Team Sabley Dark-Dark Rainbow Crusader's : Clan Arcona
Sabley Dark-Dark Rainbow Crusader's consists of:
SBM Socorra Erinos (#12648)
OPM Wuntila Arconae (#8533)
OPM Tsainetomo Keibatsu (#7925)
OE Marick Arconae (#10214)
SBL Invictus (#91)
SW Valhavoc (#8650)
DJK Montresor (#13369)
>Surface of Rhelg
>>>96 Hours Since Touchdown
“I. Hate. The. Cold.” Marick grumbled to himself.
The sun slowly began its decent as dusk settled over the alpine planet. Every muscle in his body ached. Every step seemed pointless. The liquid-fire of adrenaline from their last skirmish had run its course, leaving only an inundated chill that sapped away at his strength and resolve like a hungry leech. His under-armor bodysuit was doing its best to keep his body temperature regulated. The lightweight armor had been designed to either heat or cool the body during interrogations. It was a nifty play that allowed Oblivion agents to seem at perfect ease whether conducting questioning of a subject in a room with conditions of either a sauna or freezer.
The biting winds of Rhelg continued their assault regardless, ignorant to the layers of fabric tightly around the Hapan’s slender frame. He hugged his tattered black traveling cloak around him, keeping his head bent to try and cut through the icy gusts that whisked against his exposed cheeks. Clasping his gloves together in front of his reddening nose, he rubbed them together and blew a long puff of warm air out through his dried lips. His breath materialize almost instantly into a white plume of smoke. His feet were soggy and damp and the tips of his ears had lost any sense of feeling.
It would be so easy to just stop. It would be so nice curl up next to a fire. To lay down. To curl into a fetal ball and pull his cloak around him, taking whatever temporary relief it would bring him. To give up.
“Forward,” Wuntila’s voice rang out like a commandment. The pace that the Consul had set was grueling. A well-oiled assault droid would have broken down by now. Marick was convinced at this point though that an army of Rancor wouldn’t do much to slow Wuntila Arconae down.
The Dragon of Selen was clad from head to toe in his Aegis armor. Blood stained the onyx ridges of the plated mail, contrasting against the armor’s pale blue accents.
The Consul’s determination was infectious, though. Marick knew that he had to push on. If he cracked, the rest of the team would follow, and Arcona would fail again. The sting of defeat in not being able to capture the Avenger still lingered and left a bad taste in his mouth. The sense of failure and disappointment hung in the air around the cadre like a pink Rodian in a cantina; everyone knew it was there but no one wanted to talk about it for fear of drawing its ire.
Close to his side, Socorra Erinos sniffled and did her best to keep pace. The desert nomad was clearly out of her element, and Marick could sense through their unique connection that her will was waning. She glanced over in her Proconsul’s direction, and the two met eyes for just a moment. There were still words left unspoken, and there was a different type of coldness between the two than the alpine climate.
To his left, Marick felt oddly at peace knowing that his oldest friend had returned from one of his regular sojourns. Invictus’ crimson eyes gave away nothing as he silently kept pace with his Proconsul.
Tsainetomo Keibatsu hid signs of fatigue behind a determined tripartite glower. Wrapped tightly in his cloak and robes, the Korun-Kei kept his eyes forward and his hand on the hilt of his lightsaber, his muscles silently pleading him to spring back into action. Dried blood caked his knuckles and had splattered across Nensheguru’s taped hilt.
“Are we there yet?” Socorra yelled over the whistling wind.
“It shouldn’t be much further,” Valhavoc called out, his dark beard sporting flecks of the falling snow. The former NRIS agent absently brushed the white flakes away with his fingers, eyes attentively scouring the landscape while periodically checking down at the holo-map in front of him.
“That’s what you said yesterday,” Montresor growled, flexing the fingers of his gloved hands. Darth Pravus’ apprentice wore his customized cortosis weave armor in a similar fashion to Valhavoc under a dark traveling cloak.
“Well, if you hadn’t had to stop and piss so many times we’d have been there already, Monty,” the Aedile grumbled.
“It’s not my fault!” Montresor snapped back, throwing his hands up.
“You’re a bladder.”
“Aha, baby bladder,” Socorra chuckled, moving closer to her Aedile’s side. She brushed against him, smiled, and glanced coyly over her shoulder at Marick. The Hapan either didn’t notice, or paid no heed, which drew a scowl from her ruby lips.
Off in the near distance, a pack of Cythraul prowled the groups perimeter, quiet as shadows. Through each of their unique connection with their companions, Wuntila, Marick, Socorra, and Invictus could hear, see, and even smell the terrain around them, effectively expanding their sphere of awareness. It was for this reason alone they had not been caught off guard yet.
Wuntila’s Cythraul, Kilvin, let out a powerful howl that was echoed by the rest. The hulking grey wolf sat in front of the opening to what appeared to be a tall fortress of dark stone built right into the face of a mountain.
“Oh. Well, that certainly looks like a Dark Fortress,” Valhavoc exclaimed bluntly.
“Nice read, chief,” Monty replied.
“Hold,” Wuntila’s voice reverberated out, his baritone carrying as far as the last member and no further. The snow drowned out the remaining echo. The group could barely make out his hand in the air up front. The men and lady of the small troop stood shivering, but at the ready, adrenaline suddenly surging through them at the sudden command. The Dragon lowered his hand and stepped forward, Marick moving beside him as the duo tested the entrance first, their forms swallowed up by the shadows cast from the small torches that lined the fortress’ entrance.
“So, do we just...walk in?” Valhavoc leaned over towards Socorra. The woman turned to him with her pale, ice-blue eyes and he could see clear as daylight that the cold was afflicting her far worse than anyone else.
“Maybe...it could be a trap, t-though,” she replied through chattering teeth.
Tsainetomo sidled up to the Socorran and nudged her with an elbow. Forged from the heat of the desert himself, the Korun-Kei understood the hell this Hoth-like planet was wracking upon her. He flashed a slight grin of reassurance and nodded his head towards the entrance. Together, they fell into step behind Wuntila and Marick. Invictus, Valhavoc and Montresor took up the rear, the pack of Cythraul tight at their heels.
The tall stone walls offered some sanctuary against the numbing cold, but the reprieve was short lived. No sooner than each of the Arconans had entered the passageway, waves of dark energy rippled through the stream of the Force. Whispers from spectres from the past flooded their senses, calling out to each of them. Socorra clutched at her ears and leaned against Sai for support. The Korun-Kei placed an arm around her slender waist and helped her continue forward.
They exited the entranceway into a small circular chamber with multiple paths branching out from the center. Once they were all in, a sudden snap-hiss of a lightsaber sprung to life. Looking up and glancing around, Socorra saw that none of her teammates had yet to draw their weapons.
“Frak,” the woman cursed as warnings screamed across her senses and she tugged her twin blaster pistols free.
Beside her, the Keibatsu’s voice was strangely mirthful as Nenshogeru suddenly roared within his palm. “It’s about bloody time! I was wondering if ‘they’ were going to let us just freeze to death.” Sai’s senses were ever flirting with the razor’s edge, and he’d sensed the wary, yet clumsy approach of an unknown force long before Marick and Wuntila had first motioned the group within the hoary structure. After all, the Keibatsu had once been Quaestor of the House within Naga Sadow for which the previous Sith Lord the keep had been named; his curiosity was nowhere near his compatriots’, bordering almost on the cursory. The Dark Side lent him its speed as he bounded past Invictus, Valhavoc and Montresor towards the sound of the opposing weapon, his own blade momentarily drowning it out as it surged with his strike.
Valhavoc’s eyes squinted against the unstable glow of Sai’s blade, barely able to make out the aquamarine that had met the Keibatsu’s own. Beside him, Socorra opened up with her twin-blasters, their high-pitched barks reverberating within the foyer, slamming into the back of a shadowy figure that had suddenly emerged from a hidden alcove with designs on running Sai through from behind. Val’s own bloodshine blade joined the cacophony of sibilant destruction as he himself deftly decapitated an enemy that had rushed Socorra in her seeming distraction.
Meanwhile, the Korun-Kei battered his opponent away from the group with controlled abandon, and Invictus’ eyes beheld not a berserker fighting for the glory of Arcona, but someone with a familiar spirit. A wandering spirit. Someone who had been touched by the same existential madness as he...but yet not the same. Distantly, a dragon’s roar caressed his periphery.
Not unexpectedly, Marick and Wuntila rushed from the front back to the rear, filling Invictus' awareness and breaking his reverie. The Theelin’s voice boomed over the din. “What in the Nine Hells..?”
Montresor flashed a toothy grin. “It’s a welcoming party! I hope you brought the wine.”
Wuntila’s cutting gaze locked on the young Dark Jedi Knight. “Description, Direction, and Distance, in the future that is the response I expect in regards to a timely situational update.”
“Sir, understood. Assessed four enemy personnel, 2 o’clock, approximately 800 to 1000 meters. Auditory recognition analysis indicates a signature emanating from the partially blocked passage we bypassed in route to this chamber."
By all accounts it was evident by the approaching commotion that the slain bodies of the enemy aggressors that littered the floor of the dimly lit chamber had served their early warning/reconnaissance purpose even in death.
As a result from that point forward it was safe to assume their position within the temple was now completely compromised and that the enemy would undoubtedly mass their forces in an effort to eradicate the intruders.
“Apparently the temple guardians missed the invitation only memo for the party; luckily for them we should still be able to accommodate their arrival,” the Dark Jedi Knight added.
“Enough,” Wuntila thundered above the approaching clamor of what was most assuredly a much larger than assessed swift moving enemy element. “Your quips would be best kept to yourself. You should be aware that I have yet to make a determination as to your value to this team and to this point I have been underwhelmed, at best, with your performance.”
Having delivered necessary guidance to the junior member of the team Wuntilla turned his focus towards the impending threat. Expertly delivering concise hand and arm signals he orchestrated the movement of each respective team member to occupy hasty defensive positions.
Without warning a bone chilling cold swept across the chamber. The enemy was fast approaching and it would be mere minutes before they arrived on target.
In the face of potentially overwhelming adversity the poignant words of the Dragon of Selen would be their rallying cry.
“In the absence of light, darkness prevails...”
Pride and resolve swelled at the Consul’s words, subsuming the Dark Jedi Knight’s chagrin.
Invictus felt the human tamp down on the anger Wuntila’s chiding inspired and suppressed a grimace. Anger was a tool, like any other. Montresor knew that, but his military background still kept it from becoming second-nature. He’ll learn...or he’ll die. Either way, it’s not my concern. With a shake of his head, the Battlelord turned his crimson gaze towards the darkened hallway before them. While the shadows were impenetrable to Invictus’ eyes, Ktah felt his master’s attention sharpen to a razor edge and responded in kind.
The Cythraul bounded down the crumbling corridor, nose upraised and scarlet irises nearly hidden by his dilated pupils. Though the Chiss was all but blind in the passageway, a washed out image of the path ahead filtered back to him through Ktah’s senses. Kira, Ktah’s alabaster litter-mate, looked poised to follow, but an upraised hand from Marick halted her. The Hapan raised an eyebrow at Invictus and Wuntila, drawn by the motion, followed suit.
The Gatewarden opened his mouth to speak, then stopped, considering. While there was a chance that their pursuit included more Force-sensitives, it was assured that at least some of them were the faux-Black Sun agents that had previously harassed the Arconans. Judging by their last encounter, they didn't lack for advanced tracking and telemetry capabilities. Maintaining his silence, the Chiss embraced the Force and expanded his sphere of influence to include his companions, drawing ever so slightly on the frothy waters of disquiet that always filled him. A slight luminescence surrounded his hands, flashing a series of gestures to his companions. While a nearby Jedi might sense the power expended - if they were looking for it - the Illusion would be undetectable by any technological means.
Wuntila and Marick nodded in tandem, signalling their understanding of the situation and the reason for their companion’s silence. The Human-Theelin hybrid motioned to the remainder of the party, warning them of the danger and urging them onwards. The Chiss unclipped his own lightsaber from his belt, while his companions thumbed theirs off and maintained silence, per the Consul’s orders. Drawing his dagger in his off-hand, Invictus mentally ordered his Cythraul back to his side, moving silently towards the faint stench of scored carbon, fused wiring, and fresh oil that Ktah had sniffed out ahead.
Darkness permeated as the cadre of Arconan’s pushed forward.
Earthly smells seeped from the ancient stone the Fortress had been carved, invoking memories of the many secret passages that ran beneath the Arconan Citadel. No longer at the mercy of Rhelg’s slashing winds, the team felt the chill of their bone fade away. And yet, something else had replaced it. A strange sensation was making its way through their nerves, a thousand tiny pins and needles pricking against their skin. They all felt it, but wrote it off as post-effects of having traveled in the cold for so long. Not a one of them noticed the creeping sense of frustration swelling inside their spirits. It lived at their very cores, and something in the ancient Fortress was feeding the anxiety like rain water to vegetation.
The silence was just as bad. Unnerving quiet hung like an ominous shadow over each of the Dark Jedi’s shoulders. All that could be heard was each others breathing; the hushed shuffle of boots against stone and the faint panting of the Cythraul as they padded alongside their masters. Everyone’s unique quirks and habits started to become more pronounced. Tsainetomo’s fingernails tapped idly against the hilt of his lightsaber in a metronome. Valhavoc periodically rubbed his hand against his beard, making an ever so slight scratching noise. Montresor breathed louder than any of them. Invictus idly twirled his knife between his fingers making soft swishing sounds as it tumbled through his nimble fingers. Socorra thumbed the safety to her pistols on and off with a subtle click. The plates of Wuntila’s armor ground against one another. Marick unknowingly blew strands of his long thin hair away from his face.
All of it seemed trite, but the tension between the group continued to grow as their progress was unabated by any hints of danger.Time seemed to fall into a lull until the group finally came upon a wide cavern with three distinct openings leading in conflicting directions.
“What are we doing here anyway!?” Socorra’s frustrated whisper broke through the silence like a large stone being thrown into a quiet pond.
Everyone in the group whipped around to glare at the woman, their faces simultaneously scowling with accusation.
“What? I Know we’re supposed to take control of the place, but seriously, why are we here?”
“It is not our position to question the Dark Council’s wishes, Socorra,” Wuntila snapped, stepping towards the Quaestor and grabbing at the front of her cloak with a gauntleted fist.
“It was a fair question, sir.” Marick said coldly as he stepped between the two and placed a hand on Wuntila’s wrist. The Consul shoved the Quaestor aside, right into Valhavoc, who did his best to catch her. Wuntila’s head whipped towards Marick, the words of defiance triggering something deep within him.
“Oh, then why don’t you enlighten us, oh wise one,” Wuntila barked. “You think you know better than I?”
Marick furrowed his brow, and for the first time in his entire tenure as Proconsul, yelled back. “I never said that I did, but maybe if you listened to me everyone once and awhile we’d find out!? Maybe I do know a thing or two.” Marick’s voice did not escalate, but the weight behind it and the twang of his accent were as sharp as daggers.
“You think you can be Consul, boy?” The Dragon chuckled low in his throat as he spat the last word. “Over my dead body!”
Dragonsbreath flared to life as the Consul swung his lightsaber like a cleaver at his defiant Proconsul. Marick was already moving, though, and the blade struck nothing but air. The Hapan’s aquamarine blade blinked to life as he slashed for the Consul’s waist. Faster than anything his size had a right to be, Wuntila spun away from the slash and wheeled around to face Marick.
“Traitor,” The Dragon spat venomously.
“Get over yourself,” Marick snapped back.
“Enough!” Tsainetomo’s baritone rumbled as he positioned himself between the two. “We have more important things to-”
“And who are you to give orders to us?” Invictus sneered as he pushed the Apostate Son of Sadow aside. Socorra moved to Tsainetomo’s side and placed her arm on his, glowering at her predecessor and earning a scowl from Marick. Emboldened, Sai responded with a scoff. “Heh. Remember your place, boy. You - all of you - follow one who plays at being a dragon...when I am one! You’ve been Marked, Invictus...or did you think no one would remember?” The poisonous aura had permeated them all so thoroughly that Sai nearly misplayed his hand before it was time.
Valhavoc watched the situation unfold and tried to think of how best to handle it. He thumbed the beard of his mustache idly. Monty grit his teeth and shoved his Aedile by the shoulder.
“Don’t just stand there, do something,” The Knight said pointedly.
“What do you expect me to do?” Valhavoc turned and spat in response.
Before Montresor could respond, the Dragon’s roar reverberated over the cacophony of bickering. He lunged at his Proconsul in a flurry of wild lightsaber swings. He was seemingly reserved, as if he didn’t want to injure the Hapan, but his wild lashes licked out and strayed dangerously close to the lithe Primarch. The Dragon growled through gritted teeth, punctuating every word with another arcing swipe, “I.” Slash. “Won’t.” Slash. “Tell.” Slash. “You.” Slash. “Again.” The Hapan did what he could to parry or dodge the incoming attacks, himself responding out of primal instinct rather than rationality.
Behind them, the thunderclap of raw energy reverberated off the dense temple walls. Everyone turned, snapped from their own malicious microcosms to see Sai and Invictus with eyes locked across static blades. Before anyone could respond, Sai kicked out, pushing the Chiss Gatewarden from their lightsaber lock, and charged toward him, dreadlocks trailing behind him, highlighted by the glow of Nenshogeru. Tendrils from the ethereal.
Socorra surveyed the scene. Her two levelled blasters shifted from one target to the other. Invictus. Tsainetomo. Back to Invictus. She was at a loss. One was her tutor, the other her ally. Her mind screamed at her, pleading rationality; her heart told her to pull the triggers on both...
It was only when the two were stopped dead in their tracks and thrown violently backwards that she was relieved of having to make such a choice. Valhavoc divided his attention between the two former members Naga Sadow. They both dragged themselves awkwardly to their feet, giving Valhavoc the time to tap back into his seemingly limitless reservoir of Force energy. The Dark Side presence in the temple was alarmingly strong - it was enhancing their ability, feeding their power. The Qel-Droman Aedile would never normally have had the sensitivity to wreak such destruction between two as powerful as Chiss and the Korun.
The temple of Ludo Kressh was levelling the playing field...
As he began to feel the effects of the temple, Montresor quickly capitalized on the window of opportunity while his Aedile was distracted. The Knight charged across the small gap between the two humans, his lightsaber blazing to life as he slashed at Valhavoc's torso. The Sith Warrior dove to the side, barely avoiding his rival's attack. Rolling as he hit the ground Val glared at Montresor as he stood.
"I’ve spent enough time in your shadow, let's find out who Pravus' true apprentice is," Montresor spat in reply.
Montresor prepared to attack yet again until he felt his throat suddenly tightening. Valhavoc's face slowly broke into a cruel grin as he saw the Knight's eyes widen. "Cool story br-"
A fragment of the temple collided with Valhavoc, knocking him from his feet and breaking his hold on Montresor. "Stay out of this boy," Sai sneered at the Aedile for his earlier interference before resuming his duel with Invictus.
Across the room Wuntila's relentless attacks had forced Marick into a corner. He followed a slash at the Hapan with a punch that was dodged, connecting only with the ancient stones of the temple which cracked under the force of Wuntila’s assault.
Now with more room to maneuver, Marick went on the offensive. His aquamarine lightsaber repeatedly lashed out against Wuntila’s defenses. The Ataru master never stayed in one spot for more than a heartbeat, though. The Dragon met each blow head on with his own saber, a stoic mountain against the face of a raging tempest.
Montresor and Valhavoc had again engaged each other in a nearby corridor. The Equite was cooly deflecting the attacks of the Knight. “Did you sleep through Pravus’ instruction on Form III? I can keep this up all day,” Valhavoc mocked his opponent. As the fatigue from the continued assault began to wear on Montresor the frequency of his attacks slowed, though the dark energy that permeated the temple seemed to be a limitless source of energy to fuel his barrage.
"Getting tired yet? Or do you need a break so you can relieve that tiny bladder again?" the Aedile taunted.
Rage…unabridged…uncontrollable…reckless rage…of which the timely and gruesome death of Valhavoc would be the only respite…
Rage…originating from a previously untapped reservoir hidden deep within the secluded catacombs of Montresor’s mind. He could not fathom the catalyst for such intense feelings of hatred towards his supposed ally nor could his rudimentary Dark Jedi mind comprehend the true scope of what he was experiencing.
Rage…all Monty knew was that he refused to be the laughing stock of the group. He had trained far too hard and it was as painfully clear as Rhelg’s sky was a dismal gray. The Dark Jedi Knight was the prized pupil of Pravus and subsequently would not be talked down to by a has-been student of his former Master.
It was evident, judging by the tirade of recycled, inopportune, and awkwardly delivered one-liners that Val had failed miserably at the Pravus School of Social Interaction. Indeed Val’s jokes and misguided witty retort were drier than the team’s windburned skin. However, for all the repeated jabs were not, they were, at this moment for reasons unknown, finely sharpened blades shredding his confidence more proficiently than meat through a grinder.
As his rage grew so did his strength. Frantically pulling the unknown energy from the temple, he felt like a man who was able to quench his thirst after being lost in the desert. There was no amount of power that could ever be enough to sate him. The playing field had not merely been leveled but he currently had the upper hand and Valhavoc would pay for his sins. Today he would pay in his very own blood.
No sooner had the Equite stepped away from their current skirmish to taunt the Knight than a wave of gifted energy and unimaginable strength erupted from Montresor’s hand. The veritable wall of power moved with an unexpected speed that gave Val little time to react. As a result he was abruptly slammed against the temple wall. A look of surprise was apparent on his face just prior to him projecting a look of painstaking agony as his head found the corner of a perfectly placed white marble statue. Dazed and confused Val came to rest in a pile of resulting rubble of what was now red marble painted by blood.
Monty knew this was his moment to capitalize. This would be his ultimate moment of vindication as the rest of the team set aside their own quarrels starring in Monty’s direction in a state of utter disbelief. In an effort to not waste even one moment Montresor moved swiftly to finish his opponent. Unable to react, the Equite resolved himself to death as the blood red blade of Montresor’s lightsaber pierced his throat. It was his intent that Val bleeding out would be a better show for those present. Furthermore, it was important to Monty that the eyes of his prey remained open. It was imperative that the Equite had no questions in his own mind of who was in fact the one true apprentice of Pravus.
“Is this funny to you my friend? Did you envision your day ending in a bath of your own blood?” Monty spoke slowly as he dug the blade in deeper. The excruciating pain reverberated through the body of his newfound enemy causing Val to lose control of his bodily functions.
“There seems to be little question as to the bladder issue now I suppose. It looks like you have made quite the mess,” Monty joked as he moved to finish his opponent.
Pulling his lightsaber from the gaping wound Montresor suddenly felt a sharp cutting pain. It was a pain so intense that it dropped him to his knees. Moving in and out of consciousness Monty struggled to remain upright finally collapsing onto the temple floor.
Everything went dark.
Pain…unabridged…uncontrollable pain…was all he felt as he struggled to open his eyes.
“Monty, hey Monty are you okay?” the words of Valhavoc resonated in his ear. “Hey I am really sorry about slamming you into that wall. I think you went unconscious there for a minute. It did not dawn on me that you would hit the wall that hard. My bad brotha.”
Opening his eyes Monty could see that around him the individual battles between his respective teammates continued but to his immediate front an ally and true friend was for now able to battle the inner demons of the temple and come to his aid.
“I am glad you are not dinged up to bad Monty but I hope you brought a change of pants because it looks like you had a little accident...”
As Valhavoc helped Montresor to his feet the Knight glanced down at his robes, "The jokes will never end now..."
Around the pair a storm of combat still raged with Marick and Wuntila facing off, as well as Invictus and Tsainetomo continuing their duel. Socorra seemed lost in her own thoughts, battling her own internal demons. Her emotions flared and spiked and pulled her in every direction. Every direction but forward into action.
Even the Cythraul at this point had begun to tiff. Kira, Ktah, and their younger sister Akua all stared down their father, Kilvin. The alpha male bared his fangs as he looked among his children, daring any of them to make an open challenge at him. Kira and Ktah circled their father defiantly. The younger Akua with her one permanently flopped ear whimpered, cowered, and retreated to Socorra’s side.
Unbeknownst to the group only a short distance away three One Sith Acolytes with a half dozen former Black Sun Bounty Hunters began to set plans in motion for an ambush on the unsuspecting members of the Brotherhood. “We’ve located their forces, sir. Just as Lady Vonnisia predicted they’re just about tearing each other’s throats out right now. There’s only seven of them, but... well... they have four...wolf-like creatures with them.” The scouts looked at each other and shrugged.
A human male Acolyte glared at the scout, “Ya mean to tell me ya ran back here ‘cuz they brought some pet dags with ‘em?” he replied in a crooked accent of some backwater planet.
“These are bigger than ‘dogs’, sir.” The scout replied with the proper annunciation of the word. “They’re bigger than most wolves too. Luckily we caught sight of them before we got close. They’re patrolling the perimeter, it’s almost like the Temple isn’t affecting them. They aren’t fighting like the rest of the group. Just... watching. Like they knew we were out there.”
A female Twi’lek Acolyte stepped out of the shadows and approached the team of scouts, “Fine, so they have a few pets. Your intelligence report is hardly impressive so far. Tell us more about this group.”
The younger of the two scouts continued, “Ma’am, at least six of the group are Force sensitive, they all went for their lightsabers when they felt the effects of the temple. They’ve paired off and are fighting amongst each other. The seventh is equipped more like a Mandalorian, she’s got the armor to fit the role and a set of blaster pistols, but hasn’t taken any sides in the conflict yet. We don’t know what to make of her. From our earlier briefings some of their armor bears marking similar to that of Clan Arcona. We stopped surveillance approximately 15 minutes ago to exfil back to this rally point. ”
Pausing for a few seconds after the scout completed his report the Twi’lek again addressed the group, “Very well, take your sniper team and set up an overwatch position as best you can down an adjoining corridor. We’ll do our best to lure them into your field of fire. Be ready to move into an assault position if we can’t bait them into the kill zone. We’ve dealt with Arcona once before, and we can do it again.”
The fight amongst the remaining affected Arconans had begun to reach a fevered pitch, four lightsabers continuing to resonate in harmonious discord. Marick was as irresistible as Wuntila was immovable, and Tsainetomo and Invictus seemed to want to literally burn one another from existence itself.
Socorra’s twin blasters continued to waver, stilling themselves only when she turned her awareness to her beloved Akua. The Cythraul looked at her expectantly, and their shared bond became in that moment greater than the thrall of the fortress. Freed from the effects of the keep, she knelt, bringing her face close to the animal.
“What is it, girl?” Their eyes locked, and Akua’s snout pointed down the corridor, where the cadre of One Sith were secreted away, waiting to spring their ambush. She spoke.
“Go.” Obediently, the animal padded away, the remaining Cythraul also shaking off the influence of their master’s misplaced strife and following close behind.
Tsainetomo had floored Invictus with a solid backhand and made to core Vic’s skull with his lightsaber, its tangerine glow reflected in his strange eyes when the movement of the animals gave him sudden pause. Proconsul and Consul alike froze in the midst of their own ‘saber lock, each man backing off to turn and watch Montressor, Valhavoc and Socorra slink in the direction of the animals. Sai caught Socorra’s annoyed gaze; she mouthed the words, “Get it together!” and moved off.
The Korun straightened, Nenshogeru’s blade retreating back into its spartan housing. He rapped his knuckles against his skull. “Of course! I can’t believe I didn’t see it before. I should’ve fracking known better.”
Marick and Wuntila powered down their own weapons and moved to join Sai and Vic, the latter being helped up by an outstretched hand from the former. “Explain.” Wuntila’s order was low in the blanket of relative silence of the now calm corridor.
“Invictus and I were steeped in the lore of Clan Naga Sadow as soon as we joined, long before we left. Look where we are: Ludo Kressh’s home. Naga Sadow...Ludo Kressh...Marka Ragnos. Eternal rivals whose mutual disdain and shared greed brought the Sith Empire to the height of its greatness; but there can be no greatness without sacrifice. The infighting the trio inspired and encouraged was bloody and pitted brother against brother. Their powers were awesome; their majiks, terrible. It stands to reason...” He trailed off, waiting for someone to make the connection.
Which Invictus did. “...that there would be lingering effects.” He placed a strong hand on Tsainetomo’s shoulder, a sign of apology and forgiveness. Sai acknowledged the gesture with a nod, and the pair looked at the Con and Procon.
“Well? Are we - is Arcona - greater than our circumstances?” A sun-bronzed hand swept around them dramatically. “Can we rise above petty squabbles and long dead magicians, or are we to follow behind them, to be obscured by mediocrity?”
Tsainetomo’s question was pointed, asked of Wuntila - not as ex-Con to Con - but as man to man.
A pause. The air was pregnant with expectation, awaiting the Dragon of Selen’s deliverance.
Silence reigned for a span of heartbeats, the Arconan Consul carefully considering his companions’ contentions. The quiet grew, then birthed a maelstrom.
A cacophony filled the air, labored breathing mixed with the twang of blaster fire as a cadre of Black Sun turned the far corner. They filled the open hallway, chewing up the distance at a dead run as their plasmatic bursts chewed the corridor walls.
Wuntila spared the briefest of moments to meet Tsainetomo’s gaze, then bellowed his answer.
“Arconans, to me!”
Marick’s lightsaber sprang to life in a heartbeat, leaping to the fore of the group to interpose himself between the incoming fire and his companions. His mastery of Soresu was unparalleled, and the precision for which he had striven finally paid dividends. A half dozen carbines spat fiery fury a the group, and every dart of flame was met by his beryl blade.
Wuntila and Valhavoc moved to charge the oncoming enemy in tandem, taking advantage of their Proconsul’s finesse and the distraction it provided. They didn’t make it a meter, however, before the One Sith Acolytes rounded the corner, breaking off chunks of rock from the hallway and flinging it at the pair. The two dove to the side, then flipped back to form a triangle with the Hapan, shoring up the points against the oncoming stone projectiles.
With the trio holding off the barrage, at least temporarily, Socorra felt the tension finally leave her chest. She raised her blasters defiantly, her features lit with glee as she looked at the two Gatekeepers to either side. The mando’ade grinned half-maniacally, then turned towards the troopers and returned fire.
Invictus saw an opening in their opponents’ distraction and lunged over the virtual barricade that was Marick, Wuntila and Valhavoc. He tucked into a roll then came to his feet, ducking and weaving his way down the ruined corridor, his cyan blade batting aside the handful of blaster bolts that threatened to burn through his scarred flesh. For all his seeming abandon, the Chiss was calculating, each step taken with precision and an eye towards where the oncoming fire was thinnest.
He was nearly halfway to his objective when a dark streak blurred past him, drawing his eyes and distracting him from his machinations. He had the briefest of moments to appreciate the truly reckless abandon with which his former Sadowan compatriot threw himself towards their aggressors, heedless of his own safety or the lethality of the situation. Then even that was stolen, as fire stitched across either side, burning through his thoughts and sending him reeling to the stones underfoot.
The Chiss drew deeply on the Dark Side, numbing the pain and struggling for clarity, when a third bolt seared down his back. It robbed the breath from his lungs and slammed him face-first to the rocky floor, silencing the world and thrusting him into a void.
Heat again, this time from his core, radiating out. It warmed him, then burned, then set his insides boiling. Consciousness roiled back, immersing him, and he saw Tsainetomo tearing into a pair of troopers, decapitating one with his tangerine blade while crushing the throat of his foe’s companion. A strangled gurgling escaped as the mercenary collapsed, horror plain in his eyes as he fell upon his headless partner’s corpse. Invictus stretched out with the Force, sending a telepathic nod of gratitude to Montresor. Though the Dark Jedi Knight seemed half drunk on the burgeoning power with which the temple had imbued them, he kept enough of his wits about him to be useful.
Pulling himself to his feet, the Chiss depressed the activation switch on his lightsaber. The cobalt blade snap-hissed, reigniting in the Sith’s hand as he lurched towards the troopers. Pain, fury, and bloodlust filled his crimson eyes.
Seeing his oldest friend regain his feet, Marick moved steadily forward. The others followed in lockstep, gaining ground on their aggressors. Between the fury of Socorra’s blasters and the fury that was Tsainetomo himself, the Black Sunners and their One Sith masters had been stymied. Seeing their encroaching Arconan brethren, they knew the tide had turned against them. Though order reigned, they nonetheless beat a hasty retreat around the corner.
The two former Sadowans both moved to pursue. They had been harried, bruised, and for moments nearly beaten. Nothing would keep them from their vengeance...
Even in their mindset, a roar from the Dragon of Selen brought them to a halt.
“Stop?” Valhavoc asked quizzically as he skidded somewhat gracefully to a halt.
“Wuntila Time?” a voice called out from the back of the group.
Nearly everyone spun towards the Knight with a cocked eyebrow. Montresor merely grinned back at their quizzical expressions. Socorra, however, raised a fist and bumped his own in the air.
“Now that was kandosii,” she grinned back.
Wuntila eyed them both and turned to address the group. “Do not allow your aggression to run you into a trap," he scolded. "We go in together. We go in as one."
He looked to where Invictus and Sai were standing, but found empty space. The new and former Gatewarden had darted off ahead anyway. A curse flung from the Consul's mouth.
Wuntila's eyes then laid upon their Quaestor. "They are your men -- keep them in line!"
The woman's pale eyes caught his for a quiet, tense moment, until she finally nodded, her wild raven hair bobbing with the motion.
"Akua, to me!" Socorra called, bolting ahead to catch up to the wayward Qel-Dromans.
Marick shifted beside the Consul. "Sir," he protested, "I don't doubt her abilities, but I know Invictus and Sai--"
"Leadership means nothing if you cannot command the troops," Wuntila interrupted. "Let her go. The rest of you, form up on me."
Marick still seemed conflicted. The spirits were relentless even now, calling for him to disobey his superior. The Hapan’s cerulean eyes hardened as he considered his options and he looked over at Kira, whose heterochromatic eyes met his. Without a word he called the white Cythraul to his side, watching as Kilvin took point a few paces in front of Wuntila.
It was an ensemble of sorts. If the gentle padding of Kilvin and Kira’s paws were the rhythm, then the clinking of The Dragon’s armour was the percussion. Valhavoc’s occasional beard-scratching added another layer to the symphony, whilst Montresor and Marick performed a duet with their breathing and huffing. Silence, it seemed, was a noisy affair.
Dark Side energy permeated each member of the Arconan cadre’s subconscious like water drawn through limestone. It turned them, twisted their senses. Teeth ground and brows furrowed. The air was so thick with tension that you could grab a handful and take a bite. Patience hung by only a thread.
The quartet jogged through the narrow warrens of the temple’s underbelly, trusting in the Cythraul’s ability to transcend what Wuntila had thought to call ‘Force static’ and guide them to Sai, Invictus and Socorra.
It did not take long for Kira and Kilvin to make progress; muffled voices in the distance rose to a crescendo over the Arconan ensemble as they grew closer. But It was only when they emerged into a small antechamber that they could hear the full nature of the conversation.
“I say we slow-skin him and roll him in salts,” Invictus mused, throwing a heavily-muscled Nikto to the floor with surprising ease.
“Don’t be stupid.” Sai’s normally silken timbre had lost its usual lilt. “We end him quickly. There is no honour in torture.”
Socorra watched the two bicker for a moment, contemplating their idiocy. “Enough!” She spat, levelling her two Westar pistols to both men, locking eyes with one, then the other. Her contemplations had not lasted long... “I say we just slit his throat and find the others.”
Before they had a chance to respond, Wuntila bolted forward. As the NIkto finally managed to wriggle himself back to his knees, the Consul careened into him, grabbing him by the throat, and pulled him across the room. He slammed into the cold, mossy rock, suspended by his neck in the Dragon’s grasp.
“Unlike these fools, I don’t play games,” Wuntila snarled through gritted teeth. “Who are you with, why are they here, and where did they go?”
The rest of the Arconan cadre watched on in awe, as if shaken momentarily from their Force-drunk stupor.
“Go... inseminate... a Bantha.” The Nikto managed to splutter with a forced smile.
The smile was short-lived, though, as Wuntila dug his meaty fingers further into the reptilian’s leathery neck, securing his hand around its throat. He placed his other hand against the Nikto’s chest for leverage.
“Okay... One... Si-Sith... Snipers. Next chamber... Trap.” The NIkto’s eyes began to bulge, bloodshot.
“Weak.” Wuntila shook his head and flicked his wrist, tearing the Nikto’s throat from his neck. The reptilian dropped back to the floor as the Consul let go.
“Well I suppose that’s one way to do it.” Invictus turned from the Consul, clipping his lightsaber back to his belt.
“Wuntila time.” Montresor added approvingly.
“So what do we do? Spring the trap?” Marick stepped forward, blowing another strand of hair from his face.
Montresor and Valhavoc sat on the antechamber's floor moving sticks and stones between them. A sharp rock meant a sniper, a twig indicated lightsaber wielding foes, and Cythraul dung indicated a potential One Sith Lord orchestrating the ambush. It was a crude and rudimentary sand table depicting the next room, but based on time and a lack of materials it would do.
Wuntilla supervised the new members of Arcona as they went about the task of depicting the battle about to happen. With a few tweaks from Marick, the plan had been agreed upon and the team was ready to act.
Montressor and Valhavoc moved in front of the team and entered the next room as the team's sacrificial lambs. Charging with speed infused by the Dark Side the two men threw multiple cylindrical devices into the air as they stepped into the kill zone of the ambush. Lasers flashed out from multiple ambush points, betraying the snipers and their concealed positions.
The multiple cylindrical devices hung unnaturally in the air as Socorra, Wuntila, Tsai, Marick, and Invictus stepped into the room. Each member of the team held one device and hurled it towards the revealed sniper positions. In unison the grenades detonated destroying snipers, spotters, and officers organizing the attack.
Wuntila's voice boomed over the explosions.
"Kill them all."
It was sweet music to Montresor’s ears; there were no words left to be said...
Capitalizing on the shock and awe that resulted from their swift assault into the chamber, Montressor charged the gap. Moving with a burst of supernal speed, his eyes locked on the sniper position to their immediate front.
The initial plan was simple enough; assault the chamber, focus initial efforts on fortified battle positions within the room, and clear those positions in unison while eliminating any all opposition along the way.
Despite the simplicity Montresor struggled, his movement and judgment restricted by the invisible restraints of his own mind.
Not. Fast. Enough.
Not. Strong. Enough.
Up until this point, self doubt had slowly poisoned his mind. His performance was suffering.
He knew it.
Lingering feeling of inadequacy plagued his every action. He was at best dejected and spiraling towards lunacy.
They knew it.
It was perhaps the worst kept secret among the group. It was evident in their glares. It was evident in their biting remarks and witty rhetoric. It was evident in their whispering, concealed from his eyes, or so they thought.
He would leave no doubt this time.
Take the high ground, secure the objective, no matter the cost. The intent of their leader was clear and there was no time better than now for the Dark Jedi Knight to prove his worth to the team.
He would cut down all those who opposed his advance to the objective with expert precision and undeniable skill. Quite simply he would quiet the voices in his own mind and eliminate the presumed reservations harbored by his teammates.
It would be a perfect symphony of death and the Dragon of Selen would be the conductor.
From his current location he could make out at least two figures within the fortified rocky outcrop. It would be imperative to his own survival that he reached the enemy combatants prior to them being able to regroup.
Timing his jump in conjunction with the approaching terrain, Monty made one final leap beyond anything he could have imagined his body ever being capable of. The resulting speed and distance of his movement could only be a result of the unseen forces working within this forsaken temple. He was certainly thankful for the much-needed assistance.
Montresor breached the opening of the sniper alcove, as his blood red saber awakened from its slumber. It was evident the One Sith’s reaction time had been stunted by the blatant assault on their would be death trap. Wasting no time, the Knight moved swiftly to finish his prey.
His advance was met by a black hooded entity that easily towered over him. Montresor timed his jump in an effort to avoid the slice of the enemy saber that was meant to end his life. Once he reached a height that negated his enemies natural advantage, he summoned a wellspring of power from deep within himself and, giving it his all, the blade of his own saber found the fleshy objective. The thick neck’s resistance was minimal as the hulking body before him slumped to the ground, its life blood painting the temple floor around him.
Landing softly and expertly positioning himself for a follow up attack, the Dark Jedi Knight focused his glare on the remaining enemy. Fiery red eyes met his own. The deadly One Sith assassin moved towards him with a confidence that momentarily shook the Knight’s resolve.
Sabers locked as they moved in tandem, meeting the expert parries and reckless swipes of their opponents’ blade. It was a seemingly never ending game of strategy that, unbeknownst to the One Sith, was being played out just as Monty had envisioned it.
He had kept moving forward, slowly forcing the enemy into the looming wall to their rear. The moment the One Sith realized he had nowhere to go Montresor pounced. With expert precision, his blade pierced the armor of his otherwise capable opponent. As the blade met skin and plunged into the One Sith’s heart, all that could be heard was a blood curdling scream of his life coming to a end end.
Having successfully secured his objective, the Dark Jedi Knight turned to survey the battle ground below.
Kill. Them. All.
The rapacious refrain of the Dragon of Selen’s magnum opus played on, demanding each player give their own lives if need be to see it to fruition.
Marick had already discarded his tattered black traveling cloak. This left him clad in only his white, sleeveless robes over his black armor-weave bodysuit. Formal armor would have slowed him down and a helm like Wuntila's would have further narrowed his vision. His crystal blue eyes squinted against the chamber’s dim lighting. The Hapan were known for their inherently poor night vision, and Marick was no exception. A member of the Shadow Clan did not fear the darkness, and the Proconsul had something that the rest of his race tended to lack.
Light is limited; Darkness is infinite
The muted and dull tone of the chamber sparked to life with an ethereal clairvoyance. Through the gift of the Force, the assassin could see the field of battle clear as day.
Hatred, anger and frustration swelled in his gut and fused with the mystic energy permeating from the Fortress. From the center of these coalescing emotions, liquid-hot adrenaline pumped out to course through his veins. His pulse raced and his heart pounded against his temples. His muscles teemed and twitched with excess energy, like a coil being wound up and tightened far past its limit.
The Hapan’s body went through the motions of following the plan as instructed. He knew that he had to wait until Wuntila gave the command. Everything seemed to be moving slowly. He waited, and waited. Patiently, anxiously.
And then he said it. Three simple words. The Consul’s command was like ice water splashing against his face; it was sweeter and simpler than any rabble-rousing. Like a caged animal trained for combat, only one word registered in his mind.
Marick exploded into sudden motion like a startled viper. His robes were a blur of light as he soared through the air towards one of the chambers elevated platforms that jutted out from the Fortress’ walls . Valhavoc’s diagram proved accurate, and as the Hapan’s toes touched down gracefully on the snipers perch, his lightsaber appeared in an opened palm and snapped to life. In the same flowing motion, Marick reversed his grip and jabbed the tip of his glowing blade into the prone sniper’s skull as if planting a stake in the ground. The marksman never had time to pull his eye away from his scope.
Without so much as blinking, the Hapan retracted his blade and spun the cylindrical hilt back into a regular grip.
This sniper had not been alone, however, and a hooded figure wielding a crimson lightsaber lunged for the Proconsul with a vengeful sneer.
In his peripheral vision Valhavoc caught a glimpse of Marick squaring off with a One Sith Acolyte.
He can take care of himself.
Valhavoc returned his attention to the fighting position he had been assigned to clear. The grenades had made short work of the majority of the One Sith agents, but the Corellian knew better than to trust a cursory glance in combat. Casualties were confirmed with a flick of his lightsaber across their neck. A severely wounded Black Sun marksman who made the mistake of attempting to reach for his blaster wasn’t so lucky; the Equite reached out with the Force and bounced the man’s head off the stone floor until his skull split open.
The power from Ludo Kressh’s Temple was intoxicating to the Sith Warrior. It was like having an unending source of power to draw from. Each kill was more extravagant than the last. A saber throw that cleanly planted his weapon through the victims eye. A female officer lifted from the ground as the Aedile choked the life from her. With each kill the power grew, intensified. The temple didn’t only fuel Valhavoc’s rage, it seemed to consciously will it to continue. Granting access to greater powers as he rampaged through the remaining forces.
Turning his attention to his last remaining enemy, Valhavoc soaked in the Temple’s Dark Side energy as the Trandoshan struggled to his feet. For a second the creature may have thought it had a chance, that the spectre of death itself was going to overlook him as it stood in a delirious haze of madness. Valhavoc’s eyes rolled back as he focused on the mercenary, from a power deep within the Sith chains of lightning snapped from his fingertips to engulf the Trandoshan. The reptile convulsed as the electricity traumatized his system, its guttural scream drowned out by the insane laughing of the empowered Sith Warrior. Just as quickly as the ordeal had begun, Valhavoc’s lifeless victim dropped to the ground.
He glanced down at his gloved hand, sparks of electricity danced between his fingertips. “This... power,” Valhavoc mumbled to himself, “I must have... more...”
As the Aedile lost himself in his craze for power and the mysteries of the Dark Side of the Force, he neglected to sense a sniper’s crosshairs trained onto the back of his head.
A finger depressed a trigger, and a single blaster bolt cried out.
An explosion of brains and gore splattered over the ledge and rained down upon the floor below. Socorra pulled back her blaster pistol, her lips pursed as she watched the sniper's body collapse at her feet. The former Black Bha'lir society member stared coldly down at the lifeless form, something stirring deep inside her. Was it...satisfaction?
A once-rival to the Black Sun herself, something felt so right about tearing them down one by one at point blank for a change.
The power of the temple flowed through her, awakening her long-buried heritage. The savagery of her desert nomadic people rose to the surface, and a wicked, sadistic grin formed on her ruby lips as her pistol met its holster and a knife handle caressed her palm. The Force pulsed into her limbs and the Socorran ran across the sniper’s perch and leapt down to drop behind a Black Sun enforcer. Her burn-scarred left hand yanked a scraggy tuft of the human’s hair while the right snaked out and sliced the blade across his jugular in one deft move, spraying the dirt floor a bright crimson.
The woman held the man as he struggled and the life-blood drained from him, basking in the moment while she felt his life Force fade away into the void.
However, as much as she felt drawn to slaughter another, the former Krath Scholar knew there were untold secrets and trinkets beyond the walls, and seeing her fellow Qel-Droman Montresor take off into the corridor, it was clear he knew something that she didn’t, and she was going to find out what that was.
Moving with an unimaginable quickness, Montresor exited the main chamber concealed by the rocky outcrop that masked his movement. The others seemed to be occupied to varying degrees with their respective targets affording him just the distraction he needed. It was imperative that the team did not notice his absence. Time was a finite resource that he could not afford to waste as he hastily flowed through the temple labyrinth with such ease it appeared as though he was being guided by an unseen hand.
Just mere moments before, he had cleared his objective resulting in the discovery of various articles of intelligence value. It was evident the slain warrior had been a respected courier based upon the number and nature of the sensitive documents he possessed. Chief among those was the pyramidal crystal-lattice shape of a Sith holocron that had fallen from the One Sith assassins cloak. Its content was the driving force behind Montresor’s current rogue mission.
His pace quickened as he moved towards the long lost treasure trove of Ludo Kreesh. The One Sith holocron had revealed the location of the ancient artifacts but the for reasons unknown, the Sith Lord was guiding him to it. The unrelenting voice of the temple protector permeated every ounce of his being. The young Dark Jedi was blinded by his own foolish ambitions. Imbued with the inherent Sith nature and filled with unrelenting temple induced rage, it was obvious the Journeyman had lost all ability to process rational thought.
Absolute. Unrivaled. Power.
This is what the voice promised him.
He would demand respect.
They would pay in blood for the injustices wrought against him.
Absolute. Unrivaled. Power.
He felt it pulsing through every fiber of his being as the spirit guided him into a seemingly dead-end corridor. Momentary dismay gave way to surprise as one of the many ornate mosaic walls seemed to call out to him. The hidden artifacts of Ludo Kreesh were close.
Indeed, any lingering doubt quickly disappeared as the lavish wall of stone to his front crumbled, revealing a small chamber adorned with ancient relics and priceless heirlooms. However, they all paled in comparison to the grandiose suit of armor that was the undeniable centerpiece to this lavish collection.
Spurned by the pervasive influence of temple spirits the Dark Jedi Knight entered the chamber. He would take this armor for himself and the Dark Side power that it was infused with would be his instrument of revenge.
Back on the high ledge of the main chamber, Marick dipped his shoulders to one side as he effortlessly avoided the One Sith Acolyte’s swing. It was a languorous strike, or maybe it just seemed that way given the Hapan’s preternatural speed. While there was little room to maneuver, the Proconsul moved differently than anything the Acolyte had ever seen. Marick Arconae never took two steps when only one was needed. He wasn’t just quick, he was precise .
Kira, to me.
The white Cythraul heard his call and, with the grace of a Nexu, darted towards her master’s position. While smaller than the rest of her packmates, the runt of the litter used the rocks that supported the platform like a set of springboards, bounding nimbly up the incline.
The Acolyte swung for Marick’s neck, but the Hapan dipped into a low crouch. Marick’s lightsaber made two deft cuts across his opponents exposed stomach before the Acolyte's blade could complete its sweeping arc. The Acolyte crumbled to the floor in a lifeless heap, just as another Black Sun trooper appeared on the platform. Marick pivoted and turned just in time to pull his face away from the Black Sun’s long, curved knife. He felt a slight sting across his cheek as a thin red line was drawn across his smooth skin.
His boots found the edge of the platform and he nearly fell. He shifted his weight reflexively to his toes, anchoring himself to the stone. The sniper sensed the opportunity to dispatch his opponent and lunged forward with a deadly thrust. He never reached the Proconsul though, as Kira speared into the sniper’s side like the tip of a javelin.
Fangs and claws tore into the helpless man’s flesh as they both crashed against the floor and the lining of his stomach split open. Kira found the sniper’s exposed intestines and latched onto them like a link of sausages, shaking her head back and forth with enough torque to yank them free of his body. Blood splattered across her muzzle and white fur as she quickly devoured the entrails. Once finished, she looked up at her master with her mismatched eyes and tilted her head slightly, as if to ask if she done the right thing.
Marick nodded approvingly and turned his attention back to his comrades, calculating his next strike.
After being unleashed by the Consul’s command, the Arconans by and large had erupted into the chamber with practiced furtiveness, their speed and decisiveness visiting destruction upon the secreted horde within.
So, it was a strange juxtaposition to witness Tsainetomo’s measured and deliberate steps, his form tall and parting the smoke of the detonations as a frigate cutting through a sea-borne mist. A quick divination with the Force - which he found to be obscenely plentiful within Ludo Kressh’s stronghold - reconciled the positions of as-yet unengaged enemies with the rudimentary diorama on the sand table, and he pulled his TAW-6A Autorepeater with a gunslinger’s grace from its place at his thigh.
Amidst the sounds of dying men, barking blasters and growling lightsabers, the Keibatsu’s sidearm chattered merrily as he drew down on a hapless Black Sun merc; his chest and abdomen sprouted a sudden row of claret blossoms and he fell unceremoniously to the cold stone floor.
The Apostate was close behind, ducking a pair of criss-crossed sizzling hyphens that scorched the space his head. As he crouched, reflexes, both battle-hardened and preternatural, kicked in. Sai reached out and fired, leaving the attacker to his right’s kneecaps twin masses of ruin as the slugs pulped them both. The Keibatsu’s arm swept across his body and the autorepeater jackhammered once again as he rose. The second attacker’s head burst, an overripe melon in the sun of Sai’s muzzle’s flash, the lightsaber in his would-be assassin’s grasp clattering impotently upon the floor.
The Keibatsu rose fully, a strange center in the chaotic storm that was the chamber, and cocked his head as if he’d heard something.
The motions he’d been performing to this point were largely routine for him, perfected in dozens of battles in dozens of arenas on worlds too many to name, much less remember. So, it was nothing, given his relative boredom, for Sai to give his attention to this voice that seemed, to him, to come from Everywhere and Nowhere.
He’d wanted to attribute it to the endless fount of the Dark Side that was feeding them all. His senses were electric with receptivity; his muscles strained against the customary bandages and wraps that adorned his frame, strengthened beyond belief.
Sudden clarity speared the Keibatsu’s consciousness as he realized that his immersion in the forces that permeated Kressh’s home would no longer be denied. He’d been steeped in similar magic when he was rendered Apostate...and now similar forces that had been at Trevarus Caerick and Xanos Zorrixor’s command - the Wanderer and Prophet of the Brotherhood themselves - were now coming to take what had been promised long before Sai had left Naga Sadow.
Recognition spawned Acceptance. Sai would pay his price.
In that moment, the something...clicked...within Tsainetomo. He’d felt reborn. He tasted rather than smelled the cordite and ozone wrought by the explosions and blaster bolts, and the flavor sustained him. He felt rather than heard the creak of the well-worn leather holster as his hand eased the autorepeater home within it, and the sensation brought him welcomed succor.
And, as that same hand then grasped Nenshogeru, the unstable blade vomiting itself from the ornate emitter, a voice born of a thousand celestial choirs rang out within him.
I Have Awakened!
The Primarch was unsurprised to note his own roar had joined them. Another Acolyte rushed him, his crimson blade held high. Sai’s turn to face him was lazy; the anticipatory sunset colored upward swipe he threw was not. Nenshogeru split the man from groin to gullet, and a Force Blast to the chest took care of the rest, smashing through the flesh of chest and neck alike and rendering the corpse nigh unrecognizable. It tumbled wetly to Invictus’ feet. The Marked of the Wanderer regarded his fellow ex-Sadowan with a mixture of wonder and horror.
“...Sai?” he asked, the question barely a whisper.
The Korun-Kei lifted his eyes to Invictus, the familiar tripartite pattern now replaced with silvery-gray sclera; solid, twin unreadable masses of swirling molten mercury, the madness within them evident enough to curl the bronze-skinned man’s mouth in a gleeful grin.
The Gatewarden’s crimson eyes burned in the dim, cavernous chamber. A half dozen pillars of light lit the ruined expanse, defying the darkness. A low thrum filled the air, pierced by the fevered pitch of screams and the death rattles of combatants. Through it all, the Chiss darted between foes, cyan fire searing flesh and durasteel ripping vitals. While his compatriots took to the wings, systematically assaulting the snipers, the Chiss was a furious blur in the open area below. He leapt back and forth between the mercenaries, skipping across piled rubble, an uncontrolled tempest wracking the perpetual night.
His blades sang a song of untempered rage, their thirst for blood unslaked despite the excess, and his mind’s eye opened to his companions. For over a decade he had born the Mark, placed upon him by the Brotherhood’s Oracle, and in the heat of battle it flowered, defying the darkness. He easily traced the Threads of his fellow Arconans, seeing and hearing them untangle the pattern in their wake. They were Points to themselves, snipping Threads as they downed their foes, and their vibrating hum rose to a fevered pitch. It built as they laid their enemies low.
Caught up in the melody, Invictus spun, a flurry of movement. His azure blade melted into the pale flesh of a One Sith Acolyte, drawing a gasping death rattle. Then even that was silenced as his dagger sliced through her trachea, painting her blonde hair a scarlet to match the Chiss’s eyes. She collapsed, boneless and nameless, to the floor, and the Arconan song reached a crescendo.
The cerulean-skinned Sith turned as his companions joined him, their own foes dispatched. All except Tsainetomo. Invictus’ eyes scanned over his companions. Valhavoc ran a gore-drenched free hand through his beard and the Dragon of Selen stood stoically beside him, unwilling to show himself winded even after their considerable exertions. His ever-loyal Proconsul flanked Wuntila, Marick’s cobalt eyes clear for all the fire they showed in combat. The Korun-Kei was missing, however.
Invictus reached out, following his Thread to an alcove above. While the remainder of the party had dispatched their foes with ruthless efficiency, the former Sadowan seemed almost to be toying with his victim. He had set about himself with a ruthless, but lackadaisical abandon, tearing through armored flesh and bone as if it were wet nerf hide. His Thread vibrated unceasingly, and while the others had reached their denouement, Tsainetomo’s continued to rise. The once-light hum grew in the Chiss’s ears, the sound swelling even as the pitch lowered. It built. Then it billowed into a roar.
The Gatewarden lowered his gaze, knowing what that sound portended. He wanted to call out, to urge his fellow Qel-Droman off of the spiritual precipice, even knowing it was far too late to interfere. Then the slackened remains of a corpse splattered at his feet, spraying his sable ensemble with bloody entrails, and the Chiss raised his expressionless eyes. Regret filled him, warring against an unwelcome envy, and he called out to his companion.
“...Sai?” he asked, the question barely a whisper.
Even before the Keibatsu turned to face him, Invictus knew the answer.
A bold denial passed the Korun-Kei’s lips and Invictus spun back to his companions. His eyes locked on his Hapan friend’s, and Marick could see the war behind them as Invictus spoke.
“This could be very, very bad...”
Maxyn Vonnisia, One Sith Lord and Kiffar, staggered down the corridor towards Ludo Kressh’s treasure trove, her delicate bare shoulders ragged from having struck the unforgiving stone walls time and time again. Although the action in the alcove was but through a half-meter of stone away, it may as well had been happening right inside her skull.
The Kiffar was unusually gifted in psychometery, and upon learning both the location of the trove and of the presence of the Arconans, she took a small trinket from each of her Force-using lackeys, ordering them to stop the advance of those who would presume to take what was rightfully hers. She’d meant to use her gifts to keep track of how long she had to find her prize - rather, to see how long the Arconans would be delayed. They were fodder; loyal, yes, but still fodder.
However, she did not anticipate the utter savagery that the level of slaughter would reach - or that the Arconans would be so complete in decimating her forces. The Kiffar had hand-picked them for their proficiency and previous performance; but in the face of Arcona’s finest, they were as nothing, blades of summer-grass before the scythe.
And, thanks to her aforementioned psychometry that was boosted by the stronghold, she’d felt them fall, each one winking out in her mind’s eye until she’d thought she go Force-Blind from grief and agony. The first death sent a shock through her; the second, buckled her knees. By the time the last man had been rendered a pile of smoking meat by Tsainetomo, her senses had been so thoroughly assaulted that she could barely manage dragging herself down the last few meters to the trove’s opening.
’No matter’, she thought, her mouth watering at the prospect of claiming her ultimate prize and the secrets that would open unto her once she touched Kressh’s armor. ’Soon, his power will be...’
“...mine?” The question tumbled incredulously from parched lips as she spotted Montresor, Knight of the Shadow Clan, bedecked in Ludo Kressh’s battle regalia. He cackled as he donned the helm and rushed the harried Kiffar.
If statues were lords, Wuntila was their king.
The Arconan had been rooted in the doorway to the chamber simply watching the carefully orchestrated chaos. At the orders of his master, Kilvin had joined the fray early on, shredding flesh in a thickset mass of teeth and muscle. Now, the Cythraul padded back to the Consul, gore hanging loosely from its open, bloody mouth.
The Dragon surveyed the carnage before finally stepping forward into the chamber. Marick was off in the distance whirring round an unsuspecting Acolyte. It was more for enjoyment than necessity, practice over pressure. He dipped gracefully below a clumsy swipe, rising to drive his teal blade through the Acolyte’s neck. He locked eyes with the Acolyte for the briefest of seconds, as if claiming a soul for his own.
Wuntila smiled. His Proconsul had developed well. Especially under the tutelage of Timeros Entar. It seemed that speed was more his ally than strength was his friend.
The Force screamed a warning in the Arconae's ear as he climbed the steps to the chamber’s main dais. Instinct took over. Dragonsbreath roared to life, spitting a column of sapphire flame through the eye socket of an assassin nestled in an alcove. Before he could react, another leapt from the shadows, claiming hold to Wuntila’s expansive back. The Consul simply reached behind, gripping the lithe, pathetic creature and threw it across the platform. The second assassin landed in a plume of rubble and dust as he careened into the ornately carved rock surface at the dais’ rear.
He vaguely heard Invictus saying something either to or about Sai - or was it both? - and his famed temper began to flare. The Consul was about to tell them that they didn’t have time for this...
Chaos then gave way to pandemonium.
The ancient stone wall in front of Wuntila burst open. Millenia old bricks gave way as a woman's body slid to a halt on the floor at the Half-Theelin's feet. She lifted her bruised face and spat blood across the dias. Slowly standing she staggered as she attempted to maintain her balance despite the trauma to her system.
Turning back towards the opening the woman screamed, "Is that all you've got?! Asleep for five thousand years and that's it?"
Wuntila stoically watched the sequence play out, Marick and Valhavoc were the first to approach. The Consul held up a gauntleted hand and the pair slid to a halt behind him. Marick's keen eyes inspected the frantic woman, there was something familiar about her, he had seen a likeness of her before, "Is that..."
"Vonnisia?" Valhavoc finished the sentence for his Proconsul. The figure in front of them hardly appeared to be the striking woman who they had all been briefed was a powerful Sith Lady and apprentice to Darth Krayt.
"Yes," Wuntila responded, "but who is she yelling at?"
"Montresor," Invictus answered matter of factly as he joined the group, "but... changed..."
As the final words of the sentence left the Chiss' lips the Qel-Droman Knight entered though the chasm in the wall that Vonnisia's body had created. The ancient armor he wore gave him the appearance of a living nightmare. The human's normally blue eyes were as sabley black as the dark starless reaches of the most distant void. The onyx orbs fixated on the Kiffar woman. A booming voice broke free from Montresor's body, a faint echo to each word as it rang off the fortress's walls, "You wish to possess my powers? You are not prepared."
The possessed Knight’s gaze shifted to Wuntila and his retinue, “Did you bring friends Maxyn? Are you so afraid to face me alone?”
As Wuntila took a single step back from the haggard One Sith he stated, “We don’t claim her.”
“A wise choice,” the hollow voice responded.
Vonnisia’s body immediately lifted into the air and careened into a nearby pillar. As the Kiffar struggled to free herself from from the rubble she slowly felt her life force slipping from her. A translucent red tendril connected the One Sith Lady and the possessed Journeyman. Her once bright blond hair dulled and greyed, flesh hung off her frame as her youthful appearance transformed to that of an old maid. Despite the drain the woman still struggled to break free.
As the armor clad Montresor approached within arms-reach he ripped her from the rubble and unceremoniously dropped the woman in a heap on the ground in front of him. Vonnisia’s breaths were ragged and short, her greyed hair had begun to fall from her head in bunches.
“Now,” Montresor commanded, “Kneel before Lord Ludo-”
“KRESSH!” the voice resounded off of the stone walls. All individuals in the room spun to face its origin, across the room Tsainetomo stood eagerly staring down this new opponent. An enemy that had turned a Sith Lady into a ragdoll, a unique opportunity to test his own fighting skills, and an ancient Sith Lord reborn.
Abruptly Vonissia’s head jerked to the side, a gruesome cracking noise echoed in the chamber as her vertebrae snapped. The Kressh possessed Knight turned to the Korun-Kei and met his challenger’s gaze.
“I do hope you’ll put up more of a fight than that one,” Montresor scoffed.
The laugh that ripped itself from the Primarch’s throat was genuine, bereft of caution or fear. “‘Fight’, you say? ‘Fight’? What’s about to happen to you can hardly be called a ‘fight’!”
A violet-white pillar of translucence erupted from a sun-bronzed hand, momentarily searing the retinas of all who weren’t quick enough to look away. The Force Blast punched into Montresor’s breastplate, staggering him. The suddenness of the attack knocked him back three steps; the Keibatsu was upon him before he’d taken the second, Nenshogeru’s growl barely audible above its master’s maniacal laughter.
It has nothing to do with that which is lasting, permanent. It is simply individual voices coming together for one moment. Such a moment lasts for only one breath.
Wuntila could not help but dwell on this point as he saw Tsainetomo charge at the possessed Knight, followed by the rest of the Arconan cadre. They were the voices of many singing the words of one. And the Consul could not afford to drop a note. He ran forward, Dragonsbreath springing to life, and joined the fray.
Socorra looked over the scene in awe through the hole Montresor had thrown Vonissia only moments earlier. She steadied herself, rolled her shoulders, and let a slight smirk tug at the corners of her lips as she leapt from her perch, landing only a few feet from Montresor. The knight snapped his head backwards unnaturally, rolling his neck with a feral grin wide on his face. He locked eyes with Socorra, his eyelids fluttering crazily. His smile seemed to grow wider and wider as she pulled herself up to her feet and snatched the lightsaber hilt from her belt.
“I think you might want to watch what’s in front of you,” The Quaestor mused, winking.
Montresor pivoted, meeting Nenshogeru with surprising ease, and redirected his charging assailant’s attack, sending an overextended Tsainetomo stumbling forward. Before Montresor could turn and strike a devastating blow to the Korun-Kei, however, Marick, followed closely by Valhavoc and Invictus, batted Montresor’s lightsaber off course. The blade carved a molten score into the ancient stone floor of the dais a few inches from a prone Tsainetomo… not that the Primarch minded. Adrenaline was always a welcome addition to any fight.
Sai smiled, springing to his feet and summoning Nenshogeru to his hand. He stepped back in to ward off the possessed journeyman, his blade conducting their final concerto along with the others.
Wuntila, Invictus, Valhavoc, Tsainetomo, Marick and Socorra all now bore down on Ludo Kressh’s new avatar. He had to slip up soon…
Two crimson eyes slitted, a third bloody scarlet full open, Invictus could barely see the resurrected Sith Lord. But he could hear him. His dalliances with Trevarus Caerick, erstwhile Oracle of the Brotherhood, may have been frowned upon, and even ridiculed by the uninitiated, but his having been Marked had opened him to a wondrous world of the esoteric and unseen. When his Mark - a visible indicator of his alliance that was emblazoned forever on his forehead - was being used, he saw the world as interconnected by ethereal threads in an all-encompassing weavery.
The roar that was Tsainetomo had threatened to drown out the pattern that sprawled through the chamber, but even that was now eclipsed. Whereas his companions were Threads of varying thickness, Kressh was a Point unto himself. Like a brilliant star, he drew to him everything in his vicinity, their threads wrapping ever closer around him, pulled by his mass. And like a star, anything that came too close was incinerated.
The six Arconans surrounded the Sith Lord, and the Force screamed in fury. It erupted from the half-dozen warriors, assaulting the star in their midst. Then, without warning, the laws of physics reversed themselves. The sun became a black hole, swallowing the unspeakable energy that poured in around it. Even the illumination of their lightsabers seemed to be swallowed in the face of the void that was Ludo Kressh. For a moment, the entire world grew dark, and even silent, save for a discordant howl, like air rushing from a depressurized fighter. Then, as if time had reversed itself, the black whole exploded, a cascade of energy rebounding at the comrades, throwing them bodily from the creature that had possessed their newest companion.
Invictus slammed into the stone wall and tasted the coppery tang of blood welling in his mouth. At first he thought he had bit through his tongue. The taste of snot mingled with the fluid disabused him of that assumption, and the pain when he breathed confirmed his broken nose. He struggled to his feet, drawing heavily on the Force to fuel his bruised, spent muscles. He knew he was concussed, and was momentarily surprised not to hear a ringing in his skull.
Even that was drowned out by the howling rage of Ludo Kressh.
Invictus struggled to see through the gloom, but slamming his skull into the wall had finally ended any hope he had of his vision clearing. Perhaps ever again. He thought of the Csillian ice shelves, and the sight of the sun rising over them, it’s glare cascading through the translucent sheets and shattering into a hundred hues, and a piece of him died.
Then anger rose to replace it and he reached deep inside, letting his third eye open fully.
He welcomed the rage it entailed.
He traced his way along the Threads that spiraled out around him, careful to avoid the web where they converged. His mind touched Wuntila’s, but the half-Theelian hybrid was too strong-willed to be manipulated, even for a common good. He slid from the Consul, following his thread to the Qel-Droman Aedile. The bearded man was gruff, and at times the Chiss had judged him harshly as a result. He tried to tug at the thread that connected them, to spur him to action, but for all that he had considered the human dim, his attempts were in vain. The Chiss’s mind skittered from Valhavoc’s, towards Tsainetomo’s. The former Sadowan’s thread should have been open to Plucking, given his connections to the former Oracle and Prophet. However, Tsainetomo was no more, and the Dragon brooked no interference.
Suddenly, a silken shout sliced through the howling in his ears. Dulcet tones struggled to be heard, their words like a breath of fresh air to a drowned man, crying out for perseverance against insurmountable odds.
“If it bleeds, we can kill it!”
Invictus heard his Proconsul’s battlecry, though mouthed by the Hapan’s former apprentice, and his mind immediately jumped to Marick’s. Though they were different species, and the Obelisk was far from weak-willed, the Chiss considered the assassin his oldest friend. The feeling was mutual, and it lent the Wanderer a hold he’d lacked with the others. He Plucked the Hapan’s thread, and the two sprang forward in unison.
The pair landed directly in front of the Dark Jedi Knight, spitted by the ancient eyes that stared out from beneath his lids. They moved in lockstep, each shoving with their off hands, as if to unbalance Montressor’s form. The spirit of Kressh leered, taking a single step back from the duo and raising his fiery blade. It came down in a vertical slash to bisect the Chiss. Though he couldn’t see it, he could feel the younger man’s movements in the Force. His own blade rose to meet it, and Marick’s moved in time. The two blades intersected, teal and cyan meeting, and captured the scarlet saber in their grip. A snarl sprang from Kressh’s gullet, and the pair fell back half a step in the face of his overpowering strength.
Socorra leaned passed the pair with a smirk, both blasters coming to rest just above the pinned lightsaber, one pointed at each of the Sith Lord’s eyes. Then a pair of bolts burned into sockets, boiling the retinas, frying brain matter, and setting hair afire for good measure.
“I told you. If it bleeds, we can kill it.”
With a howl, Kressh stumbled backwards, his host body quickly going into shock from the injuries. He tripped over a pile of rubble and fell to the dusty ground, screaming and thrashing in agony until he laid still. Not a moment later, the ethereal form of the Sith Lord began to coalesce above the body, withdrawing from Montresor and escaping into the air, back into the chamber from whence he came. Montresor remained prone, showing no signs of life.
Socorra lowered her blaster pistols slowly. Their screech echoed throughout the chamber as the action of the battle gave way to a mute silence. All that could be heard was the staccato of blood dripping from the multitude of dead bodies scattered about on the high ledges. The adrenaline pumping through each of their veins faded away and left an air of fatigue hanging heavily on their shoulders.
Marick and Socorra swiftly moved forward as one, rushing to his side.
“Osik!” she spat, flinging a medpac open from her waist. Marick laid a hand on his chest without a word, the Force flowing from him and into the body of the Knight. The woman slammed an adrenal stim into his thigh and attempted to bandage his head as best as she could. Even with both Arconans assisting him, Montresor did not respond.
Socorra looked up at the rest of the group, pale eyes pleading with her brethren and her voice shaking with sudden guilt and despair. “Please, we need help!”
Wuntila moved quicker than anyone, rushing to the other side. The others, nearly worse for wear, followed suit, and before long every one of them began a ritual of Force healing, each of them giving the youth much of their own precious life Force. The power amplified tenfold, with the power of the temple assisting them.
It was a silent and solemn affair as they attempted to save his life.
And like that, it was over.
Montresor lay motionless where he fell, his left foot twitching as synapses continued to reflexively fire. Socorra continued to minister to the fallen Knight. Necessity dictated the brutality of the Arconans’ actions against one of their own, but they were not entirely without mercy. Valhavoc and Marick gingerly removed the pieces of Kressh’s armor and laid them to the side, painstakingly trying to stay out of the way of Socorra’s ministrations. Wuntila eyed Tsaintomo warily, instinctively placing his massive frame between the Korun-Kei and the pile of war-finery.
Missing nothing, Tsainetomo looked at the Consul. Chuckling, the Primarch reassured Arcona’s Dragon. “You’ve nothing to fear. The fight’s done, and now my only desire is to see the spoils utilized how you best see fit.” A pause. “For Arcona.”
Wuntila considered the Primarch’s words carefully, then nodded. Whirling, he spoke into a communicator on his wrist. “This is ARC-Actual. The keep is ours. Ready for immediate ex-fil.” He regarded the still twitching form of Montresor. “Prep for emergency med patient. Full bacta-treatment.”
Invictus stood back, contemplating the ramifications of their victory. The Arconans had succeeded where countless others had failed: find, and secure, the castle of Ludo Kressh, ancient Sith Lord and progenitor of many of the Brotherhood’s way of life. More importantly, it was a shrine - a holy site - of Clan Naga Sadow. Even if the Dark Council continued to be successful in their rallying of the Brotherhood in their audacious ambitions of Manifest Destiny, there would be an accounting from within.
He could only hope that there would be enough of Arcona left to defend her newest jewel once the Council was through bleeding her dry.