Team Alpha: House Plagueis
Both boots on the boarding ramp. Amber eye straight ahead. Eyepatch neon blue in the dim lighting. Ronovi Tavisaen never exactly meant to put on a show when she arrived for an assignment, but no matter what she did, by default she always turned some heads.
Flanking her were the usual suspects. Teylas Ramar. Arden Karn. Alaris Jinn di Plagia. Armored, weaponized, almost mechanized - that was how they looked, and that was how they moved. They were programmed, to an extent, for aggression. And Ronovi favored that for the sake of usefulness.
Shoulders flattened against the shuttle’s doorway, Solus Gar, trusted Aedile of House Plagueis, stood with arms folded and lips drawn in a nearly non-existent line. The cuts and bruises that dotted his chin and jawline had barely had time to fade after his confrontation with Yobd Nan - the pretentious, self-aggrandizing One Sith whose cerebrum ultimately served as the leader of a shadow droid brigade. Ronovi couldn’t help smirking; after the Duros’s failed attempt to kill her or Solus, his newfound fate in a metal skeleton seemed far more fruitful.
Upon reaching her former Praetor, the Epicanthix perused his rigid posture, his marble-esque frame. She sneered.
“No, no, don’t tell me,” she mused. “I like guessing games. You got errands for us to run?”
“Our other forces have been directed toward the planet Khar Delba, to deal with the typical resistance,” sighed Solus. “Of course, Naga Sadow will be aiming for the presumed fortress of the Sith Lord. But the Dread Lord has other plans.”
“Our real objective,” continued Solus, “lies on the surface of Khar Delba’s moon, Khar Shian. Naga Sadow’s true fortifications were built there.”
He allowed the four assembled to digest the information. Whether or not some of them already knew was insignificant. Ronovi’s response, however, was expected, as she laughed and clapped her hands in pseudo-delight.
“Oh, how I love plot twists,” she chuckled. “So you want us to, quite literally, shoot for the moon, and scrape up the real treasures rather than the decoy ones?”
“It won’t be that simplistic of a trajectory,” declared the Aedile. “While Plagueian forces are set to land on Khar Delba, we will be traveling toward the planet as well. Once we begin orbit, we then travel to Khar Shian, for the sake of diversion. We would hardly want our rival houses and clans to take notice of our operation.”
“Leave it to Plagueis to be sneaky,” Arden commented.
“I suggest you board now - we plan to depart in thirty minutes’ time,” informed Solus. “I sincerely hope that all of you have come prepared, as requested. Ronovi?”
“I’ve got two flasks.”
“Excellent. Men and woman - after you.”
The usual ruminations glided through Ronovi’s mind as she entered the shuttle's cockpit, not making eye contact with Alaris as the Twi’lek moved into the passenger compartment with the others. The taking of Nfolgai had been a joyride for her - almost too seamless. It could not be this easy for the Ascendant House. The Brotherhood, especially the Dark Council, had enough loaded dice in their palms to roll out new prospects for every unit involved. They tried to be puppeteers and wound up with needless obstacle courses instead, the strings snapping from sticks and leaving the marionettes to dangle aimlessly. Ronovi didn’t mind the threads being accidentally broken, given her newfound abhorrence for anyone cavorting around in the Dark Hall, so long as it did not provide unnecessary consequences for those whom she bothered to give attention to.
She had kept one mantra with her at all times, one she had relayed to allies when her advice was once upon a time requested: Trust no one. There were bound to be troublemakers, most of them bordering on the imbecilic, attempting to shift the tides. And they didn’t have to be bundled up in Odan-Urr’s bathrobes to be causing issues.
The Primarch felt the weight in her head sink as the shuttle lifted and embraced the ribbons of cosmos beyond. She could see the colors, like aurora borealis, scraping the atmosphere of Khar Delba. Stars, like confetti, danced around the target. She compulsively re-examined her possessions - saberstaff serving as a third arm, SSK-7 providing extra teeth, Whyren’s Reserve substituting for actual blood - and tried to settle her throbbing brain. Maybe, for once, she wouldn’t have to remain overly vigilant until they made it to their destination.
She sighed and fetched the first of her two flasks, making a considerable effort to unscrew the stiff cap. As Ronovi eagerly tipped the metal lip toward her open mouth, the shuttle rocked feverishly, sending priceless amber whiskey splattering onto the floor in glistening puddles.
Ronovi exploded with enough curses to fill up two cargo bays of a standard star destroyer, as the lights shuddered on and off in an epileptic fashion. Even when she could only see the back of Solus’s head, as his hands noticeably turned white against the controls of the shuttle, she knew that inferno was burning in his eyes. It was bad enough that Nameless Subordinate Number Seventeen was close to losing her lunch in the seat beside the Aedile, but then again, the lurches and dips that they were subjected to was enough to make anyone’s intestines knot up like slimy ropes.
Struggling to keep herself upright, Ronovi repeatedly slammed her gauntleted fist into the nearest wall of the cockpit. This was just about as bad as the time she was cooped up in a shuttle with the Arconans, nosediving through the New Tythonian stratosphere, with a high-pitched Marick squealing in her ear. No. Scratch that. This was probably worse.
“Why does this always have to kriffing happen?!” she bellowed as she saw the disapproving face of Khar Delba looming in the viewing portal, watching the shuttle inexplicably begin its descent.
The controls jerked against Solus's hands, the ship once again bucking beneath them as the drive system overloaded. As Solus struggled to maintain control, the main drive quit altogether. The shuttle's nose dropped even further than it already had, the drop accompanied by a momentary feeling of free fall as the inertial compensators struggled to keep up. At this point, returning to the ship was out of the question, and Solus would be hard pressed even to manage a controlled landing on the surface of Khar Delba.
"Get back to the others and tell them to strap in. This is going to be rough," Solus snapped.
Ronovi, her frustration at their situation replaced with purpose, exited the cockpit and climbed down to the passenger compartment.
"Well, this is about to get interesting," Ronovi's voice reached Solus's ears.
"Define interesting," Alaris responded.
Whatever Ronovi's response was, it was lost as Solus stabbed the control to shut the hatch that separated the cockpit from the rest of the ship. Now was not the time to be distracted by the banter of his team.
"Pilot," he called to the Subjugate who occupied the forward navigator's station, "we're going to have to land the hard way. Find me a suitable landing zone within range."
"Yes, my lord," the anonymous slave responded.
With the main drive damaged and the repulsors functioning at minimal power, that range was not going to be very far. Solus hoped that they'd be able to find some sort of ice field or glacier to set down on. The surface of the world was dominated by mountains and other rough terrain, so finding a friendly place to set the shuttle down was going to be difficult. To make matters worse, the Nu-class shuttle he piloted was far less aerodynamic than the Lambdas also in Plagueis's arsenal. While this rarely mattered, trying to glide a ship that flew like a brick was one of those rare occasions.
"I have coordinates of a zone," the Subjugate reported. "It is at 32 mark 6 port, sending to your station now."
Solus saw the promised data flash across his navcomputer, indicating a relatively flat field of ice that would serve his purposes. It wasn't as long as he might have liked, but at this point, beggars could not be choosers. At least it wasn't that far from the main Plagueian landing zone, so assuming that they survived the crash, it would be possible to rendezvous with the main Plaguiean contingent groundside.
As the shuttle approached their chosen landing site, Solus realized that they were coming in at too great a speed. Muscling the controls, he took the shuttle through a series of sharp banks to port and starboard to bleed off the excess velocity. He then retracted the wings, locking them in position only halfway to their upright position. The additional surface area in contact with the ground would serve to help slow them down, while at the same time safeguarding against a rollover once they hit the ground. Or so Solus hoped.
"Brace for impact!" Solus called over the comm system.
The shuttle hit the ground with teeth rattling force, the sound of screeching metal filling the interior. At this point Solus had done all he could, and he was now mostly reduced to the role of passenger. He could see the speed indicator ticking down and was about to let out a sigh of relief when the subjugate in the forward station let out a yell of alarm.
Solus jerked his eyes up in time to see a large, jagged stone rising out of the ice directly in their path. They were on it almost as soon as he'd seen it, the shuttle striking it on the port side just inside where the wing joined the body. The impact put and end to the shuttle's controlled slide. Now crashing end over end across the ice, the force of the tumble caused Solus to strain against his harness. The shuttle finally bounced higher into the air before dropping, cockpit first, towards the ice. The ground rushing at him, Solus was only able to bring his arm up to shield his face before impact. For just a moment, Solus heard the sound of metal tearing and the viewport shattering before everything went dark and he perceived nothing at all.
Naga Sadow’s Citadel
There was something about the set-up that seemed so appropriate. Perhaps the way the windows swarmed with shadows, hidden away from the sun. The stone nearly unhinged with age, but still fortified against the ice of Khar Shian. The blizzard signifying an underscore of sound, the snow never seeming to subside.
Within the citadel of Lord Naga Sadow, a man whose age did not challenge him never forgot the history holed up between the towers’ walls. He stood attentively, the wrinkles lit up with cerulean waves around his protruding chin and creased, mottled jaw. What silver hair he had left on his brow and his upper lip bristled at the sight of the hologram of his superior in front of him. The Chargian’s red skin and yellow eyes were muted by the blue tint of the holopod, but the height of his horns, the glare of his tattoos, and the curl of his sneer could not be dumbed down by any technology.
“I take it, then, Lord Drax,” Darth Wyyrlok uttered through his snarl, “that the resistance against the Brotherhood is underway?”
“Ships are falling out of the Khar Delban sky as we speak, my lord,” replied Xander Drax, his brown eyes never blinking as he spoke. “The casualties for the Brotherhood fleets continue to rise. Their current of power has begun to ebb. That said, everything is going according to plan.”
“For some time, I was worried, Lord Drax,” growled the most trusted servant of Darth Krayt. “As you were made aware of, the bulk and number of the enemy’s forces greatly outweigh that of our own.”
“A monster with enough teeth may still cower at the sight of cascading fire,” simpered Xander “Even flee. If your orders were to make their resolve weaker and their drive for the planet less appealing, then I wholeheartedly believe I am carrying them out...as your servant.”
The Chagrian snorted, a ripple billowing through the hologram. Xander did not falter. He waited for Darth Wyyrlok to give a small yet coarse laugh, nodding as the technology that presented his physique lit up Naga Sadow’s chambers in a harsh yet royal glow.
“Then you have done well, Lord Drax, and must continue to do well,” he declared, though his words sounded more like a warning. “Do not halt the offensive. Prolong it, as much as you can, even if our forces deplete. You must make it Hell for any Brotherhood ship to breach the surface of Khar Delba. I am counting on you, Drax, more than anyone else at the moment.”
“Everything I do is for the power of the One Sith, and the honor of Darth Krayt,” retorted Xander, dipping his head into a curt bow. “Your reception is embraced with humility and gratitude.”
“I would expect nothing less. May the Force serve you well, Sith.”
With a small snap, the holo-communicator shut off, and the silhouette of Darth Wyyrlok was gone. Xander could not help a sly chortle. So far, the behavior of both Wyyrlok and the Brotherhood had been predictable - a game replayed over and over throughout galactical history. Butting heads, gnashing teeth, bloodied fists, all to properly declare oneself a king. The only reason Xander now needed to turn to the One Sith was that he despised them far less than those of the Brotherhood, the ones who believed him dead since the Reclamation of Antei. And besides, the temptation to overthrow those who clung to the Iron Throne was more appealing by the day.
He would remember Wyyrlok’s orders, but he was in no hurry to complete the Dark Lord’s instructions. He had other plans. A scuffle of feet behind Xander signified the arrival of one of his cronies - the ever loyal Togruta minion, Fuuka Ashasti, headtails brushing the tips of his shoulders. He bowed deeply and exaggeratedly to his Sith master, eyes averted to the sleek, black floor.
“You called for me?”
“My enemies have approached Khar Delba, with some unlikely intervention.” Xander smiled at the thought of it. “You know what I will ask you to do.”
“Those who killed your master...?”
“Plagueis,” the Dark Jedi sighed. “Always a nuisance. Master Nan was foolish to let them overrun him. I know better. I will kill them before they can cut into our ranks again.”
“But my lord,” stammered Ashasti. “What about Darth Wyyrlok’s orders?”
“My priorities outweigh those of my petty superiors,” barked Xander. “And you, Fuuka, know better than to question me.”
That did well to shut the Togruta up. He swallowed loudly and nodded.. “Shall I communicate with those downstairs?”
“A proper scan of Khar Delba is what we’ll need,” replied the Dark Jedi, now pacing toward the doorway of Naga Sadow’s military chambers. “When you have sought out the target - you will know them, by their signs and insignia - you have one directive alone.”
Ashasti shuddered. “The Behemoths, my lord?”
“Release them. Send them tearing for flesh,” ordered Xander. “The wretched scum of Plagueis will be forced to stare down the majesties of the One Sith.”
“And if we fail?”
Xander Drax exhaled loudly, folding his hands in front of him. The carnivorous hilt of a lightsaber caressed the hem of his simple robe. The doubt, and the questioning, were so characteristic of those who had merely succumbed to the dark side. Those who had not experienced the structure, and the function, of organizations such as the Emperor’s Hammer never knew how to act upon plotted confidence. He had sensed such hesitation from his master, Yobd Nan. Arcona had acted similarly, while he was still Quaestor of House Galeres. Even the Vong, with all of their might, could not suppress irrational paranoia. The clay of Xander’s lips swirled and creased, revealing the malicious, yet calculating, grin.
“I can assure you, Fuuka,” he hissed, “that I do not intend to fail.”
Alaris Jinn’s eyes opened slowly to see a pair of lekku hanging up. He shook his head to reorient himself and realized that the ceiling was below him. He quickly removed himself from his restraints. He glanced around the passenger compartment to see that Teylas, Ronovi, and Arden were doing the same. The four checked for broken bones or any other injuries, then turned to the cockpit. The Twi’lek lit his lightsaber and made quick work of the door between the passengers and the pilots.
The durasteel clanged loudly down and Alaris climbed into the cockpit and surveyed the scene. The front end of the shuttle had accordioned in, leaving only four inches between the navigator’s chair and the control panel in front of her. Her sides were split open, leaking blood, pus, and intestinal fluids down either side her body. Alaris imagined she died quickly and that perturbed him. He would have much preferred her pain had lasted.
In the pilot’s chair, an unconscious Solus Gar was draped over the controls before him. His torso had survived the impact, though blood trickled through his armor, out his neck and dripped off his ear. Without attention soon, his death was inevitable.
Alaris smacked his lips and left the cockpit. The other three had finished collecting their supplies and glanced up at the Right Hand.
“Solus?” Arden asked from the back of the compartment.
“He’s going to die.”
Teylas raised an eyebrow. “But he’s still alive?” he inquired hungrily.
Alaris focused sharply at his executive officer. “For now. It’s time to leave. You can eat later.”
Ronovi grunted in half agreement. Teylas nodded, his mind understanding how the chain of command would change. The Twi’lek, Epicanthix, and Anzat glanced toward the now open bay door along the side of the shuttle, ready to leave.
“So we’re going to leave him?”
Alaris let out an exasperated sigh and turned. “Yes. He dies. He will weigh us down otherwise.”
“Yes, and then you become Aedile.”
“That is a secondary advantage.”
“And what do you think the Dread Lord’s reaction will be when we return to the fleet without his Wrath?”
Alaris scowled at Arden before hearing Ronovi’s raucous voice.
“Oh! Wait! I know! He’ll yank our intestines out of our dissected stomachs and then use them as ropes to strangle us!”
The Twi’lek glanced over at Ronovi, noticed her contemplative sneer and unfocused gaze, and then turned back to the human. “We stand a better chance of getting back without him weighing us down. I think he’d be quite satisfied to have most of his summit back in one piece.”
Arden smirked. “I think you overestimate your value in his eyes.”
“Or maybe,” continued Ronovi, “he’ll take a pair of rusty forceps to our nasal cavities and slowly draw the gray matter out of our skulls like clotted mucus.”
The Twi’lek took a step toward the Knight and spread his arms. “One of the most powerful Dark Jedi in his arsenal? I think I estimate my value quite accurately.”
“And yet, you are not his Wrath.”
“So because his Wrath happens to be incapacitated,” hissed Alaris, “you expect us to risk our lives tending to him, because Tra’an just might become agitated?”
“No. Wait.” Ronovi giddily wagged a finger. “He’ll suspend us in bacta and then electrocute us repeatedly, for hours and hours, until we die.”
“I mean, what is he going to do, Arden?” persisted the Twi’lek. “Kill me? Kill Ronovi? We’d destroy him.”
“I believe Yobd Nan had the same sentiment.”
Alaris opened his mouth to retort, then quickly shut himself up. The group stood in silence a moment, a begrudging understanding settling upon their countenances. Finally, Alaris nodded. “You’re carrying him.”
Arden hesitated a moment, then nodded back at the Twi’lek. He turned back to the cockpit and stepped inside. Alaris heard a lightsaber flare from within the space, then a slick slicing sound like fabric ripping, and then a slight thud. A few moments later, the Knight clambered back into the compartment with his Aedile draped over his shoulders. Arden carefully placed Solus Gar onto the floor.
“I can’t heal him.”
Alaris pursed his lips and nodded. “This was your idea. Build a litter.”
Alaris waited a moment, then watched Arden begin to scrounge through the ship, looking for enough broken pieces of fabric and durasteel to construct a large enough litter to drag Solus Gar through the ice and snow. After nearly ten minutes, the Knight of Karness Murr had built a slapdash litter and had Solus resting on it outside the shuttle.
“Ready?” Alaris mocked Arden.
Arden opened his mouth to speak but was cut off by a blood curdling roar from the distance. It was followed by another of a slightly lower pitch.
Teylas hastily retrieved his lightsaber and ignited it. “Well, that certainly sounds like fun.”
It took a moment to identify the source of the roar through the blowing snows, but eventually they spotted it. A massive quadrupedal creature approaching fifteen meters in height, with two large curved tusks and a slightly curved horn sticking out right between its eyes, was standing on a nearby rise about a hundred and fifty meters away. Another slightly smaller, though still enormous, one of its kind was standing a few meters behind it.
Within seconds, all the Plagueians, save Solus with his somewhat obstructed view, had noticed the great beasts, though it was Teylas who was the first to say anything.
“War Behemoths. I was wondering when we’d run into these.”
“There are only two of them. Shouldn’t be an issue,” Alaris responded with a shrug.
Arden was about to nod when two more roars could be heard coming over the icy rise to the left of the group. The Sith’s eyebrows shot upwards when he saw two more of the gargantuan creatures cresting the drift.
“I think we have an issue now, Alaris.”
As the group took stock of the situation, the four behemoths started inching towards them, each issuing guttural roars as they advanced. As they did so, Arden released the litter with his right hand and whipped out one of his matched SE-14Cs, leveling it at the nearest of the creatures.
Alaris realized what Arden was about to do and reached out for his arm. “Not a good idea.”
However, the Twi’lek was too late. Before he could pull down Arden’s arm, the human had squeezed the trigger, sending several gouts of plasma at the advancing beast. Whether the shot was poorly aimed to begin with or was pulled off target by Alaris’ interference was a question to be answered at another time. What mattered was the shots only managed to graze the flank of the advancing behemoth. As it let loose a screech of pain, Alaris released Arden’s arm and sighed.
“And now we have to run.”
At that moment, the lead behemoth started advancing much faster, charging straight towards Arden. The Sith only had time to think thanks to the Force, quickly holstered his pistol, and returned his hand to the litter. He barely had enough time to pull Solus out of the way of the rampaging behemoth before it plowed through the space they had each occupied a few seconds ago. A resounding crunch could be heard as the creature’s massive tusks dented the durasteel exterior of the downed shuttle.
The other three Plagueians were already moving at high speed away from the shuttle and the quartet of behemoths. Arden though was having a much more difficult time due to the added burden of Solus.
“I preferred these bastards when they were herbivores!” he could hear Ronovi snarl before her voice was swallowed up by the blizzard.
Arden merely shook his head and did his best to catch up with the others. Even using all of his personal strength, augmented by the Force, he was only barely able to outpace the behemoths that were stomping towards him. He knew he couldn’t keep this up for long, as it almost seemed the snow was getting deeper as they progressed, slowing down the speed of the litter.
“We’re going to need to make a stand eventually!” Arden shouted ahead as shoved Solus and himself persistently forward.
No response came back immediately, as the others were far too preoccupied with putting as much distance between themselves and the creatures as possible. However, after a few seconds, Teylas pointed to something in the distance and shouted back.
Alaris glanced in the direction Teylas indicated. “As good a place as any. Move it!”
It took a moment for Arden to notice it, but there was indeed an outcropping of large gray and black rocks erupting from the snowy plain. As it was the only thing out here that would offer any degree of cover, or an elevated place to shoot from, it did seem to be the most logical position to make a stand. Getting there was going to be a challenge, as the tusks of the lead behemoth were now only ten meters behind the trailing Arden and Solus. Summoning one last burst of strength and speed from the Force, Arden made for the rocks.
As he ran, he could still feel the creature gaining on him, its huffs and grunts filling his ears even over the howling winds and snow. He could feel the behemoth’s breath against his back as the rocks grew closer and closer. The others had reached them by now, but Arden was still struggling. Solus was in real danger of being trampled now, but Arden kept pulling, though he was beginning to regret his decision to not just leave his master. What Tra’an might do to him was now a much more distant concern than what this thing’s tusks were about to do to him. He didn’t need to look behind him to know that the creature was dipping its head in preparation to gore him.
Then, all of a sudden, it stopped.
All Arden saw was a blur of blue and green flying over his head. A moment later, he heard the beast crashing to the ground behind him. Arden finally had the chance to look behind him and saw Alaris standing on the beast’s back, his emerald lightsaber just being pulled from its half severed neck. He jumped off the creature, depowering the lightsaber in the process, and looked at Arden.
The Plagueians, high atop the outcropping of rocks, were finally given a chance to catch their breath. The beasts below them snarled upwards toward them, seemingly most unhappy about both their inability to catch them and their now very dead beastly friend.
"Any ideas?" Alaris asked as the group surveyed their situation.
The rocks were a safe haven for now, but they could just as easily turn into a grave. Unsure of how persistent the beasts were, Teylas worried that they could simply wait until the group had no choice but to descend from their perch. No words were really said between the group as they simply tried to look around at the unnerving, nonstop stretches of icy wasteland for some glimmer of more permanent respite from their situation.
Not thinking it would really tell him anything differently, Teylas pulled a portable scanner from its resting place on his belt holster. Looking it over, he noticed a lot of what his eyes had told him, but then something had caught his attention. Before saying anything to the others, he turned to face it, a little blip on the screen, to see if he could notice it with the unaided eye. He couldn't. Modifying the settings on the scanner, he noticed something even more intriguing.
"What is it, Teylas?" Arden finally asked.
"Well, according to these readings," he began to explain with much gusto, "there is a large network of caves throughout the area. Too big for the scanner to even properly read it all. And it seems there is an entrance to a subterranean part of the cave network not even a hundred meters from here. Just wide enough for us to fit through one at a time. I just can't see it."
"I say we go for it," Alaris commented. "Better than waiting up here for who knows what."
"But how? We would need at least a good ten second head start to even stand a chance!" Arden nearly had to shout at the top of his lungs through the increasing wind and snow, gripping the litter tightly and struggling to keep Solus on it. The group’s situation was becoming more dire. The three behemoths, however, were still biding their time, accustomed to the crippling cold.
"What if we overload a blaster? Think it would stun them long enough for a good head start?" Teylas queried.
"They're big," Alaris wasted no time in mentioning the obvious attribute that they needed to take into account.
"What other options do we have?" Ronovi snapped, her tone much colder than the wind was against their faces.
"I'll use mine," Teylas said as he pulled his blaster from its holster. "Make sure whomever has Solus is in front..."
He wasn’t even finished speaking when Arden swiveled the litter in the direction of their next destination. Teylas took the blaster and began to reconfigure some of its inner workings. As it began to heat up, he could feel its unique warmth in his nearly frozen hand. He rushed his glove back on before waiting until the last possible second to lightly toss the blaster below.
"Take cover!" he shouted as they all tucked their heads down low to avoid any of adverse light and noise effects it could have on them as well.
There was a crack, then the smell of smoke. Teylas blinked. Some spots in his eyes, but he’d be fine.
"Move, move!" he shouted as they hopped from the towering rocks.
They could not seem to run fast enough. One of the behemoths seemed to be seriously injured - a gaping hole exposing shredded leg meat under its fur, but the other two were in quick pursuit. Not even a twenty second head start seemed good enough. The things were closing in, and fast.
"How much farther?!" Ronovi shouted as she paced her breathing.
"There! I see it!" Alaris yelled, pointing at the approaching cave concealed in thick frost.
The group, running in mostly a straight line - with Arden in the lead, lugging the litter - were starting to grow closer together as each prepared to jump into the small entrance. Teylas, who was last in the line, turned over his shoulder slightly to see the behemoths right on his heels. Arden reached the entrance first, but the litter would not go with him. It was too bulky.
“Leave it!” bellowed Ronovi.
Frantically and almost immediately, Arden kicked the litter out from under Solus’s body, catching him mid-fall, and thrust him into the icy tunnel like a limp doll. As the abandoned litter clattered and rolled and toppled onto its makeshift side, the Knight jumped into the cave, followed by Alaris.
Teylas could feel the warmth of a behemoth's breath on the nape of his neck. Ronovi made a quick leap into the air before launching feet first into the hole. As one of the behemoths roared right into Teylas's ear, he launched himself like a missile into the cave at near pinpoint accuracy. Behind him, he heard the behemoths’ flanks slam against the frame of the tunnel, but the rocks draped with ice would not even give against their weight. Their blood curdling roars echoed into the chamber below.
As he regained his footing, Teylas looked at the others, who seemed to be satisfied that they were simply still alive. Looking around, the caves were covered in ice, desolate of seemingly any life. Solus, sprawled out awkwardly on the tongue of the cavern’s mouth, no longer had a portable stretcher - but no monstrously large war behemoths.
After the harrowing runs, it took a moment for the Plagueians to gather themselves within the cavern. Once they had all managed to get to their feet and breathe in the cold, heavy air, it was time to figure out their next move. Teylas ignited his lightsaber in order to provide illumination, but it didn’t prove much use.
Still panting, Arden was the first to break the silence. “So, where to now? Aside from, well, the obvious.”
Teylas looked up from the scanner. “Best I can tell, this tunnel goes straight for half a kilometer and then branches out. I’m still plotting a course to a safe exit as near as possible to a rendezvous point.”
Alaris nodded. “We don’t have time for any other strategy. I doubt it will be long before something a bit more intelligent comes looking for us.”
The clearly still winded Arden barely managed a response “Agreed, but it’s someone else’s turn to carry Solus. I can’t do well without the litter.”
“It was your idea to bring him, Arden. You should have taken that into account,” Alaris scoffed.
Before Arden could retort, Ronovi spoke up. “Geez, you guys are wimps. I’ll carry him, if I have to be manlier than both of you combined.”
Without another word, she stooped down and hoisted Solus’s slumped body up and effortlessly swung him over her shoulders like a knapsack. It looked ridiculous - a battered, one-eyed Epicanthix woman with an unconscious Human man lying comatose against her back - but Alaris seemed satisfied.
“Lead on,” he said to Teylas, “and don’t get us lost.”
For hours, they descended the depths of the cavern , making their way through the narrow passages. At first, the walk was steep, but eventually it leveled out somewhat after a kilometer. The trip was fairly uneventful aside from an occasional rumble that jarred loose debris, which pelted the group. Teylas managed to keep the group on course, pushing them steadily towards their objective. Then, as they approached a wider section of the tunnel, Teylas halted..
“Wait.” He craned his neck and then sighed. “Well, this is going to challenge us. We have a chasm ahead.”
There was, in fact, a crack in the stone that dropped off into the darkness, making it impossible to determine the length or depth of the hole. There was a narrow yet passable ledge around the mouth of the crack, though the burden of the injured Solus would make traversing it even more troublesome.
“Any other way around?” Alaris inquired.
The Anzat shook his head. Arden shrugged and moved back towards Ronovi.
“I’ll steady Solus. We need to keep moving.”
Alaris nodded. “Teylas, take the lead.”
Teylas slowly inched his way out onto the ledge, back pinned against the icy rock. Alaris followed close behind, and Arden and Ronovi trailed with Solus. All seemed to be going well for the first few meters despite the challenge of the slick and uneven stone. However, without warning, Teylas took a step, but his boot quickly slipped.
Though Alaris sensed the impending fall and reached out to grab him, the Anzat still plummeted off the ledge and into the chasm, his lightsaber splashing crimson sparks as the plasma collided with the rock on the way down. A sense of relief washed over the group when they heard a thud just over a second later, meaning the fall was only a few meters.
As Teylas’ lightsaber had been deactivated in the fall, the group could barely make out his form as he sat up. His voice echoed within the abyss.
“I seem to be intact, though this wall doesn’t appear climbable. Can someone throw me a rope?”
The three at the top looked quizzically at each other and shrugged. Alaris eventually shouted back.
“No rope here. Can’t you just jump up? It can’t be more than ten meters.”
The reply that came from the darkness was quite incensed. “Do I look like an Elder to you?”
After a moment of awkward silence, Arden remembered his rifle. It took him a moment to unclip one end of the shoulder strap from the firearm, and he handed it to Alaris.
“That should be reachable for him if you dangle it down.”
Alaris nodded and knelt down on the frigid stone and, gripping it by the stock, dangled the rifle and strap over the ledge. It took a couple of attempts, but Teylas was eventually able to jump high enough to grasp the strap. It took all of their combined strength to pull Teylas back up to the ledge, but they managed to do so after a few minutes. After the Anzat recovered his lightsaber with the aid of the Force and Arden’s rifle was returned, the group plodded on towards the ever nearing exit.
After only a few hundred more meters, the refreshing signs of natural light could be seen. Turning around a bend, the party finally spotted an exit ahead. Everyone was ready to exhale the pent up tension. Mere seconds after the group had finally emerged, a flash of ruby light flew over the Plagueians’ heads and impacted the rocks above.
The shockwave sent the group down into the snow and ice with a massive thud. A moment later, a rumble could be heard as the exit they had just emerged from collapsed behind them. As they gathered themselves and looked up, they could see a number of armored figures surrounding the exit.
Ronovi picked herself up, leaving Solus unceremoniously half buried in the sleet, and gripped her saberstaff. “Look, boys! A party!”
Alaris quirked an eyebrow. “And by that you mean a bunch of guys trying to kill us?”
“Oh, there’s a difference?”
Naga Sadow’s Citadel
The War Behemoths had changed greatly over the millennia, yet they still remained color blind. That was what struck Xander more curious than anything. Even after he had watched the Twi’lek kill one from behind its own eyes, he was still more interested in its lack of color vision. When finally the beasts had lost the sight and smell of the Brotherhood forces, he released them. He had no idea where they went or what they would do. He didn’t care. They had failed him.
His master had failed him as well, though that he did care about. Color blind though they may have been, the Behemoths were able to spot one specific thing: the man who was responsible for Yobd Nan’s assassination was with them.
“Solus Gar is on Khar Delba.”
The Togruta who looked over at Xander during his meditation widened his eyes. Every member of the One Sith had learned that name. The One Sith’s spies within the Dark Jedi Brotherhood hadn’t been able to report much on House Plagueis given their apparent destruction in the most recent Battle of Jusadih, but a few names, and faces, were well known.
“Reith sent his second-in-command to the planet with only a handful of Dark Jedi around him?”
“You underestimate Plagueis, Fuuka. Something Master Nan did as well.” Xander stood from his cross-legged position in Naga Sadow’s meditation circle and approached a side table. He picked up a glass of water and begin to sip from it.
“What do we do next, my lord?” demanded Ashasti.
A look of amusement crossed Xander’s face. “What would you do next?”
“Melt them from space.”
Xander Drax actually laughed at that response. “Yes, that would be ideal for any other force attacking the wrong citadel, but this is something different. This is an opportunity to exact a brutal and just revenge.”
“Melting them from space isn’t enough?”
“Hardly. We can kill two birds with one stone. We can capture these petty children for the purposes of personal fun and keep the Brotherhood engaged on Khar Delba long enough so that Korriban has more time to build up their defenses.” He took another sip of water. “We’re going to lose Khar Delba, of that I have no doubt, but the longer they’re here, the longer it takes them to get to Darth Krayt.”
“So what do you have in mind instead, my lord?”
Xander set down the glass and proceeded to leave the chamber, his aide in tow. “We have something special planned for them.”
Realization hit the Togruta. “You knew he was coming.”
“House Plagueis is one of the most powerful Houses in their Brotherhood at the moment, especially after their success on Nfolgai. They would want to continue this dominance. In his arrogance, Solus Gar charged into the next campaign like a Jawa jumps into a junk pile.” He stopped to look at Ashasti. “Of course I knew. I didn’t expect him to come without the same type of military forces he attacked Yobd Nan with, so we’ll have to adjust the plan slightly, but not too much.”
He returned to his march toward the Citadel’s command center.
“Are you going to fill me in on this plan of yours, my lord?”
“Not yet, Fuuka. I want to see if you can figure it out before it happens. Think of it as part of your training. History is about to be made, and you’re a part of it. Not an equal part, of course, but an important part nonetheless.”
The Plagueians were completely boxed in. There was no retreat behind them, and the forces they now confronted were far too massive to confidently take on with the guarantee of success. The troopers, heavily armed with too many to count, left no room for interpretation in their actions. The vehicles, laden with weaponry that glistened with ice and sleet, loomed behind the soldiers. Shuttles, clearly the things that brought the enemies here, hovered above their heads, the vicious buzzing of their engines radiating against the rise of stone and snow.
Pointing their assortment of blasters at the Dark Jedi, the troopers finally spoke, "Surrender!"
"Yes, we will accept your surrender!" Teylas shouted. "Just put those blaster rifles down before you hurt yourselves!"
Ronovi, as much as she appeared formidable, gave the Anzat the equivalent of a “Are you out of your mind?” stare. There was no reaction from the enemy, many of them faceless. Their rifles and blades did the talking for them.
Alaris turned his head to speak to the rest of the group. "Shall we try?"
"Do we have any other choice?" Arden questioned, although everyone knew the answer before the words even left his lips.
There was no other choice but to charge. Teylas knew that, and the others seemed to as well, given their facial expressions. He also knew that, at this rate, survival wasn’t exactly an option. Which also meant that the loss of Solus would no longer be their problem. Bringing their sabers upward, the Dark Jedi of Plagueis threw themselves forward, charging at full velocity toward the enemy, anticipating the torrent of aggression aimed directly at them. As they ran into the massed fire, it seemed to Teylas as if time slowed down. His blade seemed to move in slow motion, interposing itself between blaster bolts and their targets. He was beginning to let himself feel like they might have stood a chance.
And then the blaster cannons mounted upon one of the vehicles joined the deluge.
Their first blast ripped through the frozen ground, just as the first steps forward were taken. Teylas and Ronovi narrowly avoided the shot, but Alaris was not so lucky. As ice and slush sprayed upward in spirals, the Twi’lek was lifted into the air by the impact, his feet kicking outward as he futilely attempted to land steadily. He crashed unceremoniously down, his right arm taking the brunt of the fall, the crackling of bone only muffled by the frost beneath.
Arden was equally as unfortunate. Teylas noticed how the Knight admirably leapt over the streaks of burnt snow, still smoldering from the cannon fire, but that was before he was assaulted by an onslaught of smaller barrages of bolts. A menacing cluster of soldiers had taken sharp aim at the approaching Human, and Arden initially appeared to do well, swooping his saber outward and catching several showers of shots against the blade. One keen bolt, however, bit deeply into his saber arm, severing the sinews beneath the flesh. Arden dropped his weapon and his guard, still stumbling forward, just as another trooper’s shot ripped into his thigh. The Knight dropped as his leg collapsed under his weight, and he pitched forward onto his face, motionless as the swarm of enemies overtook him.
It was now only Teylas and Ronovi. The Anzat attempted to push further despite witnessing two of his housemates succumb to the ambush, and it was then that he noticed a Togruta who greatly contrasted with the color and armory of the troopers, walking steadily forward with red light bathing his face. Clearly a servant of the One Sith.
Teylas barely caught a glance of Ronovi as she waded through the enemy ranks, her saberstaff spinning deftly in her hands as she severed torsos from pelvises and sent slews of blaster fire back toward the enemy. However, as she delved further into the mob of soldiers, she became less and less distinct in the Anzat’s line of vision. Even as the blades of her saber whirled viciously around her in an effort to cut down her opponents, there were too many of them surrounding her, and purposely. The sheer weight and mass of bodies would overwhelm her, and Teylas watched Ronovi disappear into the pile, not even the blazing light of her weapon serving to illuminate her position.
Now, it was only him, and his sights were set firmly on the Togruta. If he had to die, he could at least die after gleefully slaughtering an allegiant of the One Sith. He swung his saber upward, crimson clashing with crimson, as he took no notice of his surroundings. There was no point in fretting over the soldiers or the vehicles or the shuttles - Teylas now had to remain strictly to a single objective. However, not even he, with all his vigor and perseverance, could accomplish it.
The Togruta, a small smile slipping off the corners of his lips, proved to be far stronger than Teylas was. The Sith skillfully blocked each swing and parried each lunge or jab that the Anzat directed toward him. Teylas could feel his energy sliding away from him, exhaustion setting in far too soon for his liking. In a lightning fast motion, his opponent’s saber swept forward, knocking the Plagueian’s own weapon out of line. With no time to react, Teylas caught barely a glimpse of the Togruta’s backswing before his enemy’s saber hilt slammed into his temple.
He careened backward awkwardly, striking the back of his head sharply against the ice. As his last vestiges of awareness drifted away, he watched as the Togruta, saber at the ready, marched purposely toward the place where his master’s inert form lay.
Ronovi's consciousness swam back to awareness slowly, like a diver from a great depth. Her first sensation was something cold, like stone, pressing against her cheek. She seemed to be lying facedown on a hard surface, but she was not bound or restrained. Realizing that the first few seconds after she opened her eyes might present her best, or perhaps only, chance at escape, she kept them shut. She didn't even risk pushing out with her Force senses, knowing that at least some of her captors would themselves be able to feel it. She twitched her muscles without moving, finding everything to be in working order. There were a few sore spots here and there, some remembered from her fight with the enemy, others obviously sustained while she had been unconscious.
She was still a bit hazy, likely from being drugged, but she strained to listen in order to hear if any of her captors were near. Not hearing anything, she figured she would be able to at least get a head start on anyone. While she didn't have a weapon and had been stripped of her armored chestplate, she knew that there wasn't time to stop to look for either of them while she was running for her life.
Of course the weak part of this plan, she thought to herself, is the high likelihood that I'll be spotted before I can get free of wherever it is they're holding me. If I'm spotted...no, scratch that. When I'm spotted, I'll have to kill whoever it is quickly and quietly...
Finally, she decided the time had come. Each moment she waited would just bring her closer to the time when a guard might come along to check on her. Gathering herself, she prepared to spring forward. Ronovi opened her eyes.
"Good to see you're awake," Alaris said as he stood over her. "I wondered how much longer you were going to play unconscious."
Ronovi scowled at the Twi'lek as she sat up, her head still swimming. "I take it since you seem to have nothing better to do than watch me sleep, you've not already discovered some fiendish means of escape?"
"Not as such, no," Alaris replied, helping her to her feet. "Seems the place is fairly secure."
Ronovi looked around, taking in her surroundings for the first time. The cell they shared seemed to be finished in dark stone, the only doorway barred by a heavy metal gate. At the opposite end of the space, there was a small window, itself barred by a metal grate. The place looked ancient, showing many of the features she had learned to recognize while studying ancient Sith tomes while overseeing the Shadow Academy.
Teylas was standing over Arden, both of them alive and awake, but obviously using their Force skills to attempt to heal some of the wounds the latter had received. Other than that, they were alone. Which begged one question.
"Where's Solus?" the Epicanthix demanded.
"Not sure. Wherever he is, he was brought there before the rest of us regained consciousness," Alaris responded. "If he even was taken with us. The last thing Teylas saw was an enemy stalking toward him with his weapon drawn."
Ronovi pushed the image out of her mind, as the first priority was be escape. "Then we'll have to get out of here and make our way to the rendezvous point. If we find him on the way out, so be it. If not, we'll retrieve him when we come back to burn out this nest of snakes."
"Getting to the rendezvous point from here might be a little tricky," Alaris informed her, pointing towards the window.
Unsure of what he meant, Ronovi crossed the room to look out onto the structure's surroundings. She could see that the building they were in was a small one that faced a much larger edifice. It was connected to the main structure by a stone bridge, both buildings rising between stone canyon walls. It hit her like a light suddenly flaring to life - she knew the structure. Naga Sadow's citadel, the one they had been sent to scout in the first place.
"Well, I'll be a bald Wookiee," Ronovi whispered. "We're on Khar Shian."
Alaris moved to stand beside her. "And it seems that the One Sith are as well."
* * *
Solus was brought violently back to consciousness as a gloved fist backhanded him across the face. As his eyes snapped open, he found himself gazing at a grinning Togruta.
"Fuuka, leave us," called the voice of an older man standing at the far side of the room.
The Togruta nodded his assent and walked past Solus. The Aedile tried to follow his movements, but he found that he was bound to the chair on which he sat. The last thing he remembered was that he had been piloting the shuttle. Obviously, much had happened in the intervening time.
"You're right, Gar," the old man spoke, seeming to pluck the thoughts from his head. "You've been through more than your fair share to get here. But I healed you, at least enough for you to join us."
Solus struggled to form words, his mouth and lips dry. "Why?" he rasped.
The grey haired man took several steps forward, grasping Solus's jaw in his left hand and forcing his face upward. This close, even with his head swimming, Solus could feel the anger burning from within his captor.
"Because I wanted you to know that it would be Xander Drax alone who would break you," he growled quietly.
Drax released Solus from his grip, but as he did, bolts of purple lightning sprang from his right hand. As pain quite unlike anything Solus had before experienced raced through his body, all he could do was scream.
The former Commodore of the Star Destroyer Colossus rhythmically tapped the butt of his 22T4 holdout blaster waiting for Solus Gar to return to consciousness. Fifteen years of military experience under the Empire and Emperor's Hammer had taught the man the virtue of patience and calculation. He could use the Force to summon Gar back to reality, but that would do nothing more than hasten the mans demise. Xander Drax had time and interrogations were nothing but the application of stress over time.
The Empire had taught Xander Drax many things, but the simple application of torture was perhaps the most useful. The Force, technology, and age old techniques combined to the predictable results of breaking the will of sentient creatures.
Twenty minutes after Solus had embraced the sweet release of darkness, his head swayed, and his lungs gasped for air.
"Welcome back to the living Mr. Gar, shall we resume?"
It wasn’t like Solus could say no to Xander Drax’s question. He didn’t have the strength to. The purple bolts coiled around his body, like the swaying stingers of scorpions, and cut deeply into his flesh. As he shook from the aggressive jolts of electricity, the sound that burst from his mouth sounded more animalistic than human. His head violently snapped back, allowing a spurt of blood to spray from his mouth and color the air with a fine red mist.
From the corners of his blurred vision, he thought he saw his enemy smile. His Force abilities compromised, Solus could barely sense anything but the fury bubbling from behind the man’s face. He could not read him properly, but if the presence of such powerful Force lightning told him anything in his anguish, it was that Drax was clearly the superior Dark Jedi.
“Now,” he heard Drax coo, “let’s answer some questions, shall we?”
Solus kept his jaw clenched. Of course, that wasn’t enough. In a fragment of a second, his head felt strangely hollow, like hands were scooping the gray matter out of his skull and examining it. It was only when Drax laughed that he realized that his mind had been scoured. He slumped forward, head against his chest, the blood streaking his chin before it dripped down onto his lap.
“Ah. So you had a little help when you killed Master Nan, didn’t you? Oh, and such emotional investment in her. You make it far too easy, Gar.”
Then, Solus heard a sharp whistle blustering from between the Sith Lord’s teeth. His eyes were averted to the ground, but the harsh cascading of footsteps signified the arrival of Drax’s cronies.
“Bring me the woman.”
The Aedile’s eyes widened.
“Son of a - ”
Ronovi had had enough of being thrown to the floor, and without her chestplate, her sternum cracked loudly against the stone and sent ripples of pain across her ribcage. She pushed herself up onto one knee, clutching the front of her tunic, only to gaze upon the skeletal face of an older man as the guards who had dragged her here backed into the shadows of the cramped space.
“Oh. good,” she scowled. “I didn’t think I’d have the chance to kill another one of you.”
No sooner had she spoken that she noticed her ally. His body was entirely contorted against his bindings, and red sticky ribbons dangled from his lower lip. His eyes were squarely on her, a warning fading from his pupils.
“Wait,” she uttered.
The newest eruption of Force lightning from the aged Sith knocked Ronovi onto her back and flattened her against the floor, a mangled roar tearing across her tongue as she convulsed. She had suffered from her fair share of electrocutions, but this was by far the worst. It was as if her organs were being fried as she struggled to break free of the current. Although she gritted her teeth to keep herself from screaming again, the pain still flooded her face in the form of tears, salt, and blood from every available orifice.
“You see, Gar,” she could clearly hear, as if the voice of the One Sith’s allegiant was echoing in the curves of her mind. “Darth Krayt’s teachings have served me far better than those of the foolish Brotherhood. Your precious friend feels ten times the usual agony when I put a little spin on my tricks. It’s quite enjoyable, especially after what the two of you did to my master.”
“Bastard,” she then heard Solus splutter.
The torment did not stop there, and Ronovi’s entire body seized, plumes of purple-tinged smoke rising from her twisted frame. Blood-clotted mucus oozed from both nostrils, while she tasted rust against her molars as the crimson lurched out of the corner of her mouth. She tried to say something, anything, and the words shot into the air as if being propelled by the lightning itself.
“When you’re done, I’m going to k - ”
But her voice faltered, and the energy dissipated from her before she could finish her sentence. The Sith Lord yanked his hands back, allowing the last threads of electricity to adequately zap the Epicanthix’s squirming body, and waited for her shaking to subside. Smoke still wafted from her chest and abdomen, partnered with the sickly smell of singed hair. She let her amber eye roll upward, the ceiling above her wobbling in her disoriented vision.
Pain was only the secondary sensation that Ronovi felt. The primary one was a strong urge to slam her enemies’ faces repeatedly into the nearest wall until their craniums split in half. Simultaneously, she could feel a slight palpitation of anxiety emanating from her similarly suffering comrade. She knew that, despite his darker ways, Solus could not tolerate seeing the enemy attack her like this. It was obviously one of the reasons why the enemy was even doing it, and that just made the violent urges in Ronovi’s head even stronger.
A shadow swept over the crumpled Primarch, and soon she was looking up into the sneering visage of the Sith Lord. His receding silver hairline shone in the sparse light. Ronovi could see the silhouette of a blaster on one hip and the sleek hilt of a saberstaff on the other.
“Do you know who I am?” the man asked.
Ronovi coughed loudly, sticky globs of coagulated blood flying out. “The next target on my hit list?” she managed to wheeze.
“You will remember me,” replied the man, “as Xander Drax. Yobd Nan’s avenger.”
To add insult to injury, quite literally, he shot one last bolt of lightning directly into the Epicanthix’s chest. She suppressed her scream, rolled her head back, and let the pain take its course.
It had been two hours since Ronovi had been carried away, kicking and snarling. She may have been powerful, but five to six guards had come for her. Alaris had pressed himself against the gate and watched her being dragged off, her arms pinned to her sides by the mass of grunts.
The other three had been provided food and water. Though the durasteel trays still sat by the door, Alaris had warned the others of eating or drinking anything provided, lest they be drugged again. It wouldn’t have been the first time that Alaris made that mistake, and while he would have gladly allowed Arden and Teylas to learn that same lesson the hard way, he preferred three able-minded Dark Jedi over one. More training would have to wait until a later date.
His stomach grumbled, and Alaris covered it up with a guttural grunt, attempting to show annoyance at his current situation. He would have to stop his urge to eat. As far as he knew, Solus Gar and Ronovi Tavisaen were dead. That left him to lead this alone.
“Arden. Eat and drink this. All of it.”
The Knight cocked his head slightly. “You said it was probably drugged.”
“And I maintain that, but they’re not going to open that gate unless they think we’ve eaten it,” Alaris replied, not preferring to explain the obvious. “So, you’ll eat the food while Teylas and I will feign having eaten it. Then, when they open the gate, we’ll spring on them. Then Teylas can really eat - not the food on the tray, mind you. We’ll retrieve our weapons and come back for you.”
Arden shook his head. “You expect me to drug myself and leave myself to their mercy? Give me one very specific reason why I should trust you, Alaris.”
Alaris smiled as he picked up a food-laden tray. “You shouldn’t, but you’re going to do what I tell you, anyway. If you hadn’t fought with me about Solus in the first place, we wouldn’t be here. It’s time for you to listen.”
Sighing, Arden reached down and grabbed the duraplast cup. But before any of the water could pass over his tongue, he froze. “Somebody’s coming.”
Alaris and Teylas both turned to the gate. They maintained perfect silence. They could hear a soft sliding sound as if something, or someone, were being dragged along the stone floor. Alaris gestured to the Knights to make their way to either side of the gate and press against the walls. The Twi’lek put himself into position to spring in case whatever was making the noise decided to open the cell.
The sound continued to grow gradually louder until eventually it stopped just outside the gate. The Primarch narrowed his gaze and coiled his legs. He wasn’t particularly strong, but with the element of surprise, the two Knights would be able to take care of that part of the undefined plan. Then he saw two guards carrying Ronovi.
But she didn’t look like the invigorated, powerful Ronovi he had always known. There was no glint in her eye, no sneer on her lips. In fact, she was slumped against the guards’ frames, boots loudly scraping the floor as her feet dragged lifelessly beneath her, both arms draped limply across the men’s shoulders. Alaris’s eyes bulged. The only possible explanation was that she had been beaten, or tortured, almost to death. His fists clenched, and he bared his teeth. Now another useful ally was rendered useless.
The gate swung open. The guards made ready to toss the Epicanthix into the cell. However, something changed. Ronovi’s eye snapped open, the amber burning in her iris. In an inconceivably swift motion, she tightened her arms against the soldiers’ necks, shoved their faces toward one another, and cracked their heads together. The splintering of bone accompanied the dull thuds that the guards’ bodies made as they hit the floor. Alaris did not move from his position, but he watched it all with surprise and a little intrigue.
Ronovi straightened herself out, tall and brazen, albeit blood-stained, in the doorway. She spotted Alaris, crouched as if in a sprinter’s box. She arched one eyebrow and smirked, although the effects of whatever she had gone through clearly was taking a toll on her temper.
“So,” she crooned, “what’s the plan so I can get my chestplate and saber back?”
Alaris couldn’t help a small smile. He stood up and gestured once again to the two Knights. “Grab their weapons.”
Arden and Teylas stooped over the guards to retrieve the firearms, slinging rifles over their shoulders.
"What about you two?" Arden asked as he turned back to face the others.
"We have the Force," scoffed Ronovi, giving the two Knights an incredulous look.
“Let’s not squander this moment," Alaris said. "We’re getting off this rock.”
“Not yet,” Ronovi retorted unexpectedly. “Solus is still alive.”
Alaris swore loudly. “Not you, too.”
“If we want to leave this place, we need to get rid of the guy who’s running it,” spat Ronovi. “He tortured me, and he’s breaking Solus. He’s damn powerful, Alaris - so we get him, we fetch Solus, we seize the citadel. Mission accomplished.”
Alaris snorted. He was not in the mood for this, but Ronovi did have a point. His lekku twitched as he shrugged. “So what do you propose? And quickly, before any other guards scurry over.”
Sneering, Ronovi turned to look at Arden and Teylas. “You boys want to fetch Solus for us?”
Arden furrowed his brow. “But - ”
“Alaris and I need to find a way to call in the cavalry,” interrupted the Epicanthix. “Possibly screw with the One Sith. I’m giving you the opportunity to be a hero for your former master.”
“Our weapons?” Teylas reminded her.
“Yes, well, one step at a time, boys,” snapped Ronovi.
Casting Teylas a sidelong glance, Arden started trudging down the corridor in the general direction that Ronovi had indicated Solus was being held. Finding him in a place like this was still going to be a challenge. The ancient structure had been built, leveled, rebuilt, and modified a number of times over the centuries, which made its layout difficult to discern. The Force would help, of course, but they would still have to be cautious.
The other concern, of course, was who they’d run into. Stealth only allowed a certain level of comfort in their movements, and as the passage began to intersect with other corridors, Arden and Teylas shuffled along slowly but steadily, their firearms at the ready.
Noise outside their path was muffled, distant echoes signifying movement above their heads. Arden took the lead then, pushing himself toward the corner, and stopped. He could sense something palpable, but it felt rather far away, so he nodded to Teylas and swooped around the corner, only to have the muzzle of his weapon slam into the chest of an armored trooper.
“Kriff! The prisoners have escaped! Get them! Get them now!”
Without a second thought, Arden discharged his weapon at such close range that the shot blasted a crater the size of a human head into the trooper’s chest. Hearing the sound of two lightsabers activating, he cursed at the sight of three more soldiers and one Dark Jedi, sharp-browed and glowering, as Teylas dove to the floor beside him, firing haphazardly upward as a violent torrent of blaster fire scorched the air right where the Anzat’s body had been. While stray bolts merely burned dark furrows into the walls, one lucky shot slipped into the narrow space between one trooper’s helmet and breastplate, the flesh sizzling as he toppled onto his side, gurgling.
As he did so, Arden closed the distance between him and the second lead trooper so rapidly that he could not get his blaster up in time. Startled by the Sith’s speed, the trooper instinctively reached out and grabbed Arden, attempting to wrench his rifle from his grip. As they struggled for a moment, the One Sith apprentice advanced on the fallen Teylas, a look of growing frustration in his eyes as he he tried to push through the narrow corridor. He raised his lightsaber in a moment of rage and slashed effortlessly through the torso of one of the obstructing troopers, pushing through the narrow space that had been vacated as he slumped to the stone.
Teylas, noting the apprentice, pushed himself backwards along the floor and devised one last ditch gambit. Reaching out with the Force, he ripped the trooper that Arden was wrestling with back towards him just at the moment that the apprentice was slashing down with his blade. Instead of slicing through Teylas, the plasma burned through the trooper instead. While effective, the ploy only delayed the One Sith a moment as he continued to advance on Teylas. As he raised his saber for another attempt at the killing slice, a blaster bolt erupted through his ribcage, splattering innards onto the ceiling and walls.
The Anzat looked at Arden for a moment, noticing the smoke issuing from his ally’s rifle, and then pulled himself up. Looking down at the apprentice, Teylas shook his head in disgust.
“He really thought he could take us, didn’t he?”
“Apparently so.” Arden answered. “But we did get fairly lucky. There were five of them, after all, and he was about to slice you in half.”
Teylas nodded as he pulled the defeated apprentice’s lightsabers into his hands with the Force. “Well, at least they died quickly. Probably didn’t have a chance to raise the alarm. We also have real weapons now. Nothing so clumsy or random as a blaster rifle.”
Arden quirked an eyebrow at Teylas, who was offering one of the sabers to Arden. Although he accepted the weapon, he was still a bit dismissive of it.
“He was pretty clumsy and random with this, wasn’t he?” Arden replied, gesturing to the downed One Sith.
Teylas simply glared at Arden as he looked down the hall to make sure there weren't any more guards coming. As Arden clipped the saber to his belt, Teylas glanced in the direction they’d been heading.
“So what now? Storm into the room, shoot a bunch of guys, save Solus and get the hell off this rock?”
Arden narrowed his eyes as he stared at Teylas. “Sure, if you want to get off this rock looking like one of the target dummies back on Morroth. Perhaps you recall the fact they captured us using the sheer weight of their numbers? I personally have no desire to end up back in that cell. Or, you know, dead.”
“So, what’s your gloriously clever plan, oh great master of strategy?” Teylas deadpanned.
Arden didn’t react to Teylas’ verbal jab. “Clearly, we need intelligence on how the enemy operates and, more importantly, some general idea on where we might find Solus. Randomly kicking down doors will get us nowhere, especially if we kick down the wrong one. Looking around a bit will make our task much easier.”
“And take much longer, time the enemy can use to find us and kill us,” Teylas eagerly pointed out.
Arden tilted his head a bit to the right. “Fair point. Still, charging in blindly will certainly get us dead.”
The two of them stared at each other wordlessly for a few seconds, tension sparking through the air. When neither of them would relent, Arden straightened up and exhaled.
“Arguing about this further is pointless. We’re doing this my way.”
Teylas shot a look back at Arden. “And why do you get to make the decision?”
“Because I have my own heavy cruiser and you don’t. Now let’s get to it, shall we?”
Xander Drax sat at a desk that faced his prisoner, the bearded Sith warrior once again having escaped into unconsciousness. Drax studied him over steepled fingers, awaiting his awakening. He was a patient man, but even his patience had limits. It wasn't that Gar was weaker than others he had worked on; it was just that any interruption of his work aggravated his nerves.
"My lord," Ashasti called from where he waited. "There is a signal coming in for you."
"Speaking of aggravating interruptions," Drax muttered under his breath.
"My lord?" the Togruta inquired.
"Nothing," Drax said. "Take a message. You know I left strict instructions to allow no disturbances."
"Indeed, my lord. But it is Darth Wyyrlok," Ashasti continued.
Drax heaved an exasperated sigh. The red, tattooed Chagrian was fast becoming the sort of nuisance that the leaders of the Brotherhood had once been to him. The man seemed far too enamoured with the sound of his own voice.
"I will take it in the command center, then," the Sith Lord said, standing and moving towards the door.
"And him?" Ashasti asked, indicating Solus.
"You will guard him until my return," Drax ordered.
The walk from his makeshift torture chamber to the command center gave Drax a few minutes to compose his thoughts. While he had no overwhelming respect for the man, it would probably not be wise to enter Wyyrlok's presence, even a holographic one, with annoyance painted across his features. Upon entering, he saw Wyyrlok's holo image already displayed. Wyyrlok's features, the severed horn and the scar extending down from the stump to cross his face especially pronounced, seemed to mirror Drax's unseen annoyance.
"My lord," Drax greeted his superior with a bow, careful to keep any hint of condescension from his voice.
Never one to dance around the issue, Wyyrlok offered no preamble. "My sources tell me that the Brotherhood marches across Khar Delba almost untouched. Have you forgotten your mission there, or did you simply lose sight of it?"
The question was nearly a slap in the face, a thinly veiled accusation of incompetence. Drax took a moment before answering, not wanting to respond in kind.
"Never, my lord. It was always my goal to allow them to make their landings. Trying to contest the landing zones would have been futile, as I had neither the men nor armor to do so," he explained. "I know where they are going, and I have set up fortifications and strong points to harass them."
"And yet you do not confront them directly," Wyyrlok fumed.
"Of course not," Drax responded, his tone beginning to show the irritation he felt. "My instructions were to slow them down as much as possible, not to foolishly expend my resources against them. Having them bogged down on the ice of Khar Delba serves that goal far better than a pitched battle would."
Wyyrlok crossed his arms. "My sources also tell me that you have allowed yourself to be distracted by a personal matter, revenge against those who killed your master."
Drax's eyes narrowed momentarily as he looked around at those who crewed the command center. Any one of them could have been Wyyrlok's source It could even have been Ashasti. In fact, it was most likely Ashasti, trying to curry favor at his master's expense. Perhaps trying to step into his master's role. It was, after all, the Sith way. Ashasti's ambitions would be dealt with soon enough, but first, Drax needed to allay Wyyrlok's concerns. He schooled his features to display a placidity that he did not feel.
"I have been using my resources as I saw fit," he said. "The team I have captured is made up of highly placed Brotherhood members. I believe the Tavisaen woman could even be a useful tool for us."
Wyyrlok stopped for a moment as his face betrayed curiosity, giving Drax an opening to continue.
"There is a great anger, a burning rage in her," he went on. "I sense much of the same bitterness in her that I myself felt when I made my break with Antei. She has great power, power that could be bent to Darth Krayt's will. Given the access to the Brotherhood's secrets she was afforded by her former position as their Headmaster..."
"Stop," Wyyrlok cut him off, holding up a hand. "Your gut feelings are not enough to endanger the entire mission with this distraction. We know she is a skifter in the deck, an unknown quantity. Better to simply kill her when you rip what you need from her and be done with it."
"Yes, my lord," Drax said, crestfallen.
"Besides," Wyyrlok continued, "We have no need for more of the Brotherhood's cast offs. You have been enough trouble."
Drax's head snapped around, anger in his eyes.
"I am Darth Krayt's Voice. My words are his," Wyyrlok growled, meeting Drax's fury head on. "Therefore, you will follow my orders, Lord Drax. Return your focus to your assigned task, or I will find another who can obey me to serve as your replacement."
The emphasis that his superior had placed on the final word had not been lost on Drax. He could comply, or the Chagrian would have him killed. He had no respect for the man, but Drax knew that Wyyrlok's power was such that the inferior Sith Lord could not stand against him. At least not yet. With what he had taken from Gar, the balance of power could shift. For now, however, he would have to go along.
"As you command, my lord," Drax answered. For now, he would direct his attention to the battle on Khar Delba. Once that was over, however, he would return to Solus Gar to finish what he had started. He would also continue to work with Tavisaen, given Ashasti's ambitions. Perhaps she could serve him as a suitable substitute apprentice.
The two Sith wandered the corridors of the complex searching for a clue of where their former master might be. The location and retrieval of Solus was paramount to their escape, but even a glimmer of where the two of them actually were within the complex would be just as helpful. But they were doing it Arden's way, the stealthier way, and it was taking time. As they moved swiftly and silently throughout the complex, avoiding further detection, Teylas wondered if they would even be able to find Solus in time.
"Hey!" Teylas whispered, perhaps a little louder than he anticipated, as they crossed a side corridor and spotted a closed off room. "Looks important. Let’s go crazy.”
"Looks like it could be some sort of security center," Arden responded with far less sarcasm. "Could give some sense of direction, at the very least.”
As the two men approached with caution, they both examined the locked door.
"Yeah, I can definitely sense life on the other side,” mused Teylas.
“All right, then, here’s the deal,” whispered Arden. “We have to gain access to this room, but we can’t do it loudly or carelessly. So show me how it should be done, Ramar.”
"With pleasure," Teylas sneered as he withdrew his lightsaber. He activated it and burrowed it deeply into the control panel, disabling the lock holding the door in place. Teylas pushed it to the side with his foot, opening the room to the two unforgiving Sith.
“Ramar,” Arden groaned, still not quite resigning himself to the Anzat’s brash behavior. “I said we can’t do it loudly or carelessly.”
“Oh, shush,” taunted Teylas. “I know how to get the job done. You can be my clean-up guy.”
Without any other hot words exchanged, the two men began their work. The room, which was very clearly some sort of security office once Teylas got a good look, seemed to be staffed only by technicians. But these were technicians who could very easily alert the actual security forces to the intrusion, so no chances could be taken. The two leapt into the room with extreme prejudice, slicing through the helpless techs as they tried to flee. One, who attempted to activate an alert panel, was quickly cut down by Arden with a fierce swipe of his saber, much to the chagrin of Teylas, who couldn't reach him soon enough.
Teylas took a deep breath, looking around. Pleased with their results, he looked at Arden with a smirk. "So, how does that work for you?"
Arden refused to respond, but Teylas knew that he couldn't argue with the results of their efforts. As Arden moved to manually pull the door closed, the other Sith approached one of the lighted consoles.
"Looks like a diagram of the facility," he mentioned as Arden returned to his side.
"Good. Any idea where we might find Solus?" Arden asked.
"I'm not sure what these readouts are. I don't think I've ever seen one like this.”
"Could it possibly be encrypted?"
"An encrypted layout map? I don't know how much purpose that would serve, but I guess this Drax guy is a little bit paranoid about this citadel. So, yeah, it’s possible.”
Teylas swiped his hand over the control panel, keying in different inputs. As he stared over the screen for a few moments, something clicked, and his fingers flew across the panel. He could sense the disbelief in Arden that he would be able to figure it out, but being around computer systems was definitely nothing new to the Anzat. As reluctant as Teylas was to admit it, Arden had already saved his life once that day, and he needed a way to repay that debt. Not to mention a certain Togruta that he was certainly foaming at the mouth to get a strangle hold of.
"There!" he exclaimed as he finished. "Looks like he's just right over here.”
He pointed to a fairly large room, which was blinking on the display. It was only a few dozen meters from their current position. Arden eyed it cautiously.
“How much time do you think it’d take for us to get there?”
"Eh, only a few minutes,” grunted Teylas. “But it definitely looks like there are other life forms in the room with him, so we'll need to be our typically charming selves. Just give them your best smile."
Arden, still unamused at Teylas, simply nodded as the two turned and stepped over the dead carcasses they had just amassed. The Human sighed and pushed the broken door aside with some effort. As it fully opened, Teylas looked up to see a trooper standing there. Without taking seemingly any time to react, Arden pulled out his lightsaber, activating it and driving it straight into the chest of the grunt in seemingly one single motion.
"Lucky," Teylas scoffed as the two resumed their journey through the complex, finally with some direction and a focused purpose.
Retrieving new lightsabers was simple enough for the Primarchs. A small group of apprentices, eager to prove their worth, had come barrelling through the hallway trying to stop the escaped prisoners. Alaris and Ronovi heard them coming and shared skeptical, and annoyed, looks. They didn’t bother hiding. They were two of the most powerful Dark Jedi in Plagueis, and certainly the most powerful who actually did anything day-to-day for their House.
The four barely clad youngsters spun around the corner ahead of them and came to a complete stop. Alaris let out a laugh and was immediately joined by Ronovi. The group of attackers looked absurd standing before the two Primarchs, like holo-comedy characters come to life in front of their eyes. The three humans and their Twi’lek friend looked at each other in confusion. Then, in unison, which prompted another laugh from the two Obelisk, they ignited their crimson lightsabers and charged.
Alaris and Ronovi shot their hands forward, their fingers curved to slightly resemble claws, and a massive wave of Dark Side energy burst forth from them and slammed against the four younglings, launching them backward. One of the humans flew head first into a durasteel crate, the corner of which breached his skull with a horrifying, yet incredibly satisfying, crunch. He fell limp.
The other three fared a little better in that they were still alive. Neither Primarch was willing to wait for them to reach their feet. They ran into the fray, empty handed. Alaris approached his target first - the older looking human male who had landed hard on his back and was struggling to catch his breath. Alaris slid in next to him and wrapped his arm around the human’s neck. With a burst of Dark Side energy, Alaris squeezed and, given by the desperate gasps, heard the man’s neck snap.
Ronovi jumped and landed solidly on the Sith Twi’lek’s head, splintering his skull beneath her boot. The added squish of brain matter satisfied her. Ronovi dropped onto the body of the last remaining Sith, a young female human. She struggled to escape, but the former Headmaster’s strength kept her in check. Alaris stood above her head and looked down.
“We need a communication center,” He made it very clear that this wasn’t a request.
The Human was all too eager to give up that information, a desperate attempt to keep her life from ending then and there. “Down the hallway we came from. We were guarding it.”
Ronovi let a sinister grin encompass her face. “Thank you.”
Alaris crouched down and launched his sharp fingernails into the young woman’s throat. She gasped and her eyes widened. The Twi’lek pushed further into her neck, trying to get his fingers inside. He finally had enough to grab her trachea and then pulled with all his strength. It didn’t come free of her throat, but it broke open. The two Obelisk watched as the girl struggled for breath and then finally succumbed to her inevitable demise.
When she was dead, they stood and retrieved a lightsaber each. Alaris cut off the right hand of the older human and picked it up with his left. Ronovi cocked an eyebrow.
“In case it’s needed to access the comm controls,” Alaris clarified.
Ronovi shrugged, stepped over the bodies, and proceeded along the path to where the girl had claimed the comm center was, Alaris in tow. They found it without any difficult and quickly dispatched the three officers and a maintenance worker who were within the room with blinding speed.
Ronovi stood watch while Alaris went to work. It took a few moments, but Alaris was able to access comm controls without needing to use the severed hand. He sighed and threw the hand over his shoulder. It landed behind him with a soggy thump. He punched away at the computer.
“There are a series of satellites around Khar Delba that act as a communication array. I should be able to get a quick message off to the Predominant before there’s any communications jamming.”
Ronovi spun her head around. “Less talk. More do.”
Alaris didn’t look up as he continued pounding away on the control panel. He glanced at the flat display panel showing the orbits of the satellites. He was surprised that communications hadn’t been jammed out already. He typed away and eventually hit the big blue send button in the bottom right hand corner.
“Done. The cavalry should be jumping to hyperspace shortly.”
Ronovi sighed loudly. “Now can we get my armor back?”
Arden and Teylas were slowly making their way to where Solus was being held, creeping around every corner. Teylas knew that it was imperative that they got there undetected, although he wouldn't admit to his partner that the tactic was preferred this time. Both men had their stolen lightsaber hilts in their hands, ready at any moment to strike if needed.
Finally, they reached their destination, which greeted them with a large blast-style door. Looking over at a side console, Teylas noticed that the door wasn't sealed, which would allow them quick entry if needed.
As the two approached the door, Arden commented, "Solus is definitely in there, I can sense it. But he seems...weak."
"We should hurry, then," Teylas began, before closing his eyes as he was overwhelmed with a strong sense. As the Force overcame him, he knew immediately what it was.
"That Togruta is in there. The one that captured us. And he is mine!" he yelled as he slammed his hand against the control panel, forcing the door open with a large thud.
Arden sighed and Teylas could hear him mumble, "Not again..."
The two stepped into the room and were immediately met by two armed troopers, who were quickly split into halves by one quick slash from each Sith. Once refocusing themselves, the two Plagueians found themselves face to face with the unknown Togruta and their former master, Solus Gar, who was restrained. He seemed to be heavily injured from what they had been doing to him, but he had regained consciousness just in time to witness the arrival of his allies.
With a hearty chuckle, the Togruta grabbed his lightsaber, bringing it to life at his side. "I am Fuuka Ashasti, right hand of Xander Drax,” he clucked, “and you have made a grave mistake by escaping from your cell to rescue this pitiful excuse for a Sith."
Teylas, without missing a single moment to respond, offered his own quip. "Rescue? Who said anything about rescue? He may be here to rescue Solus, who is an excellent Sith, by the way.”
He pointed at Arden as he spoke. The response was a somewhat puzzled looked from the Togruta.
"Then why are you here?" he stressed.
"Isn't it obvious? To kill you," Teylas mocked Ashasti in an equally as exaggerated tone.
No sooner did the final words leave his lips did he leap, full force, into an arc through the air towards his opponent. Activating his lightsaber midair, Teylas took a quick swipe at the Togruta’s head, but he missed widely. They began to lock lightsabers, trading blows, bouncing their feet against the floor as they moved forward and back, trying to gain the upper hand. Teylas, throughout his entire training and even now, had showed an advanced aptitude in lightsaber combat. But this was probably his biggest fight up to that point, and he was out for revenge.
Throughout the battle, Teylas could see directly over Ashasti's shoulder as Arden quickly ran over to Solus. He unlocked the binders holding him down and placed his now fragile body gently onto the hard, unforgiving floor. He began to attempt to heal the worst of his wounds, seemingly improving his overall condition quickly. Before he could really get into the process, Solus stopped him by grabbing his hand. Teylas was unable to hear what was said as Arden looked over his shoulder towards the two battling Sith.
The cadence of combat quickly shifted as Arden quickly sprung into the battle, going back and forth with Ashasti and the two Plagueians. They soon found themselves dancing around the room, blades bristling and buzzing as they spat at each other. They used the furniture to their advantage; Arden hurled a chair toward Togruta, who effortlessly split it apart with a slash and still was able to fend the two Knights off. Teylas even jumped up onto Drax's desk as he continued a flurry of strikes striking against the enemy’s lightsaber.
The battle was steadily going back and forth, seemingly in a stalemate. Ashasti was still clearly more powerful than either of them, and the way he twisted his body and flung his weapon outward demonstrated a clear mastery of the saber art. His brown face gleamed with sweat and malice, his teeth bared, as he attempted to penetrate the flesh of his enemies. The flickering red of his saber was the only beacon lighting what he presumed to be his imminent victory.
It was not to last.
Teylas did not know what Arden was planning, but the Human was allowing the Togruta to approach him, backing himself into a corner of the room. The Anzat sneered the sight of Ashasti’s exposed back, the curve of his body so inviting for a lightsaber’s blistering heat. He threw himself forward as Ashasti stabbed at Arden, the Knight rolling out of the way and letting the crimson blade bury itself into the wall. Drax’s apprentice had barely yanked his saber out of the stone when Teylas’s weapon bit bit deeply into his skin, delivering a brutal cut between his clavicle and his ribcage.
His saber arm disabled, Ashasti let his weapon clatter to the ground and dropped to one knee. Teylas showed no mercy when he cut at the Togruta again, searing the flesh around his abdomen. He looked down at the gravely wounded but not yet dead Sith and grinned hungrily at him. Unfurling his probiscuses, he advanced on the helpless Ashasti.
“I’m going to enjoy your soup twice as much, after seeing what you did to my master.”
However, just as he was about to start feeding, Arden leveled his rifle at Ashasti’s head and squeezed the trigger, staining the floor with his brain matter. Teylas whipped around, his eyes blazing.
“We don’t have time for dinner. Let’s move.”
It took a few seconds for Arden to finish healing Solus, but eventually, the older Sith managed to sit up fully. Teylas looked to Arden and Solus before exhaling.
“So what now? Hopefully our forces have been alerted.”
With a bit more strength in his voice, Solus answered. “We need to link up with Alaris. See if he’s done the job.”
Puzzled that his former master had only mentioned the Twi’lek’s name, Arden looked towards Ashasti’s body, fragments of the Togruta’s cerebrum peppering the floor. “Teylas, see if he had a commlink that you didn’t slice in half.”
The Anzat nodded and began rifling through various pockets and pouches until he found the device he was looking for. He placed it to his right ear and turned it on. Whatever he was hearing was inaudible to the others, but after a moment, a sinister grin oozed onto his face.
“They’ve been told, all right,” he confirmed. “Sounds like Predominant and Terminus were right in position when the call came in and emptied their hangar bays. Assault shuttles are heading towards Landing Bays 3 and 4.”
Arden nodded. “They’re near each other. This side of the citadel, actually, according to the map we found. Two levels down and a couple hundred meters west.”
“Alaris will likely make his way there to meet the troops and make sure the landing is uninterrupted,” Solus observed as he steadily regained strength.
“Agreed, and we should join up,” Arden replied. “Master, can you walk?”
Solus promptly stood with only a bit of strain and pulled Ashasti’s lightsaber into his hand with the Force.
Arden smiled in satisfaction and gestured towards the appropriate door. “Then let’s get going.”
The trio moved into the corridor and started making their way towards the landing bays that would soon be swarming with Ascendant troops. Though the citadel was about to be invaded, the corridors in this section were surprisingly empty. It was only shortly before they reached a lift that they encountered their first resistance: A group of four troopers that they caught completely by surprise. Arden didn’t even break stride as he ripped the blaster rifle out of the hands of one of the lead troopers with the Force, caught it, and shot his companion square in the chest. Activating the lightsaber in his other hand. Arden sliced through the disarmed trooper while Solus and Teylas did the same to the other two in short order.
As they walked into the lift unopposed and Arden was about to key in the command to close the door and head to the lower level, a familiar shout could be heard from the corridor. Ronovi was definitely frustrated.
“I don’t care what you say - I am not taking the stairs and inviting more pests!”
Arden stopped as he saw Ronovi and Alaris rush their way over to the lift, slightly winded by what appeared to be a taxing run. He pressed the commands into the keypad and the lift doors hissed shut. As the car began descending, Alaris grinned at the Knight.
“I see you fetched Solus. Good work.”
Arden nodded. “And I hear you managed to raise the fleet. Good work.”
At the same time, Solus was looking at Ronovi oddly, as if he had seen a ghost. Ronovi quirked an eyebrow back at him. Arden continued unabated.
“Did you get our stuff back?”
“You mean this stuff?” Alaris asked as he reached into his robes and pulled out some very familiar looking lightsabers and pistols. Arden even noticed Ronovi’s chestplate, and that she was carrying his newly acquired Corellian laser rifle, which she promptly returned.
“Thanks. That was expensive,” Arden said as he slung the weapon across his shoulder.
When the lift reached the bottom level, the group poured out and sent another small group of troopers to meet their makers with a flash of plasma and a hail of curses from Ronovi. They made their way into the landing bay with no further resistance. As they looked around for a defensible position to hole up in until the troops arrived, Ronovi looked at Solus with a clear glint of rage in her eyes. A look that indicated that she had sensed something through the Force that just plain annoyed her.
“That schutta Drax is making a run for it,” she growled, “and I, for one, intend to filet him like a Daccan trout.”
Solus nodded in agreement. “I sense it, too. He can’t be allowed to escape. But I can’t quite discern his location. Teylas?”
The Anzat tilted his head slightly so he could better hear the commlink he stole from Drax’s apprentice. “Comms suggest a shuttle is being prepared on the far side of the citadel, but that’s several hundred...”
Solus didn’t need to wait for Teylas to finish. “Not far enough away. Let’s go.”
Without another word, Solus and Ronovi dashed for the exit to the bay, lightsabers at the ready and leaving a trail of color behind them. Arden, Teylas, and Alaris shot looks at one another, wordlessly asking each other if they should follow after Solus and Ronovi. After a few seconds of glancing about, Alaris finally broke the silence.
“We have a couple hundred troops and battle droids a few minutes away. I’m perfectly content to wait for them.”
Arden nodded his agreement. “Agreed. Having assistance is preferable in this case. If I had wanted to run off alone and half-cocked waving a lightsaber around like that, I would have been an Obelisk.”
Alaris shot a piercing glare at the Sith. A couple beats later, Teylas looked Alaris straight in the eyes and smirked.
Alaris split his glare between Teylas and Arden. “Shut up.”
Ronovi and Solus shouldered open the doors that led out of the fortress and charged through, intent on their target. The soles of their boots crunched loudly in the newly fallen snow that had dusted the ground in a recent flurry. Both gazed upon Xander Drax as he moved towards a shuttle waiting beyond, the sound of warming repulsor engines filling the air.
Solus was still getting over the shock of having seen Ronovi again, but his long years of combat had trained him well. He had pushed his emotions aside, focusing on the task at hand. And now that task stood before them.
"Drax!" Solus called out to the older man.
The man whirled, pulling his saberstaff from his belt and igniting it as he did so. The twin crimson blades stood ready, casting a surreal light across the white powder at his feet.
"Ah, one last meeting, Gar?" Xander responded, a note of amusement in his voice.
Neither Solus nor Ronovi replied with words, both having closed the distance that separated them from Drax. Two sabers, cerulean and amethyst, struck at him in great overhead strikes. Xander blocked them with little effort, smiling as he did so. The three combatants moved as if they were engaging in the complicated movements of a Coruscanti formal dance, sweeping blades meeting with sharp cracks with an almost rhythmic cadence.
"You may be strong," Xander mused, "but even together you cannot hope to best me."
For the first time, Ronovi spoke, a predatory smile on her face. "We don't need to beat you, Hutt for brains. We only have to delay you."
Xander laughed, but Solus could feel a growing concern spilling out from behind the man's steadfast resolve.
"You can feel him, can't you? You can even hear the sound of the engines over the wind," Solus continued.
Xander's eyes narrowed, his Force senses probing. "Your troops can't stop me."
"You can feel your master calling," Ronovi said. "But something isn't right, is it?"
Anger played across Xander's features as he began to understand what they were talking about.
"You wouldn't. You...couldn't..." He trailed off, his words little more than a whisper.
"We did," Solus answered. "We sliced open his skull, extracted his brain, and put it in a Shadow Droid."
Xander was now shaking with frustration, the movement translating back through their locked sabers and rattling Solus's hands.
"And now the great Yobd Nan," Solus finished, "serves me."
"No!" Xander screamed.
His rage rushed forth as if a dam had burst, an explosion of Force energy right behind it. Solus was knocked from his feet, his body tumbling end over end through the air. Ronovi fared no better, her taller frame tracing an inelegant path through the air. Both Plagueians dropped roughly to the snow, sliding several meters farther back than they had already flown.
"You're right," Xander seethed, seeming to regain some of his earlier composure. "All you have to do is stall me. So perhaps I'll give you something else to distract you."
The gray haired Sith Lord reached out with the Force as Solus brought up his defenses, ready to resist whatever the man threw at him. However, the energy was not directed at either Solus or Ronovi, but at the walls of Naga Sadow’s citadel itself. Solus's eyes widened as he heard stones crack behind him, having only a moment to realize what Xander was doing. A twenty-meter-tall section of wall ripped away from the fortress, its base support obliterated. As tons of stone descended towards Solus, the Sith threw himself to the side to escape the crushing weight.
The sound of stone crashing down was absent, however, as Solus picked himself up from the ground. Turning back to where he had laid, Solus saw Ronovi pushing against the collapsed wall to keep it from pinning her. Both of her hands were above her head, straining through the Force to hold the stone at bay. Sweat rolled down her brow, her teeth gritted from the effort.
"This one is indeed powerful," Xander observed. "Not quite what I intended, but it serves my purpose. You can still try to stop me, but if you do..."
"She'll die," Solus finished.
Xander smiled as he turned and headed towards his shuttle. He knew what Solus would do because he had ripped into Solus's mind as he tortured him. Turning away from the enemy, Solus moved to help Ronovi.
"What are you doing? Stop him!"
Solus ignored her, reaching out with the Force to take a part of her burden. Her one good eye burned at him, but she began to make slow, side-stepping movements towards safety. Once she had moved a few meters away, both of them relaxed their hold and allowed the stone wall to crash to the ground.
Ronovi sprinted, trying to race to the shuttle before it could lift off. Solus didn't budge, knowing that it was too late, watching as the shuttle rose into the dark sky of Khar Shian. Ronovi turned and stalked towards him like a fireball, fast and fiery.
“You let him get away!”
“I know,” replied Solus.
His words earned him a violent punch in the face. The force of the blow knocked Solus from his feet and left a small stream of blood trickling from the corner of his mouth.
“Are you Sith?”
“Ronovi,” Solus coughed.
Ronovi seemed adamant, balling her hand up into a fist again. “I asked you if you were a kriffing Sith.”
“I am Sith.”
“And do you think Siths save their buddies at the risk of letting an enemy escape?”
“It’s more complicated than you believe, Ronovi,” he insisted.
“Enlighten me, then!” snarled Ronovi. “Why did you let Drax go? You know what he did to you! You know what he did to me!"
“I already watched you die!” Solus snapped. “I wasn’t going to stand by and do nothing again!”
It was as if the gears were starting to turn in Ronovi’s stunned, disoriented mind. The horrid rise of exasperation still cooked in her stomach, and the dizziness that accompanied the rush of adrenaline had not yet dissipated. The moon’s winds and endless slopes of white served only as a visual and aural backdrop to her and Solus, and she was beginning to fathom the words that had just slipped out of her compatriot’s mouth.
She remained still, ignoring the soreness in her arms after holding up the massive wall of the fortress, and stared blankly at Solus after his comment. She thought back to her first encounter with Drax. How he had pinned her to the floor. Seared her body with Force lightning. Submitted her to outrageous pain. And then Ronovi had blacked out. At least, she thought she had blacked out. Then again, it began to seem more and more similar to what she always imagined death was like. Calm. Straightforward. And very, very quiet.
The Primarch pressed a hand to her chest, tracing her sternum with her index finger. When she had regained consciousness in Drax’s chamber, with his decrepit face beaming down at her, her heart had been beating quite rapidly, as if it had been restarted. If that was the case, then Solus had witnessed her die. And if he had reacted like this, saving her life at the cost of killing a target, because she had been rendered temporarily deceased...
Shaking her head viciously, Ronovi returned her infuriated gaze to Solus, baring her teeth as he pushed himself up from the snow.
“You idiot,” she growled. “You overly sentimental sap. You couldn’t handle losing your best buddy in the whole wide world, Ronovi Tavisaen. You couldn’t bear to see her leave you. So you sacrificed power for the sake of friendship.”
“Ronovi, that’s not - ”
“And you call yourself the Wrath of Plagueis!” barked Ronovi. “The mighty Dread Lord’s right hand. How quaint, that someone called the Wrath decides to ignore his own namesake in order to spare his widdle feelings. Oh, this’ll be a fun story to tell Tra’an.”
She probably would have kept going, slowly but surely verbally eviscerating Solus, but as she felt her breath drain away and exhaustion take hold, she heard a roar overhead. In the next moment, various areas of Naga Sadow’s citadel were set alight. The inferno that tore away at the edifice’s walls was only maintained in the chilled air by the persistence of its assaulters - Plagueis’s Shadow Droids, glistening metal vultures streaking the skies as they showered fire onto their victims.
“And here comes the Ascendant House,” Solus remarked matter-of-factly, his hair bristling in the wind as he watched the hungry swarm of black fighters scour the vicinity. He had not yet wiped the blood off his chin, so the crimson sheen stood out garishly against the wintry background and his own flushed face.
Ronovi could not help viewing the arriving array of power as well. “Which means the rest of them won’t be far behind.”
It would not take long for Khar Shian to be seized. Shuttle upon shuttle descended upon the citadel’s periphery, like steely wasps gathering around a fallen stone carcass. Khar Delba, from what little news Ronovi and Solus heard from the approaching troops, had already been taken by Plagueis, with the assistance of her sister houses and clans. The decoy citadel set up by Lord Naga Sadow in years past had provided very little in terms of spoils, but other set-ups around the planet had proven to be beneficial for Plagueis, such as depots, makeshift armories, and scattered military centers. Now they had both the planet and its moon, as Plagueian troops marched into and secured Naga Sadow’s secret fortress. Any resistance was easily purged.
Ronovi stayed quiet, yet seething, as she witnessed the occupation. Pivoting her head from left to right, she let the joints in her jaw and neck pop and reassemble. Her entire frame was frozen up, her body tense and uncomfortable. She had coughed up enough blood, mucus, and spittle to fill up two bottles crafted to hold Whyren’s Reserve. She did not dare to look Solus in the eye, the bitterness still brewing inside her head. He would have to learn. He would have to realize that no one was to care for Ronovi Tavisaen. She did not desire compassion. Not anymore.
She also did not speak much with Teylas, Arden, or Alaris. They gave visible nods to one another as they surveyed the assault and the occupation, watching enemy bodies being carried out and burned along the burrows of snow. The Twi’lek, as he usually did, observed the Epicanthix with an aura of caution. Ronovi could sense his mind’s palpitations, his anxieties directed toward her, as they both witnessed the scorching of a Togruta’s corpse. One Fuuka Ashasti, Teylas had explained, and he had reveled in the kill. As he told the story of Ashasti’s murder, he cast a rather withering glance to Arden as the Human conversed with patrolling soldiers and officers, and Ronovi could only guess that the tension between them would not drip away so easily.
Allowing medical staff to tend to her in one of the shuttles, Ronovi reclined her head back and tried to think of the taste of whiskey to calm her down. The battles for Khar Delba and Khar Shian were both over, although Xander Drax remained at large. Rhelg was most likely already seized by the combined forces of Arcona, Taldryan, and Scholae Palatinae. And somewhere, the Dark Council would be puppeteering again, yanking at the marionettes of its houses and clans as they danced for the Lion of Tarthos.
It was all part of the show of power, and, much to the Epicanthix’s annoyance, the performance was far from over.
Ronovi Post #1
Flanking her were the usual suspects. Teylas Ramar. Arden Karn. Alaris Jinn di Plagia. And of course, Keyser Söze.
Alaris Post #1
Teylas raised an eyebrow. “But he’s still alive?” he inquired hungrily.
His brow furrowing, Alaris whipped out a rolled up newspaper and proceeded to whap Teylas repeatedly on the nose with it.
“No! Bad Anzat! Down!” he snapped.
Alaris Post #1
“Wait, wait, wait!” Ronovi cried, pointing at Teylas. “I got it. This is what Tra’an will do to us. He’ll make Teylas eat us! And then...”
Her voice dropped down into a deep, malevolent whisper.
“He’ll make him eat himself.”
Alaris Post #1
“Solus?” Arden asked from the back of the compartment.
A weak voice issued forth from the forward section of the craft. "I'm not dead!"
Teylas raised an eyebrow. “What?”
Alaris focused sharply at his executive officer. “Nothing.”
"He says he's not dead," Arden cautioned.
"Well, he will be soon. He's quite injured."
"I'm getting better!" the voice from the cockpit called again.
"No, you're not - you'll be stone dead in a moment," Alaris snapped. "And we should be going."
"I don't want to stay on the ship!" the voice implored.
"Oh, don't be such a baby."
Ronovi grunted in half agreement. Teylas nodded, his mind understanding how the chain of command could change. The Twi’lek, Epicanthix, and Anzat glanced toward the now open bay door along the side of the shuttle, ready to leave.
Arden begrudgingly followed them into the snow, leaving Solus behind. However, as they walked, they could still hear his pleading voice coming from the shuttle.
“I feel happy! I feeeeeeel happyyyyy!”
Ronovi rolled her eyes. Turning around, she reached into the inside of her coat, produced her ruby scepter, and purposefully strode back toward the shuttle.
Teylas Post #1
"How much farther?!" Ronovi shouted as she paced her breathing.
"There! I see it!" Alaris yelled, pointing at the approaching cave concealed in thick frost.
The five Dark Jedi rushed through the cave entrance, trying to escape the raging Behemoths. One of the beasts crashed into the cave itself, ice cracking around an entrance almost too small for the animal. Teylas, the last of the team to enter, was taken from his feet as the beast knocked him down with its tusks. As the raging animal reared back, it let out a mighty roar and moved as if to swallow Teylas whole.
At that moment, an old man clothed in a fur lined parka came from farther back in the cave, waving a burning torch. The fire seemed to dissuade the creature from its meal, and it turned away and exited the cave. The man turned back, revealing worn, craggy features and gently pointed ears.
"James T. Kirk?" he said, looking vaguely amused.
"Um, no," Teylas responded. "Wrong cave."
The guards dragged an unconscious Ronovi into the cell on Khar Shian, but not before planning to strip her of her saber. One guard pointed at her chest.
“The chestplate! Take it off her!”
His crony complied, unbuckling the armor and ripping it off of her body. There was a unified gasp among the soldiers as they stared at her bare chest. Whether or not Ronovi had forgotten to put on a tunic was up for debate.
The guard who had removed the chestplate tried to put it back on, his face bright red. However, very matter-of-factly, the first guard muttered,
“Geez, for a woman, she’s definitely got a manly chest.”
(Composed collectively by the team)