of ice and snow. The 3,700 year old facility had lost its battle against nature and manmade disasters several centuries earlier. The once great wheel-like structure had been fragmented, broken, and burned into the husk that now existed. Deep within the center of the academy’s heart remained the lone semblance of civilization. A great wooden doorway led to the cathedral-ceilinged main chamber of the academy’s library. A Neti librarian, afflicted with a different sort of madness, had burned and destroyed great stores of Sith history in this chamber, but his mission had not reached completion prior to his death.
A bipedal OneOne-FourDee droid, modeled after a more famous predecessor, walked into the central corridor, his monotone voice announcing his presence. “Sir, the repulsor fields are at seventy-two percent. Maximum capacity should be reached in the hour, but current levels are sufficient to shield this facility from the environment.”
“Very well. What is the status of our holonet relay?”
The droid paused, calculated a response, and replied “The relay is presently capable of coded external system transmissions, but will be at optimal strength within the hour.”
The lone occupant of the room nodded in response, before turning his attention back to the archaic tombs of Sith lore strewn before him. Sitting at an elaborately carved vehsok wooden table, the human wondered if the answer to the Dark Brotherhood’s puzzle was in one of the scrolls, data cards, or reproduction Sith Holocrons at the table. Was the illness a strain of Darth Drear’s madness, a result of Demagol’s desire to negate the ability to connect to the Force, or was it something else entirely?
Regardless, of the source of the so called Dark Brotherhood plague, it was a weakness, and more importantly, an opportunity. It had been six years since the death of Darth Sarin. Six years of patience, research, and discovery. Six years to determine the disciples of a new order. Each individual courted for their unique skill sets; a Prophet to guide their way, a General to lead their armies, a Warrior to battle their foes, and a Spy to sow dissent. Some had joined at the beginning, others recently, but they had all come willingly. Pravus would now add two additional members, a Witch and Warlock of the Krath Order, their abilities to induce fear and sow discord elevated well beyond their rank and station. The newcomers would be used for plans not yet revealed.
Darth Pravus lowered the hood of his tunic and turned to FourDee.
“Summon the Dread Council.”
The Arcona Citadel
The Dajorra System
“Dammit Sanguinius, I’m not going to stay here and have the Force stolen from me! You think I wanted this for Galeres? No more than you did! Those were my apprentices too, my friends, my brothers!” Legorii hurled the datapad he had been holding against the wall, leaving it shattered on the floor below. The Anzat ran a hand through his dark hair, his crimson eyes flashing in frustration. His Entar brother remained silent, watching him pensively.
Moments passed, and the Aedile’s anger ebbed. Taking a deep breath, he spoke. “I cannot abide by Wuntila’s decision, Sanguinius. I will not stay here, not a moment longer. Who knows what is really going on beyond the Dajorra System? I intend to find out.”
The Quaestor of Galeres sighed, motioning towards the door. “Fine. Go. I’ll handle Galeres on my own.”
The tension between the two leaders was fierce, and Legorii fidgeted uncomfortably from his position near the door. He had come here, to his closest friend’s quarters, to ask for his blessing in undertaking a separate mission from the rest of their Consul’s directives. That blessing had hardly been given, and Legorii felt as if he was betraying his brother. He hesitated, but knew his mind was made up. He stepped forward, and the door slid open.
“Legorii? Be careful.”
Control Room - De’hnaalia
“Yes, Lord Marshal,” the intelligence officer tapped at the monitor in front of him, enlarging the view of the tunnels. Maxamillian von Oberst, Tarentum’s most feared and reviled son, stood at the center of the control room, surveying the work of the field team on the screen. They were hunting down the last remnants of the infected Journeymen that had fled into the tunnels to escape quarantine, slaughtering them like dogs.
Turning in his chair, one of the technicians at a monitor spoke up. “Lord Oberst, is this necessary?” There was pain in his voice, and he turned his face from the Journeymen falling before the blaster bolts of the killsquad in the tunnels. The entire room fell silent, as the other men looked from Oberst to the young technician. Swallowing hard, the man continued, “I mean, we don’t know yet if there is a cure.”
The moments seemed to stretch into eons, before the Marshal spoke. “Stand up, young man,” he commanded, his voice filling the entire control room. Trembling and visibly shaken, the technician complied, straightening himself and standing before the imposing Dark Adept with all the courage he could muster.
In one fluid motion, the Marshal’s iron spike appeared in his hand, and he jammed it with almost superhuman strength straight down, into the technician’s skull. Despite the spike being deeply embedded in the man’s brain, Oberst managed to jerk it out with ease, splattering those nearby with brain matter, blood, flesh, and hair. At least one man was sick. Kicking the corpse to the ground, the Sith surveyed the room.
“Any further complaints?”
All of the men turned back to their screens, doing their best to ignore the stench and the horror they had just witnessed. On the monitor above, Journeyman after Journeyman fell to the wave of blaster fire that consumed the tunnels of De’hnaalia. A hedonistic grin crossed the Marshal’s features as he watched the massacre.
Legorii unclipped himself from the tiny starfighter and stepped out into the blistering cold. His Shadesworn robes provided little protection from the cold, and he found himself relying on the Dark Side to keep him warm. The Anzat’s gaze swept across the snowy terrain, detecting no other signs of life. The ruins of the Sith Academy dominated the landscape, and it was in their direction that the Equite began to trudge.
Though he would never admit it, Legorii was afraid. He had almost elected not to come, but he was even more afraid of what would have happened to him had he refused. The man who had contacted him was powerful, an entity the likes of which the Entar had never dealt with. His message had been short and pointed, providing him with only enough information to get to the Academy, and no more. The trepidation he felt had caused him to behave irrationally with Sanguinius, and he was certain the Prelate suspected something.
Pushing aside thoughts of the Citadel, Legorii climbed over a frosted ruin, his leather boots sinking a foot into the snowdrift with each step. “Could he have picked a more cursed location?” the Arconan wondered aloud, his lips quivering and his teeth chattering as he spoke. Though it took him a few minutes, the Anzat managed to make it inside the semi-sheltered ruins, making his way toward the pulsating ominence that lorded over the broken Academy - no doubt the aura of the mysterious Dark Lord who had summoned him.
Darth Pravus was alone in the depths beneath the great library, waiting. He could see the Equite in his mind’s eye, making his way clumsily along the debris-strewn corridors and collapsed passageways towards the lower levels of the ruined institution. He looked so weak, so vulnerable - had the decision to include him in this undertaking been a mistake? The Arconan loyalist would be forced to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the most powerful men in the galaxy, against some of the most powerful men in the galaxy, without flinching.
As soon as Legorii stepped foot inside the broad antechamber, Pravus was upon him. Like a missile, the Sith crashed into the Equite’s chest, one hand wrapping around his throat and the other pressing a dagger against his navel. Shock and fear were evident in the Archpriest’s eyes, but he quickly recovered, and stood defiantly against the wall, staring into the dark wells that shielded Pravus’ soul.
“Welcome, Legorii Kryotek Entar. I’m glad you could make it,” the Sith Lord intoned, his voice sending shivers down the Krath’s spine. The Arconan offered no response, gritting his teeth and inwardly berating himself for coming to this frozen wasteland.
“Have you been in contact with any of the infected?” Pravus demanded, pressing more firmly with the dagger.
Legorii consciously worked at speaking evenly, resisting the urge to snarl. “Arcona has been quarantined, and I have not seen nor heard a Journeyman in days. I am clean.”
Pravus did not seem convinced, but after a moment’s delay, removed the dagger and let his hand drop from the Anzat’s throat. Sweeping an arm across the sparsely-furnished room, the Sith made his way towards the head of the conference table.
“Welcome to the Dread Council. Take a seat, right there.”
Uncomfortably, the Krath obliged, seating himself at the aged wooden table. He did not know what to say to the man who had brought him here - he did not even know his name. Pravus did not make a sound, and Legorii was painfully conscious of every rustle of his robes, and every creak of the table as he shifted his weight. Fortunately, it was only moments before the General appeared.
Legorii recognized Oberst immediately, for he had been sent to House Tarentum as an emissary in the past. He had always respected the Sith, even though his methods were barbaric and repulsive. He got results, and in the Brotherhood, that’s what mattered. Nodding to acknowledge him, the Entar wondered with some exasperation why the Sith Lord had not subjected Oberst to the same treatment that he had been put through.
Pravus did rise, motioning to the seat next to Legorii. “Welcome, General. I am pleased that you could make it. Have a seat, we will begin soon.”
Flurries of white danced madly, died down, then came to rest as fresh powder on the sparkling ivory ground. Somewhere Raken could hear the soft burble of an underground spring. He canted his head almost imperceptibly. Elsewhere a rodent burrowed deep beneath the snowpack, claws scratching furiously.
This was not winter on Odacer-Faustin. Not yet. And this was not cold.
Crouched on a hillock, overlooking the crumpled wheel-shape of the Sith Academy, Raken sat in silence. There was no name for the animal whose fur covered his massive shoulders. Warm rivulets of blood trickled down his back and he adjusted the makeshift garment absently; his attention focused on the dark magnates of power making their way into the ancient library.
Some were as powerful as himself. Others more so. Most had been gathered many years ago following the death of Sarin. Some more recently. Few believed in the viability of the Dark Brotherhood. None had confidence in the steward of the Iron Throne. All had decided it was time to act.
Thus the Dread Council had come to be. Thus the Dark Brotherhood would end.
The wind picked up, howled. Raken looked to the graying sky as more ships arrived. Pompously named cylinders of metal and plastic descended on the Academy's landing facility. Raken traced the shape of the writhing tattoos of his forearm. The dark stain continued up his arm and disappeared under the warm fur over his shoulders. Blood ran down his back.
More craft arrived. More means to his end.
This was not winter. Not yet.
Temple of Sorrow
By the time the Prophet and the Witch had made their way inside the temple, the conclave was already in session. Loud voices echoed across the grand hall as hermetic seals on the door behind the pair hissed shut. Numerous unfamiliar figures, mostly Equites, were on their feet.
“The Simus Institute is already under lockdown,” Consul Sonje was trying to say, his voice being lost to the thunder of discontent that echoed off the walls. The only calm seemed to come from the old faces staring out from their marble plinths in the small alcoves recessed into the walls behind him. “There is no risk of—”
“This would never have happened if Macron was still Consul!” a figure in a full body, bright orange enviro-suit shouted from the back, just a few feet in front of Xanos and Sildrin. “If not for you and your Summit’s fear of the Sons, they might still be here to help us!”
Xanos studied the crowd as the arguments resumed and Locke was drowned out again. It was true that some of the Sons of Sadow had left, his own Master had gone to Antei, to seek answers in the Triumvirate Library, and knowing Trevarus, to either hide with the Grand Master or in his own tower. Where Macron was, the Prophet could not say, but then the Alchemist’s confused mind always had been hard to make sense of—if, indeed, there was any sense to be made of it.
“And what of the Elders!” another figure shouted, this one a four armed Myneyrsh, his long snout upturned in indignation. “There are rumours of secret meetings out in the wilds of deep space! How do we know this isn’t all just a cull they’ve been planning for years!”
“No wonder the Elders are unaffected! Caerick and Ashen are probably sitting on Antei sipping raava wine and watching it all unfold on the HoloNet while the Council take bets on who drops next!”
Beside Xanos, Sildrin sighed and visibly shook her head. The Falleen himself did not make any move to intervene in the proceedings, but it was clear the effect the outbreak was having on the rank and file of the Brotherhood, turning Elder against Journeyman, and in between.
As Locke tried to call the meeting to order again, a lone figure in red and green beskar armour standing off to the side of the hall tilted his – or her, there were so many Mandalorians in the Brotherhood these days it was impossible to keep tabs on who wore what colours – head toward Xanos and Sildrin at the back of the room. The armoured figure jabbed a finger toward the pair.
“You,” the figure’s voice was modulated by their armour, making even gender identification near impossible, but their contempt was still obvious, “none of your lot have been affected. Strange, no?”
By ‘their lot’ it was obvious the figure was referring to any of Trevarus’s many apprentices.
Before the Prophet answered, Sildrin took a step toward the one who had made the accusation and hurled a brown bag she had been carrying under her cloak onto the stone tiles in front of her. The bag rolled toward the red and green warrior. A moment later, there was a collective gasp.
“What the kark?”
In front of the warrior in full beskar’gam, a severed head rolled out of the bag, dripping blood.
It all happened in less than a second. The armoured warrior pulled their blaster pistol from their hip and fired a shot directly at the blind woman’s face. Sildrin, however, had already taken one step to the left, her Force awareness having seen the attack coming even before they had pulled their gun. A strange modulated cry of pain rang out from the armoured figure’s vocoder as he, or she, dropped to their knees, screaming about the hoojibs which were apparently biting out chunks of their flesh.
The Witch stepped back to Xanos’s side and studied the rest of the crowd, all of whose eyes were now locked on hers, many lightsabers having already been unclipped from their belts, a couple even already ignited. Sildrin did not balk at the animus reception, but merely shook her head.
“He’s not dead,” she began, gesturing with her hand at the warrior, who quit wailing and looked around in confusion when she released his mind from her spell. “Nor is that head infected.” She shook her head and turned to the platform where Locke and the rest of the Summit were sitting. “If the Lord Prophet or I had a cure, this wouldn’t have been a game, and I’d have left him to die.”
If Xanos still had a heart to feel with, he might have smiled at the woman’s demonstration. If any doubts had still remained in his mind about her invitation to join the Dread Council, they had just vanished. She would make a worthy addition to their seven, and together they would usher in a new age, just like the first Seven had done back during the Exodus.
As if by providence, the Falleen felt the communicator on his wrist vibrate. The Prophet discretely eyed the message while Locke was replying to Sildrin, saying something about how they all agreed, and that the Clan needed to place their faith in Muz, Fremoc, and their other brothers on Antei. Xanos was not really listening, the only thing that concerned him was the final line in the message:
It is time.
Lifting his head back to the hall, he found Sildrin’s own blank eyes staring back at him. Whatever he had missed, the discussion had obviously already moved on from her outburst—another sign of just how quickly the Brotherhood was lurching from one scapegoat to another in search of answers. Xanos studied the blind woman for a moment as his own thoughts raced to the ruined academy of Odacer-Faustin. It would not do to tell Sildrin the location outright, not yet. There was one last test she had to face before her initiation. The Prophet had foreseen it.
“The answers we seek will not be found here, sorceress,” Xanos said finally.
The woman nodded and tilted her head to one side slightly. “You plan to follow Trevarus?”
The Falleen stared into her empty eyes, probing her thoughts. Sifting through her fragmented mind was like gazing through a cracked window, trying to piece together multiple reflections of the same memories. Her loyalties remained the one thing he could not divine clearly, but nonetheless there was one thing remained certain: if his visions of her taking up her place on the Dread Council were correct, then her lust for answers overrode any blind loyalty she held to any of her masters.
“No,” was all the Dark Prophet answered finally, and he turned to leave the conclave hall.
He’d had enough of Sepros. It was time to join the rest of the Dread Council and get some answers.
A bulbous mass keyed himself into the warm abode, diving out of the blizzard and into the pleasant, familiar surroundings of home. Troutrooper kissed his wife, who handed him a hot drink.
“How's Rasn doing?” Omiti asked, fingering something in her right pocket.
The Dark Jedi Master took off his outer robe, shaking some of the snow off the shoulders. “Well. He says they hit a big vein today in the mine. Unexpected yet, of course, quite welcome.” He nodded thanks to his wife for the drink.
She smiled a bit too much. “Good....Good...Been a while since they—they've had any luck.”
He sipped the beverage, then rested it on a side table. “True that. The collapse earlier this year, that pirate attack last year. They have been making a killing: the spreadsheet's so red, they should be tried for murder!” Troutrooper burbled at his own attempt at humor.
Omiti laughed loudly. “Ha ha! Good one, hubby!”
His smile vanished. “What are you hiding?”
Hers vanished, too. “I told you not to use your powers on me.”
“I don't need to. You don't laugh at my jokes unless you're nervous. You don't play with things in your pocket unless you're nervous. Give it up or I'll take it.” The Dark Jedi Master slowly dimmed the lights in the area.
“Take it.” Omiti's face darkened. A snap-hiss, a flick of his fin, a whoosh, a small finger twitch, and the datapad from Omiti's pocket was now in Troutrooper's possession. “Why would you do that? I liked that outfit!”
Troutrooper looked down at his wife's one-piece-cum-two-piece outfit. He, too, liked the ensemble, and thought the outfit flattered her bulbous figure in all the right ways. Then again, he thought that she looked even better with the ensemble on the floor. The Mon Cal glanced at the datapad in one fin, his lightsaber in the other, shrugged, dropped both, grabbed his strangely-compliant-yet-angry wife, and headed for the (Dark Jedi) master bedroom.
An hour later, Troutrooper sat down in the front room, naked, clammy, and intently reading the datapad. Omiti walked in and draped a small blanket across his shoulders. “At least you can make some sense of it. I hope, anyway. I've heard of the Dark Council, I've dreaded the Brotherhood coming for you for many years, but I've never heard of a 'Dread Council'. You haven't had much contact with the DB for a long time as far as I know. Why now? Are they so desperate that they're calling for has-beens? What situation could be so dire that they need your deprecated expertise? Another massive split occurring and they want to frack it up, so they're assembling a cadre of bumbling idiots to advise them on how to frack it up?”
He grunted as she kissed him. Anyone else who teased him a sharply would already be dead. But Troutrooper knew his wife meant him no harm. Mostly. “To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what this council is myself. I made some anti-Dark Council statements to some close friends—Raken and Sarin among them—awhile back. I guess word got around to this Darth Pravus, who invited me to this summit. Or sort of.” He finished his now-cooled drink.
Omiti refilled his mug. “Yeah, I didn't understand that. They're summoning everyone, but they're telling you specifically to stay away. 'Come join us, but don't actually meet us.' Weird. And where is Odacer-Faustin?”
“It's a Sith world in the Esstran system, near Korriban,” Troutrooper said, sipping his drink. “Weather's about the same as it is here. And yes, tis very weird. I haven't paid much—any attention to the Brotherhood for a while, so I don't know what's happening. Whatever is happening, yes, they're desperate enough to warrant alerting and activating old timers like myself. I suppose I should make ready for whatever might be.” He got up from the table only to find his wife nude.
“I don't suppose I could make you change your mind...” A coy smile and wink hammered at the husband's brain. “I'm sure the Dread Council isn't nearly as warm and inviting and...willing....”
Troutrooper frowned. “You and the Dread Council have much in common. Both want me, yet both tell me to stay away. Admit it, a youngling could have spotted your little pocket twiddling; You wanted me to find the datapad. And then you feign indigence while letting me have my way with you. ” She averted his gaze. “You both like cold, hostile planets. And you both present excellent arguments as to why I should listen to you. Pravus has assembled a collection of Dark Jedi who could avenge any threat to the Brotherhood. You are naked.”
Omiti burbled a laugh and kissed him on the forehead. He frowned harder. “Go. I've had you long enough. Your brothers need you.”
He sighed. “I didn't say I was going with them.”
“You always were. You always do.” She handed him a sealed box. “It may be outdated, but I figured you could get this stuff working again.”
“My old surveillance gear,” he gurgled as he rifled through the container. “You saved it. Thank you.” He kissed her.
She shrugged. “Old toys are the best toys. You're not going to Oda—wherever; could you at least tell me where you're headed?”
“Rasn heard a freighter pilot mention some unrest on Pergitor. Not that that's out of the ordinary, but rumor has it the unrest is not due to the theocrats. Some outside influence this time. Since Pergitor is near Yridia...”
She shook her bulbous head. “Don't go to Yridia. You don't know how they'll treat you. You don't know how they'll 'welcome' the only Tarentae to return the title.”
“Good point. Probably best to avoid the Brotherhood as whole until the Dread Council convenes and I have some answers. Or at least some orders. I'll setup on Pergitor if it's reasonably safe. Should be.” He closed the box and headed for the hangar. “Be good while I'm gone.”
Omiti blew him a kiss. “Remember: come home with sushi or as sushi.” They both burbled chuckles and waved goodbye.
A heartbeat stretched out for days in the old Academy. The screams of wind and sleet and snow. The crushing weight of bitter cold. The silence. This was once an alive place. A place to unlock ancient and dread secrets. A place of learning. A place of power. Now it stretched out into time, into decay. All within were visitors to a tomb. That steady thump stretched into the silence. As soon as it faded, another took its place. Another. There was no quickening, just the slow, steady cadence of life surrounded by death’s inevitability.
“Darth Pravus,” the voice that broke the silence had a rough smoothness to it, like fine leather weathered to a patina by careful worn use. Smooth elocution. Whisky. Cigarettes. A pause followed by the sharp slap of plastic against wood. A datapad lay in the center of the table. Off. Deathly still. “With His Majesty’s compliments, preliminary observational data collected as my troops corralled infected Journeymen.”
“Corralled?” Incredulity edged its way into the Anzat’s steady voice.
Brown eyes flicked from glaucous to red to achromatic and back to red. Measuring. A mirthless smile graced pale lips, “Those that surrendered peacefully are kept in quarantine. Safe. Safe from hurting themselves. Safe from spreading whatever this is. Those that did not,” A theatrical pause, one that was measured and calculated hung in the air. One that ticked off a handful of heartbeats. “Those that did not were put down as dangers to themselves, my House and my King.”
Temple of Sorrow
Sildrin Sadow was lying on the ottoman, sipping a glass of whiskey. The data crystals of the crashed Star Destroyer lay mindlessly discarded on the floor - containing data of no interest at all. Disgruntled she took another sip: “Fools.” She muttered, going through the situation at the conclave again. How did they dare to accuse them?
Gently she ran her fingers over a temple. Although - maybe their accusations of the Elders were right. The general paranoia of Elders, their schemes, their distrust were all too known.
Or was it punishment by the universe itself? To undo the cycle of pain and agony - caused by all the abuse of the Force for silly warfare and feuds.
She took another sip, her usually emotionless face showing a hint of disdain. She used the small communicator on her wrist - maybe it was time to ask Xanos where they would find answers.
“Lord Xanos Sadow has already left Sepros, Lady Sildrin.” A friendly voice replied to her request. Sildrin sat immediately upright, nearly spilling her drink: “What?...”
“I am sorry, but Lord Xa...” - “Yes, yes. I heard that.” Sildrin interrupted the computer voice disgruntled. “Any knowledge about his destination?”
“There is no data about this, Lady Sildrin.”
Sildrin turned off her communicator, emptying her glass. Maybe they were right about the Elders - especially Trevarus and Xanos. She placed the now empty glass on a small table nearby. I will find you. I am not interested in rotting in this place.
She sat down in front of a computer panel. Though blind, she had mastered different ways to see. A fact that had helped her greatly in her position as the Seneschal years ago. Gently her fingertips brushed over the panel; she whispered: “Input.” In front of her inner eye the matrix of the computer network unfolded with a flicker. Glowing streams of connections, shimmering walls of defensive systems, towers of data storage spread out in front of her inner sight. She focused her attention on the traces of the Lord Prophet within the system. Her avatar in this artificial world raced along the highways of data packages, side gateways and corridors that granted passage to other system. Finally a certain data package rose her attention. Encrypted - not very good, but attached to the Lord Prophet’s file system. These are coordinations.
Minutes later she was sitting in a shuttle on her way to the ruined academy of Odacer-Faustin.
Ruined academy of Odacer-Faustin
Snow flakes danced within the air - some dared rest on the former Seneschal’s red hair - some even on her face, dying quickly from the warmth of her skin. Howling gales tore at her robe. For a moment she closed her eyes. This is like home.... though our summers in the mountains are a bit warmer.
She focused back on the robed figures that stood in the shadows of a huge black tower - the upper levels of which were mostly gone. She had no idea what this place was, but every inch seemed to be drenched by the Force.
The sorceress sensed Xanos Sadow and two further persons - their Force auras literally screamed out the potency of Force within them. A slight doubt crawled into her; and she wondered if this was a good idea. There was no warning as at once invisible hands lifted her into the air. She opened her mouth in a silent cry.
Soon she hovered in front of the robed figures, her red long hair shaping a fiery halo around her lithe body. She remained silent; fear was also a reason for her silence. For a moment she had pondered the two sabers at the sides of her hips, but discarded this silly idea quickly considering the highly ranked people she faced.
Two massive red hands grabbed her skull; Raken’s finger felt as if they drilled into her. He towered over her and his white eyes were the only resemblance between them. With a nudge of the Force by him, she felt that he wanted her to hold still. As if I had a choice.... She thought.
Xanos Sadow watched her emotionlessy. For sure he wouldn’t help her. He is as cold as a fish - but probably even sushi feels way more than him.. She thought.
The third robed figure moved closer. He was clad in a white Jedi robe, but his ruthless and cold appearance could not hide what he truly was - a Darth. He laid the tips of his fingers on her forehead, keeping his cold blue-grey eyes fixed on her. If not for Raken, she would have not being able to keep up on her legs for what overwhelmed her now. She felt the invading force of this one: cold, cruel, reckless; the epitome of a Darth. Darth Pravus she heard the voice within her head. There was no place to hide from his Force scan that sifted her fragmented mind.
Finally the physical and psychic grips were released and she dropped onto her knees.
I am not dead … yet.. She noted.
“Your mind seems like a broken mirror.” His voice was cold and smooth, causing a shudder to run down her spine.
She muttered, as she rose to her feet: “I guess, I mean several years of bad luck then.” Had there just been the hint of a smile of Xanos’s face? Or was it one of his usual muscle twitches? She wasn’t sure.
Darth Pravus ignored her humorous attempt. “I am pleased to see you have found your destined way. But let us move inside to escape these unpleasant temperatures.”
Sildrin kept her senses locked on the three persons as they made their way inside, but finally decided to follow them into the core of the academy.
Thoughts lingered in the mental aether; a few she were able to pick up.
“Does she know?”
“She is clean from the virus.”
“Is her integrity warranted?”
“Our circle has grown.”
For a moment she turned her Force senses back to the exit of the academy, not sure what she had stumbled in. Was it destiny?
Ruins - Sith Academy
Artificial lighting illuminated the central hall of the Odacer-Faustin Sith Academy library. Untouched in nearly three millennia, the facility had once rivaled the greatest of Dark Side collections and stored a great repository of Sith knowledge. Students and masters utilized the great stores of holocrons, datacrons, and ancient scrolls to seek further insight into the Dark Side of the Force. Wicked alchemy, perverse experimentations, and machinations of evil were born from the knowledge held within. It was here that a plague was born nearly 3,700 years prior and fittingly it was here now that a new plague was discussed.
The unholy alliance of Elders and senior Equites sat in a semi-circle facing a blue-black holographic image depicting multiple naval engagements across Dark Brotherhood space. Additional images appeared flashing urgent messages of rioting, civil war, and chaos spreading throughout the Clan and House controlled planets. The Dark Brotherhood was burning and the room crackled with the dark amusement of those who approved.
The venom that was the Dark Side of the Force had grown diluted and weak within the Dark Brotherhood. The Dark Council had become a pathetic band of irrational fools and the Clans had collapsed into a collection of sniveling puppets. The Star Chamber had fallen into oblivion, their numbers reduced and their power absolved. The Dark Brotherhood could only survive through destruction and a rebirth through fire. This plague and the outside threat that had arrived with it would be the first stages in reshaping a greater Brotherhood.
The Dread Council had been assembled to usher the destruction of the Dark Brotherhood and rebuild it within their image. Culled from across the Brotherhood, the members of the Council had been carefully selected over the period of a decade. Each member possessed a unique set of skills, their abilities complementing one another, and formed a collective that far surpassed the existing Dark Council in terms of power. More importantly, the Dread Council possessed one unifying thread running within the core of its members: they despised the Dark Brotherhood.
Darth Pravus, the lone Grand Master within the Dark Brotherhood to have fulfilled Bane’s dictum of destroying his master, deactivated the holoprojections with a mere thought. Tall and powerfully built, the Grand Master remained cloaked in the white robes of a Jedi Master. His true identity, known only to those within the room, was a secret that came with the promise of death.
Rising from the central chair within the group, the Grand Master clasped his hands behind his back and looked to the collective before him. “We have assembled to celebrate the end of a decade-long plan to seize control of the Dark Brotherhood. Tomorrow, each of us will travel to our respective target locations and initiate the destruction of the Dark Council. The Force has provided the catalyst of an outside threat to provide cover for our actions. Use this plague and the invading fleets as a method to act from the shadows.”
Pravus had no doubt the group would succeed in their missions and was content that the Dark Side had provided the perfect opportunity to strike the heart of the Brotherhood. Turning to FourDee, the Sith Lord gave the signal for the start of the night’s activities. The droid released an exterior access door, ushering in the arrival of serving droids, exotic dancers of multiple species and sexes, and a cargo vehicle containing a collection of the galaxies finest alcohol.
“Celebrate tonight, for tomorrow the Dark Brotherhood dies.”
Sith Academy Ruins
Legorii turned from the room, leaving behind the dancers and the drink, leaving his fellow members of the so-called “Dread Council” to revel in their past successes and celebrate...what, precisely? Angrily, he unholstered his blaster rifle and threw it to ground. His crimson eyes flashed passionately, and he kicked the gun across the vacant, ruined room.
Darth Pravus was insane. This entire plan was madness - did the fools assembled inside truly believe that they could bring down the entire Dark Jedi Brotherhood, starting with the Dark Council? Legorii could not believe he had been summoned here, and his mind raced as he thought of a way out. His shuttle would still be outside. Perhaps if he ran, the others would not realize what was happening, and he could get away.
The word echoed unwantedly in the Arconan’s mind, sending him into another fit of rage. Never before had he felt so powerless, and so overwhelmed. Bringing down the Dark Council would not even serve the purpose Pravus hoped it would - the Clans and Houses were the true lifeblood of the organization, and the leaders would find some way to come together, infighting be damned.
The Entar wanted to warn his brothers. Wuntila, Sanguinius, Timeros, and the others would be able to do something. Arcona would not be caught flat-footed, at the mercy of the lunatic Sith Lord who occupied the ruined academy on Odacer-Faustin.
Legorii was interrupted in his thoughts by a sound behind him, and he spun around. The woman, Sildrin, had left the party prematurely as well. Regarding her for a second, the Anzat turned away. He did not want her to see his reservations. His indecision. His fear.
“It looks as though we are the outsiders, Arconan,” Sildrin said simply, her voice carrying over the muted sounds of the party going on in the next room. The silence that followed was uncomfortable, as the Entar eyed the Pontifex suspiciously. He had never met her before, but if she was a member of this perverted group, perhaps it was best if he never did.
“Indeed, it looks that way,” Legorii replied in little more than a low growl, keeping his distance from the woman. His lightsaber hilt, just centimeters from his fingertips, was displayed prominently at his hip. Sildrin’s peculiar stare remained riveted on the Epis’ face, but he could not shake the feeling that she could see his lightsaber, and was aware of his dark thoughts.
“I propose that we go after our target together,” Sildrin said slowly, as if she was considering each word. “Darth Pravus has asked that we kill the Voice of the Brotherhood. Do you know him?”
The Voice. Vodo Biask. Legorii knew him, yes. He was a Taldryan, and the pair had encountered one another on the field of battle during the Ninth Great Jedi War. He was a towering Twi’lek, imposing and authoritative, with intimidating prosthetic legs.
“I know him. I’d love nothing more than to wrap his lekku around a Force pike, mount his gruesome head on its tip, and present it to the Sons of Taldryan,” Legorii whispered menacingly, his proboscises momentarily protruding from his nose as the intoxicating desire for Vodo’s soul excited him.
Sildrin nodded, pleased with the Arconan’s passion. “Then we’ll leave at first light in the morning.” Turning, her red hair following her, the Pontifex disappeared into the shadows. Legorii was alone again. Alone with his thoughts. Thoughts that tormented him, agonized him, and threatened to cripple him.
Vodo’s death will be a boon for Arcona.
Legorii hoped that his brothers would approve of what he was doing. He hoped he, and his fellow Entars, could step into the void created by the Dread Council. He hoped Pravus’ madness would not destroy everything and everyone.
Exalted Holiness's Ethereal Cafe
Sealed City #6
Troutrooper clicked off the comlink. “Great,” he muttered. “Those invited to the sermon get to indulge in pleasures of the flesh before heading off to work. Me, the only member of the congregation told to stay away? I get to enjoy the austere atmosphere of the most religious and puritanical planet I've ever encountered.” The Mon Cal sipped his beverage with a grimace. “Bah. This drink saddens me more than being excluded from the riotous Dread Council soirée. Non-alcoholic, unsweetened, protein- and vitamin-enriched. Blech!” He pushed the glass away and grunted.
The Dark Jedi Master was in mid-pout when his comlink buzzed. He coded in and read the brief message. He shook his bulbous head and read it again. Incredulous, he read it a third time. “Incredible...” He burbled a whisper. “We're to assassinate the Dark Council in pairs. Darth Vexatus and I are to kill Deputy Grand Master Halcyon. Wow.” He grabbed his drink and chugged it down, ignoring its inherent failure as he pondered the Dark Council's many failings. Invasion after invasion, constant inter-clan feuding supported and encouraged by the Dark Council, gradual lowering of training standards, no direction or purpose for the Brotherhood as a whole, Troutrooper could list a litany of problems. “And none of them are being addressed. I've been retired and living on a frozen wasteland, yet the DC's languidness has reached my ears.”
The Mon Cal's comlink buzzed once more. “Goatham,” he answered.
“Vexatus,” hissed his comlink. “Darth Vexatus.”
The Dark Jedi Master swallowed, suddenly remembering the recent travails the Falleen endured. “My apologies. Old habits die hard.” He winced. “Er, I mean, I knew you for so long as Goatham and for so short as Darth Vexatus that I am unaccustomed to addressing you as such. Forgive me.” He coughed. “So. Halcyon.”
“One-on-one, you and Halcyon are an even match, but you—and he—might start feeling the effects of this strange plague soon. We have yet to see if or how it effects elders. I can withstand his assaults unaided, and, if he's going through his supernova phase, we can withstand them together.”
“We know he's on Antei. The seven of us could not launch a successful direct assault on Antei, let alone just us two. We could draw him out.”
The fallen Falleen's silence encouraged the Mon Cal to fill the void.
“But you're right. Drawing him out would require more than an invitation. We'd have to entice him, offer him a reason to leave the protected confines of the Dark Hall. Likely we'd have to show our hand: 'Why do Vexatus and Troutrooper want to see me in the middle of this conflict? I haven't any direct business with them.' You're right. Too revealing in its supposed subtlety. How else can we attack a Dark Councilor with tact, cunning, and lethality?”
[Edited for spelling]
Somewhere in hyperspace
A hologram of the former Mon Calamari Headmaster flickered in the air above the Falleen, who was presently crouched on a small area on the floor behind his TIE’s pilot’s chair, while the scout ship sped through the prismatic infinities of hyperspace toward the heart of the Dark Brotherhood, and the downfall of the Dark Council. Troutrooper waited silently while the Dread Prophet meditated in search of an answer to the Dark Jedi Master’s question.
As was so often the case, Xanos’s eyes were closed as his mind drifted through the shadows beyond the real world, seeking an answer to the Dread Council’s goal. Something had changed while the Dread Masters had been meeting on Odacer-Faustin. The Force was in a state of unrest. Before he had left the ruined academy of Darth Drear, the secret conclave of Elders had received word over the Marshal’s spy channels that Jusadih had fallen. The satellite imagery—at least, what they had seen before the feed had cut off—had shown trees wither and grow old right before their eyes, their leaves go dry, bark harden and flake off, as if all life was sucked from the star system’s many worlds.
Who was behind the attacks remained uncertain, and even now, the Prophet’s foresight was still clouded, his hand unable to peel back the veil that shrouded the truth from his mind’s eye. But the culprit was irrelevant. Those responsible were as transparent as his TIE’s forward viewport.
The Dark Council had caused this.
The Star Chamber had learned nothing since its refusal to stay the advance of the Yuuzhan Vong. Now, like then, was their own fault. Cotelin, Firefox, and the rest, they had granted the aliens access, wanted the strength of the Clans shattered, so that their control remained unchallenged.
This time was no different.
Their fear of their own weakness had enabled those more powerful to slip through the cracks. Now, the one responsible had returned to exact his or her judgement. The Dark Council had reaped what they had sown. By culling the strong, by seeking to keep the weak in check, by their unwillingness to suffer rivals, they had bred this discontent, had nurtured and cultivated the very conflict between Elders and Journeymen that was intensifying as the Sickness spread further.
With no foreseeable end in sight, the answer to the problem was simple:
“We do nothing,” the Dark Prophet said finally, certain.
The hologram of the Mon Calamari blinked its huge, fish-like eyes.
“I am already en route to Antei,” the Falleen continued, “rendezvous with me in the Valley of the Lost near the Lorimar Mesa and Triumvirate Library.”
“What will we find there?” Troutrooper asked.
“Nothing,” Xanos said blankly, “and everything.”
The former Headmaster remained uncertain, but it was clear the Dark Prophet was going to reveal nothing further. After a pause, Troutrooper nodded, and blinked his large eyes again. The Dark Jedi Master may have been away from the Dark Brotherhood for some time, but he had not forgotten that the ways of many of the Elders of the dark side were regularly obtuse and unclear.
The hologram of the Mon Calamari dissolved, leaving the Prophet to his thoughts as he stared out into the blue and white swirls of hyperspace. Throughout all of this, the Dark Prophet was convinced that there was something he had missed somewhere. There was still something troubling him about how back on Sepros neither he nor his Master had possessed the providence to see this plague before it had struck. At any other time, the former Oracle would have foreseen it long before. It was almost as if the plague had anticipated this, and deliberately taken steps to shroud its arrival.
More, there had been a current that swirled amidst the endless eddies, one that Xanos was certain he could recognise, but for some reason could not. He still could not understand why his Master had rushed off to Antei, without any doubt that it was the site where the truth would reveal itself. But none of this changed the Dread Prophet’s focus: the Dark Brotherhood had allowed this to happen because of its failure to listen to the echoes cast back from the future. That was why Darth Pravus and his Dread Council had decided that now was finally the moment to act.
But, in all this, still the uncertainty clung to the Falleen’s mind.
There was something he could not see, and it troubled him.
A horrified scream tore through his mind.
The Dark Hall was on fire.
Black smoke rose into the air, carried by unnatural winds, like a cyclone. Two armies clashed. One, standing firm at the burning ruins of the original Dark Hall on the moon Eos, was led by a figure in dark robes, his face hidden behind a black mask. But his skin was marked with the tattoos of a Sith Lord, and the silver trappings on his robes were unmistakable. A Deputy Grand Master. Torquemada.
Those at the head of the other force were far more familiar.
A much younger Trevarus Caerick, not yet bearing the Mark on his forehead, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Mav Cantor, as the leaders of Naga Sadow and Taldryan led the allied attack on the then Deputy Grand Master—
Along with Torquemada’s fallen mentor.
The fog lifted as Xanos’s recollection of the battle finally became clear. He turned his eyes to the heavens and remembered the clash of the titans in the black sky above the ruins as Grand Master Archibald Zoraan, the mad recluse who had become obsessed with the mythical artefact known as the Skin of Fire and tried to stand against not only Grand Admiral Stephan Ronin but the whole of the Star Chamber at once, at this moment in history flew through the air, locked in conflict with the Grand Tribune of the Imperial High Court, Inquisitor Faethor Dejarc—the man who would shortly after become Chi-Long, the next Grand Master.
Everything went white and the sky exploded in flame as Zoraan the Mad called on the dark side—and his own body detonated, taking his army and the remains of the Dark Hall with him.
Xanos blinked his mercurial eyes and the blue and white swirl of hyperspace returned.
Why had he just pictured the last moments of the Zoraan Uprising? He had been there in the joint Taldryan-Sadowan army, but that was nearly two decades ago. Why remember it now?
There was a piece of the puzzle he was still missing.
The Dark Prophet’s own question was answered one second later.
An earthquake shook through the Force and Xanos crashed onto the floor of the cockpit.
Trevarus’s voice screamed through the Falleen’s skull, deafening any other thought. The Dread Prophet clutched at his own temples, trying to drown out the cry of terror. His allegiance may have been with the Dread Council, but the Force bond still remained between the apprentice and his old master—a bond that was now resonating through the Force, violently thundering through the tapestries of the Force as if his master’s world had just been brought down by a superlaser blast fired from a third Death Star. Xanos’s mind was fracturing as his Master’s anguish filled him.
The Fire Dragon was no more.
Faethor Dejarc was dead.
Xanos tried to clear his thoughts. He now understood what Trevarus had feared so much that had made his old master retreat to his private fortress on Antei to try and escape. But there was no escape. Zoraan had returned from beyond shadows, and now the Dark Brotherhood was at its end. Darth Ashen and the rest had no concept of the sorceries that Zoraan had once pursued.
Struggling, the Falleen forced himself to his feet, and staggered into the pilot seat.
His vision had been the answer. What he had said to Troutrooper had been correct.
The Dark Brotherhood was about to destroy itself.
Legorii frowned deeply: “And you are sure you can give us access to the library?”
“I am sure,” she replied simply.
He watched the red-haired woman that appeared so miniscule to him. He had no doubt that she was capable enough for this task, but here in this shuttle he had no way to keep his distance from her. And he didn’t like that. Sildrin’s unreadable eyes always seemed to pierce his soul, staring at him from unimaginable heights - or unimaginable depths.
He wiped his forehead - the temperature within the shuttle was surely not right. Even Sildrin’s forehead showed a faint sheath of sweat.
The Entar wondered if they … if he would make it - for he still had to warn his brothers.
Valley of the Lost
Dust particles swept across the stony ground as the shuttle landed within sight of the Triumvirate Library, where the Voice had locked himself in. He was likely hiding from the disease, until everything was over. The lack of sunlight lent a sombre atmosphere.
Sildrin, also known as Xia Long, wiped her forehead, wishing she was back in the comforting cold of Odacer-Faustin. She briefly focused her senses on the Arconan. She sensed his inner turmoil and doubts. Was he really so blind to see the truth?
“What will you do, if you lose contact with the Force, as well?” The question pierced her thoughts.
The Pontifex turned her face in Legorii’s direction, studying his Force emanations. “Mmmmh, she replied. “Probably return to my farm. Maybe deal with antiques.”
“Yes. Antiques of the Dark Jedi Brotherhood. After its fall I am sure a lot of people would like to have a piece of the … glorious … Dark Jedi Brotherhood,” she chuckled softly.
His proboscises momentarily protruded from his nose, showing his agitation. “You are very sure that the Dread Council will succeed.”
A moment of silence passed, her voice barely audible: “I hope they will. But if not, I hope the disease will eradicate the Force. To undo what is wrong.”
Legorii stared at her with crimson eyes: “You are insane. Like this... Darth Pravus.” He clenched a fist. “You.. all.. are insane.” Sildrin carefully stood up. The Anzat was a Krath Epis, and his powers were not to be underestimated.
“I am not sure who is really insane. Me or you - who is the real blind person here? Don’t you see?” she made a wide gesture with a hand. “All the suffering the Dark Jedi Brotherhood.... the Dark Council - this obese obscenity - has caused? Petty politics, wars, feuds... for what? To find out who is more powerful? They play politics to flatter their ego. As if people cared for their silly games.”
“No! People would suffer way more without us!” Legorii exclaimed.
“People suffer! Because of you!” Sildrin scowled.
Energy crackled around Legorii’s fist. Rage fueled him, never had he felt it as clearly. “I won’t let you and this Dread Council destroy us!” His hand pointed at her; his rage manifested into a wave of lightning that he shot at her. The smell of ozone filled the air as metal melted. Lightning hit the wall of the shuttle and sparks rained down from severed cables. For a moment both halted, wondering what had happened, and how things had escalated so quickly.
Sildrin stepped backwards. “It has begun,” she whispered, realising that it hadn’t been a malfunction of the shuttle having caused that heat - no, they both had been suffering from the disease.
Outside the shuttle
Lightning bolts chased her lithe figure, followed by hard strokes of Legorii’s lightsaber. “Is that all you can do? Witch?! Laughable. You are rather a wannabe magician at a fair!” His words taunted her. Never had Legorii felt as powerful as now.
The Pontifex had dropped onto a knee, her left leg suffering from cramps caused by a stray bolt of lightning that had grazed her. Legorii took a deep breath: “I will stop this madness, here and now!”
Sildrin Sadow’s eyes opened wide, gasping. She felt her Force connection strengthen. The Force Lightning of the Krath Epis hit her, but now energy was easily absorbed.
The Daughter of Sadow stood, raising her hands towards the sky. The ground gave way, and the air was filled with cracking sounds as gravity itself was bent to her will. Energy was absorbed and transmuted. Her body was engulfed in a ball of crackling lightning. With a flick of her hands the energy ball was sent towards Legorii.
Minutes, or maybe hours, later - neither Sildrin nor Legorii could tell - the two opponents still stood; facing each other, sweat running down their faces. Sildrin tilted her head backwards, her mouth opening in a silent cry. She focused her blind gaze towards the sky, ‘seeing’ what formerly had been hidden to the Force sight of an Equite; but now her sight was that of an Elder. The heavens were fraught with a myriad points of light; each one a life form, each one a written destiny in the dark cloak of space. Then it exploded as one silvery thread was cut, shriveling. “Father!”, she cried out. She dropped onto her knees, sensing the death of her patriarch Chi Long. “Why...?” she whispered.
At that moment of dread she felt her grip on the Force wane, letting her drown in the darkness of her blind eyes. She lifted a hand to her useless eyes, and she let out a soft laugh. It is over.
Was that relief she felt? She clung to that emotion, striving to not fall into that dark, bottomless pit of blindness.
Footsteps next to her made her turn her head towards the sound. “Legorii....” she thought. The fist of the Krath Epis knocked her out - and darkness finally embraced her completely.
The Shadowlands, Adas
It was just like that night twenty years ago.
The skies above the Shadowlands of Antei were on fire with lances of red and green light, which every now and again were joined by a dazzling explosion of orange and yellow flame. A massive black dagger dominated the midnight sky directly above Ashfire Mountain, and traded fire with the pinpricks of local defence squadrons that had been left behind while the rest of the Dark Council’s navy was off trying to reinforce the Clans whose home worlds now lay in ruin.
Xanos steered his TIE toward the Lorimar Mesa, as his mind flashed back to the Sovereign hanging in orbit above the black dome of the original Dark Hall as Clans Taldryan and Naga Sadow vanquished the mad sorcerer who had now returned to exact his vengeance. It had been just like this. Zoraan had then, like now, looked unstoppable. His plunge into the dark arts had been matched by few others, and certainly none among the current crop of Dark Council members.
In the end, the Dark Prophet could not help from finding himself disappointed.
Through Zoraan’s madness, the Dark Brotherhood had unknowingly been given a gift. It had been freed from the Force’s chains. If the Clans and their Dark Council had wanted to, they could have gone quietly into the night, at peace from the shackles of servitude, and spread the virus across the rest of the galaxy, to silence not only the Brotherhood, but the Jedi, and ultimately the Force itself.
However instead of seeing the truth of what Zoraan had offered them, the Dark Council and their Elders had hidden away in fear, having failed to see the opportunity that had presented itself.
But Darth Pravus and his Dread Council had seen this for what it was: the end of an era.
There would be no grand alliance to halt Zoraan’s madness this time.
The comm panel on the cockpit’s control board started to blink. The Elder coughed when he leaned forward to open the channel. A moment later a translucent Mon Calamari head filled the viewport.
“Cold coming on?” Troutrooper said in his slightly gurgled voice. “I’d tell you to see a doctor, but in your case, they’d probably get confused and just give you directions to the nearest funeral parlour.”
The Falleen did not make any sign he found the joke funny. “The situation has changed,” the Prophet said instead, “with the Dark Hall’s invasion, it would seem our mission has already completed itself.”
There was a pause before Troutrooper answered. “Is this what you meant by us doing nothing?”
Xanos coughed again. Was it his body’s decay or the virus taking hold? True, he was an Elder, but he had also personally clashed with the infected back in the Orian system. If the Chi-Long had fallen, then the same fate was possible of anyone. The Falleen clenched his fist, and blue and white lines of electrical energy coursed across his hand, and caused a muscle down the left side of this throat to tense and relax in tune with the lightning’s crackles. It was clear that, for now, the energy of the dark side still burned through the Elder’s veins, albeit to his mortal frame’s on-going discontent.
“Yes,” the Dark Prophet finally answered, “and no.” He looked back up from his hand to the former Headmaster. “The virus is spreading, and I can no longer sense either Lady Dragon or the Anzat.” Xanos knew Sildrin and Legorii had arrived on Antei before them. “I did not feel them die, so can only surmise their connection to the Force has been broken as well.”
The Mon Calamari’s aquatic head bobbed up and down in a nod. “Their target was Vodo,” Troutrooper began, and paused to consider their revised options. “If he’s not moved, he’s likely to be in the Triumvirate Library.”
The Falleen closed his eyes and reached out into the distance. Troutrooper was correct. “He’s there,” Xanos said. The Voice was still somewhere beneath the grey plains of the Shadowlands, deep in the halls of the ancient library. Sildrin and Legorii’s locations, however, remained unknowable. They had vanished off the folds of the tapestry, as if their marks had been rubbed off with an eraser. “I will set down in the Valley of the Lost shortly to rendezvous with the others,” the Falleen added.
“Find lost people in Valley of the Lost,” the Mon Calamari gurgled. "Makes sense."
After Troutrooper’s hologram blinked out, Xanos engaged his ship’s autopilot for the final descent.
Darth Vexatus's shuttle
Valley of the Lost
Darth Vexatus finished strapping Sildrin in, snugging the harness tight and checking her vitals once more. She was spent, battered, lacking any connection to the Force, but—thank the Force—alive. He got to the cabin when his comlink buzzed.
“Sildrin is safe.”
Troutrooper nodded. “Sweet. Change of plans. Capture—do NOT kill—Legz.”
The Falleen frowned. “He knows of our plans.”
“True, which is why I want him alive. He's gonna tell everyone our plan.”
The Darth pondered the Dark Jedi Master's statement, attempting to discern what Troutrooper had planned for Legorii and whether the ever-jocular Mon Cal had picked a decidedly horrible moment to try some humor. But the Darth was not a Darth simply for his (former) good looks. His wisdom caught up with the fish's stream of thought. “Excellent. He will be ensnared shortly.”
Troutrooper nodded his bulbous head. “I'll see you three shortly.”
“I thought you—“
“—Were staying away from the festivities?” The fish shrugged. “I was, but I changed my mind. I hate leaving my fate in the hands of others. I want to see the mission through to success, the overall plan to success. I'm lazy and not a big fan of death, so letting Zoraan and Company wreak havoc is great and all, but Zoraan failed spectacularly once before. There's no such thing as luck...except the luck you make for yourself.”
“This had better work...”
Troutrooper burbled a chuckle as he palmed a small, cylindrical object. “It will. Explosively.”
“Make it quick.”
Halcyon's green hair accentuated his paleness, a result of exhaustion from trying to fight a multi-fronted war. His robes were dirty, dusty though he had not been outside since Zoraan arrived on Antei.
Troutrooper shoved Legorii to the ground. “Here's how Zoraan managed to slip through undetected. Here's how Zoraan maneuvered through the Shroud gracefully. Here's how Zoraan has caught us unawares.” He slapped the bound and gagged Legorii. “Typical Entar behavior. Why we haven't killed you all yet is beyond me. But soon, the galaxy will be rid of one more Entar. If one good deed in my life I did, that would be it.” Another slap just for good measure.
The Deputy Grand Master frowned. “You two claim that Legz here—a newly-minted Krath Epis who has very few relations with the other Clans and fractional, tangential Dark Council connections—turned informant for a long-dead Grand Master and gave our current nemesis information to which he does not have access?” Legorii's persecutors nodded solemnly. “Do you have evidence to his treachery? You both know and understand that such accusations, should they be proven false, are punishable by a variety of means, all of which have horrible outcomes for the false accusers.”
“We would not be standing here if we did not have such evidence.” The half-dead Dark Prophet handed the fully-exhausted Dark Prophet a datapad. “Count 1: he abandoned his Clan in their hour of need, traveling to an unknown location before coming here...just as Zoraan's fleet arrived.” The Epis struggled against his bonds, receiving a slap for his futile efforts. “Count 2: he attacked and left for dead a Dark Sister, who had come to Antei to aid in the fight.” More struggling, another slap. “Count 3: he—“
A deflected turbolaser blast reverberated through the Dark Hall, yet Halcyon remained unconvinced and unmoved. “Stop. Just stop. This is war. A lot of craziness happens in war. You two should know that.”
“We do. But let us finish. Count three: he slanders our good names in a humiliating and pathetic attempt to misdirect attention away from himself and onto us.”
“Is this true?” Halcyon undid the gag and lifted him to his feet.
Legorii bounced, ecstatic to be able to speak once more. “Yes! Thank you—yes! Yes! It is true! Well, sort of. I mean—“
“You admit to these crimes?”
“Crimes?! Those aren't crimes! More like a-a-a-a compilation of—frack you! Listen, sir—“
“Make it fast.”
“Okay, thanks! You gotta believe me,” the Arconan nearly fell over, stumbling over his feet as much as his words; panic and desperation scented the air. “These two, along with several others, are plotting to usurp the Iron Throne! We all met on Odacur-Fa-Fa-Fa-FrackIcantremember. Some old Sith academy. Me and Pravus and Sil and Vex and...er...(think, Legz. Think!)...TT wasn't there in person, was a hologram...Whatever. Anyway, they call themselves the Dread Council, and they're plotting to assassinate the Dark Council! Sil and I were assigned to kill Vodo. On our way here, we got into a fight. We lost our powers, but I managed to overtake her. I knocked her out, and was on my way to warn you. Sir.”
“Interesting story,” the verdant human considered the story. “Who did you say was at this secret society meeting?
“Me and Sil and Vex and Oberst and...grr...”
Vexatus snarled. “Funny how the only constant members of this 'Dreaded Council' are him, Sildrin, and myself, the three Dark Jedi he's been in contact with most recently.”
Troutrooper chuckled. “And Vodo? Really? Why would anyone want to kill Vodo? Okay, sure, he's angered people, but it's not like he's a prime target, one worthy of sending two Dark Jedis after. Look, Halc,” Troutrooper put a clammy fin around Halcyon's shoulder; Vexatus reapplied Legorii's gag. “You know me and Goat/Vexatus. We've both had ample opportunities to usurp the Iron Throne. We have fought for the safety and security of the Dark Brotherhood for many, many years. We may disagree with Muz's policies occasionally, but we're still loyal Dark Brothers. Why would we want to take the throne now? This plague has stripped many brothers and sisters of their powers, Zoraan cascades streams of cannon fire upon us...Why would we want to usurp the Iron Throne? 'Let's overthrow the Dark Council and reign for five minutes before a reincarnated past Grand Master destroys us all!' Does that sound rational? Logical? Sane? If Oberst is part of this villainous collective, would he suffer such insanity? No, of course not. He'd laugh at us as he stomped back to Yridia. These accusations are the accusations of a cornered beast. Legz is up against a wall. He knows what he did, what will happen to him, and will do and say anything to escape. Declaring that a bunch of old has-beens abandoned our Clans and Houses during a crisis to discuss the downfall of the Dark Council? Absurdity in spoken form!
“Listen, my friend,” Troutrooper continued. “We brought Legz to you because we want to better the Brotherhood. We defend, continue to defend the Brotherhood. We found the traitor. He must be punished for his crimes. We would have done it ourselves, but, as a former Inquisitor, I wanted to see him formally tried and convicted. The Brotherhood needs to know that any sedition cannot, will not go overlooked and unpunished. I realize the evidence may not be overwhelming—“
“Not that overwhelming evidence is needed to convict a suspect...” Halcyon narrowed his eyes at the Mon Cal.
“—Yet,” Troutrooper continued, non-plussed by the once-convicted Deputy Grand Master. “Vexatus and I have definitive proof, and we want him to hang. Literally or figuratively, your choice.”
Halcyon contemplated the former Inquisitor's plea. Legorii squirmed in futile defiance against his bonds and his captor's soliloquy. Vexatus and Troutrooper said, did nothing outwardly. Inwardly, they checked with each other, preparing for the next moment.
Another blast rattled the Dark Hall. “This can wait,” Halcyon said, motioning for guards. “Submit your evidence to Taigikori. When—“ Another boom. “If we survive, we will hear his case. Guards, take him to the dungeon. Darth Vexatus, TT, if you're wrong about this...”
The Deputy Grand Master nodded and turned away as the guards picked up a frantic Legorii. Troutrooper and Vexatus watched as their prisoner became a ward of the Justicar's Office. They waited for a moment, said nothing, then—
"OW! Watch where you shove that thing!" Legz exclaimed, holding his ass.
Two blurry forms bathed in laser light pounced upon the distracted Deputy. A green shaft of laser light held back two shafts. "Nice try, fishy. Now you all will fry."
26 hours ago
Bomber Primary Intermediate Maintenance shop, ISD-II Magnus Kaerner
Oberst ran a gloved hand across the fuselage of the BTL-S8 K-wing fighter. The sensation of hardened metal through leather was a familiar one for Tarentum’s Iron Marshal. In ages past he had flown bombers against enemy capital ships, led torpedo runs against ground hard targets, and conducted precision strikes to eliminate high value targets. All from the safety of a cockpit, while flight jockeys swarmed about him in their own aerial and space-borne dances of death.
Crews around him worked fast to secure the custom payloads to the K-wing’s hardpoints. The crews worked fast and meticulous. Precision drilled into them by experience borne of repetition. Turning on his heel, Oberst made his way towards the lifts.
11 minutes ago
Falling at over twelve hundred kilometers an hour is not an easy feat. It takes time and preparation. It means breathing nothing but pure oxygen for an hour beforehand. It means specialized gear. Gear that costs money. Money that is in limited supply even for the wealthiest governments, corporations and individuals.
Falling at over twelve hundred kilometers an hour is not an easy feat. It takes a kind of fortitude that few beings possess. The kind of mental and physical strength that is borne of a combination of desire, hunger an adversity.
Falling blind at over twelve hundred kilometers an hour would be terror inducing to lesser men. No visual feedback of the outside world. Hearing nothing but the steady hiss of oxygen from the tank attached to your jump suit. The only knowledge that you were not dead yet being the slight rocking back and forth as the capsule met resistance from the thin atmosphere. The roar of air and the heat of atmosphere absorbed by the metal and ceramic encasing you. Your coffin if anything went wrong.
37 hours ago
Combat Information Center, ISD-II Magnus Kaerner
“The specialized payload,” a human Ensign began, his voice slightly nasal, “should punch a hole through the shields temporarily. A couple of seconds at most. Enough time to slip in.” The group huddled around the holographic display took in the words while staring at the suggested tactic. Around them were the sounds of the ship normally underway. Junior officers moving at a brisk pace to deliver messages between crew pits, keeping more senior officer abreast of situations, who in turn kept their superiors appraised of situations. This allowed a ship of this size to function without devolving into chaos. Each unit operated independently, but in concert with all other units.
“How do we get in from there,” Oberst asked, frowning at the display. “Any craft would be targeted, intercepted and shot down.”
“We could drop in with parachutes.”Another Ensign. Or was it a Petty Officer. Oberst didn’t bother shift his gaze. He just listened to the officers around him.
“From a hundred kilometers?” “Who does that anymore?”
“It’s doable. But you’d need a shell. Something to fall apart. Something to get you past the slight radiation belt near the poles.”
“What if we coasted in underpowered? The ship could make it through.” “Sensors would pick up the engines.”
“How about…” Oberst let the conversation drift off. Hard stare leveled at Lyspair’s image.
9 minutes ago
The metal and ceramic casing had long since fallen away, taking on most of the heat buildup with it. Now there was only twelve kilometers of open air until the ground. Seven kilometers until the first chute deployed. Six kilometers until the final chute deployed. If it deployed.
18 hours ago
Combat Information Center, ISD-II Magnus Kaerner
Alarms went off. The shrill sound roused sleeping men, who struggled to dress quickly. It forced those in the mess to abandon their meals at the table. The alarm alerted all hands, who quickly made their way to their stations. Within the Magnus Kaerner’s CiC, the air was charged with anticipation and apprehension. Around the colloquially termed “command bubble,” junior officers and petty officers dashed from station to station and crew pit to crew pit relaying orders and giving updates. Scion Altera carefully barked orders. His short frame did nothing to hide his presence. Here, he was judge, jury and executioner. Here, on this ship he was the ultimate authority for what went on within the confines of the hull and bulkhead.
Within the command bubble was an entirely different matter. Oberst barked out orders to aides who rushed to fulfill his request for information or spoke into comms to relay orders to various officers scattered throughout the system.
Oberst looked out onto barren rock and slowly unclipped the straps for his chute. Kneeling, he began to check the gear strapped to himself – carbine, energy packs, rope, lightsaber. Hearing the crunch of rock beneath booted feet he turned and rose, undoing the straps to his flight helmet. Meeting the Elomin’s gaze he huffed out a breath, “We’re here.”
Gulls complained loudly above the rolling tide as a dying sun left pink clouds in its wake. Raken could taste the brine in his mouth. The ocean at their backs lapped the shore in an endless rhythm whose sound drowned the crunch of their boots on the rocky beach.
Their number was six.
Raken watched as men of violence made ready for war. Parachutes buried, gear checked, comms established; all in silence, all in moments. He had brought killers. Men who had served in special operations elements around the galaxy; some formerly of the Iron Throne. They were machines. Methodical. Tenacious.
Every morning beings woke up who needed to die. These four were the men who shut their eyes. These were the men who destroyed tomorrows and created widows. And they could not touch the Force. Not remotely. Raken marveled. It was not a weakness. It was a strength. They could rely on nothing save themselves and the man at their shoulder.
Raken watched them begin their climb. They bore the tools of hate on their backs. Each handhold brought them closer to their goal. For them, it was a mission. For Raken it was evolutionary. Natural selection.
That which can be broken must be broken.
At the top of the cliff lay not just the Shadow Academy. That did not matter. At the top lay not just the Dark Councilor who administered the facility. She did not matter. No. At the top of the precipice overlooking the dark ocean lay Raken's Will. His desire to do a thing and then see it done. The stone and flesh that awaited him was simply detail. They merited no consequence simply for existing.
For they did not exist. Nothing did. At the top he would take hold the very fabric of the universe and remake it. This he would do as his Will bade and no other's. He would drag a new era into existence not by killing the flesh, but by exposing its insignificance. Its impermanence. Flesh did not last. Names could be killed. Dynasties became footnotes.
Only the Will transcended. His Will.
The Tarentae was at his shoulder. “A fool puts his back to the sea.”
Night fell. Nothing else was said. Nothing need be said.
They began the ascent.
The climb was arduous but not technical. Holds were plenty and their pro slid easily into the cliff face. The rock wanted to be scaled. This place wanted death. There was no care as to whose death it was. An apprentice. Raken. The Headmaster. Blood was blood.
Raken fed on the energy here. He sunk black claws deep into the rock's flesh and wanted to see it bleed. He wanted to drain this place. This moon. Its planet. This system. Drain. It. The cliff beneath him inverted to become a slide. Raken felt as though he was falling towards the top rather than climbing. He passed the contractors who had ascended before him with ease.
Breathing labored but steady he stopped, a plateau beneath his feet. Carved into the rock face was a facade neglected and worn by the ocean beyond. The stone was pitted; not old, but tired. Within the facade stood a door that had never been opened.
The Tarentum Marshal joined Raken on the plateau. “It isn't locked.”
Raken pushed against the rusted metal barrier.
Indeed it was not.
Lightsabers wailed in protest when the two assassins sprung at the Deputy Grand Master, mere moments after Legorii had been escorted down the hallway by the guards from the Chamber of Justice. But Halcyon was no fool. With almost preternatural speed, Darth Vires’s own blade had crackled to life, intercepting both the Falleen and the Mon Calamari at the same time.
Emerald fire blazed where should have sat the Sith Lord’s eyes, blazing with anger and betrayal.
And—the second of the two Dark Prophet’s thought—awareness. The muscles in Xanos’s hand clenched around his lightsaber as his own realisation dawned: Halcyon had been expecting this. The metal in the Falleen’s lightsaber hilt groaned as his grip tightened even more, before all three of the Elders were hurled in opposing directions when a convergence of simultaneous telekinetic barrages crashed and exploded together like colliding bullet trains.
There was a disconcerting squish, like the sound when first prising open a lobster, when the Mon Calamari struck the wall back down the corridor, near where the Anzat had been taken. Xanos felt one of the spikes that ran along his spine snap off as he himself smashed into the face of a black iron doorway.
“Traitors,” hissed the Deputy Grand Master and he pushed himself back to his own feet and brandished his emerald blade for the next attack, pulling a matching bryar blaster pistol from its holster on his belt. “If there is any disease that infects our brotherhood’s family, it is yours.”
A dim flicker of lightning began to crackle around Darth Vires’s fingers.
Xanos, it seemed, was not the only one to have noticed the Force Lightning appeared stunted.
Troutrooper gurgled in Calamari laughter. “Is that all you’ve got?” While the Falleen held back, sensing something amiss, his partner had already begun back down the corridor toward their isolated target. “Try some of this!” said Troutrooper as he sprung a second time, the blue-white heat of the dark side snaking around his own webbed hands in a cloud of Force Lightning.
Darth Vires just stood there as the Calamari leapt—
And crashed straight out of the air, only halfway to his target.
Behind Troutrooper, Legorii had reappeared along with his two escorts. One of the guards had his recently fired blaster rifle still in the air. But the gun had not been fired at the prisoner: it had just been used to shoot the Mon Calamari straight in the fish-like alien’s back. The floored assassin gurgled a curse at Legorii and the two guards in Mon Cala as the hallway shook from another bombardment from the battle outside.
“Did you fools really think we hadn’t seen your attack coming?” Darth Vires said mockingly. He cocked his head toward the other Dark Prophet. “Did you and your Dread Council truly think you saw more than I and the rest of Darth Ashen’s true Dark Council?”
Troutrooper had pushed himself back to his feet, but the smell of his cauterised flesh made the entire corridor smell like sushi. The Dark Jedi Master staggered back slightly to his fellow assassin’s side. Xanos, however, had not moved. Through all this, the Falleen’s eyes had remained fixed on the thin veins of lightning that coruscated down Halcyon’s wrist and into his palm.
Something was off.
“You deal with the spy,” Xanos said to Troutrooper, keeping his eyes on the other Sith Lord’s hand. “I will deal with this one.” The Falleen pulled something from a pouch on his waist and tossed it to the Mon Calamari.
Troutrooper examined the object and frowned. “What do I need a syringe for?”
Xanos did not answer as he had already started back down the corridor toward Halcyon. Behind, the two guards fired as Troutrooper did as the Dark Prophet had asked and turned his attention to Legorii and the two figures who were now the Anzat’s escorts. Xanos ignored the noise as he continued to study the arcs of Force Lightning that still did not develop further.
The Falleen’s lightsaber snapped off with a soft ffwuumm.
“Just as arrogant as your old Master,” the Deputy Grand Master said with a cold sneer.
“Perhaps,” Xanos answered impassively.
The Force Lightning continued to simply sizzle around Halcyon’s fingertips.
Behind them, sounds of a fight rang out, with a deep groan, somebody choking, a grenade blast, a loud thump, before the clang of metal on metal as something clattered to the ground. “I don’t need the Force!” Legorii’s voice cried, and a moment later Troutrooper’s gurgling Calamari voice hissed and puffed as the pair obviously launched at each other in hand-to-hand close-quarters strikes.
But none of that interested Xanos. All he cared about was their target’s Force Lightning.
The Falleen paused a few feet in front of the Deputy Grand Master and coughed.
Halcyon arched an eyebrow. “Coming down with the plague?” The Sith Lord grunted a laugh.
The two Dark Prophets stood there, face-to-face, as another rumble rang out from somewhere else in the Dark Hall as Zoraan’s invasion force continued its relentless attack. After Chi-Long, Xanos still couldn’t be sure of his own body’s condition, but that wasn’t important right then. He and the others had come to Antei for one reason and one reason alone.
But this was not the way it was meant to have happened.
“We should have done nothing…” the Falleen whispered to himself, lost again in his own thoughts while his mind drifted someplace or time else. Even if through some miracle the Dark Brotherhood somehow managed to survive Zoraan’s return, the damage had already been done: never again would the Elders command the unconditional respect of their lessers, never again would the bonds of trust be restored to what they once were before. The shatterpoint had already been shattered.
The Falleen’s eyes came back into focus again. Halcyon still had not attacked.
“What…where am I?” Legorii’s voice called from somewhere behind. “What…what happened?”
It was time.
The dark side crackled around the Falleen’s now-empty hand and coiled down his long talons. In front of him, the second Dark Prophet raised his own fist, almost like a mirror image, but unlike with Darth Vexatus, Darth Vires’s energy just continued to pop and crackle like that of a power convertor which had already been drained. Then, the darkness engulfed the Deputy Grand Master’s body as a blast of Force energy roared from Xanos’s hands, tearing the flesh from Halcyon’s bones, singeing hair and sinew, until all that was left was a scorched and blasted shell that crashed to the ground.
“Lurrrrd Halseee!!” Legorii called in slurred shock before the Anzat staggered up the corridor toward the smoking corpse.
Troutrooper followed Legorii and turned his large eyes toward Xanos in suspicion. “That… was easy.”
Several moments passed before Xanos answered. “They knew someone would be coming.”
The Mon Calamari looked down at the dead body again, then to Legorii, then down at the body again, and finally nodded in understanding. It had indeed been easy; too easy. Troutrooper turned his head to the confused Anzat once more. “What about him? What was in that thing you gave me?”
“One of my old apprentice’s,” Xanos explained. “His pneuma may have been shielded from any psychic action by the plague, but his anima is still susceptible to the vices of the flesh.”
Troutrooper turned back to the Falleen and stared at him for a second. “You gave him a hangover?”
The Dark Prophet didn’t bother to explain further and simply turned to head back toward the shuttle bay as another crash sounded somewhere else in the Dark Hall.
Onboard Xanos’s ship
Darkness surrounded her - a comforting shroud for once. wake up... wake up...
A familiar whisper nagged within her mind, but she refused to listen; she prefered to slumber in the dark that had wrapped around her. wake up... wake up...
No, she didn’t want to. Whenever she woke up, there only had been suffering, pain and arrogance - and all because of the Force. She didn’t want to see it.
but the Force is no more … wake up .. wake up..
Her blind eyes opened wide as she woke. She moved her head, bumping it against something hard. “Ouw..”. She rested her head back against the back of the seat she was strapped to. Where am I? She wondered, raising a hand in front of her eyes. Nothing - only darkness. Relaxed she breathed out.
“We are on our way back.” A dispassionate voice said. Sildrin was about to turn her head in the voice’s direction, but remembered the confined space. She wanted to ask about the mission, but having lost touch to the Force it all seemed pointless to her now. The former Seneschal murmered: “Is this the end?”
“Most likely not.” Xanos’s voice trembled as he coughed with a spasm of his body. “The Dark Council has to deal with Zoraan - a Grandmaster before the Exodus.” Sildrin frowned: “I was there before the Exodus - unlike many others - but I don’t remember him....”
She shook her head, and a faint smile appeared on her face: “Not that it matters much to me. Without the Force... “, she clenched a fist, “... it feels like a heavy burden was taken from my shoulders... “
“Finally you ‘see’ the truth, Lady Dragon.” Xanos’s voice made her perk up. “We are like minded in purpose and destiny. But there is still much to do, my Apprentice. The Force’s source is not quenched yet. Not yet.”
Moments of silence passed until Sildrin rose her voice again: “You demand a lot of me. And I am blind to the Force now. How am I to aid you?” The former Seneschal pressed a hand against her temple, despite the pain suppressing side effect of the disease, a faint hint of a headache sneaked up. Small sparkles danced in the darkness that enveloped her vision.
“Blind to the Force - yes. But not blind to the truth. You are now freed from the bonds of the Force. Free - to listen and to learn.” Xanos replied.
Was it that what Eojin meant with his words as he blinded me? She wondered, sinking back into silence as Xanos maneuvered the ship towards their destination.
And behind them a wake of blood.
Through the door of hubris. From the bowels of the Shadow Academy, to its very stacks of ancient tomes—some of which now burned—lay ruin. They had killed everyone they met. Black armor stained red. Hands and gloves cracked with a drying crimson second-skin. Their work had been brutal. For the soldiers under Raken's command, the Tarentum Marshal, the Adept himself, this was simply thoroughness.
She had run from them.
The banal confrontation was mercifully denied them. Pursued by soldiers, she had fled into the stacks of her precious books; candle flames flickering in her wake. Ten thousand accounts of those who had done more than the pathetic Dark Council ever would. She had found solace in them. Comfort. She had spent hours among them. Days. Years.
They had stolen from her. Robbed her. Their purported gifts of knowledge had not prevented this, her death. Only now at the end did they return a paltry few seconds of shelter for the years she had given them.
The contractors had cut her off. Two on one side. Two on the other. The two Adepts followed casually behind waiting for the end. Automatic fire shredded the library hall. Stacks burned. Shredded parchment littered the air like falling snow. She cowered in a corner. Tears salted the soft pale of her cheeks. Slender hands found purchase in her hair as if a frail body now her only shelter.
Her actions told the story of the Brotherhood. Her face a snap-shot of all their ills: weakness, fear, ineptitude.
That which can be broken must be broken.
The firing ceased. His soldiers locked down the immediate avenues of approach as the Adepts approached the quivering girl before them.
They looked down on her. There was no sensation. No exaltation. And of course, no pity.
Raken let the blood-stained hilt of one blade find his palm. Its energy deployed slowly as if savoring the time it took to reach its lethal radius. The pulsing color of the blade was as red as the blood it spilled.
Raken sunk it deeply into her chest.
It plunged past the silly robes of station, past the clammy flesh. Muscle wilted. Fat boiled. Bone incinerated beneath the perverse ecstasy of its touch. Finally the finger of Raken's will passed into and through the heart of the Headmaster. Her eyes were wide. Mouth agape as her head involuntarily snapped back.
The Tarentum Marshal watched impassively.
Raken let the blade rest. A heartbeat. Then two.
Her life fled and it was over. She had not even resisted.
Raken withdrew blade.
“Verify,” the Marshal said.
A contractor pushed by and took a sample of the Headmaster's blood. He checked again. Oberst knew the time it was taking indicated a problem.
“It's not her,” the soldier said. “We hit one of the doubles. Her blood's on file.”
It was quiet now. The library was still. Raken watched the last of the ancient paper snow hit the stone floor and settle forever. He stared at the body, said nothing.
The Marshal's jaw set almost imperceptibly. The other members of the Dread Council had reported much the same. All their targets on the Dark Council had been doubles or otherwise evacuated at the last moment.
“What do you want to do?” Oberst asked doubting he would get an answer.
There were many things Raken wanted to do. At the moment, he could not think of one.
Oberst turned to a waiting contractor. “Call for exfil.”
Somewhere, not far away, Muz Ashen smiled.
Ruins - Sith Academy
The cigarette flashed to life for the final time as golden-orange embers sparked from the night’s final drag of fresh oxygen. Darth Pravus slowly exhaled the exquisite smoke from his nostrils and mouth, savoring the multitude of flavors and tastes. Twenty-four cigarettes were smoked in three hours and twenty-seven minutes while live video feeds broadcasted the night’s festivities.
The Dread Council was reeking chaos across the Dark Brotherhood. Each member had been assigned a task to destroy or disrupt Dark Council operations. Success would not be defined by the murder or capture of councilors, but by the sheer magnitude of paranoia wrought. Tonight would not be the night of Nine Deaths, but it would be the night the Dread Council would escape from the Shadows.
Status reports scrolled across holographic pop-up displays indicating Raken and Oberst had called for exfiltration. Their mission had ended in the death of a decoy, but more importantly it had shown how easily a small team could infiltrate the Shadow Academy and completely annihilate its defenses. The Headmaster’s death was a secondary goal; the destruction of her private schoolhouse provided a significantly more symbolic victory.
“Sir, the fish has reported in through secondary audio channels,” Fourdee stated from his position next to the Grand Master.
“He mentioned the potential of a spy amongst us and repeatedly stated he would be taking a few weeks off. He said his wife’s bulbous backside was on his mind. He also mentioned the Fleet’s personnel were coming.”
The Sith Lord leaned back in his chair, a smile crossing his face. The Mon Cal was an atypical personality and his mission had gone awry from the start, but he, like all the others had served their purpose. The Deputy Grand Master’s double had been killed and portions of the Dark Hall had been ransacked. Security, as expected had been reduced due to the plague, but Troutrooper had practically waltzed in.
The Horizon Plague, Chi Long, Zoraan, the destruction of Kapsina, and the death of future generations of Dark Jedi had significantly weakened the Dark Brotherhood. The Dread Council had merely moved throughout the chaos, pushing a button here, and pulling a string there. The results, when viewed independently appeared insignificant, but their collective had borne the fruits of a decade of labor.
Pravus tapped the screen before him, the night’s last data streaming a list of names, names that would form the new Dark Brotherhood. Recruits from across the Brotherhood, chosen from houses and clans for their skills, and chosen for their overwhelming association to Imperial rule.
The Dread Council’s birth was complete, its triumph on the Horizon.