***Several Millennia Ago, De’hnaalia***
The walls shook with the concussions of grenades, peppered with the thumps of slugthrowers and the zaps of lasers. But none of these noises drowned out the roar of what they aimed to destroy. Screams of horrific deaths were always the last thing that Rond heard as he ran deeper into the fortress. He was no fighter, only a believer. He was scared and what he had already glimpsed frightened him like nothing else; no nightmare as a child came close to this reality. His pants, tattered as they were, were colored darkly by urine that had long gone cold. But he did not care. His only concern was to reach his leader. So scared was Rond that he barely realized that he had already reached his destination and he half crashed through the door. What he saw brought him to a sudden halt, forgetting that which was behind him. In front of him was the leader, an older man with ragged gray and white hair down to his shoulders. The leader stood over an altar of some sort with a young girl, with scraps for clothing, tied down.
“Talitha!” shouted Rond, his hand finally finding the blaster on his waste. “What are you doing? Let her go!”
“Silence, fool!” roared his leader. “This must be done, it is the only way to defeat them. If we do not sacri-” He never finished his sentence. Rond shot him dead where he stood as he ran towards the altar. Stopping at the altar, Rond managed to free his sister from his shackles, but he could tell she had been drugged. Hoisting her up, Rond finally was able to think about how to escape. He knew the tunnels in the fortress, so all he had to do was avoid the enemy.
Turning around, Rond stopped dead in his tracks, dropping his sister. There in front of him stood the enemy, its eyes burning through him. “How are you already here?” he asked before the final blow struck him down.
* * *
“The heretics are all gone,” said Lady Nilani as Lord Khyven strode past her into the chamber.
“Save for this one,” replied Khyven in his ever present fear inspiring tone of voice. He rolled the young girl over her back, her brown hair, matted from blood, falling aside.
“She is merely a child,” replied Nilani.
“Whom we shall let live,” said a smooth, slick voice. A figure emerged from the shadows.
“What makes you think that, Ikes?” asked Nilani.
“Master Aelios commanded me-”
“To ensure that the seal remained in place,” said Nilani, cutting him off.
“True, but do you not see the potential? This child already hangs in the balance, but she has been touched by the forces of Oblivion, and yet they have not taken her,” replied Ikes.
“She is a threat to all Keepers,” said Khyven.
“Not after we make her one of ours,” replied Ikes. “We will plant the soul of a Keeper in her and set her into this galaxy for some time. As she matures, she will begin to seek out our King for us. Phalanthus has been missing for some time, but none of us can find him.” Khyven looked down at the female child at his feet, his grip tightening around the hilt of his sword.
“I am sure that Master Aelios will not be pleased,” said Ikes. “Though, perhaps I should have mentioned that he has already spoken to Masters Shade and Tel’Ratha, as well as the others? They all agreed to create a new Keeper to find our King. This girl fits our needs.” A few more tense moments slipped by before Khyven loosed his grip on his hilt.
“Very well,” he said. “But if she ever becomes a threat to us, I will kill her and you.”
“Of course,” said Ikes.
***Present Day, location unknown***
“Shade, Tel’Ratha, and Talitha are all dead?” asked Aelios.
“Indeed,” replied Ikes. “The details are a bit fuzzy, but it seems that their minions in Tarentum turned on them, and Talitha herself did as well.”
“We needed her to find Phalanthus,” said Aelios. He leaned back into his chair. “Whether they join me or not, there really is only one choice. We must release it again. When it strikes one of them down, you must be there to capture their soul, as you did with Talitha.”
“As you wish,” said Ikes, bowing and leaving.
***Yridia System, exact location unknown***
“He has made his move, Master Khyron,” said Zero. “Tarentum is his target.”
“And do you think they will be swayed by what he has to offer?” asked Khyron. “Or will they remain loyal?”
“It is hard to tell,” replied Zero. “Some, such as Oberst, will. Others, I am not so sure about. The lure of the power that he holds will be great, perhaps more than we can imagine.”
“Then we must get in front of him,” said Khyron. “Inform Bloodfyre and Kahn that I have a mission for them.”
“As you wish.”
“It all seems very strange to me,” said Anshar, his eyes rising from the datapad to meet Sith Bloodfyre’s. “Granted, that fortress has been there the whole time, but we’ve never really used it.”
“We did talk about it,” said Bloodfyre. “But it didn’t suit our needs. But, we know that countless other groups have used it at one time or another. I’m kind of glad that the locals have never holed up in there. Trying to drive them out, at least without destroying the fortress, would have been a bitch.”
“So, what do we tell the house?” asked Anshar. “Going to explore some ruins won’t exactly get a lot of volunteers. I think everyone is sick of that. Granted, the only report we can find on the fortress indicates that there is some type of previous Sith activity in there.”
“But even that report is only speculation in some parts,” replied Bloodfyre. “We really don’t know what is in there, or what Master Khyron thinks may be in there.” Bloodfyre paused, noting the general sense of discomfort from his aedile. “Brings back memories, doesn’t it?”
“My memory of those events on the Sword’s Sheath hasn’t faded, Sith,” said Anshar, sternly. “I understand our loyalty to the Sith King, but testing us like that only breeds uncertainty and anger.”
“I’ll give you that,” replied Bloodfyre. “However, the last time we were tested, it was the Keepers testing us, to see if we were truly capable of learning from them.”
“And Zero is still the messenger, isn’t he?” asked Anshar, somewhat sarcastically. Bloodfyre just shrugged. “Let’s just tell the house we’re going and see who wants to come. I think after all the issues with the Dark Council, I’m sure they’ll be ready for something in our own domain. Besides, it’ll be good for the journeymen, see how they like crawling around some old dusty fortress.”
“Just tell me one thing, Anshar,” said Bloodfyre, leaning forward. “What are you going to do if both of us are right, and there is something mean and nasty waiting for us, and that Master Khyron has a larger plan?”
“Honestly, I don’t know,” replied Anshar. “But I can promise you that it won’t be pretty. And I’m much more capable of standing up to Zero this time around. Anyway, I guess we need to get the house assembled. I’ll have everyone meet in Issa, and then we can go spelunking from there.” Bloodfyre only nodded.
* * *
“You don’t trust anything about this, do you?” asked Dranik, looking out at the river basin beneath Anshar’s estate.
“No, I don’t,” replied Anshar, shaking his head. “But, I think there is something else going on. I can’t quite explain it, but as of late, I’ve been getting a strange feeling from the direction of De’hnaalia.”
“I’m guessing that is why you’ve spent more time on Yridia two than here as late?” asked Dranik. Anshar only nodded. “Do you think it is related to Talitha’s spirit binding with yours to seal it?” Anshar shrugged.
“It could be, but that only begs the question as to what would suddenly cause this to start,” said Anshar. “Truth be told, I think there is something in there that even Khyron doesn’t know about.”
“This sounds just vaguely familiar,” said Dranik through gritted teeth.
“But at least this time we have warning,” said Anshar. “Not quite like the incident on the Sword’s Sheath.”
“But how do you explain that to the house?” asked Dranik. “I don’t suppose you would do to them what was done to us.”
“No, I don’t intend to, but I’m going to leave some of the deeper exploring to a select few. We’ll let the rest find what they will.” This time, it was Dranik who shrugged.