Team Magnus Kaerner: House Tarentum
The following members from Tarentum have signed up for this event:
1. KAP Jason- 974
2. SBM Hades- 8596
3. SBM Scion- 9335
4. DJK Levathan- 4954
5. DJK Kalmah- 10503
6. DJM Anshar- 308
Welcome to the Dark Crusade Run On. The following rules are in effect:
1. Teams will consist of five players from within their House or Clan.
2. Teams will begin their run on by posting their team name, the members of their team (pin and rank). The subject line of the initial post will consist of your team name and your House or Clan. Example: Team Fleshstache: Clan Naga Sadow.
3. 250 word minimum per post.
4. 1000 word maximum per post.
5. Players must post a minimum of 2 times per phase.
6. Players may post as many times as they desire.
7. Edits may occur on a post until a follow on post has been made (follow on posts include "reserving" a space). Only the author may edit their post on the forums. Admin use on the forums during the run on is expressly prohibited for participants.
8. Members may reserve post, but no posts can occur until after the reserved post is written.
7. The event will be graded by Raken, Sarin, and Muz using a rubric that focuses on creativity, plot development, realism, and grammar.
8. Your team will be disqualified from Nova contention if a team member fails to post.
9. Members failing to post 2 x times per phase will be disqualified and will not be given credit for participating in the event.
1. 1 March: Initial Prompt, sign ups, and team posting.
2. 8 March: Second Prompt and team posting.
3. 15 March: Threads locked.
With one final push of his legs, Anshar shoved the twisted metal away from him, finally freeing himself from the rather cramped position he had found himself in. The rest of the group was already free, or cutting their way out. Jason struggled with some persistent wires, finally slicing them off with a dagger. For the most part, though, everyone seemed to have survived, save for the pilot and co-pilot of the shuttle. Their duty had been fulfilled, and Anshar was sure that Oberst would see to it that their families were notified.
“Assessment?” inquired Anshar, motioning the group together.
“Sabotage,” said Hades. Scion and Dranik nodded in agreement. Apollo continued, holding up a small charred device, about the size of a simple chrono battery: “This thing was placed in the power lines to the engines. It went off, causing a major shortage.”
“Where to now?” asked Levathan.
“Looks like we're walking,” said Jason, holding a datapad. “The LZ is just shy of two clicks away.” He put the datapad away. “Of course, in this terrain, two clicks is going to seem like ten, if not more.”
“Well, then, we better get going,” said Anshar, starting off in the direction of the original landing zone. The others followed. No one mentioned the overwhelming Dark Side influence, so thick that it seemed to be a physical burden. Anshar began trying to adjust to it; as a Master, he should be able to adapt to it completely. However, it had been sometime since he had been in the presence of this much of the Dark Side. Still, things should not have been this hard for him; something wasn't right.
* * *
As the group trudged along, Jason fell back slightly to walk alongside Dranik, the self appointed rear guard of the group. “Something isn't right,” Jason said to Dranik, barely above a whisper.
“You mean other than the fact that we're walking,” replied Dranik sardonically.
“Of course,” said Jason. “I mean with Anshar. He seems off right now, and the fact that he's been practically jumping at all of these missions. He's fighting more than I've ever seen before, exerting himself even more. You know him better than anyone else, you've even got a key to his private residence.”
“Not any more, I don't,” said Dranik. “I haven't been to Messina since the end of Operation: Supremacy. He told me to take care of things on the Corsair and that he would call if he needed me. So, no, I don't know what is going on. I'll say this much: I wouldn't ask him, either.”
“I've just got my concerns,” replied Jason. “He's even letting his guard down, I think. Given all the sabotage as of late, I think someone is bound to try and take him out. I mean, our enemies would love to take out an elder, I'm sure.” For a moment, Dranik didn't respond.
“I can't argue with you on that,” said Dranik. “But, if anyone tries to get to Anshar, they'll have to get through me.”
"Wind's picking up."
Hades nodded to his friend in agreement. A massive cloud of ice and fog had accumulated on the horizon behind them. In just twenty minutes it had darkened the sky from a light gray to pitch black behind them. In five more it would be upon them. There was no shelter in sight, so the Tarenti trudged onward through the snow.
Wind howled past the seven companions, each frozen gust laden with ice particles that threatened to grind the travelers down like sandpaper against a block of wood. Thick fog reduced visibility to almost nothing, and the naked eye would be inundated with ice crystals in moments. The Dark Jedi tucked their faces as deep within their cold weather gear as they could manage, relying partially on squinted vision and partially on the Force to guide their steps.
Black shapes danced in Scion's peripheral vision. It was impossible to tell whether they were figments of his imagination or oddities in the raging storm. Others were seeing them too. Levathan's head whipped around more than once to try to steal a glance, but he didn't indicate it to the others. It was futile to try to speak. Even telepathy seemed to drown beneath the wind's rage. The companions were only a few feet apart, but it felt like light years as each man was more and more isolated within his own thoughts.
Dranik nudged Anshar. The Dark Jedi Master's head whipped around in anger, until he noticed Dranik's hand clutched tightly against the center of his chest. Three fingers extended. A thumb to the right. Anshar turned and continued walking, but reached out with his thoughts into the storm.
The ground began to shake as three gigantic dark figures emerged from the storm. They were the size of shuttles, and seemed to weigh about as much. Lightsabers flashed, but they seemed pitifully tiny in comparison to the behemoths lurching toward them. The Tarenti sprung into action; training replaced communication as all seven members tore into the first beast in unison.
Scion could see now that the beasts resembled mammoths, an extinct animal from his home planet of Kegan. These were bigger though; nearly forty feet tall and clad in natural spiked armor. Even using the Force, he would be lucky to jump and reach the thing's knee. Driving his blade down to the hilt in some places on the mammoth's leg still wouldn't even scratch the bone. They were like living AT-ATs.
As Jason carved a chunk of flesh out of one of the beasts' feet, he spotted four more gigantic shadows approaching. He shouted with all his might. The Force poured warning out from every pore, but his message went unheeded.
"Hey, deaf guys!" Jason bellowed, straining his lungs and vocal chords to their limits. Given his singing along with his favorite Heavy Isotope artists, it was louder than it would have been months prior, but it still lacked the necessary volume to break through the veil that had been cast by the ice storm and his comrades' single mindedness in their attempt to slay the behemoth before them.
Glancing between the approaching figures and his battling Housemates, he had a difficult decision to make. He knew that to strike out alone against four more of these massive beasts was inviting disaster, but he couldn't shake any of his companion's focus without fear of becoming a target himself for how intent they were.
Mother karker. Coming to a conclusion, Jason reached out with the Force, and grabbed Levathan and Hades in its transparent fist. With a gruff tug, he pulled them towards his position. They slid across the snow, Levathan on his back with a startled look plastered on his face.
"What was that for--" Hades was a moment from launching into a tirade, until he spotted the figures for himself. "Oh. Why didn't you just say so?"
"Well, you know, I tried to. But, you guys weren't listening. So I had to take matters into my own hands, as it were."
"By dragging me on my back?" Levathan asked, righting himself and dusting snow off his backside.
"Suppose we call that a happy accident," Jason said, casting the Knight a small grin. "But right now, we have no time for idle banter. We have four more of those things heading our way, and I seriously doubt they're part of the Khar Delba welcoming committee bringing us fruit baskets."
Squinting against the abrasive dusting of hail on his raw, pallid flesh, Kal could barely discern the ghastly frames of what seemed to be living monoliths. Far beneath the peak of the hulking shadows danced much smaller blots, marked by the kaleidoscopic weaving of their lightsabers.
Even in the bitter grip of the arctic tempest, Kal's blood began to boil in his veins. The Cilarean was never one to miss out on a fight! He struggled to catch up to his zealous allies, who seemed not the least bit shaken by the disaster they had all just survived.
"Surely," Kal thought, "The will of the Dark Side."
The Tarenti were engaged in a deadly waltz with whatever those things were, fencing and thwarting the lurching behemoths as their gargantuan paws swatted in reprisal. Their sheer size prevented them from mirroring the speed of the unwavering Brotherhood swarm, but it would only take one mistake for the monstrosities to crush them like insects.
Frowning and sweeping cumbersome chunks of ice from his cloak, Kal called on the Force to aid to his stampede through the storm, assailed as he was by deep snow. Rage goaded the loathsome marauder as equally as honor or glory, and as he approached the skirmish, his heart thumped through frozen armor, the metal stiffened by the blistering cold. The beasts were monstrous things! Gripping the wicked hilt of his lightsaber, he flicked the crimson blade to life, indulging in the euphoric rush of the Dark Side as he brought his fear down upon the fiends!
Without another word, the three Tarenti raced across the thick snow as best they could, towards the closest of the hulking forms, each trying to get to it first. Taking leaps across the calf deep snow, landing and bounding forward again unnaturally with the aid of the Force, they made remarkable progress.
Levathan saw that he was outmatched as Jason and Hades raced ahead of him. Feeling the indignity of this, he pulled further on the Force, enhancing his speed and strength to the point where he could start to feel the pain of his muscles overextending themselves, and yet this only fueled his anger as the distance between his competitors did not decrease.
Instead, the pale knight was forced to watch as the Behemoth’s form resolved into that similar to the Sith War Behemoth he had been carving chunks out of earlier; seeming as though a wraith or apparition with its fur inundated with snow. Then, when the beast towered above them, head hidden within a veil of swirling wind and ice, the two humanoid forms ahead of him jumped up instead of forward, each aiming for a forward leg at the zenith of their jump. With the flashing of crimson and cobalt sabers, left glowing, deep saber tracks in those legs, with the behemoth letting out a shrill and bone shaking bellow of rage and pain.
Levathan saw this and grinned, the damage looked superficial, at best a deep scratch. The knight had a larger prize on his mind; reversing his grip on his icy lightsaber, barely visible in the ice storm, he reached the forward leg of the behemoth, planted both feet and sprang straight up the leg. Pulling a dagger out with his free hand, he buried the short blade through the fur and into the leathery skin of the beast, before following with a horizontal slash from the the glowing blade, and started to climb through the thick fur, using dagger as a climbing pick while slashing out footholds on the leathery skin and flesh of the Behemoth with the icy blade.
Laughing and growling at the pain he knew he was causing the beast, as well as the thought of taking this one as a prize, he shouted, “This beast is mine!”
Hades rolled to his left to dodge the massive foot of the gigantic creature that seemed to have quite the bad attititude. He has no idea what he and his friends could have done to enrage the large beasts, but he knew that they couldn't fight all of them. They had their hands full with the few they were currently tangling with, but how many more were there? Was there a heard just outside of their visual scans? Hades knew their mission was too important to let them be bogged down with this sort of interference. They had to end this quickly. But how?
The beast let out an ear splitting trumpeting call either due to pain or to possibly call for help. Seeing how a frontal attack seems only to strike the hardest parts of this animals skin and flesh, a different approach is needed. With another roll Hades moved to the side of the animal, then quickly moved under the beast. Using Lev's approach he launched himself up to the knee as the massive pissed off animal took a step towards Jason, who seemed to be keeping it busy in the front, though for how long no one knew. The armor and spikes on the animal actually made it a bit easier to climb up the leg. Upon reaching the underbelly of the beast Hades spotted an unarmored section of skin. Quickly probing he found it soft to the touch. The undefended area lay between the rear leg an its belly. Seeing an opening and knowing that Jason cannot keep its attention for long he quickly produced one of the three thermal detonators he tends to carry on missions and placed a ten second timer on it then placed it in a pocket on his robe. He then reached down and ignited his lightsaber and made a precise circle cut about a foot deep into the beasts' flesh. It obviously didn't seem to like that very much as it attempted to use its massive trunk by slapping at its sides. Hades replaced his lightsaber then pulled the chunk of flesh from the creature's exposed area, this time the beast let out another loud trumpeting noise and turned to look at Hades.
"Oh, son of a ... " Hades knew he had royally pissed off this creature and that his time was quite finite. With the trunk getting close to his body with each slap against the side Hades quickly placed the thermal detonator inside the open wound of the animal and flipped on the timer. He then replaced the flesh and with the aid of the Force, leaped away from the beast, landing in three feet of snow. Hades quickly jumped to his feet and waves towards Jason, screaming at the top of his lungs. "RUN!!"
Jason could not believe what he was doing at the moment. Crash landed on a snowy Sith world battling the largest pissed off mammoth-type creature he had ever seen. And on top of all of that, the two others with him had suddenly disappeared from his side. He was furious. He had been abandoned! Jason rolled to the side and lunged at the large leg that had just slammed down on the spot he had previously been occupying a second earlier. While confidant in his skills, he knew he couldn't hold off the creature forever. Knowing he couldn't spare a second to see how the first creature was fairing and knew the others would be on him in moments. The idea of his death on this snowy forsaken planet for the first time, seemed downright plausible. Even probable.
Before Jason could finish the idea the creature began slapping around its side where Hades had vanished. Maybe the old man didn't abandoned him after all. Jason went on the offensive, striking harder and causing more damage as the creature's attention was diverted away from him. Out of the corner of his eye he seen a black figure tossed into the snow. The figure was quick on his feet and waved towards Jason. Barely making out the word run. Run? Jason's eyes grew wide as he heeded Hades' call and ran several yards away from the creature as it now turned to face Hades straight on. At this point Jason could not make out Lev climbing up on top of the beast's head. He then proclaimed proudly "This beast is MINE!" as he extended his lightsaber up over his head, intending to plunge it into the back of its neck.
But he didn't get a chance. Seeing Hades before it and wanting nothing more than to squish the nuisance to dust, the large beast reared up on its hind legs as it intended to stomp Hades out of existence. Suddenly a massive explosion brightened the sky near the creature's back leg. Jason and Hades both covered their eyes as the thermal detonator counted down to zero. The rear leg seemed to separate from the creature's body as the beast began to fall on its left side. A relatively slow process, for something so huge. Lev was thrown into the snow as the creature finally met the ground, the soft cold ice crystals filling the Knight's mouth and nose. Hades was quick to leap onto the head of the beast and, without a sound, plunged his saber into its eye socket. He withdrew his blade as the creature started to go limp.
Lev jumped to his feet, coughing. "It was MINE!" he screamed as he looked at Hades. Jason nodded towards Hades who knew they had to get out of their predicament quick, fast, and in a hurry. Jason grabbed Lev as the three rushed back to their group, hoping the explosion and the fallen mammoth would stall the others coming their way. The Force needed to be with them today, and they do not have much time
"It was mine!" It had been some time since he had last found himself needing to step between two men in order to prevent a brawl. The last time, Jason had been on the flight deck of the Sovereign, and had to break up a skirmish between two hotshot, egotistical pilots that each felt they had been wronged by the other in the recently concluded training mission. What made this current instance different and all the more harrowing, was that Levathan had a lightsaber in hand, and he hadn't extinguished the blade to charge Hades.
The younger man bolted for the other as fast as his snow-laden legs would allow. Jason, who had been trudging through the frosty substance off to their side, was pressed to inject himself into Levathan's path. He only managed to be partially successful, clipping the bloodthirsty Knight in the shoulder with his own.
Lev spun ninety degrees and ended up back down in the snow, turning his angry eyes upon Jason. The Krath simply raised a warning finger, attempting to forestall any comments. Levathan wasn't having any of it, however.
"He stole my kill!" He all but screamed, pointing an accusatory finger at Hades' back. The Sith hadn't stopped walking up until then. Now, he simply turned his head slightly to the side to address the young Dark Knight.
"Looked like you were just playing with it."
"You son of a Hutt!" Levathan leveraged himself to his feet quickly with the aid of the Force and set to charge at Hades again, but found himself spinning his heels in the snow as Jason grasped the front of cloak in an iron fist. Almost in a literal sense, for he grabbed hold of the fabric with his cybernetic hand.
"Cool yourself, Levathan," he said, still trying to defuse the situation.
"Hunter, release him." Anshar's voice behind him gave him a moment's pause. Especially since he chose to address him by his last name. Turning to face the Quaestor, not loosening his grip on Levathan's lapel, he looked into the face of an annoyed Anshar Kahn Tarentae.
"I take it you haven't seen the full story."
"And I take it you've gone deaf. I said let him go, Aedile."
Not wanting to battle verbally with the Quaestor in front of his fellow Tarenti, Jason did as Anshar bade. "Yes, sir." He let his hand on Levathan's cloak go lax, and the Knight relaxed some; his desire to beat Hades' skull in was subdued for the moment.
"Next time I issue you an order, I expect it to followed without hesitation," Anshar said, looking Jason straight in the eyes before turning to stride off. "Unless you wish to wear my hat."
He knew exactly what Anshar meant by that remark. It was an open challenge to take the mantel of Quaestor from him. There was something definitely off about him lately, and this planet was amplifying it.
Then Khar Delba started to whisper to Jason.
Strike him down...
Kal braced himself as he was sent crashing into glacial crag, pain amplified by the chill of the wintry tempest. Narrowly, he had eluded the full brunt of a barbarous swipe from the rampaging warbeast, having tried in vain to fell it by plunging his bloodied lightsaber into it's achilles tendon. Still, the blow had clipped him, and that brief contact alone had launched the Dark Jedi Knight into the frozen terrain several yards away.
Clouded by the weather, Kal's eyes couldn't determine the fate of Anshar or Scion, who had been laboring in tandem to overwhelm their much larger foe. For a moment, the pure white in front of him began to fade black, his lungs burning against the ache in his ribs. Spittle froze into tiny droplets as the Sith seethed, exhaling through his teeth but seemingly unable to breathe in.
Frustration and anger poured from one limb into the other, like humors spreading out from his core. Kal focused the emotions into utilizing the Force, concentrating on controlling the pain.
If I can just stay awake, he thought, I can shake this off...
A moment later, a rattling in his ears startled the Sith. Or was it an earthquake? His heart leapt into his throat. The beast was closing in for a coup d'grace. This was the end. The monster's shadow was a blur as it stomped toward him, slowly coming into the focus against the blinding alabaster of the storm.
Anshar and Scion emerged from the mirage, breathing heavily as the snow fell on their sweat burdened faces. The violent rumbling had trumpeted the conquering of the beast, somehow vanquished by the Tarenti.
The grisled Colonel trailed Tarentum's Quaestor by a few paces, though no less composed by the plume of victory. Both men silenced the hum of their lightsabers, solemnly depositing the quiet hilts back onto their person. Scion, for his part, seemed moved by something, though said nothing as he pulled the wounded Kalmah to his feet, who was too busy staring at Anshar to thank his benefactor for the assistance. The Dark Jedi Master walked by without saying a word, seething with the Dark Side. The stench of it's corruption pervaded the younger Knight's senses, far more potent than anything he had ever experienced. Kal was concerned that the powerful Dark Jedi was disappointed in his failure; however, it took only seconds to realize this was not the case. Anshar was not despondent - he was moving towards the other group, paces away, who seemed be agitated about something.
A squeeze on his forearm from Scion drew Kalmah's focus back to standing up, and with the Colonel's help he was able to gain his bearings. With a deep breath, he regained posture, pushing on Scion's shoulder for balance.
Indignantly, the armored Marauder trudged off towards the corpse of the warbeast.
He would be needing his lightsaber.
Letting go of a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding, Levathan felt some relief at seeing the Dark Jedi Master stride away, the mentally oppressive aura receding, somewhat shaking the knight part way to his former self from the contrast. Pressing his left palm to the side of his head, as though trying to physically push through his hazed thoughts, and shutting down his lightsaber, he finally realized what was in front of him; Jason Hunter, stood rigidly on the balls of his feet, glaring at Anshar’s retreating back, gripping the hilt of his unignited armory saber in a shaking grip.
Thinking quickly, Levathan began to follow Anshar, patted the Aedile’s shoulder with his left hand as he passed, and whispered; “Thank you, brother.”
The Levathan’s words jolted Jason out of his seething emotions, of anger, of envy, of the desire for the power to shape Tarentum to his own vision. However, “Brother,” brought him back to his senses, remembering that they all are Tarenti, that they are all brethren and remembering that they would likely not survive this world should they turn against one another.
Putting away his armory saber, the Aedile turned towards Hades, and saw that he in a similar position he, himself was in, then, Jason’s words froze on his lips at the sight behind the human. Swirling blizzard clearing momentarily to reveal two large, horned and tusked forms charging towards them, and several more dark shapes behind the two, the Aedile instead turned on his heel and called out the warning in a voice that had all his strength and breath behind it.
Scion's mind was far away when he heard Jason's cry. Here in this place he found it dangerously easy to lose himself in contemplation; the land and the sky were both the same shade of gray and as featureless as a pane of glass. The cold robbed him of sensation and slowed his mind. The Dark Side whispered in his ears and coursed through his veins in a flood that he was unaccustomed to.
He was Quaestor again. He wandered the cramped passages of the Sword's Sheath, brushing shoulders with members of his now-defunct House Gladius. The faces of his brothers and sisters who had been lost over the years watched him as he passed. His apprentice Mechronage, freshly knighted, had gone missing on his first solo mission. The trandoshan's eyes tracked Scion from the shadows at the end of the corridor as he approached.
As Scion drew closer, Mechronage's form seemed faded. No, transparent. He could see the texture of the wall through his apprentice's robes. The eyes were hollow black pools, and the trandoshan's wide, toothy mouth was curled in an uncharacteristic smirk.
"What are you doing, Scion?"
"Excuse me?" The old man was puzzled by the query. He found he had no answer.
"What are you doing to lead your people?"
"I'm... I don't..."
As Scion turned around, the gray walls of Sword's Sheath once again became the gray of frozen Khar Delba. Several more of the Sith Warbeasts were approaching fast. Anshar stood to his right, waiting to spring into action. Kill him. The old soldier couldn't ignore the voices whispering in his mind, so he tried focusing on the rushing beasts. But his dead apprentice haunted him. Now he knew what Mechronage insinuated. What are you doing to lead? Scion's gaze drifted to the back of Anshar's neck. It would be so easy... He glanced to each side, seeing his Tarenti brothers bracing themselves. This is pure madness, he realized.
"Anshar, we have to run. We're not here to hunt mammoths. If anyone gets injured they won't survive in this cold. We have no evac."
The gleam in Anshar's eye was venomous, but he aquiesced with a slight nod. The two men began signalling furiously to the others to spread out and take cover, then fall back to regroup. Scion hoped the others could resist the temptation to bring down another beast at the expense of the mission, or even their lives.
It would be pretty easy. Hades thought after Anshar interjected himself where he didn't belong. Looking at Lev with his child-like temper, the thought of reaching out and grasping the younger Knight and pulling him towards Hades' own ignited lightsaber was a thought the older man relished a bit too much. The way the behemoth was taken down seemed to ignite a blood-lust of sorts under his skin. If felt... good. Very good. Too good, really. Hades drew a deep breath and held it, trying to calm himself as he came partially to his senses. These were Tarenti, not lambs to slaughter for his own enjoyment. Unfortunately he had to remind himself of this. Hades opened his eyes and gazed around. This place is messing with his mind. And almost on cue, the voices returned.
He's leaving you. You are not strong enough to walk in his shadow. Hades looked towards Anshar and tried to catch up to the Quaestor. As he did so, he nodded to him.
"Thank you An.." a hand quickly cut him off.
"Silence." Anshar said as he looked towards Scion a small ways in the distance. The two walked in silence the last few feet before reaching Scion. Hades nodded to his friend who seemed to be fixated on Anshar. He found that rather strange and kept a mental note of that fact. Hades might have spoken up about the look until he followed Anshar's gaze. Dark shapes far in the distance were closing on their position. The beasts have returned. Anshar tensed and prepared to fight, though Hades knew this was almost useless.
"Anshar, we have to run. We're not here to hunt mammoths. If anyone gets injured they won't survive in this cold. We have no evac." Scion said. Hades knew his friend was right and thankfully, so did Anshar.
"Jason, Lev! Move your asses!"Scion screamed as he pointed behind the pair who were a few steps from them. "We're moving! This way!" Scion ordered, the desperation in his voice sounded almost pathetic to Hades' ears.
The group began to ran, aided by the Force as much as possible. The terrain in front of them seemed to stretch on forever. How could they outrun their attackers? They needed to buy time. Hades looked towards Jason out of the corner of his eyes. The Krath seemed almost fixated on the back of Anshar's neck as they ran. The younger man gripping the hilt of his lightsaber as he did so. A bit of anger seemed to well up in Hades as he observed this. Grabbing his own saber in his hand, he would be at the ready if Jason were to try for Anshar's unprotected backside. Glancing to his left, his heart sank as he observed Scion doing the same thing. The realization hit him like a shuttle crash, ironically. He might have to battle his AED and his best friend to save the QUA of his house. Hades knew in his soul that they all needed to survive to get the mission accomplished. But as the group ran from the closing behemoths, he knew ever so acutely how with each passing footfall, that ending seemed more and more unlikely.
"Jason! Lev! Move your asses! We're moving! This way!"
Kalmah had drawn in a breath when he heard Scion's bellowing, and now held it, whipping his head to locate the threat. His massive chest fell as the oxygen was expunged, adrenaline pumping as he glimpsed more of the beasts closing in.
A few feet away from their dead brethren lay Kalmah's terraformed lightsaber, the yorik coral wrapped in the alchemically treated remains of some unfortunate warrior - a trophy from Antei. It was beautiful, in it's own macabre way, but it's owner spared no time to admire it. With impressive celerity he called the thing to his grasp, instantly accelerating to catch up with the fleeing Tarenti. It was taxing him, using the Force over and over, wresting control of his body from pain and forcing it to work so hard simultaneously. He began to lose it. If only he could catch up to Anshar, he could feed from his sinister presence...
He's keeping it from you. Power. Secrets.
Sprinting towards him, Kal began to forget about the beasts. Instead his visage honed on the Quaestor's back, a disquieting suspicion building into a penetrating resentment. Slowly, Kal came to understand.
He doesn't respect you. Your life means nothing.
Kal recalled the Dark Jedi Master's apathetic demeanor after he had risked his life alongside him, battling the monsters that now trailed them. The dark side beckoned, increasing the maddening Sith's frenzy with each footstep as he charged the Quaestor, faster and faster...
Anshar pushed ahead, the other members of Tarentum behind him. The rocky terrain provided some cover, and was slowing the pursuing beasts down considerably. Still, the Tarenti were very much ants scrambling out of the way of the giants; the ice encrusted snow gave way to their specially designed footwear, but not without some slips. The beasts lumbering steps were ill suited to cover the broken and rocky terrain. The well worn path where they had first encountered the Tarenti had obviously been used for quite some time. Still, there were echoes of sentience in the beasts, beyond the normal. Someone, or something, was controlling and influencing them. And directing them.
Anshar stayed focused on leading his team towards the original landing zone. If memory of the topographical maps served correctly, they would soon reach a wide open area. Perhaps the other shuttles from Tarentum would be there, and even the other houses who were also assigned to take Khar Delba. A bare whisper shook Anshar from his thoughts and he side stepped just in time to avoid the brunt of Kalmah's charge. Kalmah tumbled to the ground before spinning around and glowering at Anshar. Before he could react, Levathan and Scion grabbed him by the arms.
“What in the hell are you doing?” demanded Jason.
“He needs not answer that,” said Anshar, stoically. “Have none of you noticed what is going on? This whole planet is speaking to us, urging us to do things that we would not normally do. Or things that we might not normally consider.”
“If that is the case,” said Hades, “then is that why you're acting like such an arrogant bastard?” There was seething in voice, an anger that had not been seen. Perhaps the planet was bringing out the inner most hateful thoughts of the group.
“Perhaps,” replied Anshar as coldly as the planet they stood on. He continued walking in the direction that they were originally headed, seemingly ignoring the ill fated charge by Kalmah.
“What kind of answer is that?” interjected Scion, but still following the Quaestor.
“The one that I want to give,” said Anshar. “We're almost to our destination. Try to remember that we are a team, and that we need to work together. After we get off this rock, you can attack me all you want.” There was some grumbling amongst the group, perhaps too much agreement, but no one actually spoke out.
“Good,” said Anshar, turning back around and continuing on. They would be at the original landing zone soon and, perhaps, they would get some more direction. All that, though, was an afterthought at the moment. Anshar was concentrating on the effects of Khar Delba on his people, and even on himself. While the others seemed to be delving into the Dark Side even more, hearing more than they ever did, the Dark Side seemed to be leaving Anshar alone. To be sure, it came when beckoned, and did as it was instructed. However, Anshar was not surrounded by it; he was not enveloped by it the way one would expect a Master of the Force to be.
On top of everything else: the constant missions for the Iron Throne, the sabotage, and the attack against Yridia II, the Force's lack of cooperation was just one more thing that was wrong. To bad it had been going on for far longer than anything else.
Anshar climbed over the last frosty ledge, finally staring out at the original landing zone. Save for the relative flatness, it was just as bleak and as barren as the rest of this forsaken planet...
"Our absence from Khar Delba will drive suspicion," the stoic voice commented.
"They will fail, we will take what is ours, and Tarentum will survive," came the equally calm reply.
The Fortress of Naga Sadow
The team's bickering had ceased long enough for Anshar to lead them across the frozen tundra to the great gates of Naga Sadow's fortress. War behemoths, inner team betrayal, and now the omniscient presence of a long dead Sith Lord weighed upon Anshar's shoulders. This mission could prove to be his greatest success or greatest failure, but Anshar already knew which it would be.....
“If this is what becomes of a Sith Lord's fortress, then count on me to make something that will be a bit more permanent,” commented Levathan out loud.
“You've got a ways to go,” said Hades, a slight mocking in his tone.
“Not if I find the right artifact in there,” shot back Levathan, still having a jovial tone to his own voice. Of the group, he seemed to be the least affected by the atmosphere of the planet; that, or he was simply the best at hiding it.
“I wonder what is in there,” mused Kalmah. Levathan's comment had obviously jump started the imaginations of the Tarenti.
“We'll find out,” said Anshar, before anyone else could say anything. “Whatever is left beneath these outer ruins is likely to be well protected, though feel free to grab whatever you find. Still, Naga Sadow was powerful enough to leave behind traps that could last for an eternity, and I'm certain there is someone pulling the strings of the beasts.” With that, Anshar pushed open the aged gates, their surprising looseness giving testament to the number of explorers that had come and gone before. Entering the main grounds, the group could see tracks in the snow from the war behemoths, though none were present.
Making use of the limited map of the area, Anshar led the team to the entrance point. The map, purchased from some back alley scam artist offering maps to all the great treasures, had proven to be reasonably accurate, right up to what was left of the archway leading in. The blacked stone arch had long collapsed and though it did not require moving any of the stones, it did force the group to climb over them. Yet another icy, treacherous rock to climb.
As they entered the ruins, darkness ensconced around them, but the bitter wind ceased, as if a trade off had been made. Before any lights came on, there was some distant shuddering and a long bellowing cry from one of the war behemoths.
“I think,” said Scion, “they know we are here.”
Everyone looked back at the mountain of rubble they had just climbed over, each with their own thoughts, everyone, except the Dark Jedi Master himself, who looked deeper into the dark cavern of the hallway ahead.
Hearing the bellowing of the War Behemoth was slightly unnerving, at least out on the open snow and ice they would have room to maneuver, but within even the massive corridors of the ruins, they’d be trapped.
Levathan’s thoughts immediately turned back to their first encounter with the Behemoths, felt itch in his bones and energy flow to his muscles, as though his body desired to move, to fight, to kill and consume. He had to fight to regain control, lest he run off like and act like a maniac one again; the sight of Hades behind him did not help his self-control. Reminding himself of the bond of brotherhood and drawing on a trickle of Ashla, his mind began to clear somewhat, yet he could not halt a seething anger and jealousy within, directed toward Hades, he would have satisfaction, eventually.
As Anshar moved forward, Jason called out, “C’mon, if those beasts really are being directed, fighting them won’t solve the problem.”
“No, but killing all of them would,” replied a snarky Hades, yet he followed deeper into the dark fortress nonetheless.
Lightsabers were ignited and held high to provide multi-hued island of light in the black hallway, while they would normally have used the Force to find their way, however in this case that proved impossible. The very stones they stood upon were so steeped in the darkside, that they radiated and blinded most Force senses, thus finding artifacts and identifying them through the Force would be equally impossible.
Nonetheless, Levathan was as excited and focused as he was when he first set eyes upon this fortress. It was ominous, high ceilings hidden in shadow, with black rubble strewn and blocking paths, in some cases, completely filling adjoining rooms and spilling out into the main hallway. Along with the mess, were the occasional signs of bone, twisted and broken, sometimes laying in the middle of the massive hallway, sometimes half buried among the rubble.
Scion stopped at one of these half buried remains for a moment, only to whisper, “fools,” and carry on, ignoring other signs of corpses.
It was truly a ruin, more of a tomb than a fortress, yet as a Krath and a seeker of never ending knowledge, Levathan was excited, because it is only in such places; picked clean of the common artifacts and trinkets, that the truly exceptional and hidden knowledge may be uncovered. His mind and eyes, immediately searching for anything and everything, signs, glyphs, artifacts, even ghosts, looking for anything out of place; the darkside pressure and oppressiveness forgotten as his Krath training and mind took over as the group made their way steadily deeper, into the blackness.
Naga Sadow's fortress was something to behold. Well, perhaps in its heyday, but even in the ramshackle condition that the Tarenti found it in as they carefully picked their way through the rubble strewn passageways, one could see the engineering that had gone into the architecture. Each archway that remained standing was gracefully designed, and intended to bear a great load. How every stone flawlessly fit into the next to produce a smooth surface, and how it was all held together with no mortar and had withstood the test of time in such a harsh environment. And on top of it all, having been accomplished millennia ago without the aid of modern robotics, laser excavation, or repulsor sleds. The Massassi workers had slaved at it by hand, and produced something that could only be viewed as art.
And they had done it twice. Sadow's original fortress had been leveled by Ludo Kressh from orbit, and this one had been built to replace it. Simply amazing what had been accomplished in the past.
Jason was running his organic fingers lightly across the joint of two of the massive stones that made up the wall to the group's left. It was so smooth, he could have sworn it must have been crafted by machine. Intellectually, he knew it hadn't been, and he was amazed by that and had to feel for himself the perfection those ancient stone masons had achieved. He also had to feel for himself, in a physical, tactile manner, just how imbued with the Dark Side the building was.
He could feel the energy buzzing all around him. It was almost like he was walking inside a giant battery. Dragging his fingertips gingerly across the velvety smooth face of the stones, the power contained within the very heart of the fortress seemed to dance between his digits. He could have been sworn under oath in a court of law and given testimony that he had witnessed tiny bolts of raw energy arc between his fingers.
If he hadn't been exposed to things involving the Force for so long, he would have yelled and yanked his hand away in astonishment. Instead, he continued to drag his hand along the wall, watching the energy play about his exposed flesh, as his comrades muttered together in the dark.
What they were saying mattered little to him. At first, yeah, it did. Jason had hung back a few paces from the rest of the group to keep a watchful eye on them. Given how things had almost degraded into a Force-fueled six-way brawl out on the tundra, he thought it prudent. But, as he found himself developing a fonder connection with their temporary shelter, he started to learn things about it, and their petty squabbles and back alley dealings were nothing.
As it turned out, Naga Sadow, after defeating his rival of Ludo Kressh, had some of his nemesis' personal effects brought to Khar Delba. Many had been picked clean by the Jedi and the Republic, or silly treasure hunters over the years. However, one remained, and the fortress would direct Jason to it: the shards of Ludo Kressh's Sith war sword.
Now that would be an artefact worth bringing back to Yridia. Now that would be something that would grant him power over Anshar, and allow Jason to succeed him as Quaestor.
With a sly grin, Jason let his pace slow gradually, until the glow of the other Tarenti's lightsabers were but points of light down the hallway. Keeping his fingers to the wall, he followed the fortress's direction and turned down the next corridor.
The evil, crazed cackle that rolled out of the passage and reverberated off the walls to the others, was the first indication they had that the Aedile had slipped away from the group...
The cackle caught the group off guard, none more than Anshar. Had the Force been cooperating, he might have noticed Jason's absence. “What the hell?” asked Kalmah before anyone else could say anything.
“Shh!” hissed Scion. Kalmah's mouth opened, but a glare from Scion kept him quiet. Kalmah still responded with a menacing frown. Still, the group listened in the glow of the lightsabers and soon they all heard what Scion heard. Faint scratching mixed with the shortened breathing of someone getting excited; someone insane anyway.
“He's not far off,” whispered Kalmah.
“Shut up!” retorted Scion.
“Bite me!” Kalmah shot back.
“I might catch something,” returned Scion. “I will remove your tongue to shut you up.”
“Enough!” barked Anshar, intervening before another retort. “We have a mission. IF anyone wants to fight, they can fight me after we're done.”
“That's a nice idea,” said Jason, suddenly reappearing. “I would like to see that, if you're up to it.” To a passerby, perhaps even the rest of the group, Jason's statement would have meant nothing. To Anshar, there was the edge in the voice that indicated all to well that Jason knew that something was wrong between Anshar and the Force. He may not know what, but Jason knew something was wrong. The lopsided grin did nothing but reinforce this thought.
“Where did you go?” asked Anshar, plainly, hoping to divert the subject so no one else would know that the Force was not presently with Anshar. To be sure, he could still hear it and feel it, but it no longer clothed him as it had in the past. His every move was not filled with the Force, and it was not by his choice.
“Yeah, and what's with the goofy grin?” asked Hades.
“Well, I wasn't going to show you, but I might as well,” said Jason. Holding up his lightsaber, a silver blade of some sort was crudely attached to the hilt, running right up alongside the blade of the lightsaber itself. Whatever it was, the lightsaber blade did not appear to affect it. “This is a part of the blade of Naga Sadow's Sword!”
“Impossible,” breathed Levathan. “That sword has been lost for a few millenia.”
“Yeah,” chimed in Scion. “What makes you so sure?”
“The fortress told me,” replied Jason, almost casually. “In fact, if you follow me, I know a way to avoid all the behemoths. Would you care to join me at the front, Anshar?” If ever there was a loaded question that could not be missed by anyone, that was it. And everyone in the group looked back at Anshar, a wide range of emotions displayed upon their faces.
“No, I'll be fine where I am,” said Anshar. “Lead on.”
“I've never seen you give up a chance to be in charge,” said Jason. “But I appreciate it.”
“I didn't say I wasn't in charge,” replied Anshar, coolly. “You just get to lead us for this part.” Jason frowned at that comment, before turning around and stomping off.
“You walk like that, Jason, and this old hovel may collapse on us,” said Hades. Jason responded with a hand gesture that was difficult to make out in the light, but few would doubt what it was, or what Jason meant. The group followed him.
* * *
Jason led the group through a series of tunnels, some partially blocked, but others still open. Though they could hear behemoths walking and bellowing, they only caught a glimpse of them occasionally. For animals that loved to feast on Force users, they seemed largely uninterested in the Tarenti. Perhaps the strange blade in Jason's lightsaber had something to do with it.
As the group progressed, Anshar's mind wandered to that blade, and the trouble the whole group seemed to be having. Perhaps it was the planet itself, but the group was far less united than ever before. Anshar seemed to be the least affected, but perhaps it was because the Force seemed to be keeping its distance from him, as if he had a disease of some sort. Still, Anshar was somewhat of a liability, and if Jason's blade was a part of the fortress, it would likely corrupt him more.
Whatever the blade actually was part of, it gave off a Force signature unlike Anshar had ever felt before. Whether or not it was Sadow's blade would likely never really be known, especially if Anshar could get it away from Jason and destroy it.
Finally, they came to an open doorway, and the sound of the behemoths footsteps thundered in the open plaza beneath them, lit by glowrods. There were at least ten of the animals roaming the area, moving rocks and pushing statues into place. In the middle stood a hooded figure, his hands moving much like an orchestral conductor, directing the animals about their tasks.
“That's him,” said Jason quietly. “Now, I have a plan.” As Jason began to detail his plan, no one saw Levathan's attention drawn by something glinting in the light. Levathan moved closer, trying to find out what it was: a ring, an amulet, or something else. Jason had his blade, and he wanted his own artifact. Crawling to the edge of the causeway that circled the plaza, Levathan stretched out, trying to reach the shiny object. Just as his longest finger touched it, the floor gave way. Half falling and half rolling, Levathan tumbled down the side of the room which, to his benefit, was made of smooth and flat stone in a gentle arc. Though this prevented him from being seriously hurt in the fall, it nevertheless ensured that he found himself in the midst of the behemoths.
“Kill the intruders!” shouted the hooded figure. With bellowing cries, the behemoths reared up and the first one charged.
"No, Levathan, you fool!" Jason screeched, his voice reaching octaves that none in the group had witnessed before. His fingers raked through his hair, grabbing whole fistfulls of his lavender locks as he watched his carefully laid plan come crashing down around him. "You couldn't simply sit and listen could you, you impetuous child!"
"Put a lid on it, Jason," Anshar said through clenched teeth, coming before the crazed Krath and grabbing him by the front of his cloak. The maneuver startled Jason, who turned wild eyes upon the Quaestor and momentarily forgot about his secret plan to usurp the mantle of Tarentum's top spot. "In case you haven't noticed, we have a brother down there in danger who needs our help. Now stop being a kriffing selfish lunatic, and pull your poodoo together." Anshar released him roughly, giving him a slight shove. He turned towards where Levathan had fallen to the floor below, drew his lightsabers and leaped down, sliding on the smooth stone.
"But...b-b-but, the plan..." Jason said softly and mostly to himself, looking dejectedly at the floor.
"Oh, go kark yourself and your plan," Hades said rather bitterly as he strode past, following Anshar. The others cast their disapproving or angry looks upon their Aedile as they moved past him to make their descent to the the chamber below. Jason watched them go, burning holes in the backs of their heads with the laser beams shooting from his eyeballs.
Once he was alone, he turned to the small opening that they had used to spy upon their beast master before Levathan's foolish tumble. He watched as the hooded figure gesticulated at his pets, his mouth moving as he gave them commands to stomp and rip and otherwise destroy the Tarenti that had intruded upon their sanctum. A wry smile crossed Jason's lips as he held his sword-saber to his chest, stroking it lightly with a pair of fingers.
"Oh, I know," he whispered. "They will be mine to control, then those who dare to question my authority will no longer think to do so."
Drawing on the power of the Force, Jason leaped from the walkway. He landed on the back of a war beast, which bellowed in surprise and tried to swat at him like an insect, but he bounded on before the beast had any opportunity. He sailed through the air, aiming himself directly for the hooded figure at the center of the room.
Finally coming to land before the beast master, Jason turned a psychotic grin on his target as he ignited his lightsaber.
"You don't belong here!" The man raged, taking an involuntary step backwards. "My beasts will destroy you all!"
"Oh, no, I don't think so," Jason said. He raised his hilt so the other man could see it, the handle of Naga Sadow's sword tied to his lightsaber. "Do you know what this is? I bet you do. After I strike you down, I become the master of the war beasts. You see, I have nothing to fear from you."
The man's eyes widened in both fear and recognition. Of course he knew Sadow's blade, and the power it still held. He would be a fool if he didn't. "Where did you get that?"
"A little birdie led me to it," the Krath responded, gesturing with his other hand to encompass the entirety of the building they stood within.
"Jason, stop kriffing around!" Scion yelled at him from the other side of the chamber, where he and the others were busily fighting a trio of war beasts that had been set against them. The other behemoths were still, seemingly waiting to see who would be their master. "Just kill him already!"
Jason cast a sidelong glance in his comrades' direction and let out a weary sigh. "Always trying to rush perfection, them." When he turned his attention back to the beast master, he found a small holdout blaster stuck in his face.
A quick spin to his right delivered him from certain death as a bolt went sailing across the room, striking the far wall to leave a small crater and a tiny flame. The blaster's report was enough to startle the silent war beasts into action, who bellowed and turned to charge the small dais upon which the duo stood.
Realizing his time was turning out to be quite short, Jason continued his spin into a complete three-sixty and stepped right up close to the beast master. Grabbing the man's blaster arm by the wrist with his free hand, he drove his opposite forearm into the elbow with as much Force-assisted power as he could muster. The bones and tendons in the joint were pulverized by the impact, having been hit by Jason's more-than-solid prosthetic limb. The blaster immediately fell to the floor, dropped by suddenly limp fingers.
The man staggered back, gripping his crippled arm. Pressing the assault, Jason drove his booted foot into the front of a knee, buckling that joint by pushing it in the completely wrong direction and bringing his foe to the floor
"Thought you could kill me?" Jason asked, all pitty lost in his voice. As the beast master kneeled there on his one good knee, begging for his life, Jason deactivated his lightsaber. Reversing his grip on the blade, he drove the jagged, three inch length of what remained of Sadow's sword into the top of the man's skull. His eyes rolled back into his head and his jaw went slack, much like the rest of his body. For good measure, Jason activated the lightsaber, driving the energy blade deep through the center of the man's body.
Withdrawing the bloodied weapon, he turned from the corpse to the war beasts who had halted their charge. Raising his weapons above his head, he looked across his newly acquired army with approval.
He then cast an eye towards Anshar, who stood with his dual lightsabers at the ready.
The illumination of his lightsaber only unraveled the gloom so far, and Kalmah peered into the darkness as equally as it peered into him. His nascent interest in the decrepit oubliette that was once Naga Sadow's citadel spared Anshar his scheming, enthralled as the brutish Sith was with his own imagination of what must lie deeper within.
Bone was crushed to slag beneath armor-clad heels, a morbid powder of dust and death congregating in the laconic glow of Tarenti blades. Kalmah almost collided with Scion, who stopped to survey the scattered corpus delicti, and the jolt reset the marauder’s awareness. With a jerk, he narrowly avoided barreling into the elder Dark Jedi, who frowned at his indiscretion.
“Daydreaming?” Scion asked, rhetorically. After a silent pause, he frowned, exhaling with a weight of wisdom that, without a word, insisted the Kalmah stay on his guard. The armored Knight nodded in apology at the warning, and was suddenly alerted by the absence of his Aedile.
He’d gone ahead alone.
“What the hell?” Kalmah exclaimed, the booming tenor of his voice further irritating Scion. The latter hissed at the stubborn marauder, who scowled in reprisal. “He’s not far off,” Kal insisted, his eyes narrowing as the Tarenti shared a common premonition. They all sensed the same thing:
A nauseous darkness spun Kalmah’s thoughts and sensations, and everything ran together; the crash landing, a near death at the hands of deranged monsters, the Brotherhood war party’s discord and Jason’s discovery of some ancient sword…it was all happening so quickly.
The bickering Dark Jedi were eventually subdued by the House Summit, threatened as they were by the menacing presence at the heart of the tomb. Something – someone – was controlling the beasts.
Kalmah was thankful - far too soon - for the absence of the rampaging aberrations.
“Kill the intruders!” suddenly rang out. It was if Kalmah had no idea where it came from.
Something was distorting – tainting – his sensory perceptions, and now he found himself in the midst of a blitzkrieg! Rolling his shoulders in his armor, Kalmah leapt into the fray, fueled by the Dark Side but nevertheless functioning like an automaton. It seemed like merely a moment had passed before it was all over, and the Sith’s visage went blurry. He had been losing time, memory, and control since the group entered the temple, and it had gotten progressively worse. Now, he had lost the thrill of an entire battle, as if had never happened at all.
“What…” he uttered, stumbling as stretched out for his allies. Blinking heavily, he could spot Anshar, standing a few paces away. His weapons were drawn, the black blood of his foes smeared over the pair of lightsaber hilts. Kalmah’s equilibrium left his body, his terrifying armor echoing as it ground against the cold concrete beneath him. The last thing he saw was Jason, facing Anshar atop a motionless pile of robes. As everything become dark, his eyes fell upon the artifact, his jaw clenching against a searing pain in his skull…
Even though the fighting had stopped, everyone in the chamber knew that the battle was far from over. The behemoths had stopped attacking the Tarenti after their master had been struck down by the Aedile of Tarentum. The air was thick with the stench of burned flesh and dust. The entire heard seemed to be waiting.But waiting for what? Hades thought to himself before the answer slowly came over him. Jason's commands. The beasts were now under his control. Normally, this would be cause for celebration. Not this time. This was singularly evident by the look in Anshar's eyes and the fact that his lightsaber was still humming it's. Jason, was holding Anshar's gaze solidly. This is where Jason goes for gold. Hades began to form an attack plan, even though technically the same level as Jason, Hades had years of experience on the younger man and a lot more time fighting hand to hand. Besides the fact that Hades likes to play dirty, it almost didn't seem fair for the Aedile.
"You're time is at an end as Quaestor Anshar. You have outlived your usefulness and you have held on to your post LONG after you should have withered away into nothing!" Jason bellowed with a voice much too deep and loud than normally produced.
"I serve as long as Tarentum needs me, Jason." said the Tarenti QUA said as he pointed his lightsaber directly at Jason. "Though, Aediles are easily replaceable. Mostly, because they are too weak to assume command of anything."Anshar said with venom-like quality.
Jason's eyes grew wide and his anger mounted.
"I've come for your hat, old man." Jason growled towards his former friend and mentor.
"I dare you to try, child." came the QUA's answer. The scream that escaped Jason's lips seemed that of a banshee as the young Krath lepted forward towards the master. The first clash of the lightsabers was epic in scope and in intensity. But it was Jason who seemed to be fighting with all the hate he could muster. His blows more powerful than Anshar's. In what is certain to shock the others, as much as it did Hades, Anshar began to fall back due to Jason's sheer strength in the Force. The two locked sabers and stared at one another as Jason leaned forward and whispered.
"I know your secret." Jason said grinning, before he continued. "The Force is weak with you. You grasp at it like a straw in the wind. Right there at your fingertips, but not able to touch it. It is leaving you. You should see this as a favor! You should want me to strike you down now so you might have a shot at becoming one with the Force before it is too late. You must feel it slipping more and more every day. Take the easy way out, die with some dignity, old man."
Anshar's rage was genuine as Jason's words did hit home deep within him. Anshar dug deep down and gathered what bit of the Force he could and pushed Jason as hard as he could, sending the younger man fifteen feet back into the dust covered floor.
"We'll see, wont we!"Anshar screamed as he readied his blade.
"I'm going to kill you."Jason stated, matter of factly before lunging towards Anshar once more in a fierce attack.
It was at this time that the voices returned to Hades' mind. He's going to take him from you. He will die just like your father did. And there is nothing you can do to stop it. Hades closed his eyes tight and began to slightly shake, his mind seeing his father's ISD slowly exploding from the onslaught of New Republic firepower. He was alone once more in the cockpit of his TIE Defender. The coldness of space all around and the emptiness he felt within him and rage at the loss of such a good father. Hades eyes burst open and focused on Jason like a bird of prey focuses on it's next meal.
Jason was so close, he could feel it. Every attack brought him closer to his goal. Finally, an attack hit home as Jason sliced into Anshar's left thigh a few inches. The older man screamed and fell to the floor. Jason cackled as he brought up his lightsaber for the killing blow. As he brought it down in what was sure to be the QUA's death, Anshar suddenly slid a few feet away as Jason's blade hit stone. Just as suddenly a second, purple lightsaber sliced through a few of Jason's fingers on his mechanical arm. Jason screamed in agony and hatred. His eyes focused on his new foe... Hades.
"Jason, it's time for your spanking. You've been a bad boy." Hades grinned as he engaged the Aedile. His own attacks fueled by the rage and loss he felt deep down. All the anger he has harbored for the last twenty years has finally found a way to release itself. Jason was now the one on the defensive as Hades pressed his attack, ignoring the trumpeting from war beasts as he did so. Jason's new found powers were good, very good, Hades thought.
Methodically, Hades was pushing Jason back and waiting for the perfect time to coerce Jason to the right position, and finally, he did. Hades attacked in a straight down, single handed attack towards Jason's head. As the Aedile began to block high Hades withdrew his holdout blaster and planted it in Jason's stomach before seeing the young man's eyes grow wide as he pulling the trigger. The bolt sliced into Jason's abdomen. The Aedile screamed and fell to the floor. Hades grabbed Jason's blade and quickly sliced off the ancient shard from the lightsaber, holding it above his head.
"I believe this is no longer yours." Hades said with a grin as he looked towards the others gathering quickly around Jason to restrain him. "Now, what do we do with you?" Hades asked.
Scion stood over Kalmah's armored figure. The Knight was shaking visibly as he lay on the ground, and breathing rapidly. Gingerly, he pushed at the man with his foot but there was no response.
"Something's wrong with Kal. We're going to have to carry both of them out of here."
Hades planted a boot firmly on Jason's throat before looking over to see what Scion was talking about. The ground around the Aedile was quickly becoming slick with blood. His breaths were short and ragged. He flinched at Hades' boot, but lacked any strength to resist.
"We might have to carry Anshar too," he said. "If he can't heal himself, he might not be able to walk with his leg like that." The Elder was not screaming, but he clutched his leg with both hands and had not yet tried to stand. Dranik stood nearby the fallen Quaestor, fishing through a satchel. After a moment he produced a roll of gauze and a large handkerchief, and knelt down to tend to his friend's wound.
"Been awhile since I had to do this," he muttered.
"Jason might not make it through the cold to the evac," mused Scion. "If there even is an evac. Anyone tried their comm recently?"
A low grumble reminded the Tarenti that they were not alone. Enormous shadows lurched around the edges of the room, their purpose forgotten now that their controller was gone. Movement caught Hades' eye. In the dark beyond Scion he could make out a smaller figure darting between the giant behemoths. A lightsaber flashed to life.
A deafening bellow issued forth, drowning out the rest of Hades' exclamation. All he could make out was periodic glimpses of a lightsaber slowly rising above the ground. He could draw only one conclusion: Levathan was climbing up on top of one of the behemoths.
One part of Krath training to learning to recognize and utilize artifacts, in an effort to one day, make your own and pass on knowledge; to continue the never ending quest for knowledge and thus power. Levathan didn't know what he had stumbled upon at first, when he reached out across the ledge, causing the situation to become what it has. However he had managed to snatch it out of the air as he fell and he knew it called to him, from both his training and through the Force, a small, palm sized violet crystal. It was only after Jason had killed the beast master that Levathan examined his prize more closely, coming to the realization of its twisted purpose.
Climbing the War Behemoth in the fashion he had before, using a dagger as a pick and his lightsaber to slash out footholds, the Knight made steady and quick progress without a blizzard blinding him. He was somewhat aware of what was happening; he knew that Hades had called his name before he had the first slash of a foothold, but all that was irrelevant to Levathan. He needed to know if his suspicions about the artifact were correct, he needed to test it.
Despite the Behemoth trying to shrug him off, it wasn't long before he had climbed up and stood between it shoulders. Looking down, he could see Hades running and shouting towards him and the beast, which seemed to have visibly calmed. The others merely watched or were more concentrated in keeping their minds and bodies in one piece.
“Get down from my beast! I order you as Quaestor of Tarentum!”
Levathan heard none of it, he had knelt and placed the crystalline artifact on the behemoth and focused upon it through the Force. Excitement rippled through him as his breath caught in his throat; he could see the genetic makeup of the beast, the Force channels created by Darkside Alchemy, he could even feel the life and power of the beast beneath him.
He knew now what the artifact was; a Force focusing crystal, likely one of the ones used in the alchemy of creating such behemoths.
The he saw it; a disturbance in the behemoth’s physiology, Hades was making his way up one of the beast’s legs. Seeing his opportunity to get rid of an annoyance, Levathan concentrated on the beast’s brain, bending it to his will and forcing its massive body to move to his commands.
The behemoth let out a startled and ear splitting shriek, alarmed at its loss of control over its own body. Levathan moved the beast to a nearby column, and made to crush the climbing Hades against it.
Hades had had enough of this upstart; he knew exactly what the young knight was doing, even if he didn’t know how he was doing it. Pausing on his climb, he focused through the broken blade of Naga Sadow, and projected his control to the beast’s mind. Yet it didn’t work, the behemoth was still closing in on the column. Throwing his anger at the beast’s and Levathan’s disobedience, he amplified his will through the connection, as the beast let out an angry bellow and instead of making to brush the column, instead charged at it at full gallop. The battlemaster suddenly felt a snapping in his mind, like a rubber band pulled too far, then an echo of that snapping reverberating inside his skull.
Alarmed, Hades let go of his grip on the beast, both mentally and physically, and jumped off and away from it; this was not what was supposed to happen. Looking towards the other beasts, he could see that they were swaying, as though drunk, then, just as sudden as the mental recoil, the stood firm, turned as one towards the charging behemoth, and began to charge themselves towards it, angrily bellowing and causing the very stones to shake, rumble and crack.
Levathan didn’t know what had happened, the beast was suddenly charging at the oncoming pillar, while his control over its body no longer responded. So he touched the behemoth’s mind through the focusing crystal… and found it gone, not simply empty but torn and shattered into infinite pieces.
Recoiling from his glimpse into madness, the knight tucked the crystal away in his robes and was thrown off as another charging behemoth tore into the one he had been standing on. Reacting instinctively, he righted himself and called on the Force to slow his decent and reinforce his legs as he landed, sliding on the stone before coming to a stop. Looking back towards what had thrown him off, he saw a scene out of a nightmare; the behemoths were tearing into the one he had taken control of, with horns and spikes, sending red blood and gore fountaining in all directions. Furthermore, the following behemoths had inadvertently attacked those close to them with their own horns, enraging and causing retaliations, in a bloody bestial melee in the middle of a rapidly spreading lake of red gore.
Levathan, Hades, Scion, Dranik and even those injured could only stare at what was unfolding in front of them; all had seen battle and war, but this was savagery on a scale none of them had known was possible.
Finally Anshar shouted above the din of howls, bellows and the groaning and shaking of stone, “they’ll bring this place down on our heads! We need to leave, now!”
The fortress had fallen silent, shadows dancing about cold and dilapidated walls. Kalmah moved ever further down the corridor, it's eerie quiet so stark that the fire of wall sconces could be heard burning.
Wall sconces? When did those get there?
Anxious, the marauder stopped in his tracks, gauntlet flirting with the hungry lightsaber at his hip.
He was alone.
The other Tarenti had gone...somewhere. It was Kal's mission to clear out the innermost ruins of Sadow's bastion, which more and more adopted the appearance of a Korribanesque tomb the deeper one ventured. Kal now couldn't remember his assignment; what was it? It didn't matter. He had to reach that last room - for something.
The fortress had no intention of allowing an intruder to dismantle it's prophetic solitude or secrets. Kal barely had time to react as the abominations stormed him! His lightsaber hissed as energy passed it's complex sheath, crackling as it struck the monsters in wide arcs. Kalmah was unstoppable! His attacks struck true, passing through his foes as they dematerialized into ethereal wisps and palpable fog.
Kal thought with a voice not entirely his own. Some ancient sorcery was at work, the ancient beasts vanishing into a harmless mist that now hung about the hallway. It was like wading through the swamps of Dagobah!
The annex of Kal's ambition suddenly drew closer, the target of his operation manifest:
Floating - waiting - in the center of the massive room was the warsword of...whom? Kalmah knew he had seen it somewhere, but couldn't put a finger on it. It pulsed with Dark Side power, so overwhelming that Kalmah's temples neared bursting at any moment. He had to retrieve it - but the closer he got, the more blackness called his senses to rest.
Struggling, as if against the icy windstorm the Tarenti had braved upon landing, the tenacious Knight stomped toward the ominous weapon, waves of uneasiness and enfeeblement hindering even simple movement.
He knew now - he'd never reach it. Pain gripped his ribs and burned his lungs. The sword! It was trying to kill him!! Feeling his breathing slow and strength fail, Kal was determined to die with dignity. He refused to resign, mustering his entire strength in the Force as his control was assaulted by dark power far beyond his comprehension. One last move.
As his eyes closed, the lightsaber whirled from his grasp, whipping through the stagnant air of his would-be tomb. His last moments approached...
Drooling, Kalmah opened his eyes, barely able to see but sure he hadn't gone anywhere. He heard Scion's voice, but couldn't make out the words. He had to tell them! The sword was evil! He yearned to warn the Tarenti about his dream - his vision - but the words simply would not come out. His heart raced, and he panicked, trembling as he fell back into torpor....
Dranik finished bandaging Anshar's leg. It wasn't a particularly skillful wrapping, but the bleeding had stopped. Anshar's face was pale and his expression grim, but he was able to stand slowly and limp toward where Hades and Scion were debating what to do about Jason.
"Look, it's all the same either way," Scion was saying. "If we leave him here he's going to die for certain. If we take him outside into that storm, he's going to die out there for certain too. I say we leave him here. At least in here his fingers won't turn black and fall off before he bleeds out."
"Do you even hear yourself? Are you even in there, Scion? I see your face but I can't believe what's coming out of your mouth. You're talking about leaving your Tarenti brother here to die! Not to mention the Aedile of your House!"
"It's not a choice! He's going to die either way! I'm just saying we should save ourselves the effort and spare him the cold. If I thought he had any chance to make it to the LZ I'd be picking him up myself right now."
"How can you be so certain? It's not going to be easy, I know, but I'm sure we can figure something out."
"Whatever." Scion's tone was cold and devoid of emotion. It seemed to Hades that he had hit a sore spot, and that gave him some cause for hope. "You want to try to save him, you can carry him. I'll get Kalmah."
Jason's body was slick with blood. His face was ghostly white. Hades had his own reservations about whether the violet-haired Aedile could survive the trip home, but he kept them to himself. He had to try.
The Sith stripped off his coat and shirt, his breath making little clouds in the frosty air. Then he pulled off Jason's coat and shirt as well. He cut the shirts into strips with his dagger and used them to wrap tightly around Jason's still-bleeding wound. It was far from perfect, but it did seem to slow the flow of blood somewhat. Carefully, he replaced Jason's ruined coat and fastened it as well as it could be with the sizeable blaster hole in the front. He used the remaining strips of his shirt to tie tightly around the hole in the jacket, hoping it would seal out some of the frigid outside air. Finally, he hefted the near-lifeless body over his shoulders. He could feel a small trickle down the back of his neck.
Scion had, by this time, lifted the motionless Kalmah over his shoulders and had headed toward the passage they had entered from. Anshar leaned on Dranik's shoulder as they walked, but some color had returned to his face. It seemed that the Force had not left him completely, but healing his wound was taking far more effort than it should have.
Levathan met the group by the exit, looking sullen that his behemoth had been so cruelly destroyed, and that his artifact had so easily lured him to try to murder his brethren.
"Don't worry about it, bud," Scion remarked as he drew near. "This place got the best of all of us. Just focus on getting to the LZ alive, for now."
Hades knew he was doing the right thing even though his inner thoughts wanted to toss Jason into the middle of the behemoth royal rumble. He knew the AED just let the planet get to him. The young man began to groan.
"Next time... Hades.. You will.." At that point, Hades half dropped/half set Jason down and looked to Scion.
"Stun?" inquired Hades.
"Sure." Scion replied as Hades set his blaster to stun and fired at Jason before the inevitable protest from the wayward Aedile began. Scion grinned as Hades pulled Jason onto his shoulder. Hades turned his blaster towards Lev.
"Any more delusions of grandeur today dipshi.."
"Hades." Anshar said as Dranik began to move off with the older man. The look on his face was all Hades needed. He nodded his understanding.
"Lev, come on. You've got point. Get us out of here." Hades nodded back the way they came as Lev began to move thru the passageway. The Sith Battlemaster took one more look at the raging bloodbath the behemoths were creating and shook his head. He picked up Jason in the standard medical carry and moved out behind the rest of them.
With Draink beside him, urging him on, Lev began to guide the group out of the fortress with a quickness. All the upright members of Tarentum were moving at a light run while carrying their cargo of team members. It wasn't long before they reached the bitter cold of the outside.
"Just give me a FRAKING beach!" Scion screamed as they felt their old friend, the ice cold wind, start to take it's toll on their exposed skin. Everyone smiled on the inside, though they never twitched a lip on the outside. One thing was for certain, if any of them seen another snowflake for the rest of their life it would be too soon.
"Tar... One. This is Ev.... Calling Tarentum. Over. I repeat. This is...." For a handful of moments, no one wanted to move as their ear pieces picked up the frequency, in fear that it was just a dream wrapped up in their own minds. But one by one they turned to each other and knew that it was not.
Jason began to groan as he opened one eye. Hades caught this and grinned.
"Well well you stupid bastard. You might live after all."
Jason's eyes slowly opened, becoming equally aware of his surroundings and the pain in his abdomen. This was not the first time he had ever awoken in the sick bay of an Imperial-class Star Destroyer, but this was very different from the last time. He had little recollection of everything that happened, but his mind was much clearer. He remembered the cloudy darkness, the raw power that he had felt, and the whispering.
“Are you awake?” asked a needling mechanical voice. Jason glanced over, a medical droid filling his vision.
“It would appear so,” replied Jason. “What happened?”
“I cannot answer that, Patient Hunter,” replied the droid. “Upon your arrival, you were treated for a close range blaster shot to your abdomen, as well as repairs made to your artificial hand. How you came about those injuries is unknown to me.”
“And me, apparently,” mused Jason. Fragments of things came back to him in hazy images; he remembered being shot, but not by whom. He recalled lightsabers and behemoths, but nothing else. Glancing around, Jason saw Levathan and Kalmah both lying on their own medical cots, still unconscious.
“What is wrong with them?” asked Jason. They had been with him, perhaps they remembered more.
“Upon arrival, both patients presented with signs of psychosis and are in a medically induced sleep at this time,” replied the medical droid. “We will attempt awakening in one standard hour. For now, you must rest.” Jason, not wishing to converse with the droid anymore as it was, closed his eyes, hoping that his dreams would fill in his memories.
* * *
ISD Magnus Kaerner
Anshar sat restfully in the recliner chair, his leg propped up. The medical staff had done a good job of patching it up, but it was going to be some time before it was truly useful. Anshar's cane, from the days of the Yuuzhan Vong Invasion, stood beside him. It was an adequate tool for the job, but Anshar still wished the bacta could do more. Still, he would soon call upon the Force to help the healing, and he would make the Force do as he needed. A knock at the door shook Anshar from his thoughts. With the flip of a switch on his chair, Anshar opened the door, allowing Hades and Dranik to enter.
“You wanted to see me?” asked Hades.
“Yes,” replied Anshar. “Before we talk, Dranik, do you have the latest updates on the other four?” Dranik, who had gone off to the side to lean against the wall, did not look at Anshar as he spoke.
“Jason is conscious, but doesn't appear to remember much,” said Dranik. “They almost lost him twice on the operating table, but I guess it wasn't his time. Lev and Kal are both still out cold, though the last time the doctor's woke them, their delusions had subsided greatly. I must admit I'm a bit puzzled as to why they seemed worse once they got back to the ship. As for Scion, he's back to normal and on the bridge.”
“Maybe it is an ability thing,” suggested Anshar. “Lev and Kal are both still young in the Force. And we all react to things differently.”
“And what about you, Anshar?” asked Hades. “And I'm not talking about your leg. I'm talking about your other issue.”
“I suppose I can't hide it,” said Anshar, “at least not from you given the situation we were in.”
“Yeah,” said Hades, “I agree. Jason may have gone crazy, but he wasn't any more powerful than before. Sure, he got control of the behemoths, but his own power didn't increase. You should have mopped the floor with him.”
“You're right, I should have,” said Anshar. “Which makes it all the more important that no one outside of us knows the truth.”
“Yeah, well, we don't need our fearless leader to be a liability,” said Hades, sarcasm mixed with anger in his voice. He paused and stared Anshar directly in the eyes. “You may be the Quaestor, you may be a Krath Master, but I've been around long enough to know you need some help. I don't know who you go to about this; I don't think there are any Force doctors, but you better get it fixed. I'll keep my mouth shut so long as you don't do anything foolish.”
“I can agree with that,” said Anshar. “At the very least, it doesn't seem like Jason remembers what happened. Without that piece of the blade, and with distance from this hell hole, I think he'll be alright.”
“What did happen to that thing anyway?” asked Hades. “I remember taking it from him, but I think I dropped it in the commotion.”
“Then I'm sure it is still down there,” said Anshar, “where it can stay for all I care. But, thank you, Hades, for stepping up and taking Jason down. I do owe you, and I am one to return the favor.” If he had anything else to say, he didn't, and Hades merely shrugged before simply walking out. There was no formal goodbye, just Hades simply leaving. After a few minutes of silence, Dranik spoke up.
“He's right, you know,” said the Shi'ido. “You can't keep this act up forever. I hope you have some idea of how to fix this.”
“Oh, I do,” said Anshar, reaching underneath his propped up leg and pulling out a small case. “And I think this will help.” Anshar opened the case, showing Dranik the contents. Dranik simply scowled.