Team Sith Buffalo Killers
OE Tra'an Reith #9059
OP Eiko #11286
GRD Shadowkind #12069
DJK Nariah Jadon #8338
JH Zuser Whuloc #11347
DJK Nite Dawn #12925
SWL Vessicant #1316
The last to arrive, the Dread Lord of Plagueis surveyed the valuable members aboard the Lambda class shuttle. His apprentice, Zuser Whuloc sat in the pilot's seat flipping switches and checking things out while the Warlord next to him observed his progress and made notes. It was hoped by all that the old warhorse might impart some wisdom and knowledge upon the puke, as he had the talent. Just not the all the skills, as of yet anyway.
Nite Dawn, Nariah, and Shadowkind sat on the right side of the shuttle, each lost in their own thoughts as Eiko sat with his head back against the bulkhead of the shuttle. The Exarch could hear the subtle sounds that indicated the mask was taking subvocalizations from the Praetor to the Grand Master. With something between a smile and a smirk, the Obelisk closed the landing hatch.
"Zuser, get us on planet. I want to be at that Mando Armory as soon as possible. Word has it that the Dark Council is giving out some serious rewards for the tech that's squirreled away there, and I do not want to be giving that up to the Sadowans."
"Sit down already then and we'll get going. I don't need a repeat of the last time I took off while you were still standing." Zuser's reply was distracted, only there long enough to pass along the information as the kid focused on doing what he was good at.
Tra'an moved over to the bench next to Eiko and took a seat, grabbing on to one of the hanging straps. He noticed that Eiko's hand was already wrapped in one as well, and that the three others weren't.
"If I were you, I'd hold on. Zuser's not particularly well known for gentle flying." Tra'an said.
Nite Dawn and Nariah immediately reach for their holds. Shadowkind took a moment to consider, and as he reached for his strap, the ship jerked up and forward, accelerating out of the belly of the Ascendancy at speed. Nariah reached out and caught him as his body tried to slide off the bench and into the opposite bulkhead. Nite dawn helped her pull him up so he could grab the strap and sit in the seat.
"I see what you mean," replied Shadowkind. "If I'd known I was going to be flown by a stunt pilot I'd have requested alternate transport."
The snicker from Nariah made everyone smile for a moment. They all braced for the impact of the atmosphere, feeling the ship shudder a little bit as it made the transition from void to breathable air. As they all relaxed, the right engine exploded, sending the ship into a flat spin, pinning everyone to the walls.
Tra'an reached out and pulled the Equites into a meld, funneling all their power into Vessicant as he strove to use the Force to slow their spin. The careful application of power slowed it, until their one engine could provide forward thrust, as Zuser turned on the repulsors to help brace the landing.
Next time, thought the Obelisk, Vessicant does the flying.
The young Obelisk grit his teeth as his hands flew all over the control board, his mind racing and the gears in his head spinning as he fought for control, with the aid of the numerous force users aboard, on their very rapid descent. Zuser knew for a fact that even with the help of the repulsors the landing would be anything but gentle. He felt the ship start to slow its spin and he took his chance to start the not-so-gentle landing. "Everybody hang on if you aren’t already! I’m starting our descent and I can guarantee this will not be a gentle one!"
He didn't bother waiting for a reply as he started the landing cycle. The wings on the bottom of their spinning ship began to fold up into its landing position. Zuser tilted the ship downwards toward the icy and rocky surface. “Brace yourselves!” was the last thing Zuser said before the Lambda-class shuttle hit the ice and rock.
The shuttle shook as it hit the planet’s surface and Zuser winced as he heard the the snapping and crunching of the landing gear breaking away, followed by the screeching of the metal against the rock and ice. Suddenly, with a rapid shout of "Brace for impact!" as their only warning, the ship hit a large mound of ice and rock, halting the crippled shuttle and knocking its passengers and pilot around a bit. At the last possible second, the crazy Obelisk pilot saw the mound. The ship had finally stopped. Zuser's hands were sore and shaking when he finally pried them off the controls. He closed his eyes and started panting slightly as he let his back hit the back of the pilot's seat. "Well. That... could’ve been much worse."
Before the Jedi Hunter could start to assess the damage, a pissed Vessicant was in his face. "You have five seconds to explain yourself."
Zuser's eyes widened at first in surprise but then they narrowed in anger. "You think I did this?!" Zuser found himself getting out of the pilot’s seat, forcing Vessicant to back up. “This was not my fault! I checked this entire ship over immediately before we boarded it and I saw nothing wrong, nothing that would cause this! If you honestly think that I-!"
"Zuser. Enough," came the words from Tra'an, silencing his insulted apprentice. Zuser's gaze was unfocused as he ran through the events leading up to the engine exploding.
"Yes, Master." The young Obelisk’s hands were still balled into fists.
Eiko stood up slowly, his hands pressing against the now-bruised muscle where the restraints dug into his chest and shoulders. Alongside him, the others slowly pulled back to reality in the wake of the skidding crash that'd wrecked an already damaged Lambda-class shuttle.
Tra'an was already up -- as was Zuser, standing toe to toe with the Wroonian and staring down at the Warlord, his co-pilot and instructor, with the kind of dangerous indignation that came from cockiness and potential. Eiko undid the restraints, pushing past the two recent Knights to stand beside the Quaestor.
"Guess we should be happy to be alive," one of the others muttered sardonically.
Eiko snapped his fingers to silence the voice before it continued. Faceless though he was, Eiko's expression was written in plain Basic, framed by his stance and tense, outstretched hand. The shuttle's interior was bathed in silence.
"No sense scanning the terrain, then," Vessicant mentioned as an aside, a veiled jab at the Hunter to remind him of the sequence that would have followed a routine landing.
Zuser collected his things as he walked towards the ship's rampway, crooked as it might be. His lips moved as he tried to force himself methodically through the memory of checking the ship, of bringing it into the planet's atmosphere, of anything that might have gone wrong during the descent -- and, despite all the flighty thoughts that he had to fend off, he still felt sure.
"I checked everything," he protested to Tra'an as he walked by. "I would have seen something go wrong like that."
"Did you notice any signals, any interference that might have cut our engines?" Eiko asked past the Dread Lord and his student.
Vessicant stared back at him firmly. "Interference blowing an engine apart?" He scoffed instead of answering further. Don't be absurd, Vessicant's expression insinuated. You put a Hunter in charge of a shuttle -- in the middle of an invasion -- with a chunk of the Summit onboard -- and you thought it'd go smoothly? The curl of a lip, the glances of frustration, the light motioning toward the freshly bruised muscles, and Vessicant's aggressive stance all pointed straight right at what he perceived as Zuser's mistake.
Eiko nodded slowly as he watched Zuser walk past him into the cold wilds of Khar Delba. Reith continued to put his faith in his student, and with good reason. All the records that Eiko had inherited marked Zuser Whuloc as a talented pilot -- but, like much of the boy, that fact was mired in contradicting accounts. Rough landings were the norm; damaged craft were marked dryly in the margins of his records. And yet...
With his robe gathered around him, Eiko stepped out into the field of rocks and glacial outcroppings. He looked straight into the sky, his focus directed up at the streaks of smoke and signal flares that seemed to litter the atmosphere like a meteor shower. It didn't take but a second for it to sink into Eiko's mind, as it had already sunk into the minds of the others. The fleet was tumbling out of the skies of Khar Delba. Engines failing in concert, crippled ships plunged down into the ice.
"At least we're all in the same boat." The hint of wonder in Nariah's voice surprised Eiko, but he took it in silence.
On his mask's display, he snapped open a rough scan that he'd collected from the Ascendancy's survey. "It's Morroth, but with fewer crevasses and more rock fields. And no wyrms. And we're close enough to our intended landing zone."
"That doesn't solve how we're getting back up there," Shadowkind pointed skyward.
"We aren't leaving without something to show the Council." Tra'an started trudging up the slope. The others formed a loose semi-circle as they joined him on top of the hill, all staring at the expanse that lay ahead of them.
"Behemoths," Vessicant noted. They earned their names, even from this far away, made all the more impressive by the massive herd of the dull-skinned creatures that wandered over the plains. No one spoke up to urge caution -- they already knew that much.
Shadowkind’s data-pad relay had promptly posted the read-out mapping the lay of the land. As the probable frozen bodies of water, north-west of the ship’s final ‘landing’ began registering, the Behemoths’ biological signatures loaded in red, at the bottom right of the screen. There were... too many!
Their numbers went on, scattered, for three kilometers over the plain, in all directions. Completely contrary to the intel they’d received in briefing. That wasn’t news, that was typical. Images of past exploits raced through his mind like a river of unforgettable violence.
The zabrak pondered briefly, to himself? ‘Why are things always so irregular, in regards to missions for the Brotherhood? It’s as if the Force itself is against our ascent.’ The thought was a bitter one. Having survived torture, on more occasions than he’d like to remember, the Sith agent wondered what else was waiting, not so plainly in sight, for their party.
Not bothering to voice his inquiries, he way-pointed their precise individual locations into his data-pad, uploaded the data to the team’s conferring receivers, and turned to Nariah, who was awaiting the words being exchanged between the cadre. His breathe almost caught in his throat... Odd. That’s never happened before. He’d have to walk through his thoughts on that later.
"More irregular as the day draws on." he caught himself mumbling, tucking the data-pad into his cargo pocket, as he walked a short distance..
“Say again?” The Knight didn’t turn her head as she quietly spoke, her arms casually folded, her attention equally sparing time for the discussion several meters away, and the wreckage in the distance. She seemed, to him... slightly displeased.
“I said, we have to find a way around. ‘It would be best if I were to recon’.” The zabrak’s false response was quiet, but direct. His ever-scowling brow, and naturally piercing stare intact. He towered over her, cool as cortosis.
“I guess you ought to do that then.” She said evenly, once again without averting her gaze from its previous points of interest. She gave no indication she was aware she had startled him just then.
The Guardian was thankful for that. He wanted to get some serious kliks between them and the crash-site, and needed no distractions at present. The being once known as Eivil closed his silvery orbs, removed his half-mask, and inhaled deeply into the wind. Opening his eyes, he exhaled slowly, registering the Behemoths’ scent-type to memory. One can never be too careful.
The landscape was breathetaking, to put it mildly. And his urge to adapt to, and conquer, it roared in his twin hearts. The hunt was on and his team was going to retrieve whatever the Elders desired, no questions asked. The Quaestor’s misunderstanding of Shadowkind’s thinking ahead was typical. The Guardian’s short, infrequent statements did that; caused him often to be misunderstood. After all, the Council would receive nothing but bad news if they couldn’t return.
‘Better to speak not, and be thought the fool...’ He thought solemnly, while attaching a red visor to his half-mask, before vanishing among the frigid shadows of the frozen plains. His hate and rage securely in check, and his focus clear, the master scout thought of this as a mission. No different from countless others he’d been on. How right, and wrong, he would most assuredly be.
“Where the kark’s he going?” Vessicant’s abrupt question came as a momentary surprise to Tra’an, as he finished referring their plan of action with the Warlord and Prelate.
Eiko promptly replied, “He’s scouting the area, then ahead of our traversion. If you don’t mind, Tra’an, I’d assign Nite Dawn as rear scout. This could alert us to a tail, or an advancing rear attack.” Tra’an sighed, and rested his offhand on his blaster hilt, absorbing the input.
The Shi’ido nodded finally, before folding his arms. “I agree with you, Vess, about splintering into two smaller squads in close proximity of each other. We cover more ground and attract less attention. Nite Dawn can deploy as rear scout to one group, while Shadowkind’s forward scout to the other. Worse comes to worst, we can better escape capture or reband and ‘last-stand’.” His last statement added further chill to the already sub-zero surroundings.
“Capture from whom?” The Journeyman’s question was met by a few chuckles and snickers. Whuloc had only just averted his attention from all of the scattered columns of smoke in the air, while double checking his gear, to hear the tail-end of the strategy to be put in motion. Sort of put off by the chuckling, apparently at his expense, he pressed the question.
“Is there something I’m missing, sirs?” His young brow fighting hard to crease, to betray his agitation. He wasn’t any more pleased than anyone else about the crash, and was still fighting his frustration with being initially suspected of being at fault.
The Dread Lord turned to face the human. “My young apprentice, If there’s anything you’re missing, it’s that we of the Brotherhood are always in peril of abduction. Now, with that said, prepare to move out. Departure time, three minutes.’’
“It’s raining Sith,” Commander Rultok thought as he watched the light show playing out in his skies. Rultok’s commander, Darth Lethin, had been well informed of the impending invasion of the Brotherhood. If they were expecting an easy time of it, they were already finding out how wrong they were.
“Looks like all packages have been opened,” Lieutenant Mackrus noted, standing next to the somber Rultok. Mackrus was always tempted to see if anything could fuss the perfectly set white hair of their commander, but was afraid of the punishment that would have been forthcoming.
“How are your kids?” Rultok asked his Lieutenant. The commander wasn’t that interested in the personal affairs of those under him, but he found it important to at least make the effort to show interest.
“My wife delivered a bouncing baby boy,” Mackrus said with a big smile.
“Congratulations,” Ihnga said as she came up to the two men. “We just got a report that a shuttle made it down successfully delivering a landing party.”
“Seven,” Ihnga said with precision. “Heavily armed and barely phased by the rough landing.”
“Sith then?” Rultok mused. The Brotherhood were going all out, that was certainly curious. “Current state of the party?”
“Getting their bearings,” Ihnga said showing the position of the party on the map.
Mackrus chuckled as he watched the small landing party work out where they were. “Taking their time of it aren’t they?”
“Indeed,” Rultok said flashing teeth that were sharpened to a fine point. “I think we need to motivate them.”
Ihnga nodded reaching for her communication device, “One powerful motivator, coming up.”
As Ihnga called in the next phase the ground started to tremble. The docile Behemoths were on the move, straight for the small landing party.
“Make sure the other three groups are ready to clean up.” Rultok warned. “Don’t count on the Behemoths to be discerning about what they trample.”
“Understood sir,” Mackrus yelled over the approaching thunder.
Darth Lethin had a sizeable migraine. He hated cold, he hated old, and he hated having to babysit a bunch of dirt sniffers. “This is ridiculous,” He moaned to himself. “I am a Sith Lord, yet here I am, with clogged sinuses, and nothing but snow as far as I care to see.”
“My Lord?” A sharp dressed assistant said with a salute.
Darth Lethin only stared daggers at the chipper person. “What?” He finally said when the annoyance refused to speak.
“We are reporting great success with the flux cannon sir. All invading ships have taken damage and have fallen out of standard landing trajectories.”
“Oh goody,” Darth Lethin said rubbing his temples. “Survivors?”
“Uh,” the assistant hedged. “Well, we have no confirmed reports yet.”
Darth Lethin could smell a hedge ten parsecs away. “No casualties?”
“No sir,” The assistant replied standing at ramrod attention.
Darth Lethin admired the stature of the man before him. Everyone knew the price of failure when it came to Sith business. “Is that all?”
“No sir,” the assistant plowed forward. “Commander Rultok has reported that he has sighted a landing party nineteen clicks from our position. He is moving to engage them.”
“Finally someone who has initiative.” Darth Lethin sighed. “Anything else?” It was evident in Darth Lethin’s tone that he was done, whether there was more to report or not.
“No sir,” The assistant snapped. He delivered a crisp salute, bowed and then briskly walked back down towards the survey area in the Mandalorian Neo-Crusader Armory.
“At least I will have something to do while I am here.” Darth Lethin mused beginning to stretch out his force awareness. “Who has been caught in our little web?”
Tra’an and Eiko broke off from their vigil a few paces to his side, avoiding eye contact through the white parka’s hood as diplomatically as he to the last. He suppressed that little self-destructive voice telling him to so much as flex his hand in memory of what he’d been about to do, what he’d been pushed toward really. The insect thought he was forcing a retraction by standing like he was worthy of his legs; the worst possible reaction to a very legitimate and expectable question from a superior. Vessicant had turned from Zuser for a moment, just for a routine gauge check. Nothing accounted for the sudden and catastrophic loss of control in that instant. Even though the Force had immediately told him there was no willful deception behind the words it hadn’t removed pilot error as the ultimate cause, or excused the challenge so stupidly and irrevocably offered. Vessicant was far from intimidated; he was giving himself working room, the boy continuing to provide the excuse. Fortunately for the Journeyman, and perhaps the mission itself, militantly cool heads had both arrived and prevailed.
The Warlord receded below the crest after them, motioning for the two waiting Knights to follow him as agreed. He was completely disenchanted by the prospect of babysitting one of the uninitiated again, much less hunting afield for what appeared to be another loose cannon. Initiative was to be commended, as was whatever training compelled Shadowkind, but going off unauthorized was a cardinal sin. He marked the party ahead as it started around the waist of the hill, bound for its chosen path through the rocks and drifts. Zuser walked to the left of his Master and the Prelate.
He’d always wanted to ask Reith’s reasons for taking on that one, for devoting so much time and effort and patience toward someone so largely inattentive, needlessly reckless and wasteful, and far too…Zuser. The antithesis of any apprentice Vessicant would care to mould again, if he felt so inclined, which he did in earnest. The Sith could well understand enjoying such travails in small doses, of making the young, blind, and insolent kneel bloody in the dust; he had specialized in doing that for quite some time himself back in the Centre. Was the Judge a freaking masochist though? Or was he forging a creature so prideful at being his, so eminently killable, to test the limits of his rule? He’d needed his fellow Obelisk to tip the scales in the end to save his pet. Let him ruminate on that.
The woman, Nariah, stopped suddenly, drawing him from his smirking consideration of the permafrost. The rear scout, who had just started panning her electrobinoculars over the crash site again jogged up to regroup. Reith and company were heading back their way, and by the urgency of their movements he could guess the level of the collective boning. “High ground. Now!”
Eiko followed Zuser and Tra'an as they raced back down the hill.
The word was enunciated, sharpened by the deadpan delivery of his mask's speakers. And he meant every single letter of it. Shadowkind had slipped off ahead of the group -- and while Eiko's entire being valued the ability to feed more information back to the groups, the herd of behemoths frustrated him. And that was the biggest risk.
"The herd's right there," Tra'an called over.
"Startled?" Eiko asked back. "Are they charging?" The thought of hundreds of building-sized monstrosities rushing over the ice... Eiko didn't even pause for a shudder.
"They will," came the reply. "Something on the other side is stirring them up."
Even if they could get through the herd without provoking any of the creatures, it didn't matter now. The ground shook, freeing bits of ice from the wave-like drift pattern. Further back, Eiko could still see Vessicant, Nariah, and Nite all pausing at once, looking over another ridge at another branch of the herd's titanic breadth.
He knew that he was racing a wave, a flood of primal instinct that would cross the herd faster than any of them could run, even with the aid of the Force. And they would run away from whatever had drawn this many behemoths into one place originally. And everything that stood in their way -- hill, drift, or burrow -- would be a moot point when five tons of scared beast rushed over the Khar Delban landscape.
"Shadowkind!" Eiko yelled over his link to the Guardian, enunciating the word so it came apart syllabically. Enough other students of his were going to die on the ice on other battlefields -- he didn't want to lose one of the promising ones to a wayward footstep. No reply came back, though, and Eiko didn't have the time to think about it while he forced himself forward and tried to think of a way around the threat of a stampede.
Or, he realized as his pace slowed enough to feel the rumbling of the ground, that threat is now a promise.
"Run!" Tra'an called as Eiko's pace flagged, his eyes wide with something verging on panic. It unnerved Eiko even more to see the Dread Lord's expression admit to the danger afoot.
For as long as Zuser could remember, he had heard his Master say many things. Some to get him to work harder, do better or be faster. His Master had also given him hundreds of orders, some crazy, some sensible. But the one phrase he had never heard his Master say very often, maybe once in a blue moon, was ‘Run’.
The Jedi Hunter was still processing this as Eiko and Tra’an started to run. He was, at first, confused but then he felt the growing rumble through the earth. He looked around and then his eyes settled on the stampeding herd of Sith War Behemoths before widening. The next thing he knew, he was on the heels of his Master and Eiko, his unkempt hair and padawan braid flying behind him. Ahead and to the right of them, the shapes of Nariah, Vessicant and Nite were running as hard as they were.
“Are these things worse than the Wyrms?” yelled the crazy pilot, his eyes busy looking for somewhere to go instead of daring to look behind him.
“Just keep running!” Tra’an yelled back. Zuser couldn’t agree more. Soon, the others rejoined them, forming a very loose V as they ran. Somewhere ahead of them, Zuser saw a flash of color against the ice and rock before it disappeared . It looked a little like what Shadowkind was wearing. Then that meant...
“Over there! I saw something!” He pointed to where he saw Shadowkind as he ran alongside his Master. They all adjusted their course and soon they were clambering up the slope to seek refuge in a small cave. Suddenly, the young Obelisk slipped on a patch of ice and fell behind the group. He grit his teeth as he slid down the slope and tried finding a foot or hand hold. “Fierfek!”
He hit the bottom of the slope and quickly spared a glance at the stampeding and closing in on the area they were hiding in. His eyes widened and uttered a quick curse in Mandalorian before looking back up the slope where he saw the others watching.
“Come on, Whuloc!” yelled Eiko. “Get yourself up here!”
“What are you waiting for?!” called Nariah. Zuser’s eyes locked with Tra’an’s and he nodded at his Master. He took a couple steps back before taking a running leap up the slope and diving into the cave the others were in. Vessicant looked down at the young human and then looked out the cave. “Here they come! It’s about to get loud!”
No sooner had he said it, then the Sith War Behemoths thundered past, shaking the cave.
Nariah had seen where Zuser had point. Shadowkind had not made it up the hill before the stampede. The Jedi Knight and the rest of the team were now held up in a cave. They had made it to safety but not all of them one was missing. The cave was beautiful blue icicles, large ice-stalagmites hung from the top of the cave and white and blue ice columns stood as pillars and once magnificent waterfalls now stood frozen in place.
The cave would have been almost wonderful if for the face that another person in the young woman’s life was now in danger or worst.
Nariah turned back to look in her leader's face “we have to go back “ Nariah almost screamed.
Taking a deep breath and trying to get her emotions and nerves under control, the Knight looked directly at Eiko and said “please we need to go back he does not stand a chance out there”.
“Calm down, Nariah, Shadowkind is strong and able he will be fine, but for now we must stay here and work on a plan”.
The young woman went to argue the subject but knew there was no use. The Jedi simply had to wait and hope for the best that Eiko was right, and in her heart she knew he was. Nariah paced the cave thinking of some plan to help her team, all of her team. Just the thought of losing someone else to this forsaken war was torture for her nerves. However, today the team must fight and grieving is left for another time.
“We have them,” Ihnga said with a smile. “They are trapped in a cave just a half click ahead of us.”
Mackrus nodded, pleased with the results. He had hoped that one or two would have gotten squished in the confusion, but they had proven themselves quick thinkers. “Very well, set out the mines and make sure that squads Alpha and Bravo approach carefully, we don’t want any surprises.”
“Understood,” Ihnga said relaying the orders to the respective squads. “What do you wish to do with Charlie?”
Mackrus wasn’t sure about that. Cornering Jedi was usually a great way to get one’s self killed. But he didn’t want to let the opportunity to contain them slip by. “Have them cover the other two teams from a distance. If the force users try and break through us, they will need to cover Alpha and Bravo as they fall back.
Rultok just finished talking with Darth Lethin when he overheard the last of what Mackrus said. “A well thought out plan,” Rultok mused looking over the deployments on the map. “Are we certain the cave only has the one entrance and the force users won’t try and create another one?”
“If they do we blow the whole place up.” Mackrus responded back.
“Why are we not doing that now, we do not need prisoners.” Rultok pointed out.
“We are trying, but it will take us twenty minutes to get everything set up to blow the cave, until then I want to contain them as best we can.”
Rultok was not pleased with that assessment at all. He showed it with a frown, but replaced it quickly with impassive interest. “Very well,” He said getting ready to report once again to the irritable Darth. Mackrus held up his hand motioning for Rultok to wait a moment.
“Sir,” Mackrus paused, waiting for confirmation. “I think we got one.”
“Got one what?”
“Jedi, sir.” Mackrus didn’t want to give a false report. “One of the Jedi stepped out of the cave and was shot and killed. The body then landed on one of our aerially deployed mines.”
“Well, so much for a surprise,” Rultok sighed.
Eiko had no words for what had just happened. When Nariah announced that Shadowkind was missing Nite Dawn volunteered to search for him. Eiko couldn’t voice his objection quick enough before Nite Dawn was at the entrance of the cave. The blaster shot shattered the icy silence. Nite Dawn was framed in the entrance, stumbling out, reaching for her weapon before another explosion shook the cave. “The…Kark?” Eiko thought to himself. Thoughts raced through his mind, but one thing had to be done, establish control. “No one move,” the voice, though synthesized, carried the certainty of death if disobeyed.
Eiko, though not preferring to have found out that they were surrounded via Nite Dawn’s sacrifice, was pleased to have gained information. They had little time to act and the enemy was forcing their hand. The time for defense was coming to an end.
The Warlord turned with a start, eyes narrowing and hand to saber as the fumbling Knight collapsed boneless and tumbled out of view. Faster than thought, an explosion followed, snow and stone fragments once more forming a foreboding curtain over the cave’s mouth. He edged back a step in memory of having done so when faced by the forest of leathery legs and thunderous bellows. Their refuge hadn’t collapsed under that barrage of monstrous footfalls; it would survive whatever light artillery their enemy was bringing to bear now. His money was on a vehicle-mounted mortar of some kind. He willed his other foot not to rise. They must have still been gathering in the wake of the stampede, he reasoned, to be insecure enough about their cornered prey slipping away to have revealed themselves prematurely and redundantly. This was time for going forward. Their little lost Journeyman was fated to become a Sithcicle it seemed, if he wasn’t trampled or vaped already.
He flashed a silent nod to the Prelate as the man turned his way, each bowing inwardly to the role assigned by their spots on the totem pole of life. They jogged to the entrance, keeping well short of the fatal angle the sniper - there had been only one shot after all - had on them. The verdant blade shrank with a hiss as Vessicant fell into concentration, pressing against the dark, but yielding syrup of Khar Delba’s Force signature.
Eiko let his blade die once it became clear the Sith’s efforts were going uncontested by whoever lay outside. They hadn’t been caught so flatfooted that the enemy had demolition charges or a forlorn hope in place then. That was good. The air shaded quickly, birthing midnight tendrils keen to devour the sun still further. He launched himself through the expanding blackness, trusting that his destiny would not find him square in someone’s crosshairs when he emerged. Destiny: the fickle bitch goddess. His sword raced upward to foil a delayed but inescapable headshot, and twice more as he retreated into the unnatural gloom.
“That was quicker than expected,” the approaching Quaestor stated simply as the shadows cleared. The Wroonian joined them a moment later while readjusting his hip holster, his trusty DH-17 feeling a little less impotent now that they were squaring off against men instead of monsters.
The masked man began speaking as commanded, “Aerial mines right outside the door, and we’ve got infantry approaching from either side, but those are still pretty distant. Snipers covering them. Two skiffs out there that I saw, but they’ve parked them far enough away that they might as well be on the other side of the stinking planet. If they’re really smart they’ve rigged them too. I don’t know if we’ll nab one before they bug out, but that’s pretty much our best bet unless there’s a secret tunnel to the Armoury in back.”
Nariah stayed as still as she could and braced for what would come next. The image of Nite and the whole scene danced through her mind. Trying to stay still a while, her emotions played at her again, a constant thought that she brought this down on her team. The Jedi Knight believed she'd caused Nite’s death -- if only she had kept her emotions in check.
Eiko looked at the young woman and knew she was having a rough time of it. “Nariah, snap out of it. We need your attention here” Eiko told the Krath.
The woman closed her restless eyes and steadied her breathing. Using the Force she grabbed hold of her emotions and reined them in. “Okay, I’m good now,” the young woman thought to herself.
“Nariah, go scout the rest of the cave. We need to find another way out, but watch your step,” commanded Eiko.
Nariah moved slowly through the back of the cave. The only sound she could hear was the crunching sounds of the snow beneath her feet. The further back she went, the darker her soundings got. With a snap of a glow stick, a soft illumination began to fill the area. The Krath did not realize how far back the cave went.
Then, suddenly, little specks of light darted through the ice covered walls. The Jedi Knight went to investigate the area. There it was: their way out. The hole was too little to push through, but with a light saber, they just might have a chance.
“Wraith to Ascendant-Leader.. Come in!.. Over.” Tra’an’s comm-link was the first to crackle with reception. Then, immediately, the entire team’s receivers gave a static hiss... “Ascendant-Team.. this.. Wraith. Respond!.. Over!” Shadowkind’s whispered drawl sounded through their comm-links clearly then, shocking their awareness back to attention and numbing their emotions once again.
“Ascendant-Leader here. Send it, Wraith.” The command-response shot from Reith’s lips before the Warlord or Prelate had the chances to voice their own to the Operative’s transmission. The connection was quite clear, though somewhat broken, so the Guardian’s present position had to be near enough to their own for the geology to only be posing minor interference.
The Journeyman exhaled deeply over the transmission, indicating to all his relief they were intact, before he spoke again. Nariah echoed the sentiment with a sigh of her own from deep within their near tomb, working her saber with a little more muscle than before. Shadowkind was indeed alive. For now.
The signal began breaking up further, almost immediately after the Sith-agent began to relay,
“Sending my current location! Area’s crawling.. hostiles.. Snipers.. North.. West ridges.. your present pos-.. Ground forces.. -anning from.. East.. -wards you.. Hacked eight-.. so far.. whole area’s been rigged!..-vigating herd.. -hemoths.. impossible.. conditioned.. bloodlust.. In position.. -out snipers!.. Give the word.. can cover.. chance to escape.. cover of dark!.. No sabers!.. away your exact..”, then came in crystal clear once again. “Your call, boss, and snipers go BUH-BOOM!” All were silent for the span of a heart-beat. “Sir?!?”
Tra'an looked over at Nariah, the Knight covered in sweat despite the cold. The hard work of opening the tunnel further so that they could crawl out was mostly complete.
"Is it ready?" he asked.
"Almost," she replied. "Someone strong will need to go first. The way out has a thin sheets of ice they'll need to kick to shatter. Once they've done that, we can make it out without igniting our weapons."
The Exarch nodded in reply to her statement, confirming that it made sense. Moving over, he made to get in first, only to have Vessicant step between him and the tunnel.
"Excuse me, sir. If you'll allow me?" the pilot asked. Tra'an's eyebrow twitched at the gesture, understanding immediately what was behind it, even if he didn't like it.
"Of course, Vessicant. You may always" The reply made the Sith's eyes narrow, understanding that he'd just been volunteered for such duties in the future. At the same time, he nodded before disappearing into the tunnel, his Quaestor directly behind him. The rest filed in shortly after,
As they reached the end of the tunnel, the Obelisk activated his comm unit.
At the same instant, the Warlord's foot lashed out and broke the ice, a few additional kicks clearing any remaining shard from the way as he eased through. As his eyes became accustomed to being outside once again, the explosive charges emplaced by the sneaky Guardian detonated.
Gouts of dirt and body parts were flung into the sky as the snipers ceased to exist in any real important way. As the rest of the team filed out, the crafty Journeyman materialized at the base of the hill.
The group made their way down to him slowly, senses alert for danger. As they reached him, Shadowkind kept looking behind them.
"We have to leave in a hurry, there's a small herd of three of those War Behemoths coming this way at speed." The words were precise and clipped, enough to make sense without being too little.
As Tra'an opened his mouth to reply, a sound like a trumpeting call of battle could clearly be heard. They all turned around to face the three towering and imposing beasts that emerged from the other side of the hill.
"It seems like we must fight after all. Let's make this fast. We've an Armory to sack."
Eiko grimaced. Three behemoths was a blessing, considering the alternative, but it was a far cry from comforting. Vessicant and Tra'an were already forging ahead.
There were no words as the mixed pack of Equites and Journeymen stepped ahead. Maybe it was the deep breathing of Vessicant that Eiko could see in the Warlord's rising and falling shoulders -- or maybe it was the behemoths. What mattered was that it didn't matter. Eiko drew in a breath and started following the other Equites straight into the path of the charging behemoths.
Rage, Eiko noted coolly. That was the widened eyes, the flared nostrils, the swinging of tusks and bellowing of titanic lungs. That was the most primal, stirred and secured by old Sith into the bodies of these monsters.
Eiko threw himself forward, picking up more speed and drawing his saber into his hand. It ignited crystal blue, brandished in front of him as he let his feet drift off of the snows. There was nothing but him and the rightmost behemoth lumbering towards them. Vessicant cut away from Reith's side and veered left. Reith held his course, ageless power sweeping across the white carpet.
There were no other behemoths. There was only this one, this creature, this tower of strength. Eiko swallowed instinctively, his breath growing choppy as his foot touched the ground for the last time -- and he soared.
One... two... three, Eiko counted out the strides, bouncing between the swinging tusks of the creature. The beak leveled at him, open. Sharp. Hungry. His free hand shoved away a gouging horn, letting him past the threat to slip behind the behemoth's shield-like skull. His saber found purchase in the softened flesh of the neck as Eiko dropped his weight. The skin, pierced and partially burnt, gaped for a second. With all his momentum, he slammed into the behemoth's shoulder and rolled away.
The beast turned to him and focused its bloodshot eyes on the Praetor. Its neck was flushed red.
Eiko stretched out his hand, digging into the behemoth's mind and fortifying the fear already growing underneath the rage. Die on the ice, or die by my hand, a voice in his mind taunted on his behalf, vocalizing the promise that an animal wouldn't understand.
Behind him, a hamstrung behemoth knelt in front of the Dread Lord. Reith's robe fluttered back to its resting place, splattered with snow.
The still-standing behemoth reeked of fear. Primal fear.
Eiko let it flee, its form shambling through the show as it lost blood to the snow. His breathing slowed again as he felt the Force drift away from his consciousness. The behemoths were gone -- extinguished or fleeing the relentless pursuit of Death. And the Armory lay ahead.
The Mandalorian Armory crawled with Jedi. House Odan Urr had achieved strategic surprise and were the first to assault the facility from space. Non-Force sentient security forces fanned out around the facility forming a defensive perimeter with overlapping fields of fire. The Jedi within the circle milled about attempting to access the great structure and secure the armory in an event to prevent the Dark Brotherhood from utilizing the spoils for their viscious savagery.
Tra'an cursed under his breath. The Dread Lord of Plagueis focused his microbinoculars on the scene before him and cursed again at the blasted behemoths that had slowed him down.
Plagueis' efforts would pay dividends today and it would begin with the death of Jedi and end with Mandalorian treasure. The type of treasure that would armor and arm House Plagueis for generations....
Turning from his vantage point, the Obelisk looked at his team, wishing only for a moment that Arden or Celevon had tagged along. The snipers were, of course, half a world away assaulting the crumbled fortress of Naga Sadow.
"It seems that we've two major threats to deal with, just to get into the facility. The non-Jedi shouldn't be an issue, but those actual Jedi could be a problem. They're all at least Knight rank."
The nods of his team were enough to assure Reith that everyone understood how tight the timing would be. It would require near perfect execution to ensure that everything went smoothly.
"Vessicant, Eiko, and I will take out the non-Jedi. Nariah and Zuser will lure in a few of them, hopefully getting them to believe that they are alone." The faces of the two members hardened as they exchanged glances, now well aware that a key part of the plan depended on them.
"If this succeeds, the three of us," Tra'an motioned to himself and his fellow Equites, "will pincer in behind and make short work of them. If we can do this carefully enough, we can take out small groups until we have to face their actual skilled members, or until that Sith Lord exposes himself."
"What if the Sith exposes himself while you're fighting the Jedi?" Zuser's question showcased the one flaw in Reith's plan.
"Then we die", he replied. Together, the team nodded as they moved to split up. A long bloody day was still ahead, and the stink of dead behemoth didn't make it any easier to deal with.
Someone was going to die for this. Rultok was hoping that it would not be his life that ended. He had the party trapped in a cave, yet they escaped. Doing what he thought improbable, fighting the Behemoths. “We need to fall back to the Armory,” Rultok ordered, rushing for the transports. “It is the only place the enemy would want in this snowed in dump of a planet.”
Mackrus only nodded and avoided eye contact with Rultok. The screw up was bad, he was very well aware that they had an opportunity to destroy the invading Dark Jedi, but the delay in getting the cannon’s to the cave had allowed the enemy to escape. If it wasn’t for the death cries of the Behemoths Mackrus and the rest of the troops would probably have still been at the cave. Instead they were rushing back to the armory as quickly as possible to make a final stand.
Darth Lethin watched the crumpled body of Ihnga still twitch as the last vestiges of life were extinguished. He had decided that breaking every bone in her body and then having those fragments shred her internal organs would be enough of a message for the rest of the leadership to understand the severity of the situation. “We don’t tolerate screw ups,” Lethin yawned. Lethin felt some relief as he extinguished life. It allowed him to flex his abilities and feed off the fear that was all around him. “My only question, how many more do I need to kill to eliminate the screw ups?”
Mackrus swallowed hard. He knew it should have been him that was lying their crumpled. But he had a brand new baby boy to come home to, Ihnga was alone. When the Lord asked who was responsible, Mackrus threw Ihnga in the direct line of fire. Mackrus might even feel guilty about it eventually. Right now, he had to focus. He would take direct control of Charlie team. As they trickled in he placed them about the Armory, readying them for the incoming attack.
Rultok had given Darth Lethin the pick of his men. He wasn’t sure what the Darth wanted with them, he might want to eat them for all he knew, just as long as he wasn’t the one getting killed. Rultok had regained his composure and nerves as he transported back to the Armory. He figured he still had a hundred troopers at his disposal. At the very least his men would reveal how many of the enemy they had to deal with. At the most, they would be able to inflict sufficient casualties to the invading party. Rultok had no illusions of victory. Non force users going up against force users was always a massacre, but if they could open the door for Darth Lethin, that would be enough.
“Sir,” A sergeant saluted Rultok. “It has begun.”
The Warlord looked up from his grim little errand, shaking his head as the breaching charges detonated, a dull thump against a wind that bit like a driven nail. The mass of men ahead were an unexpected turn, though it wasn’t quite clear if it was against the House or an expedient in disguise. He tore through the two corpses’ vest pockets for ammo before liberating three grenades and the one rifle that hadn’t been sliced in half by the Plagueians’ newest threat. Khar Delba was still leeching the heat from the former sentries’ bones, so Odan Urr couldn’t have gotten here too long ago. Thankfully, they hadn’t the time to rob him of this meager but much appreciated bounty. Fearing that his presence wouldn’t go undetected despite his care to keep a low profile in the Force, he quit his looting quickly and began the long enough belly crawl back to the Quaestor. No one was shooting at him, from either side, so it was a fair bet that his camouflage had held up.
Vessicant rolled into the waist high natural fissure in a crouch, and began doling out his treasures to the Guardian serving as a runner between sections. Shadowkind accepted the E-11 and power packs meant for Zuser, a much needed upgrade from his pistol. One of the explosives was earmarked for Nariah to complement whatever the Hunter had on his person. He passed the other two to Shadowkind for personal usage as the stronger and more accurate thrower. “There was only one rifle.”
He watched Reith unsling his without comment, bequeathing it to the surviving Knight. Their arsenal had shrunk significantly with the second beast attack, enough that they hadn’t even chanced engaging one of the skiffs out looking for them when it wandered into range. Better to remain hidden than grab an easily traceable ride. They’d detoured into a patch of frozen behemoth dung over that encounter. There was nothing like weaving through heaps of guano bigger than you to put your situation in proper perspective. Then again it was the most stimulating feature of the landscape. It had been a long two hours’ hike before the facility came in view, and with it the reason they’d failed to see the searchers again. How the Lightsiders had both broken through the blockade and beaten them here was one of life’s rancid little mysteries. Vess was just glad not to be in charge up there.
Shadowkind stashed his burdens a little awkwardly, and was just about to move off when the Sith issued a disclaimer for good measure. “Remember now. They’re not to use these initially; only if the bastards get on top of them. Feigning weakness draws a few of them in; anything else and they’ll go to ground and in greater numbers. The towering figure nodded in silent affirmation before skulking off. The Warlord looked after him consideringly.
The Zabrak flung himself down behind the snowy bump with Nariah and Whuloc, distributing the cache and parting words as instructed. The Jedi were fighting for the entrance now, standing firm against a hail of blaster bolts from within. Their support troops were moving up as well now. He smiled at the perfect timing, slipping away again as the Obelisk began blazing away at the exposed backs of the closest group with his sidearm. None were hit at this distance, naturally, though they threw themselves down on the instant. The Knight rose to redirect the odd shot that came near, making a fine display of less than full competence. Her not going on the offensive was the final straw that prompted them into action against the perceived minor threat. Five came forward, with another four on overwatch, wary of exactly what the Plagueians had in mind. Within a few minutes the two aggressors, presumably stragglers who hadn’t made it back to Lethin’s line in time, made as though they’d had enough and began retreating.
Tra’an caught the four advancing rearguards in perfect enfilade, and they fell easily before his twin barrels before they could fire more than a few shots on his sprinting fellows. He looked to his apprentice, who had surrendered on cue, drawing attention while the Equites moved in for the kill. The group rendezvoused at the little hill, taking stock of their new toys and preparing to exploit the Jedi spearhead into the depths.
Nariah had not fully enjoyed the idea of being bait. However, the fighting had been fun. One group was down but there was more to come. The wind had picked up and a storm was fast approaching the area. Seeing had begun to be a problem, the group was fighting now in almost whiteout conditions.
The young Krath called out to the force to help aid her vision and that’s when she noticed something weird. The closer she got to the building, the stronger the feeling of dread got. Something was not right with the place; there was darkness, evil beyond words, and something she had felt before. The force was trying to convey something and she was picking up on it superbly.
Shadowkind was positioned next to the young woman when Nariah turned to him and said, “Do you feel that darkness in the force?”
“Yeah, I do,” he replied.
He suddenly stopped. All expression on his face was lost; he turned and looked Nariah right in the eyes.
“We are already here.”
The young Krath shook her head in agreement. “That’s what I was picking up on too. If the Brotherhood is already in that armory, then who are we fighting?”
Both Nariah and Shadowkind knew they had to tell the others about this, but trying to find them in this storm would be difficult. They finally found the group after about five minutes of searching the small area of frozen hell.
Eiko could not see who was approaching but felt who it was. “What are you two doing here? You are supposed to be the bait” he yelled over the brutal force of the wind.
“You need to know something,” said Nariah. “The Brotherhood is already in the armory. We felt it when we got closer to the area. However, someone is trying to mask it.”
Eiko nodded, adjusting the volume on his mask back down. He waved Nariah back. He'd already known that something darker crowding out the Jedi's influence.
His palm stayed the remainder of the team as Tra'an and Vessicant cautiously stepped into the hole rendered by the breaching charges, dropping down to the catwalks. The journeymen followed several paces behind, blasters and sabers at the ready as the Armory's hull opened up and the Plagueians followed the sounds of conflict deeper into the facility. Three thousand years, Eiko reminded himself with a sense of awe. His eyes panned over the interior of the Armory.
So much of it had been covered in snow and ice -- the same kind that now blew in from outside, drifting over the breached wall into the heart of the Armory, this wing serving more as a hangar than a storage depot. Whatever purpose it had served, it was empty now save for the corpses of Sith defenders killed by the invading Jedi.
Vessicant led the way down to the building's ground level. Once, the wide gate would have opened out to the planet's surface and the open skies, letting Mandalorians refit and resupply for ongoing war with the ancient Sith.
"Remind the Jedi of what we did to them on New Tython," Tra'an growled as they'd all reached the ground. His heavy footsteps led the way out of the hangar into the halls of the Armory, intent on crushing the Jedi between the Plagueians and whatever forces the One Sith still had guarding this complex.
Down the hall, a huddle of light tan cloaks fended off blaster fire that volleyed in from an adjacent room. The bolts were flicked away haphazardly by a thicket of blue and green sabers. None of the Jedi broke away from the circle to engage the Plagueians -- but they'd seen them, and panic set into their eyes.
Zuser pulled out a thermal detonator from his coat, thumb adjusting the switch by feel. He held it up to make sure it was right as he was still learning to handle these matters instinctively, and found that it was off by a notch. Making the adjustment, he lobbed the weapon right for the middle of the bunch of Jedi closest to them, about ten or so.
"Fire in the Hole!" His voice echoed in the confined space, a blast of Telekinetic power from the Dread Lord forcing it exactly where it had been meant to go, right into the middle of the pack of Jedi. The scramble for them to escape was almost comedic as a few of the smarter ones leapt clear. The remaining Jedi became one with the Force as the explosion consumed them, igniting their very essence with nuclear fire.
As the five that had escaped landed and reoriented themselves against the invading force, it became clear that the odds had just evened dramatically.
"Throwdown your weapons and leave in that Peace you're always babbling on about, and my Master will let you live. Stay..." Zuser's eyes turned hard and cold, "and perish." The group watched as for a moment, the funny goofball became his Master's disciple, truly intent on the ways of the Dark Side.
Shadowkind slipped to the side while the Jedi took a moment to consider their options. He examined the racks of weapons and grabbed a pair of Mandolorian Blaster Pistols. Walking calmly and alertly back into the room, he tossed one of them to their erstwhile pilot who caught it by reflex. They all ducked behind cover as the Jedi ignited their lightsabers.
"Death then, by your choice. I shall enjoy relieving you of those weapons you should not have." Tra'an's words stirred the bloodlust anew in the members of House Plagueis. Together, they stood to defeat the light as it came rushing for them, silent as they raced toward their doom.
As his companions fanned out to engage the band of Lightsiders, Shadowkind chucked the second blaster to his fellow Journeyman, who in turn, rapidly fired off a double barrage of blaster-bolts at the on-rushing Jedi. The attacker farthest-right was hit squarely by three of those rounds across his armored collarbone, and stumbled a little under the onslaught, before Eiko bore down on him in fury.
Dismembering his opponent’s forward leg with a whirling reverse-slash of his saber, the Obelisk Prelate rose with the spin, to deliver a devastating Force-imbued kick, snapping the human’s neck and sending his twisted corpse flailing back into his trailing compatriot... a ‘huge’ wookiee, holding two white bladed, dual-phase lightsabers. Satisfied with the pile of fur and flesh, for the moment, the masked butcher spun... locking sabers with a pale, tattoo-faced human female.
Their blades crackled, and bathed the dimly lit hallway in a oceanic shimmer, as the beams’ glacial-blue and crystal-green hues swam against one another torrentially. The woman sank away from his blade-lock and into the floor... a gleaming durasteel dart protruding a finger’s length from her left temple, and its point poking through her right temple. Between, both eyes rolled back in her head... her mouth sagged towards the floor. Eiko swept up her lightsaber before it could touch the duracrete.
Nariah faced off squarely to the left-side of the group, awaiting the blinding rush of a twi’lek male. A nikto female hot on his heels, ran headless for a step and fell, as Vessicant recalled his hurled blade to intercept the path of the twi’lek. Pulling up short, so as to block the flying saber and not lose his own head, the twi’lek barely escaped his comrade’s fate with his own cobalt deflection.
A Force-strike to the groin, from the Plagueian Knight he’d intended to attack, bugged his eyes from his purple face. A swift upward-slash from the Krath’s purple saber-blade cleaved that face vertically in two. The Jedi slumped to his knees and collapsed on his ‘two’ faces, dead.
Now untangling himself and springing to his feet, the wookiee roared his outrage and pain at his loss of so many in so few seconds. His subsequent charge was abruptly halted, his howl cut short, as he floated flailing and kicking above the Plagueians, clutching his throat and chest. His bright blades slurped back into their two-handed hilts as they clattered to the corridor floor. The sounds would serve as his death-rattle in their eery finality. His last moments of life viewed curiously by the party, while he contorted and clawed. As the zabrak quickly stowed the fallen twin sabers he noted an odd... creaking. They all did, actually.
At first, Shadowkind assumed the sound he was hearing came from the Jedi’s throat, struggling for precious oxygen, tearing under the pressure of Vessicant’s powerful Force-grip and his own clawing. That was until the wookiee’s rib-cage exploded outward, releasing a large beating heart, the blood and gore suspended in mid-air around it.
Vessicant’s casual hand gesture sent the shaggy limp body soaring back down the hall, Tra’an’s hand faintly caressing the air; the beating organ still floating, held firmly in his control. All, except the Sith Warlord, appeared enthralled by its continually slowing rythm. Seemingly miffed at his kill being nicked, the wroonian deactivated his lightsaber and brooded... if only a bit.
‘How kriffin' rude!', he thought, pursing his lips and shaking his head slightly. 'Indeed!'
Tra’an gazed at the wookiee heart for a second longer, before clenching his fingers into a fist. The heart seemed to implode, crushed by the Dread Lord’s might, before slapping bloodless to the cold floor. The life’s fluid it once housed spattered around it, no longer held by the Obelisk’s power. His green, probing glare surveyed them each in turn, then fixed on Zuser before he spoke. The brisk words pulling all from their reveries, “Show’s over, ladies... Let’s move!”
The Warlord motioned curtly for Jadon to accompany him on point, and she twigged what he was at, extinguishing her amethyst blade and taking up the grenade gifted earlier. There were still men in there, his instincts told him, unable or unwilling to flee when the Jedi had been drawn off. Or perhaps they’d been about to before being cowed into a moment’s stupor by the brutality of the Jedi leader’s demise, the proof of which had providentially landed right on their doorstep. It was probably the latter, since the bulk of them were beginning to move toward the exit.
The nimble enough Krath rushed forward at his behest and tucked into a shoulder roll that brought her to the other side of the doorway. The rifle barrel coming around to snap fire at her passing form dipped slightly at the moment of horrified realization, cleaved a heartbeat before its wielder found himself tugged forward by force’s beyond his comprehension. Vessicant withdrew rather than skewering this human shield, forcing his allies to moralize ending him out of self-preservation rather than simply firing upon inert flesh. It was an extra moment for the crouched Knight to operate under protection, tossing her cooking grenade between the unbalanced man’s legs while all eyes were focused upwards.
The Knight raced into the dust cloud ahead of the Equite, both clamouring over the dead man face first in the Wookiee’s splayed chest. The few mostly deafened and dazed survivors were neutralized easily. The two Dark Jedi scanned the room for any they had missed before moving to fall in behind the others who had started forging on ahead.
Office after office passed as the Warlord and Nariah ran down the long, white corridors. The other members in their group went ahead and started searching the armory. Now they were playing catch up and taking down any remaining Jedi that may have gotten missed. The sound of blaster fire rang out from down the left hall.
“Looks like we found them,” Nariah said through laughter.
Vessicant and the young woman reached their companions in the hope of aiding in the fighting that was going on; instead, they found body after body on the floor and their friend smiling at them.
“What took you two so long?” Eiko replied.
Ignoring the comment, Nariah surveyed their surrounding area. They were at the dead end part of a hallway that opened up to a larger loading area. The group stood outside the arms room door. Everything seemed to be quiet for the moment. A little too quiet, Nariah thought.
Eiko opened the arms room door. There was a bright light and a flash. Everyone was blown into the wall behind them. Vessicant was actually blown through the wall. Dust and debris filled the area. The young woman looked up to see blue and green light sabers coming straight at them.
Nariah stood igniting her light saber, looking around to the rest of the group. The guys were slow getting up. However, they did seem to notice their new threat. The ringing in the ears had not let up but the young Krath would have to deal with that later. Now it was time to fight and come one step closer to victory.
Whiteness. Painful whiteness and a loud ringing in his ears. Zuser couldn't sense anything else. His hands flexed, feeling the cold floor beneath him. He opened his eyes, straining through the whiteness and he found himself laying on the floor, his Mandalorian blaster pistol on the floor in front of him.
Stang! A stun grenade. One of his hands felt its way up the wall behind him while the other pushed against the floor as he moved his body into a crouch.
The Hunter blinked away the already fading whiteness as he grabbed the blaster and looked around, seeing a group of seven Jedi enter combat with his team. Zuser lifted the blaster up and aimed for an Aqualish whose blue saber slashed at Nariah. The Jedi Hunter shot three times, each one hitting the Aqualish and brought him down, allowing Nariah to engage a Rodian wielding a green saber.
Zuser grinned and shot at a Trandoshan that was heading for Vessicant who was currently climbing out of the hole in the wall he was smashed through. The young human shot twice at the Trandoshan who had taken a small leap and was about to strike the Warlord with a double-ended blue saber. The Trandoshan ended up hitting the wall and was dead before impact with two burnt holes in his robes.
Vessicant looked at the dead reptilian and then at Zuser before releasing a muttered, “Lucky shot.”
The young Hunter smirked and took aim again before he was hit by a force push, knocking him over. He was in the middle of getting his bearings before he was hit with another force push, causing him to tumble back into the hallway his team came through. He realized as he stopped tumbling that he had been forced to drop the blaster after the first push. He scrambled to get up and fumbled for his lightsaber. He glared ahead at his advancing attacker but his glare quickly turned into wide, surprised eyes when he saw his attacker was the Aqualish he thought was dead.
“Fierfek... You should’ve stayed down.” Zuser’s green blade ignited sharply, the green hue mixing with the blue in the room. The Aqualish’s face twisted into a grin as he ignited the other end of his saber showing it was a saber staff. He staggered toward Zuser, who held his ground, waiting for the Aqualish to strike. Two full seconds passed before the Aqualish lunged at the young human with a forward thrust.
Zuser parried with a horizontal upward bat of his blade, followed by a horizontal slash to the Aqualish’s side. With a dull thud, the Aqualish's body fell to the ground. The young Jedi Hunter exhaled as he deactivated his lightsaber and hooked it back to his belt before making his way back down the hallway to the battle. Right before he turned the corner, he found his Mandalorian blaster pistol on the floor. He picked it up and tucked it back into his belt before rejoining his team.
Mackrus left the battle as soon as it was evident that he had no idea what was going on. Jedi showed up, the group they had been following was now fighting them and whatever poor unfortunate got in there way. He lead his group, they got slaughtered and he left. He didn't need the fighting or the nightmares. He only stared hard into the holo of his wife. She had a beautiful smile on her face. The same smile she gave him when he returned home from deployment.
Mackrus didn't care what happened to that psycho force user Lethin. Nor did he care about his commander, or the people he had watched get killed so effortlessly. It was over for him, and he was fine with that. He looked around him in the transport, plenty of young men and women, torn to shreds. Some were sporting cauterized limbs, trophies from the weapons of force wielders. It didn't surprise him that the transport was nearly half empty. He had deactivated the cannon to allow the transport freedom, as long as it took him with it.
A few of the soldiers were doing what he was doing, looking at holo's of their loved ones. Others only held the stare of defeat, of misery, of total apathy. Mackrus had seen that look many times before, and he knew what would happen to those who had it. If they were lucky they would end it before there superiors could get a hold of them, wipe their brains and force them into the hells once more.
"It looks bad," one of the pasty faced soldiers noted to Mackrus.
Mackrus looked down at his chest, the gaping wound of a blaster bolt still oozing its protest as Mackrus refused to die. He had actually forgotten about it. "Just a scratch," Mackrus shrugged turning back to the holo. It didn't hurt, how could something be fatal if it didn't hurt? "Just a scratch," he breathed out, one last time.
The corridor was silent. Drafts of cold wind stirred the snow on the floor, gathering it against the walls and portways. Snowflakes wisped about the air in front of the Sith-agent creeping along, looking, listening, and ‘feeling’ for anything out of place. Aside from the snow, nothing was odd. His instincts protested otherwise.
“Wraith to Ascendant-Leader, over!” The zabrak’s deep whisper carrying a short distance down the chilled corridor. He switched the voice-dampener of his mask’s modulator on. Aside from the ghostly moan and whine of the intruding wind, it was too quiet. The type of silence that, in his experiences, heralded a trap or an ambush.
“Ascendant-Leader here. Send it, Wraith!” The Quaestor’s sudden command-response a welcomed change to the silence of the Journeyman’s present surroundings. The nape of his neck tickled, forcing a shiver down his spine.
Before the young Plagueian could relay his scouting-report, his nose rankled and he exhaled sharply, to clear it of the familiar pungent musk threatening to overwhelm his senses. Turning his head, and instinctively bringing his left-hand to his mouth-guard, he stifled a curse.
Facing the end of the corridor from which he’d come, Shadowkind saw it slink across the intersecting hall. The light fixtures in the corridor flickered erratically, partially masking the creature’s enormity in shifting shadows... There were two! As if multiplying, the shadow split from itself and slunk away three meters. Their tails flicked, signalling one another.
Shadowkind’s rage threatened to consume him. How dare a pair of cubs stalk him! Narglatch or not, these two knew little of the hunt.
“Ascendant-Leader to Wraith... Come in, over!” Reith’s tone betrayed more than impatience at the Jedi Hunter’s reluctance, or inability, to relay his intel. The urgency of their mission’s completion, accompanied by the strain of Nite Dawn’s death, was becoming palpable.
The young Journeyman ignored the transmission and cleared his mind. The shadows flickered in the intersection... tails swishing. Shadowkind forced his rage to be just still enough to grasp it’s reigns.
“Wait one, Ascendant-Leader!”, replied the Operative, now focusing his affinity of the beasts into a direct command to the larger predator, and then his smaller sister. His deep voice reverberating over the comm-links, like three men speeking soothingly in unison.
“I AM NEITHER FOOD NOR ENEMY... YOU ARE SAFE WITH ME... YOU BELONG TO ME... I WILL SHOW YOU.” The words were useless, really. Merely guidelines for him to follow, while he impressed images of safety, comradery, leadership and provision upon the beasts. They were afraid, but only minimally. The site’s current activities, especially today’s events, had them unsure of themselves. He’d change that.
Sweat trailing down his temples, the Sith stretched out his hands... and summoned them to his sides, gesturing the paths they should take with his index-fingers. Both stalked silently out of the strobing shadows slowly towards him, sniffing the air around him. They were questioning their own judgement, looking for excuses to distrust their own decisions.
The caress the Hunter gave both, as they flanked and sat facing him, ‘sealed the deal’. Tails swished contently. The mane of the male splayed against his back and shoulders, as his sister gave a quiet rumble, lowering her head to nuzzle at Shadowkind’s hair.
They were ‘massive’; the female’s chest was in line with the zabrak’s face. And the male was even larger, almost by a third. The Narglatch nudged his armored hands, encouraging contact, squinting periodically to signal their satisfaction at making a new friend.
Upon closer view, he could see they weren’t entirely black, as he had first thought. Their bristly fur gleamed burgundy in the florescent light of the hall, and showed black striping about their shoulders and faces.They were magnificent to behold. Like... children... capable of rending him limb from limb.
The smell of Behemoth blood alerted him to the fact the cubs had recently fed and were most likely prompted to his position due to all the noise he’d made entering this section of the armory... Apparently, their chosen turf. If they were pets, he would’ve had nearly no chance of avoiding them without a fight... One he wasn’t so sure he’d have won.
He’d never seen specimens of such calibre in the wild, or any zoo; Narglatch being common to many planets in the known galaxy, the agent had crossed paths with quite a few, and knew their behaviour well. One could even say he was a minor authority on the beasts. These were... different, to say the least.
“Wraith!.. Sit-rep, over?” The Dread Lord’s impatient prompt registered to the Journeyman like lava in a tundra. He continued to pet the pair of Narglatch as he answered his leader’s beckon.
“Wraith here... Situation is ‘green to gold’. Movement through this wing can proceed... with caution.” There was a hint of a smile in Shadowkind’s voice at the tail-end of the statement.
“Why, what’ve we got?” The impatient tone persistent as the Quaestor pressed for more intel.
“Narglatch... BIG ones!” Shadowkind answered, after a moment’s hesitation. Then added,
“We should be alright. They seem friendly enough.”
“Friendly enough?... Wraith, push forward. We’re converging on your position now. The vault should be close. Readings say the command center’s been sealed. Find it and set the charges. We’ll continue to sweep the area of stragglers as we motivate towards the Vault. Our trajectories will overlap. Ascendant-Leader out!”
“No time to play, pretty-ones... I have work to do. Try to stay out of trouble.” The words were spoken softly as the Hunter scratched behind a huge ear and under a huge chin.
He turned and stalked off, leaving the Narglatch staring after his back, as he peeked around the corner at the end of the corridor... and disappeared.
The female nestled her head under her brother’s chin, sliding up against him, growling softly. He licked the top of her maneless head a few times and slid past her, towards where the strange-looking Narglatch had gone. She needed no encouragement to follow.
Looking out over his assembled group, Tra'an took stock of what they had before moving in o finish this.
"Eiko and I will take point. We'll wade in and split them up. Nariah and Zuser, I want you to pick off the idiots on the edges, keep them off us and keep them confused." The Dread Lord's words were acknowledged with nods and final weapons checks.
"Vessicant," the Wroonian gave him a glare, "I want you take on that idiot that calls himself a Sith Lord. I'm betting he's a one trick pony, and that if you keep him distracted enough, that he'll not be anything you can't handle." The glare vanished, replaced with a grin.
Shadowkind slunk into the room carefully and quietly, his presence noted only because Tra'an was looking for him.
"Wraith, I want you to implant explosives around the base. If need be, I want you to be able to bring down the room." Shadowkind didn't bother to reply with words, just sending a doubleclick over the comms.
Moving forward to stand beside Eiko, he nodded to his friend and fellow.
"Let's do this!" Tra'an sent quietly over the comms.
The two Equites pushed open the doors into hell.
Within were ten devoted One Sith adherents, all with their lightsabers active. The uniform glow of crimson seemed to stretch out and call to them, beckoning their blood to be sacrificed at the altar of worship upon which their "Sith Lord" stood.
"Kill them! Kill the intruders! Bring me their skulls!" The screams of their leader galvanized the Sith into action, all of them sprinting for the doorway. Tra'an and Eiko rushed forward to meet them and clear the doorway, a well placed intercept of Lightsabers mixed with using the Force to tweak some of their enemies led to the entire wave crashing upon them as a rock and splitting around them.
Nariah's lightsaber was only seconds behind in eliminating the left most Sith as he ignored her in favor of the two Equites in the middle. Zuser's crack markmanship with his new pistol left a smoking hole in the head of yet another of the Sith.
Tra'an deflected the blows of his foes with precision and artistry, watching for the moment he could reach out and grab the throat of one of the fools, crushing it with his right hand, as his left continued to deflect the blows from his remaining Sith foe.
Eiko took that moment to slide between his attackers, hamstringing one of them, leaving him to fall to yet another crack shot from Zuser as the Jedi Hunter retreated from his own foes, slowing their advance with carefully placed shots.
Vessicant sprinted through the mess of combat, climbing the stairs to the altar three at a time before launching himself at the "Sith Lord". The emerald lightsaber ignited in mid-jump, swinging around to land all the power of the aggressive rush into one blow. Even as the self proclaimed Darth ignited his crimson lightsaber, he wielded the Force to push back against his foe.
Vessicant felt the push and saw that he was going to miss his target, ending up flying over the back of the altar. Reaching out, he grabbed the pedestal, using the momentum to swing around and slam his feet into the chest of the Human. The unexpected intelligent grab and redirection took a moment to process, and by then the Sith felt himself being hurled off the side of his own altar.
As the Darth flew through the air, he completed a full flip and landed on his feet, skidding a meter in the process. Growling like one of his controlled subjects, the cult leader rushed back into combat as the Wroonian landed before him.
Shadowkind shot one of the two Sith as they finally closed on Zuser, leaving the other to turn and wonder at the death of his companion, in time to receive his own smoking head wound. Nodding at each other, the Jedi Hunters split, the pilot to help Nariah with her two fools, and the saboteur to emplace his munitions.
With a resounding boom, the rear door opened and five more Sith flooded into the room. Alerted by the loss of control of the herds on the plain, they rushed in to see what had distracted their Lord. Two of them saw Shadowkind kneeling, emplacing his first explosive and rushed him.
As they got close, the Jedi Hunter looked up in alarm, only to have two forms launch themselves past him. The Narglatchs from earlier launched themselves against the Sith. The surprise yells turned into screams as teeth and claws shredded them into pieces before they could even activate their weapons, the powerful predators protecting what they thought to be one of their own.
Taking a moment, Shadowkind reached out to them, drawing them close to him, getting them to stay close and out of the way. They padded along as he moved to his next spot, carefully watching and growling if anything moved too close, but not attacking that which wasn't an obvious threat.
Zuser's timely arrival distracted the foes as they pressed Nariah. A missed shot sent a plasma bolt through a shoulder instead of a head, causing the Sith to fall back and turn to face the Jedi Hunter, only to be slain with a copper sizzle. Tra'an called his Lightsaber back to him as Nariah got the upper hand on her opponent by removing his after disarming him. The Sith looked at the stump of an arm and had barely moments to comprehend it before his head joined his hand on the ground.
The tide was turning as the united Plagueians felled their opposition. Tra'an turned from the weaklings and moved to engage the Sith Lord beside Vessicant, timing it right to engage when they were split apart.
"I am the Dread Lord of Plagueis, and your time has COME!" he bellowed as he struck at the Human.
Darth Lethin's voice strained as he barked panicked orders to his remaining acolytes. The Jedi alone had been an obstacle, but for the chain of rival Dark Siders to follow so quickly...
Tra'an swept his saber toward the Darth's midsection. Every guard against the amber saber had to be followed by a second parry against an icy blue saber wielded by the shorter, masked figure who nearly danced around the strikes, probing Lethin's defenses with a muted playfulness. That figure played underneath the full-bodied strikes of an emerald saber wielded by the Wroonian. Interspersed with loose shots from a blaster and managing his forces, Lethin felt his forehead growing warm.
It started with the burning pain in his off-shoulder, a long gash that seared his robes to his skin and laid bare the flesh underneath. Lethin swung wildly, driving back the three assailants. He grasped vainly for control over the two narglatches, feeling the Force as if from a great distance. What connection he could manage shifted into a blast of energy. The Equites slipped back, their feet sliding over the floor.
With a muffled scream, another acolyte fell. The invaders surged forward again, focusing their efforts on crippling Lethin's already weakened left side. A strike from the Wroonian drove Lethin's own saber against him, shattering a block and leaving space for the masked figure and the one who had called himself the Dread Lord to harangue Lethin's chest. The Darth felt the shock rush through his body as one of his knees, no longer supported by its neighbor muscles, collapsed to the uneven ground.
With a stern, Force-imbued kick, Tra'an separated his blade from where it was resting, buried halfway into the Darth's chest. Lethin sputtered.
"Heal yourself, if you can," Tra'an spoke coldly, "or let yourself die now. It's your choice, depending on how much you enjoy having a building weighing on your chest." A sidelong glance at the masked figure released him to lead the others on a search of this room. Vessicant kept his saber at the ready, quietly waiting for the right to eliminate the Sith.
With blurred vision, Lethin watched as the narglatch-guarded Zabrak shifted further along the wall, pulling the last few charges out of his supplies and placing them expertly. Another invader tucked his blaster back into a holster and crouched in front of a skeletal Mandalorian. With an unceremonial twist, Zuser separated the helmet and skull from the remainder of the skeleton's armor.
"You... you'll destroy this Armory?" Lethin asked, squinting hard against the pain and the lack of understanding.
"Once we have what we came for," Tra'an gestured towards where Eiko was busy bullying his way into one of the archaic consoles, "we have no reason to stay."
Eiko let his fingers play with the access cable idly as his eyes scanned the old green-and-black screen. Inventories, rolls, manifests -- while he didn't feel rushed, Eiko still collected more than he would need. His normal caution was outclassed by the explosives lining the walls, promising to annihilate everything in the room. With little effort, he cut his way into the partially decayed research records housed somewhere else in the building and hauled them back safely into his control.
As soon as he saw Eiko's thumb jut into the air, Tra'an stepped back from the kneeling Lethin.
"Have you made your choice?"
Lethin's wound was slowly closing, a weak smirk resting on his lips. "Enjoy it while it lasts, child. You won't defeat all of us. We will have the day."
Tra'an smirked. "Vessicant," he commanded sharply. The green saber severed head from neck. The five other Plagueians surrounded Tra'an, stepping back out of the chamber as Shadowkind's fingers wrapped around the trigger.
The concussion flicked their capes backwards and created a rushing cloud of debris that overtook them as they strode back to the entrance.