Approaching Target Coordinates
Nfolgai, Nfolgai System
Nameless birds cawed in a haunting symphony of cascading echoes. Insects chirped and beasts growled as the sounds of nature played the soundtrack of life and death, unfolding unseen within the murky swamps and twisted trees of Nfolgai's southern regions. Snaking roots weaved in and out of the glassy surface of the marsh, culminating in massive trunks rising into an almost solid canopy of trees, further constricted by the grasping vines that adorned them. Once heavy footfalls turned soft upon the muddy ground, each step a battle as the armoured boots fought against the grasping suction of the mud.
"Comms are down again," the metallic voice was heralded by the mechanical click of the trooper's voice synthesizer. The sounds of nature were at once rendered non-existent in response to the offensive intruder, silence hanging heavy below the canopy. "I hate this blasted jungle."
"Put a lid on it, our rotation is just about up. Can't wait for home."
The second clicking voice was as offensive to the wildlife as the first, but neither of the armour-clad men paid it any mind. They didn't want to be here just as much as the local species wanted them gone, if not more so. As the pair approached the height of their patrol circuit, the silence was broken by an audible snap. "What was that?"
Twin rifles snapped to attention, their metallic alloys painted with a glossy sheen from humidity and the cascading ripples of light from the canopy above. The scopes scanned the foliage slowly and with practiced precision, wary for any additional signs of movement. "Sounded heavy."
"You think it's one of them Mrlssi bastards?"
Step after careful step played out for the lead trooper, approaching a dense patch of foliage. Eyes narrowed behind his dim visor as his heads-up display worked through multiple view modes in order to grant the highest possible level of vision. Suddenly his foot caught mid step and he staggered forward with a start, twisting the ankle violently. "Damnit!"
"Nothing, just a damn root."
Grunting with pain, the lead trooper worked himself free before turning his attention to the brush once more, fighting to ignore the pulsing ache emanating from his soon to be swollen foot. As his gaze rose once more, he was greeted by twin orbs of steel and gold. "Contact!"
The man squeezed the trigger as quickly as he could, but the dark shape in the brush had already crashed forward in a flurry of black and grey. A sudden concussion rocked his body, his armour fighting to absorb the kinetic release but could do nothing to prevent the shockwave from sending the man back like a cascading domino. The new arrival kicked hard off a massive root, using the momentum to carry him over the muddy terrain as he soared towards the other trooper. A quick burst of shots were released towards the center of mass, hot beams of energy rippling through the air and micro-heating it with a trademark screech. The soaring form put out a pale hand, the shots dispersing like water over rock as they came into contact with his palm. A snap-hiss echoed through the swamp as a beam of azure light penetrated the trooper's chest and clean through his back. The blade slide out as easily as it had entered, leaving a smoking black hole in its wake as the man fell over, blissfully silent. Like a windmill, the streak of late spun around and met the mud covered form of the first trooper, struggling with a cry to his feet now that his sudden fall had ended. His head separated neatly from his neck and all was still and silent once more, save for the sudden extinguishing of the glowing blade like the release of a breath one didn't realize they were holding.
Grey eyes, marred by starbursts of gold around the pupil, passed over the forms of his victims. There was no joy on his stoic features, his face locked in a cold gaze as he took in the results of his necessary evil. His right hand slid beneath his dark robes as Xue Long placed his saber, Vestigium of Duriel, upon the clasp at his belt once more. His black boats were painted brown by the splattering of mud as he continued towards the coordinates he had been provided.
Return to Nfolgai, arrive unseen at the coordinates, retrieve the diary. That was his mission.
The diary of Sorzus Syn.
Was there even such a thing? Did it exist? Had the Proconsul of Naga Sadow merely been sent on a fool's errand, walking carefree into his own soon-to-be grave? Such a thing would not be uncommon amongst the Sith; destroy your weapon once it had served its purpose. For that was what he had been made into, a weapon, and his purpose was clearly written upon the corpses left in his wake.
The jungle seemed to become ever darker as he approached, an odd thing considering it was clearly midday. A sense of unease settled over the Obelisk as swampland gave way to carved stone. He had arrived.
Slowly, the half-breed Firrerreo pushed a curtain of vines to the side and gazed into one of the dark openings that led into the temple. The newly anointed Long stood there a moment, a statue against the seemingly ethereal darkness before him as he faltered for a single instant. Reports hinted at possible Draethos infestations within the temple in addition to the local tribes. They had certainly been trapped on the planet long enough to have found their way here, either by accident or guided by some invisible hand. A long breath trickled out from between Xue's barely parted lips as he took his first step inside.
As the darkness consumed him the Obelisk had an immediate urge to spin about and flee, but that was not an option. Success or failure, those were the only results as he made his way forward through the lonesome corridor. His pupils dilated with futility as his eyes fought to retrieve any semblance of light that would enable vision. For an eternity he walked, it seemed, until the darkness finally gave way to an eery glow. The Proconsul had to step over the remnants of what appeared to be a ceremonial pillar before the corridor spilled out into the dismal remnants of an ancient library. Orbs of light pockmarked the expansive room, the orbs fueled by Sith Magick or something else beyond Xue's understanding. Regardless, it didn't matter and it was not why he had come.
With surprising grace, given his size, the Prelate slipped between the ruined shelves. There had to be some sense, some logic, to the architecture. Breathing deeply once more, Xue long, or Atra Ventus as he had been known, placed a palm to the ground as he knelt upon one knee. His eyes fluttered closed and his mind escaped to the darkness at his core. His mind's eye stared through his eyelids to the black and white world beyond, tendrils of light weaving through the shadows. Atra opened himself to the Force, letting the Living energy move about and through him. As he touched upon each thread in turn he waited, focused and still. Finally, almost as if a whisper, he touched upon what would be the final strand. It spoke to him, in a voice only he understood, and he knew his path.
Ventus' eyes opened and his vision was filled by the gaze of a pair of lifeless eyes. A tangible cloak of darkness wrapped around the shifting and partially transparent features of the clearly female entity, those eyes shining with a sort of curiosity. For all his facade, Xue could not keep from stumbling back at the sudden intrusion.
What brings this one, I wonder.
The voice came from all directions yet none, holding a chill that travelled up the Proconsul's spine like nothing he had ever experienced before. He blinked and she was gone. The Prelate's eyes shifted rapidly, fighting to provide validity to what he had seen... But nothing moved. He was once more alone.
Rising to his feet with a shaky breath, Xue began his search once more. Based on his information, Plagueis had decided it best to leave the temple be until the Crusade had ended, bringing more resources to bear upon it. That made his job easier. That is, unless he was going insane. The half-breed couldn't shake the sense that each shadow was alive, that darkness itself had a mind of its own within this place.
It shook him to the core.
A few more steps brought the Long to another corridor, the one he knew he was meant to take. Glad to be free of the library, he stumbled out of the room with less prudence than he should have shown. No sooner had his foot fallen upon the polished stone of the corridor than a series of runes ignited to life. An ethereal glow engulfed him and Xue instantly felt as if a hand were tightening around his very heart. His mouth gasped, lungs fighting to scream but his scarred throat would not allow it. He fell almost instantly to his knees and could barely manage to keep even one eye open through the sudden pain and weakness that fought to claim him as it seemed his very essence was being pulled from him.
Out of desperation he lashed out, summoning a coalescing beam of Force energy that formed the signature Force Blast of Naga Sadow. Whether through luck or instinct, he managed to blast a chunk out of the nearby wall and effectively break through one of the all-important runes that formed the trap. Suddenly free of its influence, the Proconsul's body collapsed to the ground, droplets of sweat splattering to the dirt-covered floor as his body connected with a resounding thud.
I'll just stay here awhile.
Each breath hurt, as if his throat were on fire. His body yearned for hydration as the flesh of his lips cracked open while his chest rose and fell. How long Xue laid upon the ground in silence he did not know, for who else was there to keep track of it? No one, the Sadowan was well and truly alone.
Summoning what will he still possessed, Atra pushed himself up and rose to his feet. He was shaky at first, having to steady himself against the wall with one hand as he wiped the side of his sweat-covered face clean of dirt with the back of his free hand. A sudden hiss and chill came from behind, causing his head to snap around. The incorporeal form from before was rushing toward him rapidly, and slipped not so much around him but through him. His neck twisted once more, following the entity with wide eyes as she stopped before him.
Curious... You reek of Alchemy...
Again the darkness dispersed, and once more she was gone. There was no doubt in Atra's mind, the shadows of this temple were very much alive, and they were filled with the darkness that was Sorzus Syn. It was said that the ancient Sith Lord had mastered countless abilities, save immortality itself. Xue mentally scoffed at that. The definition of immortality, it seemed, was in the eye of the beholder.
He was close now, he could feel it, but did he have the stamina to go on? The Obelisk didn't have a choice in the matter, he had to do what was necessary and forward was the only direction that remained to him. Step after slow step echoed through the darkness of the halls, yet he continued onward. Somehow, he avoided trap after trap, as if guided by an unseen hand. He was none the wiser, for how could the Proconsul know of the traps without springing them?
He stumbled onward, for all intents and purposes a zombie in a near catatonic state. As he marched forward, his eyes locked on what fell before him, a tangible darkness followed his steps. Yes, the Proconsul was alone in physicality, but he had gained the attention of something far beyond mere flesh. Suddenly the ground gave way and Xue fell forward, arms flailing wildly and hands opening and closing in search of any hand hold, any safety. Colliding hard with the solid wall, Atra felt the air forced out of his lungs with an oof. His grasping hands had barely grabbed onto the uneven ground above him as the debris fail ever downward below him. He pressed his cheek hard against the wall, breathing long and slow as he mustered the energy to pull himself upward. Beside him, Syn's head emerged from the darkness and eyed him once more.
What drives this one? Is it lust for power? Does he even know?
Her head protruded from the solid rock, perpendicular to him. Atra closed his eyes tightly before pulling himself up with a series of grunts, yet even without sight he knew that lifeless gaze followed him. On solid ground once more, the Obelisk remained on all fours and searched his thoughts. He could feel the whispers of insanity within his mind, the claustrophobic pressure of the imposing darkness.
Time was running out.
Reaching into his core, the Long took hold of his power and pulled hard, forcibly injecting it into his very muscles. With impressive speed he charged forward, no longer caring, no longer thinking. The Force would guide him or he would die. Whichever occurred no longer mattered, an end was all he seeked. With great rapidity the Sadowan felt a sudden tug and stopped. He didn't know exactly where he was, and he was utterly exhausted, but somehow he felt like he was in the right place.
Carefully, he stepped through the crumbled architecture and into the humble chamber beyond. It didn't look like much, but looks were often deceiving. It couldn't be so easy, could it? There, before him, as if it had been waiting all along, was a simple physical diary. He had been expecting something... more. Still, it seemed right, it seemed like something this Sorzus Syn would have possessed. Left foot, right foot, left--he repeated it over and over to himself as he forced his body to comply. With an outstretched hand he finally wrapped his fingers around it. It felt frail, yet solid. Truly a strange sensation but he tried to pay it no mind as he placed the delicate thing within the confines of the protected carrier that would house it. The echoing click of the locking mechanism was answered by a reverberating hiss from behind him. Spinning about, Xue came face to face with a mass of darkness coiling upon the ceiling, extending downward until it formed the cloaked and shifting shape of Syn once more. An unnerving sight considering she was completely inverted to him.
So it is knowledge this one seeks.
He took a step back, suddenly completely unsure of his own survival. Though, how sure of it he was to begin with was unclear.
But does it have the wisdom to understand.
Desperation, that was all that remained to the Proconsul. He had a mission, and he was tired... So very tired. One final act, to determine his fate, was decided in a moment. Throwing out his hands, Xue put everything he had left into obliterating the Sith Lord's presence. He could feel his power leaving him, an odd empty sensation overcoming him as his attack lurched towards her. For the first time, the ghostly face moved and opened her mouth wide. A bone chilling shriek filled the temple and the darkness exploded into a cloud that shot towards him.
Atra couldn't help but close his eyes and wince, waiting for the end. Yet nothing came. In fact, he felt rejuvenated. Slowly but surely, the ache left his muscles and the burning need for rest washed away. Xue allowed himself to sigh heavily, opening his eyes to the relief of... nothing. There was nothing there. He was alone again.
Gripping the the case firmly, the half-breed turned and made his way carefully out of the ruins of the temple. It wasn't difficult to retrace his steps, albeit cumbersome. With Plagueis rotating their troops out to carry onward with the Crusade, it would be an uneventful trip back to his transport. Then again, anything would be uneventful in comparison to what had transpired. Still, he felt like he had accomplished something, and survived in the process. He would return to Antei with the diary in hand, the diary of Sorzus Syn. Yet, he couldn't shake the feeling that he was returning with something more, something he had not accounted for. As Xue Long left the temple and entered the swampland jungles of Nfolgai once more, the slightest tendrils of darkness wisped from his massive frame. In the shadows of the jungle canopy, an eerie chuckle echoed low, unheard by the man.
He returned home, but not alone.
Contract 014: Complete
Debriefing: Xue Long returns successfully with the Diary as requested, but what new burden does he now carry with him as he continues on his path through life.
A pretty straight forward story, told in an interesting manner. Never once did I feel like I was reading fluff. The descriptions of the planet given made me feel like I was there. Very vividly painted. It was a good set up to contrast against the darkness of the temple you establish later in the story. The first action of Xue taking out the first two guards was a bit longer than I felt it needed to be. The detail was great, but the combat of it only prevented me from getting to the true meat of your story.
I like that you took the prompt and made the story into something that wasn't just: "Xue entered the cave. He beat up a bad spirit, and walked out with the journal victorious." That would have been the easy way. Instead, you gave introspection into your character. You made what he was feeling real to the reader, the sense of helplessness that comes with trying to walk anywhere in the darkness. I love that you personified the evil spirit, and love that you worked in taking something away from the experience itself. That's the point of the ACB - to help develop and build characters in an organic fasion that you may not have come up with otherwise.
At no point did I feel like you god modded your character, or took me out of my sense of a suspension of disbelief. There were a few grammar and syntax/flow errors I found, but nothing that really prevented me from enjoying the piece.
B-Class = 2 points;
Excellent Contract = 3 points;
Total = 5 points.