Team 6 Run-On
Members: Solus Gar, Arden Karn, Alaris Jinn di Plagia, Ronovi Tavisaen Dupar, Anshar Kahn Tarentae, Malfurion, Altheseus Levathan, Etah d'Tana, Graus Colvin, Valhavoc
* 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.
“I don’t care what the Justicar wants! He has no jurisdiction on Lyspair.” Solus Gar fumed in the immediate direction of a hologram depicting a twi’lek in long flowing robes. His office, normally kept organized, looked like a mess of flimsi and datapads; a mess in Solus’ eyes.
The hologram’s mouth moved slightly out of sync with the audio. “Lord Ashen has essentially declared a state of emergency. This puts Lyspair directly under Dark Council jurisdiction and, by obvious extension, the Justicar’s. He feels that because you were unable to lock it down ahead of time that he should have some representation in the area. I feel like he still has some lingering feelings toward the Academy.”
Tin-jawed mother-fracker. “Jusadih is under direct assault by its own citizens. Shouldn’t you be there instead, with your House?”
“Your House, too, my friend. Obviously, your immediate superior has thought it best to put your efforts where the contagion has appeared to originate; my superior had similar thoughts.” Alaris Jinn grinned. “Believe me, I would much rather watch everything Kal Vorrac built come crashing down around him. I’m simply following orders, Praetor.”
Gar glanced up for a brief moment at the Headmaster, who had been listening. She scratched absently at where her left eye once was and nodded. She turned and left her Praetor’s office. “As am I, Jinn. We could always use the extra sword arm, in case Jusadih’s problems spread out from the Deep Core.” He thought a moment. “How are you going to explain this to the Senate?”
“With enough luck,” Alaris took a short breath, “I won’t have to.”
The hologram cut out and Solus leaned forward on his desk to look back down at the Flimsi he had been studying intently when the call had come in. He muttered under his breath, “Things just keep getting better and better.”
Ronovi was not one to linger on one thing. As far as she was concerned, things at the Academy were going straight to Hell. Being the source of the plague as it stood now, it was obviously the most infected, and the most in dire need of assistance. She mechanically emptied a bottle of Whyren's Reserve into a very tall glass. Given the way she jerked around and her adrenaline surged through every vein, she wondered if she too was susceptible to this madness.
"Solus," she said just as fluidly as her pouring had been. "Order the Paladin to take down any vessel entering or exiting Lyspair space. We can't afford to have this bastard sickness spread any further. No one must leave this moon."
"What about Alaris?"
"He'll be fine," barked Ronovi. "We'll easily identify his ship. In the meantime, I think there's only one word I have to say to you."
Solus knew exactly what it was. "Quarantine."
"Every part of this Academy needs to be locked down," the Headmaster continued, her thoughts unhindered by the booze, at least not yet. "The classrooms, the libraries, the debate council chambers. Everything. No one is allowed into the open air. Every Professor and Docent will be responsible for the students. They must root out symptoms of the plague as far as we know. Give very little rations out. Those who are not infected, command them to meditate and delve into the Force to stabilize their bodies."
The dark aura of the Vault was affecting the Headmaster. Solus could see that all too well, from the way she intensely spoke to the way her one organic eye glistened with amber light. And with limited staff on the grounds, it was going to be like trying to herd crazed cattle in tiny corridors.
But he knew it was necessary.
"I'll see to it that your orders are carried out," he replied curtly before leaving the office.
Ronovi did not follow him. She opened another bottle of whiskey, but she did not let one drop fall from its lips even after draining her glass of the last dose. In the Holocrons she had pored over, she had sensed that something like this would happen. Alarm and panic had washed over her only momentarily before dry, stained resolve replaced them. She knew she would be responsible for her Academy - yes, hers, as it was starting to become - and the consequences of not tending to it would rest on her shoulders alone. An entire Brotherhood eradicated because of mind-warping pestilence was not entirely what she had in mind for the future.
So what to do? Quarantine, she could tell, would not be the answer or the last resort. Something else was occurring to her. She didn't know if it was the alcohol talking or the arcane knowledge that she had become so steeped in after so much reading and studying during the past year or so. She liked to think it was both. She turned to the viewing portal, looking over the dead schoolyard, where not a glimpse or splinter of sentience could be seen.
Whether she liked it or not, there were more of "them" than her men and women at the Academy. These Journeymen, with their seemingly advanced strength and success in the dark side, would not be leashed or muzzled so easily. Any Dark Jedi would know the alluring sensation of power and understand the kind of retaliation that one would enact if stripped of the opportunity to try that power out. And they would not be passive. They would fight.
And Ronovi, knowing her, would fight back. Perhaps, in the end, she would purge them.
Perhaps purge was the true answer for those who succumbed to the weakness of a disease similar to the quality of temptation.
She turned away from the viewing portal just in time to stare right into a red, faceless visor.
"Mother of -"
Ronovi could have jumped ten feet in the air were it not for the fact that she was nearly tall enough to bang her head on the arched ceiling of her office. Solus stared blankly back at her, dressed in full body armor.
"Forgive me," he grunted with only a flicker of amusement in his voice. No time for comedy. "I figured I would work best in my guardsman's armor."
"Fair enough," Ronovi snapped, finally dousing her tongue with whiskey straight from the bottle. "Now please tell me something's finally going right."
"Paladin has received orders to destroy anything approaching or departing Lyspair," recited Solus. "As for the quarantine..."
The barriers had been set in some parts of the Academy. Spots rippled where force fields could be plainly felt by those attempting to infiltrate the closed off spaces. Seemingly harmless corners and curves in the corridors could result in entrapment. Whether the initiate or student was infected or not, in various rooms, they were not allowed to leave.
Elsewhere, things were not going so smoothly. A few grunts were busy at the consoles, plugging away at encryptions and security codes in order to implement the Headmaster's orders. One of them spat noisily as he fiddled with the keys.
"Damn place always seems to have it rough," he griped. "Vong, Jedi, you name it. We had to spray them like pests."
He wasn't exactly accurate, but his friends bought it. And then the room went black.
Many rooms went black. The only sound was wind for some time. The screens of computers and consoles fizzled out or retained white screens with stark, incoherent text. Numbers? Code? Secret messages? It didn't matter. They were unworkable. And walls of defense that could have been raised were not.
In one particular area, a group of students sat huddled in a locked study room. But when the lights went out, it was like some of their eyes glowed. A smell practically wafted through each hall that could be breached, that would be breached. Almost like the smell of blood.
The air was growing dry. Throats were growing tigher. The spiderwebs of veins were bulging from folded hands.
Dark. Dry. Desperate.
As those who were meant to save the Academy attempted to, others were planning to aimlessly march.
Castle Tarentum, Yridia II
“What in the hell is going on?” wondered Dranik aloud, still clutching his katana. He had followed behind Anshar and Bloodfyre as the two elders had swept through the armed, but Force-less, journeymen. “It is infecting these people with stupidity as well as taking their Force powers away.” No one responded to the rhetorical comment. Dranik did not particularly care at the moment, either. Try as he might, he knew that he could not hide the truth from the elders. He was already feeling the drain of the Force disappearing. He figured his abilities were about that of a Dark Jedi Knight now; he secretly wondered if Anshar and Bloodfyre were feeling anything.
“We've managed to flood out some of the extra passageways,” commented Bloodfyre. “Still, death seems to be the only thing that stops this madness.”
“There's also the larger questions,” replied Anshar. “Where did it come from, what is causing it, and how do we stop it?”
“The source seems to be the Shadow Academy,” said Oberst, icily. “That said, I highly doubt it is the original source. All of these journeymen came from a variety of backgrounds, and at different times.”
“Couldn't we just try to sort through their backgrounds and see what they have in common?” asked Jason Hunter, the Aedile of House Tarentum. Oberst shook his head.
“At the rate it is spreading, we do not have time for that,” he replied. “Besides, I doubt we would find anything useful.”
“Then there is only one course of action I can think of,” said Anshar, standing up. “I will go to Lyspair and see what I can dig up. Before you protest, I think it is fair to say that I stand the best chance of breaking in there. I guarantee that it is on lockdown, perhaps even blockaded with instructions to shoot on sight.”
“Do you think you can trust us?” asked Bloodfyre sarcastically. There was a moment of silence in the room; it was the first overtly remark made in reference to the recent sweeping changes enacted by Anshar and Jason through Operation: Supremacy.
“I trust that you will do what is best for Tarentum. Of course, Jason is in charge in my absence,” replied Anshar. “Dranik, you're staying here.” Dranik stopped in mid-stride.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because, if something happens to me, you'll be one of the only ones who knows the Academy's access points,” replied Anshar. With that, Anshar strode out of the room, leaving the group of Tarenti alone to plan their next move in securing the Yridian system. He hurried to the launch bay, hoping that the ship he wanted to use was still there and still intact.
“Master Anshar,” came a voice from behind him. Anshar immediately recognized it as Levathan, but he sensed no treachery or murderous intent in the journeyman. He quickly fell in behind Anshar. “I want to come with you.”
“What makes you think you'll be of any assistance?” asked Anshar.
“My use of the Force has always been limited,” he replied. “Whatever this curse is that is affecting us, I don't feel quite as affected.” The pair kept walking and made their way into the launch bay. Anshar was relieved to see the ship still intact.
“Very well,” said Anshar. “You realize, though, that if you start showing any signs of trouble, I will kill you.” Levathan only nodded in agreement as the two boarded the ship.
* * *
The Shroud, Antei System
Levathan's hands were practically ripping the arm rests off of the chair as Anshar plowed through the Shroud. Levathan had made the journey many times going to and from the Shadow Academy, but never this fast. He did not know if Anshar was going crazy, or just that confident in his abilities. The CRF-156 Fast Courier, recently confiscated from one of the criminal syndicates on Yridia IX was every bit as fast as they were advertised. And since this one had some illegal enhancements, it went even faster.
“Get ready,” muttered Anshar as the last sheet of the Shroud dissipated before their eyes. Levathan was about to ask get ready for what when he saw the vessels ahead of them. Directly ahead lay the Paladin, flagship of the Shadow Academy. A flight of four X-wings for a moment maintained their lazily wandering patrol, but immediately snapped to attention and drove towards the intruding vessel. Sensors began to warn of target computers scanning the vessel. Though the courier had been painted a solid black, there was no blocking the energy signatures.
“Communications are down,” Levathan managed to squeeze out as Anshar pushed the vessel even faster. Suddenly, turbolaser fire began lancing out from the Paladin as the flight of X-wings split into two sets, moving into a classic pincer movement. Alarms began to howl at impending missile locks and for a moment, Anshar tried to remember if the Victory Star Destroyers had any missile launchers. He shook the thought from his head. It did not matter. He was heading towards a small outpost on Lyspair, and he needed to focus on getting to it.
Anshar, freely attuned to the Force, drove straight for the Paladin as the red laser fire from two of the X-wings nipped at his rear, each arc passing ever closer. Suddenly, the sensor turned bright red and began screaming about a missile lock. A quick glance showed two warheads in pursuit, followed by all four X-wings. Anshar was almost on top of the Paladin now, weaving in and around the turbolaser blasts. Unfortunately, the unwieldy weapons could not hit the missiles, either.
As soon as he cleared the Paladin, while the sensors indicated that the missile had lost its tracking, Anshar made a ninety degree turn downwards before bringing the vessel straight into a descending path, headed towards his target. It was an observation tower on the combat vessel practice fields, back when the Academy offered training in tanks, walkers, and other such things. It had not been in use for some time, and Anshar only hoped that the tunnels had not been blocked off. The vessel lurched as it hit Lyspair's atmosphere, but it was more the splashing of the laser blasts against the deflectors that caught Anshar's attention. He had lost his concentration on the X-wings and one must have overpowered his engines to catch up with the faster ship. Which meant he had either drained his shields or drained his laser cannons to do it.
A flash of warning struck Anshar, but it was too late. The computer did not scream, which only meant that the pursuing pilot had dumb fired the missile. It caught the left rear engine of the courier and exploded, jerking the ship upwards first, forcing Anshar to struggle with the controls to try and maintain the flight. His target was coming up. He had no choice. Reaching out with the Force, Anshar pushed back at the X-wing, forcing its nose upwards. Whether he caused it to crash or not, he did not know. He sole efforts were focused on bringing the damaged vessel close to the target and landing safely.
Still on fire, the fast courier approached the impromptu landing zone. Already lacking at least one landing strut, Anshar had no choice but to dramatically slow the vessel, at least as best he could, and bring it in for a “hot landing.” Metal scratched again rock and dirt, tearing the underbelly of the ship to pieces. Finally, friction and gravity took hold and the vessel came to a stop.
“Run!” yelled Anshar to Levathan, spring upwards and utilizing both of his lightsabers to carve through the plexi-glass. They bolted through the opening that tore at their clothing and sprinted towards the still standing observation tower. Another slash of Anshar's lightsabers cleaved through the door and the two Tarenti ducked into the tower just as an explosion shook the whole building. Levathan turned to look, seeing the flaming scrap heap that used to be the fast courier. He also saw two more X-wings driving for the tower, lasers and missiles flying.
“Get down here!” shouted Anshar, grabbing the journeyman by his collar and pulling him down into a tunnel of sorts. Anshar pulled the door shut and sprinted down the hallway, his lightsabers providing the only light. An explosion rocked through the tunnel, indicating that the tower itself was now gone. Finally, Anshar stopped to catch his breath. Something did not feel right, as if the Force he had used to get them here was gone and never coming back.
Just what in the hell was going on?
The darkness enveloping the Headmaster’s office was, for a moment, complete. It took Solus a heartbeat for his thoughts to tumble to what must have happened. Somehow the power and computer networks that were the nervous system of the Academy had been taken offline. His saber hilt was in his hands as low emergency lights flickered to life, their battery powered intensity not nearly matching the standard lighting.
“The quarantine measures were only partially in place,” Solus said, finishing his report.
“The Vault? The Armory?” Ronovi inquired.
“The vault was secured immediately, but the armory...” Solus trailed off as he accessed his datapad. “The armory was not yet secured.”
His words were punctuated by an explosion somewhere in the complex that was more felt than heard. It was followed by another that was much closer.
“We need to move,” Solus advised. “This position is not defensible.”
Ronovi nodded, picking her own weapon off of the desk. “Not from hundreds of armed, crazed students.”
Solus activated the commlink built into his helmet and signaled to his apprentice. “Karn, report your status.”
“Master?” came the reply, a strained tone evident in the man’s voice.
“Arden, what is your position?” Solus again demanded.
The only answer on the channel was silence for a number of seconds, and then the signal dissolved into static.
Solus shook off the thought of going to search for the man. If he were strong enough to warrant the effort, then Arden would also be strong enough to settle his own troubles. Aside from that, Solus had his own responsibilities to his master.
You could just let her die, you know. Take her place and usurp her power...
The voice in his mind was fleeting, a presence felt momentarily and then gone. It was not one that he had heard before, and yet it was somehow familiar, seductive.
“Solus?” Ronovi’s voice broke through his momentary distraction.
“Hmm?” he replied, shaking his head to clear it and wondering if his teacher had heard the same voice as he had.
“I said that we should move to the armory and lock it down,” the taller woman said, an eyebrow raised at her Praetor.
“Of course,” he replied. “I’ll take the lead.”
The two moved out into the hallway, the acrid smell of smoke assaulting their senses. Acting in concert as only two veterans of so many shared battles could, they moved quickly through the darkened corridors of the Academy towards their goal.
Upon rounding a corner halfway to the armory, Solus saw two of the infected students at the other end of the hall. Each carried blaster carbines, obviously liberated from the armory. Without a moment’s hesitation, Solus ignited his blade and charged the two men. His orange saber blocked his opponent’s shots, sending many of them back along the path they had come. One such bolt struck the man in the left in the gut, leaving him doubled over.
Solus shifted his attention to the other, his blade lashing out as he came within reach. With two swift cuts, Solus cleaved the weapon in two and had parted the man’s head from his shoulders. The corpse fell to the ground, but before it could hit the stones a blaster bolt had ripped through Solus’s armor and burned into his flank.
As Solus himself fell, his eyes met those of the first man. The sandy haired human’s features were twisted into a wide grin, the blaster he held in his hands pointed at Solus’s head. His stomach was a charred, smoking mess, but it did not seem to bother him in the slightest. Before Solus could attempt to bring his weapon to bear to protect himself, a glowing azure blade seemed to sprout from his chest. As it withdrew, the man collapsed into a heap and revealed Ronovi standing behind him, gripping her saber staff.
“He...he should have been dead,” Solus stammered, trying to call on the Force to calm the burning pain in his left side.
“Or at least incapacitated from the pain,” she agreed.
Ronovi kneeled and lifted the shorter man’s left arm, revealing blackened armor and flowing blood. The wound was bad enough, but the armor had ablated most of the carbine’s energy. A rifle might have penetrated more, so Solus had at least been lucky.
“You’ll be fine,” Ronovi said sharply, “Just focus.”
Solus met her gaze and quieted his mind, drawing energy from the Force to heal his wound. He could feel his master’s own Force flows intertwined with his own, helping to stop the bleeding.
Compassion, the voice came derisively once more, Her weakness should not be tolerated.
Solus pushed the voice from his mind.
“Master, come in!” Arden keyed the commlink in his hand repeatedly. “Master, are you there?”
After several seconds of no response, it was clear that the comms were non-functional. It figured, of course; everything else smelled of a lockdown. Barriers, power being cut off, no comms. It all made sense for some sort of quarantine procedure. And based on what was going on down where Arden was, it made perfect sense. Crazed students were everywhere and not exactly discriminate in what they were shooting.
“They’re cutting us off, Arden! They’re leaving us to die. Maybe they are right,” said another student, a Bith whose name Arden had not quite caught. He was one of a handful of other students that weren’t nearly as manic as the others that Arden had gathered in a lounge they had secured.
“Hush, I’m sure that they’re just scrambling comms,” one of the others, a good looking human woman about Arden’s age, responded.
“Enough,” Arden silenced them both. “They’re not trying to take our power like the nuts that are shooting at us. They haven’t left us for dead. Everything they’ve done so far is standard isolation procedures.”
“How do you know!” the Bith shouted.
“Because I’ve implemented them before,” Arden replied. “When I was an Espo, after a breach at a bio-research facility. Not quite this crazy though. But everything they are doing makes sense, as much as anything does right now.”
“So what do we do?” the woman asked
“Well, we have a defensible position and plenty of guns here. We could wait it out,” the pensive Duros in the corner chimed in.
Arden shook his head as he considered that option. “No, they’d overwhelm us eventually and we have no way out from here. Besides, Master Solus knows I’m alive and in control. I doubt he’ll risk trying to fight his way to us, so we have to make our way out somehow. Main corridors aren’t an option. They’ll cut those off.”
The human woman sighed and added, “and they are out there and might splatter our brains over a bulkhead.”
Arden nodded. “That too. Our best bet would be to find a service tunnel or maintenance duct. If we can get to one that’s passable, we can make our way to somewhere safe where Solus and the Headmaster can get to us.”
“And then what! They might kill us! Or, or,worse!” The Bith seemed to be getting even more paranoid.
Arden’s response was calm and direct. “And then we hope they can find a way to restore us to normal. Now, thoughts as to where we can access a tunnel.“
There was no immediate response, but then the Duros presented an option in the deep monotone common to his species. “The mess hall on the level below. There’s a utility conduit that runs beneath it. Should be sufficient.”
“You sure?” the woman asked.
The Duros nodded. “My master had me cleaning it out for the past week.”
Arden smirked and looked to the group. “Best option we got, I think. Last thing before we go, I need names. Makes it easier if I don’t keep calling people ‘you.’”
The woman answered first. “Jurel. Jurel Valeros.”
“Shi’rin,” the Bith offered reluctantly.
“Veros, “ added the tall blue being.
Arden looked them over one last time and pulled one of the blaster pistols off his hip. “Good. Stick together and keep your heads straight and we’ll make it through this. Don’t run off on your own under any circumstances. And in the name of whatever you find holy, don’t get dead.”
Malfurion paced erratically mumbling to himself in one of the Shadow Academy training rooms. As he moved from one side of the room to the other he was throwing his training lightsaber letting it spin two or three times in the air then catching it with the opposite hand. He had been stuck in relative darkness ever since the lock down. The only light came from the dim crimson light of the door panel. He had already tried to hot wire the panel but thought that he would only make things worse. As the hours ticked by his unfocused mind began to race. Thousands of ideas, memories, and voices all at once collided and exploded into each other making more ideas, bringing up more memories. The noise inside his head a cacophony of thought.
Back and forth...
Up, spin, caught...
"Why...?" he said aloud to himself. "Why can I still feel it? Why can I still feel the Force when so many of my brethren have lost their connection to it?" Even now he knew that groups of lower ranking Dark Jedi like himself were rioting, he had witnessed it. But he couldn't understand why he had yet to be consumed with this contagion.
Back and forth...
"Perhaps they are just weak and I am that much stronger." He had felt more powerful as of late, but not to the wild degree of some of the others that he had heard about. He was unable to harness the Force to have lightning spring from his fingertips or stand toe to toe with an elder. His connection to the Force has never been that strong.
Back and forth...faster...
Up, spin, caught...
"What if it was me who is the weaker one? If this whatever it is doesn't want me because I am not strong enough to feed on?" Maybe this affliction only affected the ones who had a greater connection to the Force. He pounded his hands into his temples.
"No...No...No...! That can't be it,” he argued with himself. "If that were the case, then the masters and the elders would have been affected first."
Back and forth...faster...
His lightsaber hit the duracrete floor of the training room with a metallic thud. It tumbled several times end over end then slid under a rack of small items and stones used for lightsaber training drills. He was stopped dead, frozen unable to will himself to move. He looked at his hands in disbelief. Then to where his lightsaber had tumbled. He closed his eyes and pictured the light saber in his mind reached out with Force but...nothing. Rage took hold of his mind. His vision tunneled blackness crept along the edges of his vision. He stumbled for the rack ripped it from the wall and cast it aside, the items falling noisily to the ground. He clumsily grasped for his lightsaber. As his fingers wrapped around the hilt the metal felt cold and lifeless as it it were just a hydro spanner.
It was enough to clear the fog from his mind for a moment. "Got...to get out of here. Got...to find Master...he'll know what to do."
He had already tried to hot wire the door with no success, so he did the next best thing. He picked up a large stone that had been sitting on the rack and bashed the door panel until he heard the mechanical click of the locking mechanism and the seem of the door parted slightly. He opened the door with surprising ease. He peered down the dim hallway the only illumination coming from emergency lighting panels. There didn't seem to be anyone about. But without the Force to guide him, he would have to proceed with caution.
He made his way down the corridors moving from shadow to shadow as quietly as possible. Luckily he hadn't seen anyone yet, but in the distance he could hear footsteps and hushed voices. He slipped into a darkened alcove and waited for them to pass. As the footsteps got closer he could just make out four forms.
They were moving quietly down the hallway just as he had. As they stepped under an emergency light panel he could tell they were journeyman just like him and all armed with blasters which didn't make his situation any better.
"Perhaps, though," he thought, "if they were mindful enough to try and conceal themselves, they weren't mindless as the others are." He couldn't take that chance yet, but he would follow them to determine if they were friend of foe.
Graus walked down the corridor, his E-11 blaster gripped in both hands, collapsible stock extended. His hood pulled back, the former stormtrooper walked as silently as he could, his boots making slight tip-taps on the polished floor. Stopping at a T-cross corridor, Graus leaned against the wall and listened to the sound of chaos in the distance. Yells and screams, their direction indecipherable as they echoed off the smooth corridors and polished floor, occasionally punctuated by a random blaster bolt and the almost constant, low-bass hum of lightsabers in use made listening for just one person almost impossible. Flickering lights pulsed from the ceiling down the hall, followed by the faint smell of overheating electronics. The low buzz of shorting circuits, followed by a random shower of cascading sparks from overhead also made gauging depth down the hallway near impossible.
Swallowing hard, Graus took a moment and yawned, trying to pop his ears. The ever-present pressure, the almost tangible void left behind when his powers were taken, made the trooper’s head feel like it was gripped in a slowly tightening compression vice. Rubbing his forehead with the palm of his gloved hand, the young Knight tried to focus past the bone gnawing ache he felt. It was steadily getting worse, ever since his run in with that Obelisk Templar he’d encountered in the main library just as the shut down protocols were activated. While Graus had actively avoided the fight; he was still trying to figure out what was going on and dealing with the sudden loss of the Force, when out of nowhere a bunch of Journeymen savagely jumped the Equite, and the more powerful Dark Jedi used the Force to throw a number of them backwards.
That display of the Force awakened something within Graus, a craving of sorts. Only the outer fringe of the Force Bubble touched Graus, but at that mere brush, the former stormtrooper felt every nerve come alive with power. He felt his muscles tighten; his nerves become sharp and his senses become clear. When he moved, he still moved at normal speed, but the world around him slowed to a crawl.
This was power… and I must have more!
However, that feeling only lasted mere seconds, and what was left in its wake was a dull pressure in his skull and what felt like a hole in his very soul. Once the power faded completely, he found himself on the floor of the small classroom curled into the fetal position, salivating uncontrollably and twitching, akin to some type of chemical withdrawl. Wiping the drool from his mouth, Graus looked around at the moaning forms of the Journeymen lying on the floor, all in similar poses. The Equite was nowhere to be seen…
Now, almost thirty standard minutes later, here he was, following the trail of that fleeing Equite as he slashed and blasted his way towards the nearest exit. A steady line of slashed and crushed bodies told Graus he was still on the right track. Making sure no one was around; the Knight quick stepped farther down the hallway. Stopping at another cross junction, Graus heard the warbled hum of a lightsaber in action on the other end of the corner he faced and smiled.
Saliva filling his mouth in anticipation of feeding the lust for more power inside him, Graus flipped the E-11 to the stun setting and turned the corner, blaster held at the ready in a two-handed carbine grip. What he saw actually took the Knight by surprise. The Equite lay quite still, pinned beneath a large, heavy desk. Off to the side, a human that teetered towards the larger side of the physical spectrum, stood against the wall, breathing heavily. Near him were three other beings. Another human, smaller than the first, was sprawled on the ground, slowly getting up. Besides the two humans, a pair of aliens rounded out their quartet. Graus had never been a Xenophyle, so to him, anyone not human was a ‘non-human’ so he tagged them Furry and Bubbles based on their physical appearance.
“I got ‘im!” the brutish human said between heavy breaths.
“Yeah, you did, Frusc, you squashed him good!” said the smaller human with twitchy eyes and a long pointy nose that currently leaking a fair amount of blood.
Twitch… I’ll tag him as ‘Twitch, Graus thought as he lowered the weapon slightly.
Almost at once, all four Journeymen turned and yelled, the ones with visible eyes narrowing dangerously. Brute, the big one, pushed himself off the wall and moved towards the desk, never taking his eyes off of Graus.
“Easy, fellas, I see you got the fleeing bastard. Been trailing him since he decided to flaunt his stolen powers back in the library,” Graus said, finding that in this moment, the truth was easier than trying to lie.
Seeing that he was only a mere Knight, and alone, the four relaxed a little and Twitch even began smile a creepy, nervous smirk.
“We’re going to find out what they did to us,” Furry said, his canine-like maw chomping out every word with the hint of a bark. “You want in?”
“Oh, absolutely,” Graus said, a large eager smile creasing his face. You morons have no idea what you’re doing…
Brute grabbed the heavy worshyr wood desk and lifted it off the Equite. He was human, middle-aged, with a rather ornate set of robes. His fancy lightsaber handle, now in the tentacles of Bubbles, was as much a piece of artwork as it was a weapon. Twitch and Furry tore the outer robe from the unconscious Equite and tied his hands behind his back and his feet together.
“Guys, when you lost your powers and you grabbed this poor bastard; did you feel anything when he used the Force against you?” Graus asked.
Brute’s forehead creased and his face had a look like thinking actually physically hurt him. “Yes, well, no.”
“Huh? Which is it?” Twitch asked, obviously intrigued.
“Well, I didn’t feel no pain, but I did feel stronger when he tried to push me,” Brute said slowly, his brain obviously not used to being used this much.
“Me too,” Furry barked in, “but I also felt faster, like quicksilver was in my veins instead of blood.”
“I don’t feel no pain, but I sure feel empty now, moreso than when we first had out powers taken away” Twitch said. Bubbles made some high pitched squeaking sound that trilled and warbled, obviously putting in its two creds worth of opinion.
“Me too,” Furry replied, “It’s like I’m all alone in a dark pit, only I’m not ‘cause I’m here.”
“Ya, me too.”
“Well gang, I’ve been feeling the same way. I think we should bind this guy up good and make him use the Force on us some more,” Graus said easily, “’cause the only time I was close to feeling myself was when he was using his powers against me.”
The four of them looked at one another, clearly taking awhile to absorb what Graus had just revealed to them.
Twitch was the first to reply. “Yeah…good idea there, umm…”
“Tix,” Graus replied, using his cover name, “Call me Tix.”
“Ok Tix, let’s get this one tied up good,” Twitch said, motioning to Brute to lift the Equite and carry him along.
A short time later, in one of the smaller classrooms, the Equite was bound securely with both his robes and some synthrope from Graus’s trooper belt.
“So, what do we do now? Slap him around a bit?” Twitch said, his tone clearly showing he was considering it. The way Furry was staring at the prisoner with hate in his eyes, it was clear he was thinking the exact same thing.
“We have to wake him up first and make sure he can’t escape,” Graus calmly explained.
“Then we motivate him.” Flipping the E-11 back to its normal kill setting, he raised the weapon up and took aim at the unconscious human. With a sly grin, Graus then shifted the weapon and blasted a neat hole in Brute’s sloping forehead, just above his dull left eye. The back of his skull popped as the superheated brain mass exploded outwards. Dropping to one knee, he then lanced three bolts through what he hoped was Bubbles’s cranial area, then tucked and rolled, firing up and into Furry’s exposed chest as he leapt at and over the Knight. Rolling up, his weapon held at the ready Graus took aim at the lone survivor. Twitch just stood in shock, his right eye blinking rapidly.
“What? What? Why? Wha?” was all Twitch could sputter, his jaw slack in confusion.
“Well, it’s nothing personal. I’ve never been known to share power,” Graus replied, a feral grin splitting his face and evil glee lighting his eyes. Depressing the trigger, the Knight sent a rapid fire burst into Twitch, striking him twice in the neck and blasting his lower jaw into a fine red mist. The small human flopped around on the ground, the ruin of his mouth and throat bubbling blood as he tried to breathe.
Hmm… that thing about not feeling pain must be true, he should be dead, Graus thought as he fired a round into the flopping human’s knee, nearly severing his lower leg. Twitch seemed not to even register the newest injury. Crouching down, Graus watched Twitch choke on his own blood and to the small man’s credit it took nearly 4 minutes to finally expire.
Turning to the bound Equite, Graus took the ornate handle from the flaccid tentacle of the now deflated Bubbles and ignited the scarlet blade. Looking at the his prisoner; his battery, Graus smiled the gleeful, desperate grin of a junkie ready for his next fix.
“Wake up! C’mon buddy, I need you up and awake for this!”
The Knight slapped the Equite twice and finally used some smelling salts from his first aid kit to rouse the elder Dark Jedi from unconsciousness. The older human focused on Graus then began screaming in pain.
Grabbing both sides of the Equite’s head, Graus leaned right in, his forehead touching that of his prisoner.
“Come on! Use the Force! Dammit, use it!”
Suddenly the older human’s head slumped back and his eyes Blue eyes… hmm fixed on the ceiling. His mouth still open in a slack scream, but the lines of pain that creased his face eased slowly.
Looking at the body, armless and legless, tied upright in a chair, Graus regarded at the lightsaber handle and threw it at the body in disgust.
“Dammit, I should have figured that would be too much trauma for him to handle all at once. This craving is making me reckless!” he said aloud. Slinging his E-11 back into its holster, Graus needed to find another Force User and try again.
Maybe only take off a foot first, that might do it, he thought as he went back into the hallway; back on the hunt.
Solus opened his eyes slightly. The pain had drastically dwindled, but the mobility in his arm was not all there. Ronovi eyed him apologetically as he flexed his bicep under his charred armor.
"Obviously," she murmured, "we still have a lot to explore in our Force potential."
“That’s not saying you’re not useful,” added Ronovi. “Because if you weren’t, I would have already killed you."
Normally she didn't talk like that. Not unless she was in all out serious mode. Then again, not having time to take a full flask with her during such an emergency was bound to make her somber, even sinister. It was certainly better than her being the typically aggressive person she was when left without a drop of liquid courage. That initiate's nose would always be crooked from the impact of her fist.
No other signs of life could be seen or felt - at least not yet - past the corpses that now riddled, gruesome chunks of torn, cauterized tissue. With the way that one Dark Jedi had endured a shot to the stomach, it was obvious that the deaths that Ronovi and Solus would possibly bring upon the infected would have to be quicker yet more severe and exaggerated. Simple weapon penetration, at that point, was no longer a safe option. Instead, there needed to be decapitation, drawing and quartering, slicing off limbs with only a few strokes of plasma, stuff like that. No matter what this plague did to the students or professors, Ronovi was fairly certain that a lopped off head would not fix itself back onto its owner's body.
"The professors," she suddenly uttered as the thought hit her. She was talking as they walked, faster this time, further toward the armory. "They're not safe, either."
"No. They, too, are susceptible."
"As are we."
"Not as susceptible," replied Solus.
"Yeah, well," grumbled Ronovi, "I'll let you know if I start hallucinating or something."
Usually that would be taken as a joke. But seeing as the plague, at this point, was relatively unknown in terms of its symptoms, anything was possible.
Shuffling against the adjacent wall, Ronovi kept her saber staff deactivated but still pointed as though the blades were still lit. There lay the armory, its belly exposed. The power outages and botched lockdowns had most likely compromised the security within the entrance, and as such, it was not sealed off. Nodding to her Praetor, the Headmaster swooped into the crowded space and was greeted with a vast array of blasters, crude sabers, archaic swords, and blunt training weapons.
She did not sense any life. Not yet, anyway. Moving to one wall display of carbines, she gingerly traced her fingers around the outlines of where the stolen blasters had once rested. Psychometry time. She placed her hand on a blaster rifle and closed her eyes.
Someone had indeed touched this particular firearm, even if he or she hadn't taken it. In her mind's eye, Ronovi saw scuffling, almost hearing it, as well as seeing a first person perspective as if from the weapon itself. A silhouette had reached for this particular selection, fingers grazing the long, sleek nose of the barrel. But in an instant, the shadow was gone, maneuvering away. But never truly exiting.
"There's someone still here," she muttered.
"It would seem so."
Solus raised an eyebrow. Save for a slight bend at the wall, the armory was fairly straightforward in that it was a gigantic square room filled with weaponry. It was not a space of twists and turns.
"Hiding where?" he demanded.
That was when Ronovi spun around, her lightsaber roaring to life, seemingly aiming straight for her own ally. Solus would have reacted in instinctive retaliation, were it not for the sudden half-grunt, half-yowl as a figure near his left shoulder ducked out of the way of Ronovi's wild swing. The cerulean crescent barely missed a row of disruptor rifles in its crazed flurry, crudely scarring the wall instead with black arcs. Solus, grateful that his fighting arm was still good, let his own saber blaze just as a stubbled, cowering man with shaggy hair and even worse robes crumpled to his knees, twitching and sobbing.
"Please! Mercy to the masters! I beg you!"
Ronovi frowned. She did not recognize this man, nor did she truly sense Force vibes from him. But he clearly did not appear to be an initiate. Perhaps a Knight, or an Equite, but definitely not a new addition to the swarms of students. Not to be trusted. She grunted at Solus.
"See if he's got anything."
"Just my saber," moaned the intruder. "Nothing else. I swear."
Solus delicately and cautiously lifted up a ratted hem of the man's robes, pulling the bare-boned lightsaber hilt from his belt. He quickly handed it over to Ronovi as the Dark Jedi incessantly babbled.
"I was going to take one of those blasters, I confess it. But only because I feared for my life. Total lockdown, in the Academy, as I attempted to do my work! Everyone afraid. Some of them vicious."
He needs to calm down, Ronovi thought to herself, attempting to hide her annoyance by perusing his lightsaber. Roughly carved. Hardly ornate.
"You see, I ran into a nasty sort of people. I just don't understand. They seemed angry. Hungry. One of them I could have sworn was just a Guardian in rank, but he very well nearly got the best of me! Tried to kill me and almost went through with it, he did. And I'm a Battlemaster, mind you, one of those menacing Sith types, not to be underestimated.."
No, really, he needs to stop.
"Plus I swear that it's all getting worse. This insanity, it's killing me mentally. I don't feel like myself at all. Maybe only half of myself. A third. Who knows. I don't know what's going on, but I'm willing to help..."
"Solus," snapped Ronovi, "tell him to shut up."
Solus didn't have to. He glared instead. That got the man to clench his chattering teeth.
"You said you wished to help us?" inquired the skeptical Epicanthix.
The man hesitated at first before realizing that he was being allowed to speak again. "Y-yes, that's what I said."
"But you don't feel like yourself at all."
"That's correct, too."
"Are you sure you shouldn't be kept somewhere safe?"
That got him going. Practically screaming like a scared cat.
"No, no, no, no, no!" he yowled, clawing at Ronovi's coattails. "Please don't! There are monsters out there. The ones who tried to kill me. They're angry at me, and you, and him. They want us dead. They think we impede their power. Please, I'm someone you can trust!"
The display was absolutely pathetic, especially for a Dark Jedi of his presumed stature. Almost as if he were battling with his own mind. Such uncontrolled panic and fear was a weakness and certainly uncharacteristic of an Equite. But at this point, he was making no move to hurt either Ronovi or Solus. At least not at that moment.
Ronovi bit her lower lip and turned to look at her Praetor. He seemed to lack any enthusiasm about this possible shipwreck of an individual. She probed him somewhat.
If he's sick...
Yes. I know.
There was only one thing to do.
"If you want to help us," Ronovi said slowly, "then I expect you to follow all of my orders. No questions. Just actions. You hear me?"
This seemed to change the man's mood drastically. He stood up slowly, cleared his throat, and brushed the collected dust off his robes. And then he provided a very cool, almost casual smile.
"Certainly, Headmaster. I would be honored."
Mood swing. First bad sign. But Ronovi still pointed to the outside of the armory. If the space were left opened like this, then everyone could grab weapons and create an all-out siege.
"Help us shut this armory completely down."
Just what in the hell was going on?
“We need to figure out what’s happening and put a stop to this. Come, that explosion will have attracted a lot of attention,” said a distracted Anshar, his mind still attempting to come to grasps with the strange limiting sensation to his Force powers, as he began to walk deeper into the dark tunnel. “Follow in my footsteps, the traps have probably been activated, I just hope they haven’t changed too much since my time here, the Force will guide us for the parts that have changed.”
Levathan was catching his breath, coughing slightly from a combination of dust and phlegm from the flu-like symptoms, as he began to follow Master Anshar, trying to get his breathing under control again. There was a pervasive darkness in the tunnels, the only light sources coming from meager, crimson emergency lighting on the floor; barely enough to see and arm’s length ahead. All that could be heard was the soft footfalls of the two men and the sound of Levathan’s hand sliding along the wall, to keep himself orientated in the darkness.
What’s become of this place? The darkness and regular footsteps provoked thought. This is where It all began for myself and so many others, and now it’s become diseased, all because the Elders wanted to keep power for themselves! No, no, no, no, that can’t be right, I’ve been around Elders and Equites for years, yes, they were paranoid and at times power hungry, but this is the Dark Brotherhood of clans and houses, insane or powerless journeymen do not serve that ideal… then why do I feel like I do?
Realizing that he had quickened his steps, he forced himself to slow down, but his muscles felt restless. He could almost feel the veins of energy coursing through them, as though he could break his own joints from simply over flexing his limbs. Calm yourself, you’ve been a journeyman for years by your own choices. You’ve gotten used to limiting your use of the Force for the sake of esoteric pursuits. However, Levathan couldn’t even feel the Force now, or the increased senses and foresight that came with it; his senses dulled, as though someone had thrown a clear bag over his head, still able to see but not truly SEE. You’ve put the Force to the back of your mind countless times before; just pretend it’s one of those times.
How bad it must be for the younger ones and the Equites, also; if I’m right about Master Anshar. Raising his eyes to look at the back of the human, now striding confidently, in front of him. The young ones would have their new and awesome prowess stripped from them while the Equites would lose the foundation of their power… should the Elders be infected, the Force having become a part, if not most of who and what they are, would they lose themselves completely?
Anshar could hear Levathan muttering to himself as he followed with odd changes in pace, but it only seemed pensive for now. He had more important things to consider.
“Quiet! We’re almost to the tunnel entrance and I don’t need you giving us away,” he hissed at the younger human, as he saw an end to the red floor lights ahead of him. “We need to head up to the Headmaster’s chambers. If we can’t find Ronovi there, we’ll at least know where to head next.” Not waiting for a reply, he quickened his pace into the darkened basement level storage room beyond.
They made their way through the lower levels of the aptly named Shadow Academy, going around sealed doors whenever possible and through them, by either cutting through with a lightsaber or pulling them open. When that was not possible, they encountered only a few groups of Journeymen armed with blasters or blades that attempted to move with stealth, but too quickly, or too restless, to conceal the sounds of their footsteps or breathing. There were occasional screams, sounds of blaster fire and collapsing duracrete as the groups of deranged Journeymen met traps meant for invading Jedi, to which Levathan could only feel pity for them before re-focusing on the task of following Master Anshar as accurately as possible.
The closer they got closer to the Headmaster’s chambers at the central apex of the Academy, the louder the cacophony of sounds; from blasters, sabers, blades, punctuated by the occasional muffled thump of a distant explosive, became progressively clearer and louder. The increasing noise allowed them to move faster by not having to conceal the sounds from their movement as much. Even more fortunate was that they had avoided any major confrontation that couldn’t be handled by a quick ambush with a dagger driving through the brainstem for maximum effect. No quarter or warning was given, as long as they roamed the hallways or somehow were in the position to compromise the Dark Jedi Master and the Hunter, they would be quickly and efficiently neutralized.
Their progress was going remarkably well until they reached the central library.
Hundreds of thousands of tomes, books and scrolls surrounded them, in air that was both dry and dusty. Levathan loved the smell of old books, of the leather, cloth and paper they were made from. What he didn’t love was the large group of Journeymen combing through the aisles and blocking the giant archway out, looking like rabid Kath hounds armed with E-11 blasters. While eight of those Journeymen just happened to be approaching their hiding place in one of the darkened alcoves, which lined the library walls. Unfortunately, the only way to the upper levels that was not blocked by a energy shield, was through the library in the direction of the oncoming party.
Looking at Master Anshar, Levathan saw tightness around his eyes; he noticed that the Elder had been avoiding use of the Force and his lightsaber whenever possible, even to the point of using bladed daggers instead of his lightsabers.
“Ambush, break through and run, stay very close,” Anshar whispered in a voice that was barely audible. The Hunter nodded, drew his short vibroblade, and set himself on the balls of his feet in a half crouch, as Anshar prepared to activate his two lightsabers.
Levathan only had time to wish he had brought or taken a blaster from a corpse before the Dark Jedi Master, in an explosion of movement, Force leapt at the surprised Journeymen as they drew close, decapitating two in an instant with a blue and violet flash. Then, spinning around with his blades extended, Anshar took a Chiss’s arm off at the elbow while cutting through a Zabrak’s torso at the hip, almost halfway through. Levathan could only run after Anshar, trying to close the distance that the Force enhanced attack had opened up. Realizing, as Anshar turned to break through the remaining four, that the two who had suffered grievous injuries were still raising their weapons towards his companion, Levathan shoved his vibroblade unceremoniously through the Chiss’ neck from behind and drove his boot into the side of the Zabrak’s back, grotesquely spinning the alien’s upper torso, tearing it from his lower body, dropping a pool of blood and organs with the Zabrak himself dropping after, its spine finally severed. He then ran after Anshar again, ripping his blade out of the now lifeless chiss as he did so.
Then he heard it before he saw it, loud and very clear screams and shouts from inside the library, both masculine and feminine screams of anger and rage. The large group combing all of the aisles had turned back to the scene. Having seen the Force used against them put them into a frenzy to get to its wielder. The group converged behind them both sprinting and driving after them with spittle and froth on their mouths.
Strangely enough, the only thought that the younger Human had while sprinting for his life, from the clutches of a horde of murderous sentients, was simply; I’m really not going to get back home with my robes in one piece, am I?
Valhavoc ducked into a small classroom to avoid the raving Journeymen roaming the hallways. Throughout the Academy, lights flickered as the generators strained to keep multiple systems online.
Valhavoc had arrived at the Shadow Academy weeks ago. Officially, it was in order to continue his studies towards a Dark Maven in Combat. Unknown to the majority of the Brotherhood was his Master’s identity, and plans. The mission from Darth Pravus was simple: Infiltrate the Shadow Academy and gather intelligence on the Headmasters movements. The final words Pravus spoke to him before he departed still rung in his ears, “If the opportunity presents itself... kill her.”
The thought of fighting an Obelisk Primarch was both chilling and exhilarating to the recently promoted Dark Jedi Knight. Adding to that challenge was the current state he was in. All of his recent attempts to sense others through the Force as he navigated the corridors ended in frustration. No matter how hard he concentrated, he felt nothing, and the only sound he heard was the dim hum of the air recirculation system. Surviving in this hellhole would be difficult, and defeating Ronovi was an impossible task, especially if the Headmaster had maintained her powers like other higher ranking Equites.
Could those lunatics be right? Have we been stripped of our powers by the Elders of the Brotherhood and the Dark Council?
It made no sense to the former intelligence Agent for the leadership of the group to strip an entire caste of their powers. Valhavoc quickly checked the power cell on his blaster pistol, cursing himself for not bringing a rifle with him. For a fleeting moment, he had considered heading towards the Academy’s armory to get his hands on one, but given the bloodthirsty state of most of the former students, they would probably have already swarmed the place to arm themselves.
The Arconan decided that the most important thing at this moment was to find a defensible place to hold out until he could come up with a better plan. Possibly a location that had a computer console capable of accessing the Shadow Academy’s security feeds to figure out what the situation was in other areas of the building.
The console room. It should have access to the feeds. It’s a smaller area, which could be defended with only a few people, and I doubt it has anything that would attract the attention of the Journeymen that are hellbent on revenge.
The Knight stepped out into the hallway to begin his journey across the grounds, his pistol held at the ready as he moved through the dimly lit corridor as quietly as possible. The sporadic sound of blaster fire could be heard throughout the Academy. At each intersection of hallway he paused, straining to hear any sound to betray potential ambushers hiding around the corner, before proceeding.
As he passed in front of a classroom door a flicker of movement from inside the room caught his attention. Val stepped inside to investigate, scanning the area. On the far side of the room he made out a huddled figure, crouched in the corner. “What are you doing in here?” he called out warily.
Only a mumbled reply came from the figure. “They stole my powers...jealous... greedy...”
Perhaps they can be reasoned with?
“The Brotherhood didn’t do this, think about it. What would they gain from it? An entire group of -”
“LIAR!” screamed the ragged figure. Before Val could finish his sentence, the figure had leapt from the corner and was charging across the room.
The Arconan fired two quick shots from his pistol. The first missed his attacker, and the second hit them in the shoulder, knocking the crazed human to the ground. Lowering his Westar-34, Valhavoc approached his would-be attacker. In the light, he recognized that the figure was wearing robes marking him as a Guardian. Surely the shot had taken some of the fight out of him.
As he neared the fallen figure, the individual lunged at him again, pulling a concealed knife from his robes. Valhavoc parried the attack, knocking the knife out of his hand and fired two shots directly into his chest. His attacker collapsed to the ground in a heap. Val watched as the human writhed about on the floor struggling to reach the knife that had been knocked away from him.
He should be dead, or at least unconscious from the pain...
The Knight fired another shot into the man’s left thigh and watched him continue to drag himself towards the knife. It seemed like he didn’t even notice he had been shot again. Val took aim at the dying man’s head and fired a final shot, and the body dropped limp on the ground.
Exhaling, Valhavoc looked up towards the ceiling of the room, “What’s going on in this place,” he muttered to himself.
As he turned to leave, he wiped some sweat from his brow, only to notice blood running down his left hand. Curiously, the Knight pulled the sleeve to his robes up, revealing a deep cut on his forearm, certainly from parrying the knife attack. There was no pain. It was as if his whole arm had been numbed.
No pain...just like the Guardian.
The Correlian cleaned the wound as best he could with his limited supplies. He still had full mobility of his hand, so it was safe to assume that no tendons or ligaments had been torn, at least not completely. Val ripped a piece of the fallen Guardian’s robes off and used it as a bandage over the wound to help stem the bleeding.
He then continued his movement through the hallways, more cautiously now. Valhavoc managed to avoid several groups of the roaming wild Journeymen over the next half hour. As he peeked through the window to a nearby room, he noticed a familiar face. He had seen this person before...in the Arconan Citadel, maybe? It was risky, but he had to know for sure if the man holding the E-11 blaster rifle was in fact from his Clan and friendly. But how?
His training from the New Republic Defense Force flooded back to his mind: A challenge and password. Something all Arconans would know. He gripped his Westar-34 blaster pistol in his hand as he tentatively called out, “Invicta.”
A few moments of silence passed, then a response from the figure. “Arcona. Who’s there?”
Valhavoc nervously stepped into the doorway. He could only hope that the other Arconan still had enough sense not to shoot him. It was a worthwhile gamble; the two of them would stand a much better chance of making it across the Academy grounds together than Valhavoc alone.
Inside of the room was a mess. Four bodies lay crumpled on the floor, and a fifth was tied to a chair with its arms and legs cut off. Valhavoc was starting to regret his decision to seek help from the man. If he was capable of this, could he be trusted?
“So...I’ve seen you before. House Qel-Droma, right? Your name escapes me, though, I’m Valhavoc,” he stated while nervously looking around the room.
The other Arconan nodded. “Graus. Good to see another member of the Shadow Clan.”
“So,” Valhavoc responded, “what happened to those four... and...him...”
He motioned towards the tied up and amputated Dark Jedi, who, from the looks of it, appeared to be an Equite.
The landing hadn’t been perfect, but it had the Left Hand in the hanger bay and alive. His computer did most of the landing, though it didn’t account for the fifteen Journeymen throwing anything they could find at the ship.
“Damage report!” Alaris demanded of the computer. The small screen popped up a diagram of the Lambda: mostly green. One red spot on the port nacelle was the concern. This shuttle wasn’t taking off again anytime soon.
Alaris swore out loud. The thumping on the hull wasn’t deafening, but it was costing Alaris his concentration. The door wouldn’t open from the outside, Alaris had made sure of that, but main entrance to the hanger bay was on the opposite side of over a dozen angry vermin?
“Let’s get the frack out of here,” he ordered himself, out loud.
The herd wasn’t organized. They weren’t putting a thoughtful effort into getting into the shuttle, but they certainly were putting physical effort into it. The strength in which they threw tools and debris at the shuttle astounded the Twi’lek.
No Journeyman should have that kind of strength.
He surveyed the area. A handful of fighters and shuttles crowded the bay’s “parking” zone but the landing platform stood several meters from the closest vessel. I can make my way through those ships. Weave in and out faster than these monsters can think; get myself to that far door. What’s on the other side? More of the herd? He shook the thought from his mind. He didn’t have the luxury to think about five minutes from now. He needed to get of this hanger bay alive.
Step Two can be decided on later. Step One: Kaboom.
He sat down in the mission commander station and typed a series of codes into the computer there. “Voice verification required,” the computer demanded.
“Alaris Jinn di Plagia, Left Hand of Justice. Authorization code: Seven, Seven, Four, Nine, Besh, Three.”
“Code accepted. Self-destruct sequence initiated. Ninety Seconds.”
“Goodbye, old girl.” He patted the console twice then leapt to his feet. His lightsaber sprung to life and he proceeded to cut a hole in the dorsal hull. The small piece of metal, which took longer to cut than Alaris would have liked, fell to the floor with a loud clang. He positioned himself immediately under it and glanced back at the console: twenty-seven seconds. He extinguished the blade and returned it to his belt. Then he extended his hand and demanded the Force activate the boarding ramp. It obeyed without question.
Let those vermin come on board and hunt me.
Another demand and Alaris found himself securely on the top of the ship. His feet landed almost silently, but considering the noise being made by the herd he doubted that even a hard landing, nor the clang from earlier, would have been heard. He counted down in his head and looked to the farthest door. He crouched an extra five seconds, waiting for the sounds of movement below him, leaving him with an approximate ten second window before the boom.
Coiling his legs, he leapt again, this time to the ground. He landed in an Aikido roll and sprinted as fast as the Force would take him, darting in and out of the parked ships. He made it to the blast door unscathed and slipped through. He slapped his hand against the control panel but ducked down behind the wall anyway, knowing that the blast door wouldn’t close in time.
The explosion shook everything. Alaris could feel it in his teeth, his bones. His ears pounded and it took him nearly twenty seconds to completely recover from the shockwave. The power around him had gone out and he found himself in the dark.
His saber jumped to life and a green haze lit the hallway, revealing a silhouette. Alaris sprung up as quickly as his aching body would allow and put himself into position awaiting an attack. A second saber lit up, violet, and revealed a familiar face.
“Alaris Jinn,” Etah d’Tana whispered hoarsely, clearly as affected by the explosion as Alaris. “Good to see my old Chamber partner in one piece.”
The Twi’lek wasn’t entirely convinced. “You infected?”
“I haven’t tried killing you yet, have I?” The Arconan grinned. “Well, what do we do now?”
Alaris relaxed slightly but kept his gaze on the Prelate. “Well, we can’t go that way.” He motioned toward the blast door that led to the destroyed hanger bay beyond.
Etah snorted a half laugh. “Nah, you appear to have taken care of that.” He relaxed his stance as well. “Alone isn’t going to work. We’re going to need to find others, if there are any.”
Alaris nodded. “Aye.” He turned in the opposite direction in which he found Etah. “It’s been years since I’ve been here and this way looks as good as any.”
Another day in the Brotherhood was the thought that came to Etah’s mind when he sought to characterize the current situation of the Shadow Academy. There was no control over the facility to speak of, those unaffected whatever was happening had been holed up in different locations, and who knew what sort of ideas and agendas were spinning in their heads. What was this? Some kind of Journeymen uprising?
Etah had heard of the new recruits that were so good, so powerful. He had heard of Journeyman attacking Equites and Elders. Someone had said that they were infected. But what did it all mean? Communications were down, all he knew is what he had heard before it all went to hell.
The Obelisk Prelate had stayed in his quarters since the coms went down, because he knew something was afoot and considered his quarters defensible. He also reasoned that few people had any good reason to go to his quarters, which were a bit out of the way of regular foot traffic. But now he felt like he was just waiting for the the crazed journeymen to find and overwhelm him. Every time he heard someone walk by, or any sound off in the distance, he was sure they had found him. He knew that he couldn’t stay this way for very much longer without losing his mind.
Coming up with a plan of action, the Dajorran Intelligence Agent reasoned that he could fight his way to the hangar and there he could find a vessel of some sort, leaving this cursed and doomed facility behind him. Going forward with that plan, the Shadesworn tentatively stepped out of his room and was immediately confronted with a knife wielding Journeyman. Fear shot all the way into his spine and converged with pain as the Journeyman sliced a chunk out of his arm.
“What the blark are you doing?” Etah wanted to demand. But instead muscle memory took over, as he grasped and activated his lightsaber. Etah spun to the left and sliced the unnamed Journeyman deep into his side, nearly ripping him in half. A small burst of blood escaped his stomach and splashed upon the floor before the wound cauterized from the blade.
But the Journeyman was still alive. Etah tried to ignore the searing pain in his non-saber arm. He cut at the Journeyman again and again and again until the stubborn Journeyman dropped his knife and lay still.
“Just visit the Shadow Academy to receive your degree, they said,” the Mirialan muttered to himself. “You’ll have fun, they said.”
Etah recounted it all bitterly as he walked forward, using the Force to heal the wound on his arm. The blood from the crazed journeyman had splashed his white tank top, staining it crimson. Even after healing it, his arm was difficult to move. He would have to tend to it more.
He observed the face of the dead Journeyman, copying his visage and wearing it with the aid of the Force, as he made his way toward the hangar. Disengaging his lightsaber, he still held it in his dominant hand, pointing it toward potential threats. He moved slowly and methodically, identifying indiscrepancies like open doors and hallways, he kept his eyes open for possible cover and ways out of the area of the situation called for it.
The Obelisk Prelate heard movement and occasional yelling off in the distance. Each time he braced himself for conflict and reassured himself that he appeared as one of them, but the confrontation never came and the voices in the distance stayed distant. He followed the bulkhead closely, just in time to be knocked off his feet by a loud roar and vicious shaking.
“What the - ?”
For over twenty seconds, Etah lay sprawled on the floor, his head spinning. What had happened? An attack? He had to find out. He always did. He was Etah.
The corridor was dark, so dark in fact that he could not see his own feet. Dropping his altered appearance, since it could no longer be seen anyway, he ventured farther toward the hangar.
There was a faint light in the distance. Etah gripped his lightsaber ready to ignite it, if the situation called for it, and continued to approach the glow. He heard soft buzzing. Clearly a lightsaber, Etah thought to himself. But just as he would have activated his own lightsaber and flung himself toward his enemy, he recognized the face of the man that had replaced him as Left Hand of Justice.
“Alaris Jinn. Good to see my chamber partner in one piece.”
The Twi’lek was standing outside the blast door that presumably led to the hangar. Alaris seemed affected by whatever happened as well. From the looks of it, the explosion had come right from the hangar.
So much for getting a ship out of here. Etah was stuck now.
What, the man didn’t trust him? He sneered. “I haven’t tried killing you yet, have I?”
It was time for Plan B. Whatever that possibly was.
Solus motioned to the weasely, self-proclaimed Battlemaster as he crossed the armory to the door. The manual release and hand cranks that would close the saber resistant blast doors and seal off the armory were located on either side of the door itself, but the effort to actually raise the lower half of the door into place was considerable.
"Remove the access plate here," Solus instructed, matching action to words as he pulled off the access plate on his own side.
The other man nodded and did the same on his side with Ronovi looking on. Solus tried to engage the release mechanism, but it would not respond. Across the way, his opposite number had no better luck.
"Let me guess," Ronovi grumbled. "The interlocks are frozen?"
Solus nodded in reply. "Most likely fused when the power went down. It must have been accompanied by a surge."
"At least we know how they shut down the system," Ronovi mused. "Probably overloaded the reactor core and the spike shut everything down as it fried the computers."
Solus didn't respond, thinking of what should be done to ensure that the weapons of the armory didn't fall into the hands of the mob. With only one way in or out, it wasn't the most indefensible place on the grounds. They also wouldn't have to worry about running out of ammunition, either. A plan was forming in Solus's head when the silence was broken by his master.
"Blow it," Ronovi ordered.
Solus's eyebrows shot up in surprise.
Ronovi didn't blink. "You heard me."
It seemed like the Headmaster was moving to the scorched earth strategy quite quickly. The voice again filled Solus's mind unbidden, a dark menace in its tone.
Yes, sacrifice a strength to bring down your enemy. Even Satal had to be offered up when the time came...
Solus's attention snapped quickly back to the matter at hand. With the weapons on hand, it would take more than a few minutes to rig the armory in such a way to destroy all the weapons in it. The Academy mostly stocked training sabers and blaster weapons, not heavy explosives.
"We'll have to make do with what's here, but it's going to take a while," Solus said, giving voice to his thoughts.
"Then we'll just have to make sure that we have the time," the strangely exuberant Sith Battlemaster replied before Ronovi could speak.
Igniting his saber and approaching the open door, he sliced the blade through the two supports that held the upper door in place. The heavy durasteel door dropped quickly and landed atop the lower door with a loud clang that reverberated down the halls like thunder.
"Good job, Hutt for brains," Ronovi snarled with a scowl. "That won't bring everyone within earshot down on our heads."
The shaggy haired Sith seemed to wilt under the admonishment, once again affecting the mannerisms that he had upon their initial meeting. He obviously was a few banthas short of a herd.
"We're going to have to fight them off while we rig the explosion," Ronovi continued. "Go with Solus and find something useful to defend us with while I try to salvage this mess."
Solus lead the man through the various alcoves and side rooms of the armory, passing over the low powered blasters and carbines as he looked for something that packed a bit more of a punch. Reaching one of the rearmost rooms, Solus seemed to find exactly what he needed. He wasn't sure who had stocked the vintage Dark Trooper assault cannon in the armory, but he made a mental note to thank them. The fast firing plasma bolts and dumbfire missiles the large weapon boasted were exactly the sort of destruction that he had been looking for. A rack of four stouker concussion rifles offered something for the disheveled Sith as well.
"I've never fired anything more than a blaster," he said as Solus handed him the large weapon.
"Don't worry, with this you won't have to do much aiming," Solus encouraged him. "The blast radius is large enough. Just you don't shoot at anything too close."
The man nodded dumbly, holding the weapon like it was something diseased.
Wonderful, Solus thought to himself.
As the two men returned to the doorway, Ronovi was busying herself with her own task. The few explosive charges that the armory had stocked were placed around the chamber at strategic intervals, and the Obelisk was now stacking boxes of powerpacks around the explosives. The detonations of the mines and charges alone wouldn't be enough to destroy the contents of armory, but the energy released from the power cells breaching as one would be something to see.
Looking out over the chest high wall that now crossed the doorway, Solus began to hear the subdued sound of milling voices and boots. Reaching out with his senses, he felt what seemed like an oncoming horde of the enemy, a strange feeling in the Force highlighting those that were afflicted with...well, whatever they were afflicted with. Solus was not liking their chances. There were just too many of those affected, and if they made a concerted effort, it was possible that the armory would be overwhelmed before Ronovi could finish her work.
"You've made the Academy too successful, you know," Solus observed. "There didn't used to be so many here at any one time back in the day."
"Don't blame me, they'd just press-ganged some new ‘recruits' recently," Ronovi said.
The first rank of the infected came into view out of the shadows down the hall to the left of the armory, followed almost at the same time with another group appearing in the hall directly opposite the armory entrance. Knowing that the easier shots were to be had against the second group, Solus gestured the other Sith to fire against them.
"Make your shots count," he ordered. "See if you can clog the hallway with the bodies."
The other man gave a less than assured nod, his hands trembling as he raised his weapon. Solus himself set sight on the other group, and he thumbed the fire selector over to rockets. The two men opened fire nearly simultaneously, two back to back concussion blasts and a rocket streaking out towards their targets. The detonations of both turned the unflinching ranks of their attackers into bloody, unjoined body parts, but even still the others kept coming. They seemed to care not that carnage and death awaited them, and those that weren't blasted apart moved steadily in spite of grievous wounds.
Return fire began to issue forth from the attackers, forcing the two defending Sith to take cover behind the blast door and pop up from behind cover quickly to fire before dropping down again. Solus switched over to the plasma cannon after launching another two rockets and scythed fire across the hallway. The powerful bolts ripped through the advancing enemy, dropping some outright amongst the throng and parting limbs from the bodies of still more.
"How long?" Solus called over the whine of the incoming torrent of fire.
"Just a few more seconds!" Ronovi called, squatting over a last charge while inputting its signal code into a hand detonator.
Solus raked fire across his targets once more before dropping down again and switching his weapon once again to rockets. He caught Ronovi's eye and the younger woman nodded. It was now or never.
"Put three quick shots into them and then run down the right hallway!" Solus yelled to his fellow.
The man nodded, and once more they raised their weapons over the wall and triggered three shots each. Not waiting to see the damage they inflicted, the three defenders vaulted over the door and channeled the force through their bodies to quicken their retreat. Blaster shots leapt after them, but the less than accurate fire did not find its mark.
Ronovi raised the detonator in her hand, intent on releasing a storm of energy within the armory that the front ranks of the enemy were just now entering. At that instant, their troublesome lackey tripped over his own robes and crashed into the Headmaster, knocking the detonator free from her grip and sending it skipping across the stone flooring. Reaching out with the Force to retrieve it, Ronovi had it sailing it through the air towards her hand without missing a step. Before it could reach her grip, however, the hand of chance intervened. A stray blaster bolt intersected the path of the device, blasting the detonator into shrapnel. Searing hot flecks of molten metal peppered Ronovi's body, causing small burns across her exposed arms and face. One found her prosthetic eye, burning its way into the device and severing the connection between it and her optic nerve.
Ronovi let a violent snarl escape her lips, driven more by rage then pain. To her credit, however, she did not slow her flight. The three finally reached a cross corridor and turned to their right, away from the direction that the mob had come, moving farther into the facility. The fire did not follow them around the corner, the enemy seemed to end their pursuit as they looted the armory of weapons.
Solus slowed to a stop with the others and stood a moment catching his breath. Ronovi did not wait, her hand shooting out at the Battlemaster who immediately lifted off the ground, his neck held in a vice of force energy fueled by her unchecked rage. He tried to speak, but his words emerged as nothing more than a strained gurgle. Ronovi held him there for a moment, seemingly to allow him to suffer as he clawed at his neck with both of his hands, then jerked her hand violently. A sharp crack accompanied the helpless man's head as it snapped down and to the side.
Solus could feel the violence of the injury almost without trying. She hadn't just broken the man's neck; she had pulverized three of his vertebrae into small bits and severed the spinal cord and the accompanying ligaments. His head was left resting on his chest, nothing more but some skin and flesh holding it attached to his body. Bits of brittle cartilage and bone protruded from his jaw.
Ronovi turned back to Solus as she let the lifeless body crash to the ground. The fire in her one good eye was more than he had seen before, a darkness that had never before broken through the surface.
"I told you that if you weren't useful I'd kill you," Ronovi murmured, then gestured at the dead man. "And this one was worse than useless."
Solus could only nod, still somewhat taken aback by the violence of her rage.
You'll have to go farther if you hope to take her place, the seductive voice came once more.
In the space of a heartbeat, Solus thought he saw an indistinct image of a figure beyond Ronovi's shoulder down the long hall, dressed in flowing violet robes and black armor across its chest and shoulders. He blinked and the figure was gone as if it was never there. Realizing that it could be the first sign of whatever affliction was affecting the others, Solus decided against telling Ronovi. In her current state of mind, she might be just as willing to strike him down, and ask questions later. Instead, he simply nodded.
"What are they going to get their hands on?" Ronovi asked, getting back to the business at hand.
"I saw at least thirty pulse cannons, five more of those," Solus said, indicating the concussion rifle the dead sith had dropped, "As well as that rack of disruptor rifles."
"Not to mention the blasters," Ronovi said, her eyes narrowing. "It might be time to consider more drastic solutions."
Solus shook his head. "There's still time to figure this out, to find the source of this. We shouldn't throw away our resources."
"I won't let whatever this is destroy us," she snapped. "I will not allow whatever this is to further spread from these walls. This far, no farther!"
The voice once more came, speaking in his mind before he could voice his concerns to his master. They are merely pawns, and all pawns eventually must be sacrificed. The pyre that results is merely more darkness upon which to feed. And you need a bit more darkness in you, Mandalorian.
Solus could feel more than just words now, a desire coming into him from without. He wasn't sure if it was himself or the other's presence, but he did seem to hunger for a terminal solution to the chaos that surrounded them. He blinked, trying to sort his thoughts from the other's, still unsure of the path he should follow.
Malfurion followed the group for what seemed like hours. He wondered where they were going. It was getting hotter, he had already dropped his cloak and now paused in a recess of a classroom door, removing his tunic. It was drenched in sweat, and removing it gave little relief. He used it to wipe his head and neck and then tossed it aside. Why was it so hot in here? The air recycling units must have powered down, he thought, as he looked up at the vents.
He was awoken suddenly by the sound of small explosions. How long had he been asleep in the doorway? He didn't even remember sitting down, let alone closing his eyes. What had happened? He stood up quickly and risked sticking his head around the corner. He could see nothing in the dim light. He couldn't stay here sleeping. One noise would bring others.
He poked his head out again, checking to make sure that both ways were clear. He then darted across the hallway to the opposite recess. As he made his way down the hallway, he started to smell faint wisps of ozone and dust. The Journeyman slowed his pace as the odor in the air increased. He quietly unclipped and readied his training lightsaber.
"Even if I can't wield it properly, it’s better then nothing," he thought to himself.
But as the Sith approached a cross junction in the hallway, he could see that his lightsaber would not be necessary.
He walked upon a grisly sight. The bodies of the four Journeyman he had been following lay strewn about. It was obvious that they had died in combat with a Dark Jedi who could still wield the Force. All of the corpses were in terrible shape. All had extensive burns covering their bodies and missing limbs. One looked as though he had taken the full force of a concussion grenade, and two of them were without heads, the wounds cauterized at the shoulders. He quickly descended on the bodies searching for weapons, collecting a DL-44 blaster pistol, two E-11 rifles, and a sword with a blunted blade. In his present condition, he could wield it far better than any lightsaber. He also found a food pouch containing water and some nutrient paste. He shouldered the rifles, tucked the pistol in his belt along his back, and tied the sword on his left side using a belt as a makeshift baldric.
Malfurion readied one of the E-11 rifles and surveyed his surroundings. He cursed himself, as he as he looked to his left, for being so distracted by searching the bodies. He had found the source of the explosions that had awakened him from his ill-timed nap. It looked as though several concussion grenades had been thrown at something. Probably the group had stumbled upon an Elder and died for their dumb luck. He walked slowly down the damaged hallway, weapon ready. Not far from the bodies, a large section of the wall had fallen to the floor and trapped what was probably the Dark Jedi that was responsible for the deaths of the four Journeyman.
"Hello?" Malfurion said to the unknown person in a hushed tone just above a whisper.
There was no response.
“Hello?” he said in a slightly louder voice.
The Journeyman was within an arm’s length from the body. It was a Twi'lek female, but without seeing her face Malfurion couldn't be sure of her identity. He could see how injured she was. Her left arm was mangled probably beyond repair, and she was pinned under the large piece of wall debris.
Malfurion cautiously reached out with his left hand to check the woman's vitals. There was a flash of crimson light that sliced his blaster in half. Then something struck him in the chest but he didn't notice, as he had to throw his head backwards to avoid the saber blade slicing off his face The maneuver had cost him his footing. He lost his balance when his heal met some debree and fell awkwardly. He scrambled to his feet, screaming.
"Stop! Stop! I'm..."
His voice trailed off as he recognized how he felt. What was that he didn't know. What had she done to him. He felt better, strong again, powerful. He felt as if a great empty whole in his being had just been filled. He felt...hungry. He looked into the eyes of the injured Twi'lek.
"Do that again,” he yelled as he rushed her and drew his sword.
The speed that Malfurion charged her must have taken the women by surprise because he was on her before she could swing her lightsaber in defense. The now invigorated Journeyman flung the debris off of her and picked her up by her mangled arm. As he pulled her up to eye level, he could see that she had lost her legs in the fight with the other journeyman. Thinking him distracted, she swiped at Malfurion’s side with her saber, but he dodged enough so that only the flesh was burned off his left arm from the shoulder to the top of his hand.
Malfurion only noticed his injury because of the acrid smell of his burning flesh. The momentary distraction by his burning skin was all that the Twi'lek needed. She swiped in a broad horizontal arc at his midsection. Her attacker was forced to release his grip to avoid the blow. However, she proved to be slightly faster then the infected journeyman and the blade just grazed his abdomen. The smell of his own burning flesh again filled his nostrils. He stepped back to give the Equate and her lightsaber a wide berth.
The injured Twi'lek raised her hand, motioning towards her attacker. Assuming she was about to use the Force against him, he stepped forward only to be struck in the head by a flying piece of debris. Several more struck him in rapid succession in the head and torso. Even without feeling the pain, the effect of the blows still made him stumble and fall. As he fell, a large slab of stone, assisted by the Force, collapsed on him, pinning him just out of reach of the Equite. Sensing her opportunity to end the conflict, she began to crawl towards the now helpless attacker.
As the injured woman came closer, Malfurion struggled with his stone trap. He managed to slide it off just enough to reach behind him for the blaster pistol. He jerked the pistol from his belt and squeezed the trigger. Again the Twi'lek was surprised at his speed. She brought up her lightsaber to deflect the blaster bolts, but this time, she was the one not fast enough.
He managed to get off three shots, but it was all he needed. Of his three shots, one had gone high and wide. The second had struck her in the right shoulder. But the third had caught her in the right temple. He fired another shot into the back of her head just in case she was again playing dead. He pushed the rest of slab off and stood up. Feeling wetness on his face and neck, he reached up to feel a large gash in his scalp where the flying debris had struck him.
This time, before searching her body, he looked around to see if anyone had come up behind him during his struggle. Confident that he was secure for the moment, he rolled over the Twi'lek’s body and began rifling through her robes. First he tore a long strip from her robes and dressed his head wound. She must have been a teacher, but he didn't recognize her because she had a couple of data pads full of lecture notes. He tossed those. The only useful things were her ID code cylinders, which he tucked in his pocket. He also grabbed her lightsaber, ignited it to make sure it still functioned, and clipped it to his belt.
He took a moment to try to process what had just happened. He had defeated a full fledged Dark Jedi. Sure, she was half dead and had only had one usable arm, but he had won and without the Force. In fact, it was his lack of Force powers that had made him strong. She had used the Force on him and he felt stronger. Whatever was going on here, he liked it, and he wanted more. He tucked his pistol back into his belt and collected the other E-11 from the ground. As he reached for the rifle, he noticed the charred flesh on his hand. He clinched his hand into a fist. It felt stiff but still functional. The knuckles of his hand were small peaks of contrasting white on a field of black.
"I should be in agonizing pain, but I don't feel a thing,” he muttered to himself.
Another benefit of this new found whatever it was. If the Elders had done this to him, as the others had said, he would have to thank them.
He was ready to continue. But for what? Now after what had just happened, he just wanted to find another Force user. And he needed to find one quick because he was already beginning to feel that empty hole again.
Much to Arden’s surprise, the trip from the lounge to the stairwell leading to the lower level had been uneventful. Based on the situation, Arden expected to face a fight right away. However, the corridors on this level were oddly quiet. Perhaps most of the students who hadn’t gone totally crazy were simply hunkering down in their rooms. Either that or they’d all been killed already. Right now, Arden was assuming the latter.
The carnage in the corridor was immense. Blaster burns covered just about every surface. In a mere thirty or forty meters, they had passed at least six bodies. Or parts of them, at any rate. Many of them had either been riddled with plasma or ripped apart with any number of cutting devices. Arden could tell that the others were becoming more fearful at each turn, especially the Bith, Shi’rin. He couldn’t quite get a read on Veros as his cobalt blue face and red eyes belaid little emotion, but there was still some hint that he was getting as anxious as the rest.
Arden wasn’t immune from the fear, either, especially given his present condition. Normally he was in control of his emotions. They would rarely show themselves except when he forced them out. Or when the Force drew them out. Something was different now; the fear was growing harder to contain. The rage he’d kept in for decades was beginning to surface. There was a hole inside him that he’d never noticed before, and it was maddening. But this wasn’t the time for that.
As he approached the stairwell with the others, he took a deep breath to try to help him pull himself together.
I can’t give in to these fears, to this rage. If I do, I’ll become like the others. I’ll be without self. I will just be the rage, the hunger. I can’t do that. They need me calm, rational, focused. Otherwise none of us will get through this. I can’t give in. I can’t give in. I can’t give in.
Arden let that mantra play around in his head until the sharp whispered tones of Jurel snapped him out of it. “Fearless leader, you in there?”
Arden was a bit startled but eventually turned to face the woman.
“Yeah, I’m here. Sorry. I was...I was planning something.”
Jurel raised a quizzical eyebrow. “Looked like you were talking to yourself in there.”
Arden kept a neutral expression on his face. “Not exactly. So, Shi’rin, as I understand it, Bith have pretty good hearing. Hear anything down there?”
The Bith had been muttering something under his breath when Arden addressed him. “Um, no, not really. There might be someone in there, I can’t quite tell. Could be a vent that’s malfunctioning. Whatever it is, it’s near the bottom of the stairwell and it’s pretty quiet.”
Arden nodded and turned to Veros. “I want you to take point. Shi’rin, since I also hear that Bith can’t see well at distance, you’ll stay with me. Jurel, bring up the rear. The stairs are duracrete, so we’ll have to be careful to avoid making noise. Don’t fire unless you have to. I don’t want to attract any unneeded attention. Got it?”
The other three nodded in response, and a moment later, Veros entered the stairwell, rifle at the ready. Arden and the others followed him in, their weapons also drawn. They made their way carefully down the stairs, making sure to make as little noise as possible. When he reached the first landing, Arden could see the Duros already at the next one, beckoning to him. Arden crept towards the Duros while silently instructing Jurel and Shi’ren to remain where they were. When Arden arrived, Veros pointed out what he saw.
It was the diminutive form of a Chadra-Fan, an instructor by Arden’s memory, laying in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. He couldn’t quite tell from this distance but it appeared she was still alive. Seeing no immediate threat, Arden beckoned for the others and moved down the stairs towards the short bat-like creature. When they arrived, Arden confirmed the fact that she was still breathing. She was very badly wounded by blaster fire and was covered in blood.
Veros looked at her and seemed to recognize the teacher. “Toora, philosophy and leadership.”
Arden nodded, noticing Jurel moving in to examine the fallen professor. “She proctored my leadership exam two days ago. Reckon she’s conscious?”
As Jurel, whom Arden recalled hearing had been some sort of nurse before the Brotherhood came for her, started examining Toora, the answer to Arden’s question became clear. The Chadra-Fan came to, the twitching of her nose and ears being the first signs of consciousness. Eventually, her eyes fluttered to life and took notice of the four armed Journeymen. She immediately recoiled in terror, reaching for where her lightsaber should have been.
Arden calmly reached down and put a hand on her fur covered shoulder and whispered calmly, “We’re not going to hurt you, professor. We’re here to help.” He looked to Jurel, his facial expression clearly conveying his question.
Jurel shrugged. “Can’t tell. She might live. Don’t know much about Chadra-Fan.”
Toora glanced around at the four of them and her eyes settled on Arden, her voice a bit screechy but still whispered. “You’re...not like the others? Can you still, you know, do what you’re supposed to be able to do?”
Arden shook his head in the negative. “None of us can, but at least we’re not...not violent like the others. Not yet, anyway.”
Toora looked around nervously again. “I...I was trying to get out. Through the utility tunnel leading from the mess hall. There were many of them, all crazed. All hungering for something. They said I stole from them, sucked out their powers. I tried to defend myself. I killed some of them.”
Arden noticed she was hyperventilating in fear. He nodded understandingly.
“Keep calm, professor, we’ll find a way out of here. Can you walk?”
Shi’ren, in the meantime, had moved to the cracked open stairwell door to listen for any sounds coming from the hallway and whispered to Arden.
“Um, Arden, we got a problem.”
Arden looked up. “What is it, Shi’ren?”
The Bith replied, “Well, the good news is, I can only hear five or six sets of feet down there. All sort of milling around, waiting for something.”
Arden looked at the Bith, confused. “Far fewer than I’d expected. What’s the problem?”
The Bith shot Arden a very terrified look. “They have a Wookie.”
The pain that vibrated up and down Ronovi’s jaw was unbearable, and it was not the kind of pain that could be tended to by Force assistance. No, this was a stiff pain, an isolated pain. Not an ache, but a soreness that stretched her muscles thin and made them feel tender like thawed veal. It did not energize her, nor did it make her feel stronger. It simply made her angry.
That, and the fact that her cybernetic eyepatch had been completely pulverized, all due to the stupidity of a useless minion. She had so enjoyed snapping his neck and leaving his head to bob up and down like a limp balloon. Some of the best vengeance she’d had in weeks.
Leading Solus deeper down a new corridor, she focused on the sharp decline of the floor as it dipped further and further into the bowels of the Academy. Down there, there were more nondescript rooms and quarters, as well as a mess hall where professors and docents would settle during lapses in their classes and initiation proceedings. Most of all, the lower level that the two Dark Jedi were now traversing was a space for storage. From stacks of tomes that desperately needed mending to artifacts that had proven useless and now added to the unnecessary clutter, those rooms were usually left untouched. Unless, perhaps, an undesirable plague started spreading through the Academy and those storage spaces became hide-outs, meeting rooms, and “emergency bunkers.”
Ronovi did not say a word to Solus during their entire walk to the most discreet room she could find down those long corridors. He trailed behind her, his red armor looking more and more scarred the more she looked at it. Half of her field of view had been plunged into blackness, and using her Force sight did not better her mood or really sharpen her vision. She was being more vigilant than ever, and, realizing she was now slightly hindered in her perception and especially her potential combat ability, it riled her up. That, and Solus’s darting eyes set her dead on alert.
What’s up with him? He better not zone out or I’m going to take my saber and shove it right up his...
She cut off her own thought as she pushed a door open to a room crammed with cleaning droids. How quaint.
They each took a crate to sit on, as the dust settled around their shoulders and freckled their hair with gray. In the corners of the space, metal and open circuits caught the bare light resonating from the cracks in the door. Ronovi allowed her organic (and now only functioning) eye to close and her arms to slacken, her wrists dangling over her long calves and her elbows propped against her knees. She heard Solus’s voice rattle the air.
“Care to fill me in on the plan, or are you going to become a monk on me?”
“I’m trying to test out my Force communication skills,” she snapped impatiently, sighing and brushing specks of dust away from her breastplate. “I’m still stable. No symptoms yet. You?”
Solus hesitated, then shook his head. “I’m good, too.”
Good. Neither of us are walking pathogens yet.
“Then here’s the plan.” It may as well have been Plan R at this point. “We’ve got no communication system. No physical one, anyway. No holo-communicators. No consoles. But hasn’t there been one basic form of contact that we’ve, I don’t know, seemed to overlook?”
Her Praetor looked at her coldly. She knew that he was in no fit state to take any snark. But that was to be expected when he was dealing with an overwhelmed, booze-less, just-ruthlessly-murdered-some-random-pawn superior.
“Simple, Solus,” she grunted. “We use the Force. We need to try to contact someone, anyone, to see if they’re still alive. Let alone capable of assisting us.”
“What exactly is the maneuver here?” demanded Solus.
Ronovi whirled her head at him. “What, you think there’s actually a plan here? You think I’ve had the time or capability to think this out? We’re sitting in a damn droid room, driven from the helm of our own ship. You’ve got any ideas besides checking on the troops? Enlighten me. Now.”
Solus definitely wasn’t going to cater to her rising temper. She knew that. Any sensible person knew that. Instead, he allowed himself a smile that was more than icy, a frozen visage where no warmth could be chiseled from it.
“I understand, Ronovi,” he said plainly and mechanically. “Probably more than anyone else. You open the channel, boss. I’ll be right here to support the connection.”
Letting all the air constricted in her chest finally burst from her throat in one large, billowing plume, Ronovi lowered her head so far that it nearly touched her lap. Exhaustion was taking its toll. The whole atmosphere was draining her. She had survived a Jedi occupation of Antei, an invasion of Salas V, an all-out Order brawl, and a siege on New Tython, all while soaking in the carnage like it was fuel for a star destroyer. But now, restricted to this one space where the walls were almost enemies in the way they seemed to breathe and glower around her, she could find no entertainment, nor solace, in her attempts to save the Academy thus far. This was not a test of power, nor was it a chance for victory. This was bare-boned survival, which could ultimately render her weaker than she ever possibly wanted to be.
The reality of her situation wracked her senses to such a point that she could barely submit herself fully to the Force and its currents of contact. When she was there, however, there was only the numbness and the echo of her own, once-forgotten, sense of abandonment and desperation.
Graus stood at ease, his mouth showing a smile that his eyes did not reflect. He cradled the E-11 in his arms, pointing it down in a non-threatening manner.
“Just trying to stay alive, brother,” Graus said smoothly. “These four were taking turns hacking this poor bastard apart and, rather than being next on the hot seat, I handled the situation.” The Knight lied easily. “Given that the four of them managed to subdue and dispatch an Equite, it inspired me to shoot first rather than ask questions.”
“Fair enough,” Valhavoc replied.
“So, you still have access to the Force at all?” Graus asked, almost too eagerly for Valhavoc’s liking.
“No, whatever happened to most of the students seems to have happened to me as well.”
“Hmm, same,” Graus replied, a brief flicker of disappointment on his face. “So, you have a plan, or are you just wandering the halls ‘til you end up tied to a chair like our friend here?”
He motioned towards the truncated body.
“Well, I was thinking of trying to find a working comm terminal to find out what’s going on,” Valhavoc replied. “Then find a defensible point and hold it until the Elders get the situation under control.”
“Control,” Graus said softly, checking the power levels on his smoky gray E-11 blaster. “Yeah, sounds like a good plan. I can tell you that the comm terminals around here are all displaying the emergency screen. Those that haven’t been destroyed, that is. I was actually thinking of trying to get to my ship.”
“If lock-down is in place, then the planet’s probably blockaded,” Valhavoc reasoned.
“Yeah, and I am not foolish enough to try to break it,” Graus interrupted, slight annoyance in his voice. “But my ship has an aftermarket Holonet transmitter. If we can get onboard, we can not only secure the vessel as your ‘defensible position,’ but maybe we can find out what’s going on.”
“Ah, that makes sense,” Valhavoc replied, finding little fault with the other Knight’s reasoning despite the nagging feeling of unease surrounding the armored human.
“Well, no time like the present, then,” Graus said, extending the stalk on his weapon once again. “Let’s move, Val.”
Find a defensible point and hold it until the Elders get the situation under control…
Graus pondered Valhavoc’s statement over and over as he slowly made his way down the corridor. This buffoon is still enthralled by the Masters. This could be problematic if I find another potential power source, he thought. The Knight stopped suddenly and realized that he was no longer thinking of others as people, or even brothers, but as a power source only. This should have made Graus uneasy, thinking of living beings as mere material, but considering all the angles, he simply didn’t see any problem with it.
“Everything okay?” Valhavoc whispered, breaking into Graus’s contemplation.
“Huh? Yeah…thought I heard something up ahead,” the younger Knight lied.
Taking point, Graus turned left and started down another hallway, this one showing a great deal of damage. A low hanging blanket of white smoke lay thick, obscuring the stone floor. Charred bodies lay in heaps against walls scored and pitted by heavy weapon fire. The air had the tang of chemical accelerants, like someone had possibly used cleaning solutions to create an explosion. Sniffing the air, he found that it was difficult to tell what was used since the scent of burnt flesh was overwhelming. The sickly sweet aroma of cooked meat permeated the air, strong enough to almost taste. It fleetingly reminded Graus of early morning breakfasts with his family. Golden brown griddle cakes covered in sticky brown syrup, almost too sweet to truly enjoy...
Pushing aside that memory, Graus pulled his hood up, pulling the lower hem over his mouth. Muted sounds of yelling mixed with grunts and the occasional high pitched squeal of metal on metal echoed down the hall, coming from the direction that the duo were now heading in. Looking back, Graus saw that Val had covered his mouth with a swath of cloth, tied in a proper bandit’s mask. Nodding his head in the direction of the commotion, Graus waited for Val to nod his own agreement before continuing.
I bet there are Force users down there, Graus thought as he continued walking, his E-11 gripped tightly in both hands. I doubt that Val would be as eager to use one of them, especially given his reaction to my first attempt.
The smoke grew thicker, making his eyes water badly. The sound of manual labor was now louder, and through the haze and flickering lights, Graus could make out at least four different figures milling around a partially opened blast door.
“HEY!” he yelled, walking right towards the obscured figures. “Identify yourselves!”
The sound of disruptor fire echoed down the hall, green lances of disintegrating energy piercing the veil of smoke. Val dropped to the deck as Graus leapt into an open door across the hall. Chunks of the wall turned to powder as the disruptor bolts atomized solid matter wherever they hit.
“Get that damn door open, Shal!” came a male voice from the mist.
“Almost there, just hold them off a sec!” followed a strained reply.
Popping out in a crouch, his body mostly covered by the doorjamb, Graus fired a volley of scarlet bolts in the direction of the incoming fire. In his peripheral vision, he saw Valhavoc lying prone, firing his own blaster in the same direction. Pulling himself back in as the green energy bolts tracked him, the former stormtrooper almost felt like himself in the midst of the firefight, bringing him back mentally to some of the action he had seen during his brief enlistment in the Imperial Remnant.
Smiling, Graus popped back out again, firing another series of blaster bolts in the general area of the enemy. He almost let out a sharp laugh as he saw one of the firing forms crumble, his head flying off as a couple flashes of scarlet caught him in the throat.
“Hurry it up ,Shal, they got Thistles!”
“I’ve got it! Get under now, it won’t hold long!”
As the disruptor fire ceased, Graus leaned out and saw the blast door held up by what looked like three evenly placed, heavy-duty hydraulic jacks. The light coming from the other side of the door revealed the squirming forms of his enemy fleeing, using three of the four narrow passages between the braces.
“They’re getting away!” Graus yelled as he ran towards the door.
“Graus, no! Wait!” Valhavoc cried at his back.
Ignoring Val in his bloodlust, Graus ran and dove headfirst under the door in the only empty space of light visible between the hydraulic jacks. His plastoid armor caused the young Knight to slide completely under the meter thick blast door ahead of his enemies. As his feet cleared the door, Graus turned and locked eyes with one of the people that were just shooting at him. He was just a boy, looking no older than maybe sixteen standard years. He was human, with shaggy brown hair and bright blue eyes.
Blue eyes again…hmm…
Flipping on his back, he looked at the shocked face of the kid and smiled evilly.
The Knight fired his E-11 at the jack, causing the thick hydraulic cylinder to split apart. Clear gray pressurized fluid fanned out in a fine mist, spraying the young kid in the face an instant before the jack failed.
With one of the three braces gone, the other two bent and buckled and the heavy blast door slammed down with a deafening slam, slicing cleanly through the body of the youth and sending his upper torso rocketing nearly a meter down the hallway. The other two, still with heads and shoulders under the door, didn’t even have time to scream as the weight of the door turned their upper bodies to a pulpy mist which squeezed out from beneath the door, splashing Graus in a splatter of gore, spotting his white cloak and armor in thick blood red speckles.
Minutes passed in silence as Graus lay there, catching his breath.
Graus stared up at the ceiling, seeing in his mind’s eye that kid’s startled face as the door pinched him in half, and started laughing hysterically. As he pulled himself up on his elbow, he saw slight movement out of the corner of his peripheral vision. Getting to his feet, still chuckling a little bit, he saw the hand of the bisected kid twitching feebly in reflex. The blue eyes, their whites now full of bright red blood, held a hateful stare.
Crouching down, he grabbed the kid’s head by the hair and lifted his torso up to look it in the eye.
“I’d say I’m sorry, kid, but it’d be a lie,” Graus muttered.
The kid’s eyes suddenly turned and focused on him, seeming to stare into his very soul.
“Why?” asked the young man, his voice sounding wistful despite the fact that part of his lungs hung shredded beneath his severed torso.
“Why? Because I really don’t feel sorry.”
“What did I ever do to you?”
“You shot at me, you little prick!” Graus yelled at the boy, his anger rising.
“How do you know it was me?” the boy replied. “I was working on the jacks trying to get the door open.”
“Well, uh, your friends shot at me, then. You were part of their group, you’re just as responsible,” Graus reasoned, his logic sounding undeniable to his own ears.
“And what about me, then?” came another voice from behind the young Knight.
Turning quickly, his free hand aimed the E-11 at the newcomer shakily. Graus saw a shambling form lurching towards him from a rising cloud of mist.
Mist? Where’d this come from?
The being looked humanoid, but his limbs were all wrong. He looked to have an arm where his leg should be and a leg where his other arm would normally be. As the mysterious being walked into the light, Graus saw another set of blue eyes and recognized them as belonging to the Equite he had quartered earlier.
“Well, you were different,” Graus hissed. “You had what I needed, and I just miscalculated the damage I did to you.”
“Oh, I’m dead because of a miscalculation,” the nameless Equite snarled, his face still partially frozen in the twisted scream he had when he died. “I guess that makes it all right, then.”
“Look, if I could have spared you, I would have! It’s the Dark Side…I need it, and you had it!” Graus yelled, dropping the boy’s torso to the floor.
“So, he’s dead because of a miscalculation, and I’m dead because I was trying to escape from here and the people I was with shot at you,” the boy said, his voice also holding the same sarcasm as the Equite.
Hissing at the annoying kid, Graus kicked the torso hard, sending the lump of meat and bone sliding across the polished floor towards the patchwork Equite. The misshapen Dark Jedi leaned down and picked up the boy, cradling him behind the knee that now served as his elbow.
Graus looked at both of his victims and pulled the trigger of his E-11, peppering both apparitions with a dozen scarlet lances of energy. As the weapon bucked in his hands, Graus let out a shriek of fury, his face twisted in hate.
Standing there, unfazed by the barrage, his victims merely smiled, vile hate gleaming in their crystal blue eyes. Breathing heavily, Graus felt the cold trickle of fear prick at his heart as he stared at the two. Turning away from them both, the armored human began screaming as he ran down the empty corridor, heedless to any possible danger that may have lay ahead of him.
“You can run, Graus Colvin, but we will find you! You will never leave this place alive!” Both revenants roared at his back, followed by a hollow, chilling laugh.
Shadow Academy Central Library
Anshar had shut down his lightsabers, surveying the brief carnage that now lay before him and Levathan in the main foyer of the central library. The group of attacking journeymen, whom had previously been combing through the shelves, had been dealt with. It had not quite been the slaughter-fest of previous encounters, both on Yridia and now on Lyspair. The sheer desperation of this group was more violent, more needing, and they had managed to land a few hits on Anshar. Granted, it was nothing major, as most of the “weapons” used by the library occupiers mainly consisted of whatever was available: books, the velvet ropes that guided traffic between areas, and even the arms off of the droid librarian that now lay scattered in pieces. Only one student had had a blaster, but Anshar had immediately pulled it from him and tossed it to Levathan. Still, there were some bruises already forming from the attacks, and some small cuts from the impromptu holo-disk shurikens.
“What do you think they were looking for?” asked Levathan. The journeyman sounded worse; very sick. However, his head seemed to be on straighter than the others, so it appeared that how much one used the Force, or at least had been reliant upon it, influenced their reaction to this plague. It made some sense though: anyone who had utilized the Force, or who had been seduced into using it so much early on, would easily feel the loss much more so than someone who had resisted or limited its use. Privately, Anshar wondered how Dranik was faring back in Yridia; an Equite, Dranik had long limited his use of the Force, though not his knowledge of it. It would be worth investigating if they survived here.
“Anshar?” asked Levathan again, shaking Anshar from his thoughts.
“Sorry,” the Master replied. “The truth is, the only thing that I could imagine them looking for would be any documents on things that can remove the Force. And there are not many of those things, or documents on them. But, look at the robes.” Levathan peered at the dead before him.
“I don't see anything,” he replied.
“These are all journeymen, like the rest,” stated Anshar. “But, I see Guardians and Jedi Hunters mainly here. It as if this plague is moving up the ranks. Perhaps when it initially struck, the elder journeymen, or at least this group, had enough presence of mind to start looking for a cure. Of course, judging by the scattering of the books and holo-disks, I doubt they found anything, or even knew what they were looking at.”
“Do you think Ronovi might have instructed them, not knowing the full condition?” asked Levathan, finally slumping down into a chair.
“I doubt it,” said Anshar, shaking his head. “She would have put them on lock down. Besides, every journeymen in Tarentum was showing signs of it. We didn't exactly take the time to observe if the higher ranks were a bit more sane or not. So, at this point, I can only theorize on it. You are the only living test subject I have.”
“Gee, that makes me feel so wonderful,” replied Levathan sarcastically. Anshar ignored the comment for now, though privately he was beginning to worry about Levathan. He may have been cut off from the Force, and he might have been handling it better than most, but he was still human. Fear could still take a hold of him. There was an ages old saying that “fear is the mind killer,” and this whole situation proved that. Anshar could only wonder what it would be like if the condition struck him completely.
“So, what now?” asked Levathan.
“Two things,” replied Anshar. “First, we wait here and let you rest for a few minutes. Secondly, we may not be alone in here. The library is pretty big.” There was one other option: Anshar could try to reach Ronovi through the Force, but that did carry the risk of bringing part or all of a rampaging horde to the library.
“Once you feel rested, we need to try and barricade this place up,” replied Anshar. “Then we'll decided if we want to move forward. At the very least, this will be our fallback position.”
As he sat there, breathing deep and resting his body, Levathan could not help but think about the chaos that now surrounded him.
The central library was a massive hall lined with shelves full of books, tomes, and scrolls. The main floor was filled with large reading tables, data terminals, and lots of chairs, once neatly arranged, now strewn without order.
What the hell caused this? Who the hell caused this? Whatever it is, it must be an accident, and no one would have use for such chaos…unless it was an invasion. Whatever the case, I am not cleaning this place up!
Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, Levathan stood up and opened his grey eyes. “Ready, Master Anshar.”
“Good. This place is too big to clear and barricade by ourselves, so we’ll close the area around this archway off from the library and narrow the archway itself to make it more defensible. We’ll also clear the area around the barricade further back into the library, to make it easier to see anyone trying to attack us. I’ll move the bookcases. You get the tables and chairs.”
Levathan simply nodded and got to work, his mind preoccupied with repeating the same question over and over again in a spiraling train of thought with no answer.
Why can’t I feel the Force? I’ve always had access to it in some measure since I was a child; Force sensitive, they call it. So why can’t I feel it now? What’s different? I am sick, it must have to do with that, but no normal sickness can make you blind to it, so why can’t I feel the Force?
While Levathan was simply resorting to brute strength to move the desks and chairs to create a makeshift barricade at the archway, Anshar was using small amounts of the Force to aid his own physical strength in lifting and moving the massive book cases and larger tables into place, closing off the rest of the room. A good deal of time had passed once they finished, and Anshar had caught Levathan staring at him several times while the Elder moved the book cases with the Force, the Journeyman shaking himself out of his thoughts each time and going back to work. Apparently the young human was having an increasingly difficult time focusing on his task.
This was indeed concerning; for someone who had intentionally limited his own use of the Force, his powers of concentration should be greater than shown. Anshar would have to start watching the Journeyman more closely.
Their work had resulted in what could essentially be called a fort; the immediate area around the archway had been cleared by pushing everything back further into the library, creating a wall of random furniture with a clear space between it and the barricade itself. It consisted of lined bookcases, creating a semi-circular wall around the library side of the archway, which itself was barricaded with tables and chairs stacked chest high. It left only a narrow passageway to funnel any opponents towards the defenders, eliminating numerical advantage.
“Good,” said Anshar. “Now get up on the wall and keep a lookout. Our activities may have been quiet, but what I’m about to do could bring them all down on us. If anything you can’t handle happens, wake me.”
Tilting his head and raising an eyebrow, the Hunter spoke before thinking. “Really? Just like that? Wake you? All those Force powers, and you want me to wake you?”
“What was that?” the Dark Jedi Master asked ominously.
Paling at the realization of what he had said, Levathan corrected himself. “My apologies, Master Anshar. It seems my mind is growing more clouded. However, you have to admit, I do have a point.”
“Try to keep your head on straight for a while longer,” Anshar said, exasperated, “and focus!”
Having regained his composure, Levathan saluted and proceeded to check the barricades. Once more satisfied that they were interlocked properly, he then climbed up to the top of the bookcases and settled into his guard position in the middle of the wall, so that he would be able to turn his head to both the archway and the inner library. Meanwhile, Anshar relaxed himself to enter his meditation state off to one corner, where the “wall” met the proper wall.
I hate guard duty, Levathan found himself thinking. Nothing ever happens, or everything happens and you're dead. Ugh, it’s too hot. Did someone mess with the environmental controls? No, wait, they’re blown to hell, too, aren’t they? Hmm, is that my favorite desk I see there?
Levathan peered intently into the darkened library, shading his eyes with his right hand while leaning out and propping himself on one leg.
Maybe it is. Oh well, junk now. Oh! Right! I was hot, or am I hot? Either way, I am hot stuff.
Chuckling at his own joke, he took off his outer robes.
I hate it when they get this dirty. Oh! Look! A hole! Hmm, I wonder…
Taking his E11 blaster, Levathan put another hole parallel to the first one and proceeded to cut out a crescent, with its points up, out of the cloth with his dagger, just below the two holes. Holding it up and chuckling at his handiwork, he promptly tossed it carelessly over the wall. As he did so, he felt a tingling sensation in his mind, automatically turning to Anshar. The man was now sitting cross-legged against the duracrete wall. Levathan could almost see a dark shimmering glow surrounding the Dark Jedi Master.
As if in a trance, the Journeyman walked right off the wall, hitting the floor with a thud. He had another fleeting thought: He had felt no pain, and he was walking as though he had just taken a step on a set of stairs. However, he was entranced by that dark aura, as though he was seeing a black mist gleaming and undulating underwater. Reaching his hand out towards Anshar in his meditative state, walking ever closer, Levathan felt a slight tingle in his fingertips. Just a few more centimeters, and he could already sense it in his hands.
A loud clatter of wood on wood jolted him out of his reverie. He spun around and ran, then jumped onto the makeshift wall and climbed as fast as he could. His mind was clear on his task. Nothing else existed. He wanted blood.
Valhavoc watched as Graus slid under the blast door a second before it slammed shut.
Who does that?! Who slides under a kriffing blast door that's propped open by some broke ass jacks?
With a sigh, Val accepted he was on his own again. Possibly for the better, given the situation that he had found the Qel-Droman in. Looking over the area, he found a used E-11 blaster rifle next to one of the corpses. The Knight holstered his pistol and picked up the weapon, then set off down the hallway.
The lights in Nar Shaddaa were cutting in and out as Valhavoc walked down the street to his favorite bar. It felt like days since he had a drink, and the thoughts of his expulsion from GAI weighed heavily on his mind. The bar was oddly empty, except for a lone bartender he didn't recognize who appeared to be sleeping on the job.
Val took a seat at the bar and looked around the place. It was a mess, tables and chairs thrown around the room. The stage wasn't even set up for the entertainment that should be arriving soon to play through the night. The human shrugged - he had come for the drinks after all, not the atmosphere.
"Bartender, one whiskey... actually, make it two" he called over to the sleeping man. Turning his attention to the holo-feeds, he saw a strange news broadcast, there was a woman reporting on a virus outbreak in the Correlian Sector. The screen was only displaying in varying colors of red.
Must be broken again. Cheap bastards can't even replace that in here.
Behind him, he heard the door open. As he looked over his shoulder, he saw a woman standing in the doorway, pointing a blaster pistol at him. She looked confused, and, for some unknown reason, scared.
"You betrayed the Intelligence Agency, Val Cole! Now you die!" the woman yelled, firing her blaster wildly.
Val dove behind the bar, drawing his pistol and crawling to a corner of the long table. He fired two shots over the top of the bar, then rolled out from behind it into a kneeling position, snapping off four quick shots at the crazed woman. She dropped her pistol and fell to the ground, scrambling after it.
Valhavoc was faster, though. He pounced on her and pinned the woman down, dealing blow after blow on her face and neck.
"They betrayed me! I did my job you bitch, and this is the thanks I get?!" he screamed at the woman's bloody face. After repeated blows, she was finally unresponsive.
That one was tougher than the others. Didn't pass out for a long time.
He looked back at the bar expecting to see the bartender gone, only to find him still asleep. Annoyed, Val walked over and shook the man.
"Hey! My whiskey! Where is it?"
Val stood in the middle of a laboratory classroom, holding the corpse of a student that was slumped over a lab bench. Dropping the body, he grabbed the rifle he had recently acquired off the table and surveyed the room.
How the hell did I get here?
A communications terminal blinked a red emergency warning. Near the doorway lay a woman in a lab coat with two blaster holes in her torso, her head crushed into the floor. A few feet from her was a clipboard. Looking down at his hands, he saw them covered in blood.
The deaths meant nothing to him, but the fact that he had no control over himself in the midst of this and little recollection of how he got here tore at the Arconan's mind. Val dropped the E-11 back onto the lap bench and began frantically washing his hands in the lap sink. After a few deep breaths, the former Agent splashed water onto his face, staring down at the rifle on the lap bench.
"I'm losing my mind," he whispered.
When Shi’ren mentioned the Wookiee, the entire group had looks of terror on their faces. Well, it was hard to tell what a look of terror on the face of a Duros was, but Arden had to assume that is what Veros was trying to emote. Wookiees were hard to bring down under normal conditions. One that was faster,stronger, and more resilient than normal, not to mention really pissed off? That was going to be another challenge altogether. Maybe they could avoid the creature? No, not likely in corridors this narrow, and there really wasn’t another way to get where they were going. They’d have to go through the damn thing, or turn back.
They could go hide again and hope that someone would find them. But was anyone looking? Arden wouldn’t be, if he were the sane one. It was too dangerous, too great a risk. Of course that was the rational answer, the emotionless one. As much as Arden could hope that someone would come for them, he couldn’t take that chance. They had to go now while they still could.
Arden was already feeling worse, his mind slipping a bit more. It was becoming harder to think and much harder to focus. Whatever this thing was, it was getting worse, and it was unlikely to get better. No, waiting wasn’t going to serve them well. They had to go.
Jurel once again broke him out of his thinking. “What’s the plan, boss?”
Arden didn’t quite have one yet, so he was thinking out loud. “Well, we have some decent guns. I could try taking his head off. No, he’ll come straight at us, and his friends wlll be armed. No grenades, so that’s not an option. It’s risky, but someone has to distract him. Pull him away from the main group.”
Shi’ren glared at Arden. “You must be kidding. Drawing off a Wookiee? It will...it will...”
Veros chimed in. “Rip off your arms and beat you with them. If you’re lucky.”
Jurel added, “Best that we send the fastest person for that job. I wonder who of us was a galactic class sprinter in their youth.”
Shi’ren looked defeated. “Fine, fine, I’ll do it. You better not miss, Karn!”
Arden nodded and cocked the rifle. “I don’t miss. Jurel, how’s the professor?”
The Chadra-Fan answered for herself. “Leave me. I’ll just slow you down. And...and...I can’t feel it anymore, either. The Force as forsaken me as well.”
Jurel seemed confused. “So this thing has affected everyone? Even the teachers? What the Hell is doing this to us?”
“Hopefully the Headmaster will know. Now let’s move before they decide to come in after us.” Arden waved the others into position and then handed the Chadra-Fan one of his spare blaster pistols. “At least you’ll have a chance now. I’ll send help if I can. Otherwise, see you on the other side.”
Toora took the gun and then slipped something into Arden’s pocket. “Give this to the Headmaster if you make it to her. She’ll know what it is. Now go kick some Wookiee tail, or whatever they have back there.”
Arden smirked and motioned the others towards the door. “Mess is a dozen meters down to the left, around a corner. Shi’ren, taunt that Wookiee and take off to the right as fast as those . Jurel, Veros, suppressive fire on the others. I’ll take out the Wookiee and then we’ll start working our way to the tunnel. Questions?”
Everyone shook their heads in the negative, and Arden nodded to Shi’ren, who took one last deep breath and opened the door. As he stepped into the corridor, Arden could hear the Wookiee roar at the sight of a new target in the corridor. The Bith took one pot shot in the growling alien’s direction and then began shouting at it.
“Hey, you big furry, um, fuzzball! Come get me!”
The first part of Arden’s plan worked perfectly. He couldn’t tell if the Wookiee was taunting him back or just roaring. Arden’s understanding of Shyriiwook wasn’t very good, but the Wookiee was definitely mad and chasing after the Bith. When the Wookiee passed the door, Arden waved the others out into the corridor and then followed himself. He caught a glimpse of other Journeyman down the hall, ones that were clearly crazed. They didn’t even stop to look who was in the corridor - they just started shooting. Jurel and Veros returned fire, causing the students to scatter. It was when Arden leveled his rifle at the Wookiee that things began to turn for the worse.
Arden had never seen a Wookiee move as fast as this one before. Despite Shi’ren’s speed, the Wookiee had caught up to him in a few seconds. Once within reach, the Wookie grabbed the Bith by his right arm and picked him up with little difficulty. As the Shi’ren started to be swung around in the air like a pudgy whitish whip, he shouted back at Arden.
“Aaaaany time now, Kaaaarn!”
He barely managed to get that sentence out before the force of the spin ripped the Bith’s arm from the socket, spraying broken tissue and capillaries like cloth. The victim had very little time to scream. The swing had been with such force that the residual momentum was sufficient enough to send Shi’ren rocketing into a bulkhead, head first, several meters away. His head exploded like a melon on impact, brain matter splattering all over the corridor in chunks of repulsive gray residue.
Arden recoiled in fear momentarily, but he didn’t have time to dwell on the scene for very long. The Wookiee had noticed him, turned around, and was now bearing down on him. Arden knew that he couldn’t hesitate. Steeling himself against the urge to run, he raised the E11 and aimed it at the charging alien’s head. Before Arden even realized that he’d pulled the trigger, the Wookie slumped to the ground not a meter and a half from his feet, a blaster bolt sized scorch mark a centimeter above his right eye. Arden was alive, though the people behind him might have something to say about that.
Quickly ducking behind a support pillar, Arden turned his focus to the blaster toting journeymen that stood between them and their goal. Jurel had already killed one, a Devaronian judging from the horns, but there were at least four more still firing.
As he tried to line up a shot, he shouted to Jurel. “How’s your ammo?”
Jurel took two more shots that impacted on the wall behind the human male she was shooting at. “I’m fine, but I think Veros is low. We can’t keep this up. You have a shot?”
Arden’s rifle answered the question for her, a red lance of plasma bursting from it and a moment later impacting with the neck of an Ithorian that was peeking around to get a better look. As Veros sent another volley of bolts down the corridor, he looked to Arden.
“Numbers are even. We should press them now.”
Arden shook his head in reply. “I don’t want to take the risk.”
The Duros locked his oversized red eyes with Arden’s. “I wasn’t suggesting. There will only be more coming, and we can’t hold them. You two make for the tunnel, now. Look for a grate on the back right wall of the mess. Turn right and you should come out near the armory and medical section in about twenty meters. I’ll follow when I can.”
Without waiting for Arden’s response, Veros stepped fully into the corridor and started firing wildly. Arden realized it was pointless to do anything other than what he demanded. Motioning for Jurel to follow, he took off as fast as he could towards the double doors that led into the mess. For the most part, the Duros kept the hostile Journeymen back, but Arden did have to let fly one quick shot as he ran, singing the robe of a human male.
Eventually they made it to the mess doors and Arden barreled through them, Jurel close behind. He could still hear blaster fire in the hall, but he and Jurel didn’t have time to worry about that. Because of Veros’ excellent directions, it only took a few seconds to find the grate he was referring to. Arden sprinted towards it, effortlessly vaulting over a table in the process. Kicking it open with one firm blow from his boot, he dove into the tunnel, hurtling into the darkness beyond.
Alaris didn’t need to be told twice and turned his run into a foot first slide. A plethora of bolts from procured E11 blaster rifles went flying right through where his body had once been. By the time he had flipped himself over and began returning fire, his new survival partner, Etah, had already begun blasting at the pack of enraged Journeymen giving chase. He was unsure of how far through his power pack he was, but he knew that he couldn’t have much left.
“We need to keep moving, Etah.” Alaris could feel his arm burning from the bolt he had taken a few minutes earlier. “The pack is getting larger. We need to find a way to the Headmaster, if she’s even still breathing.”
Etah wasn’t even aiming, just blindly firing at the wall of beasts progressing down the corridor toward them. One or two collapsed, but for the most part they just kept coming. “Any idea as to how we can do that would be wonderful, Jinn.”
His blaster sputtered and fired no more. He swore silently and threw his blaster at the parade, hoping it might explode. He pulled the saber that Lord Ashen had designed for him from his belt and ignited it. The Twi’lek rolled over onto his back. A quick kip up and he began deflecting every blast he could. The shots were driving him back, which didn’t bother him any; the further from the wall of the anger, the better.
“Get up, Etah. We still have more running to do.”
The two Obelisks continued their backward movement down the corridor until they eventually reached another blast door. Alaris slapped at the door panel, but to no avail. The door wouldn’t budge.
Kriffing, bloody frak.
The Twi’lek took a moment to glance left and right. On his right hand side were two turbo lifts. One was completely powered down with its door firmly closed, but the other was open slightly. Alaris knew that he wouldn’t be able to open it, even with some enhancement from the Dark Side.
“Etah, toss me your rifle. I’ll cover you while you open this door.”
Etah didn’t have time to look at Alaris as if the Plagueian had grown a second head, so he just merely yelled, “What?!”
Alaris took a few steps back toward the pack, deflecting bolts the entire time. He was lucky enough deflect one particular bolt into a Journeyman’s eye, dropping him.
“Just do it! It’s going to be our only way out!”
Alaris spun quickly, extinguishing his blade, re-applying it to his belt, and almost catching the rifle in one turn. He closed his left hand on the rifle and pain shot through his arm. He had forgotten about the shot he had taken to the shoulder. He dropped quickly to grab the rifle. He lay prone and took careful headshots, knowing that spray wasn’t going to work against these beasts.
Etah pulled everything he could from the Force and only barely pulled the doors apart, giving only slight shoulder room. He looked within and swore. There was no turbolift, just the shaft. Almost as quickly, relief washed over him. The lift doors on the other side were wide open.
“It’s a ten foot jump across. We can easily make it.”
Alaris smiled from the ground and pulled himself back up to standing. He took one more shot down the hall before handing the rifle off to Etah. He clasped Etah’s bare forearm with his own and squeezed tightly.
“We’re gonna get out of here.”
A quick grin, and Alaris took two quick steps before he allowed the Force to carry him through the shaft and out onto the other side, safe. He took a quick glance around and saw nothing. There were no violent underlings ready to tear him apart.
He turned around and grinned at Etah, waving him over. Etah nodded and took his two steps. Upon take off, he demanded the Force carry him across. His eyes widened.
The Force did not respond.
Alaris saw it almost before it happened and dove back toward the turbolift doors. His good arm grabbed the floor guard, bolted securely to the ground. He shot forward his injured arm. Etah grabbed it and squeezed. Alaris heard and felt the loud pop from his shoulder. He stifled a scream and commanded the Dark Side to give him the strength to pull Etah up to safety before any of the herd could reach the doors and take one pot shot that would kill them both.
They scurried themselves away from the door and then collapsed on the ground. Alaris took a moment to realign his left shoulder, the pain of which was nearly unbearable. He channelled the Dark Side into it, numbing the agony. He began to laugh. It started softly but turned into a belly laugh, letting emotion get the best of him.
“Damn luck,” he said between chuckles. He sat up and looked down at the burn on his robes, hoping that his laughter would soon subside. He glanced over at Etah, who hadn’t stopped staring at the turbolift.
“Wha...” the only word that would care to escape his mouth.
Alaris pulled himself up to his feet after a moment and extended his good arm down to help up Etah. “We’re alive, Brother. We breathe.”
Etah took the hand and came to a standing position, but immediately grabbed the wall for support. He glanced down at his right hand. “You...”
The Twi’lek shook the last of the humour from his body then glanced around again. Two blast doors. Only one was open. “Let’s move, d’Tana.”
Etah didn’t go anywhere. He turned his gaze and stared straight at the Exarch before him. “You touched me.”
Alaris returned the gaze. “Of course, I did. I saved your karking life. Don’t take it personally. I need you alive.” Alaris turned his back and started moving toward the open corridor. “We need to find...”
He paused. The Force was speaking to him, sending him messages. No. Not the Force.
He received little warning in the Force, but he was able to turn around in time to see the butt of an E11 rifle clock him in the skull, forcing everything dark.
Solus could feel the weariness roll off of his master in great waves as she pushed herself out into the Force that swirled within the Academy. Pushed was indeed the right word; it was as if she were having to muscle her way into it.
She’s weak. You could end this.
Not allowing himself to give in to the voice in his head, or whatever this affliction was, Solus turned his attention back to Ronovi. Her fight finally called him to action, and he reached out through the Force itself to join his will with hers. As they had only melded twice before, the sensation was still somewhat new to them both. Solus, however, cautiously walled off part of himself from Ronovi, careful to not let his own worries about his mental state slip through their shared link.
With their abilities added to one another, magnified by the meld, the two pushed their perception beyond walls of the small storage room and outward into their surroundings. The grounds were awash in chaos, the strange sensation of the afflicted seeming to settle over the halls like a dense red mist. But within it there were two points of cold, clear darkness, representing perhaps allies against the calamity that currently opposed them. Between the two of them, Ronovi and Solus were very familiar with the two others they sensed. The more powerful of the two was Anshar - the other, Alaris.
Just as they were about to make contact, they could feel Alaris lose consciousness. Solus was concerned, motivated not by any attachment he felt to his fellow Plagueian but instead by the potential loss of one more resource. It seemed that the Twi’lek was still alive, but what his condition was they could not know.
Anshar, Ronovi projected, focusing on the sole remaining possibility.
So you still live, Headmaster, Anshar replied.
The words seemed to stir something in Ronovi once more, her will perhaps bolstered by the meld.
I do. And that is not nearly enough any longer. Mere survival while we wait for others is the path of weakness, she said. It’s time that we took our own initiative. Don’t you agree?
Anshar’s agreement came quickly, the Dark Jedi Master obviously not one to favor sitting around and waiting any more than Ronovi did.
We seem to suffer more from a lack of information than anything, he said. The Academy seemed the point of origin. It is what drew me here in the first place.
And there are still those who struggle with this plague, whatever it is, Solus interjected, mindful of his own, still missing apprentice. The newly trained Sith might hold some secret to this plague, having spent more time in the Academy recently then the other Journeymen.
Or perhaps he could be the source of it. One never knows, the voice injected into his mind.
Solus’s heart nearly stopped as his eyes searched Ronovi’s face for any sign that she had heard it too.
No, the voice went on with a cruel laugh, I’m just for you.
Distracted as he was, he missed the details of the exchange between Ronovi and Anshar. He could feel that they had decided to attempt to find out more information about what was going on, and to go on the offensive against the multitudes arrayed against them. With the communication at an end, Ronovi parted the meld with her apprentice.
“The path of weakness?” she scoffed. “Did I really say that? That meld injected more of you into my mind then one would have thought.”
Solus turned his eyes away, unwilling to meet his master’s gaze. “We should move out. I felt Arden out there while you and Anshar spoke. We would do well to find him.”
“And Alaris,” Ronovi added with a dark scowl. “Let’s hope he’s not dead by then. The last thing I need is Taig on my ass for neglecting one of his underlings.”
The light, no matter how sparse, was still alarming as Ronovi cautiously pushed the door open. Behind her, fragments of aurora flickered on the metal husks of once useful droids and protocol-programmed servants. As she meticulously let each finger brush against the dry air, she let the Force slip through her like steam trickling from her nostrils, sensing out every pore of the sickened Academy's anatomy.
Her Praetor raised his eyebrows at her in a non-vocal response as they calmly slipped out of the tiny space back into the uninviting recesses of the corridor.
"Does it not concern you," she asked, carefully enunciating each word, "that should we find Arden and possibly ally with him, we put ourselves both at risk?"
"You're saying that we can be affected just by contact?"
"I'm saying we know nothing," retorted Ronovi, "about this disease at all. How contagious it is. How detrimental it is. Yes, it's only affected Journeymen...but only from what we've seen. There's a reason we tried to quarantine all of them, remember?"
He made no move to banter with her or counter her. It was partially due to the situation, Ronovi knew that, but Solus, by the minute, seemed to grow more and more complacent to her whims, or at least more reserved. Like it was taking him more time to process everything. The Epicanthix stiffened at the thought of her own assistant becoming susceptible to the virus.
And he's a Battlelord. And if he's gone, then that means I...
She was interrupted by a strange rattling noise, grating its way across one of the adjacent walls. She held up a hand to shush Solus, even though he had not made a sound. The cacophony only continued, and Ronovi felt her knuckles twitch as she groped for her saber staff.
No...the infected couldn't have found them. There was nothing of value to them here. The armory was elsewhere, as well as the Vault, though the latter remained sealed as far as the Headmaster knew. Could the swarms have sensed them? No, their Force connection was cut off, from what she could tell. Could the sounds be coming from above? They were far too close for that conclusion to be deduced. So what was going on?
Relying on the Force more than usual to agilely move about, Ronovi arched her back against the wall where she had heard the rattling come from. She crept along its perimeter, Solus at her heels, the man's hands pressed at the hips of his armor. He, too, was ready to arm himself if it were necessary. The two of them inched forward, trying not to be heard, and the rattling only grew louder. And closer.
They stopped when Ronovi noticed an inconsistency in the polished stone of the hallway. A hatch. She crouched beside it, unsure of what to do or think. The rattling, however, never stopped. And accompanying it now were sharp, harsh exhalations.
She reached out her hand. Where's my flask of whiskey when I need it?
Her fingers barely traced the outline of the grate.
And then the wall burst open.
An odd guttural snarl burst from Ronovi's throat, mingled with the feral reaction of surprise. She could hear the aggressive squeal of Solus's lightsaber, plasma rubbing angrily against the stifling air. The Headmaster left little time for the blades of her saber to hiss out like fierce blue vipers, their fangs snapping for flesh. In the stark blue and orange mesh of light, Ronovi could make out the crumpled silhouettes of two humans, one male and one female. The man was the most noticeable, what with the face mask, ink-black hair, and green eyes that snapped open.
The man rolled onto his side and lifted the rifle that Ronovi just noticed he was shouldering. The woman, a brunette human who looked more muscular than some of the guys who Ronovi had worked with, was faster than her partner, scrambling to her feet and leveling her heavy pistol at the Primarch’s head.
The air exploded like invisible flame around them. The growls, threats, and demands rose in a crescendo. Ronovi yelled for order as she brandished her saber. The masked man was issuing warnings as his finger curled around the trigger. The woman was asking for names, the looming nose of her firearm never straying from the spot where the bent frame of what once was Ronovi's eyepatch lay melded into her skull.
And then came the bellow.
Ronovi and the two newcomers froze. Hesitated. Waiting for stampedes to find them. When no one came, all attention was set on Solus. His outburst had been unorthodox, but now he stood with a face like cold marble as he let his lightsaber's lashing tongue whimper out.
Ronovi jolted. It took her a moment to realize that he was referring to the man, who stared up at the Praetor with unblinking eyes. Solus offered an arm.
"Let me take a look at you."
Don't, Solus! He could...
Ronovi was too late to convey any reluctance toward Solus’s gesture. This was, after all, his apprentice, as she was slowly coming to understand. Arden Karn, first tentative, finally lowered his rifle and allowed his mentor pull him from his kneeling position on the hard floor.
"Master," he began, "I was worried..."
"Don't waste your breath on me," Solus cut him off. "How bad are you?"
He wasn't even asking if Arden was okay. They both knew he was most likely infected. No, instead, they had to figure out how far gone he was.
"I'm not sure," Arden answered slowly, seeming to taste the words in his mouth. "I mean, I can still shoot, and I can still kill. But the Force..."
"I know." Solus looked at the woman. "And you?"
"About the same," she replied. "Don't think we should consider ourselves lucky, though."
"What the Hell were you two doing in the wall?" Ronovi butted in, feeling the need to say something somewhat authoritative.
Arden jerked his thumb back at the now open duct. "Maintenance tunnel," he explained. "We were getting away from some pretty sick people. You know, the ones who are blaming you for what's going on."
Which is all sorts of ridiculous, Ronovi thought angrily. But she kept the vitriol to herself for once.
"You got a good idea on what's going on up there? We obviously don't have much contact."
The Guardian shook his head. "Mostly dead people. Same thing you've probably seen. Still, if no one's going in or out of Lyspair, then who knows if we'll all wind up murdered before anyone can help."
No one was going in or out of Lyspair. Arden was right. The more dead Journeymen, the less likely they'd run into hostile forces. Thinner numbers. But still, it left Ronovi only with the method of survival. Unless...
If it's true, that we are the source of this illness, then the only way...
"Enough talking," she suddenly barked. "There are others we need to find. People who can help us end this."
"Like who?" the woman asked.
"Less talking, more walking," Ronovi snapped as she deftly strode away from the other three, beckoning for them to follow. "Once we find Alaris, and maybe Anshar, we'll gain defensible footing against weaker adversaries. I've got somewhere for us all to go. It's a shot in the dark, but..."
"Get on with it, Ronovi, if you don't mind."
She ignored Solus's blunt interruption.
"The core of the Academy's computer system," she announced. "I can take us there. I have top access. It's where we have the most control, what with the actual command center being...well...kaput. But it’s the best place for us to be. We could directly implement changes to the interface. Get the power running again. Burn out this plague once and for all."
It was quite a relief for Arden to be out of the residential portion of the Academy and away from all the crazed, afflicted students. He knew that he was far from totally out of danger, but he did feel much safer around Master Solus and Headmaster Ronovi. At least they still had their heads on straight and weren’t trying to kill him. At least they weren’t trying to kill him yet.
From the way they, the Headmaster especially, were keeping their distance from Jurel and himself as they walked, Arden could tell they were concerned. What if he did turn into one of the crazed, violent ones? Arden couldn’t bear the thought of it. Both he and Solus knew that Arden was quite capable of great feats of accuracy with a rifle in his hand. The lack of the Force only caused a small drop-off in that ability. Solus knew first hand what Arden could do before he was trained. Of course, Arden was calm and rational in that circumstance. Uncontrolled rage had been known to throw off one’s accuracy. The important part of it all, though, was that if he slipped, if he turned, there were only two outcomes.
He would kill Solus or Solus would kill him.
There wasn’t much else clear to the young Guardian right now. A cruel certainty of the universe no one could deny. It was one of a hundred thoughts that Arden couldn’t bear to have right now. Naturally, he didn’t want to die. Instinct was one of the few things he had left, and self-preservation was the basest of all instincts. However, he didn’t want to harm Solus, either. There was no denying that Solus had committed acts of cruelty towards his apprentice, ones that would cause many men to show resentment and even relish the chance of killing the one responsible. However, Arden grasped why his master had done those things, and it had led to a strange bond of mutual fear and respect between the two. There might have been a bit of ego involved as well. If Arden was going to kill Solus, one of the oldest of Sith traditions, there was a part of him deep, deep down that wanted it to be in a straight fight.
That left only one alternative, and he couldn’t help but be hesitant to suggest it. However, there seemed more harm in not making the suggestion than making it.
Looking over to Solus, Arden asked calmly, “Master, have you considered what might occur should my condition get worse?”
Solus looked back with a puzzled expression. “What do you mean?”
Arden exhaled before responding. “I already feel my mental control slipping a bit. It’s becoming difficult for me to focus. My thoughts are becoming less coherent. I’m afraid I might become like, well...them. And I’ve seen what they can do. Saw a Wookiee make a Bith into a new piece of abstract wall art back there. I’m worried that...that I might...”
Arden couldn’t get the words out, but Solus knew what he meant.
“Don’t think like that, Arden.” Arden could tell Solus was considering something, but Arden continued anyway.
“Master, it might just be for the best if you disarmed and restrained me, until this, well, whatever this is passes. I’m a liability waiting to happen otherwise.”
Solus scowled at Arden in reply, though his tone wasn’t entirely dismissive. “You’d be a liability if I did that. We might need your gun in a fight after all.”
Arden nodded shallowly. “I considered that, too, but I’m just not sure of my ability to keep control right now. And I don’t want to harm anyone, or be killed because of it. It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s the best I have.”
Solus looked away from Arden. “I’ll consider it, but I have one question for you first. How was it that you located us? “
Arden shrugged. “I just knew somehow that if I followed that tunnel, I’d find you. And I wasn’t even the one that suggested it. However, when Veros mentioned it, I just knew it was right.”
Solus’s response was only one word. “Interesting. “
As he approached the stairwell, Malfurion expected to be attacked. But he had made it from his struggle with the Twi'lek to where he stood now without another incident. For a short time now, he had been sensing something. Nothing tangible, but it was like a splinter in his mind. Whatever it was, it felt familiar somehow and it came from below him.
It almost feels like the Force. Don't you think? Maybe your abilities are returning and this is just the early stage.
¨No, I don't think so. Wouldn't be much of a bug if it ran its course so quickly," Malfurion replied.
Let’s just get to it and find help.
Quickly finishing the argument with himself, he started to descend the stairwell. He made it down two flights before coming upon a low barricade. But as he tried to traverse the obstacle, a few streaks of red plasma flew past his head, nearly ending his journey.
"Stay away! We don't have to miss," warned a rough voice from below him.
We need to get down there.
"I need to get down there," the Journeyman replied to the disembodied voice.
Tell them that if we can pass we won't hurt them.
"If you let me pass, I won't hurt you!" Malfurion yelled.
The reply was more blaster fire. This time, the Protector had to dive away to avoid it. It also illuminated the attackers’ position enough to make out two individuals and the hastily constructed defensive structure that they occupied on the landing one flight below. And now Malfurion had a plan.
Spurred on by the new round of blaster fire, Malfurion sprinted down the stairs. His sudden attack caused more blaster fire to come his way. Using the hand railing to leverage his jump, he was able to propel himself toward his targets. More shots rang out but widely missed the mark. He landed just inside the barrier between the two assailants. They both turned to attack but were not fast enough to counter the Sith’s maneuver. Malfurion grabbed one man by the collar and flung him into his comrade with such force that they both went tumbling over the barricade. Not being able to stop their momentum, the pair rolled down the stairs onto the next landing.
Malfurion was after them before they had even regained footing. He vaulted over the barricade, landing halfway down the stairs. He then drew his blunted sword and jumped down onto one of the two attackers. He straddled the man, whose eyes showed only fear and panic, and thrust his sword as far into his chest as he could - the force of the strike did far more damage than the dull tip, and the victim was more than adequately impaled. The other attacker had made it to one knee and had started to raise his blaster when Malfurion's sword caught him in the side of the head. The Protector had struck him with such ferocity that, although the blade was not sharp, the man’s neck bent from the impact and snapped with a loud crack.
It took Malfurion several moments to calm down. He checked both bodies. Both men wore the uniforms of the maintenance staff of the Shadow Academy: Coverall jumpsuits with pockets filled with spanners and other tools, as well as the appropriate insignia. These two had worked in mechanics. He picked up the blaster pistols that the pair had been using against him. They carried nothing else of value.
Malfurion ascended the stairs to the above landing that the men had occupied. Just two satchels of tools, a few extra blaster packs, and a glowrod. He emptied one of the satchels, placed the two pistols and extra ammo packs into it, and slung it over his shoulder. He started back down the stairs, and as he stepped over the bodies of the maintenance workers, he linked eyes with one of the dead men. His face was locked into a terrified grimace.
What have you done? Those men were just trying to defend themselves. They didn't have special training like you did. They were helpless, and you slaughtered them.
“I had to do it. They would have killed me,” Malfurion replied confidently.
Are you sure about that? You didn't even really give them a chance. These men probably had family, children. What are they going to do now?
"Stop!" Malfurion screamed. "I don't have time for this. l've got to get going. That strange sensation is getting stronger."
Malfurion made it to the bottom of the stairwell without further incident. He had made it down to the main level of the Shadow Academy. The aura that had led him down this far was so strong that it was almost palpable. He paused to try and get a sense of which direction to go. But the sound of weapon fire drew his attention away.
The Journeyman crept towards the noise, and as he got closer, waves of dark energy passed over and through him. It was what he had felt earlier, only this was more intense. He was so close now that he could tell it was someone using the Force. Whoever it was, he was powerful. Malfurion quickened his pace, forgetting his need for stealth. He rounded a corner and found himself at the entryway to the central library. Half a dozen men were spread out, attacking a barricade made of desks and shelves arranged to form a checkpoint.
That's where the source of the power is...inside that library. Feel it? We need to get to that power. These fools are nothing. Get in there. They are in your way...
"Kill them," Malfurion stated.
Malfurion raised his E-11, took aim at the closest of his newfound enemies, and fired. Five shots hit one man square in the back, shattering his spine and making him collapse in a heap. Before the first one had dropped, the young Protector aimed and fired at a second attacker. This shot was not as carefully aimed and missed the mark. The soldier spun to face this new threat.
In his haste to find the source of the alleged power, Malfurion had not bothered to find cover before attacking - a decision that he was now regretting. He had to duck behind a large stone support pillar to avoid fire from the assailant whom he had missed. Now two more of the group had been alerted to his presence and turned to attack him.
Realizing that the tide had turned, one of the library’s assumed defenders jumped out from behind his position and charged the attackers. Confused by the sudden assault, the men scattered and began shooting wildly at anything they could find. The unknown defender had to duck for cover to avoid the wild shooting, but the cover offered a better ante from which to do battle.
Malfurion, still pinned behind the pillar, saw his chance when the defender leaped from behind his barricade and began shooting. Malfurion threw himself into the open air and rolled, landing on one knee. He raised his blaster and shot several times in the direction of his three attackers. One took several shots in the chest and dropped. Another took a shot to the knee, stumbled, and fell.
Realizing that the fight had turned against them, the last of the fighters began to flee. The unknown defender took careful aim and gunned down the ones that tried to escape.
Now is our chance. Run. Run!
Malfurion stood and began to dash for the library entrance. But as he approached it, blaster fire started sailing past him in red ribbons. One caught him in the hip, and he went tumbling to the polished stone floor. He landed hard and awkwardly. His blaster fell from his hand and slid away, out of reach. He rolled onto his chest and tried to push himself up, but his leg was useless, a small crater smoldering in his pelvic region.
"Stop moving," came a voice from behind him.
The unknown defender walked across the large hall, gun trained on Malfurion. He kicked over the Protector and pointed the blaster in his face, ready to kill him. Until...
"Mal? Malfurion, is that you?" Altheseus Levathan asked dubiously.
"Yes," Malfurion answered, raising his head just a little.
"It's me, Levathan."
Kill him! Kill him now! He wants the power for himself!
"Shut up!" Malfurion exclaimed. He then took a breath. "Sorry. I mean, help me up, Lev. I can't believe you shot me."
"Yeah, sorry about that. Let’s get you protected. Master Anshar will want to talk to you."
Master Anshar. That will be perfect.
Alaris felt the pain even before he opened his eyes. He had a splitting headache, his arm was still reeling from the dislocation and the blaster shot, and now his wrists burned terribly. He winced and let out a slight gasp before he opened his eyes.
Where am I?
He called the Dark Side into him to begin to dull some of the pain. A swift foot came flying out of nowhere and connected solidly with his solar plexus, distracting him from his task. The air quickly vacated his lungs and he gasped desperately for the stale oxygen that filled the unknown space.
Where am I?
Finally, his intensified inhaling gave way to a breath of “fresh” air. He tried to rub his face only to discover the source of his burning wrists; they were tightly wrapped behind his back. He hazily glanced around at his surroundings, but his focus stopped at the face of an angry Mirialan with disheveled blond hair falling around his full beard.
“Why have you done this to me?” The angry man glared down at the Twi’lek from his place on the other side of the room.
Alaris’s words were broken with coughs and wheezes. “Etah, what are you talking about?”
The Arconan came across the room at a blistering clip and delivered a hard, solid punch across the Plagueian’s jaw. “You, and the Dark Summit. Why are you stealing our power?”
Oh, no. Not you, too. “We haven’t done anything like that, Etah. The Dark Council is searching for a way to -”
“Lies!” The bellow seemed to die at the edge of the room without any echo. The blows came repeatedly, faster than they should’ve been able to, even by Alaris’ standards. He knew there was nothing he could do to stop them for the time being. He just accepted it. He took the pain as an old ally.
After what seemed like an eternity, the punches stopped and Alaris was able to collapse into the fetal position. He tried to block out the pain, but even the Dark Side was having difficulty numbing it all. He spat blood, felt it running out of his nose and down his right cheek to the ground. The Dark Side seemed to instinctively repair his broken ribs and punctured lung, but the pain remained. It always did.
“I don’t want to have to keep asking you, Alaris. Your screams of agony are going to bring more of the - what did you call them earlier - the herd.” Etah stood over Alaris, his hair falling down around his face, obscuring his features. “Why have you taken my power?”
Alaris sputtered in his response. “If I took your power,” he asked, coughing up more blood, “why wouldn’t I have just let you fall?”
Etah didn’t respond. Alaris took this as the d’Tana pausing to think about it. “You weren’t sure you had drained all of my access to the Force.”
“And if I were draining your power,” Alaris let his mouth run, almost as if someone else were speaking through him, “why would I leave you with more strength and speed?”
No reply came this time.
“Etah, you are not so far gone yet that you have lost your wits like,” he winced for a moment, “the herd. You know what will happen if you come across them. They will not care that you are becoming like them. For all they know, you are still a beacon of the Dark Side. A former Left Hand of Justice.”
The Arconan took a few steps back from the man he had just battered. He stood in silence. Alaris allowed this, keeping the silence, letting Etah consider everything. The brief respite was interrupted by blaster fire in the distance, but neither Obelisk let that interfere with their moment of sudden reflection.
“You can’t take them on alone, Etah. You and I, together, we work well in tandem. You need me, Etah.” Alaris closed his eyes and waited. He was resigned to accept his death at this point, but hoped incessantly for survival.
Etah pulled a shank from his belt and stood over Alaris once again. He bent down and grabbed Alaris by the left arm, sending jolts of pain through the Twi’lek’s body. He turned the Exarch face down and flipped the blade upside down in his hand, lowering the blade toward Alaris’ back. After a few pulls with the shank, Etah’s work was done.
He finished pulling the wire from his survival partner’s wrists and helped him stand up. Alaris looked up slightly so as to make eye contact with Etah. He nodded.
“I understand, d’Tana. If I had thought someone had stripped me of the Force, I would want them just as dead.”
The Prelate shook his head. “I’m sorry -”
Alaris stopped him. “Don’t apologize. This is about survival, not compassion. You don’t want me alive, but you kept me here, anyway.”
Etah grinned. “Don’t take it personally. I need you alive.”
Alaris smiled back, letting his pointed teeth free. “Let’s move. That blaster fire means could mean that someone else with all of their senses is still alive.”
“Toward combat? This is new for us.”
Alaris winced in pain and turned toward where the fighting seemed to be taking place. “I’m tired of running. It’s time to slaughter us some Journeymen.”
Graus ran as fast as he could, his plastoid boots clack-clacking and echoing loudly off the smooth walls and polished floor. Terror gripped his guts with icy talons as he ran, pushing his body far beyond its normal limits. Rounding a corner, the Knight slammed bodily into three others standing near a T-junction. As the four men fell to the ground, Graus looked up and saw three sets of glowing blue eyes staring back at him. Skittering backwards, away from the others, he reached for his dropped blaster and opened fire, spraying scarlet bolts in all directions.
The other three Journeymen rolled to different sides, covering their heads as Graus continued firing.
“You won’t get me, you bastards,” he said through clenched teeth as he took better aim and fired a three-round burst into the nearest spectre, watching in glee as the blue light faded from its eyes as half its face vaporized into a fine red mist.
Graus got to his feet and fired again, taking the other two in the back as they were running from him. The one on the right fell face first and lay there unmoving. His companion, however, was rolling on the floor, his back arched. As the Knight walked to them, he noticed the unmoving one had a smoking hole dead center between his shoulder blades. The other - Flopper. I’ll call you Flopper - was trying to regain his footing even though it was clear that his spine was pulverized by the laser blast.
“Hey. You look at me,” Graus said calmly, nudging Flopper with his boot.
As the humanoid looked at Graus, his blue eyes shining in the poor light of the hallway, the Arconan crouched down and looked his victim square in the face.
“Are you planning on coming back after me?” he asked the squirming being on the floor.
“What?” the Journeyman panted, his face screwed up in confusion.
“When I pull this trigger and splash the wall with your brains, are you planning on coming back after me?” he asked again. “Because if you are, I’m going to kill you slowly and then spread the pieces of your body all over this place so you won’t be able to chase me.”
“Gods, I don’t even know what you’re - ” the nameless humanoid cried, his plea cut off by a lance of red energy boring a hole where his nasal cavity was. The brain exited with a POP from the back of the skull and the man went limp. Standing up straight, Graus removed his lightsaber and quickly cut the feet off of all three bodies, wrapping them in one of the corpses’ cloaks.
Let’s see them chase me without these, he thought to himself, a slight smile creasing his face. Now to get the Hells out of here…
Valhavoc sat at the sink, watching the drops of water roll off his nose to plink into the small basin, counting the ripples as they expanded outwards. How long he had sat there doing this, he didn’t know. He stared into the water, clear with faint pink ribbons swirling about lazily, and tried to focus his thoughts…and failing.
The woman at the bar. The smashed in face. The forgotten whiskey.
I am in control… I am IN CONTROL! He repeated mentally, over and over again like a mantra. Looking at the reflection of his face in the water, Val tried to pull together any memory of what just happened.
Wringing his hands, droplets of pink water flying in random patterns, he grabbed the E-11 blaster and looked at the butt of it, its round knob smeared with blood and clumped with broken skin. He focused on a few stray hairs clinging to the flesh and watched them as they quivered slightly in the air. Realizing he was zoning out again, he angrily shook his head and dipped the end of the blaster into the sink, wiping off the matted gore. Drying the blaster on his tunic, he checked the power levels and walked towards the door.
Looking back, Valhavoc surveyed the damage he’d done and a slight sigh escaped his lips. He didn’t feel sad or guilty, just frustrated at his own lack of self control. He was a Dark Jedi Knight, damn it, and Knights didn’t lose control like this. He strode from the room without another look, determined more than ever to figure out what was happening to him, and more importantly, who was responsible.
Levathan reappeared in the library after his brief excursion outside the barricade. To Anshar's surprise, Malfurion was with Levathan, albeit hobbling along, using the Jedi Hunter as a crutch. Anshar's newest apprentice, Malfurion seemed troubled. 'But, then again, who wouldn't be in these times?' Anshar wondered to himself. Besides, there had been varying reactions to the sickness, from outright dementia to only physical symptoms. Still, Anshar reminded himself to remain vigilant. He had seen enough of what this sickness could do to someone's mind, and since Malfurion, like some many others, was “new” to the Force, its loss undoubtedly had hit him hard.
“I don't think this barricade is going to work,” said Levathan.
“Agreed,” replied Anshar. “We weren't going to stay here forever anyway, but we do need to be on the move.”
“I'm not exactly capable of moving that fast,” said Malfurion, hints of malice in his voice.
“Let me look at that,” said Anshar, approaching as Levathan helped Malfurion onto one of the few upright desks. “Levathan, keep a lookout.”
“What are you going to do?” asked the Hunter.
“I should be able to heal this up,” said Anshar. “But I'll need some time to concentrate.”
“You better- I mean, that would help,” said Malfurion, staring not at his blaster wound, but with the Krath master before him. Anshar glared at the Protector. There was more going on with his apprentice than he had thought.
“Uh, won't that bring more crazies here?” asked Levathan as he assumed a position behind an upturned bookshelf, his blaster trained on the entrance.
“It might,” said Anshar as he moved his hand over Malfurion's wound. “But, we'll be able to get out. Don't forget, I know my way around here.”
“Can we please hurry this up?” demanded an impatient Malfurion. Anshar ignored the comment this time, but he still only kept one hand over the wound. His other hand stayed inside his cloak, resting on the hilt of the crystalline dagger he always had. If there was any funny business, he would not hesitate to end Malfurion's life. He would not lose his own.
* * *
Malfurion sat on the desk impatiently. He hurt where he had been shot, but it would all work out. Master Anshar was about to imbue him with the Force. He would finally get some of that which he craved.
It won't be enough. Take it all.
'Not yet,' Malfurion thought to himself as he felt a sudden rush. Yes, it was the Force, flowing into him. Then the pain hit and Malfurion realized that it was not the Force that was flowing through him. True, his body was being healed, but it was the pain from the wound closing up that he felt. He practically wanted to scream out loud. He could not feel it. There had to be a way to get it!
* * *
“There, that should be good for now,” said Anshar, withdrawing his hand from Malfurion's wound. It was not one hundred percent healed, but it was far better than it had been.
“Yeah, for now,” spat out Malfurion as he hoisted himself down. Just as Anshar was about to reply, there was a commotion at the entrance to the makeshift fortress. Though no blaster fire had erupted, Anshar's hands still fell to his lightsabers, ready to draw them at a moment's notice. It was then that Alaris and Etah appeared.
“I'll be damned,” said Alaris, who looked like he had been hit by a bantha. “Didn't think any of you masters were hanging around here.” He winced as he sat down, two of the hastily applied bacta patches clinging in place.
“Yeah, I came here for vacation,” said Anshar, sarcastically. “What the hell happened to you?”
“Long story,” said Alaris. “Look, while I'm glad we found someone not trying to kill us, just what is your plan? Stay here the whole time?”
“Hardly,” replied Anshar. “It was supposed to be a fall back position, but we got stuck here longer than anticipated. We were just about to head to the computer core and see what can be done from there. However, it appears that I'm playing the role of doctor today.”
“Yeah, that would be nice,” said Alaris. “You trust these guys to protect us?” He gestured to Etah, Malfurion, and Levathan.
“For now,” replied Anshar. “You guys take up the defense. I'll see if I can't get Alaris in a bit more capable of shape.” While the other three nodded, Anshar could not help but notice the burning in the eyes of Malfurion and Etah. He would have to watch them. Anshar helped Alaris down and the two retreated a bit further in the library. Alaris sat in a chair and began to focus on healing himself. Anshar soon joined in, trying to get the Exarch back into a decent shape so he wouldn't be a drag on the whole group.
“Do you think it is safe to take them with us?” asked Alaris. “All of them are infected, and there's no telling what could happen.”
“I have my reservations,” replied Anshar. “I only hope this sickness doesn't hit you, Ronovi, or Solus.”
“Yeah, that would leave you all alone, wouldn't it?” asked Alaris before finally settling into his full healing trance.
The Dark Side flowed through Alaris with a vigor he had not felt since his meeting with the spirit of Darth Plagueis beneath the surface of Morroth. He could feel the Force repairing the cracks created in his skull courtesy of Etah d’Tana. His skin around his wrists closed over the wounds. His broken ribs fused together once more.
He could see clearly in this stasis of meditation. The pain was still there, as usual, but it only helped the Twi’lek focus. Anshar’s power felt immense to the Equite. He wanted that power for himself. He needed it. He would not, however, stoop to whatever level the Journeymen thought the powers that be dropped to. Personal growth was far more impressive than theft.
The Twi’lek could feel Anshar’s power slipping away from him and the pain began to subside. Alaris felt renewed; stronger, as if the Dark Side had given him an increased level of power for his dedication.
The Left Hand pulled himself from his meditative state and reopened his eyes. The pain he had was gone. His everlasting pain: vanished almost completely. It always remained, but it was so subdued it felt as only an itch.
“I appreciate your assistance, Excellency.” Alaris rarely used honorifics outside of formal proceedings, but he was willing to grant Anshar this exception.
Anshar looked gravely at his patient. “I wasn’t finished.” He barely let the words slip through his lips. He stood up and walked back to the other three.
The Exarch allowed himself a moment to take in what he had just heard. The Twi’lek reached out his arm to pull a book, a chair, a whole shelf, he didn’t care, toward him.
There was no point to anger. Anger was simply fuel for his control of the Dark Side. The Dark Side was gone. Instead: acceptance. He stood and walked back toward the small group who had become very unlikely allies in this time of horror. He wasted no time.
“I am infected.” He made eye contact with Etah. The Arconan’s eyes didn’t apologize so much as they conveyed relief. “We have to move.”
“There are a series of access tunnels that will take us down to the core from here. I remember them fairly well.”
Alaris shook his head. “That will take too long, Consul. I’m infected, they’re infected. It won’t be long before even you may feel the Dark Side slip away.”
“I am not abandoning the core as our objective.” Anshar let a touch of anger slip into his voice.
“I’m not suggesting you do so,” Alaris grinned. “I’m simply suggesting something a little quicker.”
Etah caught Alaris’s implication and nodded. “The turbolift.”
Anshar snorted in lieu of laughter, “The building is in lockdown. Turbolifts haven’t been active since I arrived.”
“I don’t mean the machine itself, Consul. I’m referring to the shaft. Your access tunnels weave, twist, and turn in their descent and very well may be filled with the herd.”
Anshar cocked an eyebrow. “The herd?”
Etah chimed in again. “That’s how he refers to the infected who have been trying to tear us apart for the last - ” He trailed off, unsure as to how long he had even been on Lyspair.
The Consul looked around at the group. He let the idea mull over. “Let’s say we take the turbolift shaft. How do we even know we can find one that’s open?”
Alaris and Etah made eye contact again and both smiled. “Already got that covered.”
Five minutes later, the five Dark Jedi, unlikely allies, had scavenged all they needed from the Library and began their trek back in the direction Alaris and Etah had come from. They moved as silently as possible and were able to make it to the open turbolift doors without incident. The hallway was marked with a patches of spattered blood and once concentrated pool that had not yet fully dried..
“No bodies. What happened here?” Malfurion asked in a hoarse whisper.
Etah opened his mouth to speak, but was quickly cut off by the di Plagia. “Etah kept me alive.”
The computer core would take some time, and some effort, to reach. The upper levels, such as the library and the classrooms, would have barricaded staircases, making it difficult for the swarms to reach the lower levels. But of course, that didn’t mean that some of them couldn’t have slipped through the cracks. Truly secure spots were scattered, and it was possible that deeper in the bowels of the Academy, infected who may have been too far gone to save could have crawled their way into the secluded passageways.
Below the abandoned storage rooms were empty spaces and hallways, untouched thus far by life. This was where the structure became less and less inhabitable. The corridors were not forbidden, but they also offered nothing in terms of knowledge and exploration. Students were not barred, but they would not show interest. Not unless they liked wandering through endless spirals toward nothingness. Well, except for the core room, which could only be accessed by Headmasters both past and current.
Ronovi wondered if Anshar had made it to the core before she was even remotely close. She doubted it - after making contact with him, she could only assume that he was cooped up somewhere else trying to assess his own situation. He obviously could take on even Equites, should they potentially be infected, easily - he was a Dark Jedi Master, and damn good with dual sabers. Thinking about him brought her back to earlier years, when he was on the Throne of Yridia and she was nothing but an Acolyte being shipped to Karideph to kill a Hutt.
Tarentum. Despite the fragments of history and loyalty that she had left behind in her escape to Dajorra and later Lyspair, the Epicanthix found herself wondering about the house’s current condition. If it was true that Anshar was Prince once again, then he had a lot of deep battle wounds to patch up and heal. And if the virus had spread that far into the galaxy, then Yridia could easily crumble. It had always been vulnerable, raw and red and always prone to conflict. Not even the Yridian Kratocracy, which had fallen so easily after Ronovi’s departure, could withstand the somewhat petty nature of its people.
Of course, Ronovi carried a bitterness about the course of action she had undertaken to get away from what she felt was a broken system at the time. Perhaps Anshar had attempted to bring stability back to her homeworld. Perhaps not. It was difficult to trust anyone these days.
The light grew fainter and more strained as the four Dark Jedi walked, silver seeping through like thin, dying hairs on a marble head. The Headmaster had hoped that the journey, although tedious, would be uneventful. That was before she heard cold, rasping breathing behind her.
She turned to look at Arden and his friend, whose name she had discovered was Jurel. Although Arden looked somewhat more disoriented than usual, Jurel looked far worse. She propped herself against the nearest wall, wiping her forehead with a trembling hand.
“What’s the matter with you?”
“I feel feverish,” she panted, every part of her body shaking. “Not really feverish, though, but...like I’m in a fever dream. Everything looks hazy.”
“Can you keep moving?” Solus demanded from Ronovi’s shoulder.
Jurel stared at the man in red armor, not blinking. The color was slowly draining from her face. Ronovi waved her hand in front of the woman’s blazing eyes.
“Hey. Kid. How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Who’s he?” she gasped.
“What?” Arden asked.
She pointed at Solus. “What’s he doing here?”
“Jurel, that’s my master. That’s Sol - ”
Arden could not finish his sentence. Jurel had whipped out her pistol again, pointing it with an impressive grip at Solus’s exposed jawbone. The sweat was streaming from her brow now - cold, Ronovi guessed - and she was stuttering.
“Get him out of here. Get him out of here or I’ll shoot him.”
“Jurel!” Arden barked. “Relax!”
“I killed him once before, I’ll kill him again!” Jurel shrieked.
“What are you talking about?” growled Solus. “You’ve never touched me.”
“No...brother...I killed you. I killed you in cold blood.” She was walking with a rabid passion closer to Solus, until the barrel was pressed into his coarse, unyielding cheek. “You’ve come back. You’ve come back to kill me!”
“It’s getting worse,” Ronovi whispered. “The sickness. It’s driving her mad.”
“You think so, huh?” snarled Solus, his eyes snapping over to his superior even though he did not move the rest of his face.
“Jurel.” Ronovi took a step toward the psychotic womanl. “Jurel, listen to me. Think. This is not your brother. We’re here to help you. We’re here...”
Jurel suddenly whipped around on her and lobbed a fast, fierce shot at the Headmaster. Ronovi tried to jerk her head to the side, only to feel the white-hot bolt tear into her right ear and rip off her lobe. The chunk flesh dropped to the ground, a jagged patch of blackened skin. The shot had not destroyed Ronovi’s ear, but she let her fingers slowly touch the mangled cartilage and the singed skin on her face where the energy had grazed her.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” she murmured, her voice harsh. “You really shouldn’t have.”
Arden’s protest was short-lived. Ronovi, with a pronounced rush of energy, thrust herself upon Jurel’s frozen frame, sending them both to the ground. The pistol jumped from the Journeyman’s hand, spinning in manic circles before resting at Arden’s feet. He didn’t move to touch it, or even try to stop Ronovi’s crazed aggression. He simply stood there, finding it more and more difficult to fathom what was happening.
Solus isn’t doing anything, he thought, his green eyes darting to his master’s immobile frame. Why isn’t he doing anything?
Jurel was stronger than before - much, much, stronger - and she had attempted three times now to get the taller Epicanthix into a headlock. But Ronovi was still more agile and powerful. She was too hyper with adrenaline to call on the Force - minimalism assumed its role in this situation - instead relying on her brute strength to solve what she considered to be a nuisance rather than a real problem. Grabbing Jurel by her forearm, she half-pulled, half-dragged the Journeyman off her and across the floor before throwing her into the wall, her vertebrate snapping audibly against the stone.
No one could stop her. She was drawing her lightsaber.
“You mean to kill me,” Jurel sputtered.
“Ronovi.” Arden was growing frantic.
“You always wanted to kill me,” continued the Journeyman. Her back was broken. Her eyes were growing darker. She was fading fast. Very, very fast.
Arden felt his hands twitch. The Headmaster let the blue light of her blade reflect in her dark hair for only a moment. She was going to kill Jurel. Jurel, who needed to be cured, not purged. Who needed help, not death. But Ronovi’s words malevolently turned into acid in the air.
“Consider this my mercy.”
He was in a half-leap when he saw the plasma disappear like a javelin into Jurel’s stomach. The cry she uttered was not loud, nor was it a sound of agony. It was more a surprised interjection, a quick realization of her fate. It was the last noise she ever made as the blue blade was drawn from her charred entrails and her eyelids slipped halfway down and left her irises to water.
Ronovi said nothing as she deactivated her saber staff. She said nothing as she returned the weapon to its place on her belt. She said nothing as she knelt down to examine Jurel’s still warm corpse, her gloved hands stroking the shoulder as the dead woman’s head slumped further and further down against her chest. The unrelenting air of the space was already drying her lifeless eyes.
Strangely enough, Ronovi had not wanted to kill the Journeyman. She would have been useful, perhaps implementing the pseudo-beneficial effects of the virus to the team’s advantage. But her mind had slipped too much for her strength to make up for it. She had had to die. And Ronovi made that vocally known to Solus and Arden.
“She was ready to kill my Praetor,” she explained, “and me. She’s not like you, Arden. She wasn’t capable of withstanding this thing, acknowledging when she was fading. She underestimated the potency of this plague. We all did.”
“You didn’t have to do this.”
“That’s what everyone says at first,” snapped Ronovi. “You’re still green. You see hope in people still when you shouldn’t. We’re not here to pity, we’re here to survive. And if Jurel had to die before we solved this problem, she had to die.”
Arden opened his mouth to speak again even after Ronovi turned her back on him, her newly disfigured ear standing out in his vision. He wanted to tear her apart as she walked away, further toward her end goal. He wanted to show her what strength he did have, what knowledge he did have. Yes, perhaps he was no Primarch, but he had a philosophy that she, despite her books and lore, had no idea how to fathom or understand. But he wasn’t able to talk. Especially not after Solus’s hand came crashing down on his shoulder.
“Do not argue with her.”
Arden’s mouth opened and closed. He managed to say two words regardless. “You, too?”
“She understands more than you could possibly imagine,” Solus replied. “And if you think you can change her mind, expect to be killed first.”
“And you’d let that happen?”
“Of course I wouldn’t.” Solus seemed more distant now, struggling with something unseen. “But she’s still my...”
He didn’t finish his thought. He followed Ronovi. Arden trailed after. He had no choice. He had follow the woman who he was growing to question, even hate. The woman who his master still swore loyalty to. He didn’t get it. But most of all, he was not prepared for what Ronovi truly had in mind. That in her head, Jurel would not be the last to die.
In her head, there were plenty more to exterminate.
“How far down is it?” asked Levathan, peering into the turbolift shaft, and paying no heed to Alaris' comment. There would be time for that story if they survived this whole thing.
“A dozen or so levels,” replied Anshar. “It shouldn't be too difficult, unless you're adverse to using the maintenance ladder.”
“Who goes first?” asked Malfurion, his eyes darting around the group with a mixture of inquisitiveness, apprehension, and scheming.
“I think Anshar should,” replied Etah. “He's the only one that has the Force. He'll know if anyone is in the way.”
The rest of the group all murmured their reply and Anshar just shrugged. He had thought that it would come down to this; he would have volunteered anyway. Though the other four were seemed to be controlling themselves, it did not take the Force to see the desire in their eyes. They were all thinking of a way to get a hold of the Force in some form or fashion, and Anshar happened to be the bright light.
Anshar stepped up to the ledge and reached his hand out to grasp the first rung of the ladder just to the left of the doors. Just as he did this, he felt a distant, but powerful twinge in the Force. It was menacing, full of vengeful intent, and it felt vaguely familiar. Anshar dared to reach out with the Force, his mind grabbing a firmer hold of the already waning current. It was indeed powerful, but Anshar wanted to know why it felt familiar; it was something from a long time ago, from when he was a journeyman himself. Suddenly, there was a monstrous symphonic cacophony of hoots, hollers, and growls that shook Anshar from his thoughts.
“Get going!” shouted Alaris. “It's the herd!”
Anshar wasted no time, pulling on the Force to propel himself down further than the others could get. Grabbing the ladder, he saw Levathan fire a few shots before he scrambled down the ladder. Alaris was the last one in.
“Anshar! Close the doors!” he shouted.
Anshar did not hesitate, slamming the doors shut with the Force so hard that the frames bent. Alaris then ignited his lightsaber, the green blade contrasting with the emergency lighting. He then proceeded to cauterize the slit between the two doors, melting them together. The group began to quickly make their way down the ladder.
“Do you see the lift?” asked Alaris, calling down to Anshar.
“Yes,” Anshar replied. At the very least, he saw the lone red emergency light, a mere speck so far down. “I don't think it'll be in our way.”
“Good!” interrupted Etah. “Then you can shove it upwards and block the herd.”
Anshar did not reply as the group continued its descent, heading to the computer core. With any luck, Ronovi would be there awaiting them. But, if Alaris was now Forceless, there was a good chance that Ronovi was as well. Anshar shuddered thinking about. There was already a certain level of animosity with Ronovi, due only to the previous Tarentum issues. Anshar had not been directly involved, and the two had remained on good terms personally. However, Anshar hoped that Ronovi still had her head on straight enough to be reasonable. There would be no telling until they were faced with that situation.
There remained one other issue, but Anshar had kept it to himself. He could already feel the Force leaving him. It was like a timid pet dog. He could still call it, and it would still come, but it was fearful and each time it took more effort to achieve the desired result. He did not know how long it would be until he fell victim to this plague, but he would make the most of it.
Just two more levels...
The corridor pulsed and wobbled in his vision; trying to focus was near impossible. While he felt no pain, the pressure in his head was close to unbearable. Reaching out a hand, he felt the solid wall and tried to orient himself as this most recent wave of dizziness threatened to overwhelm him.
Auxiliary cargo platform B, west side… ancillary cargo platform C, vest wide… Ambulatory logo plastiform E, best hide…no, no, no, no, that’s not it…
Graus began to lose focus again. Shaking his head, trying in vain to clear it, he sat against the wall and slid down to the floor, his plastoid armored back scraping against the rock, surrounding him in a small cloud of fine dust.
Look at that, it’s snowing again, he thought with a smile, his mind taking him back to the last time he’d seen snow. He could feel the biting wind on his face, even through the heavy fur lined hood he wore. The Shadow Academy was gone, its darkened stone walls a fading memory as Graus looked over the windswept plains of Chancial, a little known world in the Unknown Regions. The pale blue sky, bereft of clouds, made the glare off the snow almost blinding, and Graus lamented the loss of his stormtrooper helmet and gave serious consideration to finding a new one.
Looking up, feeling the freezing wind drying out the skin on his face, he deeplu breathed in the frigid air, feeling the cold as it traveled through his sinuses and down his throat to fill his lungs.
Blue sky…blue eye…blue EYES!
With a start, Graus jumped, grabbing his E-11 and pointing it down the darkened hallway. The barrel of the weapon shook as the Knight slowly reoriented himself. He could still feel the cold wind on his face, but he was no longer on that frozen rock. He was here, in the Shadow Academy. As he stood back up, his vision was blocked by his hood being pushed down over his face. Looking up, he smiled as he looked directly into the air vent, silently pushing out cold air into the hallway.
Daydreaming on the job…must be more tired than I thought, mused Tix, the cover persona that Graus was commonly known as to the galaxy at large. Well, let’s find someone to sign for that crate so I can get out of here. He holstered his weapon and brushed himself off. Looking down both directions of the hallway, he decided to head left. Yeah, left is always good, he reasoned.
Walking down the corridor, Tix began whistling a tune he’d heard in Thoth’s cantina recently, a catchy little number with more highs than lows. Where the Hells was everyone?
“HEY! ANYONE AROUND?” he yelled down the empty corridors, his annoyance growing. “I’LL COUNT TO THREE, THEN I’M LEAVING AND TAKING YOUR CARGO WITH ME! ONE! TWO! THR…” he stopped suddenly as he felt the business end of a blaster pushed up against the back of his head.
“Easy, pal, I don’t want any trouble…”
“‘Choo got a ways outta here?” the voice behind him asked, almost desperately.
“Yeah, just dropping off some cargo, then I’m leaving,” Tix replied easily.
“Where’s your ship?”
“Where I left it.”
The voice behind him mewled a bit and the blaster pushed harder against his head.
“You tell me! I need to get out of here now!” the unseen being hissed, his voice cracking.
“Well, before you get it, you’ll need this,” Tix said calmly as he slowly reached his left hand down and withdrew a datacard from his tool belt. Holding the white card between two fingers, he raised his hand back up. “You’d never get past the security suite without the key.”
Tix tensed beneath his armor, his right hand held open, waiting. As the anonymous being leaned in and reached for the card, the former stormtrooper pivoted his head and body to the right while he brought his left elbow up, feeling the pressure of it striking the face of his assailant. A blinding flash lit up his eyes as the weapon discharged a bolt of green energy centimeters from his face. With speed honed by years of practice, his right hand snapped the E-11 out of its holster, and, even momentarily flash-blinded, he took aim where he thought his enemy might be and fired off a three-shot burst.
He heard the whuff of someone taking a hit, but not a killing shot, and the stormtrooper jumped forward, tucking himself into a roll. As his vision cleared, he saw a Yuuzhan Vong warrior standing before him, some form of cannon-shaped coral weapon pointed directly at him. A large green bolt blasted from the weapon, showering the wall with sparks and drops of molten green plasma. Ducking into an open room, Imperial Stormtrooper designation TX-1829 jumped behind an overturned piece of debris a moment before another green blast struck the area he’d just been standing.
We’ve been boarded, TX-1829 thought as he pulled back the cloth hood around his head. The screams of the dying echoing over the collapsing bulkheads of the massive ship, coupled with the smell of overheated metal and charred flesh filling his nostrils, told him that the ISD Starfall was lost. I need to get the Hells out of here now!
Popping up from behind his makeshift cover, he fired three rounds in the direction of his enemy. Seeing the Vong, standing there with all the typical cockiness that its race was known for, TX-1829 was pleased to see two of his three shots strike home, scorching two black marks on his armored torso.
His joy was short-lived, however, as the alien struggled to get up, its glowing blue eyes wide with anger. Blue eyes? Vong don’t have blue eyes! he thought as the bulky alien got to its feet. Putting that question out of his mind, TX-1829 reasoned he had to get to the ventral hangar bay and try to find an escape pod before the shattered Star Destroyer crashed to the surface of Coruscant, regardless of how many ‘Vong were in his path. Before the alien could ready its strange weapon, TX-1829 leapt from his cover and charged, putting his entire weight behind his shoulder as he connected with the larger built being.
The stormtrooper felt his shoulder connect with soft tissue as the breath was knocked out of his assailant. Huh, thought their armor would be hard, felt like soft flesh, he thought abstractly as he brought his E-11 up under the chin of the scarred alien. The Yuuzhan Vong warrior fell flat on his back, his strange weapon skidding from his grasp. As his enemy lay prone, TX-1829 repeatedly brought his armored boot down hard on the twisted face of his enemy. The smell of smoke and the heat from numerous fires was nearly overwhelming, but adrenaline had taken hold and he was going to kill this bastard as savagely as he could.
No, wait! He has blue eyes. You can’t kill him…he’ll only come back!
That thought, from seemingly out of nowhere, stopped his foot long enough for the alien to grab his ankle and throw him bodily down the length of the hall. His armor absorbed most of the impact, but his unprotected head smacked off the deck hard. Dizzied, but strangely not feeling any pain, he recovered quickly and faced off against the much larger warrior. Looking past the hulking form, TX-1829 saw a stairway that he knew led down to the ventral hangar deck. Deciding he’d either get through this alien or die trying, he let out a scream of rage and lunged, his blaster held out in both hands across him as a battering ram.
Both the stormtrooper and the Yuuzhan Vong warrior fell into the stairwell and tumbled down in a heap of flying fists and elbows. After a short descent, both combatants separated and skidded to a halt on a small platform. Dazed and confused, Graus sat up and could see nothing in the pitch blackness. He knew instinctively he was no longer onboard the Starfall, but at the foot of a set of hard stone steps. Reaching into his utility belt, he withdrew a small glow disk and panned the beam around. Looking down, he saw a gray-skinned alien lying near him, its triangle-shaped head twisted at an unnatural angle.
Well, at least it’s not a Vong, he thought lamely as he groped around for his E-11.
He stood shakily, his vision still throbbing from the tumble down the stairs. Reaching up, he wiped moisture from his forehead and, bringing the glow disk to bear, saw his black gloved hand shiny with what he knew to be fresh blood. Sitting back down, he pulled hard on his hood, tearing the white material from its pinning on his armored collar. He pressed the cloth to his forehead, hoping he was covering the wound since he really couldn’t feel any pain from it. After what seemed an eternity in the darkness, he pulled the cloth away and noticed the blood spotting had lessened somewhat. Able to stand without the room spinning, Graus holstered his blaster and started to head back up the stairs.
Blue dots stared like pinpoints of light from the darkness ahead of him. Dozens… Hundreds.
Eyes wide in fear, Graus knew that they had found him. Turning back, he began running down, taking the stairs two at a time. As he rounded another turn, his foot slipped in something slick - blood? - and the Knight stumbled again, sliding down the next turn of stairs on his back, his armor the only thing preventing his spine from shattering from the repeated impacts.
As he slid to a halt on the next platform, he laid his head back and waited for the world to stop spinning. Blue eyes be damned, I’m done running, he thought as he lost consciousness.
Graus opened his eyes to total darkness and for a fleeting moment thought he’d been stricken blind. He sat up and reached for his glow disk. Finding the pocket empty, and remembering he’d lost it somewhere on the wild ride down that last set of stairs, the Knight stood and gripped the guide rail with both hands. Since he’d already been Up and found nothing, he’d head Down and try to find a way out that way.
When in doubt, take the path of least resistance, he reasoned abstractly and continued heading down the stairs slowly, both hands gripping the rail.
She’s losing it, too, Arden thought to himself as he took one last look at Jurel’s lifeless body. We all are. She didn’t have to do that. Could have restrained both me and her. We’d be no threat then. Am I next?
Arden closed his eyes for a moment as he tried to purge the thought from his mind. He couldn’t think like that at this time. He couldn’t show weakness. It was becoming harder to tap into his courage, and even more difficult to tap into his rational mind. The madness hadn’t claimed him yet, but he could feel its tendrils, growing tighter, coiling around his mind. He exhaled one more time, opened his eyes, and hurried to catch up with Ronovi and Solus.
They hadn’t gotten that far when a volley of blaster bolts flew over the heads of the trio. Apparently the confrontation with Jurel had given away their presence to a pair of infected Journeymen, a Bothan and what looked like a Falleen. Arden snapped his rifle around with all the grace of a performance duelist and quickly snapped off a shot that lanced into the Bothan in his lower torso just above the groin. As the Bothan was hurled back from the force of the bolt from the sniper rifle, Arden dropped to the floor, narrowly avoiding the Falleen’s reply volley.
By this point, Arden had expected to hear the familiar crackle of lightsabers flaring to life, but oddly he didn’t. In his peripheral vision he could see Solus with a look of indecisive confusion on his face. That was definitely not normal for his master. As the Falleen fired again, narrowly missing Solus, Arden lined up a more carefully aimed shot. A heartbeat later, a glowing red javelin of plasma was hurled into the reptilian alien’s nose, punching a gaping hole into the middle of its head.
“Master, a little help?” Arden shouted as the Bothan got back to his feet.
It was only then that Solus managed to get his lightsaber activated, just in time to barely deflect a bolt from the recently recovered Bothan. “Sorry.”
“You got him?” Arden asked.
Solus’s reply was not vocal but rather him launching towards the Bothan with impressive natural speed, but not nearly as fast as the Force would have propelled him. It was still enough to catch the Bothan off guard. The furry Journeyman tried to squeeze off another round, but before he could, the orange gleam of Solus’s saber was already cleaving into the Bothan’s head. The sounds of sizzling cartilage and splintering bone echoed through the corridor. Arden sported a twisted smirk as the blade stopped around the Bothan’s ribcage. As Solus pulled it free, bits of brain matter and seared organs began to ooze from the gaping cut down the front of his victim’s robes.
After admiring his master’s handiwork, Arden looked up at Solus as he pulled himself up from his prone position. “Where’s Ronovi?”
Glancing back over his shoulder as he grabbed the dead Bothan’s rifle, Solus remarked, “Making a new friend.”
Arden swung around to see the Epicanthix about to engage a charging Talz. As the hulking, white furred alien became fully illuminated by the glow of Ronovi’s saberstaff, Arden could identify from the robes that the Talz was an Equite. The buzz of clashing plasma rang down the corridor, blue and red sparks flying off the whirling blades. The two Dark Jedi almost flew around each other, a flurry of blindingly fast parries and strikes that was almost impossible to track. Eventually, the Epicanthix managed to catch the Talz at a moment where its grip on its own saber was loosened ever so slightly. A swift front kick impacted the alien’s saber hand, causing the still active blade to clatter to the floor in a shower of arcing ribbons. The Talz, however, was not disadvantaged long, smashing its bulky arms into Ronovi’s hilt at its center of mass. The force was strong enough that the saberstaff was separated from her grip, clanking to the ground, dormant.
The Talz Equite wiggled its proboscis at the Epicanthix as its four eyes narrowed in and locked gazes with Ronovi’s one eye.
“Still have some fight in you, I see, Headmaster. Good, I was hoping for a challenge.”
Ronovi’s face remained stern, her stare unwavering. “Three of us, one of you. Not exactly the best odds.”
As Arden and Solus approached as if called by the statement, the Talz gestured with a claw towards the darkness. “Better odds than you might think.”
A moment later another hail of blaster fire ripped down the corridor in the direction of Arden and Solus. The two Sith dove for cover around a corner, their abnormal physical speed being the only thing that saved them from getting hit.
As he returned fire with his new rifle, Solus looked back at Arden. “Are you sure you weren’t followed down that tunnel?”
Arden lined up a shot at the closest of the assailants. “Didn’t hear or see anyone. Only way out, though. Someone could have figured it out.”
A shot from the E-11s lanced into the robed assailant closest to the Sith as Ronovi re-engaged with the Talz. Pulling her vibroshiv from inside her coat, she threw herself at the Talz with a predatory fury. Slashing at her more massive opponent, she caused it to backpedal down the corridor. When it swung one of its massive claws at her, she gracefully ducked under it and then slashed up at the Talz’s elbow, slicing a gash across its left forearm.
Though the slash should have, and probably did from the amount of blood, sever tendons, the Talz seemed unconcerned. It backhanded her with the still bleeding forearm, sending her staggering back as it slashed at her with its other claw. One talon managed to penetrate flesh, tearing a gash across her thigh.
It was the last thing it would ever do.
As Ronovi recovered her balance, she sneered ever so briefly and then lunged straight for the hulking alien’s neck. Blood flew everywhere as the vibroshiv plunged into the Talz’s throat, the force of the blow sending it back a quarter meter before slumping forward to the ground. In the meantime, Arden and Solus finished off the blaster wielding Journeymen. They both stared at Ronovi, gazing at the carnage she had just created.
Ejecting a spent powerpack from his rifle and replacing it with the one spare he was carrying, Arden was the first to speak. “Quite impressive, and you didn’t even use the Force.”
Ronovi looked back at Arden, the primal fury only somewhat gone from her face. “What?”
Arden looked flustered. “I was just surprised you didn’t use the Force.”
Ronovi stared back at Arden and then glanced down at the hilt of her saberstaff. She seemed taken aback at first when it didn’t leap into her hand on command like a well behaved puppy. She stared at it even more intently, and it didn’t move.
As she reached down and collected it manually, her look changed to one of part anger and part confusion. “We have to move. Now.”
Ladders, always hated ladders, maybe I should just take the faster way down…
Levathan looked down. He could see Anshar, followed by a good two story drop, then the red emergency lights of the turbolift below him, but it was hard to judge distance in the dark.
Maybe not, feels like my legs could take it, but I don’t think the ol’ boy below me is going to appreciate the performance. Right, keep moving, keep focused, at least it’s cooler down here.
He could hear the blaster shots hitting the sealed doors three levels above him and almost see the glowing dark red of the door if he craned his head around the three bodies moving down the ladder above him.
“Keep moving!” hissed Malfurion, the oppressive darkness subconsciously making them whisper, despite earlier events.
He didn’t even realize that he had stopped, cursing at himself he continued down the ladder once more, feeling like he would warp the metal rungs under his hands if he gripped them too strongly.
There was a loud “whump” heard. Above them, drawing all the group’s attention for the moment; the doors above them had been blasted in, frame and closing mechanisms included. Destroyed plasteel and duracrete rained down on them as they all held themselves close to the ladder trying to make themselves apart of the wall.
“Down, now!” shouted Anshar, his shout punctuated by a blue bolt and the smell of ozone, as a beam from a concussion rifle whizzed past, slamming into something below with the sound of tortured metal.
Gripping the ladder at the vertical rails with both hands and legs, the group collectively slid down as fast as they could, the first scarlet blaster bolts now starting to cascade randomly down the shaft.
Levathan slid past the stationary turbolift, continued on for a bit then stopped before running into Anshar, and descended conventionally again as fast as he could, who was now climbing down the same way. Looking himself over, he noticed he had several bloody scrapes from the debris, and several fragments of metal embedded in his shoulders. He could only guess the ones above would be worse off than himself.
“That was too close,” breathed Alaris, being the last one down the ladder, and thus being the closest to the blaster fire. He knew he was superficially injured, but he barely felt anything. It was like seeing someone else’s blood on him.
“Keep moving. That turbolift won’t hold forever.” Etah warned.
Glancing up at the repulsor generator at the bottom of the turbolift, Lev remarked, “Yeah, and when it goes, we’re all screwed.”
There were no more words as they continued down, the threat of getting crushed by, for all intents and purposes, a falling block of metal with blaster and concussion fire raining on it, was not at all reassuring.
Time passed at a crawling rate; the blaster fire had since stopped with the turbolift’s emergency brakes fortunately holding its own against it. Now all that was left was monotony of hand over hand, foot over foot on the ladder rungs.
Levathan had since lost count of how many floors they had descended. It could have been a mere four or five or it could have been ten. The Shadow Academy was built to last, which meant rather thick floors, which meant more rungs on the never ending ladder.
Anshar started to pay more careful attention at what was going on above him. The others in his party were now muttering to themselves, with occasional sharp intakes of breath as though they were surprised or startled. He knew that his own mind had occasionally slipped to other thoughts as he was climbing down the ladder, and he could only wonder what was going through the minds of those who were infected.
How much further off the edge would the darkness and endless climb have pushed them?
He finally came upon the door to the lowest level on the Academy, the alcove illuminated by extremely dim emergency lighting. He stepped onto the ledge and ignited one of his lightsabers, cut a circular hole through both doors, and Force pushed the metal through, leaving a gaping hole into a relatively well lit hallway.
The hallway Levathan stepped into seemed to rejuvenate him, the climb down and oppressive darkness now over. The hallway was still lit by emergency lighting, but it was starlight on a full moon compared to that turbolift shaft. He even went so far as to deeply breathe in the dry and dusty air, sending him into a coughing fit which even his pain numbed senses could feel in his throat.
“Well that wa…” Malfurion started to say as he put one leg through the hole in the doors, but was cut off by loud metallic screeching and loud bangs.
Face paling, Anshar ran back to the opening, hoping he wasn’t too late to save Alaris and Etah from the ravaged turbolift coming for them.
The situation was dire.
The motley assemblage of random Dark Jedi seeking to escape the ravages of the herd moved down the access ladder, one rung at a time. Occasionally one of the five would slip, and Etah would hear their exertions as they pulled themselves back up and then continued their downward journey, but he saw nothing. There was no seeing in the blackness of the turbolift. The sting of the new wounds on his back and arms was disturbingly thrilling to the Obelisk.
The situation within Etah’s brain, however, was beyond dire.
Sweat seeped from his brow and burned his eyes, and seeped from his arms and coated his skin, making the bars of the ladder slick. His mind was in turmoil. Why is our connection gone? he asked silently. He remembered the days before he became a Dark Jedi, and the Obelisk realized the force aided him even then. As the Mirialan contemplated his current lack of force ability, he regarded the force as a dear friend having left town, possibly forever.
A decade of trained responses didn’t just go away. The habits Etah built as a Dark Jedi continued to assert and reasserted themselves to no avail. Every time he looked into the darkness above him, he called on the Force in order to see and it failed him. Every time he heard blaster fire off in the distance, he called on the Force to sense and it failed him. When his hand slick from sweat slipped from the bars, he attempted to call on telekinesis and that too failed. With every failure, his frustration and desperation grew.
There was a loud crack and a little bit of light.
“The turbolift is coming down on our heads!” Alaris desperately bellowed.
For just that moment Etah quietly accepted his fate, an act totally out of character for the verbose swooper; but then these were not common times. Time seemed to stop as the turbolift crashed downward, toward the two remaining Equites. Everything he had lived through, everything he had learned, everything he had gained, the Mirialan realized that it was all to end here and he was somehow fine with that. But it was not yet his time; the current Left Hand of Justice gently kicked Etah in the shin, bringing his focus back to reality.
“Fracking move!” Alaris yelled in a commanding tone.
Etah began sliding down the rails with purpose as Anshar lashed out with the Force, knocking the turbolift up and back and giving Etah enough time to land. The lift hung in the air for a moment and began falling again. The Arconan reached out with his exaggerated speed and strength and grabbed the di Plagia with such force that the pair tumbled backwards onto the deck, as the turbolift crashed violently behind them.
The five barely regained their composure before climbing out of the hole, only to be approached by familiar people.
The climb down seemingly endless switchbacks of stairs had left Solus alone with his thoughts. Arden and Ronovi weren't really in the mood for conversation, and that suited Solus just fine about now. His mind wandered back to their last fight, the one that had taken them all by surprise. The Bothan and Falleen had come out of nowhere, and so had the Talz and his allies. There had been no warning from the Force, no sense of impending danger. It had only gotten worse once combat was joined. Solus had tried to ready his weapon to deflect the bolts of their enemies, but he had felt nothing.
He was left with only one conclusion. His ability to touch the Force was gone, and he was infected with whatever this plague was just as everyone else had been. He could still feel the Force, but whenever he reached out to grasp it, his hands seemed to close around ephemeral mist. It was like the feeling one had when a word was on the tip of the tongue but would not come. For the first time in years, he was forced to rely solely on his own physical senses, something he wasn't entirely unskilled at given his upbringing. But when one came to depend on a sense that isn't there, it could take some time to adjust. There was one good thing at least. He had not seen or heard the apparition that had been haunting his every moment in the Academy since he had lost his grasp on the Force.
That's just because I haven't had anything to say, little Sith.
Solus's eyes jerked upward and he saw the figure again standing on the landing above. This time it was more distinct, a female figure in flowing violet robes with raven black hair cascading over her shoulders and down her back. She grinned back at him, gazing down upon him imperiously. Solus shook his head again and looked back down to the stairs he descended.
Reaching second lowest level the stairs accessed, Solus stopped as he heard voices on the other side. He motioned to Ronovi and Arden for silence, readied his weapon, and pushed the door open a crack. He was greeted with a thunderous crash as the turbolift car in the shaft beyond smashed into the turboshaft floor. The force of the blow knocked those nearest down to the floor.
As those in the hall were gathering themselves up, Ronovi pushed passed Solus in the doorway and walked confidently out to greet the newcomers.
"Anshar," Ronovi said, "I'm glad to see that you all made it."
"And I you. That, however, will have drawn plenty of attention," Anshar said with a gesture back to the hole.
Solus nodded. "We should get some defenses set up here."
Using sabers and Anshar's still commanding ability with the Force, the assembled Dark Jedi set about trying to fortify their position. The computer core room only had one entrance, set back along the wall opposite the turbolift doors. Those doors were cut down and propped against the core room door opening. The metal would provide some cover against small arms fire.
"I'm going to need some cover while I try to reroute power to this console," Arden reported.
"Why not just cut the doors open?" Malfurion asked.
"Cortosis in the door," Ronovi barked. She ignited her saber and plunged it into the door. It cut through, but only for a moment before the blade disappeared with a sharp crack. Ronovi gestured back to Malfurion as if to say, "See?"
"All right, forget I asked," The Tarenti journeyman said.
The sound of a large number of boot heels started to echo down the hall from its far end, darkness concealing whatever was coming. Solus readied his weapon and took aim. It was disconcerting to not feel the approaching enemy, but Solus swallowed his discomfort and focused on the task at hand.
The battle was joined when one of their opponents opened fire with a pluse rifle. The small but potent energy bolts it fired burned themselves into the metal of the doors but did not penetrate. Those armed with blasters amongst the defenders began to squeeze off their own return fire, sighting on the muzzle flashes of their enemies' weapons since they were still lost in the shadows. It looked as if they would eventually be overrun, their blasters no match for the heavy weapons carried by the attackers. Then everything changed as Anshar entered the fray.
Lightning leapt from his fingertips and danced across the bodies of his targets. Solus thought that Anshar was foolhardy, given how resistant to the Force the infected had been. His eyes widened, however, as the Plagueian realized that Anshar's lightning was having an effect. It wasn't outright dropping the attackers to the floor to writhe in pain, but it was slowing them down. As the attackers slacked off their fire, the gathered defenders increased the volume of theirs now that they didn't have to worry as much about incoming shots. Solus dropped his sights across a snarling Shistavanen and fired, the bolt catching the wolfman in the left eye.
As the smoldering body hit the floor, Solus realized that none of the other attackers were shooting any longer. They were all down, some of them with blaster burns across their bodies. Some seemed not to have a mark on them.
"Some of them are still alive," Anshar said as if reading Solus's mind. "Bring them with us. They could possibly still be helped."
Etah ventured out from behind the barricades, stepping carefully amongst the dead. "Looks like we've got two still breathing here, Arconans by the looks of them."
"Fantastic," Ronovi snapped, caring little for the fate of the two journeymen. "Arden, you get that panel working yet?"
A beep issued forth from the panel, eliciting a satisfied smirk from Solus's apprentice. "Just got it."
Ronovi sharply punched her access code into the panel. The doors to the core slid open quietly, the sign of the kind of attention to detail that Ronovi required from all of her subordinates right down to the maintenance staff.
"Well?" Ronovi demanded, fixing Anshar with a glare. "Let's get moving."
With the smell of decay rampant, Ronovi could feel her whole body tense as they all entered the computer core. But as her shoulders grew rigid, her laughter came out rambunctiously, heartily, almost eerily. Etah and Alaris both dragged in the two unconscious Arconans, who were now recognized as Valhavoc and Graus. Valhavoc stirred first, mumbling.
“Whiskey,” he was saying. “Where’s my whiskey...”
Graus, as he awoke to Ronovi’s laughter, wasn’t nearly as subdued.
“No! No! Not the blue eyes! Not the blue - ”
“Alaris,” Ronovi said in between chuckles, “shut the crazy man up.”
It took a glare and a threatening twitch of the Twi’lek’s lekku to get Graus to turn into a whimpering, sniveling mess. Ronovi cleared her throat, her voice light and wispy after her aggressive guffaws.
“Well,” she said. “Now that that’s over with. Karn.”
Arden was not too far gone yet. Malfurion and Levathan stood frozen by Anshar, though even without the Force, Ronovi could sense where their minds were straying off to. The Guardian who the Epicanthix had addressed stepped forward tentatively, curling and uncurling the fingers on his right hand.
“Look at the main computer for me.”
He obeyed silently, albeit begrudgingly. His hands danced along the dead keys. The emergency lights around them showered Arden’s hair with an eerie blue sheen.
“Can you reboot it?”
“I can try.” He stuttered throughout. Like he had a harder grasp on language than usual.
“Good. Then do it.”
Despite his handicapped mental state, Arden’s fingers became blurs across the surface of the keys. Tangoing with power. Channeling electricity. It took a while, but Ronovi’s eye lit up at the sound of a low hum. The systems were coming back online, slowly but surely. She held up a hand.
“That’s enough. Do I have access to the emergency controls?”
“On a basic level, yes.”
Arden stared. “Ronovi...”
“How.” Her lips peeled back to expose her clenched teeth. “Basic.”
The Guardian would not blink. He gestured toward the awakening computer interface. Ronovi looked at it. Sure enough, what she needed was on and alive and ready. Her fingers twitched as she surveyed it. The reality of her decision sank in slowly like heavy molasses.
“Gentlemen,” she announced, “what I am going to do next may leave you with a few questions. I’ll explain. You see that button right there?”
Ronovi pointed at one of the keys. Anshar’s face did not change as he looked at it.
“That button controls the energy going through the main generator at all times,” she continued.
“And I intend to overload it.”
She could hear the air rushing into each Dark Jedi’s lungs. Good. They understood. A little too well.
“Overload the generator,” Alaris repeated. “That’ll blow the Academy skyhigh.”
“Correct,” Ronovi snidely replied.
“It’ll wipe out every infected.”
“Ronovi.” Alaris’s eyes were narrowed. “It will kill us all.”
“I know,” snapped Ronovi. “You think I didn’t ponder that already? That being said, I’d suggest that you now tell me any last words or secrets or prayers or whatever you want to call them...so we can bite the dust quicker.”
She took a step toward the computer. No one was stopping her. Not Solus - he knew better. He knew the consequences of leaving this Academy to blister. To fester. Like an open wound, ready for bugs to fly in and get stuck to the gooey marrow. Alaris, despite his objections, had stiffened and would not speak. Nor did Etah protest, or the Journeymen for that matter. Good. Very good. Ronovi sneered. She reached for the button.
“I can’t let you do that.”
Of course. The one Elder with a firm grasp on the Force. A former ally. Ronovi whirled on Anshar, whose hands were frozen at his hips.
“You don’t have a choice,” she said cruelly. “I’m Headmaster.”
“As was I, years ago,” he retorted. “And as one of the Academy’s stewards, I know how to care for this facility.”
“You’ve had experience with a source of infection?” scowled the Epicanthix “Enlighten me.”
“We cannot obliterate the source of the infection, if that is what we are,” objected Anshar. “Look at yourself. Look at them. Look at us. You need help, not death. If we find the specific location of the source, we can take steps to cure it.”
“Cure it! Are you mad?”
“No madder than you are for wanting to blast the Academy to bits.”
“You don’t get it!” barked Ronovi. “You call yourself an Elder, a Tarentae, someone who has deep knowledge of the galaxy. Where were you when I handled the Rakghoul plague? We had no choice but to kill the infected. It was rebirth after death. Amputating the gangrenous limb. The phoenix rising from the ashes. All that metaphorical babble. Anyway, we have no choice now. You know what hangs above our heads?”
“The Dark Vault.”
“Exactly.” Ronovi was snarling now, spit flying from between her teeth. “And I have access to it. Me. An infected. Look at your apprentices. Look at your students. They are hopeless. They will fully succumb. They’ve lost enough sanity already. What will happen when I, too, reach that level of illness? I could ransack the Vault. Ransack it! You know what dangerous artifacts are in there. And my hands touching those while I’m losing my mind? Using those treasures while I’m completely psychotic? It could doom us before we could even find a way to heal.”
“You don’t know that.”
“There are worse consequences out there than the death of the Shadow Academy, Anshar,” hissed Ronovi. “And one is the death of the Brotherhood. This thing will spread. It will poison everything it touches. My job is to burn out the sickness before that happens. I will not be responsible for more madness and destruction in our ranks.”
She was not willing to argue it further. The Academy was in her palm, like a virus-carrying insect that she just had to crush between her fingers. Shatter the exoskeleton. Pulverize the central nervous system. That was that. Ronovi turned back to the computer. She leveled her finger toward the button again.
She heard two lightsabers come to life behind her.
“I will not let you wipe us out.”
“Damn it, Anshar!” bellowed Ronovi, spinning on him and ripping out her own saber staff. “There is no cure! There is no hope! We have nothing - nothing - out there to save us. I tried quarantining. I tried resisting. Don’t think I haven’t thought this through - I’m different than the Obelisk of House Gladius that you knew years ago. I’m wiser than you could possibly imagine. This thing will reach you, too, Anshar. It will poison you.”
“You must trust me with a better solution, Ronovi,” Anshar tried to coax her. “You trusted me before, back in Yridia...”
“Those days are over, Anshar. I am no Tarenti. I’d rather die for the sake of my brethren than be trustworthy of your blind faith.”
But Anshar shook his head. He brandished his dual sabers, the clashing colors creeping toward Ronovi’s face. “What you’re doing is not excusable. It’s not right.”
The blue screamed from Ronovi’s saber then, coupled with the roar tearing from her mouth.
“Of course it’s not! I’m a damn Dark Jedi!”
She felt the veins in her eye bulge outward in spider webs, heavy breaths squeezing their way out of her chest. She did not move to swing at Anshar. She did not intend to hurt him. But the Dark Jedi Master was approaching her, one saber pointed forward, taking the Primarch’s offensive stance as a threat.
“That’s right,” he murmured. “You are a Dark Jedi. As am I, and everyone else here. And I ascend you in power.”
He meant to kill her. He would kill her. For the sake of what he thought was the proper solution to the unending problem. Ronovi, despite her fury, could not help wincing. That was before the flash of red armor passed her, and the sound of burning alloy mixed with a soggy grunt reached her ears.
She watched as her Praetor slumped to the ground in front of her, the skin bubbling under his breastplate from the sheer velocity of Anshar’s deep, vicious swing. From the way the man’s face contorted in pain, the cut was very deep.
Solus had taken the hit. From the corner, Graus suddenly howled from the shadows.
“You had it coming, you bastards!” he was sputtering. “You all had it coming!”
Arden leapt from the computer and rushed to the Praetor. He pulled him away from the melee closer to where he just been and dropped to his knees, surveying the damage that had ripped through Solus’ chest plate. Blood was running from his mouth and his eyes looked glassy. He appeared to be staring off into the distance.
“Kark it. Master! Eyes on me.”
Solus changed his gaze only a few centimetres and glared into the fellow Plagueian’s eyes. He sneered.
“What the kriff are you doing?” His voice was haggard. “The Headmaster gave you an order. Follow it, boy.”
Arden glanced up at the Headmaster who was glaring into the eyes of the Quaestor of Tarentum. What she was saying sounded insane to the Journeyman, yet she seemed calm. Her face was the picture of patience compared to before.
“I’d rather not have to kill you before I kill you, Anshar.” Her words were cold.
“I’d rather not have to kill you before you kill yourself.” The reply equally as macabre.
“All of you will burn!” The screams from Graus kept coming. “Burn to the ashes of oblivion!”
Arden changed his gaze to the crazed beast. Etah had begun to throw punches into Graus, trying to silence him. The rest of the Journeymen were watching the Councillor and Elder intently, knowing their own lives were on the line.
Arden Karn, apprentice to Solus Gar, Guardian of House Plagueis, shook his head. In a near whisper he spoke his conviction to his Master. “Not like this.”
He was back at the computer in a flash and his fingers once again ran across the boards with incredible fury. Basic or not, I can get deeper. The systems were increasing their power as the generator continued its slow spin to full capacity. Screens flickered to life. Massive “Communication Error” messages lit up the room, whose emergency lights had been the only source of light in the room, bar the four blades of fury spinning in their warfare.
“Come on!” Karn urged the machine, knowing that words would do nothing His frustration was palpable.
“Keep going.” Arden heard the voice and took a quick glance behind him. Alaris Jinn nodded at him before turning around and holding his saber at the ready, guarding the human in case Ronovi tried for the keyboard. She appeared, however, to be too engrossed with Anshar to even notice.
“The Academy has been destroyed before, Anshar. It will be rebuilt again.”
“But never before has the Headmaster gone down with it, Tavisaen. You would be destroying the most important aspect of the Academy itself, its keeper. Is this about martyrdom?”
Ronovi stifled a laugh. “Martyrdom? No. This is about obligation.” The Headmaster kept her focus on the Tarenti, though she deactivated her blade and crouched a moment to see if her Praetor still lived. He was still breathing.
“Why bother, Ronovi? Why bother checking if he lives? You intend to destroy him shortly, anyway.” The Quaestor didn’t hide the condescension in his tone.
“You can speak. You intend for all of us to have a long, painful end. You haven’t been here. You haven’t seen promising students command the Force greater than any Initiate since Darth Ashen only to disintegrate in front of your eyes.” She was back on her feet and inching closer to the Elder.
“Disintegrate? Like him?” Anshar pointed at Graus, howling and whimpering in the corner. “Or that one?” Valhavoc looked lost in a far off dream. “And Levathan has not been himself since,” he paused, “too long.”
Convinced Anshar had the Headmaster adequately distracted, Arden drove himself deeper into the computer’s communication programming with a renewed vigor, looking for the problem. He found it fairly quickly and swore.
Long-range communication array damaged? Must’ve been ripped apart.
Without the the LR-Comm Array, Arden knew they’d never be able to contact Antei. He took his hands from the keys and stared at the damage report. Hopelessness began to sink into him. He shook his head gently.
“Is there a short-range array?” Malfurion’s voice caught him off guard. He turned again, seeing the Journeyman behind him with the sounds of verbal combat behind them and the screams of insanity ripping from Graus, who was still well kept by Etah.
“Looks like it, but there’s no way to amplify that to act as the LR.” He racked his mind. It took everything he could to hunt through his broken brain.
“What’s the range on the SR?” Malfurion blinked at the screen, unable to decipher the meaning of half what he saw.
Arden glanced back at the screen and brought up schematics. “Orbit.”
The realization slammed into him. The Paladin.
His fingers went back to work. Without needing any overrides, he quickly connected the core to the Paladin’s computer. The information came flooding in and Arden Karn stared at it in disbelief. “Sweet mercy.”
Anshar’s voice rose over the cacophony. “You are losing yourself, Ronovi. I have been where you are. I was forced to leave the Academy behind when the Vong invaded Lyspair. But I tried to save it. I didn’t blow it up, and I certainly didn’t ‘go down with the ship.’”
“Perhaps,” Ronovi’s voice was ice, “you should have. You had a choice. You could escape. You could live. We don’t have that luxury. We have to die.”
She turned and her lightsaber sprung to life. She leapt at the console Arden was operating but met the gaze of the Left Hand of Justice. Her blade locked with Alaris’ now lit blade, but her eyes were quickly pulled away from combat. The massive “Communications Error” message on the large display screens had flashed away and were replaced with tactical information from the Antei and Antares Systems.
She looked up in near horror. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Alaris waited until Ronovi had deactivated her blade before he did the same. He glanced up at the screens and surveyed the tactical situation. He wasn’t sure what feeling was running through him. Relief? Not quite.
Part of him wished he had been in Jusadih, though he knew if he hadn’t been standing where he was, Ronovi would have had no barrier between herself and the ability to overload to generator. He glanced around the room. This rag tag group of Dark Jedi had been deep within the Shadow Academy while the rest of the Brotherhood had gone to war.
Etah was sweaty and bloody, his long blond hair and beard matted with a gross combination of the two. He had lost his mind and he had found it, once more. He beat a member of the Chamber of Justice within an inch of his life and then later saved him from certain death. He avoided the herd of the seemingly mindless infected and then nearly became one of them. No words came to him to describe the grim adventure he had partaken in; he could figure no great plan or life lesson learned. The Mirialan felt only complete exhaustion and a longing for cold liquid, a soft bed and a warm body.
Etah patted Alaris’s shoulder roughly, a gesture of his growing fondness for the di Plagia. The Prelate nodded to Valhavoc, recognizing him as a Clanmate. He met the gaze of Anshar with a slight nod, who had been Headmaster when Etah joined the Dark Jedi Brotherhood and then he gazed around at the rest of the assembled Dark Jedi in a drunken manner.
Spots danced across Valhavoc’s vision as he looked up at the display screens. The Brotherhood is under attack. A fit of coughing changed to a chuckle as he realized he had been right thinking that the Elders weren't behind the virus. The Knight considered making his way to Dajorra to help his Clan in the fight. For a brief moment he attempted to stand up, as vertigo set in he collapsed back to the floor in a heap.
"Black... must find..." the Arconan mumbled before fading back into a haze.
For Anshar, things had gone from bad to worse, as they always seemed to do. He only wondered how things were going back in Tarentum. He had left the house in capable hands in hopes of finding and trying to stop the source. In the end, it had proven to be a fruitless search. The Shadow Academy was still standing, and for that Anshar was, at least, content. Still, had the destruction of the Academy guaranteed the eradication of the infection, Anshar would have pulled the trigger himself if given the chance. He would find a way to avoid things like this in the future, but for now, Anshar's primary goal became returning to Yridia and ensuring the house could continue along the path that he had set it on. He saw great potential for Levathan and Malfurion to help in that cause, if they could be cured. Even if they could not, they could contribute to rebuilding Tarentum.
Levathan couldn’t believe his eyes; he thought he was hallucinating again. So he balled up his right hand into a fist and slammed it into his jaw, hoping the blow would rouse him from a waking dream, at the very least it pulled his head out of the clouds. Needless to say, it didn’t work, and he thought about how futile it all was; the Shadow Academy seemed like the origin, yet an invasion was taking place above their heads. It was all for naught. So he took a deep cleansing breath, contemplated the decision to hit himself and couldn’t help but look forward to the coming hunt as a sadistic grin appeared on his face.
Struggling to rise from the floor, bleeding from numerous wounds yet not feeling any of them, the Graus pulled himself up to a sitting position and pushed back against the wall, using it to rise slowly to a standing position. The scraping sounds from his plastoid armor lost in the din of the opened communications array. Nearly everyone was standing around the glowing display as the tactical date shattered their pre-conceptions of what they thought they knew about the infection.
Graus stood shakily, his muscles twitching spastically. As he approached the terminal, he froze as he saw the glowing blue eyes of everyone standing there. His rational mind would have told him it was simply the reflection of the display screen in the dimly lit chamber, but rationality had fled him as the infection had taken root. The Knight slowly stepped back into his corner and tried to block out the whispering voices, but even in the darkness behind his closed eyelids, he saw pinpoints of blue light staring at him, accusingly.
The pain was worse than Solus thought it ever could be. He was not paying attention the screens. Nor was he paying attention to Ronovi, or Anshar, or Arden, or anyone else around him. He was dying. He knew he was.
He tried to call on the Force somehow, some way, groping for it in the metaphorical darkness within his psyche. Still nothing. It was taunting him, just beyond his grasp, never quite close enough for him to touch.
His breathing was blowing. He made no move to function. At this point, that damn spirit woman wouldn’t show up, either, given his luck.
Ah, but I’m still here. And I’m perfectly willing to help you. Rise, Solus.
Solus blinked. Before him was the ethereal woman again, enshrouding the space where Anshar and Ronovi stared at the data appearing before them on the consoles. If she hadn’t been distinct enough before, she was vivid now in his line of vision. So close to his fading, and there she was, the violet robes radiant, the black hair stark and billowing. The eyes bright, but cold. Very, very cold.
It couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible. She could not help him. And yet, Solus felt himself double over, curling into the fetal position and hugging his knees to his torso. His abdomen burst with a Hellish rage, the excruciating pain roaring across his chest with more strength and more venom than a thousand poisoned knives. This was healing? How could it be healing? He was being torn apart, his innards threatening to erupt from his flesh...
The vision did not blink, but she did smile.
Solus’s eyes snapped open. He drew his hands from his now non-existent wound. Blood stained his hands, but the cut was now merely a scar. He was no longer fading. He was alive. Alive and well.
At a price...
He raised his head at her. He tried to speak to her. Tried to connect. But she faded quickly. And in her place was a feeling of foreboding that Solus had not felt before in a very long time...
The Epicanthix lowered her head as the images flashed before her. Her face was stripped of anger. Her fury had subsided. Instead there was nothing but realization - and a little bit of, oddly enough, guilt.
Invasions. Bio-weapons. Plague. Everywhere. It had spread viciously, with or without the Shadow Academy. They were not the source. They never had been. And had Ronovi been one step closer to hitting the button, they would have died for nothing.
So much for being the all-powerful, all-wise Headmaster.
Inadequacy was not a burden Ronovi liked to carry. She felt smaller, more vulnerable, with or without the Force beside her. Also there was a sense of loneliness, even hopelessness, even after the discovery that this situation was far bigger than they imagined. Because now, it was a wonder who could save him - and if they could be cured.
Ronovi stepped back from the consoles. She exchanged a cool look with Anshar. They did not speak to each other. The question that hovered above their heads was answered by someone else entirely, though they didn’t turn their heads to hear where the voice came from. They didn’t bother. Honestly, Ronovi was starting to think about her forgotten whiskey to get her mind off of the situation. My lack of booze explains so much...
“So what now?”