Team Imperial Alpha - House Scholae Palatinae
KP Xantros - 11518
KP Draco Maligo - 8521
SW Varkain Athanas - 7692
DJK Eetherbiail - 11484
JH Shadow Nighthunter - 11405
36 ABY, Rhelg, nearby the fortress of Ludo Kreesh
The ancient fortress of Ludo Kreesh on Rhelg. A legendary home of a legendary Sith Lord; a place which many Dark Jedi have only dreamed about, yet five privileged Dark Jedi of House Scholae Palatinae stood in front of its entrance. All were amazed by its size and the power that emanated from it's very structure, a power which had remained dormant inside for millenia.
“Magnificent,” whispered Xantros in awe. “And still intact…despite all these millenia, it stands here and its treasures await for these, who dare to enter the fortress.”
He was not the only one to think in that way. Other members of the task force shared his feelings. It was their chance to prove their skills and convince their superiors that they were ready to learn further secrets of their Orders.
Present were Xantros and Draco Maligo, two Krath locked in their never-ending pursuit for mysterious knowledge and deep wisdom. With them were Varkain Athanas, Eetherbiail and Shadow Nighthunter, three Sith bent on their quests for ultimate power and eternal glory.
Krath Priest Xantros, the Aedile of House Scholae Palatinae, was beyond determined to turn out successful and fearful of any failure, which could slip his chances to become the Archpriest. He saw the investigation of Ludo Kreesh’s fortress as an opportunity to make his position in the Dark Jedi Brotherhood stronger. Learning the secrets of the ancient building on the holy Sith planet might provide him an advantage over other Dark Jedi.
Draco Maligo, another Krath Priest and member of the Imperial House, was looking for answers to his endless questions. He wished to find deeper understanding of himself and to gain a stronger connection with the Force. His desires led him to join the strike team, which was tasked with investigation of the ancient fortress on Rhelg. It was this place, where he hoped he would find what he needed.
Sith Warrior Varkain Athanas was what you might call a new “re-acquisition” of House Scholae Palatinae. After several years in exile, he returned to the Dark Jedi Brotherhood and to his former unit. With so much time spent beyond the view of the Brotherhood, he needed to once more prove that his abilities not only remained intact, but had developed even more during his absence. He wished to attract the attention of the House Summit to his person and thus, he volunteered to take part in the mission to the fortress of Ludo Kreesh, as soon as he heard that it was going to be led by the Aedile.
Eetherbiail, a member of the Imperial House in rank of Dark Jedi Knight, wished to convince people-in-power that he was ready to become an Equite. He was struggling to prove his excellence and worthiness. He considered the expedition to the fortress of the ancient Sith Lord as a chance to shine like a sun and to make other Dark Jedi appreciate his dedication to the Final Way and to the Sith.
Jedi Hunter Shadow Nighthunter was in the final phase of her training and very close to earning the rank of Dark Jedi Knight, which she had permeated her dreams for what seemed like years. The expedition, she hoped, was enough to make just the very last step to finish her training and obtain a full powered lightsaber. Such a situation made her join the strike team with her Dark Brethren, as she saw the mission as a kind of trial before the ceremony, during which she was going to be Knighted. She wished to show that she was ready to stand up to the tasks and responsibilities of Dark Jedi Knights.
Two Krath and three Sith. All driven by lofty ambition, an ambition, which was certainly destined to place each member of the team at a terrible risk.
The quintet of dark Jedi stood just inside the massive slabs of granite that formed the doors to the main entrance of the fortress, its first line of defense. The vast scope of the building dwarfed the five, even the entrance hall gaping like an enormous maw, capable of swallowing a large gunboat. A pair of staircases, wide enough for half a dozen men to march up shoulder-to-shoulder, curved up to the second level. A dozen doors, none of which as gargantuan as the main doors, led off to other parts of the castle. The gleaming obsidian floor showed not a speck of dust or detritus, belying the musty smell of the dead air.
The overpowering waves of dark Force energy seemingly pulsed from the entire edifice. It beat like a busy heart. It reverberated through the five beings at a frequency of nearly eighty throbs per minute. Almost like the excitement of a pet when its master returns home. And though the dark Jedi were at the point of exhaustion after their 96 hour trek and numerous fights, the sheer power sped their pulses and energized their physical forms.
"Remember, Kressh was paranoid and had a defensive mind-set. He's bound to have laid lots of traps to keep his enemies out. Even though it's not a tomb, still it will be as dangerous as one," Draco said.
"Don't be such a dewback, Krath," spat Varkain. "If you don't want the glory stay here and cower."
"If you kriffing Sith would look before you leap the Brotherhood wouldn't be spending so much time tearing itself apart when we could be conquering the galaxy."
Eetherbiail stepped up to the black-robed priest and poked a finger in his chest. "If it weren't for the Sith you'd be sitting in a cave somewhere and muttering incantations in the dark." Both being's hands glided to the hilts of their lightsabers.
"Enough!" Xantros put a touch of the Force behind his words and listened to the echo as the three humans and one Zeltron stared at him. "It's obvious the Force energy here is affecting us adversely. We need to be more mindful of our feelings and choose our words with more care."
"But I don't . . ." Varkain began.
"Enough. We're a team. Let's act like it."
The quintet breathed out sighs of frustration and anger while looking around.
"Do we split up and cover more ground?" asked Eetherbiail.
"Stick together," Shadow said. The others looked at her.
Xantros nodded. "For now we stick together. The Force is so strong here I can't tell where it's strongest. It feels . . ."
"It feels like it's coming from everywhere," Draco finished. "From what I know of Kressh, he was guided more by his fear than his lust for power. I would guess the heart of the fortress would be down, rather than high up and vulnerable to attack."
Xantros nodded. "Makes sense. The way down is probably in the center of the monolith." He walked toward the center door ahead of them, nestled between the twin staircases. As the group strode ahead, the torches ensconced along the walls burst into flame, casting dancing orange ghosts atop the glistening floor.
"That was weird. Cool, though," said Shadow.
"So far it doesn't feel as if it's treating us like invaders," said Xantros.
"Bah, you talk as if this fortress has feelings. Let's just go." Varkain walked ahead and used a blast of the Force to splinter the thick oaken door. The Sith warrior led the way into a hallway which branched off a dozen paces in to four different passages. A keening bass wail swept over them, its echoes slowly dying as the five stood at the intersection and gazed down the various routes.
"Which way now?"
“Which way now?” reverberated through Eetherbiail to the core, he looked around the hall, pausing at each one. His vision started to blur, he couldn’t tell which one to go through. He didn’t quite panic, but Eetherbiail started to look at each door more frantically. Why can’t it be easy? He thought to himself.
Shadow Nighthunter was staring at Eether, her eyes squinted. When Eether’s gaze left her to glare at another door, she used the Force to pick up a rock and smack him in the head. He felt a burst of anger, blinked his eyes and realized…she’d snapped him out of his paranoia. He muttered a thank you and breathed deeply, ignoring her slight smirk.
Now that he was calm, Eether looked at the doors more critically, and as he stared at them all in unison, he had a sudden realization.
“It’s none of them…” he said quietly.
Xantros tilted his head towards the Dark Jedi Knight quizzically.
“What?” Xantros said in utter disbelief.
“It’s none of the doors” Eether said again.
Draco looked at Eether calmly and stated, “If you know the answer to this supposed puzzle, please, regale us with the answer.”
Eether sighed heavily and lightly walked towards one of the tapestries btween two of the doorways.
“It is not just a feeling, but if you look at the marks across both of these doors, they make two arrows that point towards this area…but what is the point of covering up such a large surface area?”
He waited for it to sink in to them all, and when it did not seem like it would, Eether sighed once more.
He replied, and gently moved the tapestry back to reveal a small doorway that a normal sized human could walk through slightly bent.
Eether looked at all of his companions come to realization, and smiles broke out among them all. They each made sure they had all of their items and slipped through the doorway into darkness.
Shadow Nighthunter looked down the steps and said, “You know…I’m glad we figured out which way to go, but I’m still not sure what that wailing was…”
As she continued down the steps, more torches blazed into life. Out of the silence, there was a sound of grinding stone, and Varkain was flying through the air. He grabbed Shadow and pulled her to the ground with inches to spare as spikes came out of the walls and speared each side.
“If you’d been there two seconds earlier, you’d be a pile of meat.”
She stared up at the sight and uttered a quick and slightly resentful thank you, and they continued in silence, the pace much slower than before the make sure they avoid any and all traps.
Out of the silence, another wail swept over them.
Varkain grunted in response. Then, out of habit or by the urging of the Force, the Sith Warrior ignited his saber and with him the others did the same. His hair began to stand on end and he felt a sense of foreboding as the second wail took place. “We're not alone.” Without another word, Varkain took the lead, nudging Shadow aside slightly as he took his place at the front.
The stairway began to broaden as it wound it's way down and the Jedi, with their blades of blue, yellow, red and purple, could stand abreast safely. Suddenly, Varkain halted in mid-step and shot his hand out to stop the group. Another wail reverberated through the chamber, but this time it was quite different than the ones before, lower in volume and deeper in pitch.
“What the hell is that?” whispered Xantros and Draco in unison. The two Krath shot glances of disdain at each other.
“How cute!” muttered Eetherbiail, “It must be a Krath thing.”
Varkain smirked slightly, but Xantros and Draco were not amused. “Stand down, Knight!” Without a word, Varkain stepped to Eether's side and Xantros and Draco stood toe-to-toe with the Knight, their chests heaving in anger.
Shadow spun around to watch the spectacle and sarcastically commented, “Well this is exciting!”
Varkain's and Xantros' eyes met, and immediately the two Jedi understood each other. Still, Varkain spoke in a calm voice to the others, “You said yourself, Xan: we need to be more mindful of our feelings...” Eether bristled and Varkain looked at him sidelong with stern eyes, “...we must choose our words with more care.”
Xantros nodded slowly, turned to Draco and, with a simple raising of his brow, the two Krath took a few steps back. “We have a mission, let's stick to it. Shall we?” the Aedile concluded.
They continued for a moment before the stairway leveled and they were once more in a chamber like the entrance hall, but quite a bit wider and deeper. The floor was a silvery black obsidian like the entrance and the walls were a pale gray. As the Jedi entered the chamber, dozens of torches sprang to life, illuminating the room in an eerie, yellow and orange glow. The tapestries down there weren't as ornate and in fact were rather plain and drab, time having had it's way with them over the centuries. In the center of the room there was a pedestal about a meter high and about 30 centimeters in diameter. As the Jedi cautiously approached it, they could see three two-pronged clips protruding from the pedestal. Varkain glanced at his lightsaber hilt and mused that the clips were around the size of his own hilt.
His thinking was cut short as suddenly a loud click resonated through the stone chamber. “Damn.” Varkain turned about and where Shadow, Draco, and Eetherbial stood there was a depression in the floor in the shape of a triangle. “Down!!!”cried Varkain as the group hit the floor with inhuman speed aided by the Force. From out of holes in the wall flew sharp projectiles, buzzing their heads and shooting from all around the room. The barrage was over as quickly as it started and the quintet took to their feet with caution. Xantros and Varkain stood on solid ground, but the rest of them remained on the pressure plate, unsure of how to proceed.
Xantros lent a suggestion, “It's already gone off, it needs to reset. Quickly now!”
Without another word, Eether and Shadow stepped to the right and Draco to the left, out of the depression. As Xantros had said, the pressure plate returned to his former height with a click and the room once more became silent.
“I wonder if all Sith are this paranoid.” commented Draco as he dusted off his robes and join the equites. Eether and Shadow remained where they were.
The Warrior responded, “Ha, this is just the beginning, Krath. Next time, we won't be so lucky."
The Aedile responded and added, "Another mishap like that, and we'll all arrive home in bodybags."
Having nearly been gored by spikes and just barely avoiding the chance of becoming a pin cushion thanks to Varkain, Shadow couldn’t help but to feel like a burden to the rest of the team. Unlike the others who were already falling victims to tension, Shadow stayed calm and focused more on controlling her emotions. The dark energy of the Force already threatened to overwhelm her, but with much concentration she kept her emotions at bay. If the mission was to be a success at all, she couldn’t let her emotions or the tension that spread like a plague amongst the others get the better of her. Her strategy was simple: stay focused and survive.
Looking towards the center of the room, she observed the pedestal with the three clips. Like Varkain, she noticed that the clips had the right fit for the hilt of a lightsaber. Trying to comprehend the possible purposes of the pedestal, her thoughts were interrupted by another wail.
“Seriously, what the hell is that?” Draco inquired again irritably.
“Beats me,” Shadow answered calmly. “Whatever it is, we won’t find out what it is if we keep dawdling here. Let’s figure out how this pedestal thing works.”
“As we can all see,” Xantros began. “There are three clips, each of them enough room for a lightsaber. Obviously, placing three lightsabers should activate some sort of mechanism. The question is, exactly what does it activate?”
“Why don’t we find out?” Eether asked. “There are five of us and three clips. Who wants to volunteer their saber?”
“I will,” Xantros immediately replied. “Who wants to join me in this game of chance?”
“That will be me,” Varkain answered. “Who’s the lucky number three?”
Before Shadow could volunteer, Eether beat her to the challenge. “I’ll be your lucky number three.”
“Great, now let’s see what this pedestal has in store for us,” Xantros said as the three volunteers each reached for their lightsabers and placed them in the clips.
When all three Dark Jedi placed their lightsabers into the clips, another click, or rather the sound of large mechanism changing its position resounded through the hall. For a moment nothing happened, but a few moments later a large part of the furthermost wall began to slowly separate in the middle, one piece of the wall going down into the floor and the other up into the ceiling. Behind it, there appeared another corridor, which probably led further to the interior of the fortress. Finally, both pieces of the wall slammed into place, leaving a wide and tall opening to the next chamber. The way was clear.
“Let’s go,” spoke Draco Maligo with haste. “We need to hurry up! Who knows how long it'll remain open.”
“Not so fast,” replied Xantros with a cold, commanding voice. “We do not know what we will find out there.” He pointed to the next chamber with his finger.
“And?” asked Shadow Nighthunter impatiently. Despite her efforts to remain calm, she could not resist the strong influence of the Dark Side, which was nearly palpable in the ancient building.
“We will need our lightsabers, if we want to stay alive long enough to recover the artifacts and return to our outpost,” answered Xantros.
“Draco still has his own,” spoke Shadow, pointing at the Krath.
“That makes one out of five,” taunted Varkain.
“I hope that I do not have to remind you that you do NOT have the right to wield a full powered lightsaber yet, hunter,” spoke Xantros with anger rising in his voice. “This place affects us strongly; we cannot waste time for further meaningless discussions.”
“Our hilts are like keys, and once a key is retracted...” asked Varkain.
“The door closes...” finished Eetherbial as he glanced at the Sith Warrior.
“We do not know for sure, but I guess we will find out,” said Draco. “The question that remains is how quickly.”
“That is why we shall get through the chamber and stand next to the door. We may use the Force to pull our lightsabers from their places and quickly move behind the door,” spoke the Aedile.
“That doesn't sound like a good idea to me…” murmured the Jedi Hunter.
“Sounds like a Krath's plan, never quite with it.” chided Eether with a smirk.
“Do you have any other, better ideas?” Xantros responded with patience, though anger was welling up inside of him.
No one responded.
“Then sit quiet and listen to the more experienced ones. I want to remind you that I am the Aedile and the leader of this mission. My words are sacred and my thoughts are orders.”
“He's right! Keep calm, people, ” spoke Draco. “We really need to move on.”
Draco and Shadow advanced into the dark chamber beyond. The Priest could feel the humming of the dark Force energy from somewhere inside the impenetrable gloom. It wasn't mindless. It had purpose, and it felt . . . lonely. Draco closed his eyes and quieted his mind. He used the Force to peer into the etheric, past the inky blackness that his physical eyes couldn't pierce, and saw a magnificent creature, bathed in blue and white other-worldly colors. She was humanoid and wore flowing robes of iridescent cobalt plasma.
"Beautiful," he whispered, as he stepped haltingly toward her. Shadow looked around while the other three slowly edged toward the doorway, afraid to take their gazes off their lightsaber hilts.
"Uh, guys, I think there's a problem," Nighthunter said while backing away.
The female vision smiled at Draco. "Come. I've been waiting so long." And she beckoned with her hand. The black clad Priest stepped deeper into the room, the gloom swallowing him from his companions.
Xantros bulled his way into the chamber, wondering why the torches weren't springing to life like every other room and corridor in the fortress. He pushed his way past Shadow until he spied Draco walking as if in a dream. The Duro waved his hand, expecting the Force to deliver the sleepwalking Krath to his feet, but the Force felt like it was anchoring Maligo.
"Ignore them. There can be only one," the vision whispered in her siren-song voice.
"Maligo!" Xantros shouted at the retreating back. He, Varkain, and Eetherbiail dashed forward and bodily grabbed Draco, pulling him away.
"No!" both the Priest and the vision shouted in unison. Maligo tried to pull away, but the three pairs of arms holding him were too strong. He reached for his lightsaber, but couldn't break the strong grip of Varkain's. The scrum reached the door.
"No!" the vision cried again, her lovely visage turning ugly, bestial. "I will not be denied," she said, her Force form disappearing with a pop and a burst of energy that flung the quintet into the next chamber. The doors slammed shut, and the three lightsaber hilts shot from the slots in the stone plinth.
Draco jumped to his feet and rushed the sealed door. "NO! Come back," he wailed while beating on the door with his fists. Xantros strode surely up behind him and sucker-punched Maligo in the back of the head, sending him crashing into the door and collapsing to the floor in a heap.
"What was that?" asked Eether.
"Cognitive recalibration. He was in some kind of Force-trance, and hopefully when he wakes up the connection will be broken."
"And he'll be back to his usual kooky Krath self?" asked Shadow with a smirk. Xantros scowled at her. "Maybe you guys should be more careful where you stick your lightsabers."
"We're going to try this again," said Xantros as he called his saber to his hand. "I will not be denied. This time we do it fast, no dawdling. Shadow, as soon as the door is open get Draco inside. Varkain, Eether, we all move immediately, get inside the doorway, and call our sabers. No hesitation, no delay. Got it?" The three Sith nodded and they all moved into position.
Shadow pulled a glowrod from the pack on her back, slapped it on, and used the Force to levitate the unconscious Krath. Xantros, Varkain, and Eetherbiail ignited their sabers, rammed them home, and dashed as the twin slabs of stone gaped apart. All five made it into the room, and the flying lightsabers barely made it into waiting hands before the doors again slammed shut.
Nighthunter held the glowrod aloft as she stepped into the room. "Now what?"
Eether and the others had barely gotten their lightsabers off of the switch and through the doors just in time. He was pretty sure that someone's had almost gotten stuck due to the sparks that had lightly flown as the doors shut.
He held his saber in his hand and gently caressed it with his thumb. If he had lost it, he would not know what he would do...after all of his hard work, he was not about to lose hislightsber now.
"Move!" Xantros yelled.
The four at once jogged down to where they had almost lost Draco to his trance, Xantros carrying the unconscious Krath. Eether blinked a few times and swore he saw blue mist forming around his chest level, there was something about it that was intoxicating. He wanted nothing more than to walk towards it and merge with it, let it take him over in sweet embrace.
Varkain hit Eether with the hilt of his lightsaber, brining him out of his daze. Eether shook his head and the mist was gone. While Eether was recovering from his disorientation, Xantros handed off Draco to Varkain and was already moving to the side of the chamber, and stood in the doorway. "Let's go, we have a job to do and a mission to succeed in." he urged them.
Eether looked behind them to where the mist formed in his mind, "There's no way to get out behind us! I hope we can find an escape route. It doesn't look like the Force will help us out of this one."
“Do not doubt the ways of the Force, Knight.” Came Varkain's cryptic reply.
Pulling Draco along, the four gathered past the doorway into the antechamber and stared at a life-size statue of a robed man who seemed to be a Jedi of sorts. The garment in which he was depicted was black and covered everything except for his eyes that seemed to glow, lifelike, in their sockets. Around the statue was an eerie blue and green glow. It was just there, like smoke or a mist, radiating from the statue's pedestal.
"I wonder where that's coming from" Shadow muttered under her breath. Finally, Draco groaned and slowly opened his eyes and shook his head, flailing his limbs about until he found solid ground beneath his feet. He looked at Varkain with contempt, as if he had caused it all, but then quickly looked at the statue and pedestal and took in a sharp intake of breath, "That man...” he muttered, “It's almost as if...the Force is radiating off of him...off of the pedestal. But that's not possible...is it?"
“Do not doubt the ways of the Force,” mimicked Eether with a glance at the Sith Warrior.
The group slowly walked towards the statue. Eether looked around them and saw no torches lining the wall, the thing emanating light was in the center of the room. He gripped the hilt of his lightsaber instinctively, unsure of his surroundings. He felt himself slip away from his body as he checked the area in the Force.
Sensing nothing, he calmed down. They reached the odd statue and saw the pedestal was semi-transparent. As they gazed through the nearly clear surface, they saw a large, glowing object, much like a holocron, that resembled a human brain. The texture made it look alive, wet and lifelike. They all stared in wonder, each one offering words of surprise. Light shimmered off of it, radiating in a multitude of colors, some Eether had never seen before. It was a beautiful object, and he wanted it.
But was this what they had come to seek? Did it hold the knowledge they needed? Or was this yet another ploy and trap in order to throw them off the trail. The first task was to open the pedestal and reach the shimmering prize. As his thoughts coursed through his mind, the pedestal seemed to change in transparency, fluctuating from clear to barely transparent, as if the very pedestal could sense his thoughts.
While the others marveled at the glowing brain Varkain kept his gaze low, pointed away from the light, using the Force to enhance his night vision. As Eetherbial continued to gawk at what seemed to be a holocron, a very precious find indeed, a sudden chill ran up Varkain's spine and down his left arm: while his cybernetic right arm could feel and operate much like a real one, it lacked the ability to acquire goose bumps. Tapping into his heightened grasp of the Force, the Warrior augmented his hearing. “Shh!!” He commanded the others, and they all turned to look at him.
Suddenly the Warrior's amber blade sprang to life as he assumed a stance for Soresu, one of the styles he practiced. With his enhanced hearing, Varkain heard a faint, raspy sound, like wind hitting stone. It pulsated, faint and strong, faint and strong. Then suddenly the sound multiplied, and there were three, four, and then five sets of them. The sound grew, “Breathing.” the Warrior stated, the others confused by what was going on.
In flash of movement, Varkain snatched the glowrod from Shadow and tossed it on the ground before them. As it rolled several yards up the hall, eerie, glowing feline eyes appeared from beyond in the darkness, severals pairs of them, all squinting and focused on the intruders.
“Another trap?” Eether said, more like a statement than a question.
“Ice cats.” The Warrior replied.
“D'you think they're hungry?” chuckled Draco carelessly.
“I've these creatures on Hoth,” responded Xantros as he ignited his violet saber, “they're always hungry!”
The eyes from beyond the darkness continued to multiply until Varkain could count twelve or thirteen pairs. The Dark Jedi gathered together in a small formation, Varkain and Draco in front, Xantros in the middle, and Shadow and Eether at the rear. By that time, each member had ignited their saber and had assumed their stance.
“Varkain, Draco and I will deal with these beasts,” Xantros commanded, “Eether and Shadow, I want you to open that statue and grab that blasted thing! Here they come!!!”
The cats began to lurk forward slowly, one of them stopping to examine the glowrod. They were the size of oversized dogs, and their fur, which one would expect to be bushy and untame, as they were wild, was rather groomed and extremely thin and pointy.
“Watch for their fur, it tends to be...prickly.” Varkain warned and Draco and Xantros nodded in reply. As if on cue, the felines leaped forth and engaged the Jedi. The first few were chopped down with ease, but as the numbers grew, each Jedi had to take care with every move. “Don't touch them, one bit of their poison is enough to lay you out for weeks,” half-joked Xantros as he slew a smaller Ice Cat.
Realizing their ambush would not work, the cats collectively withdrew slightly and began circling the three, who were each back to back with each other.
At the statue, Eether and Shadow began their work. Oddly enough, the Ice Cats avoided them.
“When I get this out who knows what it will give me!” boasted Eetherbiail, still quite mesmerized by the brain-like holocron.
“You?[/]” Retorted Shadow incredulously. “What makes you think it would want someone like you to divulge it's information to? No, these things require someone with...brains.”
Eether fumed, “Let's get on with it, aye?”
He’s lost his mind. Shadow thought to herself. He’s so desperate to get at the blasted thing that he can’t even control himself from shaking.
Though the holocron sparked a fire of curiosity to ignite within the Jedi Hunter, she maintained her focus trying to get to it. She too wondered at the possibility of gaining much knowledge from their newly discovered treasure, but at the same time she was concerned for the other three dark jedi fighting the ice cats. In fact, she wished she was fighting with them.
Eether was still muttering about how marvelous it would be when the holocron would open when Shadow felt a presence behind her. Turning around quickly to face her adversary, she found herself facing a building covered in dust with a vast desert spread behind it. The sounds of battle seem to fade, and were replaced by the singing of desert winds. Realization dawned upon her. This was the cantina where she had found Marcus, her lost lover, right before he was killed.
This can’t be happening. This just can’t be real!
Out of the cantina, she saw an apparition her and her lover walking out the door. She knew what was about to happen, and tried to look away only to find she couldn’t. The Sith could feel tears begin to trickle down her face as sorrow buried itself deep into her heart. Just as she expected, two jedi masters jumped out of the shadows, and before her other self’s companion could react, one of the jedi struck him down with his lightsaber. The murderer was her old jedi master, and seeing him caused hatred to swell within her.
Just when she was about to charge at her old nemesis, she felt something hard and fast strike her on the back and found herself on the ground wincing in pain. The scene of the crime slowly disappeared until it faded away into darkness. The sounds of battle began and a voice that she could vaguely make out slowly brought her back to her senses.
“Snap out of it, Shadow!”
Slowly getting back on her feet, she found Eether shouting at her
It wasn’t real. But it felt so real.
“Glad to have you back,” Eether said struggling to open the statue. “Now help me out. It’s almost open!”
Feeling dazed, she assisted Eether and within a few minutes the two of them finally gained access to the holocron. Eether quickly picked up the prize, studying the lifelike surface with great intent.
“Glad to see you got the holocron.”
Xantros had just finished off the last ice cat and approached the two Sith, while Draco and Varkain made sure the felines were completely dealt with. “We can all bask in its glory later. Right now let’s try finding our way out of here. The ice cats obviously found a way in here, meaning there must be a way out. Let’s get out of here before we have any more surprises, shall we?”
Imperial Alpha moved throughout the underground passages of Ludo Kressh's fortress encountering tests of will and strength. Emotions driven by thoughts of the future and the past plagued each member in different and often unexpected ways.
Following the architectural clues within the expansive hallways, the Krath Priest Draco Malingo sensed his team was moving in the right direction. Walking past members of his team, he took the point positioned and moved at a pace heightened by the belief of certainty. Turn after turn, Draco increased his pace until finally the team stepped into the grand Throne Room of Ludo Kressh. Adorned with tapestries preserved by the magics of the Dark Side, the room exuded the glory and power of the former Sith Lord.
Centered within the chamber stood an ornate chair with a hellish specter sitting upon it. Five ghostly fingers beckoned the members of the team forward, their fates dictated by the will of none other than Ludo Kressh.
The throne room, the seat of power, was of such ornate beauty that the quintet from Scholae Palatinae had rarely, if ever seen. Gorgeous shimmersilk tapestries draped the walls. Exquisite Maboan marble busts populated the room. The obsidian floor was inlaid with gold, silver, and a rainbow's spectrum of precious gems. The throne itself was bedecked with flowing violet velour. And at the center of all this was a hideous monster.
Dead for over five millennia, the pure-blood Sith whose harsh features were once a display of flesh and blood was now filled-out with ghostly Force energy. Shades of blue and white lent visage to the specter, and other aspects of the Force preserved the ghoul's rage, betrayal, failure, and loss. Kressh was larger-than-life when he actually was alive, and even now his essence, though reflected in monochromatic hues, even robes and headpiece, dominated his fortress much as a sun dominates a solar system.
The five dark Jedi stood in awe just inside the chamber doors. A skeletally thin hand waved them forward, equal parts sadistic menace and grim amusement lighting what was once the Sith Lord's face. The glow from his Force presence lit the room quite well enough to see, even reflecting off the highly-polished and dust free black floor and causing the various gems and metals to glint and twinkle. The doors behind them slammed shut and sealed themselves seamlessly into smooth stone.
"I was surprised to see you get past my siren," Kressh began. "So few do, though none have tried for a long time. A long time. Poor thing, she's quite famished," he said while not sounding the slightest bit sorry. "Weak in the Force, you see." He eyed the interlopers greedily. "She isn't much more than a parasite. But useful for stopping intruders."
The quintet edged forward to stop a respectful distance from the throne as the dead dark Lord studied them. "So you thought to invade my sanctuary and steal my knowledge for your own selfish purposes."
"No offense, my lord, but you have been dead for over 5,000 years. What good is your knowledge if is lost to history because your holocron decays?" said Draco.
"You are not worthy!" screamed the specter with such vehemence that the five felt a blast of Force energy move through them.
"Who is?" whispered Shadow as an aside. Kressh shot her a venomous look.
"You over-rate yourself, Kressh," said Xantros. "You fought with Naga Sadow and lost, you faked your own death and ran, then you tried to ambush Sadow when he was weak. He beat you again and killed you. As far as Sith philosophy goes, you are nothing but a pathetic sore loser. We are as worthy as anyone."
The ghost stood, insane rage twisting the eddies of the Force that gave shape to his face. Always a being with hard features Kressh now became bestial. He reared back his head and screamed while clenching his fist. The dark Jedi all backed away from the throne. Xantros was engulfed in bluish threads of plasma which picked him up and battered him. The aedile clenched his teeth against the pain and endured, then curled as the Force flung him aside. The Krath ducked and rolled, and pushed up quickly onto unsteady legs.
It didn't escape the notice of the five that Kressh had weakened, if only slightly. The spook sat, a haughty look upon his face, as though he had proved an important point to insolent younglings. Now becalmed, Ludo surveyed his visitors again with arrogant disdain.
The dark Jedi eased away from the throne and huddled in a corner.
"We need to get away from that lunatic," said Shadow, exasperated.
"Not without the holocron," added Xantros. "We've endured too much to abandon it."
"Will you forget your greed for a moment? Kressh could kill us," said Varkain.
"Or he's just testing us to see if we're worthy, willing to do whatever it takes to acquire his knowledge," whispered Draco.
"Draco, you study sorcery. Any way to deal with him?" asked Xantros.
The priest nodded. "Well, yes, but he's too strong for me. We have to weaken him."
"Preferably without any of us getting killed," said Eetherbiail.
“Any suggestions?” asked Shadow.
“Well, this whole fortress is soaked with the energies of the Dark Side. However, it seems that this throne is the nexus of power,” spoke Draco after short thought. “If you manage to destroy or to damage it, the power of Ludo Kressh spirit will be severely decreased and I should be able to temporarily remove his ability to affect us.”
“Unfortunately, I’m not strong enough to vanquish him for all. Not yet.”
“It’s madness!” shouted Eether.
“It may be madness, but it’s our only chance to obtain the holocron and to stay alive,” replied Xantros. “We may return here later, when we are more powerful or assisted by some Elders and deals with the spirit then. Also, the spirit of Kressh may be useful in the future.”
“Who’s going to play the role of a bite?” asked Varkain.
“Me,” immediately answered Xantros.
“But…” started Shadow.
“Apart from being the Aedile, I am also the strongest of whole our team, but Draco, when it comes to the Force related fight. The issue is that Draco will be busy with his chants and magics, so it leaves me to attract the spirit’s attention. Also, I’m the most charismatic person in our team and I have the highest chances to provoke Kressh to attack me.”
“But…” started Shadow again.
“Well, it’s not a pleasant experience to be hit by this undead guy. I believe that you don’t want to learn what it is like.”
“True,” replied Varkain. “What shall we do?”
“While Draco will be busy with his sorcerery tricks and I will distract Kressh, you need to come as close to the throne as possible and throw thermal grenades at it.”
“I have very bad feelings about this,” said Eether.
“Your feelings serve you well, Eetherbiail, but do not let them cloud your judgment. You have your chance to prove your usefulness for the House.”
“Well…I guess we have no choice.”
The four Dark Jedi moved closer to the throne, leaving some space between each of them, in order to reduce effects of any splash attack. Draco stayed a bit behind them and focused on recalling a proper chant. The Aedile of the House did not waste the time with hope that all his comrades would do their job at the right moment. Otherwise, he might find his bones and muscles hammered into fine dust. That would definitely break his career in the Dark Jedi Brotherhood…or make him famous as an instant Krath.
“Hey, boss!” shouted Xantros. “We know the way to kill you!”
“To kill me?” asked the spirit of Ludo Kressh and laughed with the cold voice, which penetrated the Dark Jedi to the core of their souls. “I’m already dead…what do I care?”
“I think you should know about something,” continued the Duro firmly, despite the fact that he felt fear getting stronger and stronger in his heart. “We don’t like each other very much, but we know the guys, who are the followers of Naga Sadow.”
“What?!” shouted the spirit with its unnatural voice.
“Yes, these guys would gladly come here and punish you for your pathetic attempts to strike their noble predecessor.”
“What?! How?!” shouted the spirit with growing anger and confusion.
“Naga Sadow outlived you in two ways…by managing to kill you, despite his own fleet very weakened, and by inspiring generations of Dark Jedi to become his disciples after his death. He and his heritage are alive as long as his cultists are alive and you can do nothing to stop them.”
“How pathetic of a creature you are…A once powerful Dark Lord reduced to a faint shadow of his former self…forced to continue his wretched existence in a secluded fortress on a forgotten planet.”
Xantros had barely finished his sentence when Kressh unleashed a flurry of insults on the Krath. Eether, Varkain, and Shadow furtively and quickly made their way to the throne while Xantros distracted the enraged ghost and Draco continued his chant. The three dark jedi clung to the shadows of the ancient walls, Varkain in the lead quietly opening his pack with the detonators. Eether followed closely behind while Shadow hung back a little checking on Draco and Xantros.
As far as she could tell, the spirit of Kressh was close to unleashing all his fury upon Xantros.
“How can a whelp like you have the audacity to insult me?” the ghost said, his anger felt all over the room as the very walls shivered and tremored.
“Who’s the whelp here?” Xantros said. “I’m alive and you’re nothing but a ghost. Not only that, but Naga Sadow outlived you as well.”
Shadow smiled. Xantros was doing a fair job attacking Kressh’s ego, keeping the spirit occupied while the others crept closer to the throne. So far, things were going as planned.
“Alright, we’re close enough,” Varkain whispered, stopping the group. “It should only take one detonator, but we’ll use two in case. Eether, you and I are going to blow the throne to smithereens. Shadow, I need you to keep an eye on those two. If Kressh decides to go berserk, Xantros and Draco might need help. Understood?”
“Understood,” Shadow said still listening to Xantros insult the dark lord.
“Alright. Ready Eether? Now!”
As the two Sith threw the detonators at the throne, Shadow saw Kressh turn his attention to her companions and to her. With rage, the Sith Lord’s spirit headed straight for them. Shadow quickly stood in between the others and the ghost.
With uncertainty, Shadow cried to her comrades, “What the hell do I do now?”
The spectral blur washed over Shadow, dropping her to her knees with spirit-crushing feelings of despair and fear. "How do you fight a powerful ghost?" she wondered to herself as she fought against the panic-induced paralysis. "Peace is a lie, there is only passion," she muttered to herself. Rather than surrender to her terror she fed on it. She well knew that anger wasn't the only emotion that could fuel a Sith.
Kressh blew past Nighthunter and on to Varkain and Eetherbiail, knocking the thermal detonators out of their hands and sending them spinning away where they burst into small clouds of flame and shrapnel, scoring and chipping the floor. The two male Sith spun in opposite directions and ignited their lightsabers. The Dark Lord reversed course and soared back to his throne.
Xantros, seeing the failure of his plan, ignited his own saber and Force-leapt upon the ancient seat of power, intent on slicing it into impotence, but instead came face-to-face with Kressh. The blue-white visage cracked into a sadistic smile. "Insolent! Do you take me for a fool, you weak grave-robber? I am Ludo Kressh! The rightful Dark Lord of the Sith. Bow down to me and I will spare your lives," he shouted while his ghostly fingers tightened over the Aedile's throat.
Draco stood back, intoning his chant monotonously. "This isn't going well," he thought to himself. He'd come across several ways to deal with Force apparitions through his studies, but Kressh was still too powerful, even after all these centuries. The Krath Priest was jealous of the kind of set-up the fortress had to contain and focus all that dark side power for five millennia. What untold numbers of sorcerers and alchemists had toiled for years to accomplish that feat?
The apparition gazed down into Xantros' eyes while he choked the life out of him. The three Sith charged the throne. "This ought to keep your friends busy," Kressh whispered to the Duro as several hidden doors swung open, allowing a variety of hellish creatures to come spilling into the room. Perverted by Sith alchemy and powered by the Force, the mutated beasts, some of which no longer recognizable from their original forms, ran and flew into the room. The hordes paused for just a moment, then the majority charged the Sith while the rump attacked Draco.
"Triangle formation, now!" shouted Varkain as he turned his back on his two closest comrades. Shadow pulled out her sword, and the three hacked and stabbed the numerous creatures lining up for their chance at blood. Cauterized and smoking animal limbs and torsos, and rolling heads dropped around the trio as they sweated and strained to fight off the overwhelming numbers arrayed against them.
Draco's situation was worse. Without any comrades watching his back, he tried to split his attention between his sorcery and his fight to stay alive. Rather than rely on his physical sight he kept his eyes shut and relied on his ability with the Force to track the energy surges that fueled the monstrous army besetting them. He whirled and twisted, the yellow-orange blade of his lightsaber slashing and cutting, and the rent and sundered bodies piled up in a roughly circular heap.
His subconscious mind wondered why Ludo Kressh wouldn't stray far from his throne. Xantros believed that the seat was a nexus of power, but Maligo didn't think such power could be contained in so small a place. It was more of a focal point, a conduit for the power thrumming all around them. And Kressh was drawing on a lot of it. Draco could sense with the Force all the energy flowing subtly through the throne and out again, like a power transformer.
Xantros could also sense the power shifting all around them. Though his original plan didn't work, the Aedile was nothing if not flexible. His airway cut off, he used the Force to slow his blood flow and preserve as much oxygen in his system as he could. That would give him at least fifteen or twenty minutes before he asphyxiated. Hopefully that would be enough time to pull the plug on this power-hungry poltergeist.
The smell of flesh rose to Eether's nostrils. The cauterized limbs and body parts were strewn all over the floor around the members of the group.
Eether quickly took in his surroundings, making sure that Shadow, Varkain and Draco were alright and then turned his head to Kressh and Xantros.
He noticed what Xantros was doing in order to prolong his life and let his House mates get him free.
Eether looked at Draco with a solemn look, "I think I know what to do, but I'm not sure if it'll work.
We don't know what Force Ghosts or apparitions actually are, but if what some scientists speculate is true, then they're a condensed form of energy.
This might not work, so get ready, our first priority is to save Xantros and once he's free, destroy the throne. Once that's gone, we can find a way to shut the flow off with the Dark Side Energy."
Draco tilted his head questioningly and nodded, "Ready when you are."
Eether looked at the other two Sith and nodded to them as well, "NOW!" He shouted.
The four of them rushed forward in a "v" formation, albeit a demented "v" since there were 4 of them. Nonetheless, they surged onwards.
Eether pivoted to his left to get behind Kressh and thrust his hand forward so that it was in the middle of his back. It was enough that his hand did not plunge completely through Kressh's body, but in the middle.
Eether focused himself and took a quick breath and used a technique he has known for some time, taught to him by Xen himself: Force Drain.
A loud, inhuman scream split the air, Kressh let go of Xantros and he collapsed to the ground gasping for breath.
Kressh began to push himself in Eether's body, melding uncontrollably. Both of them were pulling away from each other, and yet part of them were joined; Eether's hand to Kressh's back and chest. They were fighting over the control of his body.
The other three surged past the others, not noticing the struggle between the Lord and Knight. Each of them ignited their lightsabers and destroyed the throne. Once it was in pieces, Shadow dropped a grenade down a small hole and Draco used Sorcery to close the energy flow, albeit even if it was temporary.
They then turned towards Eether and stared, Varkain raised an eyebrow and said, "What do we do about that...?"
The ancient stone floor beneath them erupted as the detonator went off, shooting fist-sized pieces of stone in all directions like shrapnel. Eether's tactics had helped to save Xantros, but his actions had cost him to be almost fused to the Dark Lord. When the detonator exploded, the apparition and the Knight went flying somewhere into the shadows of the room. Xantros, clutching his throat and struggling to regain his breath, waved his hand above his head in a circle, and the remaining Dark Jedi joined around him. Varkain helped him to his feet and kicked aside a huge stone that had flown from the thrown. The Aedile pushed Varkain's helping hands aside and turned to Draco, “You must stop him before he...”
Suddenly a painful scream filled the dusty air as ethereal bands of light appeared from the shadows. “Help me, he's...taking...help!” Came the frantic cries of the Dark Jedi Knight Eetherbiail.
With swift steps the group of four advanced upon the destroyed throne and before they had passed it, a drunk-looking Eether appeared from the darkness, his jaw slightly slack and his lightsaber grasped firmly in his hand.
“Eether, are you...” came the words of Shadow, before the Equites had a chance to comment.
“Get back, all of you. Please!!” Shouted Eether with barely moving lips, his body twisted uncomfortably, his arms locked straight at his side.
“He's been possessed, back everyone!” The Aedile cried as he ushered the Jedi to retreat. Just then a ferocious roar erupted from Eether's maw and Kressh' voice resounded once more through the chamber.
“Foolhardy Jedi, you underestimate my power. Do you think your puny sorcerer could simply contain me?” Suddenly Eether's body assumed it's normal posture and the Knight ignited his pale blue ligthsaber and advanced forward slowly. “A little bit restrictive, but it will do.” The possessed Eether began to laugh maniacally, but out of his lips came Kressh's deep voice and distinct dialect.
With their blades alight, the four Jedi formed a defensive line with Varkain and Draco on the edges and Xantros and Shadow in the center. “What's the game-plan, chief.” Questioned Varkian to the Aedile. He never liked the idea of authority over himself, but he knew the chain of command and he was not about to jeopardize the success of the mission due to his own hatred of authority.
The Aedile turned the tables on him, “You tell me, Warrior.”
Varkain smirked and glanced over at the Aedile. “Draco, see what you can do about preserving Eether. We need to fight Kressh, but we don't want him to damage Eether either.”
The Krath nodded and began to search his memory for spells and incantations. “That leaves the three of us to buy Draco some time. Shadow, how's your Shii-Cho?”
“You'll just have to see, won't you?”
Varkain assumed his Makashi stance, ready to switch at a moments notice. “Let's roll.”
The three of them advanced forward while Draco remained behind to do his handiwork. Eether was past the throne now, and began to charge at a quicker rate. Within moments the Dark Jedi made contact, Varkain the first to lock blades with the Dark Lord. As their yellow and blue blades collided, sparks flew all about, Shadow flanking the Knight on the left and Xantros on the right. Normally Varkain would have been able to push past Eether with relative ease, but Kressh was using the force to aid his strength. As the Knight and Warrior pushed ferociously against one another, Eether's eyes caught his and suddenly memories from his time in Clan Naga Sadow flooded his mind.
“Ah,” Kressh breathed, more than spoke, “a follower who has lost his way.” He was referring to Varkain's previous time in CNS, under the house named after the Lord himself.
“A wise man who was once a fool!” Retored Varkain as Kressh pushed the Warrior back with the Force and turned to battle Shadow, picking her rather than the Equite. Varkain recovered his stance and glanced back at Draco, who looked as if he might have a fit, as he spoke silent words to himself.
Shadow Nighthunter was no match for Eetherbiail supported by the power of Ludo Kressh. In reality, non of the Dark Jedi who had been sent for that mission were able to match him alone. However, if they joined their efforts, it might be possible to reduce the threat from the spirit of the Sith Lord. Xantros and Varkain looked at each other, as they communicated through the Force.
“I will immobilize Eether for few seconds. Hopefully. In this time, you will try to knock him out with your lightsaber hilt,” spoke Xantros to Varkain through the Force, “if we can get the real Eether unconscious, the spirit might need to flee.”
In the same manner, the Sith Warrior replied, “I will do my best, though I have very bad feelings about this.”
“We have no choice,” said the Aedile. “Otherwise, possessed by Ludo Kressh, he will unwillingly kill us all. Our mission will turn out to be a disaster and we fail our House. We cannot allow that. Not on my watch.”
Varkain nodded. It was really the only way to save the team and, hopefully, their fellow House mate. The events happened as quickly as their telepathic conversation ended. The Duro used the Force to lift Eether into the air and temporarily immobilized him. The Sith Warrior rushed forward and immediately hit the Dark Jedi Knighthood in his head with his curved lightsaber hilt. The Zeltron fell on the ground, but did not lose his consciousness. Instead, his eyes began to grow pale as he mind fell into a strange trance-like state.
“What now?” asked Shadow.
“Draco, are you ready with your chants?” asked Xantros. “It seems that we do not have much time…”
The human Krath Priest nodded in agreement. He walked towards Eetherbiail, knelt down and focused on the Dark Jedi Knight, as screams of terror rippled through the Force.
Shadow and the others could feel the fear radiating from the Dark Jedi Knight. It rippled through the Force, and rushed through the four dark jedi like a giant wave. Like the others, Shadow could only hope for the best as Draco performed his chants to save their friend from the demented spirit within.
“Come on, Eether,” she whispered to herself. “Come back to us.”
She, like all the others, wanted to help their possessed team mate anyway possible, but knew better than to interfere with Draco’s chanting. Eether’s survival now depended on the Knight’s will to live along with Draco’s attempts to save him. They would just have to trust in Draco’s skills to push out the fiend that threatened to destroy them all.
“So, if Kressh leaves Eether’s body, what happens afterwards?” The Jedi Hunter asked her comrades.
“He should be weaker as soon as he is removed from the body,” Xantros replied. “With his throne destroyed, most of his strength will be gone. Plus, after being forced out, I expect Kressh’s spirit will have gotten weaker from the ordeal. We should remain wary of him just in case. He might have more tricks up his sleeve.”
“I don’t think we’ll have to worry much about Kressh anymore,” Varkain said. “I can sense his energy waning. He’ll most likely turn tail and run.”
“Let’s hope it’s that easy,” Shadow said sarcastically. “We probably still need to destroy the insane ghoul. I’m not quite sure how you kill a ghost, so I’ll leave the planning to you two. I’ll just be there to enact it.”
Smiles appeared on the others’ faces only to disappear as another scream of horror passed through Eether’s lips. If all went well, the nightmare would soon be over.
Eether looked through his eyes, yet he had neither control over his body nor actions. His mind started to shatter, he could feel the pieces he had worked so long to put back together start to slip away yet again. He hadn't felt this way in so long, and the feeling of not being control of his actions scared the hell out of him. It reminded him of the elixir of infatuation that was forced down his gullet when he was younger, bent to someone's will.
Eether watched what was going on through his eyes as his arms swung wildly with his lightsaber. He could not pull himself free, Kressh's hold was too strong from his 5,000 years dormant, storing power. The coveting nature of Kressh had worked well for him, and Eether just wanted this bad dream to be over.
Eether could feel Kressh in his body, manipulating him. He spat at Kressh mentally, only to get laughed at. Kressh just shrugged Eether off like he was nothing. That much was true, Kressh was a couple thousand year old Lord while Eether was a measly Dark Jedi Knight. Eether felt dirty and unclean. There was something about this...because of his past, he didn't feel empowered.
There was nothing mighty about having a great Sith Lord inhabiting his body, Eether just wanted him out. He vowed to NEVER feel this way again, and yet here he was...incapable of stopping this from happening. He became a Dark Jedi so that he could destroy anyone attempting from controlling him ever again.
Eether was doing things that he had never done before, things only a Lord could do. If he had tried to do said things normally...he would look like a fool. But Kressh was a Sith Lord...he could do whatever he pleased, and he was using Eether's physical body to do so!
He was his puppet or oracle, however you wanted to look at it. Kressh in Eether's body shot out a Stasis Wave to immobilize Eether's teammates. The four of them dropped to the ground in agony until they were temporarily frozen in paralysis.
Kressh's voice poured through Eether's mouth, it was an odd combination of the two voices together. The possessed, eerie combination of them made Shadow and Xantros shudder.
Kressh used Eether's body to let loose a torrent of Force Lightning, creating a Force Storm. Lightning shot all around the antechamber, shocking each of the teammates while they couldn't move. Kressh in Eether's body closed the gates and the Force Storm subsided.
They closed their eyes, and Eether was shrouded in darkness, he had no idea what Kressh was planning. Pain shot through Eether's body, but he couldn't tell where it originated, everywhere hurt. Suddenly, a mixture of a telekinetic Maelstrom and Force Storm emanated from Kressh/Eether.
The shockwave spread outward from them, knocking his House mates away from him. It spread so quickly, in rapidly succeeding waves that radiated off of the two Sith.
There was so much Force energy coming off of them, the room started to shake and split. Eether knew his intentions a second later, "I will take you all out with my precious home. It may be destroyed, but I will survive, I am merely a ghost. My knowledge will live on, and I will wait for the next pathetic fools to walk into my den attempting to seize my power."
"NO!" Shouted Eether, with his own voice this time, there was no hint of Kressh's mixed within his.
Eether stopped. So did his body. WHAT?! HOW DARE YOU! Kressh shouted at Eether. How can you take control back! Eether smirked in his mind, he saw his companions freeze as well. I'm back in control you nerf hearder. Draco finished his spell and pulled with all of his might while Eether pushed Kressh outwards.
Slowly but surely, Eether's hands moved to his face and after a moment, pulled them away. Blue streams of light pulled from his body and Eether pulled Kressh out of his body and Force Pushed him away. Kressh's body flew away from him into the wall, debris fell around him, trapping the ethereal ghost.
Eether looked around at his companions and fell to his knees. He was exhausted, and could barely keep himself standing. Xantros and Varkain briskly walked over to Eether and lifted him, putting his arms around their shoulders.
Debris flew everywhere, landing around each of them, narrowly missing Draco. Holes opened up around them, leading to the outside world. Shadow smiled at the three of them and started to help carry Eether when the three shouted for her to stop, but it was too late.
A slab of rock fell from the ceiling, she heard their warnings and attempted to dodge it, but was unsuccessful. Her leg was still underneath it as it crashed down upon her, trapping her there.
Varkain shrugged Eether off of him and stalked towards her, and he narrowed his eyes. Varkain narrowed his eyes and thought to himself,
Why should I help her? If I let her die and do away with the others, I can take the holocron and take all of the glory for myself...Eether is exhausted, and Draco is wasted from the spell...all that leaves is Xantros. And no one would know...
Shadow wailed with pain as she tried in vein to free her trapped leg. Xantros and Eetherbiail stumbled together and Draco looked as if he was going to throw up. The fortress around them continued to groan and the floor itself began to shift and rumble as huge pieces of rock fell from the vaulted ceiling. Varkain crouched instinctively as he caught another large chunk of stone with the Force. The boulder buckled his legs even more, as Varkain began to feel a strange sense of weakness, one he had not felt since his arduous journey through the Rhelg tundra just hours prior.
The Warrior and the newly awoken Knight locked eyes suddenly as the huge boulder rolled away from Varkain. The Sith Warrior turned around again and faced Shadow, who pleaded for help as she continued to tug at her leg. Why should I die so these may live? were his only thoughts as suddenly Varkain's mind seemed to clear and all his memories faded for a moment.
He stood in middle of a great stone hall, trimmed with plasteel and golden metals. It was fairly dim in that chamber, but even in the darkness Varkain could make out ancient Sith inscriptions engraved into the very walls. At first he did not notice it, but eventually as he peered down at his feet, he saw that he was wearing lavish golden and red robes, akin to those only Warlords or Masters would wear. He smirked at his own grandeur as he fiddled with the dual lightsabers at either hip.
Suddenly a swoosh sounded behind him and he turned quickly on his heels. “Why do you look outward for greatness, when you need only look inward.” Came a soft, female voice Varkain knew as well as his own. The female was robed in a plain black cloak, and her hair fell from her hood in shiny, dark locks. A moment later she threw the hood back with soft, pale hands to reveal a fair and even paler face.
“Serathiel.” Said the Warrior, with barely audible words.
“Do not desert your family as I deserted you.”
“No,” she said, “I left you, Varkain, alone to live a life of sorrow once more. Do not leave this young woman, or your friends. Varkain,”
“Stop. This is a dream, you have no power over...”
“Varkain!! Help her now!” Came the incessant order of the Aedile as anger erupted from within him.
Suddenly the Warrior shook his head as his mind filled once more and memories flooded back into his mind. With one last thought of his dead wife, Varkain took to his feet again, resolute and strong. In moments he was by Shadow's side. The Hunter screamed in agony as she thrived on the floor.
“Stop moving!” Varkain ordered harshly, “And help!” The Warrior glanced back at Eetherbiail and the Knight returned the gesture with a wink. Varkain grunted and turned back to the task. With Shadow's help the Sith Warrior levitated the boulder just enough to extract her from the predicament.
“It's about damn time, Var...”
“Oh shut up.” He responded with a slight smirk as he hoisted the Hunter into his arms. Suddenly the fortress gave another unpleasant groan as multiple boulders fell from above and the floor began to separate in random places. “Let's move, people!!!” Shouted Varkain over the cacophonous rumble. As he looked back, Draco had joined Xantros and the two were helping the Knight to regain his footing again.
Filled with adrenaline, the Sith Warrior ignited his amber blade and raised it aloft, but unfortunately his carrying Shadow impeded the action somewhat. The Hunter smirked as she gave off an expression that seemed to say, What a fool.
In moments the group was together, charging as fast as their wearied legs could carry them. Using what he had left of reserve energy, Varkain augmented the speed of the group, and in seconds they were in the chamber with the statue and the dead ice cats.
“Come on!” he yelled out loud as he examined the floor for tracks. “This way!” Although that chamber was more stable than the last, it seemed as if the whole fortress, like Kressh himself, was falling apart at the seams, it's power subsiding and it's ancient walls giving way to a new era. In moments the tracks led them to a large hole in the wall from which came the stench of rotting flesh, carried on a cold, wintry wind.
“What are we waiting for?” Questioned the disgruntled Eetherbiail who had finally found his balance again. “Let's get out of this damned place!” Taking the lead, the Knight launched himself into the passageway, expressing groans of discomfort as the stench became stronger and the air became colder. But before Varkain entered, he turned around and tossed a small device from his belt onto the crumbling floor. The locator beeped to life as it landed on the ground. “Just in case.”